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Looking for one good man (Part 1)

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Looking for one good man




    Leonard McCoy hadn't slept in the same bed as another person since six months before his divorce. He had slept in the same vicinity as others since then, usually Jim borrowing either his couch or his thigh when they relaxed out on the lawns, but this wasn't the same. He wouldn't have affixed any real significance to sleeping together platonically with a friend, but it was painfully clear that Jim did. Len wasn't an idiot. When Gaila had stormed into his dorm in the midst of a rather dramatic guilt trip a few months back, he had listened. Gaila thought his reaction had been centered in a lack of self-worth, stemmed from the actions of others, but that wasn't Jim. Jim was a cocky, flirtatious pain in the ass that could ace almost every class he entered and jump from shuttles with a grin, but he also had an almost-crippling case of paranoia regarding his personal life. Len had seen it at work over the last three years, and as such, he had been forced to compile a list of rules regarding the kid. Among these rules, things such as never use a tricorder in his presence, try not to touch his back, try not to bring Chris up in public, and don't ask too many questions stood out the most. It had been grating originally, but Len had found himself acclimated to it before he even realized it. The kid had that effect on people. He sighed and focused his eyes on the man in question. He just wished that Jim would let him in. The younger man's face was slack in sleep, his mouth slightly parted, the faint whistles coming from it made him quirk a smile as he brought a hand up; he traced the younger man's features as he lay next to him, his fingers finding every scar that should have been healed properly under the faint stubble. Jim's nose scrunched up at the touch, but he made no other sign of rousing as Len let his fingertips slide across Jim's lips. No, it wasn't from ostracizing. Jim was hiding something. But that was a matter for another time. Pulling his hand back, he scrubbed at his own hair before pulling himself upright. He probably needed to get the kid up. Getting to his feet, he padded over to the clock, furrowing his brow at the display. It was definitely time to get Jim up.


    "Jim, time to wake up." No response. "Jim, don't you want to take a shower or something before you leave on your trip?" That may have been a toe twitch. "Jim, get your sorry ass out of bed!" Two toe twitches. Maybe. Len rolled his eyes and walked over to the drink dispenser. "I give up." He didn't, of course, and over the next twenty minutes he poked at Jim, called his name every few minutes, and made sure to make as much noise as he could as he walked around his dorm. One more glance at the clock reminded him that he was on a time schedule, and Len realized there was one thing he hadn't tried. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he leaned over just as Jim's eyes fluttered open, the younger man bringing a hand up to rub at the corners as he gave Jim a peck on his temple. He couldn't help the smile that crept onto his face as the kid rolled over, his stupidly-blue eyes blinked owlishly at him before dropping into a half-awake squint.


    "I- I think I could get used to that." Len chuckled as he leaned in one last time, giving the drowsy man a quick kiss on the lips.   


    "I can't say I'm sorry to hear that," he drawled, before giving Jim a pat on the arm. "We'll have to have that discussion later, kid, I've been trying to wake you up for almost a half-hour now." Jim's eyes widened comically, nearly falling out of the bed as he jerked upright with a squawk.


    "What time is it?" Len rolled his eyes at the high-pitched tone, plucking Jim's belt and jacket off the floor and dropping them next to the younger man, who immediately got to his feet and put the items back on. Len glanced over at the clock with a frown.


    "You leave at oh-eight-thirty, right? You've got twenty minutes." That got Jim's attention.


    "What?" Len watched as Jim tried to put his jacket on at the same time as he reached his boots, and not doing a very good job at either. "It takes almost fifteen minutes to get to the shuttleport from here!" He rolled his eyes again and snorted as he averted the current crisis by handing Jim his boots.


     "I tried just about everything to wake you up, but you didn't even twitch. I thought I was going to have to turn on that Andorian rock song again." He would have had to be really desperate to fire that monstrosity up again; the first time they had heard it, Len was sure that his eardrums were going to shut down in protest, and Jim looked like he had wanted to vomit. Jim now was even grimacing at the thought as he fought his last boot on and got up.


    "Thank you for refraining, I don't think I would have woken up well to that." Jim met his eyes, and Len bit back a smile as the younger man's cheeks flushed as the moment stretched between them. It was utterly endearing, but Len would never tell the kid that- if only because he liked his orbital bones to stay fracture-free. He tilted his head towards the door.


    "Get out of here, you infant. You're going to be late." Jim rushed out the door with a wave, and Len listened with amusement as the sound of footsteps faded quickly into the distance, chuckling as he turned away from the door and went to make the bed. As he pulled the topsheet tight, a small, familiar device bounced off the taut fabric and landed on the floor, and he felt his eyebrow inching up automatically. Could the kid ever keep track of his damned communicator? "He's a complete and utter idiot," he grumbled. He needed the thing, especially as he was going off-campus into the Sierras, with all the obscenely high cliffs a nutcase like Jim would ever want to try and kill himself on. Pocketing the communicator, Len glanced at his clock. If he left now, he could probably catch him before the shuttle took off. The things he did for this kid. The door closed behind him as he ran out of his building and sped across campus, his heart pounding in his chest with the effort. He would definitely be skipping gym today. The campus shuttleport came into view, and after a glance at the list of outgoing flights, he hustled to the correct bay. The shuttle was still there, but they were about to close the doors; he sprinted into the cabin without a second thought, getting a glare for his troubles from the ensign doing the outside checks. Only after the doors had closed behind him did he realize what he had done. "Well, fuck." Len started looking around the cabin for Jim, the subdued lighting not helping as he ran his eyes over the other passengers. Not here. This was the right shuttle, he was sure of it. Finding what appeared to be the last spots in the back, he settled down into the seat and buckled himself in. He was just considering asking the cadet next to him when Chris's voice came on over the speaker, giving them the standard take-off speech as the engine started, vibrating the entire shuttle. Len grimaced automatically, but the old nausea remained at bay. Trust Starfleet to try their best to drum any hints of aviaphobia out of their cadets. Now that he knew he was on the right shuttle, with Jim obviously in the cockpit with his dad, he could relax; it wasn't like he had anything better planned to do today. He had always been meaning to go on one of these day trips, might as well do it while it's free. Jim seemed to love the things, always came back so much calmer than before; anything that could make the kid relax received his stamp of approval. Shoving back the bubbling anxiety that Starfleet couldn't completely bleed out of him, he leaned back and closed his eyes.


    Len awoke to a particularly loud snore, and he looked blindly around for a second before it registered in his brain that the snore had come from him. God, he hated sleeping upright. He was too damn old to be doing this. After rubbing at his eyes, he looked around the cabin. Then looked again. He unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up, wincing as joints popped and his back muscles twinged in protest. Where the hell was everybody? It hit him a moment later as he approached the door, and he couldn't completely suppress the embarrassed flush that he could feel climbing his neck.  He had slept through the goddamned landing and disembarking. "Of all the the stupid things to do-" Len grumbled as the door hissed open, stepping out into a mostly wooded area, dirt and scrub crunching under his feet as he looked around. This was not what he expected. He could swear he remembered the drop off being near a hotel, not the middle of the woods. He could hear water nearby, and he walked slowly towards the sound; he didn't want to stray too far from the shuttlecraft and get lost, or worse, left behind. That's the last thing he needed. Light streamed through the trees, and he paused at a break in the foliage. Len was pretty sure this wasn't Yosemite; the lake was picturesque and of a fair size, from what little bit he could see, framed by sparsely wooded mountainside. He frowned as he tried to remember what he knew about Yosemite. He didn't remember any major lakes being mentioned. He shrugged as he worked his way around a few more trees, feeling the ground under his feet soften as he approached the water. After a few more moments of careful stepping, the lake was almost fully visible, and he felt a smile threatening at the corner of his mouth. So Chris and Jim took the shuttle somewhere else after dropping off the passengers...that explained why he was always so close-mouthed on the trips. A quick glance up got him seeing spots from the sun, but he caught a glimpse of wings against the light before he dropped his head again. He needed to find either dad or son and apologize for crashing their family time. Peering along the coast, he could see a shape that resolved itself into Chris, sitting in a chair with an umbrella propped up to cover his head. It looked like he was reading a PADD. Len backed into the trees a bit and started making his way towards that direction, biting back a curse as he tripped over a tree root. The soft ground was a bitch; explained why the shuttle was parked so far away from the shore. Len headed towards the shore again, the back of Chris's chair and head coming into view. A flash of color caught his eye, and he looked down at a small pile near the older man's chair. There was no doubt what those were, at least the two red items; he would recognize that uniform jacket and sweater anywhere. The other item, though- Len stepped a bit closer, an eyebrow raised. What the hell was that? It looked like a shirt made out of skin, which was a somewhat...disturbing thought; maybe it was a support garment of some sort. His jaw dropped slightly when he realized what this meant. Jim was somewhere around here without his shirt on. A sliver of guilt was worming its way into his mind, but he pushed it back as his eyes scanned the shoreline. There was no sign of the kid anywhere. He stepped back a bit into a small mass of shade, and looked around again. Chris obviously wasn't worried, so he doubted that Jim was drowning somewhere. The sun shifted enough to get out of his eyes, and he instinctively glanced up. The weather was perfect for an outing like this, warm and clear; the seagulls screeching at a large bird flying at a higher altitude just added to the scene. Len blinked and looked at the birds again. The seagulls were acting with obvious agitation, but he could see why; that was easily the biggest bird he had ever seen.


    "What the hell is that?" Len squinted his eyes to try and get a better view, his gaze tracing the bit besides the wings he could see. Those were legs, humanoid legs. The Skorr had wings, but they could only use them to glide; short of jumping out of a shuttle, there was no way one could get to that height. Len kept his eyes on the being as it spiralled and dove, swooping straight into the gang of pissed off gulls; he caught sight of human-toned skin and- and dark blond hair catching the light. Len shook his head, looking down for a moment. He was seeing things. After clenching his eyes shut and taking a deep breath, he looked to the sky one more time, just as the figure that couldn't possibly be who it looked like gave a wave in Chris's direction before catching a burst of wind, rising swiftly out of clear view. Even as he faded to little more than a tiny shape against the few clouds, he couldn't pull his eyes away.


    "Well, I knew this was going to happen sometime. I'm just relieved it's you." Len didn't jump, but he couldn't start to guess the look on his face as he tilted his head slowly down to look at Chris, who was standing a few meters away with an expression torn between relief and resignation. "Yes, Leonard, it's really him." He looked away from the older man at those words, squinting up into the sun, and he could hear Chris sigh. "His x-gene is active." That brought him back down to earth, enough to focus his eyes back on Chris. "Why are you here, anyway?" Len blinked at the Captain, before reaching a hand into his pocket and pulling out Jim's communicator. Chris rolled his eyes and barked out a laugh. "So, in the end, it's his own damn fault."


    "I fell asleep on the shuttle," Len croaked out, and Chris snorted as he glanced up in his son's direction.


    "-and I didn't do the usual cabin check because I was too busy teasing him. Hm." The two men looked at each other in silence, until Chris broke away and picked up a small canister from the ground near the chair. The sound of the air horn made Len wince, but it did what it was supposed to; the figure- Jim tucked his wings in and dove, and he sucked in a horrified breath as the young man plummeted for several seconds before they flared open, and even though he was out of the sunlight, Len could clearly make out the highlights in Jim's hair. The reality of the situation was still working its way through his brain, but synapses were beginning to fire. Wings. Jim had fully-formed and functioning wings attached to his back. It...explained a lot of things.


    "Kinda early, yeah?" Jim's voice was faint, but it was clearly him. Len stayed silent as Chris yelled back up to him.


    "You need to get down here, Jim." He watched as Jim began to spiral, coming closer and closer to the ground before landing cleanly a few meters from his Dad. Len's throat had gone dry at the sight, his eyes tracing the thin contours of the younger man's torso and hips as he walked over to his dad. It was like seeing a whole different person; the Jim he was used to had a stiffness to his overall posture, his back always at attention and his gait almost awkward. This Jim had a sway to his movements, one that he would almost call feminine as he watched the younger man's hips; but Len could tell it was a natural response to counterbalance the wings. It suited him. 


    "What's wrong?" Len held his breath as Chris didn't speak, and Jim sidled closer to the older man. "Dad?"  


    "You forgot your comm, son." Len shifted as Chris spoke, cringing inwardly as brush crunched under his feet, but neither of the other men turned around. "-and I forgot to check to make sure the cabin was empty before leaving Yosemite." He could hear Jim inhale sharply, and he knew it was time.


    "You forgot to check-" Len moved out of the shadow of the trees as Jim turned towards him, the two men staring at each other with wide eyes and wan faces; he tried to get his brain to form a cohesive sentence, but he couldn't even get it to form a single word. Jim seemed to be faring even worse, the younger man falling back a few paces, his breath coming in hastening gasps as his eyes darted wildly around. 


    "Oh- oh fuck." Len watched with alarm as Jim's lips began to turn the same white that the rest of his complexion had already adopted, and instinct took over. Rushing to his side, he cupped his hands around the panicking man's face, lightly stroking his cheeks with his thumbs.


    "Jim- Jim, it's alright. Calm down." Jim shook his head jerkily and tried to pull away, but Len countered by wrapping an arm around the man's waist. "Jim, look at me." Jim wouldn't stop hyperventilating, and Len was forced to shift his weight as he slumped in his arms, slowly lowering the two of them to the dirt. The younger man's forehead was crushed into his sternum as he alternated between gasping for breath and pulling away; Len brought his hand up and began running his fingers through Jim's hair. "Slow, deep breaths, Jim. Slow." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Chris standing within easy reach, but seemed to be content just to observe. Len could have laughed if the situation wasn't already so surreal. This was his test, to prove that he was a suitable...something to Chris's son, he was sure of it; he had no illusions of the Captain's ability to get him assigned to a small outpost on the border of the Neutral Zone if he fucked this up. Looking down at the shaking man in his arms, Len knew he definitely didn't want to. He ignored Chris as he pressed his lips against Jim's hair. "That's right, Jim- shhhh. Just breathe for a bit." Jim's rapid gasps had receded to slow, shaking breaths, his wings fluttering with each exhale. Fluttering. Shit, it was going to take him awhile to get used to that. After a unmeasurable stretch of time, with Len keeping his lips pressed to the younger man's scalp as he traced faint circles in the short hair near his nape with his fingertips, Jim pulled his face away from Len's chest. Blue eyes met his own in a thoughtful look, and Len again found himself trying to find something to say.


    "I'm going for a walk. I have my comm if anyone needs me." Both Len and Jim's heads swivelled towards Chris, who gave them a fond smile before turning on his heel and walking away. Jim tensed again, and Len tightened the arm that was still around the younger man's waist. He needed to say something.


    "I really was planning to just give you your comm and head back to my room. When I couldn't find you, I decided to hop on-board. Not like I had any real plans today anyway...I figured I would just go for a nice walk while you and Chris had your family time." Jim's lip twitched, and he smiled. "I'm sorry about crashing your quiet time, but I can't say I'm sorry about this." He brought his other arm around Jim's waist, his hand sliding into the dip of the younger man's back; Jim bucked and forced himself out of Len's arms with a choked-off gasp. Len's eyebrows shot up in alarm, and he grabbed Jim's hand. "What the hell was that? Did you hurt something?" Jim was turning a rather amusing shade of red as he shook his head. 


    "It didn't hurt." Jim was looking rather intently at the trees behind him, and Len looked at him blankly until the realization hit embarrassingly late. Oh. Oh. He was immediately forced to bite back his first response, settling for a wry smile as he tilted his head to meet the kid's eyes.


    "I'll try to remember that." The blush stayed on Jim's cheeks, with his wings doing another flutter behind him, and suddenly the whole situation just seemed too much. Len began to laugh, a rumbling sound that started deep in his belly, making his sides ache and tears run down his cheeks as he curled forward; through the tears, he could make out Jim frowning at him, and that only made him laugh harder.


    "What's so fucking funny?" He continued chuckling as he pulled himself back up, meeting the younger man's peeved glare as he stretched out a hand and ran it down the other man's face.


    "Jim, think about it. If you were in my place, finding out that your friend has been overly paranoid ever since you met him because he's hiding a set of honest to god wings under a compression garment, what do you think you would be doing?" Jim glowered at him, before sighing and rubbing a hand against the back of his neck. 


    "It's more than just the wings," Jim murmured, but the glare had faded to a shaky smile. Len sobered, placing his hands on Jim's shoulders.


    "I figured. Chris told me why you have them." Jim soured a bit at the mention of his dad, glancing in the direction the man had walked off towards.


    "How much did he look like he had won the Sol System Lottery when he approached you?" He raised an eyebrow at the odd question, and Jim sighed. "He's been trying to get me to- stop. Stop-"


    "-hiding?" The younger man glared at him, before dropping his eyes down.


    "...I wouldn't call- I- yes." Jim was glowering, and Len sighed quietly. "I knew it was only a matter of time until I was going to have to fess up, but I-" Jim trailed off, and Len ran his hands down to Jim's biceps, squeezing lightly. "-I couldn't bring myself to do it." Jim straightened, looking Len straight in the eye. "I'm sorry." Len snorted, bringing his hands up to Jim's face.


    "No, you're not." That earned him a wounded look from the other man, and Len raised an eyebrow. "Jim, you have gone out of your way for as long as I've known you to make sure that no one, not myself, not Gaila, not anyone else, could get anything regarding your private life out of you. I know damn good and well that it was your dad's idea to bring me over after the ball, not yours. I wouldn't know a damn thing about you besides that you are a genius pain in my ass if it wasn't for that." Jim frowned and crossed his arms with a huff, looking for all the world like a little kid; Len smirked and leaned in, pressing his forehead against the other man's. "Life would be pretty boring without you, kid; that's all I gotta say."


    "Asshole," Jim snarked right back, but there was no heat in it. Len took Jim's hands and brought them both to their feet, the younger man's wings flapping automatically to rid themselves of dirt. He couldn't resist. Before Jim could move, he scooted around him, reaching a hand out and brushing his fingers against the fine feathers near the base of the left wing; he barely missed getting bowled over by the wing snapping out in response as Jim squawked and spun around. "Warn a guy first! Shit!" Len brought his hands up in a pacifying gesture, trying not to laugh at the reemergence of the blush on the other man's cheeks.


    "Why don't you educate me a bit. That will keep me from seeing just how sensitive other parts of you are," Len drawled, barking out a laugh at the sight of the blush working down Jim's neck, then promptly getting knocked on his ass by the snap of a wing. As he laid there on the ground laughing his ass off, he couldn't help but think he could really get used to this.






    Len was getting a bit tired of Jim's method of dealing with emotionally charged issues. Or not dealing with them, as the case generally was. It had been two weeks since he had found out exactly what Jim had been really hiding, and after they had both gotten over the shock, he had thought they had reached an understanding. Jim had explained the general physical differences with a clarity bordering on enthusiasm, and he managed to mostly satisfy both his professional and personal curiosity, even if he had to keep himself from dragging Jim off to do tests. It was clear that Jim liked someone new to talk to about it, and he certainly didn't mind. The revelation hadn't changed any of his thoughts on the younger man, only answered questions- So why was Jim avoiding him? Ever since they had returned from Lundy, Jim had been scarce; oh, he was still talking to him, but there had been no visits to his dorm room, nor calls to meet up. The only time Len saw the younger man is when he ran into him on campus. He had given Jim his space for awhile, to let him adjust to the idea of another person knowing, but this was getting ridiculous. Len had called him several times, and each time the call had gone to messages. He had played with the idea of calling Chris, but that felt like admitting failure; although he didn't have the same dogged determination on some things that Jim had, and was perfectly capable of cutting and running if the situation called for it, failure was still unacceptable. Especially in a situation that was far from a lost cause. He slapped the PADD he was holding down on his desk and stalked to the door. Enough was enough; he was going to find the flighty bastard and force him to come clean. At least that was the plan, anyway. He was barely out of his room before his portable comm sounded, and he sighed and turned towards Starfleet Medical. Jim would have to wait. Commodore Anza's contracting of the Fostossa virus was serious enough to enforce full quarantine procedures for the woman, and Len wasn't able to get back to his apartment for almost forty-eight hours after the summons. As he crashed face-first into his pillow, he swore in the seconds between consciousness and sleep that he would confront Jim as soon as he woke up.

    Len and Jim both had class around the same time in the Sloane building on Tuesday afternoons, with Len getting out of his Advanced Xenobiology class ten minutes before Jim escaped his Advanced Study of Intergalactic Warfare and Tactics class, which had the unfortunate nickname of Asswit. He had pondered that on multiple occasions, and it still made absolutely no sense. Jim had shrugged and smirked with a fervor that sparked a little section of Len's mind he referred to as the bad things zone when he had brought the subject up, saying that it was a tradition, and Len had stopped him before he could start explaining. He was better off not knowing. Len shook his head as he leaned against the wall outside the classroom, watching the red-clad cadets walk by. Jim was not escaping him again. A burst of sound signaled the end of Jim's lecture, and he kept a firm eye on the door as the students began to file out, nodding at the ones he knew. When Jim's distinctive frame emerged, Len wasted no time in getting his attention, sliding in beside him as they headed out of the building. The younger man shot him a look of surprise, which was quickly squashed, a faint questioning glance taking its place.

    "What's going on, Bones?" Len raised an eyebrow, and Jim sighed. "Just spit it out."

    "I'm getting tired of getting the cold shoulder, Jim. We need to talk." Guilt flashed over Jim's face as the sunlight hit them, and Len turned his face towards the warmth for a moment as they walked down the stairs.

    "I'm going to take the test again." Len almost tripped on a step at the proclamation, and bounced uncomfortably on the following step before rounding on the younger man.   

    "Are you insane? Why the hell would you want to do the Kobayashi Maru for a third time? I thought you were crazy for going back for seconds, let alone thirds." Len frowned, before glaring at the other man. "-and you are not changing the subject, Jim. Why have you been avoiding me these last few weeks?" Jim was looking intensely at a spot behind Len's right shoulder, and he rolled his eyes. "Jim-"

    "I want you there."

    "-I know it's a new-" Len cut himself off, and blinked at Jim. "What?" Jim's face split in a mischievous half-grin that made him want to run for the hills, and he scowled. "No."

    "Bones-" Len had unfortunately discovered decades ago that you could not set someone on fire with the power of your eyes. Pity.

    "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a goddamned lemming. If I had interest in watching you bash your head into a wall repeatedly just to see if it would stop hurting, I'd be happy to help you achieve that in simpler and less ulcer-inducing ways." Jim said nothing in response; but in-between one blink and the next, Len found himself faced with the full scale barrage of Jim's puppy dog eyes. He was fucked. "Jim-" That was a lip quiver. Damnit. "Fine. But you and I have things to talk about, mister. Why don't we go back to my-" Jim stepped back, shaking his head.

    "Test is tomorrow, Bones, I've gotta study!" Len managed to wrap a hand around the younger man's left arm, but he smoothly spun out of his grasp, giving Len a slap on the back before fleeing the area. Len scowled at his retreating figure.

    "Study, my ass." He ran a hand through his hair, letting it drop to his side with a sigh. "Damnit, Jim, what am I going to do with you?" He toyed briefly with the idea of chasing after him, but realized that as high-strung as the man got before these tests, any talking now would have probably been useless. Heaving one final sigh, Len set off to his apartment. He wasn't going to let Jim escape tomorrow.   





     The instant the power on the simulation bridge went down, screens and alerts flickering and fading, Len knew something was up. The self-satisfied smirk on Jim's face told him that he knew damn good and well this was going to happen, and he could feel the migraine build behind his eyelids as the sim ended scant moments later. The cocky speech the younger man launched into without missing a beat was so completely above and beyond the call of unnecessary that he felt a smile quirk up the corners of his mouth at Jim's sheer gall, even as his stomach began to churn. Jim was going to be in deep shit, he just knew it, but he couldn't help but be proud of the stubborn brat's perserverence. Uhura looked torn between amusement and suspicion, but Tom and the rest all looked like Jim had just managed to achieve universal peace, by the way they were gawking at him. Jim was going to be impossible to deal with, if he kept this up. The doors opened to let them out, and Jim thanked everyone as they exited the simulator, Uhura included, and Len hung back until they were the only ones in the room.


    "Thanks for coming, Bones." The goofy grin had softened, and it was a more level-headed Jim that addressed him now. Len's lips twitched as they walked through the doors and down the corridor towards the debriefing room.


    "I hope you aren't going to get arrested for whatever you did to get things in your favor, kid," Len muttered; Jim blinked innocently at him in response, and he groaned.


    "I haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about, Doctor." The looks on the proctors faces as they entered the debriefing room ranged from clearly unhappy to curious, and he watched as Jim straightened, his features taking on a neutral expression as he stood with the rest of his Maru crew as the statistics and readings were reported, and short comments from several of the proctors were delivered. Everyone avoided addressing the elephant in the room as they spoke, and after a few minutes, they were dismissed without ceremony. Len had a very bad feeling about this, but he couldn't bring it up in earshot of any of the brass.


    "Jim, why don't we go back to my room, get changed back into our reds." Jim's mouth opened, and he was sure that the younger man was going to come up with some flimsy excuse again, but he was pleasantly surprised.


    "Sounds good. I could use a shower, I didn't have time to take one last night." Because he was getting his plan together for today, no doubt. Len raised an eyebrow as they walked towards his place.    


    "My shower isn't that big, Jim." An odd look flashed over Jim's face, and Len couldn't what he thought he had meant by the comment, but the moment passed and Jim grinned.


    "Are you calling me fat?" Len snorted at the weedy tone in the younger man's voice, and wrapped an arm around his shoulders


    It felt like they had come full-circle in just a few weeks. The last time Jim had been in his dorm, he had stayed the night and left his communicator behind, leading to Len finding out the big secret he had always known he was hiding...and it was a doozy. But now, Jim sauntered through the doors like none of that had happened; the only sign of the younger man was even thinking about the last time he had been there was a pause by the bed. After dropping his bag on the floor next to the bed, Len watched with amusement as Jim stripped himself of the jumpsuit without hesitation, letting it pool at his ankles; his mirth faded a bit when he realized just how far Jim had been going to protect himself, eyeing the undershirt and the pants he had worn underneath. Most people just wore their underwear. 


    "Good grief, Jim; weren't you hot under all that?" Jim shrugged as he stepped out of the jumpsuit.


    "I've been doing this for a long time, Bones. I've gotten used to it." Len frowned at the statement, but the sudden look of worry in Jim's eyes made him shake his head.


    "Nothing." Blue eyes held his own for a moment before looking away; Len pulled at his own jumpsuit as Jim reached for the hem of his undershirt, pulling the garment over his head and off. Len had seen how the harness worked when they had been getting ready to leave from Lundy, had winced at the level of compression it caused, but Jim hadn't even blinked as his wing bones had been crushed into his back by the bioplast. He wondered if it would look as bad in reverse. He didn't even realize he was staring until Jim cleared his throat.


    "Expecting a striptease, Bones?" Len colored, and Jim quirked a smile as his hands went to his side, his fingers sliding under a seam that was completely invisible. The harness was peeled off and Jim's wings were exposed to the air with a grimace from the younger man. "Ick, sweaty feathers." Len watched quietly as the wings twitched, Jim peeking quickly behind himself before unfurling them enough for the ends to slip from his pants. "Do you need a shower, Bones?" Len almost jumped at Jim's voice, and he could feel the blush returning.


    "No, I'm good for now. I'll grab one this evening." Jim nodded, leaning over and pulling off his pants.


    "Good, because you are going to be out of hot water by the time I'm done." Jim looked around aimlessly for a moment. "Mind if I borrow your towel?" Len shook his head, and Jim turned towards the bathroom, providing a good view of a rather nice rear end covered by a fitted pair of boxer briefs- and dark red marks on his upper back marking the points where the wings dug into his back under the harness. Damnit. The door hissed closed behind Jim, and Len shucked the jumpsuit before sitting on his bed, listening to Jim move around in his bathroom. Jim needed to stop wearing the harness. It was a miracle that his wings weren't deformed in the first place, considering he had been wearing one since he was a kid; his only saving grace must have been the ability to take it off at night during his teens, where he would have done most of his growing. As Jim got older, however, he would be sucseptible to a wide range of issues that could crop up from leaving his wings constrained for large portions of the day, and Len wasn't about to let that happen as long as he was around. He listened to the water run for a few minutes from his spot on his bed, before pushing himself to his feet. It was too soon; he had only found out a few weeks ago, and as poorly as Jim dealt with a lot of emotional issues, if he pushed now, Jim would just shut down. That was the last thing he wanted to happen. Len heaved a deep sigh, listening again to the sounds of Jim trying to fit himself into the shower, then dug out his reds and got redressed. Jim wandered out sometime later with a towel wrapped around his waist, staying only long enough to grab his bag and disappear back into the bathroom again. Len couldn't help but chuckle as the younger man had obvious issues at getting dressed, the thumps and muffled curses giving Jim away. After a long, painful sounding minute, Jim emerged from the bathroom dressed in his underwear and pants with the top button undone; the sweater, jacket, and harness were thrown over his shoulder, and Len quirked a smile. 


    "Not enough room in there, Jim?" Jim leveled a dirty look at him before flopping stomach-first onto the couch, letting his wings drape loosely over the couch and onto the floor. Len took one look at the feathers dripping all over his carpet and sat on the edge of the coffee table instead.


    "Your bathroom is criminally small, but no, if I don't let my wings dry out for a bit, they get kinda musty under the harness. So do you mind if I hang out here for a bit?" Of course he didn't mind, but he wasn't going to let Jim avoid talking with him, either. Len met Jim's eyes firmly.


    "We gonna talk while you air out?" Jim frowned, and Len waited to hear some feeble excuse.


    "Yeah, we can." Jim shifted a bit onto his left side, allowing Len to see his face more clearly. "I know I've been avoiding you, it's not- I mean- fuck." Len raised an eyebrow as Jim's cheeks reddened, but decided to take pity and kept his mouth shut. "I think I was waiting for you to suddenly change your mind and decide to do a campus-wide bulletin or something-" His other eyebrow shot up his forehead to join its twin.


    "Jim, I wouldn't-" Jim raised a hand, and Len paused.


    "I know that, Bones; I think I was trying to convince my subconscious of that too...and not doing too well." Jim wasn't meeting his eyes anymore, and Len leaned in to try and recapture his gaze, reaching a hand out and letting his fingers run through the younger man's hair. 


    "Considering you've been literally undercover for almost fifteen years, I can see where you might have some issues adjusting." Jim snorted, but turned his head back towards Len. 


    "You're the only person to find out by accident, you know. John and Doctor Phlox found out because there were no other options." That wasn't what Len had expected to hear. Phlox was obvious, Jim had to get the physicals somehow, but John?


    "What do you mean about John finding out like that? I thought you or Chris had told him." Jim shook his head.


    "No, I had- er, there was an incident while I was in Mojave and Dad was off-planet when I was sixteen, and he was the only one I could contact." This was new. Len looked expectantly at Jim, but the younger man shook his head. "Nothing big, don't worry about it," Jim said flippantly, and Len grimaced.


    "Everytime you say something like that, I imagine fullscale war and widespread dismemberment." The smack to the knee wasn't unexpected.    


    "Only because you are a crazy, paranoid old man, Bones. Sometimes nothing big really means nothing big." Jim flapped his wings, sending Len scrambling for cover while water drops flew everywhere. The glare he leveled at Jim was brushed off with a smirk. "Sorry, forgot to warn you." Len gave the younger man a one-fingered reply as Jim got to his feet and tucked his wings into his pants, following quickly with the harness. Len watched Jim crush himself back into the damned torture device with a frown before turning away. Maybe after graduation. Jim hissed through his teeth quietly behind him, and Len clenched his fists. No, definitely after graduation.








    The call for all third and fourth year cadets to assemble happened shortly before dinnertime, and Len grumbled all the way to the hall, while Jim stayed uncharacteristically quiet. It was clear Jim was worried about the reason for the assembly, and Len wasn't sure quite what to say to him. They filed into the hall without speaking, taking their seats while the rest of the cadets filed in behind them. He looked over at Jim several times, trying to figure out something to reassure him with, but his stiff posture and focused gaze towards the group of admirals sitting in the front of the room kept him from it. The cadets and instructors were all in within minutes, and a quick glance over his left shoulder revealed Chris sitting further up on the other side; he turned his eyes forward as Admiral Barnett began to speak. As the man spoke, his heart plummeted to his gut, and he turned to see Jim's eyes wide and his mouth open in muted surprise. It was exactly as they had both feared. As Jim got to his feet and made his way past Len, Len let his hand brush Jim's leg in a show of support. He saw Commodore Newton meet Jim's eyes for a moment as well as he passed, but he couldn't figure out what the woman had imparted to Jim with that look. Len sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to process. The younger man could be an absolute idiot, but an outright cheat? He didn't buy it. But as he looked down and watched Jim approach the lecturn, he couldn't keep the shakiness out of his breathing. If Jim got himself kicked out of Starfleet-


    "I believe I have the right to face my accuser directly." Jim was going to fight. Len snorted inwardly at his own stupidity. Of course he was, to give up would basically be to admit to whatever they were accusing him of, and to do that in front of his classmates, fellow cadets, and his own father? Not a chance in hell. The rising whispers made him glance around, noticing as a young man- a young Vulcan man walked down the steps on the other side and approached the other lecturn as Barnett gave the hall a glowing introduction of the man. Commander Spock, lead programmer of the Kobayashi Maru exam, distinguished graduate- Len scowled. Jim was going in at a disadvantage; anything the Commander said would probably be given more weight than anything Jim would claim, and Chris couldn't nor wouldn't interfere with the process as long as it was held according to regulations. Len listened to the proceedings with a frown. Jim had installed a subroutine to pass the test, which probably answered the question of what Jim had been up to the previous evening when he had tried to corner him. He was a doctor, not a programmer, but he knew that had to have been a pretty serious undertaking for a test as notoriously difficult as the Maru. Jim had the brains for it, but he hoped that Jim hadn't dug himself too deep of a hole with this stunt. Jim wasn't backing down, though. The conversations they had had after his other tries at the test flashed through Len's mind as Jim rehashed his beliefs about the test to the commander, who looked skeptical, to put it mildly. 


     "Then not only did you violate the rules, you also failed to understand the principal lesson." Jim's reply was terse, and Len could tell that the younger man was getting frustrated. If Jim lost his temper, he would lose on the spot. The Vulcan's reply made his jaw drop. "You of all people should know, Cadet Kirk; a captain cannot cheat death." The intake of air from what felt like half the room was audible, and Len clenched his fists as quiet whispering erupted. The instant the commander stated that Jim should understand the no-win scenario better than most, Len knew that this was more than a professional call-out. Jim had gone rigid, and the sliver of profile he could see from his vantage point was comprised of barely restrained fury. This guy was a Vulcan? Talk about bucking the stereotype; the commander's whole posture screamed superiority, and he could tell that Jim could read it just as easily. Len frowned as the situation disentegrated, Jim getting tenser and tenser, and the Vulcan getting increasingly smug. This was not going to end well. The commander was lecturing Jim on the qualities expected in Starfleet captains and addressing him in a tone that made Len think of his third grade teacher; Mr. Valli had believed utterly in the superiority of his generation, and had all but told his class of eight and nine year olds that they wouldn't get far in life, and would grade accordingly. It had been the lowest grades in his entire school career. The fact this Commander Spock reminded him of that bastard made Len dislike him on the spot, even disregarding the fact that it was Jim he was trying to crucify. Len took a closer look at the Vulcan, but found nothing there that didn't keep him from wanting to stalk down to the lecturn and break the man's nose. The commander had made up his mind, that much was obvious; he doubted anything Jim could say would get the man to change his mind. All they could hope for at this point was for Jim to not get expelled. He glanced towards Chris and immediately winced. The older man looked stunned at the proceedings, his eyes darting between Jim and the Vulcan as they sniped; the commander was getting most of the looks, however, which confused Len until the hearing was interrupted by a messenger. Chris had mentioned his first officer several times, a man by the name of- Spock. Ah. Len raised an eyebrow as he looked over at the captain one more time. The captain had composed himself, but he could make out a furrowed brow on the older man. Len had a suspicion that this was the first time Chris had seen this side of his future first officer, and it definitely wasn't an appealing one. Barnett held up a hand, quieting the room.


    "We've received a distress call from Vulcan." The primary fleet was in the Laurentian System. They were being ordered to report to a ship. Len had done a few short training runs over the last two years, but never out of the solar system; he had figured he would have a few more months to prepare himself for his new reality. He could feel an old familiar quiver in his stomach, but he forced himself to focus on something else. A glance to the lecturns showed Jim still standing there, looking torn between haunted anger and frustration, and he made his way through the crowd down to the younger man's side. Jim didn't look at him when he approached, and Len patted his friend on the shoulder as he followed his gaze to the direction the commander had gone.


    "So that was Commander Spock. For someone he picked, I didn't expect him to be such a bastard." Jim was still too tense, and Len knew he needed to get the man to calm down before he did something he would regret.


    "Well, even for being a know? I kinda like him." He walked off before Jim could reply, but the sputtering behind him told him that he had been successful. Anything to take Jim's mind off of the shit the commander had been spewing. Jim caught up to him, and Len's lips quirked as a solid punch landed on his right bicep.


    "Asshole." The distant look was gone from the blue eyes, and Len did what was expected of him and raised an eyebrow at the younger man's pout.


    "Someone has to keep that ego of yours in check." Jim's middle finger was the only answer as they entered the hangar, filing in with the rest of their barracks group (a term that had always been a misnomer, as two of the group lived off-campus, and not all of them were in the same housing complexes.) The officers calling the assignments were wasting no time, and the assignment to the Enterprise less than a minute later came as no surprise. Len was the highest ranked cadet in his class on the Medical track, and he knew he wasn't going to be assigned to one of the older buckets unless he had seriously pissed someone off. He was pretty sure it had been a few weeks since he last had, anyhow. It was between the Enterprise, the Hood, or the Jiameng, all of them the newest ships in Starfleet; the Jiameng wasn't in Spacedock, however, so it had been a coin toss. The Enterprise was the newest, however, and was by far the desired posting for much of their class. Len was so busy musing that he almost didn't notice that the assignments had all been handed out, and he didn't remember hearing Jim's name. Maybe he missed it. 


    "They didn't call my name." No, he hadn't missed it. Jim chased after the commander, and he followed, keeping a slower pace. He overheard the words academic suspension, and grimaced as the officer walked off, leaving Jim staring after him. This was bad, but he couldn't see any way around it. Jim would have to wait until after they got back, hopefully it wouldn't be more than a few days or so. 


    "Jim, the board will rule in your favor-" Len paused, but he had already started. "-most likely." Jim's shoulders sagged, but he didn't turn around; Len looked absently at the ceiling as he tried to figure out what to say, but nothing came to mind. "Jim, I gotta go." Jim stiffened, but spun around on his heel to face him, his eyes far shinier than they had been only thirty seconds earlier. It was like looking at a whipped puppy, and Len felt his resolve crumbling as the other man reached out an arm, giving him a firm handshake.


    "Yeah, go- go, be safe. Keep an eye on the old man for me, would you?" Jim ended his little speech with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, and Len could only nod as he forced himself to turn and walk towards his shuttle. He had only made it halfway there before he stopped, clenching his teeth and rolling his eyes. He couldn't leave Jim like that, leave him standing in the middle of the hangar looking like a broken toy. There was only one way he could get Jim on the ship with him, and it was risky. There was a small infirmary attached to the side of the hangar, that would do the trick. Turning back towards Jim, who was still standing in the same place, staring into space and shuffling his feet, he knew he had no choice. He came up behind him, grabbing at his sleeve to get his attention.


    "Come with me." Jim followed without arguing, but he only lasted a short while before he spoke up.


    "Bones, where are we going?" Len put a hand up to stall any further questions.


    "You'll see." Jim frowned, but followed him into the infirmary, the frown fading to confusion as Len grabbed an empty hypospray and a vial of Malvaran Mud Flea vaccine. It was the best one for what he needed to happen; the vaccine caused the symptoms to present for about thirty minutes, but faded without further issue. It would be long enough to get Jim onboard the ship and still technically be sick. 


    "I'm doing you a favor, Jim; I couldn't leave you looking all pathetic like that." Jim's eyeroll was expected, but the younger man didn't deny it. "I'm going to give you a vaccine against Malvaran Mud Fleas." Len pulled lightly at Jim's collar with one hand, injecting the hypospray with the other, causing Jim to flinch.


    "What for?" Jim was a talented whiner, but they didn't have time for it. 


    "To give you the symptoms." Len walked over to the supply cabinet, grabbing a small emergency sachel with a basic collection of hypos. If he was going to bring Jim on as a medical case, he had to look like he was prepared for a medical emergency. Jim whined again behind him, his voice tinged with a little roughness that hadn't been there seconds prior. He couldn't complain about the speed of delivery in this case. By the time he approached, Jim was already looking puny, and Len forced himself to keep on his serious doctor face as he all but picked Jim up off the bed he was sitting on, reciting the symptoms as he hauled the younger man all too easily out of the room.


    "You call this a favor?" Jim was honestly feeling like shit now, but it would pass soon enough. Readjusting his arm around Jim's waist, he lifted the man a little more upright.


    "Yeah, you owe me one."   








    In hindsight, he really should have thought this out. As Len discarded his cadet reds into the laundry, he sighed. Jim was going to get him in trouble, and this time, he had no one to blame but himself. He liked to think that he was immune to Jim's charms, however unconsciously the younger man seemed to apply them; but that would be a massive delusion. God, he was fucked. He had managed to get Jim on the ship, avoid the Vulcan; he had even managed to get Jim dressed and to Sickbay without interference. What the hell was Jim going to do on the ship? Getting him on was one thing, but being a stowaway had its downsides. Would he just stay in Sickbay the whole time? Len pulled on the blue uniform shirt, plucking at the neck absently. No, that wouldn't work; he couldn't just keep shooting Jim up with the vaccine to keep him sick, and a perfectly healthy cadet hanging around Sickbay would be questioned immediately. Knowing Jim, he would sneak out as soon as he woke up, probably try and integrate himself somewhere on the ship where people wouldn't ask any questions...which was nowhere. He knew Jim would spin one hell of a yarn to try to keep Len from getting in trouble, even if the evidence was completely obvious...and that was a whole other issue entirely. Len ran a hand through his hair before checking himself over; once he was satisfied he was assembled correctly, he decided to go check on his rather large problem he had sedated in Sickbay. Jim was going to be the death of him someday, he just knew it. He nodded to Nurse Chapel as he reentered, scanning the area before returning to Jim's bedside. He had frozen the biobed's monitoring functions, afraid that something would give Jim's secret away; he was pleased to see that none of the staff had noticed in the short time he was gone. Any other time, he would have been unhappy with the oversight, but not today.


    "Doctor McCoy, Doctor Puri wants you to double-check the drug inventories." Len nodded at Chapel, listening to the shipwide broadcast that had just started with his other ear. Chapel had always been easy to work with, in the few times they had worked together. She tended not to linger on pleasantries, getting straight to the point when it was needed. He liked that in a person. Focusing more on the broadcast, he frowned. The kid mentioned seismic anomalies; earthquakes could cause all sorts of injuries, everything from broken limbs to heart attacks. This was probably going to be a busy next few days, if it was bad enough. The broadcast came to an end, and Jim bolted awake only a second later, mumbling something Len didn't quite catch. Walking back over to the younger man, he gave him a wry smile.


    "Jim, you're awake." Then he looked down, and the words came out before he could stop himself. "God god, man!" Jim's hands were three times their normal size, a sure sign of allergic reaction to something- probably the vaccine. Damnit. He had never seen Jim's medical records, and he was mentally kicking himself as he began to chase after Jim, who had bolted out of Sickbay like his ass was on fire. He could have done serious damage to Jim if he had picked the wrong thing. He didn't remember hysterics being part of the side effects of the vaccine, but Jim was definitely going on about something; he managed to get in a hypospray of digoxin to calm his heart rate down before they were off again, darting between crewmembers as the younger man looked for someone, skidding to a halt as they came up on Uhura, who looked flabbergasted at their entrance. Then he treated Jim's sudden numb tongue as they spoke about Romulans, of all things...then they were off again, Uhura in tow, and this time it was to the Bridge, from the looks of it. Shit. The last hypo seemed to have done the trick, as Jim's hands were back to normal, just in time to come face to face with Captain Pike. They were both fucked. "Jim, wait!" The doors to the bridge hissed open, and it was too late. Chris- no, the Captain, was already on his feet, and he looked furious.


    "Kirk, how in the hell did you get on board?" He didn't just look furious, he was pissed. Len scrambled for something that would salvage the situation, spitting out the first thing that came to mind.


    "Sir, Kirk is having a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine-"


    "Bones, I've got this."


    "He's-" Jim put a hand on his chest, and Len snapped his mouth closed as Jim faced his father and looked him straight in the eye.


    "Sir, Vulcan is not experiencing a natural disaster, it's being attacked by Romulans." Pike gave his son a dark look, before glancing over at Len.


    "Romulans? Cadet Kirk, I think you need to settle down. McCoy, take him back to medical, we'll have words later." Captain Pike still sounded angry, but there was a thread of something else that Len was pretty sure was concern in his voice, which didn't really surprise him. Jim wasn't prone to hysterics. It didn't matter, they were still both completely screwed. Len reached out to grasp Jim's arm, but the younger man stepped away as he continued talking to the Captain, his voice strong and clear, even though it was obvious he was trying to get whatever he wanted to say out before he was stopped again. Len was so busy watching the body language of father and son that he didn't notice Spock until he had interjected, crowding Jim in what was clearly an aggressive manner as he started laying into the other man without remorse. The next time someone tried to tell him that Vulcans had no emotions, he was going to laugh in their face. Spock began to move in even closer, and Len realized that this was swiftly reaching the level of lost cause, if it hadn't already flown past it with streamers attached to the nacelles. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by the Captain, who moved smoothly in-between his first officer and his son, forcing Spock to retreat back a few steps. Jim took the silence that fell to finish his story and indicate Uhura, who had been watching the argument in a nervous silence, clearly a bit reluctant to get between the three men. Len didn't blame her one bit. Uhura confirmed what Jim had said about an attack against a Klingon armada, and he didn't have the faintest clue as to how Jim had found that out, but it wasn't important. Pike's expression went from irritated to commanding, and as the ship went on red alert, Len braced himself a few meters away from Jim as the helmsman counted down to the drop out of warp. 


    Len had seen horrible things in his time as a doctor, but nothing could have prepared him for what was plain on the screen. The wreckage of what had been a small armada of starships lay scattered around Vulcan space, most broken into pieces too small to identify their origin, but the massive remnant of the saucer section of the Howe brought reality into sharp focus as they maneuvered under it. Their classmates had been on these ships, as well as many of their instructors and other personnel they had interacted with, people he had just spoken with hours earlier; Len looked at the screen with growing horror as a massive ship came into view in the distance. He sure as hell hoped this wouldn't be one of the shortest careers in Starfleet history, but the big fucking ship may have other ideas for them. He was right. He managed to hold on as the torpedos struck the ship, sending them all lurching to the side as the ship looped around to face the attacking vessel. Len glanced over at Jim, but Jim only had eyes for the battle. If his wings had been visible, Len had no doubt that they would be flared around him; the younger man's pupils were but pinholes in the sky blue canvas of his irises, and Len forced his own gaze back to the viewscreen before he could get lost in them. Jim was no angel, despite what the sillier side of his subconscious may have claimed, but a hunter? As the viewscreen flickered and the tattooed visage of the commander of the enemy ship focused, the narrowing of Jim's eyes answered the question for them. If they made it out of this, Starfleet wasn't going to know what hit them. Len let his attention switch to back to the Romulan on the screen, just as he delivered what was probably one of the most surreal greetings ever.


    "Hello." Len's eyes widened as Captain Pike and Nero exchanged introductions and Pike did the obligatory offer to negotiate before the subject switched to Spock, who looked as confused as the rest of them as Nero spoke to him like he was an old...enemy. Len doubted that the commander was that good of an actor to reliably hide if he was acquainted with a Romulan terrorist when faced with it directly, and Spock's continuing obvious befuddlement spoke to the Romulan being full of shit. Nero didn't look like sanity was high on his list of personal qualities, anyhow. He did, however, like stealing Starfleet captains. As the bastard commanded the captain to pilot a shuttle and come to the Narada alone, Len blanched and looked over at Jim, who had gone a shade that almost matched the cool white interior of the bridge; the younger man's hands were claws wrapped around the rail, and if looks could kill, Nero would have been dead on the spot. Nero signed off, and Jim barely waited for the screen to clear before he started in on his father.


    "He'll kill you, Captain! You know that-" Jim moved around the rail, moving right up to the older man as he spoke. Len held back, knowing that his interference wouldn't be seen well here; Pike knew his position on the subject without asking, anyhow. For the first time, Spock appeared to be in agreement with Jim, also moving around to confront the captain, if not quite getting in his face like Jim was centimeters away from doing.


    "Your survival in this situation does seem unlikely." The captain was frowning, and Len could see a flash of regret as he looked at his son; Jim looked like he was seconds away from knocking his father unconscious to keep him from leaving, but that wasn't an option. Not when it was clear that the enemy ship could blow them apart without exerting much effort. Captain Pike would use any method at his disposal to try and find a way out of this mess, even if that meant being- Len's chest tightened, and he watched through a dawning feeling of inevitability as the older man looked for volunteers for whatever he had up his sleeve. Chris was going to be the sacrificial lamb, the diversion; the hyper-focused look on the captain's face spoke of acceptance, and the only time the man's eyes showed any other expression is when he looked at Jim- and even that was momentary. He didn't expect to survive. Len couldn't see any way around the demand that wouldn't get them blown to bits like the rest of the armada, but- it was a truth that he didn't want to accept. Len managed to meet the captain's eyes for a split-second as he and his entourage headed towards the turbolift, making sure he poured every bit of concern and censure he could into his expression, and he was awarded with a look of understanding, before the older man's gaze shifted to Jim, then returned to him. As the doors closed, Len sighed and waited for the lift to depart. He knew exactly what that had meant, and he refused to accept it. Chris was going to pull something out of his ass and survive this. There was no other option in his mind.








    Len returned to Sickbay feeling numb. He had no idea what Jim was going to be doing, but he had the feeling it wouldn't be much better than what his father was planning. What was the man thinking, handing himself over to those bastards- Len stepped into Sickbay and froze, taking in the sight in front of him. The lights were mostly out and the back wall was partially gone, a structural integrity field the only block between them and open space; sparks and open panelling was everywhere, and the medical staff that was standing were trying to assess the ones that were not. Len squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. He would deal with things later; it was time to get to work now. A quick assessment of the area led him to believe that the front third of Sickbay had survived relatively unscathed, the middle third was moderately damaged, and the back stretch was all but inaccessible at this point. Spotting Chapel helping one of the other nurses to a bed, he approached her first.


    "Chapel, where's Doctor Puri?" The woman turned towards him, the large purpling bruise on her jaw not keeping her from shaking her head.


    "He was in the back." Dead. That left Doctor M'Benga, a young man around Jim's age who had recently returned from a specialized course on Vulcan medicine, and him. He was the senior officer here, as ridiculous and not as he felt it was, considering he was still a cadet, but it didn't matter. He was now the new Chief Medical Officer. Hell of a way to get a promotion. Moving to check on another nurse lying on the floor, he gently grasped her shoulder and rolled her over. Also dead. Len sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, before looking up to see M'Benga and a few of the others moving covered bodies towards the door.


    "The morgue?" M'Benga shook his head.


    "It's partially intact, from what we can see, but the damage is too extensive right now to access it. We've claimed a few of the unassigned quarters for now to store the bodies. Luckily, the atmospheric controls are still functioning, so we can set the temperatures as low as we need them for now. It's not ideal, but-" Len nodded, before taking the deceased nurse in his arms and placing her on the closest gurney. Her sightless eyes were staring at the ceiling, and he leaned over and closed them before covering her with a sheet. Turning back to the younger doctor, he nodded again.


    "It's what we have to do. Hopefully we can get repairs in, but we can't have the deceased sit around in Sickbay in the mean time." Len paused, then looked up at M'Benga again. "We need to set up an overflow triage in the closest cargo bay or rec room we can get to, maybe two so we can eventually move the bodies to one. The critical cases will go through here, but we'll have a lot of minor injuries that we can't have clogging up the biobeds at this point." M'Benga nodded.


    "Right." Len set to work clearing the mess; the delay in his arrival meant that most of the corpses had been moved already, and he decided to set about checking on the living instead. The wall comm rung out with Commander Spock's calm tones requesting Doctor Puri, and he ran over and slammed his hand on the button, wiping the sweat off his face as he did so. After enlightening the Vulcan of the situation in one of the most pointless conversations of the day, he returned to his work just as the injuries from other parts of the ship began to trickle in.  Some came in under their own power and some didn't, and he triaged them quickly as the remaining staff got to work. This was his element; he hoped he would never have to be the one on the bridge deciding everyone's fate, but he damn well knew what to do in Sickbay. The injuries poured in, and he assigned a few of the staff to deal with the minor injuries while he and M'Benga tackled the more dire cases. Sickbay was overflowing in a matter of minutes, and he instructed the staff to deal with the smaller problems outside, if possible. They simply didn't have the room. He paid no attention to the passage of time as he worked, moving from person to person until another communication from the bridge broke through the fog.


    "We've managed to secure seven escape pods from the wreakage, and we will be scanning the debris for more survivors shortly. Please send a team to Shuttlebay immediately."


    "Acknowledged." Len grimaced as he took a swift look around the room. The minor cases would have to wait. "Borsato! Rose! John! We've got survivors being brought into Shuttlebay, we'll need to leave the minor injuries for later. Bring back anyone who needs medical attention."


    "Yessir!" He turned back to his work, only looking back up when the nurses returned with four people in their wake, only one of them needing support. That was either a good sign for the survivors, or...not.


    "Doctor McCoy!" Len looked up at Borsato, who was waving him over urgently. Leaving his current patient's side, he walked over to the older man, who was trying to reassure the young ensign he had brought in. Len assessed her with a quick scan; there was a piece of shrapnel embedded in her gut, and it had taken out one of her kidneys. All he could do right now was stabilize her and hope that she pulled through, even with such a nasty wound, she was far from the most injured patient there.


    "-was horrible, everyone was yelling and trying to evacuate, but the ship-" The woman's voice broke as he grabbed a hypospray of sedative and gently depressed it into her neck.


    "Start getting her prepped for surgery, Borsato. I'll be back when I can." The nurse looked like he was going to argue, but a stern glare from Len shut him up before he could get a sound out.


    "Yessir." Len tried to give the other man some sort of reassurance with his eyes, but it fell flat. This wasn't any time for impotent words; all he could do is keep doing his job and try to keep everyone alive. He lost track of time as he hustled from one bedside to the next, noting absently when a few more people were led into Sickbay in varying stages of shock; M'Benga reached them first, and he let the other doctor do the assessments as he kept his focus on the patients. He was roused from his work from yet another message, and he stalked over to the comm to answer it. 


    "We have a small contingent of Vulcan elders that need medical attention, they will be arriving at Sickbay shortly." Len acknowledged the news, then signaled M'Benga to keep an eye out as he returned to an engineer's side, setting about knitting up a sizable gash in his thigh that had nicked the femoral artery. The man was lucky to be alive. Twenty-two dead from the Enterprise, and fourteen more critical so far, and that didn't include the Vulcans. The fact that five of the casualties were medical personnel made the situation even more painful. As a small parade of Vulcans entered Sickbay, he finished up with the engineer and approached the group, visually assessing them before signalling a slow-moving dark-skinned male elder to a bed. He almost didn't notice Jim enter shortly thereafter, along with the helmsman, and after a quick eyeballing showed what appeared to be mostly bruises and scrapes, he forced himself to pay attention to his own patient. Sickbay was already calming down, but he wouldn't have time to talk to Jim for awhile. As he checked over the elder, he would have been an idiot not to notice the bleak atmosphere that had settled firmly over Sickbay. The elder was only answering the questions asked, not volunteering any information; he wasn't a master of Human-Vulcan relations, but this was worse than usual. He was certain of it. He could see Jim rise to his feet out of the corner of his eye, cracking his neck from side to side, and he managed to catch his attention with a pointed look. What happened? He mouthed to the younger man, and Jim shook his head. Vulcan's gone. Len's mouth dropped of its own accord, and Jim grimaced momentarily before nodding respectfully to the elders before leaving Sickbay, leaving Len to attempt to digest the information on his own. An entire planet, gone; it was unbelievable. If it had been any other time, he would have assumed that he had misunderstood, had misheard; but one look at the countenances of the Vulcans currently lingering in Sickbay told him that the truth was exactly as horrible as Jim had stated. Len took a deep breath, before signalling the female elder that had accompanied the man to sit on the biobed, so he could look her over. He would keep doing his job, it was better than dwelling on the idea that an entire planet could be destroyed in the matter of minutes, killing billions of people in its wake.








     Commander Spock wanted to brief the senior officers on the bridge, so Len had joined Jim in looking out on the sparse remnants of the battle from the viewscreen. Spock had fortunately timed his orders to right shortly after all serious and critical cases had stabilized as well as they were going to get them, so he wouldn't need to rush back to Sickbay immediately. Jim was a ball of tension; Len could see the harsh set of his shoulders and the even stiffer lines of his false back and knew it for what it was, but the younger man tried to disguise it by first lounging in the captain's chair, then after being evicted from that, he set about leaning on one of the rails with a blank look on his face. Jim believed that the Romulans were going to attack Earth, then move on to the rest of the Federation; that was one hell of a statement, but Len could see why he thought so. Jim was tense, but Len wasn't much better; it had been a very long time since he had been a nail-biter, but he couldn't stop himself from resting his fingertips against his lips nervously as they attempted to figure out just how the Romulans had managed to destroy an entire planet. Good god, he was never going to be able to wrap his head around that, and Spock confirmed as such when he brought up time travel as a possible answer. Len had managed to get his fingers away from his mouth, crossing his arms instead; but the instant Spock's hypothesis was out in the air, Len started waving his hands wildly as he glared at the Vulcan.


    "-are you actually suggesting they're from the future?" When Spock raised one of his eyebrows and quoted Sherlock Holmes, of all things, in reply, he could have socked the man. Len looked over at Jim as the other man pushed himself away from the railing, his jaw set and his eyes distant; Len had only seen that look on Jim's face on a few occasions, and there was only one reason he would have it now. What happened to Chris was an unfortunate possibility of working in any sort of military organization, but he knew that Jim would exhaust any reasonable resources if it meant getting his dad back. Len could only hope that Jim wouldn't lose both of his fathers to selfless acts of sacrifice, against the same ship, no less, but it wasn't looking promising at this point. Jim questioned the assembled officers as to why Captain Pike would have been taken, the helmsman- Sulu, Len remembered, responded with a mention about planetary defenses, and Jim seemed to accept that before looking the acting Captain straight in the eye and demanding that the Enterprise needed to engage the enemy ship to disable it and get Captain Pike back. The bridge had gone silent as Jim had laid out his proposal, and Spock took less then a second to shoot it down as illogical; Len could see the anger building in Jim's eyes, but there was no way he could diffuse the situation at this junction. The navigator, a curly-haired kid who looked only a few years older than his daughter, mentioned that they wouldn't be able to overtake the ship unless they dropped from warp; Jim's idea about overcoming that obstacle was again overridden without pretense, and Len could again see the fury flash in Jim's eyes as he stalked down to confront Spock, who was looking far too level-headed for the situation at hand. This wasn't going to end well. Jim appeared to be grasping for straws by this point, and even Len could see the fallacy in his idea about Nero knowing how the future was going to proceed; Spock countered cleanly with the concept of an entirely new future, and Len looked over as Uhura, who had stayed to the side grim-faced as the others had thrown out their ideas, spoke up for the first time.


    "An alternate reality." Her words were almost tentative, and Len really couldn't blame her. The idea that their whole future had been rewritten just because this Romulan deathship from the future had tumbled through was jarring, at the very least. Spock showed none of that hesitation, and he couldn't help feel a little bitter about that.


    "Precisely." The acting Captain gave Jim a dismissive glance, before turning his back on the other man and returning to the Captain's chair, vocalizing the thoughts that had just run through Len's head before ordering Sulu to head to the Laurentian system. To say Jim was unhappy with the decision was an understatement. He stalked up to the Captain's chair, rage clear on his face and in his tone as he all but yelled at the Vulcan; Len tried to interject before the kid dug his grave further, but Jim was too far gone in his anger. The volume of his voice spiked, Spock's eyebrow twitched with obvious irritation, and Len knew that Jim had just lost. Security was called, and as the two men wrapped their arms around Jim's, Jim lifted his gaze from Spock and looked Len straight in the eye; the depth of emotion he could see in those blue eyes he loved so much was painful to absorb, with rage and fury right alongside concern and desperation, and Len couldn't get his brain together enough to say anything under that gaze. Jim hated being restrained, hated people being so close to his back without permission, and Len realized too late that he had seen this same scenario in at least one bar in the past. As Jim slugged one man, then elbowed the other in the gut, Len was frozen; torn between what would have been his natural instinct of defending the younger man and the realization that Jim had truly gone too far, and he could only watch helplessly as Spock came up from behind Jim and did some sort of pinch to the upper part of the trapezius, dropping him like a rock. The security officers were grabbing him and hauling him away at the Vulcan's command before he could check on him, and he watched Jim's slumped form disappear through the turbolift doors in a daze. A touch to his arm brought him out of his reverie, and Len looked down at Uhura, who gave him a look that he couldn't decide was either sympathy or understanding before turning back to her duties. Spock had resettled in his chair by this point, and Len leveled a blistering glare at the back of the acting captain's head before storming off the bridge. If he said anything now, he would just get himself booted off the ship along with Jim, and that wouldn't solve a damn thing.


    Even if it would make him feel better.








         Len had barely gotten settled back in Sickbay when Spock called him back to the bridge, and he found himself wishing that the comms were built a little flimsier as he smashed his fist into the button to end the call, attracting more than a few curious looks from the staff as he growled and stormed out of the room. Why the hell would the Vulcan want to talk to him? He could only hope this was related to, well, his job, but his gut told him differently. If the bastard was calling him up just to rub his decision in Len's face, he wasn't going to be responsible for his actions. The turbolift slid to a stop, and he took a deep breath, clenching and unclenching his fists as the door opened. Punching the acting captain in his Vulcan nose would be a bad idea from any angle. One more breath, and Len squared his shoulders and approached Spock, who was sitting in the captain's chair like he was a boy on his first day of school, stiff and almost uncomfortable. It looked wrong. Pike had clearly belonged in the chair, and Jim had looked...a lot like his dad when he had done the same for that short period of time. There was an ease there that Spock didn't have, and not for the first time, Len found himself wondering what Chris would think of the clusterfuck of a situation they had found themselves in. He had no doubt that Spock was a good officer, Chris would have never chosen him otherwise as First Officer, but whether the man was a good captain or not remained to be seen.


    "You wanted to see me?" Len's voice held absolutely no enthusiasm, but Spock appeared to make no note of his dry tone as he looked up and started to rise.


    "Yes- Doctor." Len expected to be called out for bringing Jim onboard, to give a report on the current status of Sickbay, even to answer an inquiry on the health of the Vulcan elders; anything but the odd statement that almost thanked him for his support of the Jim fiasco that made him clench his fists again, his mouth turning into a tight line as he didn't bother censoring his response.


    "Is that a thank you?" It was almost invisible, but Len could see Spock's shoulders tighten at his tone, and the other man took a moment before responding.


    "I am merely acknowleging your difficulties." He could have laughed. Instead, he decided to go for it.


    "Permission to speak freely- sir." Spock turned to face him, a slight raise of the eyebrow the only evidence of emotion beyond the usual status quo.


    "I welcome it." Len had given everyone from Jim to idiot kids who had stuck styluses in their ears the look he shot Spock, the one that usually caused Jim to try to change the subject and kids to make up excuses as to why he was stuck extracting the implement from their ear canals, but the Vulcan didn't so much as blink. Figures.  


    "Do you. Okay, then-" He took a deep breath, looking absently to the side before leveling a firm glare on the other man. "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" He registered that he actually recieved a raise of both eyebrows and a slight widening of the eyes in reaction to his query, but he didn't have time to dwell on it. Len voiced his understanding that Jim had gotten out of hand, even understanding the logical merits of removing the problem as he did, but that it probably wasn't a wise choice. As he mentioned some old adage about stallions and the Kentucky Derby that came to mind, Spock looked almost amused at his choice, and Len knew he had taken the wrong tack. Damnit. The acting captain dismissed the analogy with the inference that Jim would only be useful once he was broken in, a both chilling and disturbing thought that made his hackles rise again. Jim was no creature to be trained into submission; in fact, the Starfleet courses had only refined his natural independence, given it strength and command, and although he was far from perfect, he was definitely not the type of person someone like Spock could ever hope to control. Len let his own anger, both at the situation and at the man's cold dismissal of Jim as a little more than a nuisance show on his features as he growled back at the Vulcan.


    "My god, man; you could have least acted like it was a hard decision!" It clearly hadn't been, and if the flippant remark that followed was any marker, the acting captain would do it again in a heartbeat. Len didn't trust himself to speak again, and the sound of one of the doors behind him signalled the end of their discussion. Spock blinked, before looking over his shoulder.


    "Excuse me." One of the Vulcans, one he hadn't seen before had come to the bridge, and Len watched Spock walk off with the other man in silence.


    "Green-blooded hobgoblin," he snarled, walking back to the turbolift and signalling it for Deck Five. If Jim got injured at all on the planet they shot him on to, Len was done with restraint. He had a nice hypo of Kamaraazite flu vaccine that he would gladly introduce to the Vulcan if it came to that. Len reentered Sickbay to one of the critical patients crashing, and he was forced to set his increasingly ridiculous thoughts of vengence aside as he got to work.








     Jim had managed to get back to the ship. Jim had managed to get back to the ship with a friendly looking guy who was wisely staying to the side as Jim taunted Spock in as cruel a manner as Len had ever seen out of the younger man, his comments clearly targeted to get a rise out of the Vulcan. He was once again feeling impotent as he watched the situation degenerate in front of him; he hated the fact that he kept being driven to this point, forced to stand by and do nothing as Jim buried himself even further this time, and the only consolation, not that it was much of one, was that the rest of the bridge looked just as lost as he did. There was a core difference this time around, however, and one glance at the almost mischievious look in Jim's eyes confirmed it. Unlike earlier, where Jim had legitimately lost it during the argument over their plans, the younger man was firmly in control of he and Spock's discussion- and it was Spock who was beginning to crack around the edges this time. As the acting captain's eyes narrowed and his shoulders stiffened further, Len remembered absently that Vulcans were physically much stronger than humans. It was a basic fact that any one who took a course in xenobiology knew, and he just hoped that Jim remembered this as well. He had a feeling that it wouldn't matter if he did or not. Len couldn't say he was surprised when the fist came out of nowhere, knocking Jim off balance and sending him back into Lieutenant Smithson, who had hauled Jim up to the bridge in the first place; the other stowaway backed away from the fight with his hands held up, but it was clear that Spock only had eyes for Jim as he grabbed the other man and threw him away from him. Jim leaned forward enough to cushion his back against the blow, but he had no time before Spock lunged at him again; Len could see Jim do a half-hearted attempt at fighting back, but he had no chance in hell short of Spock tripping and knocking himself unconscious. They could only hope, at this point. Spock caught Jim's cheek at one point, his head snapping to the side as he was shoved harshly towards the consoles closest to the viewscreen; Jim managed to parry the next hit only to leave his sides exposed, and Len didn't know how Spock hadn't noticed that something was a bit strangely padded about the sides he had just hit, but it only proved that the Vulcan was out of control. The punch to the throat that followed made his heart stutter and his brain run through ways of fixing a crushed trachea, but it was clear that it was meant to stun, or Jim would be on the floor already. Jim staggered against the side of one of the consoles, managing to move a few steps away from his attacker before Spock was there, grabbing Jim by the neck and lifting him momentarily before smashing him down into the console with an chilling crack that made Len take a step forward. That wasn't just the console that had made that noise, he was certain of it; he could picture how the fine bones of Jim's wings were grouped together by the harness, could picture how easy it would be to break one of those bones when just the wrong amount of pressure was applied, but it was hard to confirm when Jim was getting the life squeezed out of him by an out-of-control Vulcan. Spock was going to kill him, and none of the gawkers, himself included, could get their brains together enough to stop the assault. Len took another halting step forward, raising a hand automatically, when he was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice.


    "Spock." The Vulcan he had seen Spock speaking with earlier had managed to instill equal parts authority and censure into his voice, and Len realized that the man wasn't just any random Vulcan. A long moment passed after the elder spoke, and Len didn't know if he was imagining Jim's windpipe creaking as Spock tightened his grip; Spock's face was distorted in rage as his father's single word seemed to finally penetrate his brain. He released Jim, staggering back with horror flashing across his features as Jim lay on the console coughing and gasping for air. For a brief, heart-clenching moment, he looked too much like the corpses they had had to move to other parts of the ship, his pale eyes and blood-drained face staring up at nothing even as he coughed, and Len felt a surge of anger lance through him at the sight, convieniently smothering the fear that had been creeping since the instant the fight began. What had the idiot been thinking? Spock could have killed him; would have killed him had Spock's father not interfered, and Jim knew it. He hadn't really fought back against the rampaging Vulcan, sticking primarily to defensive blocks that did little to shield himself from the stronger man's attacks. Len was so angry that when the shaken Spock approached him, telling him to make a record of his resignation as acting captain, he didn't say a damn thing. Turning to Jim, who had managed to regain his feet, he exploded.


    "Well done, Jim; now we've got no captain and goddamned first officer to replace him." Jim didn't even look at him as he replied, and Len ended up focusing on the back of Jim's head as the younger man pushed himself away from the console, making sure he didn't look below Jim's neck. He didn't want to deal with the possibility that Jim was truly injured, not when he was so goddamned furious with the man.


    "Yeah, we do." Jim walked up to the abandoned captain's chair, turning around and lowering himself gingerly as Len boggled. Sulu, of all people, tilted his head in acknowledgement.


    "Pike did make him first officer." Sulu was too damn calm, but he hadn't just watched his best friend get the shit beat out of him in some self-sacrificing stunt that Len was going to throttle him over later.


    "You've got to be kidding me!" That finally got him eye-contact from Jim, who looked both bemused, and maybe a little hurt at his outburst. Len didn't really care at this point. Pike, that wily bastard, was probably laughing at them now, dead or alive. He had obviously seen the depth of tension between the two men, and he had put Jim straight into a position that would force him to interact with Spock. Len was going to yell at him until his ears were bleeding as soon as Jim got him back.


    "Thanks for the support." Jim knew he was mad, and chose to ignore it. Scratch that, he was going to kill Pike for making him have to deal with both of them. Uhura just gave Jim one of those level looks of hers, marred slightly by the rollercoaster of emotion that she had clearly felt during the newest clusterfuck before saying her piece, and Jim responded with the most level-headed thing any of them had said in the last ten minutes. Jim looked out towards the viewscreen as he hit a button on the arm of the chair, announcing his intentions to the ship. There was no surprise at his orders, and Len watched as Sulu and the kid laid in a new course without being prompted. They were going to go for it; all he could hope is that they would survive the outcome.








     "Bones, I'm fine. Fuss over me later." Len needed to see under the harness to double-check the wings that he feared were more than just bruised, but it was clear that Jim had no intention of allowing it right now, not when they were trying to figure out how to sneak up on a blasted death ship from the future. A few minutes of ideas and theories yielded as solid of a plan as they would probably get, courtesy of Chekov, the curly-haired kid who was only seventeen, and Scott, the stowaway that turned out to be a Lieutenant-Commander who had pissed off the wrong guy and gotten reassigned to Icy Death Planet. Len tried to ask what happened, but was cut off by Jim, who shook his head and mouthed later with a barely restrained smirk on his face. That was interesting. The meeting got even more interesting as Spock returned the bridge, looking calmer than Len had ever seen him; he may not be friends with the guy, but he could certainly understand emotional turmoil at its worst, and in a species like the Vulcans, who so highly prized control, it was clearly far more devastating when that control failed. He had probably spoken with his father after he had left, and the quarter-smile and the assertation that since his mother was human, Earth was the only home he had left clinched it. Len managed to keep his surprise mostly internal at the revelation, although he could feel his eyebrow twitching up. Maybe the whole half-Vulcan thing made it harder for Spock to control his emotions, he honestly didn't know; he simply hadn't encountered enough Vulcans for a long enough period of time to judge. That was neither here nor there, however. The focus of Spock's newfound serenity turned towards a plan for he and Jim to go over to the Narada and attempt to rescue Captain Pike, as well as try and disable either the ship or the world-destroying weapon. It was suicide, and Len glared at both of them as they tossed the idea back and forth, bantering like Spock hadn't nearly killed Jim less than fifteen minutes prior. Only Jim. It was decided, however, and Len would be stuck waiting and hoping that all three of them would return alive. Realistically, he knew Chris's chances of being alive even now were slim, but there was nothing wrong in hoping for a miracle. Spock tried briefly to dissuade Jim from accompanying him, but everyone on that damn bridge knew that was a lost cause. 


    "I would cite regulation, but I know you would simply ignore it." The cocky grin that Jim shot Spock after that comment, showing off just a hint of brilliant white teeth that had somehow managed to survive the day's insanity, made the seething worry in Len's gut that hadn't quite settled fade a bit, only to be replaced by irritation as Jim gave an equally cocky statement while he clapped a hand on the Vulcan's shoulder.


    "See, we are getting to know each other." That whole do no harm bullshit would be damned six ways to Sunday by the time Len was done with them- and that included Pike. He had already stopped himself from chewing on his nails on several occasions in the last few hours; trust Jim to cause him to relapse on a long-abandoned bad habit. Len followed Jim off the bridge, cornering him in the turbolift.


    "Jim, are you certain you're alright? Spock did a number on you, and that doesn't even count your adventures to Delta Vega and...what was it? Doing an jump down to the Romulan weapon and fighting said Romulans? You can't tell me you haven't gotten banged up." Jim shot him a dirty look, but Len was the reigning champion of dirty looks, and after a moment, Jim acquiesed. The younger man sighed, letting his head drop to the side as he hit the button to stop the lift.


    "I have to do this, Bones." His boots weren't all that interesting, but Jim was staring at them like they were made from Targ leather. "This fucker is going to blow up Earth if we don't stop him, the orbital defense vessels don't have a chance against it, and the rest of the fleet is days away." Blue eyes met Len's, and held. "If we don't do something, everyone is going to die. If we fail, everyone is going to die anyway, but we'll already be dead, so at least we won't be around to see it. If we succeed, though-" Len took a step closer, reaching out and placing his hand on Jim's shoulder and squeezing lightly. Jim sighed, leaning forward until his forehead was resting against Len's; the two of them stood there silently for a moment as Jim breathed, warm puffs that made Len smile as they carressed his face. He took the hand on Jim's shoulder and ran it up Jim's neck, before cupping the back of the younger man's head. 


    "Chris will never forgive you if you get yourself killed trying to save him. Keep that in mind." Jim's eyes, which had drifted closed as they stood there, flew open; Len kept his hand firm as Jim tried to push himself away. "Jim, I am certainly not saying not to rescue the man, but don't-" Jim slumped, and he trailed off.


    "I know. I'm just hoping that he's still-" It was probably the first time since the mission had begun that Jim had let himself look so uncertain; Len knew that he couldn't be like this in front of the others, but even the greatest military commanders had moments of doubt.   


    "He'll be there. He's so damn stubborn, he's probably stared down half of the ship to death by this point." The shaky smile Jim shot him in response was probably as good as he was going to get in this situation, and he let his fingers stroke through Jim's short strands before releasing him and taking a step back. "You've gotta get going, strategize with Spock and all that." Jim nodded, but neither of them reached for the panel to restart the lift.


    "Yeah." Jim took a deep breath. "Bones, I-" Len shook his head.


    "Get back here in enough pieces that I can still put you back together. Bring that pain-in-the-ass father of yours back with you too, I have a score to settle with him." The shaky smile grew into an honest grin, and Jim chuckled, pressing the button that sent the lift back into motion.


    "A score, huh?" Len gave an exaggerated scowl and crossed his arms.


    "He doesn't pay me enough to put up with you, him and the Vulcan. I plan to have words about that." Jim snorted.


    "I look forward to watching that discussion." The door hissed open, and they walked out onto Deck Five together. Len let his fingers brush the back of Jim's left hand.


    "Be careful, kid." Jim nodded, turning his head just enough for Len to catch his eye.


    "Keep dinner warm for me, dear." Len barked out a surprised laugh, and Jim grinned one last time before turning on his heel and walking in the direction of the transporter room; Len watched the younger man until he disappeared from view, before turning towards Sickbay. He needed to double-check the inventory, and make sure that all of the current patients were settled. It would help him keep his mind off of Jim running around a Romulan ship getting shot at.








     They had lost one of the ensigns while Len was up on the bridge. It hadn't looked good anyway, head injuries of the magnitude the officer had sustained were still often death sentences, even as advanced as medicine was, but he was still a little miffed that they didn't call him when the young man had coded. They were out of body bags, and they were forced to resort to wrapping him mummylike in plastic sheeting before transporting the body to join the others. Twenty-four dead, including Chief Engineer Olson. If Jim and Spock didn't succeed, there would be no reason to keep counting. It just better not be at the addition of number twenty-five, twenty-six, and twenty-seven. The inventory situation was manageable, but not great; too much of the specialized equipment had been destroyed, but the stocks of medicines and more basic medical supplies were holding. Hopefully the Enterprise wouldn't suffer any more direct hits like the one, because he was uncertain that he would be able to make the inventory stretch that far again. He threw himself into his work, forcing himself to stay busy while the ship waited for news.


    "What happened on the bridge, Doctor? One minute we are heading to the Laurentian System, the next Kirk is in command and we are chasing the Romulan ship. Quite a jump, there." Chapel. Len turned to face her, noting how tired she looked.   


    "Why don't you sit down for a minute, Chapel. You deserve a break." They walked into the office together, but the nurse gave Len a dark look as she sat down.


    "I can see the gears turning, Doctor. Can you tell me anything?" He wasn't sure what he could say, but the newest event had been just entered into the ship's log, which was as public record as it got. It also wasn't like the scuttlebutt wouldn't have the news all over the ship as soon as things calmed down. He cracked his neck from side to side, wincing at the sound.


    "The short answer, and the one that is on the ship's log, is that Commander Spock considered himself emotionally compromised at this current time, and thusly followed regulations and stepped down. Captain Pike had named Kirk First Officer before leaving for the Narada, leading to the current acting captain." Chapel stared at him, obviously hoping he would slip something extra, but he was officially immune to being stared down, especially after the events of today.


    "I know you are leaving a whole lot out, Doctor, but I understand your discretion." The blonde woman sighed, running her fingers through light strands before looking back at Len with a smirk. "It's not like anything interesting won't be all over the ship in a matter of hours, anyway." Len quirked an eyebrow.   


    "Then why did you ask?" Chapel's smirk softened as she rose to her feet; she leaned over and patted his hand before withdrawing.


    "Because you needed something to occupy you, even if it was just for a few minutes." Len's eyes went wide, and Chapel chuckled. "Doctor M'Benga might know you better, but even I can see that you were trying to force yourself into your work. It may have been even more obvious after you checked the stock of sanitizing sprays four times before you seemed to realize that you had already done it." Len could feel his cheeks grow warm, and she shook her head. "I'm sure they'll be fine, sir." She gifted him with one last smile, then left the office; he stared at the door blankly until a page on the comm snapped him out of it.




    "Report to the Transporter Room immediately, probable injuries." He didn't even remember signing off. He signaled to Chapel and one of the other nurses as he ran out of Sickbay, refusing to let worst-case scenarios run through his head. Uhura was suddenly right there with them, but he didn't have time to acknowledge her as they pivoted towards the correct doors; the fact that the only sound Len could hear was Mister Scott made his heart skip a beat in fear.


    "Jim!" His momentum was such that he barely slowed as he barrelled through the doors, but he did register the squeaking of booted feet coming to a sudden stop behind him as he rushed to Jim's side, ducking a wing that didn't look quite right to retrieve Captain Pike, who looked like he had gone ten rounds with a Klingon...but he was alive. It wasn't until he had taken Chris's weight from Jim that his brain realized what was wrong with this picture. Spock had removed himself from the transporter pad, but he was clearly curious; Uhura was frozen, as were Chapel and Domino, and Scott- well, the man was still going on about how amazing his transporter feat had been. If he cared in any particular way, he wasn't showing it. Len looked into Jim's pale and bruised features, remembering just how badly he had handled it only a few weeks prior, but except for a short flicker of hesitation, none of that panic was present. It was probably the adrenaline talking, but it would have to do. A quick glare at his nurses snapped them out of it, and Domino moved to Pike's other side while Jim shot him a look that could only be translated as thanks as he darted from the room, the lights glinting off the white tints in his feathers as he disappeared from his view, Spock and a vaguely shellshocked Uhura in his wake. Talk about a complication that he hadn't even considered, and he didn't have time to dwell on it now. Chris was looking at him as they half-carried him down the corridor to Sickbay, but it wasn't until they had gotten him to a bed that he spoke, his wrecked voice barely above a whisper.


    "Take care of him, Leonard." It sounded so final, even more so than that look from before, and Len scowled automatically, shaking his head at the supine man as he scanned him over.


    "Don't you start talking like that, Captain. We are going to do our best to get you patched up, so if there's anything specific that happened to you, we need to know now." Chris was beginning to drift off, his own rush of energy expended far faster than normal due to his injuries, and Len took the older man's face in his hands and forced him to look at him. "Chris, come on." The captain gave a slow blink as his brow furrowed, and Len was about to beseech the man again when he spoke.


    "Ce-Centaurian slug. He- forced it in my mouth-" Chris trailed off, his eyes meeting Len's once more before he lost his fight for consciousness. Goddamnit. He hit a few buttons on the biobed to focus the scan, grimacing as the vermin showed up clear as day in its preferred home around the brain stem. He had only read about them, never seen one nor dealt with it's effects, but he was about to get up close and personal with the little bastard. They were on a limited time frame, the longer the beast remained, the more damage it would inflict.


    "Scrub in, we've got an extraction to do." The area was quickly switched over to the surgical theater configuration, and they carefully flipped Captain Pike onto his stomach, strapping him to the bed as they prepped him for surgery. The ship lurched sharply, sending some of his tools to the floor, and Len grabbed at the edge of the bed as it shook yet again, sending Chapel to the floor as well. "What the hell is going on?" He didn't have time to wait for the possibility of the turbulence fading, and grabbed the hypos he needed, double-checking their contents before depressing them into the side of Chris's neck. He had just lifted the last one away when a massive surge of something lifted them all off their feet, and Len ended up in a pile of limbs as the disorienting imbalance continued.


    "Did the inertial dampers fail?" Chapel groaned as they untangled themselves, and just as Len had managed to find his footing again, the nauseating wave ended, the ship stabilizing under their feet. He had no way of being certain, and no time to ask, but he had a feeling it was over.


    "Rescrub, now!" Chapel and Domino both nodded sharply, and all three of them snapped to their duties. It was time to get to work.








    Len stepped away from the captain's bed as he pulled off his gloves, glancing up at the biobed readings. Chris was alive. It wasn't one-hundred percent certain yet, but he could safely say the outlook was positive. He wasn't able to do everything he would have wanted, but the necessary equipment had been either damaged or destroyed in the initial attack, and he could not risk using damaged equipment; not when he was able to keep the man alive without. He would definitely need additional surgery when they made it back to Earth, however...whenever that was. He nodded to Chapel and Domino, who were doing the cleanup as he exited surgery, rubbing at his eyes. He needed a drink, but that wasn't going to be happening for awhile; not with an entire sickbay filled with varying levels of critical patients, but he could afford a few minutes of peace in the office. Pulling on his shirt, he turned towards the office, the door hissing open in front of him just as he caught a flash of white and gold out of the corner of his eye. It took him a beat to process, before he was spinning around and hurrying to Jim's side. The younger man was unconscious and lying on his back; two gurneys had been set up at the sides of the biobed to rest his wings, and Len's gaze was immediately drawn to the blood and bandages covering the upper part of the left one.


    "Geoffrey, what in the hell happened?" M'Benga finished up with his patient and walked over, prodding at the bandage on the wing before turning to Len.


    "Commander Spock brought him in shortly after the ship stabilized. Shrapnel had lodged across the length of the the cutaneous ulnar vein in his wing, which kept the bleeding at bay for a period of time; unfortunately, it became dislodged during the escape from the battle, causing him to begin to bleed out on the bridge. The Commander was able to pinch off the artery and bring him here before the situation became dire. Elder Sonal began to hemorrhage shortly after he was brought in, however, so the only thing I was able to finish was healing the vein area itself before I was forced to divert my attention." Geoffrey looked apologetic, but Len knew he had done the right thing. He shook his head and picked up a tricorder.


    "You did what you needed to do, Geoffrey, don't worry about it. I'll finish him up." The other doctor gave him a concerned look, before nodding.


    "Don't overdo it, Leonard, you just scrubbed out from five hours of brain and spinal surgery." Len managed a wry smirk at the man as he began to scan, and M'Benga took the hint and walked off. Len finished the scan and looked down at the tricorder, scowling at the results.


    "Good god, Jim; tearing up your wing was just the goddamned icing on the cake," he whispered, running a finger down the bridge of Jim's nose before lowering his hand to lift the younger man's chin to examine the bruising around his neck. The bruising had already started to come in even before he had left for the Narada, but it had looked nothing like this; Jim's neck was a swollen mess of purple and red, and Len could pick out individual fingertips in the markings, making him swallow back bile. The scan had also revealed a bruise on the C6 vertebrae, as well as a tiny fracture to the hyoid bone, which was even worse. The radius and ulna of the left wing were both seriously fractured, causing the area around them to swell enough that it was obvious even through the feathers; he also had several cracked ribs and was lucky to have any ligaments intact in his wrists. Jim looked like something out of a religious-themed horror story, broken winged, bruised, and bloody; his breath was coming in labored wheezes and he was twitching in obvious pain. The universe had been out to get James T. Kirk, and they had nearly succeeded. Len pulled up a chair and sat down next to the motley collection of beds, stroking absently at the back of Jim's hand while loading up the Starfleet medical records database. He had never been able to look before, as he had never treated Jim beyond a few sessions of dermal regeneration- Len shook his head and scowled at the PADD. He couldn't even lie to himself. Len had sat at the consoles at Starfleet Medical multiple times, his fingers poised to enter in Jim's name; but he had always talked himself out of it. As fiercely as the younger man had always defended his privacy, the guilt and betrayal of going behind his back always overcame his curiosity in the end. That was no longer the case, though, and he would need to know allergies and pertinent information before proceeding with any treatment. The whole mess with the Melvaran Mud Flea vaccine was not going to be repeated. As Jim had mentioned before, it was Doctor Phlox's name stamped on the records, and he was curious as to what the Denobulan had thought of Jim's physical differences, which were far greater than he had anticipated. Len's eyes grew as he scanned down the information, noting lung, vascular, muscle, and bone differences; he had expected the bone differences, which meant he was going to have to be extra careful as he repaired the breaks in the left wing, but the sheer amount of overall variances from human norms surprised him. If the DNA wasn't plain on the page, a person looking at the information would probably assume that he was a hybrid of some sort. The first one born in around two-hundred years, and he had almost died a hundred times today. Len frowned, and skipped ahead to the known allergies. Not on his watch. He already had his dad in here, the last- Len froze, looking up at Jim's bruised features before closing his eyes. Chris and Jim were both patients at the same damn time in his sickbay. It wasn't the first time he had dealt with both a parent and child under his care simultaneously, but this was Chris and Jim. He wouldn't be able to face either of them if something happened to the other, not after all the shit that's happened. Finished with the list, he set down the PADD and rose to his feet. Neck first, wing second, everything else could wait. He leaned over and got to work.


    "Leonard, you can barely keep your eyes open. Take a rest." Len lifted the dermal regenerator away from Jim's hand and blinked up at Geoffrey, ignoring the wave of exhaustion that crashed into him. The other doctor's dark, expressive face twisted in a tired smirk, and he clasped his hand on Len's shoulder. "I could see your eyes spin there, Leonard. From what I can see, you've patched up just about everything, save some surface scrapes and bruises. I know you are worried about him, but he's going to be fine. You, on the other hand, look like you are about to pass out. Go take a nap; I can handle things here for awhile." M'Benga squeezed slightly to emphasize his point, but he didn't want to move. Geoffrey gave him an understanding smile as he looked pointedly down at Len's left hand, which was loosely holding Jim's right and stroking the palm with a thumb; Len actually felt a bit of warmth creep onto the back of his neck at the scrutiny, and the other man laughed quietly. "Come on, Leonard, you can leave your boyfriend alone for a little while." The blush was not working its way around to his ears and cheeks. He got to his feet slowly, giving a last look at the readings on the biobed and a light squeeze to the younger man's hand before disengaging. Geoffrey accompanied him to the office, leaning on the desk as he pulled out the cot and sat down. "How long have you known, Len?" Len's head jerked to look at the other man, who was giving him a considering eye.


    "You mean-" He trailed off as the frown grew on his face. "A little over two weeks, Geoff. That's all. Found out by accident." Whatever he expected, M'benga simply smiled and nodded, before his expression became more pensive.


    "People are going to think you've known the whole time." Len couldn't restrain the glare, and the other man raised a hand. "I know you, Len, we've worked together for years. I know you care for Kirk, both as a friend and beyond, and you are one of the least shallow people I've ever met. I believe you. But other people will not- Leonard," he trailed off, twisting his lips; Len kept his mouth shut. "There is a sizable amount of the medical staff and students that are convinced that you stay with him because you have a pathological need to fix things, not out of any real sense of friendship. They look at Kirk's appearance, listen to the rumors involving him and Captain Pike, and hear about his exploits before he came to Starfleet, and they assume that he's little more than a waste of space." Len jumped off the cot, approaching Geoffrey with a scowl.


    "Do they not remember that he's the top student in the Command track? One of the top students at the school? Hell, he-" M'benga shook his head, and he ground to a halt.


    "They don't care, Len. They enjoy their scandals, their rumors; many of them couldn't possibly imagine falling in love with a person who might have a minor birth defect, or anything else slightly odd, and since they could never imagine it, the idea of someone else doing it is beyond their comprehension." Geoffrey gave him a tired smile. "The same idiots who assumed before will continue to do so after we get back; only the material has changed. I just wanted to give you a heads up before you got a rude awakening on the matter." He pushed himself upright, chuckling at the look on Len's face. "You've been attached at the hip to Kirk since you got here, Len. Over the last eight months or so, you've started to look at him in a way that makes me get all warm and fuzzy just by watching. If that isn't love, I don't know what is." Before he could assemble a response, M'benga was at the door. "He's going to need you, Leonard; it's going to be a whole new world we return to, and he's going to be in the center of it."  Len could only stare dumbly at the door as it closed behind the other doctor, before shaking his head and settling down on the cot. He wasn't surprised by M'benga's statements, but at the same time...he was. Maybe he gave other people too much credit, he didn't know; but he did agree with the man's last point one-hundred percent. As for the second to last point, well- he'd think about it later. Grabbing the pillow, he punched it into shape and laid down. He was asleep between one breath and the next.


    "Doctor McCoy." Len snorted awake, bleary eyes darting around until they fixed on the nurse standing near his cot. "Sorry about waking you, sir, but Captain Pike has regained consciousness. He wants to speak with you." He was on his feet and out of his office in seconds, nodding to the nurse before parting the curtains and entering his half-room. Chris's eyes were barely open, but they were open; the dark blue irises visible as he fixed his gaze on Len.


    "Leonard." The older man's voice was weak, but he could still hear the authority in his tone.


    "Welcome back, sir." Chris managed a half smirk, before looking past Len to the curtains.


    "Could you open those?" That was the question that was spoken, but he knew it wasn't the actual one he truly meant. Len twisted and slid open one of the curtains, revealing Jim a few beds away.


    "He's doing fine, sir. I patched him up myself. I'll probably discharge him as soon as he wakes up." Chris's smirk morphed into a relieved smile for a moment, before his eyes hardened.


    "Report, Doctor. What's the state of the enemy ship, anything you know about the state of this ship, and the status of whoever is currently in command, which I assume to be Commander Spock." Len sighed, glancing up at the readings before looking back at Chris.


    "I'll answer those, sir, but that will be it for now. You need to rest." Chris frowned, but he didn't argue. Len took a deep breath and parsed his thoughts. "The Narada is gone, blown apart by the same weapon they used to destroy Vulcan. The ship got thrashed around in the aftermath, but I don't know most of the details, as I was busy with getting ready to operate. I think I heard that communications were out, and we've lost warp drive. As for who is in command-" He trailed off for a second as he thought about it, before continuing on. "That would be Commander Spock at the moment." It took him a second to realize the issue in his wording, as Chris's eyebrows shot up and his expression grew stormy.


    "-at the moment?" Len closed his eyes with a grimace. "Leonard." He sighed and looked at the older man, who was frowning at him with considerable fervor. "Now, Leonard." This wasn't going to end well.


    "-I'll be discharging him as soon as he wakes up." Chris's eyes flew open, and a sensor on the biobed wailed as he tried to sit up; Len killed the alarm before anyone came to check on the situation and took the older man firmly by the shoulders, keeping him down. "You are in no shape to be moving, Captain!" A hand wrapped around the front of his shirt, the grip shockingly firm as it yanked him close to Chris's face.


    " my son...the acting captain?" Scratch any earlier thoughts, Chris was furious. Len grabbed the older man's hand, uncurling the fingers from his uniform and taking a step away from the bed. Chris's heart rate was skyrocketing, and he grabbed a hypospray, dialing it to a sedative before turning back to the Captain. "Answer me, Doctor." The injured man's expression had gone tight, and Len looked at him for a long moment before sighing.


    "You gave conflicting orders, sir. The commander was going to head to the Laurentian System after Vulcan...was destroyed, as you had originally indicated; Jim insisted on pursuing the Narada, both before it destroyed Earth and to rescue you, which you also ordered. To summarize a whole hell of a lot, after an altercation between Spock and Jim, Spock stepped down and Jim took command." Chris's heart rate had settled down, but worry had replaced the anger on his face, his eyes darting towards Jim's unconscious form before returning to him.


    "Commander Olson?" Len shook his head, and Chris heaved a broken sigh, running a hand over his face. "He's just a cadet; a brilliant one to be sure, but as the acting captain? I assume Doctor Puri is also deceased, by the fact you appear to be in charge around here." Len sighed again, but met the older man's gaze firmly.


    "Captain, you would have never named Jim First Officer if you didn't believe he could do the job, and we both know it." This wasn't like the man, to second-guess either Jim or his own decisions, and the exhaustion that was flickering across his face told the reason why. Chris looked over at Jim one last time, before turning his head upright and closing his eyes.


    "Trust you to beat reason back into an addled old man's head, Leonard." The ghost of a smile on the older man's face reassured him, but he still needed to sedate him. Just as he was about to inject him, Chris's eyes cracked open. "How bad is it?" Len betrayed nothing in his face.


    "I've done what I can here, you will need additional surgery when we get back to Earth. Nothing is certain, but I have a positive outlook." Chris snorted as he depressed the hypospray against the man's neck.


    "In short, who the hell knows?" The last few words were slurred as the drug took effect, and Len quirked a tiny smile as the Captain fell asleep.


    "Story of our lives." After checking Chris's vitals one last time, he left his side and walked over to Jim, who was beginning to show signs of life; the snuffling and groaning coming from the younger man as he twitched awake made Len chuckle. After a short period of time watching the spectacle, Jim's eyes fluttered open, giving him a great view of slightly crossed brilliant blue eyes as they tried to focus on their surroundings.   


    "B-Bones? Wha'm' I doin' here?" Jim immediately began to sit up, but his arms were still catching up with his brain; Len quickly grabbed his shoulders as he began to pitch backwards, causing the younger man to fix his gaze on him. "I was on the bridge. What happened?" Once he was satisfied that Jim wasn't going to topple over, he released his shoulders and stood next to the collection of beds.


    "You sustained an injury to your left wing; a piece of shrapnel that tore into a large part of the length of your cutaneous ulnar vein, lodging there and probably causing a good amount of pain, which I'm sure you were ignoring during your epic adrenaline rush, you blasted idiot. It freed itself in the turbulence of the aftermath, and you began to bleed out on the bridge. From what I gathered, you passed out, Spock managed to stem the blood flow and deliver you here, and Geoffrey fixed you enough so you wouldn't exsanguinate on us. After I finished the surgery on the captain, I came out and finished the job, save for some cuts and scrapes. Then I took a nap, spoke with your- the captain for a few minutes until I needed to put him under again, then saw you were waking up." Len quirked an eyebrow at Jim, who was glancing towards the still-parted curtains over at Chris's area. "I'm going to run a few quick scans, but I should be able to let you get back to work in a few minutes." Jim nodded absently, still looking over at his dad; he sighed and took Jim's hand. "Get up, I'll update you on him while I make sure you are fit to leave." Jim wasn't able to hide the flash of pain as he shifted his left wing, which was still somewhat swollen, and rose to his feet; Len gently felt at the site of the now-healed injury before looking back at the younger man. "You also managed to fracture both the radius and the ulna, so the wing is going to be sensitive for at least several days. Don't move it too much." Jim frowned at him, tucking his wings slowly towards his back.


    "How long have I been out?" Good question. A short glance at the biobed monitor provided the answer as they approached Chris's bedside.


    "About eight hours, I think. I was in surgery, as I said, so I don't know the exact time you were brought in." Jim stiffened and frowned at the news as he closed the curtains behind them.    


    "Fuck. I wonder if Spock decided to retake command while I was out," Jim mumbled, but it was clearly more for himself than for Len. Taking Chris's hand in his own, the younger man looked back at him. "How is he?" Len's lips pursed of their own accord, and he watched as Jim tightened his grip on his dad's hand.


    "Provided no unforeseen complications come up, he's going to make it, although I suspect there will be side-effects. I was unable to do all the procedures I wanted here, as the equipment is damaged, so he'll need further treatment once we make it home." Jim nodded.


    "What's the worse case scenario?" Len grimaced, before forcing his face into a more neutral expression.


    "Jim, those bastards force-fed him a Centarian slug. I pulled it out of the base of his brain stem during the surgery, where it had been happily chewing and secreting toxins that I'm still analyzing for some time. He's not going to be one-hundred percent for some time...if at all." The younger man had gone pale, licking nervously at his lips as he brought his other hand up to cup Chris's hand; Len placed a hand on Jim's shoulder and squeezed. "His cognitive functions seem normal, he was able to move his head, torso, and arms in the short time he was awake. Any further tests will have to wait until he has rested some more. The first thing he did when he woke up was start interrogating me, kid, so I'm keeping positive." Jim gave a weak chuckle, tightening his grip before releasing Chris's hand and stepping back.


    "Sounds like him." Jim reached out and took Len's hand, gripping loosely at his fingers. "Thank you, Bones. For everything. Fuck, if you hadn't gotten me on this ship, he'd probably be dead." Len lifted his captured hand and brought it to his lips, laying a light kiss on Jim's grasping digits. 


    "Jim, you've saved a lot more than the Captain in the last twenty-four hours, and you best remember that." The other man's face remained calm, but his wings twitched in response, drawing Len's eye. Jim tensed automatically, but let himself sag in the next breath.


    "Shit. It's going to take me awhile to get used to this." Jim drew his hand back, but not before letting his fingers run over Len's lips first. "I feel like you are courting me or something sometimes when you do things like that." Len raised an eyebrow, and the younger man laughed. "Yeah yeah, I'm full of it. Not." Jim turned and headed to the door, turning back towards him as it hissed open. "Get some sleep, Bones, you look like shit." His already-raised eyebrow angled sharply as he scowled, and Jim gave a naughty grin. "Catch you later!" Len spun on his heel and stalked back into the office. He definitely wasn't paid enough to put up with this shit.








    It took Len three days after he discharged Jim to realize that the younger man had no quarters, which irritated him to no end. He was usually more observant than that. He entertained the hope for a short while that Jim had just decided to use his dad's, but after he realized between his endless rounds that Jim seemed to be in sickbay far more than necessary, he knew something had to be done, especially after Jim actually spooked one of the nurses when she came in to him perched on the end of a vacant biobed, his wings slightly lifted for balance and his toes wrapped around the edge of the frame...asleep. Len isn't even sure he could pinpoint the specific reason Jim could do that without his feet seizing up, but it wasn't important. What was important was that the nurse had walked straight into his office and all but demanded that he figure something out, disturbing his work in the process. Jim had been gone when he had walked out to speak with him, and he had sighed and told the nurse he would speak with him at the next opportunity. It wasn't until almost eight hours later that he had enough downtime to try and corner the stubborn idiot. Len walked out of the office, prepared to go to the bridge to find him. He didn't have to go far. He was stopped by the sound of a voice, thin and raspy from weakness coming from one of the semi-private rooms in the back of sickbay, a voice that Len knew all too well.


    "He's in here, Leonard." Len closed his eyes against the wavering tones of Chris's voice, his chest inexplicably heavy. Of course he was in there; Jim had been coming to check on the Captain frequently since he had been released. He turned and entered the partially walled, partially curtained area, coming to a sudden stop at the scene in front of him. "Close the curtains, Leonard." Len did as he was told without turning, keeping his eyes on Jim. He had seen this same view hundreds, if not thousands of times; concerned family waiting at their loved one's bedsides for something to change, but this was more visceral than that. The Judeo-Christian belief system wasn't nearly as entrenched as it once was, but Len knew that the sight of a winged being sitting at a sick man's bedside, his head cradled in his arms in slumber was a vision that would stop most humans. Chris's right hand was resting on his son's head, fingers lightly stroking at his scalp as the younger man made choked-off whimpers and sighs; noises that went straight to Len's heart, sounds that made him want to take Jim into his arms. God, he looked so young. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. This wasn't the time. He sighed and met Chris's exhausted eyes, eyes that had barely been able to focus until just a day or so ago, but were now casting a concerned gaze down on his son. Trust Jim to worry a man who had been on death's door only four days ago.


    "He doesn't have any quarters." Len suddenly couldn't look at Chris, and turned his eyes to Jim's twitching wings. "I should have realized this days ago." Chris's sigh was almost inaudible.


    "You've been a bit busy, Leonard. Jim's a big boy now, he can take care of himself." Len glanced up at Chris's tired expression before returning his gaze to Jim, who had gone quiet, but showed no other signs of waking up.


    "Except when he can't," Len murmured, and Chris gave him a sharp, considering look before closing his eyes as he exhaled.


    "Except when he can't." Chris's voice was barely above a whisper, and he knew he needed to get Jim squared away before the older man fell asleep. Len moved to Jim's side, placing a hand on the slumbering man's shoulder.


    "Jim, wake up." Jim groaned and shifted, but did not lift his head; Len snorted and shook him lightly. "Jim-" A second shake did the trick, and his hand was thrown from the younger man's shoulder as he bolted upright, looking wildly around for a moment before sagging in his seat. Chris had reopened his eyes at the spectacle, a ghost of a smile at the corners of his mouth before he closed them again.


    "Jim, go with Leonard." The command was clear even through the hushed tones, and Jim frowned at his dad. 


    "Dad-" Chris cut him off cleanly.


    "Son, you aren't a child anymore. This isn't eleven years ago on the Yorktown; you are a member of Starfleet, and you have responsibilities to this ship as its acting captain. You can't snatch an hour of sleep here and there at my bedside and hope to keep functioning with any reasonable success." Len could see when Jim grit his teeth together, and expected an argument from the younger man. He ended up being pleasantly surprised. Jim got to his feet, his spine popping as he straightened next to the bed.


    "Yes, sir." Jim's jaw was set, but he was doing a horrible job at trying to keep the worry off of his face. Chris's lips began to twitch again as he took in the sight through shuttered eyes.


    "I'm not going anywhere, Jim. You took care of that." Jim glanced at Len before turning back to the older man with a sigh. "You both did." Len caught the captain's eyes as he tilted his head towards the curtains. "Scoot, you two. Short of an emergency, I don't want to see either of you for at least ten hours." Len raised an eyebrow at the statement as Jim sputtered; he chose to defuse the situation by weaving his arm through Jim's and pulling him towards the curtains. 


    "Get a good night's sleep, sir." Chris gave a minute nod as he closed his eyes again, and Len focused on getting Jim out of Sickbay before he changed his mind about cooperating. The younger man allowed himself to be dragged along for a few seconds after they cleared the curtains, before shrugging out of his grip.


    "I don't have quarters, Bones." Len rolled his eyes and started for the door; after a moment of hesitation, Jim began to follow.


    "You may not, but I do, Jim. It's not like we haven't slept in the same vicinity before." It had been some three weeks since they had last done so. Len sighed inwardly. The last week felt like a lifetime on its own. As they entered the turbolift, he looked over at Jim, who was standing at parade rest, his wings tight against his back; an ensign looked between the two of them with an expression that Len couldn't really translate as they reached their floor. The younger man stepped out first, but came to a stop outside the doors as he joined him. "It's just down the hall." Eyes followed them as they approached his room, but Jim seemed to be able to brush them off as the door opened to admit them. As it hissed closed behind them, Len watched Jim deflate. He sniffed in the younger man's direction, earning him a tired scowl. "When was the last time you showered? When you were still in Sickbay?"


    "I haven't had time, I've been busy." Jim's face was drawn and pale, and he rolled his eyes as he gently steered the young man towards the bathroom. Jim pouted at him, but his heart clearly wasn't in it. Len ducked under Jim's wings and examined the shirt's construction as he tried to figure out how to get it off. Jim chuckled as he reached behind and ran his fingers down the overlaps in the seams directly under the wing joins, causing the back of the shirt to separate into three pieces. "I may be a bit tired, old man, but I can still undress myself." The shirt was pulled off and thrown on the counter as Jim toggled the settings on the shower. Len snorted and walked to the door.


    "Let me know if you need anything." He didn't wait for an answer, striding into the bedroom and beginning to shuck his own clothing, pulling on a pair of pajama pants. He could wait on a shower until the morning. He had just settled down onto the edge of the bed when the water shut off.


    "Do you have a pair of boxers or something I could borrow?" Len rolled at his eyes at the muffled voice came through the bathroom, and he slapped his hands on his knees as he rose back to his feet.


    "Hold on." A few seconds of digging produced both underwear and pajama pants, both too big, but that was all he had. He walked up to the door with a tiny smirk. "Need help putting them on?" The silence that followed was golden, and Len barked out a laugh. "Come get them, you baby." The door hissed open to reveal a towel-clad Jim, glowering at him as he stretched out and grabbed the clothes out of his hands before the door rushed closed again. Len chuckled as he walked back to the bed, letting himself flop on top of the covers. Jim's ears had been a lovely shade of burgundy.


    "You are an asshole, you know that, right?" The younger man walked out of the bathroom, the environmental systems clearing the cloud of steam in his wake in moments as Len gave Jim a once-over. He had been so stunned at Lundy that he hadn't done more than a cursory look at anything but the wings, and Jim hadn't stayed still long enough when he had borrowed his shower the afternoon before they left, but now- Jim was shooting him a sour look as he wandered over to the other side of the bed. "Take a picture, it'll last longer." Len focused on his torso as Jim turned around and sat on the edge of the bed opposite him. He had noted the scar on his right shoulder before, but hadn't realized how serious it was; it was clearly from a burn of some sort, but the only way the scarring would have been that severe is if it had been left untreated for a significant period of time. Besides the shoulder, he was generally unblemished, but he was so damn thin.


    "Jim, when I would ask you your weight, the number you gave me included your wings, didn't it?" Jim twisted towards him as he lifted his legs onto the bed, and shrugged.


    "Yeah?" Jim scooted as he pulled the covers down enough to get under, lying down on his side and pulling them up to under his ribcage. "Are you going to just stare at me all night, or are you going to bed?" Len rolled his eyes as he commanded the lights off and slipped under the covers as well, facing the younger man.


    "You know, this was a lot easier than it was a few weeks ago," he said wryly, and Jim glared at him before pushing his head into the pillow with a sigh.


    "You know why." That he did. Len hmphed and slid closer to the acting captain, resting a hand on Jim's waist as he leaned in and gave him a kiss on his forehead. Jim tensed momentarily at the physical contact, but relaxed after the kiss, actually shifting a bit closer.


    "Good night, Jim." Jim gave a slight smile as Len's eyes drifted closed.


    "Night, Bones."








    Sickbay was finally starting to thin a bit, excepting the patients who would be remaining with them for the duration of the trip back to Earth. Communications was still fucked, although he had heard they were trying to rig something up with the shuttlecraft, and Chris was staying conscious long enough to start getting difficult. What in the hell was it about commanders and being horrible patients? After the older man had tried for the fifth time to get out of bed, only to nearly fall on his ass, Len had argued with Chris enough. When he succeeded in his mission of falling on the sixth attempt, Len had been forced to strap the man's legs down. That hadn't gone over well.


    "McCoy to Bridge. Please tell me Captain Kirk is there." A moment's pause, then a familiar voice answered, making Len sigh with relief.


    "Kirk here. What do you need, Bones?" Jim sounded tired, but curious; Len glanced towards Chris's area before speaking.


    "I need to speak with you regarding one of the patients, Captain. Preferably sooner rather than later." He infused enough concern into his voice that he was certain that Jim would get the hint. He better get the hint.


    "On my way." He had gotten the hint. Len walked back to the older man's bedside, looking down at his supine form, relaxed in sedation. He cringed as he did a cursory examination. He really hadn't wanted to do that; he did not look forward to when Chris woke up. He could hear the doors open behind him, and popped his head out of the curtains long enough to flag down Jim, who immediately entered, closing the curtain behind him with a short swipe of his right wing. "What's up? Why is he out? I thought he had been staying awake most of the time." He waited for Jim to notice the leg restraints before speaking. "Bones, what is-"


    "He wouldn't stop trying to get out of bed. His brain isn't processing signals from his legs correctly, he's in no condition to be doing anything more than sitting up, let alone trying to stand." He couldn't keep the resignation out of his voice, and he could see when the light dawned.


    "You sedated him." Jim's voice was flat, and Len ran a hand through his hair.


    "His heart rate skyrocketed as he...informed me of his displeasure at the proceedings. I had no choice, he wouldn't calm down." He felt like he was making excuses, and hell, he was; but they were excuses backed up with plausible reasoning. He could see that Jim understood this, as the younger man pulled a face and ran his hands over his eyes.


    "I never thought I would be in this position when I was younger." Jim's voice was soft as he gestured to Chris, who was beginning to shift slightly. "I mean, I never saw my mother; I figured I would just get a transmission one day telling me when she died. I never thought I'd have at a parent's bedside. He was in Sickbay more than once during our time on the Yorktown, but-" Len frowned as he listened to Jim. It was something he had far too much experience with, and he had dropped enough hints over the last few years that he was pretty sure that Jim at least had an idea of that. Jim was looking between the two of them as Chris's face scrunched up in the telltale sign of imminent revival.




    "It looks like he's waking up." Jim clasped him on the shoulder, his expression subdued, but Len could see the resilience in his eyes. They had all changed in some way in the last few weeks, and Jim possibly most of all. The jury was out for him on whether he liked all of the new things he could see in the younger man's eyes, but at least they were still alive. That would have to be enough for now.


    "Call me if you need me." The grateful smile that Jim shot him made his breath catch, and Len slipped out to leave the two in peace. He returned to his rounds, resisting the urge to listen in on their conversation; he almost approached when he became able to clearly hear their voices over the eternal beeps and trills of the machines, but they swiftly quieted down and he retreated to his office to catch up on paperwork as soon as he was done, after instructing the nurses to stay out of the captain's room.


    "Bridge to Sickbay." Len sighed and hit the comm button as he set down his PADD. Just who he wanted to talk to.


    "McCoy here." Spock's voice was as bland as usual in reply, and he frowned.


    "Doctor, might I inquire if you know the whereabouts of Captain Kirk?" He frowned at the comm for a moment before responding.


    "He's speaking with Captain Pike at the moment, you want me to send him your way?" 


    "That would be ideal." He couldn't resist an eyeroll at the Vulcan's stiff language.


    "Give me a few minutes." He cut the connection and rose to his feet, catching his academy ring on the table and tweaking his finger as he stalked from the room. "Goddamnit, that hurt." He was still rubbing at the sore pinkie as he approached Chris's room, but the sound of agitated voices caused his attention to shift.


    "Dad, please don't do this. Don't shut-" Chris's voice was rough, and colder than that damn planet Jim had taken a short trip to not two weeks prior.


    "You have a ship to be running, Captain. Go do your damn job and leave me alone." Len could hear Jim's sharp intake of breath at his dad's words, and before he could intervene, he heard the scrape of the chair.


    "I'll be back later." The younger man's voice was shaky, and Len bit back a sad sigh. "Try- try to get some rest, okay?" He stepped back far enough that Chris wouldn't be able to see him, but it didn't fool Jim, who leveled an exasperated glare as he pulled the curtains shut behind him. After they had walked a sufficient distance away, Jim spun on him with a worried expression. "How much did you hear?" Len shook his head and indicated the office with a quick twitch of his hand; Jim marched in ahead of him and propped himself onto the corner of his desk.


    "I just heard the last two sentences or so. I was actually coming to get you, Spock wants you on the bridge." Len sat on the desk next to Jim, and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Jim, your dad is working though a lot of issues right now. He's not going to be in the best of places for awhile." Jim looked so damn lost that his wings were actually drooping onto the desk as he slumped.


    "He wouldn't listen to a damn thing I said, he just wanted me to go away."  He never wanted to hear that sad little voice ever again out of the kid. Trust Jim to be a paragon of strength during the end of the world, but when it came to more personal matters- Len tightened his grip on the younger man's shoulders, pulling him until he was flush with his side.


    "Jim- Jim. I think the events of earlier may have brought home just how serious his injuries are. Give him some time." Jim looked like he was going to pull away, but he chose otherwise, letting his head fall to Len's shoulder. "I'm doing everything I can, Jim. But until we get home, there's only so much I can do." The sandy-haired man's head scrubbed against the fabric of his uniform in the semblance of a nod.


    "I know. It's just- I'm not used to seeing him like that. He-" Jim sighed, and Len bumped his cheek against the messy hair.


    "No one ever is." Jim pulled away, and gave him a resigned half-smile.


    "Spock wanted to see me?" He nodded, and Jim rose to his feet. "Thank you, Bones; I don't know what...I would have done if he hadn't made it. I know it sounds childish, but-" Len placed a finger on the younger man's lips, silencing him.


    "Jim, no one in their right mind wants to see their parents in pain- or worse. If you had been indifferent to the situation, we probably wouldn't have been friends in the first place." Jim's eyes were getting glassy, and Len flicked at his cheek. "None of that, Jim. Wait until you're off duty." Jim snorted a laugh, bringing a hand up to pinch at the bridge of his nose.


    "Fuck, this whole mess is making me maudlin." After several rapid blinks, Jim got himself under control, and Len gave him a slight smile. "Time to go, Spock is probably about to march in here." They exited his office together, revealing Spock standing near the door to Sickbay. "As I said." Jim smirked, and turned to Spock. "Sorry about that, Spock, had something to discuss with Bones." Jim headed straight for the exit, but when Spock turned to follow, Len spoke up.


    "Commander, can I speak with you for a moment?" That earned him an eyebrow from Spock, but the Vulcan approached without further comment; Jim froze in the doorway, and Len shooed him out. "He'll be right behind you, Jim; I just need to ask him something." Jim responded with a suspicious glance, before shrugging and leaving. He turned to Spock, who was waiting silently with his hands clasped behind his back. "How much did you hear?" Spock blinked, but showed no other indication of surprise.


    "I am unclear as to what you are referring-" He cut Spock off with a sharp cut of his hand.


    "Don't start. Jim may be happily assuming that you had just entered, but I know better." The Vulcan's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, and he had his confirmation. "Let's continue this in my office." As soon as the door closed behind them, Len rounded on Spock. "Well?" Spock looked at him for a moment before replying.


    "I entered Sickbay fifty-four seconds before the end of your conversation. The subject matter was...unclear from my prospective." Len rolled his eyes.


    "What part?" His tone was bone-dry, and Spock looked vaguely constipated as he responded.


    "There is only one patient currently in Sickbay that could possibly fit the subject matter, however-" He snorted, and sat down on the corner of his desk, crossing his arms.


    "Spock, what do you know about Captain Pike's family?" Spock's answer was immediate.


    "The Captain has a mother that lives in the city of Mojave, where he also retains a residence." Len nodded.


    "It's actually about thirty minutes outside the city, but close enough." The eyebrow was questioning this time, but he didn't take the bait. 


    "He also has a son that lived with him aboard the Yorktown for approximately seven years, ten months." It was his turn to raise an eyebrow.


    "What was the son's name?" Spock actually appeared to have to think about it, several beats passing before he spoke again.


    "James Pike, I believe." As tempting as it was, Len kept his mouth shut, raising both eyebrows as he stared expectantly at the Vulcan. It didn't take long. Spock's eyes widened slightly, and he glanced absently towards the door before facing him again.


    "-fascinating." Spock raised an eyebrow. "That does provide an explanation for the Captain's frequent visits, as well as providing some insight to his actions since he made his presence known aboard the Enterprise, however-" He paused, shooting Len a look that was the closest he had ever seen to confusion on the man's face. "-they are not biologically related." It was not a question, and Len nodded.


    "Correct again." Another pause, and both of the Vulcan's eyebrows twitched upward before he met Len's eyes.


    "Captain Pike took Mr. Kirk in after the emergence of his x-gene." His head tilted slightly, as Len nodded again. "Mr. Kirk's file stated that he was not to be placed onboard the Enterprise unless absolutely necessary, which I had found unusual, but I had no reason to question it. I believe he was listed under the Farragut prior to the hearing." He paused one last time. "The Admiralty was aware of their relationship." Len snorted.


    "Considering Jim lived on the Yorktown for almost eight years, I think it would have been hard to hide."


    "Indeed. If it were not Captain Pike, it into question his motivations for promoting Mr. Kirk." Len cringed inwardly, closing his eyes for a moment; damn politics, he hadn't thought about that. He scowled, and pointed a finger at the Vulcan. 


    "Don't even go down that road, you-" Spock held up a hand, and he trailed off.


    "Captain Pike's decision was based on obvious merit, disregarding the events shortly before our launch. Mr. Kirk is the head of his class in the command track, as well as one of the top final year students overall at the Academy, and has completed more command training than any other cadet aboard this ship. Disregarding Commander Olson, who had a reputation of impetuous action that would have been undesirable in the situation we were in, as it became apparent in the manner of his unfortunate demise, and Doctor Puri, who had only completed the minimum requirement of command training, Mr. Kirk was the logical choice." Len felt the thread of tension that had worked into his shoulders disburse, and he looked at the Vulcan with a wry eye.


    "That was almost nice, Commander. Might want to be careful." Spock's eyebrow inched up further as he turned towards the door.


    "It is clear that you are acquainted with Captain Pike in addition to Mr. Kirk, so I will state that the reactions of some of those among the Admiralty will not be as favorable, nor understanding. Captain Pike is most certainly aware of this." Len looked towards the direction of Chris's bed as they exited the office, before running a hand through his hair.


    "The man has a lot on his plate, I don't plan on bringing up more things that will only distress him," he said softly, Spock giving a tiny nod of his head in acknowledgement.


    "I must return to the bridge, Doctor." Spock did not wait for a response, and the hiss of the doors behind him allowed Len to sag against an empty biobed.


    "Christ, kid, you seriously owe me."








     Jim had been much calmer overall since the return from the Narada than he had expected, considering just how panicked he got when he found out about the whole x-gene bit; Len wondered if that breakdown got it out of his system. But as he spied a fifth crewman twirling a goddamned feather between their fingers just as he headed to the bridge, he knew that Jim wasn't telling him everything. The turbolift doors opened, and he walked out to Jim fluttering against the ceiling with what looked like a blowtorch in his hand, working on patching the surface cracks. The words tumbled out before he could stop himself.


    "Jim, what in hell are you doing? You're going to set your goddamned wings on fire!" Jim didn't drop the blowtorch, but it was a close call as he flapped his wings into the ceiling in shock, the recoil sending him towards the deck before he righted himself enough to land on his feet. Len didn't bother hiding the cringe.


    "What the fuck, Bones? Are you trying to kill me?" Jim's glare could strip paint, and he managed an apologetic grimace before scowling.


    "Jim, the bridge is only four meters or so high, why don't you use a stepladder so we don't have to put you out after a spark lights up all those pretty feathers of yours?" The younger man scowled right back at him as he passed the blowtorch off to an ensign, who glanced nervously between them before withdrawing.


    "It's relaxing, alright? I was doing just fine until you caused me to crash into the fucking ceiling." Len's brow furrowed, and he met Jim's irritated gaze.


    "Relaxing?" Several of the bridge crew had all but stopped what they were doing, and he and Jim both turned and frowned at them until they returned to their duties. Jim told a Lieutenant Masters to take the conn as he turned and walked towards the ready room. Len glared at the eavesdropping officers one last time before following him.


    "Bones, you can't just start questioning me on the bridge. I know it's a bit hard to swallow, hell, I'm still wondering what the hell happened sometimes; but I am acting captain at the moment and there are protocols that need to be observed. The last thing I need is to have the crew think that I'm crazy." He raised an eyebrow at Jim, who frowned.


    "I don't think there's any danger of people not thinking that, Captain." Jim gave him an insulted glower as he wrapped his hands loosely around the younger man's biceps. "Many of them knew you at the Academy, Jim, it's not like you have a ship full of strangers under your command." Len paused, taking in the sour expression on Jim's face. "I am sorry about that whole mess out there, my mouth got away from me." Jim scanned his face before sighing and pulling away, falling into the first chair he came to.


    "I have to fly occasionally, Bones. I start having some serious issues if I don't." Jim was looking at the far wall, and Len frowned and sat in the chair next to Jim.


    "I need you to explain these serious issues, Jim; I can't be going in blind if something goes wrong." The younger man took a deep breath as he looked down at his hands.


    "The general rule I've worked out is if I don't go for a serious flight every two months or so, barring severe stress, I start getting agitated. I can generally control it until I hit about five months, which is around the time my concentration goes to shit and I start looking for alternative outlets. You were present our first year when I fell off the bandwagon." Jim still wasn't looking at him, and he racked his brain to figure out what he was talking about.


    "First year- all I can remember is that out of the blue fistfight in early December." Jim didn't look up, and he knew he had guessed correctly. "So let me get this straight, you have problems focusing and you start getting aggressive if you haven't flown for a significant period of time, and it happens faster if you are under serious strain." Len leaned over, placing his hand against Jim's cheek and turning his head. "Do I have it right?" Lightening storm-blue eyes met his with a nervous expression, and he sighed. "Jim, I'm not going to think any less of you or anything; you simply have a different body chemistry than what I'm used to. I just want to help, kid." Jim pressed his cheek into his palm, closing his eyes.


    "I know, it's just- fuck, Bones, four weeks ago and the only people who knew what was up with me were Dad, John, and my mother. Now the whole universe is going to know soon." He lifted his head and looked at Len, who frowned at the fear Jim was badly disguising in his eyes. "I am a little fucked in the head, Bones; the fact that Dad has put up with me so long confuses the shit out of me sometimes." Len bit back a smile, and fluffed Jim's hair. He could answer that one.


    "Jim, Chris puts up with you because he loves you. You may not be related biologically, but you are every bit his kid." That actually brought a ghost of a smile to the younger man's face, and Len leaned back and crossed his arms. "You aren't anymore screwed up than anyone else on this death-trap, me included." The faint smile turned impish, and he rolled his eyes.


    "You said it, not me."


    "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up brat." Len snorted at Jim, before dropping his eyes to his wings. "Hey, Jim-" He reached out and took the edge of the younger man's left wing in his hand, letting the feathers tickle his fingers; Jim actually shuddered for a moment before glaring at him. "-explain to me why I'm seeing people walk around with feathers? I know they are coming from you." Jim's face screwed up in irritation, and he released the wing and raised an eyebrow. "Oh ho, I'm guessing by that reaction that you aren't exactly party to this." The other man tightened his wings to his body and heaved an exasperated sigh.


    "I'll be just walking along, and suddenly ow what the fuck was that? I'm getting drive-by mauled, Bones, it's like every cultural sensitivity class and seminar we all had to take is being thrown out the window just because I've got a fucking set of wings. I think it's been the just the human crewmembers, but I'm not certain. Chekov swore that he saw one of the Vulcan passengers with one, but I'll believe it when I see it." Jim paused, giving a resigned glance to the side. "I don't have an extra harness, or I would have just put it back on." Anger, swift and sharp, came utterly out of nowhere, surging through Len as he jumped to his feet with a snarl. "Bones, what the hell-"


    "You shouldn't have had to put that damn thing on in the first place, and you sure as hell aren't going to put it back on now!" He stormed to the wall comm, fully planning to announce to the whole damn ship to stop assaulting the captain or fucking else; before Jim was right there, blocking the comm with a wing as he shoved him into the wall.


    "Bones, what the hell are you doing?" Without even thinking, he wrapped his hands around the younger man's waist and lifted him, the surprise keeping Jim from struggling as he plopped him down to the side and reached again for the comm.


    "I'm going to tell the goddamn ship to leave you alone, that's what I'm going to do." Jim snapped out of it and lunged for his hand just as he was about to hit the button, tightening strong fingers around his wrist.


    "Bones, stop. Just stop. I'll deal with it." Len started to pull away, but the look on Jim's face stopped him. Letting his hand drop to his side, he looked the younger man straight in the eye.


    "Kid- Jim. You shouldn't have to deal with any of this crap. What if they start pulling out your primaries?" Jim's mouth twisted, and he looked down at his right wing.


    "Too late." He flared the wing out enough to show the gap, not obvious at a distance, but completely clear up close; Len leaned over and inspected the follicle, which looked irritated. "You've been looking up bird terminology, Bones? I'm honored." Len rolled his eyes as he carefully examined the area.


    "This could get infected, Jim; your follicles are a lot bigger than any Earth bird." He straightened, leaning against the wall where Jim had pushed him; Jim shrugged and lowered the wing. "Do you have any idea why?" The younger man shrugged again, letting himself list forward until he was leaning against Len.


    "The ensign who pulled out that one told me some of the crew were considering them good-luck charms." Len threaded his arms around Jim's waist as he spoke, shooting him a dubious look after he closed his mouth.


    "You are joking, right?" It was Jim who rolled his eyes this time.


    "Don't I wish." Len gave him a sympathetic squeeze, frowning as his arms overlapped sooner than he thought they would.


    "Jim, when was the last time you ate?" Jim immediately went shifty-eyed, and he glared. "Jim, have you eaten today?" Was Jim puffing out his stomach? He tightened his arms, hearing a near-inaudible oof in response. "Jim." The younger man started to pull away, but Len had bulk on his side. He couldn't help but think that this could be useful in the future.


    "I'm not hungry right now, I'll grab something after shift." Jim squirmed again, managing to get out of his grip and stepping away. "-which I really should be getting back to, Bones. I'll handle the plucking issue in the shipwide briefing tomorrow." Len frowned and followed Jim to the door.


    "Don't start skipping meals, Jim; you are thin enough as it is." He paused as the door opened. "-and no more upside-down welding or whatever the hell you were doing!" Jim's posture straightened instantly as he walked onto the bridge, but not before he twisted around and responded to Len.


    "Yes, Mom."








    The not-so-subtly phrased please remember standard professional and cultural sensitivity guidelines and refrain from coming in physical contact with others unless otherwise permitted seemed to have gotten the point across, as Len hadn't heard Jim mention any more instances of plucking, and those who already had feathers had prudently put them away. It also went over better than whatever he would have yelled over the comm, so he grudgingly admitted that the kid had had a point in stopping him. Not that he'd ever admit to it. He hadn't managed to convince him to eat any meals with him, however, and every mention he made of it was stealthily avoided. On top of that, Chris had become withdrawn and irritable; alternating between barely speaking to the medical staff to arguing over everything. It was common for patients of any serious injury with a lasting impact to experience some sort of depression or mental change, but a small part of Len had hoped that Chris would avoid the brunt of those pitfalls. It had been a nice hope while it lasted. Chris's continuing black mood was beginning to effect Jim, although Jim would forever deny it. He wasn't blind to the stark dips in the younger man's demeanor after his visits, the shadow that would fall over those impossibly bright eyes, although it seemed that everyone else was. He had already had to break up a pair of gossiping Gabbys among the cadet nurses who were bringing up that damn rumor again. At least Geoff had some brains in his head; he and Chapel may not know the exact relationship between Jim and Chris, but they knew that the only person Jim was romantically inclined towards was him. Len snorted inwardly. It would never cease to amaze him what people were able to not see right in front of them. Stepping away from Nurse Goddard's bedside, who had sustained severe burns in the Deck Five hit that had killed Doctor Puri and several other Sickbay personnel, Len rubbed at his eyes and headed over to Chris's area, listening at the curtain for a moment before parting it and stepping in. The older man was sitting up and reading a PADD with what looked like shipwide reports, his face set in a flat expression, and he did not look up when Len entered the room. This was becoming standard procedure. He checked his vitals and condition, then lowered himself into the chair next to Chris's bed. The silence was like lukewarm bathwater, unpleasant but easy to ignore, and Len took the opportunity to relax for a few minutes before he had to wrangle Jim into getting some sleep. He was awoken from his drifting by the clearing of a throat, and he looked up to see the older man frowning at him.


    "What do you want, Leonard?" Len raised an eyebrow and got to his feet, pursing his lips.


    "Well, that's a loaded question, sir. I'd like a lot of things; for us to be on Earth, to be able to see my daughter freely, for a certain bird-brain to stop lying to me about whether he has eaten or not, and for a certain Starfleet captain I respect very much to just talk to us occasionally," he drawled, and was awarded with Chris's brow furrowing.


    "Jim isn't eating?" Trust him to focus on one of the items on the list that didn't pertain to him. Len sighed and ran a hand through his hair.


    "I haven't been able to get a straight answer out of him about food since he left Sickbay, but that's not the part I was trying to convey, sir." Chris glared, but shook his head and waved his hand loosely.


    "You don't understand, Leonard. Jim does this sometimes; you'll need to corner him and make him eat before he passes out. Doctor Phlox said something about his nesfatin levels becoming overstimulated during some high-stress situations, possibly due to his x-gene, but probably linked to-" Chris cut off, his face oddly contrite, and Len blinked in surprise. "Never mind why it happens, but it does." Len frowned, grabbing a PADD and calling up Jim's medical records.


    "I don't remember seeing anything about it." Chris sighed, laying his PADD down in his lap.


    "I wouldn't be surprised if Jim...took a little closer look at his record than necessary regarding that. He never agree with the diagnosis." A short scroll down the relevant section confirmed the older man's words, and Len scowled at the offending document before turning back to Chris. The dark blue eyes that were looking at him were not the eyes of Christopher Pike, Starfleet Captain, but of Chris Pike, concerned father; it wasn't ideal, but if worrying about Jim got the man to open up a bit, he would take it.


    "We aren't done here, Chris." Raised eyebrows framed their mutual staredown, before Chris actually snorted out a laugh, a real laugh that had Len's eyebrows climbing up his head in shock. He listened for any tinge of hysteria in the tone, but it never came. The older man leaned forward, wrapping a hand around Len's wrist and squeezing lightly.


    "You know, there have been moments, especially in the last few weeks, where I wondered why I recruited you in the first place...usually in my short moments of consciousness before you put me out again." Chris's lips twisted. "But you know what? I'm pretty sure you are the only son of a bitch crazy enough to deal with both Jim and myself on a regular basis besides John, and that makes you worth your weight in gold-pressed latinum." There was a light in the Captain's eyes that he hadn't seen since he had regained consciousness after the surgery, and that was enough to make a band of tension untwist from his shoulders.


    "I guess it shows that I'm as crazy of a bastard as everyone says I am." Chris's smile softened, and he squeezed Len's wrist one last time before releasing it and settling back in his seat.


    "You are as crazy as a damn fox, Leonard, and are the better man for it." Chris raised a hand, giving an imperious wave. "Now get out of here, go feed my idiot kid, and don't tell me any details beyond that." Len snorted as he opened the curtains, stepping out and surveying the quiet sickbay before turning his head over his shoulder.


    "I will be back later, Captain. Play nice with the rest of the staff." He could see one of the nurses boggle at his cheek out of the corner of his eye, but Chris snorted.


    "Get out of here, you ornery bastard." He could do that. After a few minutes of updating M'Benga, he left sickbay behind, stopping by the bridge with no results before checking his quarters, also with no results, before remembering that he was on a goddamned starship. 


    "Computer, locate Captain Kirk."


    "Captain Kirk is in Engineering." He had a bad feeling about this. He headed into the bowels of the ship, gaining more than a few curious glances as he found his way into Main Engineering. It was his first time down there for more than a few seconds, and it was as crazy and complicated as he expected it would be.


    "Doctor! You are a sight for sore...eyes?" That wasn't Jim, but he couldn't help the smile that snuck onto his face at the voice.


    "Good to see you, Gaila- and yes, your usage is correct." The green-skinned woman's face split in a brilliant smile, and he found himself with an armful of Orion hugging him before he could say anything further.


    "I didn't realize you were on here, at first; I was so worried that you all had been on one of the other ships! I thought Nyota was dead until I heard her over the intercom, and then Jim was here too and he's got wings and I'm wondering how they would look with some nice chain mesh jewelry draped over the top-" Len gently placed his index finger on Gaila's lips, and she ground to a halt.


    "Gaila, I'm afraid we will have to catch up later. I need to find Jim." She nodded, pointing towards an undefined place in the distance.


    "Humans can be pale, but he's not looking too good, I think. Almost like if he had been drinking." Yeah, he had let this go on too long. He nodded to Gaila and turned to go find the brat, when a slender green finger tapped him on the shoulder. "I'm not quite sure how humans with wings work, but is he supposed to be losing his feathers? I've seen at least ten drop out just today." Len groaned and slapped a palm over his eyes.


    "No, that's not a good thing. Thank you for telling me." Gaila hummed in reply, and he set off to find Jim. It didn't take long. Engineering gave him more room to move, and he looked up to find him with some sort of tool working on an ill-placed something or rather. Another officer was passing him tools when he asked, and he decided to just relax for a moment, watching Jim flutter up and down until a hand clapped him on the shoulder.


    "Here to collect the Captain?" Scott indicated the obvious with a quick flail of a hand, and Len rolled his eyes before nodding. 


    "He's avoiding some medical things we need to discuss." The older man frowned, and picked up his comm.


    "He doesn't look right all, so that doesn't surprise me one bit. I've been picking feathers out of cooling ducts all day, Doctor, that's just not a thing I should need to be doing." The Scotsman lifted his comm to his mouth with an annoyed expression. "Ensign Sugiyama, ask the captain to come down here, please." Leonard frowned as he watched the small figure wave Jim over, talking to him briefly before the winged man turned and descended, landing with a soft flap before tucking them back into their resting position.


    "What's up, Scotty-" Jim trailed off as he noticed Len, who was sizing the younger man up. Jim looked like shit. His face was pale and drawn, his eyes dull and shoulders slumped; Len could see where small clumps of feathers had fallen out, and he was actually shaking. What was with both father and son and not saying anything for their own damn good? Jim was giving him a nervous glance, and looked about ready to run for it. Len looked over at the engineer, who was watching the silent encounter with undisguised interest.


    "You'll need to excuse Jim for the evening, Mr. Scott. He needs to rest." Jim opened his mouth to protest, but was driven quiet by a quick glare. Scott nodded, putting his hands on Jim's shoulders and steering him over to him.


    "He's right, laddie; you've looked downright wrung out today. Your help is always appreciated, but we can handle it ourselves for now." The younger man frowned, but didn't fight back when Len wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Scott gave him a shrug and a faint smile before walking off, and Len guided the two of them out of Engineering. Jim pulled away as soon as the doors opened, a tired scowl on his face.


    "Bones, I know what you are going to say, but I'm not hungry. Let me get back to work." Len bit back the sharp answer he wanted to say, instead choosing to level a serious look at the acting captain.


    "Do you really want to do this here, Jim?" He watched as Jim's wings actually fluffed up in response, although his face remained blank. Len was seeing more advantages to Jim's wings everyday. It took a few more seconds before he could get the ill-looking man to move. They didn't say another word to each other until the door closed behind them in their quarters, Jim wheeling on him almost instantly.


    "Bones, what the hell do you want? I'm not fucking lying-" He trailed off as Len approached with a tricorder, settling for glaring instead of arguing.


    "Jim, I know you aren't lying. Thank god there's someone else on this tin can who knows your medical history, that's all I gotta say." That got the younger man's attention, the glare shifting to an almost guilty expression that made Len sigh.


    "Bones, that...whatever Phlox called it, is a load of shit." He looked down at his tricorder readings, raising an eyebrow as he sat it down on the desk with a tired sigh.


    "Jim, when was the last time you ate?" Jim's eyes darted away from his, looking at the wall behind as if it was revealing the secrets of the universe. "Jim, I'm guessing by these readings that you've had little more than a bagel or two and about twenty liters of coffee in the last four to five days. The fact you are still standing, let alone able to fly, which I know damn well takes even more energy is mind-boggling. The readings are clear, Jim; Doctor Phlox wasn't making it up." The younger man still wasn't looking at him, but he could see the denial in his eyes as he moved in, gently lifting Jim's shirt enough to look at his stomach. The ribs were becoming too defined for Len's taste, and his hipbones were starting to jut out. Len closed his eyes and let the shirt drop back into position. This was his fault; he had been so preoccupied with everything else that he hadn't been paying attention to Jim. Wrapping his hands around Jim's slender waist, he stroked his thumbs up and down his sides, the black fabric rippling as Jim shivered, finally turning his head and meeting his eyes again. 


    "Bones, I- fuck. I've just been so busy, and you've been busy, and I haven't had time to think about food-" Jim stopped, searching Len's face before bringing his hands up to cup the sides of Len's neck. "Bones, it's not your fault. Shit happens, alright?" Jim pulled away, walking over to the bed and working his shirt off. "Let's just go to bed, we'll feel better in the morning." Len pursed his lips as the younger man's too-thin frame came into view, and he shook his head.


    "No, we both need to eat, and you need supplements to stabilize everything you've thrown out of wack by effectively starving yourself these last few days. I'll get something sent up from the mess." His tone booked no argument, and Jim didn't bother starting one, instead choosing to sag into the mattress. Len walked over to the comm and ordered some stew for the two of them, before opening up his medical kit and fishing out the appropriate hyposprays.


    "Aw, Bones, not again-" Jim winced as the hyposprays were depressed into his neck one after the other; if Len was being a little nicer than before, he wasn't going to admit to it. Stowing the used hypos, he cleaned off the small table in preparation of their dinner, occasionally peeking out of the corner of his eye to check on Jim, who had slumped onto his back on the bed, wings open and draping oddly off the sides. Just as the chime to the door sounded, he looked over to see several down feathers drift to the carpet, and didn't bother to disguise the twitch that started in his eyebrow as he claimed the tray from the ensign, closing the door before she got too inquisitive.


    "Food's here, Jim." The only response he got as he placed the tray down on the table was an inarticulate grunt from the bed, and he snorted. "Jim, get your skinny ass out of bed and get over here."


    "I'll eat later." The younger man's voice was muffled by an arm thrown over his face, and Len sighed.


    "No, you'll eat now." Grabbing Jim's hands, he pulled the mildly resisting young man to his feet, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and steering him to the table before he could flop back into bed.


    "I'm starting to feel like a doll or something, the way everyone keeps dragging me everywhere," Jim groused as he turned the chair backwards and settled down in it. "Beef stew?" Len nodded, grabbing a spoon and tucking in. He kept his eyes on Jim, however, who picked up his spoon and stirred his stew aimlessly.


    "Jim, stop playing with your food." Jim frowned, but finally took a bite; it seemed to trigger something in his head, and Len relaxed minutely as Jim began to eat in earnest. The meal went swiftly, with Jim actually finishing up by drinking the dregs straight from the bowl. "You seemed to have found your appetite." The younger man set the bowl down with a clunk and a sigh.


    "Alright, you win. You and Phlox." Len wiped his mouth, dropping the napkin down by his own empty bowl.


    "This isn't a contest, Jim. It's a matter that could have become serious if I hadn't been told about it by Chris." Both men rose to their feet, and Jim headed into the bathroom before Len could say anything further. A short time later, when they were both in bed, Len recalled the odd redirect he had gotten from the ailing captain. "Jim? Quick question." The lump next to him shifted, and he got a rather appealing view of blue eyes and and full lips as Jim's eyes focused on him.


    "Hmm?" Len chuckled at the drowsy tone, and leaned in to give the other man a quick kiss.


    "Your dad said something kind of strange when he was telling me about your little issue." Jim looped an arm around Len's waist as he gave him a half-awake look.


    "What was that?" Jim mumbled, drawing a hint of a smile out of Len.


    "He made it sound like this issue has nothing to do with your x-gene, but he changed the subject before I could say anything." Jim stiffened, and Len frowned. "Jim?" The drowsiness was gone from the younger man's eyes, and he remained silent as Jim licked his lips and gathered his thoughts.


    "It's nothing. Something that happened before he took me in." Of course it was nothing. It was always nothing. Len took a deep breath, then let out a tired sigh.


    "Is it really nothing, or am I going to get another unpleasant surprise sometime in the future?" Jim shook his head.


    "This was it, Bones. Nothing else." Len searched the younger man's face for any sign of deceit, but the eyes that looked back at him were earnest, if guarded. Len gave him a slight nod.


    "Okay. I won't push." He could feel Jim relax a bit, and he scooted in and wrapped his arm around the younger man's middle, squeezing lightly. "Jim, you can tell me anything. Don't forget that." The hesitant smile Jim gave him was reflected more in his eyes than his mouth, but Len was still relieved to see it.


    "It really is ancient history, Bones; I don't even think about it anymore unless it comes up for some reason." Jim wasn't lying, he knew when Jim was lying. Jim obfuscating was a different story, but  Len knew where to pick his battles, and the last thing he wanted to do was make the younger man feel more exposed than he already did. There was enough lost secrets out in the open; there was no reason to add another to Jim's burden if there wasn't a real reason to do so. He shifted, patting Jim on the hip as he let his eyes drift closed. 


    "Let's get some sleep, and don't get pissy with me when I keep bothering you about meals over the next few days." He couldn't say he was surprised when he was jabbed rather painfully in the side a few moments later.


    "I don't get pissy, you jackass!" Jim growled; Len snorted and pulled the slim man a little closer, drawling out a whispered reply.


    "Keep telling yourself that, darlin'."








     "Well, you don't look like you are going to pass out at the drop of a hat anymore. I know that I have Leonard to thank for that, so spare me the insulted glare, Jim." Chris rolled his eyes at the insulted expression on Jim's face, and Len rolled his eyes at the both of them as he did his standard checks on Chris's vitals. They had reached an impasse in the last few days, with Chris trying his best to keep his moods more stable, at least when anyone was around, at any rate, and Jim was actually eating again. He knew it wouldn't last forever, but he sure as hell would enjoy it while it lasted. Len raised an eyebrow as Jim recounted the feather-snatching fiasco of a week ago, pulling a bemused chuckle out of his dad and making him crack a tiny smile before leaving the Captain's bedside, pulling the curtains closed behind him. He had a few new scans of Chris's brain being analyzed by the computer, and he needed to review the results. It didn't take long. Against the muffled sounds of Jim's voice and the even softer tones of Chris's, Len looked at the console screen with a pinched expression. It was about as good as he had hoped, which unfortunately wasn't much. Chris had improved, the exhaustion and fragility of the first days fading into the background, but his brain still wasn't communicating correctly with his legs. He was beginning to think that there wasn't much that he could do, though, and he was certainly at a standstill until they reached Earth again. Len looked up from the console and glanced back towards Chris's alcove, worrying his knuckle between his teeth. The good captain was only going to get worse at staying in bed as the days went by. He needed to devise something that let him move around a bit, even if was only to an observation deck and back. Chris sure as hell wasn't going on any sort of active duty, regardless of his assertions to the contrary. Len sighed and straightened, leaning back and feeling his spine crack as he turned back towards the captain's bed. His eyebrow twitched upwards as the volume of the voices increased, and he sighed and stalked back to the curtains. It was time to play referee again. Closing the curtains behind him, Len leveled a glare at both father and son.


    "You two need to knock it off. The curtains muffle most of the sound, but if you start yelling, they aren't going to do shit." He checked the biobed readings out of habit, listening to the two men mutter under their breath while he did so. As soon as he finished, he leveled a glare on Jim, who frowned and crossed his arms.


    "What?" Len pointed a finger at the younger man.


    "You, stop being a pain. Just tell the man what's going on; you aren't going to cause him any health problems by keeping him filled in." Jim looked away, his lips twisting, and Len turned his finger on Chris, who was straight-faced and looking at the curtain. "-and you, stop antagonizing him just because you are bored. I know it stinks to be stuck in here all the time, but taking it out on Jim isn't going to solve anything." Chris looked away from the curtains and back at him; the two men stared each other down until the older man blinked and sighed.


    "I hate it when you're right, Leonard." Len raised an eyebrow in amusement, and Chris rolled his eyes. 


    "What was that, Captain? I don't think I heard you right." Jim snickered, and he turned his focus to the feathered half of the father and son. "Got something to add, Jim?" Jim shook his head, and Len rolled his eyes before looking between Chris and Jim. "Jim, are you going to be busy for the next hour?" Jim blinked.   


    "Not unless I'm needed for anything specific. I've all but been banned from Engineering after one of the Ensigns accidently set the edge of my right wing on fire, and I think Scotty is a little afraid of you, so he booted me out before anything else could happen." Jim was pouting, but Len frowned.


    "When did this happen?" Jim waved a hand in dismissal, before lifting the pertinent wing and grabbing the end.


    "Two days ago. We put it out almost immediately, Bones, it never reached anywhere that would actually hurt." Len reached forward and took the wing in hand, looking down to see several awkwardly shortened feathers, but no other signs of burning. 
    "That shit down in Engineering is better done by the people who, you know, actually work in that department anyhow. They can survive without you for awhile." He let go of Jim's wing, the younger man bringing it to rest against his back. "Anyway, since Jim has some free time, why don't the two of you go for a trip. You can show Captain Pike the status of some of the repairs personally, and it'll get Captain Kirk off of your shitlist. Sound good?" Chris perked up, and Jim smiled. "I thought so. One hour, and if you don't feel well at anytime, come straight back here, alright?" Both men nodded, and Len smiled. "Then get yourself ready, Chris; I'll grab your chair, but I'm going to leave you two to it. I need to do my rounds."


    "Thank you, Leonard." Len waved off his thanks as he left his room to get the wheelchair, quickly delivering it before returning to his other patients. The two captains rolled out of Sickbay a few minutes later, and he grinned and went to go check inventory. The things he had to do sometimes- but it was all far better than the alternative.


    Chris was redelivered to Sickbay exactly one hour and three minutes later, with Jim blaming busy turbolifts for the delay as they settled the older captain back onto his familiar bed. The time away, as short as it was, had clearly done some good for both men, who were smiling and chattering away about something involving the communications relays that Len could barely follow, and he gave himself a mental pat on the back. There was nothing like a job well done, especially when it involved anyone named Pike or Kirk. Jim left soon after, smacking him in the butt with his left wing as he left the curtains and disappeared through the doors before he could complain to the younger man. Chris was carefully not looking at him, but the smirk on his face as he stared at the PADD that he had acquired told him that he had seen Jim's little stunt.


    "If you get any redder, Leonard, your staff is going to worry that you are having a heart attack." Len could feel his face get even warmer, and he snarled.


    "You don't pay me enough to put up with with you two and Commander Spock," he grumbled, leaving the curtains and flinging them closed behind him without looking back; he took great pains to ignore the laughter pouring from the area he had just vacated as he stormed into his office to splash some water on his face. Children. All of them. A quick glance in the mirror showed that he was presentable again, and he looked at the door for a moment before deciding to sit down at his desk, a smile threatening at the corners of his mouth. While the fact that he had done that in the middle of Sickbay in front of Chris was a bit irritating and definitely embarrassing; the fact he had so carelessly done it at all was heartening. Jim was getting accustomed to being, well, himself in public, whether the younger man believed it or not. The stiff posture that had been forced by the harness was gone, replaced by the smooth, swaying gait that he had gotten to observe for a short while back in the Sierras; Jim was truly comfortable in his own skin in public for the first time, and it showed. Len knew he wasn't the only one who had noticed. People that hadn't or wouldn't have given Jim a second glance in the past were watching him with open interest now, and he- Len sighed, laying his head on his desk. He didn't know what he thought about it. It was great that the crew seemed open-minded to Jim, and besides the feather hiccup there hadn't been anything untoward happening, as far as he knew, but- He lifted his head just enough to bring it down against his desk with a whack. What had he expected? That he would be the only one that would know forever? He was a doctor, not a character in a bad romance holo; he wouldn't have been able to keep Jim to himself or some nonsense, hell, he had been planning on convincing Jim to ditch the harness anyway after graduation. Len knocked his head into his desk one last time before getting to his feet. It was clearly time for him to get some rest before he actually said something he would regret. He briefed M'Benga on what he needed to know, then set off for his room.


    When Len woke up, he reached over, expecting to feel the press of a warm body next to him, but the bed was empty. He turned over and mashed his face into the pillows. The idiot was probably soldering some connection on the roof of Engineering again or something equally dangerous and unnessassary that one of the others could easily do with a goddamned ladder. He probably skipped dinner, too. Whipping back the bedcovers, he got to his feet, shucked his clothing, then staggered into the shower, enjoying once again the fact that the systems that let him enjoy hot water hadn't been damaged in the battle. It also had meant that after the first few days, he hadn't been stuck on a ship filled with unwashed people, either. That alone was almost enough to make him happy. Almost. He killed the water and stepped out, grabbing a towel from the rack and drying himself off before wrapping it around his waist and walking out of the bathroom. He didn't notice that he had company until he lifted his head just in time to see a flash of what had long become his favorite shade of blue before crashing into the other person, sending them both to the floor. An aborted moan caused Len to snap his eyes open. His chin was on Jim's shoulder, and he was laying chest to chest with the other man; they may have been right at the same height, but the lithe, slender frame below him was nothing like his own.


    "Bones, not that I don't love you to death, but you are kinda heavy." He was also crushing the younger man into the floor. Feeling his face heat, he scrambled backwards off of Jim, the other man giving an exaggerated gasp for breath before sitting up and giving him a rather lazy lookover, his expression turning naughty. "Well, now I know for certain that all of you is pretty amazing." Len blinked at Jim blankly, before something in his brain suggested he look down.


    "Oh, damnit." Len grabbed the wayward towel and rewrapped it around his waist, trying and failing to ignore the playful leer he could see out of the corner of his eye. "Well, what's going on? Did you get something to eat, because I know you didn't get any sleep." He got to his feet and manuvered around Jim as he spoke, grabbing underwear and a clean uniform and throwing them on before he turned to face the younger man again. Jim gave him a pout, but shook his head.


    "Well, Mom, I did manage to scrounge up a sandwich with Scotty, but I'm too busy to get any sleep just yet. I just stopped by to give you something and ask you a favor." Len frowned, but decided to leave it alone. One out of two wasn't bad, and he needed the food more regularly than sleep right now. Running a hand through his damp hair, he looked over as Jim picked up two PADDs off the table and held them out to him.


    "What are those for?" Jim grinned, bouncing on his heels, and Len raised an amused eyebrow at his antics. "Well?" Jim jiggled the hand holding the PADDs, and Len took them, glancing at the blank screens to see if they had any answers. Jim chuckled, and Len could feel light rushes of air against his face as the still-bouncing man fluttered his wings. "You get any more hyper and I'm going to ask Scott what the hell kind of sandwich you ate, Jim." Jim snorted, giving one hard flap of his wings in Len's direction, messing up his hair.


    "So I'm a little wired; you should see Scotty and Uhura." The grin that followed was a bit too manic for Len's taste, but it faded. "We are doing a few more checks of the system, but we got it working! Well, at least the incoming, anyway."


    "Incoming?" Jim gave him a dry look, and it hit him. "Incoming transmissions?" Jim truly had a beautiful smile, and Len reached out and brushed his thumb down the lines that always emerged at the corners of his eyes when it made its appearance, causing Jim to smile even wider. "That's fantastic, Jim. I'm guessing we have messages on these?" Jim nodded, sending Len's hand away from his temples and into his hair, which definitely needed a wash. "I assume you've already read yours?"


    "No, we haven't announced this to the ship yet. I-" Jim leaned forward, tapping a finger against the PADD on top. "I wanted Dad to have his messages first." His voice was soft, and Len let his fingers traces imaginary lines on Jim's scalp as he smiled.


    "Nothing wrong with that." The gratitude in Jim's eyes was brief, but there. Had Jim expected him to be unhappy with that request? His opinion must have shown on his face, as Jim frowned slightly and stepped away from him.


    "The other one has your messages on it. If you want to look at yours first, I totally understand-" Len rolled his eyes, and Jim trailed off.


    "Jim, I would be happy to give your father his messages first, you silly brat. Are you sure you don't want to do it, though?" The younger man looked embarrassed at his earlier presumption, but covered it admirably before shaking his head.


    "No, I need to get back, we are pretty close to getting outgoing working, and I want to get that done as soon as possible."


    "Jim, you need to get some rest first." Jim shook his head as he backed up towards the door.


    "Later, Bones, we seriously are almost done." That sharp hunter's focus that Len was seeing more and more was taking over Jim's expression, and he knew there was no way he'd be able to convince the younger man otherwise while he was like this. Wedging the PADDs under his arm, he nodded.


    "If you aren't done by the end of Gamma, I'm dragging you back here to sleep personally." Razor-sharp eyes met his own, but he didn't back down. "Jim, you need to sleep more than once every three days. The ship isn't falling apart, you can spare a little time." Jim remained silent, and they continued to stare each other down until Jim acquiesced with a sigh, scrubbing a hand through his hair.


    "Alright, Bones. It'll hopefully be done by then, so you won't have to drag me." Len's lips twitched involuntarily, and Jim frowned. "What?"


    "What if I want to drag you back?" Jim's cheeks started to color, and before Len could say anything further, Jim had spun on his heels and ran out the door.


    "Things to do, Bones! Talk to you later!" The younger man's voice faded as he fled down the hall, and Len snickered before he could help himself. Revenge was a wonderful thing sometimes. 








     "Captain." Chris looked up at Len, the older man's eyes focusing on him slower than usual. He had obviously interrupted the captain's musings, but this was important. Chris glanced to the curtains and gestured, and Len reached back and closed them.


    "What's going on?" Chris sounded curious, and Len gave the man a soft smile.


    "Long-range communications have been restored, for the most part." Now that was clearly interesting to the captain, who sat up and raised an amused eyebrow.


    "That is excellent news, of course, but Jim would have told me that about two hours from now, if he didn't get distracted by something else." Oh, Jim was distracted, all right, but that was neither here nor there; Jim had asked him to do this for him, and as tempting as reading his own messages first had been, Chris deserved this. Shaking his head lightly, he held out one of the PADDs Jim had given him earlier.


    "The backlog of incoming transmissions are being routed to their proper locations, and you get to be the first recipient of your personal messages." He was smiling pretty widely now, and the spark of emotion he saw in Chris's eyes made it even brighter. "Jim wanted to make sure you had yours first." Chris leaned over and took the PADD from him and booted it up, his eyes immediately scanning the list. Len barely kept back a chuckle. He was as bad as Jim was in hiding his excitement sometimes. He could see John's name stamped to the top of the first message Chris loaded, and absently fiddled with the biobed settings as he watched the blue-grey eyes soften as he read. Len wasn't one of those who believed that every deep friendship could or would turn into a romantic one, but Chris and John were most certainly inclined that way- even if John was a chickenshit about it and Chris was seriously fucking clueless. You would never believe that the two men were some of the most lauded and decorated officers in the Federation the way they dealt with each other sometimes. No longer able to resist temptation, he leaned in slightly to try and peek at the message, but Chris wasn't that oblivious.


    "Are you eavesdropping, Doctor?" Len didn't do innocent, but the droll look that he shot Chris garnered him an eyeroll.  "Get out of here, Leonard, and tell Jim to stop sending you to spy on me." Len smirked at the older man.


    "Who said he sent me?" Chris barked out a laugh, before shifting the PADD to his left hand and leaning over, giving him a push towards the curtains. 


    "Scoot. You're as bad as that kid of mine." Hell no. This meant war, and Len made sure to communicate that to the captain, who raised a self-satisfied eyebrow and held his gaze. Len backed down with an eyeroll and a smile, opening the curtains and slipping out.


    "Yessir." He only took a few steps past the curtains before stopping; he could hear the crackle that announced the start of an audio message, and he couldn't help himself. The instant he heard John's voice, though, he felt horrendously guilty.


    "God, Chris, I hope-" Len heard John's voice crack, which both horrified and boggled him; John clearly prided himself on his control, humor his usual outlet for emotions, and this was nothing close to anything he had ever heard from the admiral. "We just received the notice that you were taken hostage, and that Commander Spock was taking the ship to rendezvous with the majority of the fleet. By the same ship that killed George! What the hell are you thinking, old man! Jim doesn't need to be losing both of his fathers the same goddamned way! Vulcan is gone, and I can't find Jim anywhere. I know he was supposed to be grounded after the Kobayashi Maru stunt, and-" He could hear John's shaky intake of breath, and started to slide away from Chris's area as quietly as he could, John's voice fading quickly as he did so. "-if you leave me to have to tell your son that you got yourself killed by some Romulan wackjob, I'm going to-"


    No more. After managing to pull back a few meters without disturbing the captain, he turned and walked into his office, sitting down at his desk and picking up the PADD with his messages, suddenly feeling rather jealous of Chris. Would anyone back on Earth sound like that for his sake? Len snorted derisively at himself, powering up the PADD. God, he was pathetic. Besides Jim, the only one he really cared about receiving any messages from was Joanna, and he could only hope that she had sent him one. It wasn't like her mother was allowing her to send messages regularly or anything. Scanning the list, he was pleasantly surprised. There were four from Joanna, two from John, even two from Jocelyn; an aunt he had only spoken to once or twice since his father had died had even sent him one, and there was one from Annie, Tom Lennox's younger sister. With a few exceptions, he knew the first and second years had not been ordered to report for duty, so Annie had remained on Earth while they all went up. Tom was probably going to be bombarded with messages- Len froze. What ship had Tom been assigned to? Powering up his primary console, he managed to push his way through several levels of clearances before the dossier he wanted appeared on his screen. Shit. Of the survivors they had managed to pick up, not one of them had been from the Mayflower, and she had been listed as having gone down with all hands. Len closed his eyes and glanced back at the names listed with his messages. He had been so busy since the battle had ended that he hadn't spared a lot of thought to where people might have ended up; Gaila's presence onboard the Enterprise had been a very pleasant surprise, but- Setting his PADD down again, Len started calling up names. The first one that came to mind, for some reason, was Jearo; the man had nursed a serious chip on his shoulder when it came to Jim for their entire time at the academy, although his antics had been mostly absent as they had entered the home stretch before their graduation. The man's information came up, and he sighed. Jim wouldn't have to worry about him anymore. Stipe was next, and he was informed when he tried to access the information that there were two Stipes, a Stipe Senior and a Stipe Junior. Definitely Junior. The man's thin face flashed on the screen, and he scanned the text. Enterprise. Interesting. As Stipe wasn't one of the bodies still being stored in their hobbled together morgue, and he had no memory of the man coming by Sickbay, he was probably fine. He knew Smithson was onboard, considering he was the man who had hauled Jim back up to the bridge after he had managed some transporter sorcery courtesy of Scott. As he punched in a few more names, mostly fellow medical track cadets, he wondered what Stipe and Smithson thought of Jim's big reveal. He had the feeling that Cupcake wouldn't really care, as it was still Kirk under the wings, but he didn't have a handle on Stipe. He didn't really care to. Taking one last look at the information of a nurse that he had occasionally grabbed a coffee with, her elegy written in only a single word on the screen, he shook his head. Looking at the names of dead acquaintances was a deep hole he didn't want to fall into. He needed to focus on the living. Powering down the console, he returned to the PADD with the messages waiting for him. After a moment of deliberation, he decided to just view them in chronological order. John's was first, a short text missive basically stating that he knew that he had done something to get Jim onboard, and he better hope that they were both around so they could back it up to the higher ups. It wasn't the strangest way of saying stay alive that he had ever seen, but it was close. Jocelyn's was second, an even shorter note saying that he better have not died, because she didn't want to deal with explaining it to Joanna. Len snorted. 


    "You never change, Jocelyn." The one from his aunt was third, and she wrote as congenially as she had always spoken; he couldn't help a smile as he read her message.


    "Dearest Leonard, I know we haven't spoken much these last few years, but hearing the news of what happened to Vulcan and the small tidbits of information we have heard about the the fleet made me realize that I shouldn't have let myself neglect you so. I pray you are well, my dear nephew, and I expect to hear from you as soon as you are able." 


    "Yes Ma'am," Len whispered. Jocelyn's second message was next, basically reiterating what the first had said, as well has letting him know that Joanna was going to be sending a message of two of her own. He would concede that she was less cold on this one, but that was about it. At one time, it would have hurt, but now it just made him sigh. Joanna's first message was also the first audio and video one, and he settled back in his chair as he dialed it up. Her familiar face splashed across the screen, and he found himself blinking rapidly as he admired the freckles that were still a stripe across her nose.


    "Hi Daddy! I'll make this short, because I don't know if you have message limits or anything. The news has been saying all these really depressing things, and they won't say if any of the ships that were sent to Vulcan had problems, but it's really obvious that something happened." Joanna stopped, her mouth setting into a sad pout that made Len frown. "You better be okay, Daddy. I don't mind Clay all that much, but he's not you. He's more like an uncle or something, even if Mom tries to tell me to call him Dad instead." The heartache that had been creeping into his chest suddenly expanded at his little girl's last statement, but the recording continued to play. "So yeah, you have to be fine because otherwise Mom will never shut up about it, alright? Send me a message when you can." She had bravado, that was sure. Len thought about just stopping there, but he decided to plow forward and watch the rest. John's second message came between Joanna's second and third, asking him to take care of Chris and Jim, since they were both "idiots who like throwing themselves at problems, and not always in the metaphorical way," and he groaned at the words.


    "No shit, Admiral. One of them being a moron is bad enough, but to have it in tandem? You get to deal with Chris from now on. I absolve myself of the burden." He was just grumbling now, but the truth of the statement hit him with a wince. Unless he and Jim got punted out of Starfleet, John would be the one primarily helping Chris now. He had no doubts that there would be permanent loss of mobility due to the captain's injuries, although he hoped to minimize that as much as possible. Until he was able to go back in with the equipment he was unable to employ the first time around, however, Chris was going to be basically confined to a wheelchair. The memory of Chris and Jim dancing together back at the ball at the end of their first year came to mind, and Len felt his resolve strengthen. It would be a hell of a challenge, and it would depend on the secondary surgery and Chris's own determination, but he would do his best. He may have never joined Starfleet if it wasn't for the captain, and in turn never would have met Jim; he had long since realized that he didn't want to be in a Starfleet without Jim Kirk in it, even if he hadn't quite pounded out how far he would take that comment in regards to his personal life yet.


    Yeah right.


    The newest message was from Joanna, and he hesitated in opening it. They weren't far from Earth now, he knew they would get home in one piece as long as no other massive ships of doom from the future fell out of the proverbial sky, but something still stayed his hand. Len stared at the PADD for a long moment before mashing his finger into the screen to start the message.


    "Hi Daddy! The news feeds are getting a little more detailed about things, and they've kinda...what was that word...implied that some of the ships got blown up at Vulcan. You better have not been on one of those, Dad, or I'm going to beat you up, okay? So, um...send me a message to let me know you aren't dead, yeah? Please?"


    Chapel was kind enough to clear her throat when she walked in, letting him tear his eyes away from his daughter's tear-streaked face and wipe his face of his own.     








    "John got Porthos back." Len blinked in surprise as he ran his tricorder over Chris as he rested on his bed, noting the readings before stowing the device.


    "I thought you said he got swiped when some over-zealous officer had an argument with John and decided to use him to prove his theory." Chris nodded, quirking a smile that was starting to emerge far easier than it had been a week earlier.


    "The floppy-eared fuzzball appeared on the transporter of the Jiameng as they were returning to Earth, perfectly fine. Considering that the officer who had pulled that stunt in the first place is now onboard the Enterprise, it was probably a good thing all around. It'll save on the arguments later." Len froze, running through potential people before realizing that there was only one logical choice.


    "It has to be Scott, considering the only other new people are Jim and the Vulcans, and as much as Jim likes to pester John, using his dog for a transporter experiment isn't quite his style." He raised an eyebrow and gave the lounging man a smirk. "I suppose this explains why Scott was on Delta Vega, then." Chris's face went carefully blank, and Len snorted. "Yeah, I thought so."


    "Scott's expertise was suited for repairing the equipment at the Delta Vega outpost, as well as perform a collection of upgrades on the facility." Chris spoke like he was quoting from the man's orders, and Len shook his head. "I've learned over the years to not get between John and his dogs. He can be a bit irrational when it comes to them." The older man rolled his eyes, picking at his sheet absently. "So, Leonard, how is Jim doing? He keeps that smile of his plastered to his face whenever I see him, but I can see the cracks growing behind it. I've had years of practice." Len looked at Chris blankly, trying to catch up with the abrupt change of conversation; Chris looked at him expectantly as Len lowered himself into the chair by the captain's bedside.


    "The honest truth? I think he's scared shitless. Not about any of the 'fleet related stuff, from what I can tell, but about his new reality in general. He can't just put the harness back on and expect everyone to disregard him anymore. Until the academy, I would bet Jim had largely kept to himself. Sure, maybe he had a friend or two here and there, but the only one he's ever mentioned was Carol, and even that relationship ended relatively quickly, from what little I've heard of it." Chris sighed, and Len waited.


    "Carol was a sweet young woman, she truly didn't care about Jim's apparent physical flaws, and enjoyed talking with him like the intelligent person he is; between Jim's insecurities, her mother, and her clear focus on her studies, however, their relationship was doomed from the start. I think it was a good experience for Jim, though; it forced him to let someone at least get somewhat closer besides John and I, even if he didn't fess up to his big secret." Chris looked towards the closed curtains, but his eyes weren't focusing on anything. "I'm going to do what I can to cushion the blow to Jim regarding his unique genetics from the Starfleet side of things, but I think we all know that the media is going to have a field day with this. It's not just that there's a person with an active x-gene, it's also the fact he's one of the heroes of the-" Chris cut himself off, clearly trying to find the words to continue. "-one of the heroes of this mess. Don't be surprised when the reporters and photographers are tripping over each other to try and get a piece of all of us, and when Jim is number one on their wanted list." Len grimaced. He had entered Starfleet so he could keep working in his profession, not to become famous. It was both amazing and horrifying what could happen in twenty-four hours, and the fact that the Enterprise had so few casualties made the situation even more surreal for them. The remains of thousands of officers and cadets had been left behind as they had fled the black hole where Vulcan had once existed, and Vulcan- Vulcan was a tragedy on a scale that he didn't think he'd ever truly comprehend. He didn't want to understand it, didn't want to believe he could ever rationalize the deaths of so many. His mood must have showed on his face, because Chris's hand was squeezing his shoulder, the warmth from the other man pulling him from his dark thoughts. "We will remember them, Leonard. We will honor them, and then we will move forward. To dwell on what we could not change will drive us mad, and it's not what they would have wanted. Everyone in Starfleet has lost friends, lovers, and family from this disaster, the Vulcans have lost their home planet and over ninety-five of their total population, and that includes the populations on their pre-existing colonies, and it will probably be the catalyst for a new wave of change within Starfleet and the Federation." Chris's expression was tired, and Len nodded.


    "Geoff- Doctor M'Benga, I mean, told me shortly after I finished your surgery that we would be returning to a whole new world," he mused, watching Chris as he glanced towards the curtains again before meeting his eyes.


    "He's right." Len reached up and clasped Chris's hand in thanks, before rising to his feet.


    "I think that's what we are all afraid of." He pulled the curtain open and stepped out, freezing when an idea came to mind. "Captain, I have a proposition for you." Shuffling noises behind him told him that he had the older man's attention, and he continued. "I think you are more than well enough to do a bit of wandering around the ship by yourself, if you would like to. As long as you let me keep a monitoring device on you, I think I can trust you to use a little common sense." 


    "I'll take that as a compliment, Doctor," Chris said drily, and Len chuckled.


    "You do that." Of course, now that he had put forth the idea, Chris wanted to go then; Len decided to spare the others and prepare the captain for travel on his own, pulling up the wheelchair and helping him into a clean set of clothing he could be seen in outside of Sickbay, but held back as Chris attempted the transfer to the wheelchair on his own. The older man's arms had lost a little definition during his stay in Sickbay, but they had been careful to monitor and keep his limbs active as much as possible, and as such, Chris hoisted himself into the chair without any serious strain. Len stood back as Chris automatically grabbed the wheels, pushing himself out of his room and into Sickbay proper. "It's good that you are moving yourself manually, but I do want to point out that you don't have to." The captain's face was set in fierce concentration, and he shook his head.


    "I want to." Len nodded, more to himself than anyone else. Chris wanted something he could control, after having been basically bedridden for the last few weeks, and he could hardly begrudge the man that. Grabbing the monitor, he strapped it around the older man's arm, making sure it was secure before meeting Chris's eyes with a stern look.


    "Do not take this off, it will alarm immediately if you do. If you start to feel unwell, come back here. If you think you won't be able to make it, hit the green button, it will tell us to come get you. Don't overdo it. Any questions?" Chris looked amused by his lecture, shaking his head.


    "No questions. Can I go out and play now, Doctor McCoy?" Chris's tone was wry, but tinged with humor; Len rose to his full height and crossed his arms, giving the older man a considering look down his nose.


    "Make sure to look both ways before crossing engineering, I keep catching Jim flitting about down there, and you don't want to get feathers caught in your hair." Chris laughed, spinning his chair around and heading towards the exit.


    "It's not like it would be anything new, Doctor." The door hissed closed behind him, leaving Len to snort and turn back towards one of the nurses, who looked confused.


    "It's not like what would be new?" He shrugged, raising an eyebrow at the nosy nurse before she got the hint and wandered off. Heading into his office, Len hit the comm.


    "McCoy to Captain Kirk."


    "Kirk here. What do you need, Bones?"


    "Just wanted to let you know that a certain desert fox has been sprung for a little while from his pen." He could hear the grin on the other end of the line, and more than one confused sound came through as background noise as Jim responded.


    "Thanks for the heads up, Doctor. We all know that foxes are good at getting into trouble, after all." Len barely kept the snickering from erupting, but managed to take a deep breath and answer levelly.


    "That they are, Captain. McCoy out." Len didn't stop laughing for the next five minutes, stopping only when Chapel popped into the office to make sure he hadn't completely lost it. After the last few weeks they had all had, it felt good to let go for awhile. Now he just had to convince the fledgling desert hawk of that as well before they returned to Earth.








     "I've got people bugging me to let them send messages to their families, no matter how many times I explain that the system we've got rigged up isn't the most stable, and we need to keep it as unburdened as possible. I finally resorted to implying that we were ordered to maintain radio silence outside of official transmissions." Len looked at Jim, who was pacing back and forth in their quarters in a neat oval; he kept that up, they were going to have to replace the carpet when they reached Spacedock. The younger man's blue eyes were dull with exhaustion and stress, and after watching Jim make several more circuits of his floor, he got to his feet and wrapped his arms around his waist from behind, bringing him to a halt. "The only person who has been allowed to have a personal transmission is-"


    "Chris, and only because it was easily disguised as an official one. Helps that your old man's best pal is an admiral." Len tightened his arms, and Jim spread his wings enough in response so only the base of the wings were pressed against his chest, which also gave him clear access to Jim's neck. "Jim, you need to calm down. My blood pressure is going up just looking at you. The big wigs still don't know, do they?" Jim sagged slightly, and Len leaned in and nuzzled the ridge of vertebrae that stuck out. "Well?" 


    "No. I've been careful to position myself so it doesn't show anything below my shoulders when I'm speaking with them, and Uhura, Hawkins, and Spock have all been mum on the subject. And no, I didn't ask them to be. Spock's words were, and I quote, any ramifications regarding personal revelations on your part are irrelevant to Starfleet at this time. He's right, although I wonder if the admiralty will agree." Jim shivered as Len kissed the base of his neck, the fine hairs longer than usual. Jim probably hadn't had a haircut in several months, and it was really beginning to show.


    "What do you think is going to happen once we dock?" Jim sighed.


    "Well, if they follow regulations, the injured will be removed first, then everyone leaves except the core command crew and you and Scotty, basically. We are supposed to disembark last in case of emergency." The uncertain timbre of Jim's voice made him release the younger man and step back, Jim turning around to look at him. "What?"


    "Those may be regs, but what do you think is going to happen?" Jim grimaced.


    "I really don't know. I think they are going to do something, though. I just found out that they officially announced that the Enterprise was the only Federation starship to survive the battle. They mentioned that there were survivors from the other ships, but they are purposely leaving numbers out. We lost seven ships in a matter of minutes, Bones; it's the biggest single defeat in Federation history. The Romulans are denying they knew anything, and honestly, I don't think they did. The only reason the Klingons haven't started testing the waters is that they lost a large portion of their fleet only a day before we did." Len sighed, sitting down on the bed.


    "But what does that mean for us?" The dark look on Jim's face as he sat down next to him told him everything. "We get to be media darlings." Jim shrugged, but his eyes confirmed it.


    "Some of us more than others, unfortunately." Len had figured as much. One look at Jim and they were all going to piss themselves, he was certain of it; they needed to stay together as much as possible. He knew John had some influence, but there wasn't going to be enough pull in the universe to keep them off the news feeds.


    "We are scheduled to dock in forty-six hours. They've offered to have Sickbay emptied early, but all that would do is cause an extra move for them that I decided would be completely unnecessary, considering your reports. If you think any of them need to be transferred before we arrive, let me know now, I'll call up Command." Len shook his head as he let himself flop back onto the bed.


    "No, you made the right call. We have the resources to maintain the remaining patients without any problems, as long as we are back in a week or so, and none of them would markedly benefit from a difference of what, twenty-four hours or so after all the moves were done? It's not worth it." Jim nodded tightly as he bored a hole in the far wall with his eyes, and Len frowned before sitting back up. "Jim, I know there's a lot on your mind, but you need to try and relax a bit; if we got to Earth right now, the way you are, you'd either punch someone in the face or give yourself an ulcer." He was pretty damned worried too, but worry was more of a natural state with him; Jim was bred to action, to do something besides sitting around and stewing. When Jim had too much time to contemplate personal matters, things went sideways; his track record just in the time Len had known him spoke for itself. 


    "I'm fine, Bones. I'm just a little tired. It's been a busy last few days." He snorted, threading his arm under Jim's wings and wrapping it around his waist, pulling him in.


    "Jim, we'll stay together as long as we possibly can, alright? Present a united front to keep the assholes from trying to pick us off one by one." The younger man gave him a grateful smile at his statement, but it was tempered by uncertainty. "What's wrong?"


    "For about the first week or so, I don't know if I would have agreed with you." His head jerked towards Jim's in surprise, the other man ducking his gaze sheepishly.


    "What do you mean by that?" Jim waved a hand loosely.


    "Nothing big. Sulu was a bit uncertain about the whole x-gene thing for awhile. He wasn't rude or anything, but he wouldn't talk to me outside of official business, and he didn't like being alone with me. Considering we fought together on the drill, I thought that was weird, but I was so busy I didn't push it. Turns out there's a family legend of a great-great-great grandmother or someone getting murdered by a guy with the active gene that's been passed down the line, and Sulu just- just needed some time. He apologized and told me the story, saying that even if it was true, it would be like blaming a whole species for one criminal; it's completely illogical. I think with everything else that had just happened, it was just the last straw." Jim chuckled, but there was little mirth behind it. "It's not like people haven't been doing all sorts of wacky stuff in the last few weeks anyhow. Gaila hasn't left Engineering except to shower and change, for example. She's been sleeping in what has become Scotty's office along with him and Ensign Kelis. They've been having food brought down to them. I think Uhura even joined them a few times." Jim got to his feet and walked over to the bathroom, getting a glass of water before reemerging.


    "You didn't tell me any of this," Len said as he watched Jim sip at his water, the younger man's Adam's apple bobbing as he did so.


    "You had your own troubles, Bones; there was no need to saddle you with anymore of mine. It was really between Sulu and I, anyway." And it was. Jim wasn't a child, he knew how to handle himself and his own relationships without him butting in without cause. Len snorted inwardly. Jocelyn had told him more than once that he liked to worry over things that he had no business to be, and this was one thing in which she had been completely right. Jim believed it was behind him, behind both of them; he would drop the subject. 


    "Forty-six hours, right?" Jim finished off his water and smiled.


    "Well, closer to forty-five, now." Len rolled his eyes, getting to his feet and grabbing the empty glass from Jim before entering the bathroom to get himself a drink of water. "Hey, I didn't say I was done with that." He saluted Jim with his ill-gotten drink before downing it in a single go with his eyes closed, setting the now-empty glass on the counter and walking back out of the bathroom with a smirk.


    "No, you didn't." Len ended up with a face full of feathers as Jim accidentally forgot to draw in his wings as he walked past, and that couldn't have been a more solid declaration of war, in his opinion. 


    "Problem, Bones?" Len spat out the feather that had ended up in his mouth and turned, pinning Jim with a dark look that made the younger man take a step back.


    "No, no problem." Jim let out a rather undignified squawk as Len lunged for his middle, grabbing him bodily around the waist and flinging him over his shoulder; Jim retaliated by sticking his hands up the back of his shirt and trying to tickle him, but he was only ticklish in a few spots, and his back wasn't one of them. "Good luck with that, kid; you aren't going to get much of anywhere." The cackle that followed worried him, and he turned around and moved towards the bed...just in case. Padding was a good thing sometimes.


    "How about this, then?" Len jumped as Jim managed to wriggle his hands into his pants, and he struggled to keep upright as Jim kneaded at his buttocks like a cat while still cackling like a deranged hyena. Or maybe vulture was more accurate? He didn't know; the brat was one big animal metaphor. As Jim's hands left his rear alone and grabbed at the hem of his pants, he managed to reach the bed just as he was gifted with something he hadn't experienced since he was in junior high, causing him to lose his grip on the younger man and sending them both to the mattress with a groan. After laying there for a minute with Jim's right wing thrown over him and his head resting on Jim's thigh, he reached down with a wince and pulled his pants back out of his ass, ignoring the chuckle that came from the vicinity of his knees.


    "How old are you, you infant?" Jim wriggled away from him, and Len enjoyed the feeling of fresh air for a moment before he was suddenly faced with a cool nose against his; his eyes crossed as he tried to focus on the face in front of him.


    "Old enough." The statement was accompanied by an eyebrow waggle that made him snort, and when Jim repeated the action, he gave up on any remaining dignity he had left and burst out laughing; when Jim boggled at him before joining it, it made it that much better. Time was completely forgotten as they howled until they lay gasping in a heap, Jim sprawled on his back with his legs draped across Len's torso and his wings spread wide, the tips of the bottom feathers brushing against Len's cheek. "Y'know, Bones? I think I needed that, even if my sides disagree." Len let his eyes drift closed as Jim shifted on the bed next to him, the younger man's wiggling legs making his shirt ride up. Jim had been walking around during down times looking like a man headed to the gallows the last few days, but direct attempts to try and make him talk about anything had been crashing and burning before takeoff. If it took acting like a ten year old to smooth some of the lines that had been burrowing their way onto Jim's face, so be it; Jim needed to have his head on straight when they reached Spacedock, and the fact he was winding himself tighter than Spock would certainly not help matters. After there was no movement from Jim for awhile, he reached out and poked the man in the side.


    "Jim, I'm not sleeping with your feet near my face." Jim grunted, but didn't budge.


    "Don't wanna move." Len rolled his eyes and sat up, forcing Jim's legs into his lap. 


    "You're moving." It took a few minutes, but he managed to bully Jim into changing and getting ready for bed, the other man acquiesing with little more than a few grunts before tripping into a pair of soft cotton pants and collapsing back onto the bed. By the time Len had finished his own ablutions, Jim was sound asleep, drool seeping from the corners of his mouth into the pillow; he shook his head at the sight before yanking the covers from under Jim and getting into bed, letting the sheets settle on top of them. This was probably the last chance at a decent night's sleep before they arrived, and he wasn't going to waste it. He wrapped an arm over Jim's shoulders and ordered the lights off.








    Len couldn't say that Jim wasn't a good judge of political bullshit. "They want us to go down first." The room was filled with the command and primary bridge staff, along with Scott and himself; Chris was also there, in his uniform for the first time since the whole thing had gone down, and it was a sight that had clearly cheered the others as they had entered. Jim's news was not popular, however; Scott was frowning at the declaration, but Spock was the first one to speak up.


    "That disregards standard protocol in the complete debarkation of a starship." Spock didn't sound surprised, though, and Len figured that he had reached a similar conclusion as Jim did. Scott nodded rapidly in agreement, waving a hand towards the wall in an attempt to make some sort of point.


    "Aye, we can't just leave the lady high and dry! What if something happens? I wouldn't trust some spacedock amateur to handle her in case of an emergency-" Jim shook his head, cutting the Scotsman off.


    "I'll be blunt; they don't care. Honestly, I doubt this is really a surprise for any of you. The only person they actually...allowed to come down separately for medical reasons has already indicated he will go down with the rest of us, so this is more of a heads up for you all than anything. There's nothing we can do." Chris nodded in acknowledgement of Jim's reference, but stayed silent; Uhura made a hmphing sound, tapping a long nail on the tabletop.


    "So in other words, prepare for the media shitstorm that we are being thrust smack into the middle of without any apology." The entire table grimaced, Captain Pike included; Spock even looked less than thrilled at the prospect. Jim scrubbed a hand through his hair and sighed.


    "Basically. Oh yeah, everyone is to go down in their ship uniforms, even if you are still a cadet. They want us looking our best." Everyone nodded, and Jim waved a hand. "So in short, you've got two hours to prepare for the g-"


    "Jim, if you say gallows, I'm going to hurt you." Jim shot him a quick glare before clearing his face.


    "As I was saying, two hours to prepare for the noise. To reiterate what I announced on the shipwide earlier, we have been ordered to not speak to any of the media without express permission at this point in time. Unfortunately, Starfleet can't keep them from trying. So do your best to ignore them, try not to get arrested for assault- you know, the standard things." Uhura's lips twitched, but Len watched her glance over at Chris before deciding to keep her mouth shut. Smart woman. He knew that Uhura and Jim had met under less than auspicious circumstances, but there were times to bring it up and times where it was clearly inappropriate. He saw Sulu raise a hand slightly, and Jim nodded.


    "What about family? Will we get to see them, or do they want to debrief us first?" Jim looked down at the PADD sitting in front of him.


    "We will have a short meeting after we make it back to Command, then you will be released for the next forty-eight hours. There has been no word yet on individual debriefings yet, so I figure they are still working out their plans." Sulu nodded, but Jim's phrasing made Len pause. Damn it. They were going to be separated almost immediately.


    "Your orders are different." He was only reassured by the fact that he wasn't the only one who jumped at Chris's voice, but it was a small comfort.


    "Our orders are different. I just received an update that informs you, me, and Commander Spock that we will remain at Starfleet Command after the central meeting, unless you are in need of any immediate medical care, sir." Chris was clearly unsurprised by the news, and the older man glanced at the others at the table before looking over at Spock and his son.


    "As we expected, then." Spock and Jim both nodded in tandem, and Len resisted rolling his eyes at the sight before the reality of the situation caught up with him. How long were the three going to be forced to remain at Command? Jim and Spock were both in good shape, excepting the fact Jim hadn't had more than a two hour catnap in the last thirty-six hours, but Chris wasn't a hundred percent yet. The idiots better not have designs on keeping him there for some eight hour long interrogation or some nonsense, or orders or no orders, he would rescue the man himself. Chris was looking at him out of the corner of his eye, and Len settled back in his chair with a sigh. It felt like it had been a lifetime since he had boarded the Enterprise, but it had been less than a month; a month of watching Jim adapt to his new circumstances, of watching a very secure and independant man work through the realization that he may not ever be able to walk again- and of course, experiencing what was basically a closed society react to a tragedy that Len sure as hell knew he would never be able to fathom. During that time the ship and its crew had become everything; with no reliable outside communication for weeks, their focus had drawn far more inward than would have normally occured on a standard mission, and it had showed. Things that would have never flown on a starship at any other time had been all but standard for awhile, from Gaila's sleeping harem in Engineering to one of the observation decks having been turned into a massive two-week long slumber party; he didn't even want to think about that damn feather collecting again. They were probably all fucked for a future as an average Starfleet crew.


    "-so if you haven't packed yet, do it now. We've got a big day ahead of us." Len listened as Jim's rambling warning came to an end, and watched in silence as Chekov and Sulu nodded to the group and left, followed by Scotty, who was babbling something about the impulse engines and shaking his head; he decided that he would go ahead and make sure the patients were properly prepared for transport while the current and former captains of the Enterprise talked shop in their little huddle. Getting to his feet, he nodded in Jim's direction before leaving the room; he didn't realize he had a companion until the turbolift doors closed, and he raised an eyebrow at Uhura, who leaned over and paused the lift mid-floor with a single slender finger.


    "You know, I'm surprised that the lifts remain running with everyone doing this." Uhura's dark eyes glittered with amusement, and she made a tsk sound before stepping firmly into his personal space, her hands on her hips.


    "You and Kirk." His eyebrow quirked a bit higher.


    "What about us?" Uhura glared at him, but it was softened by a look of concern that made him frown. "I don't have time to stand around, Lieutenant." Uhura rolled her eyes.


    "Kirk's been acting with his usual bravado, but there's going to be a lot of shit the instant we get down there. I wanted to make sure you were ready for it, Kirk's not always easy to deal with under normal circumstances." It took Len a moment to parse her statement, but when he did, a smile twitched up the edges of his lips.


    "You aren't just worried about me, Uhura." She shot him a dirty look before sighing and shaking her head.


    "Kirk's been hiding since he was a kid, hasn't he?" Len sobered, stepping back and leaning against the wall.


    "The wings sprouted when he was eleven." Uhura's mouth dropped slightly, but she recovered swiftly and walked up to his side, propping her hip against the wall.


    "Who knew?"


    "Nosy, aren't you?" Uhura snorted delicately.


    "I believe in keeping informed." Len looked down at her, hazel eyes meeting brown as they looked at each other. He broke away first, walking to the controls and starting the lift.


    "The office is a better place for this." Uhura stayed quiet as they walked into Sickbay; he scanned the room before turning and entering the office he could call his own for two more hours, one communications officer in his wake. Rounding his desk, he settled into the chair as Uhura sat gracefully in the chair across from him, her gaze expectant as he tried to collect his thoughts. "There are some things I don't know, and there are things that aren't my place to be repeating."


    "I know. What can you tell me?" Uhura folded her hands in her lap, and Len let himself lean back in his chair.


    "You wanted to know who knew, right? I only found out about two weeks before the shit hit the fan." She hadn't expected that answer, that much was clear; her eyebrows shot up and she straightened her back. After a long moment of staring at him like he had sprouted another head, she grinned, her eyes glittering with something he couldn't name.


    "This is something I never thought I would say, but I think I'm a bit jealous of Kirk." His face must have shown his thoughts on her proclamation, because she began to laugh, a sweet sound that he definitely could stand to hear more often. "The half of campus that didn't believe the stupid rumors between Kirk and Captain Pike were positive you two are the unlikely couple of our year. I think they were considering putting you guys in the yearbook under that heading." He scowled, and she laughed again. "I'm pretty sure they have a collection of holos of you two around campus with Kirk snoring away next to you." Len scowled.


    "Don't they have anything more important to do? Like, oh, I don't know, study?"


    "Who else knew?" Uhura paused, her eyes narrowing. "Captain Pike knew. He may have been trashed when they got him back, but he didn't bat an eye at the fact he had basically a literal guardian angel shielding him with his wings." Len tilted his head in agreement.


    "Pike's an old friend of the family. He's known all along." Uhura mulled it over, then shifted back in her seat and crossed her legs.


    "I assume his mother knew. Was there anyone else?"


    "One other of importance." Uhura's eyes narrowed, and he let her think it over. After some time passed, he leaned forward, propping his chin on a closed fist. "Consult your memories of the campus rumor mills." He watched the younger woman's brow furrow, and he let his eyes drift closed for a moment.


    "Gaila didn't know. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been that panic about attacking him awhile back. So, hmmm-" Her eyes widened, and Len opened his eyes again as she gasped. "Admiral Archer knew!" He chuckled, nodding as he rose to his feet.


    "You actually figured it out." Her answering smile was self-assured as she stood, brushing her uniform down.


    "That's an old rumor, and honestly, it's a lot more credible than the ones linking Kirk and the Captain." Uhura blinked, her smile turning feral. "Well, now that you and Kirk are squared away, just how accurate is the rumor between Archer and Pike?" Len groaned, his lips twisting as he met her at the door.


    "They argue like an old married couple, but from what either Jim and I can tell, they are two heaping cases of denial. He's made it his personal mission to get them together, even if it takes a few decades." The grin on Uhura's face spelled trouble, and he shook his head. "I wouldn't interfere with them, Jim's allowed to get away with it, but-"


    "Well, even Kirk knows a worthy cause when he sees it." He chuckled quietly, but he couldn't muster up a lot of energy as the office door opened, revealing the Sickbay he would be leaving in a very short time. Uhura's grin faded, and they stood there together silently, watching the nurses and M'Benga bustle around.


    "Let me know if I can do anything, alright?" The offer was whispered, and Len's head whipped around as she patted his arm. "Kirk's still an asshole, but he's an asshole who's used to being left alone or harrassed for all the wrong reasons. Now everyone is going to be paying attention to him, and it won't all be for the right reasons. You're going to have your hands full." He just blinked at her, not sure what to say; Uhura gave him a soft smile and moved towards the door, which hissed open and waited as she paused in the doorway. "If you mention a word of this to him, I'll deny everything." Len smiled, a real smile, one that wasn't just the slight twitch of the lips that had been all he could summon for the most part for the last month, and Uhura's eyes glittered in reply.


    "Thank you, Nyota." The petite woman stepped out into the hallway with a nod.


    "See you at the transporter, Leonard." See you at the transporter. She might as well have said see you at the firing squad, by the way his pulse was racing. Chapel roused him from his thoughts by calling him over to confirm the procedures for patient transport with him for M'Benga, who was being forced to take his place due to the orders from Starfleet; he forced himself to focus solely on Sickbay matters until it was time to go.


    The time flew all too quickly, and the shipwide announcement of standby for docking silenced Sickbay, a few seconds later, a small shudder under their feet announced their arrival. They were home. The comm system popped into life, and Jim's face appeared on the screen. Everyone's attention turned to the man who had managed to save their asses and keep the ship together, knowing that this may be the last time they heard him like this. As Len's eyes traced the strong jaw and the dark shadows that had been omnipresent since the battle, he knew if Starfleet had any brains, it wouldn't be.


    "As was just announced, we have officially docked within the San Francisco Fleet Yards. I know this has been a trying thirty days, but we have all worked together to achieve what to many will seem impossible; we have stayed the course and survived to return home. We stand in solidarity with our Vulcan friends in their time of need and beyond, and we will all remember those who did not return with us. The events of only a little over four weeks ago have shaken the Federation, have shaken every one of us, but as someone very wise once said, a still more glorious dawn awaits; we will do our best to honor their memory and move forward to achieve what they sought. I am honored to have served with each and every one of you, and I wish you all every success in your future endeavors; on behalf of Captain Pike and myself, I thank you again for a job well done. Acting Captain James T. Kirk, out."


    It was far from a perfect speech, Len knew; he could have phrased things better, could have gone more in depth with the platitudes that people loved to hear on the news holos, but he hadn't. As he listened to Rose and Borsato sniff quietly behind him and saw Chapel smiling as she stood next to him, he gave a soft smile to the blank screen. It may not have been what the press would like, but they didn't matter. Jim knew what they needed to hear.


    "Doctor McCoy, please report to the Transporter Room." Chapel clasped his shoulder and M'Benga shook his hand as he turned to leave, most of the rest of the Medical staff following suit; he reached the door before turning back and facing them. They were all looking at him expectantly. Damnit. He was no good at the inspirational speech shit. Chapel looked about ready to interfere, if only out of pity, and Len knew he couldn't let that happen.


    "Y'all, I mean, everyone- ah damn." A smattering of laughter went up, and Len ran a hand through his hair as he tried to quell the bubbling embaressment. "I'm no good at this. I-" The amusement was plain on their faces, but it was the pride in their eyes that helped him focus; Len straightened his back and squared his shoulders. "Thank you. Everyone. You all have done a fine job in circumstances that were beyond horrible, and I'm- as the Captain said, I'm honored to have worked with you. We don't know what's going to happen from here on out, but maybe if the higher ups like us, and if it's what you want, we'll be able to work together again someday." He trailed off, and the entire Sickbay quieted with him; the wolf whistle from Rose a few moments later broke the somber mood, and everyone began to laugh, a few of the nurses coming up and shaking his hand as he remained frozen by the door.


    "Doctor McCoy, report to the Transporter Room immediately." Chapel snorted, and M'Benga made a face at the comm as everyone laughed again; Len stepped back, the door sliding open behind him, and his mouth quirked into a grin as he looked at the people that had held Sickbay together for the last four weeks.


    "See y'all on the flip side." As the door hissed closed behind him, he heard the laughter start up again, and he shook his head as he walked down the hall.








     "You know, I expected people to beam up to wrangle us or something," Len muttered, looking around the Transporter Room at the assembled senior crew. Next to him, Jim gave a rather insincere grin.


    "Oh, they tried. I gave some bullshit excuse to keep them from coming up. They'll meet us at the beam-down site." Chris, whose wheelchair was already parked on the transporter pad, quirked an eyebrow at Jim's statement, but it was clear that the man agreed wholeheartedly with the spirit behind the decision. Chekov and Sulu were loitering around the separating wall between the pads and the controls, Chekov looking torn between excitement and nervousness, while Sulu looked almost serene. Seeing the other man made him think on what Jim had mentioned to him the other day, and Len considered walking over to speak with him before shaking his head and staying put. It wasn't his business. Jim's gaze flickered as he looked at him, and he knew that Jim knew exactly what had been going through his head. Spock and Uhura, who had been talking quietly since Len had entered the Transporter Room, looked up as Scott finally entered; Jim smirked at the other man before calling him over with a swish of a wing.


    "Took you long enough, Scott." The engineer rolled his eyes as Jim laughed, the younger man giving Scott an understanding look.


    "Yeah, I know, Scotty; we'll just have to deal." Jim sobered, looking around the room before hopping onto the pad next to Chris. "I guess this is it, then." Spock and Uhura both took up positions on the pad as Len sighed and flanked Jim on his open side. He hated transporters. "We will remain at the beam down site until you three join us, then we get to find out what's going to happen." Sulu nodded, and Chekov squeaked a reply as Scott worked his way around to the controls. Len looked over at Jim, noting the younger man's stiff posture and pale countenance, and he frowned.




    "Transporting now, don't run off without us."


    "Later, Bones," Jim whispered, and Len noted Jim's last words as acting captain with a deepening frown as the lights swirled around them, cutting off any reply.


    The pad at Starfleet Command was shockingly empty, with only a few officers waiting for them as they appeared, and all of them stopped mid-statement as they took in the sight before them.


    "Take a picture, it'll last longer." Len bit back a smirk at the sharp voice coming from behind, watching as Jim's head swiveled over with wide eyes as Uhura stepped off the transporter pad, frowning at the silent gawkers. Len blinked against the vertigo that threatened before joining the communications officer in glaring. Jim remained quiet, but his sharp eyes were taking in their surroundings as he helped stabilize Chris's chair as they cleared off the pad, standing to the side as three swirls of light signalled the arrival of the rest of their group. Len could see one of the officers speaking into a comm near them, but he kept his focus on Jim and Chris as the group assembled for what was certainly going to be their big debut. He hoped Jocelyn was letting Joanna watch the news feeds, if only to show her that he was alive. That was probably the only good thing about what was going to happen today, if the uneasiness in his gut was anything to go by. He had a bad feeling about how events were going to unfold over the next few hours, and Jim was the primary cause of that bad feeling. Len looked as one of the officers waiting for them stepped forward, her eyes remaining steadfastly on Jim's face; he gave her serious points for pulling that off without looking once over his shoulder.


    "Captain Pike, Lieutenant Kirk, Commander Spock...everyone- welcome home. I'm afraid that I have to escort you all through a media line before the meeting; we ask that no one answer any questions at this time, as we would like to avoid misunderstandings at this time. Family and friends have been asked to wait at a predecided location until after the short meeting." Chekov scoffed quietly, and Sulu's lip curled with irritation at the edict. Len didn't expect anyone to be waiting for him; Aunt Adelaide hated travelling, and the chances of Jocelyn bringing Joanna to see him were almost non-existent. Excepting his little girl, his family was here; with the young man who was trying not to look like he was about to faint next to him, even with the older man who was shooting glances full of barely-concealed concern towards Jim. He had not entered Starfleet looking for a new family, but he had gotten one. He wasn't going to let them down.


    "Is everyone ready? Time to go." The liaison waved them over, signalling to the three men that had been captains of the Enterprise in the last month to go in front; Len fell in behind Jim and Chris, while Uhura did the same behind Spock. Scott, Chekov, and Sulu stayed a step behind the rest of them as they set off.


    "Jim?" Len blinked and Jim jerked as Chris spoke.


    "Yessir?" Jim's voice sounded strangled, and Len had to clench his fists to keep from reaching out to him.


    "Breathe." Jim's shoulders lifted from their tensed position as the younger man took a deep breath, exhaling loudly as the light of a clear San Francisco day came into stark view.




    The doors to the front of Starfleet Command slid open, and Len heard Jim take one more deep breath as they stepped into the sun. The roar of the crowd hit him like a punch to the jaw; countless people were yelling questions behind temporary barriers, and Len could see cameras of all types armed at them as they cleared the shadow of the building. An assembled group of admirals and other high-ranking officials were dead ahead, and he was relieved to see Admiral Archer among them, his serious features softening as he looked in their direction. The reporters and media closest to them suddenly silenced, and he knew exactly what they had just focused on; like a crowd doing the wave, the silence spread backwards down the waiting line, and even the admirals were seemingly struck dumb by the sight before them. John was the obvious exception, his face growing stern as he took in the crowd's reaction, and Len could not keep the scowl off of his face. Damn idiots, all of them. He looked over at Jim, who had paused when the crowd quieted, and his mouth went dry. Like an heraldic eagle, his wings were flared in a protective stance behind his father, his profile stark against the bright afternoon sun as he looked from side to side in what could only be seen as a challenging manner. Jim's chin was lifted, his spine and his shoulders set in the commanding posture that had seemed to come naturally to him, the presence that had so skillfully held them all together crystal clear as he faced down the world. He had never looked more beautiful.


    "Why didn't you save my daughter, you- you murderer!" Len's head whipped away from Jim just in time to see a woman leap over the barriers past the stunned security officers and dive for Chris; he moved to intercept, but the expected sight of the Captain's wheelchair being knocked over was interrupted by a swish of feathers and a loud smack, the attacker falling to the ground as Jim winced and shook out his left wing. The stunned woman clutched at her bleeding nose and did not move as Jim knelt at her side and whispered in her ear, and Len glared at the security officers as they finally relocated their heads from their asses and approached to take the woman into custody.


    "Well, I suppose that could have gone better." Len snorted at the familiar dry tone coming from nearby while he kept an eye on the woman as they took her away, Jim rubbing at his wing absently next to him as the voices began to reemerge, swiftly building into a crescendo that was far worse than what they had walked out to. 


    "Excuse me if I'm a bit wary of Starfleet's security training, John," Len drawled as he looked over to see the older man standing next to Chris, his hand on the man's shoulder like it belonged there; Jim grinned as he took in the sight, but he visibly forced himself not to say anything, swallowing heavily before opening his mouth.


    "Good to see you in the flesh, Admiral." John's green eyes glittered with emotion, but this was certainly not the place to show it, not with all the hyenas moving in, so John simply smiled and nodded, squeezing Chris's shoulder.


    "Let's just say that I second the sentiment, but to a much higher degree." John looked out on the ruckus, his features going blank as he looked at the screaming reporters and photographers; Len took a moment to look back at the rest of their group, who were watching events unfold with blatant interest. Uhura gave a slight nod, and Scott shot him a cocky grin and a thumbs up when their eyes met, and Len rolled his eyes and smirked before facing the insanity again. He could get used to the crazy bastard.


    "Let's get this over with." Len felt a brush against his arm as Jim spoke, and he returned the sentiment with a quick caress to the inside of the younger man's wrist, watching with satisfaction as a faint flush emerged on Jim's ear tips before he pulled away.


    "Lead on, Captain." The process was easier than he thought it would be; Jim kept a faint smile on his face while Len decided that keeping his own features neutral was as good as they were going to get as they walked through the screaming crowds lining the short walk to the primary Starfleet Command building, Chris and John at their side. In true media fashion, the first question that Len heard clearly had nothing to do with their recent trials, and everything to do with Jim's little quirk.


    "Are the wings a mutation, Captain Kirk?" Len rolled his eyes. No, they were as they should be. The rest of the world was just going to have to get used to that.


    "Why was the Enterprise the only ship to survive?" 


    "Could things have been done differently to save Vulcan?"


    "Are you a result of genetic engineering, Captain Kirk?" Jim's smile slipped for a moment, the younger man managing to recoup before anyone made note of it. The doors were right in front of them, and Len felt his shoulders slump slightly as they scaled the first step.


    "What does Starfleet say about the rumors that Captain Pike betrayed the Federation and this very planet by giving up valuable defense secrets to the Romulans?" His hands were wrapped around Jim's wrists before he even fully registered the statement, feeling the muscles under his fingers straining in anger as he kept Jim from lunging at the bastard who had dared voice that shit. Jim glared at him as he tried to work his wrists free, and Len was too busy to realize that Jim wasn't the only one to react. A flash of white and grey made him look up to see John about ready to mirror Jim's prospective actions, the strong physique tensed to spring.


    "Goddamned vultures-" John snarled as he turned towards the crowd behind them, and Len frowned as Jim extracted his wrists from his grip and turned to do the same.


    "John." The former acting-captain and the admiral both froze, and Len realized that Chris had grabbed Jim's hand as he had spoken. "We've got more important things to do." Jim closed his eyes and turned back around without speaking; John gave the general direction of the horrid questioner a dark look that promised trouble before he regained his composure, his mask slipping back into place as he spun on his heel.


    "You are right, Captain, as always. Lead the way." Ignoring the continuing shouted questions, they proceeded into the building without further incident. Len heard an almost incomprehensible sigh from Chris as the doors shut behind them, blocking out most of the noise. It summed up the ludicrousness of their situation quite nicely. 


    "What kind of shit was that? Er- I mean, that was uncalled for. What happened to a little respect?" Scott blustered as they were ushered into the main hallway, startling Len. He had been so focused on getting through the media line that he had completely forgotten about the others.


    "Does that respect also include respect for a fellow officer's pets, Lieutenant Commander?" Scott went as stiff as a board as John met his eye with a wry grin, the tension deflating from the rest of them as the Scotsman fumbled for words.


    "Of course, sir. Won't happen again." Jim's lips twitched upwards at the rushed response, and Len shook his head as Chris snorted next to them. John held Scott's gaze for a long moment before raising an eyebrow.


    "Damn right it won't. I hate doing transfer paperwork." Chris rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose with a groan, causing everyone to chuckle at the two men.


    "John, shut up before you get yourself in trouble."


    "Too late, but that's a matter for another time." Admiral Nogura, Admiral Barnett, and Admiral Komack approached the group together, Barnett's voice tinged with veiled amusement as he nodded to Chris and John before turning his attention to Jim and the rest of them. "Welcome back, all of you. I'm afraid we can't quite let you go just yet, but we will try to make this fast for most of you so you can go meet your families." Komack's eyes were darting between all of them, but his focus was clearly centered on Jim; Nogura wasn't bothering trying to disguise his interest, but his appraisals were centered on both Jim and Chris, who both squared their shoulders at the scrutiny. Len pressed his lips together in resigned irritation. It was going to be a long day.






     Coming back to his apartment felt more like entering a hotel room than he had expected it would. There wasn't much dust, thanks to the filters in the enviromental systems, but after almost a month on the Enterprise, it didn't feel like home anymore. He would have to deal, however; Starfleet Command had made it very clear that they were all to remain within easy reach for future debriefings and other assorted meetings, although they were not being asked to return to classes. Len snorted as he stripped the bed. Almost a quarter of the instructors had died up in the black, it was going to take months for them to figure out what to do with the lower classes, let alone the graduating class.  He had no clue what any of them would be doing in the near future. He shoved the musty sheets into the laundry and grabbed a set of marginally fresher ones, remaking the bed. All he wanted to do was sleep and not think about anything for a little while. He wasn't one of the only doctors around anymore, he wasn't in a situation with limited equipment and supplies; he could let himself stand down for a evening. Pulling off his uniform shirt, he sat down on the bed and stared at it, feeling the textured blue fabric between his fingers. It hadn't even been a month, but it might as well have been a lifetime; so much had changed, with their lives, their very universe, and- Jim. Everything was coming around to Jim in his mind lately. Len sighed, dropping the blue shirt and leaning over to pull off his boots, followed by his undershirt and pants. It felt strange getting ready for bed in the middle of the day, but he had been released with everyone but the command trio, and unlike the others, there was no family waiting for him. With the exception of his little girl, his family was already here. He threw back the covers and burrowed under them.


    "Lights at zero." He closed his eyes and tried to settle in for a nice nap, but it didn't come easily. After a few hours of unsatisfactory dozing and tossing about in bed, he gave up, pushing himself upright with a grunt. After a month of usually having someone in bed with him, it wasn't the same. He puttered around his apartment aimlessly, straightening things that didn't need to be while sipping at the first real alcohol he had tasted since everything had happened. Len grimaced as the Jack burned down his throat. If he felt like acknowledging the rest of the world, he would have gone out for something better, but he was pretty sure the media was probably doing their damnedest to get on campus to ask them pointless questions. He opened his mouth to order the holoscreen on, but the words didn't come. He knew what he had been through, what he had been a part of; did he really want to listen to some talking head rehash it in short snippets and with factoids that were barely relevant? He snorted and knocked back a shot. Fuck no. He eyed his console as he set the empty shot glass on the table next to the bottle of Jack. He needed to call Joanna, let her know that he was alive beyond seeing a thirty second snippet on the news feeds. Jim was probably still holed up in meetings, and he didn't envy him one bit. He glanced at the time, automatically doing the calculation for the difference. It was eight-thirty in Georgia; dinner should be long over by this point, and Joanna never went to bed that early without a special reason. After a quick once-over in the bathroom, brushing his hair back into place and smoothing out his sleep-rumpled clothes, Len sat down in front of the console and powered it up; his messages were overflowing, as he expected, but he would deal with that later. With a few pokes at the screen, the familiar number flashed at the corner of the monitor as he waited for the call to connect; he ran a hand through his hair, darting it down out of sight as the screen stopped flashing. The face that appeared wasn't the one he was looking for, but he managed to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "Good evening, Clay." The other man's light chestnut hair looked like it had been styled by a twister, and Len couldn't help the eyebrow from inching up his forehead. Clay grinned in silence response, irritatingly perfect teeth shining as his hands coming up in an attempt to tame the mess, but his success was rather limited. After a moment, he gave up and dropped his hands with a shrug.


    "Hey, Leonard- s'not everyday we get a message from a world-famous hero! How are you doing?" Len opened his mouth to respond, but Clay beat him to the line. "Saw your arrival on the news earlier- hell of a thing, y'know, that Kirk kid? I mean, wings? How do you hide something like that?" Clay looked skeptical, and Len couldn't really blame him. It was definitely the type of situation you had to see to believe, as the last three years had told him.


    "Surprisingly easy, if you don't mind being incredibly private," Len muttered under his breath, and Clay blinked at him in confusion.


    "What was that?" Len shook his head, and Clay looked askance before shrugging again, rising to his feet a moment later. "I suppose I should get Joanna, then. Hold on." Len looked at the old quilt that hung on the wall across the room through the screen as Clay moved out of view; it was grayer than it should have been, and he shook his head. He had always been the one to make sure it stayed dusted; it was clear that Clay hadn't bothered with it and he doubted that Jocelyn had so much as touched the thing since he had left.


    "Leonard? Well, look at you!" Jocelyn's voice was audible before she came into view, and Len felt an familiar band of tension in his shoulders tighten automatically. Of all the things to have an automatic reaction for- "You and your crewmates made quite the entrance, from what we saw earlier. I'm actually a little surprised you took so long to call, I figured you'd want to call Joanna right away." Jocelyn's face was carefully neutral, but Len felt his hackles rise at the implication in her words; he forced himself to take a measured breath before responding.


    "Jocelyn, Starfleet is keeping us busy right now, I didn't want to frighten my little girl with what I looked like straight out of all the meetings they are having us do, so yes, this was my first real chance-" Jocelyn sighed as he spoke, but he trailed off as a high soprano voice cut in, and Joanna's slender frame, already in a nightshirt, all but shoved her mother out of the way. Len was happy he was able to disguise his amusement in the joy of seeing Joanna again, his face splitting into a grin he didn't want to hide.


    "Daddy, is that you?" Big gray eyes were a little too close to the screen, but he didn't mind. He never minded, not when it came to her.


    "Nope, this is his rakish, fun-loving counterpart; your boring old Dad will resume normal brain function after a brief delay." He punctuated the statement with a sharp tilt of his head, a few of his bangs coming loose, the ends coming to rest on his brow. Joanna giggled and plopped herself down in the chair in front of her console, shaking her head.
    "Dad, you are really silly, you know that?" His cheeks were already getting sore from smiling, but he didn't care. He lifted a hand and pressed it against the screen, Joanna mirroring the motion a moment later.


    "I'm just happy to see you, Joanna." He could feel his eyes prickle, but a few blinks chased the sensation away; Joanna's eyes were also suspiciously shiny, and he softened his smile.


    "I'm really glad you are okay, Daddy." Len knew he had lucked out. Right up there with Galactic Powerball level luck; there were millions of things that could have gone wrong, and despite that, he and Jim had pulled through...even Chris's prognosis was excellent. The survivor's guilt hadn't really reared its head yet, but he had felt shades of it creeping around the edges of his consciousness over the last few weeks. Looking at Joanna made the feeling subside, and he nodded at his daughter.


    "I'm really glad too, sweetheart." A surprisingly comfortable silence fell between them, and he kept his hand pressed against the screen as they held each others gazes; it was Joanna who broke first, her free hand coming into view as she waved her index finger at him.


    "Alright, Dad, talk. You left off a rather important part when you told me about Jim the last few times we talked, as the news showed earlier." Her hand didn't leave the screen, but she crossed her free arm across her chest, tucking her hand under her armpit and pursing her lips; Len chuckled at his daughter's narrowed eyes and shook his head lightly.


    "I didn't know until just a little while ago, Joanna. I didn't forget to tell you." Joanna boggled, her other hand slipping from the monitor as she crossed her arms properly.


    "How did you not see the big feathered wings sticking out, Dad?" Len snorted, lifting his own hand from the screen and poking it with his index finger.


    "He hid them under his clothes." Joanna's eyebrow skills were definitely improving, and a little part of him couldn't wait to see her really use it on her mother. 


    "Likely story." He wasn't going to tell her everything, not with Jocelyn and Clay in earshot, but he could tell her a few things. As he took in the suspicious look she was shooting him, he felt a serious amount of tension he didn't even know he had fade. Life was going to be hectic for quite some time, he knew, but no one was going to keep him from enjoying some time with his little girl.


    "Well, you see, Joanna-"




    "I don't even know this woman!" Jim scowled at the screen as the attractive redhead went on about how the father of her little girl was none other then the savior of the planet, spinning a soap-opera worthy yarn about how they had supposedly met during college and had fallen desperately in love. Len snorted as the story got more and more ridiculous, barely resisting the urge to change to a different feed around the time she claimed that he had flown her on a trip around the world, but he couldn't resist a dig at the younger man.   


    "How could you forget your destined love, Jim? I mean, she makes you sound like you should be in the tattered remains of some silk shirt and posing with those bulging muscles you have somewhere in your dreams on a book cover; you only left her side because you knew you had to save the world!" Gaila tittered from her place on the floor, and Jim glared at her before rolling his eyes at Len.


    "She just said she went to college in New York! I've only visited the place, I've never lived there!" Len shrugged as the reporter tried to look like he was wholly believing of the delusional woman still going on about their epic love, but it was clear that even a tabloid reporter had his limits. Gaila waved a hand dismissively at the screen as the segment came to an end.


    "I can't believe how shoddy their research is, even for one of these sensationalized news feeds." The Orion looked up at Jim with a grin, ordering the feed to mute. Jim shifted as he groaned, and Len ran a hand through the unruly dark blond hair resting on top of his thigh. "I mean, how hard is it to look up that you went to the University of California, Barstow?" Len blinked, looking down at the suddenly stiff young man using him as a pillow.


    "I didn't know that." Jim pursed his lips, and Len tugged gently on the younger man's hair to calm him down. It didn't work.


    "I didn't finish," Jim mumbled, and Gaila nodded, seemingly oblivious to the fact Jim was currently trying to impersonate Spock with serious constipation.


    "You left after your second year, after your grades took a rather marked tumble. You then decided to go on a trip of some sort, and you didn't return to California for over a year and a half...which is when you entered the Academy." Jim's frown deepened, and Len's hand fell from his head as Jim sat up and faced Gaila directly.


    "How long ago did you look me up, Gaila?" Gaila shrugged, examining her fingernails as Jim continued to stare at her.


    "About a year and a half ago. I wasn't planning on it originally, but I was doing some maintenance and software upgrades on the servers and systems that store the non-classified personnel data, so I was testing it by plugging in various friend's names. I had just installed a test program to scan for duplicates, and when I looked you up, I was shown two separate files as potential dups. It wasn't much of a leap to figure out some things from there, considering the only major difference in the header of the file was the last name." Jim's eyebrows had inched up his forehead as the Orion had spoken, and Len shook his head lightly and settled back in the sofa. "Before you ask, I did a little tweaking to make sure your two files don't show up at the same time like that again, so I'm pretty sure I'm the only one to have noticed that way." Jim boggled at her for a moment longer before his shoulders sagged, and Len wrapped his arm around the younger man's waist as he slumped into his arms. "You two are so perfect for each other, by the way," Gaila said, her lips curving up into a lovely smile that made him fight to restrain a blush.


    "Are you just saying this because you want Jim to drop the subject?" Gaila's brow furrowed, and she shook her head.


    "No, I'm saying it because it is true." He could feel Jim's skin grow warm against him, and he lost his own battle on his own reaction to her statement; Jim turned his head enough to smirk at him before looking back at Gaila.


    "You could charm a bat-leth off a Klingon, Gaila." 


    "Who says I haven't?" Jim grinned, and Len felt himself smiling as well as Jim sat back up again, sparing a glance at the screen before returning his gaze to the woman lounging on the floor.


    "So you've known for awhile where I actually live and...stuff."


    "Yeah, I have. Obviously, I didn't know about the other thing, but that information is more medical records-type info anyway."


    "I can guarantee it's there now."


    "Probably. Jim, I didn't say anything because I didn't want you to freak out. You've always been very private, and I wanted to respect that as much as I could. The fact it cleared up the Captain Pike rumors for me was a nice bonus, though."


    "I-" Jim opened his mouth, then closed it. "Huh." A flash of his name on the comm drew their attention, and Gaila unmuted it so they could listen.


    "We totally had a thing, you know? Like, I could see how hot he was even with that hump he always had, so I ignored the haters and hung out with the guy. Great technique, if you get my drift." Jim's jaw dropped, and Len felt his eyebrows draw together at the lascivious eyebrow waggle at the end of the asshole's statement.


    "What the hell? Is everyone I so much as bumped into at a club or bar going to come out of the woodwork now?" Jim fluffed his wings in obvious irritation, smacking Len in the side; Len slid forward on the cushion and let the wing go behind him before he got pummelled with feathers again. Gaila hissed at the screen, her long fingers twisting into a sign that he didn't know, but he was pretty sure wasn't polite.


    "He sounds like he was doing you a favor by actually acknowledging you! All of these fools- chuulak for them all!" Len could guess that whatever chuulak meant, it wasn't good; a glance at Jim earned him a soft smile and a shake of the head.


    "Whatever you just said, darlin', I probably agree with." Gaila grinned, getting onto her knees and pressing a kiss into Len's cheek; he knew that her orange lipstick would be killer to remove, but he would deal. The fact that the tabloids were having far too much fun running with every single person who claimed to have known Jim was just damned horrid, and if he had the chance, he'd be happy to find some pleasantly nasty hypospray to introduce them to. They would just have to make sure it didn't get into the main news feeds, because as far as he knew, ninety-nine percent of the crap these idiots were spewing was pure unadulterated lies; if he didn't do anything about it, he knew Chris would. Jim's father may allow Jim to make his own mistakes, but you didn't fuck with him. The younger man, under the influence of a few too many beers, had merrily told him a story about how a bartender had once called Chris Poppa Bear, and Len had the suspicion he was going to be seeing that side of the Captain more and more often as time passed if this nonsense kept up.


    "Why the hell are we watching the tabloid feeds, anyway? What happened to quality journalism?" Jim's eyebrows lifted in clear amusement as he looked over at Len, and Len rolled his eyes as Jim opened his mouth.


    "You mean it existed at one point? Seems like most of the stuff you get off the old feeds from hundreds of years ago wasn't much different. Have you read some of the articles about the Maine?" Len squinted at Jim in confusion, and Jim grinned. "Brush up on your history, Bones."


    "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a-"


    "-historian; yeah, well, I bet you could tell me a laundry list of medical revolutionaries off the top of your head, old man. Still history." The younger man waved a loose hand in dismissal, preempting any chance of Len replying as Gaila changed to a more mainstream feed. He recognized the reporter on screen as one of the ones he had seen a few days ago among the throng that had wanted a piece out of all of them; she was standing in a rather unextraordinary area that seemed to be mostly comprised of crop fields, and for just a moment, Len hoped that they weren't talking about the Battle of Vulcan again. It took him a moment longer to realize that Jim had all but turned to stone next to him, but before he could speak, the woman on screen beat him to it.


    "Alka Yagnik reporting from Riverside, Iowa. I'm currently outside the Kirk family homestead, where all attempts to get a statement from Commander Winona Kirk, the mother of James Kirk and widow of George Kirk, hero of the tragic Kelvin disaster, have failed. There are growing questions as to her role in her son's life, as interviews of some of the locals have revealed that Captain Kirk spent little to no time here in Riverside after returning from a trip off-planet around age eleven, sparing a few months shortly before his admission into Starfleet. As it is clear that the information about his x-gene being active was kept from the public, if not the rest of Starfleet, the question remains: where was James Kirk staying all this time, and who kept the secret for him?" Jim's sigh was almost inaudible, but both Len and Gaila looked at him with trepidation as his eyes slid closed.


    "Want me to do some...maintenance on the personnel systems?" Gaila's voiced question was tentative, and Len kept quiet as he brushed his hand against Jim's thigh, watching the other man tamp down his emotions with a strained grimace. After a moment, Jim shook his head and opened his eyes.


    "Tempting, but no. I would be lying if I said I was anything but proud to be Captain Pike's son, adopted or not, and I don't want even the appearance that I'm ashamed of the connection. I'm worried about how it's going to come down on Dad, but-"


    "You can't tell me that you two weren't prepared for this, Jim. Chris is as likely to forsake you as he is to dip John in the middle of Starfleet Command and make out with him in front of everyone without chemical persuasion." Len grinned when a remotely disgusted expression stripped the stress from Jim's features. "There's nothing wrong with privacy, after all." Gaila hopped to her feet and put her hands on her hips, leaning over into their personal space with a grin that Len didn't trust in the slightest.


    "Fifty credits says that the public won't figure out the relationship between you and Captain Pike for at least a week." Jim boggled at her, and the Orion grinned at Len in silent triumph.


    "Bets? You want to bet on this?" Jim's voice had lost the dull tone he had been unsuccessfully hiding ever since they had managed to get together for the first time since they had split after their arrival back on Earth, replaced by a disbelieving squawk. Len quirked an eyebrow and nodded. He and Gaila made a decent team when it came to distracting Jim, and he knew they were going to have to employ more of that teamwork as the media continued digging into Jim's life. A little part of him hoped that their obsession with the angel of Earth would keep their minds off of digging up dirt on anyone else, but he wouldn't hold his breath. The newscast had moved on to yet another analysis of the battle from the viewpoint of their so-called experts, and he closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift as Jim and Galia argued over something completely pointless. It was a refreshing change of pace from the last few weeks.








    "So, you have fourteen kids by three different species of women and one hermaphroditic being, you attended school on six different planets, earning about twenty-five degrees in everything from engineering to EVA basket weaving, and you were either gifted to your mother from star spirits as a gift for your father's sacrifice, or you are a changeling sent from Mother Earth herself to fix the genetic mess that humans made of themselves two-hundred odd years ago." Scotty paused, scratching at his chin with a thoughtful smile while obviously ignoring Jim's growing scowl. "-and I thought I was pretty busy growing up." Len couldn't help the snort that followed, and Jim turned his glare to him.


    "Don't even start, Bones." Len shrugged, leaning back into his chair and wiping the threatening smirk off of his face.


    "Wouldn't dream of it." Jim's suspicious gaze lessened slightly, and Len tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. "I've always wanted to learn how to basket weave." Scotty grinned beside him, and Jim pinched the bridge of his nose in a move that Len had seen Chris do a hundred times. Like father, like son. The mood turned somber as Jim continued not to speak, and Len watched the Scotsman take a quaff from his ale before leaning over and giving a quick squeeze to Jim's shoulder.

"To be more serious, lad, how are you doing? I mean, anyone with a lick of sanity knows that the shit the second-rate rags are spewing is just that, shit; but the supposedly more upright and accurate feeds are still going on and on about you. I'd say thanks for being an one man redirect, but it's been almost a week and they haven't let up yet." Scott had a point, and Len was inwardly a bit thankful that the other man had voiced it instead of him. He knew he would have only gotten that half-disgusted, half-depressed hangdog face if he had said anything, and that was the last thing he wanted to see.


Jim shook his head. "About as well as could be expected, I think. The Admiralty has let me be for the last few days, but I expect to be hauled back in for more pointless debriefings and interviews any time now." Jim paused, and gave Scott an amused look. "At least I don't have to deal with the dog thing."


Scotty frowned dramatically, waving a finger at the younger man. "You know as well as I do that it's a non-issue now. The poor beast is back with Admiral Archer, and that's the end of it." Len smirked at the engineer, gaining a narrow-eyed look in return.


"Saying something would force the admiral to admit his motivations for sending you to Delta Vega, anyhow, and the bastard wouldn't set himself up like that." Scott mirrored his smirk as he leaned back in his chair.


"Y'know, until I saw you two chatting the day we came back, I wouldn't have expected you to really know Archer. It's not like he's known for hanging out with the Medical cadets." Len shrugged, thinking about his response; he noticed Jim's eyes flick from him to Scott before returning to glance absently away from the table. He still wasn't ready to reveal all his secrets.


"I met him at a party that Admiral Gaynor held first year; chatted with him off and on ever since." It wasn't exactly a lie, that was where he met him for the first time, but he was definitely understating the current state of affairs. He was willing to keep topics involving Chris and John to vague details for awhile, but he knew it was only a matter of time until everything came out. He wasn't going to outright lie for Jim forever for something that didn't need to be lied about, as far as he was concerned; especially because he knew that Chris had no intention of lying about it either. The corner of Jim's mouth twitched after he spoke, and Len knew he had made the right decision.


"The captain needs to go in for more work, yes? I don't know the particulars, but I've heard some rumblings around here about it." Scott sipped his ale before continuing. "I'm assuming that you'll be taking care of that, right?" Len blinked, his gaze turning towards Jim before he even thought about it. He hadn't heard much of anything from Starfleet Medical, outside of some empty platitudes about his ability to have kept everyone as well as possible during the disaster. Scott was right, he should have heard something by now. Len scrubbed his hand over his eyes, rubbing at his eyebrows as he tried to figure out how to respond. His sense of time was totally fucked up; it felt like they had just stepped off the ship, but it had been almost four days. He hadn't spoken to Chris since the day they got back as far as he could remember. Why hadn't Jim said anything? Letting his hand drop back to the table, Len shook his head.


"I haven't heard anything, actually; I've been so distracted that I've lost track of time. I'll see what's going on, they should have notified me by now, even if I'm not going to be part of the final surgery." Len took a drink, watching as Jim's eyes widened alarmingly at his statement.


"Why the hell wouldn't you be doing the surgery? The only reason he's still alive is because you pulled off some serious skills-" Len shook his head and Jim trailed off, but the alarm in the younger man's eyes didn't fade. "Bluntly, some of the higher ups don't like the fact that their resident early-midlife crisis cadet is the one in the news. I wouldn't put it past a few of them to try and take the ultimate credit for saving Chris to polish up their ass-kissing portfolios."


Scott snorted, but his expression reflected his understanding of Len's statement. "Damn politics. Surprised the universe still runs sometimes with all the bullshit people pull." Jim's jaw was clenched and the feathers on his wings were starting to lift, but he didn't speak as Scott finished his ale and got to his feet. "I've got to go for now, lads, but send me a line if you need me for anything. I have a feeling we'll need to keep sticking together for the foreseeable future."


Len and Jim both bid the engineer farewell, then returned to sipping at their drinks. After the silence continued to stretch between them, Len sighed and looked Jim in the eye. "Spit it out, Jim; I don't want to play the guess-what's-wrong game right now." Jim frowned at him for another few seconds before shaking his head and fluffing his wings out a bit; they both managed to mostly disregard the eyes that followed Jim's simple movement as the younger man licked his lips.


"You can't just leave him to some glory-seeking vultures." Jim's tone was matter-of-fact, and Len sighed.


"I don't want to, but I may not have a choice. The only person who is going to have any luck of convincing them otherwise is Chris himself. They aren't going to listen to me. Either way, though, he needs to have that surgery sooner rather than later." Jim studied his face, looking for god knows what before he nodded and turned back to his drink, throwing back the remainder with a flick of his wrist.


"Let's go your apartment and get you a bag." Len's brow furrowed at the non sequitur, but he polished off his own drink and followed Jim out the door.


After a few minutes of walking, he turned towards the younger man. "Why am I getting a bag?" Jim smirked at him like it was the most obvious thing in the world, and Len glared at him for a moment before sighing. "Spit it out already."


"You need to talk with Dad about his surgery, and I haven't been sleeping well since we got back. The fact that you look like a zombie makes me think you aren't doing much better." A wing snapped out and wrapped around Len's shoulder, pulling him closer to Jim. "Besides, friends don't let friends leave the house with these." The younger man stroked a spot on his jawline, and Len could feel the hair move under Jim's finger. Heat bloomed in his cheeks before he could scrape together a response, and Jim gave a tired chuckle.


"Yeah, that's what I thought."


To be continued....