Spock has such a nice smile. Toothy and with a crinkle at the corner of his eye. His laugh, when it comes, is deep.
McCoy stares. He’s not sure he can help it. And he’s apparently free to look, Spock’s eyes scrunched shut with laughter and not about to catch him at it. So he’s still staring when Spock slumps against him, heavy and too warm pressed to his side, shoulders shaking and his head tipped back.
McCoy shoves at his arm in an attempt to get him upright, but flopped against him, Spock doesn’t budge. Instead, he sways forward and with a lurch, grabs at the front of McCoy’s shirt.
“This party of yours,” he says and McCoy is not ready for the sight of him speaking through that smile of his, how his mouth moves around the words. Delirious isn’t even half of it.
“You need medical attention,” McCoy says and cranes backwards, trying to get enough room between them to breathe. Spock’s hand tightens on McCoy’s collar and he can’t get far, not with that firm grip.
The laughter dies with a last chuckle, but Spock’s eyes are on him, half lidded and too bright.
“It cannot now be a surprise,” Spock says and that eyebrow creeps upwards, so close that McCoy can see the smudges of dirt on Spock’s forehead.
McCoy plucks at the fingers holding his uniform, but Spock’s too strong and he doesn’t seem to want to let go. Instead, he leans even closer. A hot breath ghosts McCoy’s chin.
“It’s just for me,” McCoy says, arching away, but there’s that cave wall behind him. It’s as solid as Spock’s body is crowded against his shoulder, and McCoy can’t draw a deep enough breath. “Nobody else is invited.”
“Unfortunate,” Spock says. McCoy can feel the word in his own chest. He’s so pressed so near that McCoy can’t focus his eyes on him, the outline of him growing blurrier by the moment.
Spock kisses him. McCoy jerks back, but there’s a rock behind his head and soft lips on his and he freezes long enough for Spock to do a thorough job of it, his lips tugging at McCoy’s slack mouth.
A soft sound rises from the back of Spock’s throat. Immobile in Spock’s grip, McCoy turns his head to the side. He sits stock still and tries to keep the fact of what they’re doing - did - from catching up to him. Spock’s breath is warm on his cheek. A long finger uncurls to touch the skin just above McCoy’s collar. It’s Spock. McCoy’s pulse hammers beneath the weight of Spock tucked up against him, his lips lax at the corner of McCoy’s mouth.
McCoy clears his throat.
“You should get some rest,” he says and takes Spock’s arm to try to ease him backwards.
Spock sways with a loll to his slow nod and McCoy braces his hand on his ribs to sit him upright. Under his fingers, Spock’s heart beats too fast in his ribs, but when McCoy drops his grip, he stays more or less straight.
Spock’s eyes slip shut. McCoy wipes his hand across his mouth and it comes away wet, a smear across the back of his knuckles.
Yorktown, Several Days Later
It’s been years since McCoy left a hospital to the glare of a rising sun. Now, it’s not so much rising as the hull panels of Yorktown are turning clear in a half-assed fake morning glint that makes his head hurt.
Or maybe that’s the eleven hours he just spent bent over a bio bed talking, or the goddamn mission from hell Jim just dragged them on, or the fact that all his belongings were left in a heap of rubble in the ship’s saucer and he’s wearing replicated socks. They itch.
But it’s his first morning off the ship in… well. A while. Too long, not counting an overly abbreviated stop here that got cut too damn short.
He wants breakfast and a nap.
He makes it three blocks towards that goal before his comm pings. Mission assignment, it reads and he groans out loud. He snaps the cover closed. The comm has the audacity to chime again, this time with Jim’s name on the screen.
Let me explain, Jim’s typed. It might as well be ‘don’t freak out’.
Jim's on Viewing Deck 5 when McCoy finds him, because where else would he be but with his nose pressed to the glass like it’s still the middle of his party and he has all the time in the world to stand there and gawk.
And of course, since today couldn’t get better, Spock is right beside him.
“Don’t you have anything else to do with your time?” McCoy asks. Jim’s already got stars in his eyes and has ever since he first saw the damn thing. Spock too, though McCoy is sure that if he accused him of having the same slack jawed gaze that’s plastered on Jim’s face, he’d never hear the end of it. As it is, he turns away before he can get too good a look at how Spock is watching the ship, his silhouette outlined against the dark of the construction bay and the brightness of Yorktown’s corridors.
“There she is.” Jim smiles. He looks lovestruck. “They’ve sped up construction for us. Too good to be true, right Bones?”
“I can think of a few things that would be better.” He crosses his arms. Something in his back protests, but it’s hardly the first time he’s returned from a mission with a few dings and bruises, and that’s without a crash landing in an alien ship. He shoots Spock another look, but Spock’s at least standing upright and whatever stiffness clings to him seems to be the normal kind, none of the carefulness with which he held himself, an arm curled over his side.
McCoy clears his throat.
“Such as hearing that the mission assignment I just received is a routing mistake,” he says. “Or that - even better - you’re not actually thinking of heading out again so soon, Jim.”
“You got the attachment with the mission parameters?” Jim asks and his smile slips, just a little.
“I haven’t look at it yet, cause I’m not going.” He’s not. He’s sleeping the rest of the day, finding a decent meal, and then going back to the hospital to treat the type of injuries sustained when you crash land a ship into a city plaza: broken bones, bleeding, and concussions. All normal, and all in a day’s work - a day that does not include tracking down certain wayward and overeager captain of his, and certainly not shipping out. Again.
He steps closer as if this discussion might be a private one. It’s not, not with Spock standing there, listening to everything just like he always does. It’s disconcerting, but then most things about Spock are. All these years that have ticked by since they started their mission haven’t been enough that McCoy doesn’t still sometimes turn around when he’s standing by Jim’s chair and find Spock watching him from his station. More than once, McCoy has been tempted to remind him to keep working, but he could always already hear the too quick retort that would likely come that McCoy was supposed to be in sickbay anyway, not whiling away the boredom of space on the bridge.
“Jim,” McCoy says, his voice low, “You can’t be serious about going back out there.”
Jim holds his hands up in a shrug. The bruise around his eye is only just fading.
“Orders from on high,” he says.
“Signed and consigned by you and yours,” McCoy says and tips his head towards Spock. “The crew is going to agree to go, you know that. But Jim, just think about what you’re asking them to do.”
What’s left of them, at least. Once, Jim might have shrugged it off with a smile and a flippant remark, but the years have mellowed him and softened those rough edges of the kid who once dropped in the seat next to McCoy’s on a shuttle.
“I know, Bones,” he says.
It’s useless, but McCoy tries anyway. “Let them have their rest. We don’t even have a ship yet,” he says and points to the exposed struts, the sparks of welders flying down from the half complete hull, the workers crawling over the frame.
“Don’t worry,” Jim says and he and Spock trade that look they have, the one that holds entire conversations in it. They didn’t always do that, but now it’s nearly as familiar as the shape the ship is taking behind them. “We’re working on that.”
“I’m worried,” McCoy says, “and I don’t even know where you’re dragging us all off to this time.”
“Altamid,” Jim says and McCoy winces.
“We just came from Altamid. Hell, we just nearly died on Altamid, Jim, I don’t think there’s a good enough reason in this world or the next to give that planet another chance to finish the job.”
“The crew’s there,” Jim says and goddamn it, McCoy doesn’t need that too earnest stare and that captain’s voice turned on him, not this morning.
“Jim. They’re dead.”
Jim breathes out through his nose. His jaw is tight.
“There’s also other survivors of Krall,” he says. “The ones Scotty met, and Jaylah says there’re more too. Not a lot of them, but they deserve a chance to get home.”
“I’m not going on a suicidal rescue mission for a bunch of murderers and thieves,” McCoy says.
“Well, I am,” Jim says and once he might have wheedled and coaxed McCoy along into agreeing. Now, he walks off with a crisp strike of his boots.
Spock stays where he is, arms tucked neatly behind his back as he helps McCoy watch Jim leave.
McCoy blows out a breath and turns to him.
“Spock,” he says.
“Doctor, if you wish me to convince him otherwise, your attempts will be fruitless.”
“We’re on shore leave, not that you’ve probably noticed,” McCoy says. “Don’t tell me this is a logical plan, dragging all of us back there.”
“Rather, I would appeal to your emotional sensibilities. If you were also similarly stranded, I believe you would also want to be rescued.”
“The ‘Fleet can send another ship,” McCoy says. “Another crew.”
“We are here.” Spock’s head tips towards the window before them, the ship, and the black of space beyond it. The motion is so familiar that McCoy can nearly forget that it’s not their ship, not really. Even Spock’s tone is right - the condensation, the patient explanation of what McCoy should - does - already know. “And they have been there a long time now.”
“Jim gets these ideas and you just-” McCoy raises both hands and waves towards Spock. “Go along with them.”
Like always. It’s normal enough that the hell of the last week might not have happened, but there’s shiny green skin beneath Spock’s uniform and that bruise under Jim’s eye and McCoy’s back hurts. They’re getting old, all of them are, and it’s been too many years of these sorts of missions, following Jim out into the black like this. To do it again so soon has McCoy’s head swimming in a way that leaves him wanting a drink and that nap he’s starting to doubt he’s going to get.
“I do not simply ‘go along with him,’” Spock says. “On the contrary, after carefully considering-”
“-And how the hell are we going to get back there anyway?”
“If you would listen to-”
“-We don’t have a ship, if you haven’t noticed, and that one-” McCoy points towards the construction dock “-Is hardly going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Doctor.” Spock steps forward to catch his eye. McCoy stills, watching him. He has half a mind to move backwards, what with how small the space between them has grown. “The Captain has already found a solution to the oppositions you pose.”
Of course he has. McCoy looks away from how Spock is still standing there, an eyebrow raised. He’s too damn close, but Spock has always done that, hasn't he- crowded into McCoy’s life no matter how hard McCoy tries to pluck him back out of it.
“That,” McCoy says, “is exactly what I’m afraid of.”
His horror at shipping out again aside - ignored, more accurately - McCoy’s still Jim’s CMO and crash landing their ship on a hellhole of a planet apparently doesn’t render that position moot. It does, though, mean that McCoy gets the pleasure of spending his afternoon in a conference room with the senior staff, not in his bed, dead to the world with the blankets over his head.
“No,” Jaylah says, “I will not go.”
“She’s the only one of you with a lick of sense,” McCoy says, not that Jim is listening. Instead, he has his palms facing Jaylah, his feet spread apart, and that attentive look of diplomacy on his face. How he ever learned it, McCoy will never know. Spent hours practicing in the mirror most likely, though Jim has always been good at sweet talking.
“Please,” Jim says.
“I said no.” She turns to Scotty. “Tell him I have said no. I have made my decision. My ship will not return and I will not either.”
“We’re asking for your help,” Jim says. “You know Altamid better than any of us. And the Franklin is the way to get us there.”
“I will not go back.”
“There are people there who need us. They’re trapped there just like you were.”
“The people you speak of are miscreants.” Her lower jaw works, her teeth flashing. “The dirt on my shoe.”
“They evaded Krall for all those years.” Jim takes a step towards her, his palms still held up. “They deserve a chance to get back home.”
She steps forward too, leaning towards him. “They will hurt you. All of you.”
“We’ll offer them a truce. A deal,” Jim says. “They’ll come peacefully with us and we’ll provide transport. They get to leave that place.”
When she shakes her head, her hair whips over her back. “They will not listen.”
“Jaylah,” Jim says, softer this time. “Our crew is still there, too.”
Her eyes narrow. “They are dead already.”
Jim nods, his inhale shaking over his bottom lip. “We want to bring them back. Their bodies.”
“There is nothing left of them. He took it.”
“They have-” Jim gesture to his chest. “Insignias, each of them. We send them to their parents, their partners. So at home, there’s something to bury.”
McCoy looks away. Around the edges of the room, the rest of the crew is hovering. They've all seen this before, though normally Jim holds these negotiations on the surface of yet another damn planet, or on the bridge - their bridge, with its view screen and blue, winking lights, all smashed now on the planet Jim is trying to drag them back to.
Uhura crosses her arm behind her back, her hand holding her other forearm. Beside her, Sulu is watching Jim and Jaylah like he’s at a tennis match and Chekov is too, his eyes wide. They didn’t even blink at the thought of this mission, McCoy knows. Just packed up the sterile, white rooms Starfleet had assigned them in this glass ball of a space station and were ready to head out before Jim had finished sending around the details. Before Jim even had a ship sorted out, that’s how sure all of them are in him and his plans. McCoy wants to rub at the headache forming behind his eyes, the one that first settled there years ago, back when he never thought he would possibly be here, facing yet another round of shipping off into the black of space.
Jaylah paces two steps away before she turns towards Jim again.
“Sentimentalism has no place on that planet,” she says. When she leans closer, Jim eyes her in that careful, calm way that he has. “You think this is simple? To go back? That planet is wrong. A bad place. The feel of it, on my skin. I will not go.”
“We need to bring them home.” Jim’s voice is soft. “Jaylah, they’re our family.”
McCoy can’t see her face as she stalks off, but Scotty points at himself and then after her and at Jim’s nod, he goes. McCoy would put money on Jim getting his way, though he has to hand it to her - she makes it a tough bet.
Everything on this station is either white plastic or glass, and through the clear doorway, Jaylah is shaking both hands at Scotty and Scotty is waving back towards all of them- Jim and Spock next to him, and the rest of the crew.
“Get the ship ready,” Jim says to Sulu. He pushes towards the door and calls back over his shoulder, “We’re leaving today, with or without her.”
With her, McCoy is sure as Jaylah stalks towards Jim, a finger poking into his chest. Sulu just nods and disappears in the other direction, the tap of his boots fading. Uhura and Chekov follow, and then it’s just Jaylah’s muffled voice and Spock hovering a step away from McCoy’s shoulder.
In all likelihood, he should go pack- he’s long learned to be resigned to his fate when it comes to Jim Kirk. He knows well enough that the morning will find him tossing his meager belongings together, those handful of spare uniforms issued by the Yorktown quartermaster, a padd he’s been making use of, and his comm, the one that took quite a beating and is as dinged up as McCoy feels.
Instead, he looks Spock up and down.
“You had an appointment in the Med Center today. What the hell did you do, skip it?”
“I was there. You, however, were not.”
“I was trying to make sense of this lunacy,” McCoy says, waving towards where Jim is still talking with Jaylah. “You could have let me know I missed you. Who checked you out?”
“A nurse stationed here at Yorktown.”
“A nurse?” McCoy asks. The word catches him in the chest. He shouldn’t be surprised, but the cut of it burns without being braced for it. That’s the sharpness of this whole thing, isn’t it: that strike of remembering all over again that it certainly wasn’t Chapel, not when she wasn’t among those of them who dragged themselves off that planet. McCoy closes his eyes and breathes in through his nose. When he opens them, Spock is watching him. “What’d they have to say?”
“That healing wounds with antique technology is hardly adequate.” Moody bastard. No wonder he and Jim get along so well, they probably spend all those hours together coming up with new and interesting ways to slowly drive McCoy mad.
“You think I don’t know that? And now you want to head back out there? Pack a dermal regenerator or three. Maybe strap a bio bed into the mess hall, the lot of you could use it.”
“Doctor.” Spock’s hand closes over his forearm. It’s too warm but Spock always is, heat seeping off the man in waves. That night, shoulder to shoulder with him in the cave, McCoy had been sticky with sweat while Spock shivered, his skin clammy to the touch and his weight sinking further into McCoy’s side with each uneven breath. “You are going to accompany us, correct?”
“Do I have a choice?” He yanks his arm away when Spock’s mouth opens. He holds up a finger and stalks away. “Don’t answer that.”
That might be exasperation that flicks across Spock’s features, but it’s too fleeting to bother to make sense of and McCoy has never been one to try in the first place. Jim does that, and Uhura too, picking through what Spock says and doesn’t say, the twitch of an eyebrow and that curl at the corner of his mouth that seems more often than not to be pointing downward.
Spock never listens, so McCoy is hardly surprised when he calls after him, “You do.”
McCoy ignores him, rubbing at the spot on his arm that Spock grabbed and makes for where Jaylah and Scotty have left Jim standing, his hands hanging at his sides.
“You want us,” McCoy says when he reaches Jim, pointing at himself and then back towards where the rest of the crew had been. Now it’s just Spock standing there, too still against the bustle of the station past the glass wall behind him. “To go up in that. The Franklin. Which is currently a pile of rubble. Back to that goddamn planet.”
“The ship’s not that bad. It was-” Jim waves his hand. “-Cosmetic damage, mostly.”
“Mostly? Sulu crashed it into Yorktown’s central plaza after dropping it off a cliff. That’s not exactly just replacing some hull decking.”
“It’s space worthy.”
“By whose standards?”
Jim’s chin drops and his voice along with it. “It’s the only ship that has the route in and out of the nebula in its nav system, and the rest of the fleet that had been stationed here was sent on a wild goose chase by Krall. It’s our only option, Bones.”
McCoy can’t help but laugh. “It’s not a very good one.”
“It’s great,” Jim says and shakes his head at McCoy’s protest. “There’s just one drawback.”
“The atmospheric controls are shot and there’s no breathable air. There’s a good chance of a hull breach. We don’t have shields and will get crushed in the nebula. We used all of our weapons and don’t have any defenses. The transporter-”
“-You were right,” Jim says, flashing him a smile. McCoy wonders if Spock is watching, but he doesn’t turn to look. “The crew already volunteered.”
“All of them?”
63 survivors, of the hundreds they left Yorktown with. Serving for anyone other than Jim and they’d have balked, but he’s always had that sway over people. Of course they all signed on, blindly and with that fierce devotion Jim inspires. McCoy sighs. Figures, doesn’t it.
“All of them,” Jim says. “And it’s not a huge ship, so tight quarters.”
McCoy crosses his arms again, and again his back twinges. “I’m not rooming with you, Jim. I told you once and I’ll say it now: never again.”
“I know, I know. That’s why you’ll be bunking with Spock.” Jim smiles and grabs onto both of McCoy’s shoulders, his grip too tight and his grin too wide. “C’mon Bones, this’ll be great!”
“Whenever you say that,” McCoy sighs, “it never, ever is.”