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So Throw The Gates Wide Open

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Altamid

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.”

Chapter Text

The shoebox they had him in on Yorktown was better than this.  Hell, his old room with Jim at the Academy was better than this, and that’s saying something.

His room on the Franklin is a sardine tin, at best.  There’s not even enough space to satisfyingly toss his duffel on the bottom bunk, since he can’t swing it wide enough.  McCoy rubs the bridge of his nose, closes his eyes, and opens them again as if this time he’ll see his own quarters with a bottle of bourbon waiting for him and his own bed.  That regulation red quilt and the blue shine of the Enterprise’s computer monitors, but no.  It’s the dull gray and green that everything on the Franklin is, scuffed and dinged with age.

“I need a drink,” he announces to the closet of a room.  It doesn’t answer, but the door behind him slides open.  “Oh. Great. Welcome.”

Spock crowds in behind him, his own bag coming threateningly close to hitting McCoy in the leg.

“When I received my posting on board the Enterprise, Captain Pike informed me to be grateful it was the newest ship in the fleet,” he says.  “I suppose historical design such as this is what he was referring to.”

“If your quarters were half the size of Jim’s you had it good,” McCoy says.  They probably were, not that McCoy had ever been invited in here.

Nearly three years in and McCoy had long since gotten his rooms how he wanted them - a chair to read in picked up at a star base only a few months after leaving Earth, his bed shoved up against a bulkhead and well away from any windows.  Here, he doesn’t have to worry about that, some small grace, since there’s only a single porthole set up high in the wall.  Through it, the shine of Yorktown shimmers.  They’re still close enough to make out individual buildings and the rings they sit on.  Likely, he should be glad it’s not the nebula he’s staring at yet, but mostly he’s just wishing that if he’s going to be seeing anything in the black of space, it would be Earth hanging there.

Spock’s looking at it too, though if he’s wishing it were Vulcan out there, McCoy’s pretty sure that’s somewhere clear past illogical.

“I agree this is less than ideal,” Spock says.

“Beats a cave,” McCoy says before he can think.  He turns to face their beds instead of looking at Spock.  He could do without the sudden memory of rough rock on his back and the claustrophobia that had risen high in his throat with Spock crowded so close in front of him.  McCoy doesn’t look over at him.  Spock doesn’t remember exactly what happened that morning, or he at least sure as hell hopes that’s what the silence on the matter is.  He’s certainly not bringing it up.  Better to let that be chalked up to blood loss and the wide cracks that had left in Spock’s typical calm.  

Spock’s back to his version of normal now, silent and a complete pain in the ass in equal measures, and McCoy would far rather focus on that than the peculiar strangeness patients seem to gather around themselves when they’re hurt and tired.  He doesn’t have the energy for this mission, another person in his space, and dealing with whatever brand of crazy Spock was aiming for that morning.  This is enough as it is, Spock next to him, and damn bunk beds in front.

“Goddamnit,” he says and grabs his bag from the bottom bunk.  “You can’t climb up there.”

“I am perfectly capable of-”

“-I don't do redo’s, Spock.  One reconstructive surgery was plenty, I’m not exactly keen to go for another round.  I’m not wasting the only hypos I have with me on you trying to haul yourself up onto the top bunk.”

Not that McCoy isn’t tempted.  The ceiling isn't all that high and the ladder looks less than solid.  It’s ancient now, could have been built by his grandfather or great-grandfather.  Still, it holds his weight as he levers his bag up there and then drops himself back down to the floor.

Spock has his shirt off.  There are hollows of shadows in the muscles beneath his shoulder blades as he works his shirt off his arms.

McCoy drops his eyes.  Too white skin is hardly his concern.  That shine of tight green over Spock’s ribs might be, but instead McCoy tugs at the zipper on his bag, busying himself with his spare uniforms, the book he likely won’t get a chance to read, and the extra medkit he tucked in there.

“What?” he snaps when Spock just continues to stand there.  “Casual Friday?”

“What is that?” Spock holds a fresh shirt in front of him, making no move to pull it on.  He’s thin.  His pants rest too low on his hips, the ridge of his hip bones stark and the muscles in his stomach and sides flexing as he breathes.

“I’m pretty sure uniforms are still required, insane rescue mission or not.”

“We are not on duty.” It’s a black undershirt that Spock has in his hands.  It has a Starfleet emblem on the chest, but then again those crests are even on their socks.  McCoy has had more than one bar of soap with that same insignia stamped on it.

“It’s Alpha shift,” McCoy says.  Someone capable of calculating warp vectors in their head should probably know that.

“The ancillary crew has given us the time off.”

“Who the hell is flying this thing, then?”

“We are still some ways from the nebula.”

“Well, with this bucket of bolts, we might as well be walking.” When Spock pulls his shirt over his head, the new skin over his ribs stretches taught.  “Do you need something for that?”

Spock will say no and McCoy will ask again and Spock will refuse once more and it’ll nearly be like they’re back on the ship, except they’re not - they’re stuck in this tin can, hurdling back to the one place none of them want to go.

But Spock doesn’t say anything, just watches him, and eventually McCoy lets out a breath and sticks a hand into his bag.  

“When are we back on?” he asks the pants he pulls out.

“In the morning.” Spock sets aside a handful of his own shirts, opening and closing drawers until he finds a suitably logical one to put his uniforms in.  His science blues.  McCoy’s always hated that, science blues.  Medic blues, too.  They get their own insignia, they should have their own shirts, rather than have to share with the reams of science staff so that McCoy is often asking some geologist for a spare dermal regenerator only to find them wide eyed and shaking their heads.

“You should be thankful,” Spock says as he adjusts his shirts in the drawer.  “I was under the impression you wished for a respite from work.”

“This,” McCoy says and crosses his arms tight over his chest.  If he moves at all, he’ll bump up against Spock.  “Is hardly relaxing.”

On the Enterprise - their Enterprise - he would be in the middle of sickbay right now.  On the way to Yorktown, there had been an ensign with a twisted ankle and a lieutenant with a case of Danubian flu.  McCoy would look up their records now to see if they’re on board, but the answer is most likely too depressing.  He should be getting ready for the second half of his shift and then dinner after it, either with Jim if he weren’t busy with Spock, or alone in his quarters, a finger of whiskey in his glass and nobody in his goddamn room with him, and certainly not Spock.

Spock leaves before McCoy does, the door sliding shut behind him.  There’s blessed silence left in his wake.  McCoy would pretend he has the room to himself, except that Spock’s bag is still there.  Still, it’s a nice thought - he’s played house before.  He knows how that ended, and has long since preferred his own damn space.

Later, when McCoy takes to wandering around this ship for lack of anything better to do, Spock isn’t anywhere to be found, which he takes to be the only good sign of the day.  The bridge is empty except for a skeleton beta shift crew, and sickbay is silent and dark, a lone nurse labeling hyposprays.  In the rec room, Uhura has her padd on her lap and her cheek propped in her hand where she’s curled on one of the low couches, and Chekov idly taps at a console on the wall, half turning when McCoy walks in.  

“Where is everyone?” he asks.

“Scotty’s watching over the ensigns’ shoulders in Engineering, and Jaylah’s watching over his.  I think Sulu’s on his comm,” Uhura says.  She sits up a bit and crosses her legs under her, leaning her side against the arm of the couch.  

McCoy had heard about this, these old ships that combined their rec rooms with their mess halls.  A far cry from the space they had on the Enterprise, with the officer’s mess and the larger one for the crew, and a series of rec rooms that boasted far more than a cluster of couches and an old viewing screen.  Still, that first dinner on board he had half wanted to take his replicated plate and replicated silverware and replicated food - or what passed for it - up to the observation deck, since the tables set together were cramped compared to the open and airy rooms of the Academy.

“Thrilling,” McCoy says.  “Where’s Spock?”

Uhura looks up at him.  

“With Jim?” she asks.

It doesn’t even have to bother to be a question.

“Probably,” McCoy says.  Typical, isn’t that.  He didn’t need to ask and now Uhura’s watching him over the top of her padd.  He shrugs it off and wanders over to Chekov.  “What is this?”

“A stove,” Chekov says and McCoy frowns.  If it is, it’s just barely one, some prototypical model that should belong in his grandparent’s house.

“Does it work?” he asks.

“Aye, yes, Jaylah reconfigured it.  Now it gets very, very hot.”  Chekov holds his hands towards it.  “These old ships, they tried to make the crew comfortable, like they were back home.”

“Home,” McCoy mutters.

He’s not exactly hungry, but he pokes at the antique replicator next to the stove all the same.  He could eat now and go back to his quarters and have a few moments of peace and quiet.  Get his book out.  Which isn’t what he was reading on the Enterprise, but he hadn’t wanted to try to hunt down all the titles he had carefully amassed in his years aboard.  The thought tugs at McCoy more than he wishes it would.  Their ship was too bright, all polished white walls and tile and it was so sterile most of the time.  Being away from it now, he’s beginning to think even those overly lit halls would be a nice change from this dank dampness that clings to the Franklin.

The menu of available food isn’t particularly appealing, and he’s sure whatever the replicator would spit out would be the same.  What he’s seen so far of the meals here looks chalky.  Though it at least wins out over the protein bars Ops at Yorktown sent them with.  Just in case, they had said, though McCoy has long since learned not to be too optimistic.  They’re awful and Starfleet has never felt the need to improve the recipe.  All these years later, whenever he’s forced to peel one open, the taste reminds him of too many training drills, Jim eating a bar in quick bites and Uhura, when she was assigned to their same team, carefully and neatly working her way through her own.  Once, Sulu had been there too.  McCoy isn’t sure they ever really talked, but Sulu and Jim had, a conversation quickly struck up and laughter soon to follow.

Spock was probably holed up in his office at the time, the rest of them sitting there with icy rain sliding down their collars, or he was standing in front of a lecture hall putting McCoy’s fellow students through their paces.  It’s always strange to think of that, isn’t it, Spock in those instructor blacks when the rest of them were muddling their way through drills and exams, no matter the stories Uhura sometimes tells about those days, Spock’s stilted comments on her papers and the amount of reading he assigned.

“How are you holding up?” Uhura asks and McCoy turns to find her beside him, one hip leaning against the stove and her padd held over her stomach with crossed arms.

“Fine.”

“We were thinking of putting on a movie.”  Her head tips towards Chekov.  “The good news is that the library is full of ones we haven’t seen.”

“The bad news is that they’re all a hundred and fifty years old?” McCoy asks.  Uhura nods, her mouth lifting up in a resigned smile.  “Isn’t it a little strange to be moving in here?  I feel like these are someone else’s things.”

“Jaylah is ok with it.  Us being here, I mean, not the going back to Altamid part.”  Uhura tucks her hair behind her shoulder.  “She let me have the bottom bunk, at least.  Though she said something about the mattress that I didn’t catch, and I’m not sure I want to ask her to clarify.”

McCoy had meant the old crew, whoever had slept in his own bunk and Spock’s below it, who had kept their clothes in the drawer where Spock had neatly set his uniforms, and who used their fresher every day of their mission.  But he just nods.

“Popcorn?” he asks.

Uhura tries for a smile and that’s something at least, out here heading back into the mess that started all of this.

“Only if we can make it the old fashioned way.”

“Don’t worry,” he says.  “Replicating it wasn’t ever even a choice.”

“You can smell it all over the ship,” Jim announces when he arrives, Spock in tow.  “We’re going to have to grab some of those oxygen masks from sickbay, or make some for the bridge crew.  That’s just cruel, Bones.”

“Get your own,” he says, yanking the bowl away from Jim when his hand fishes into it.  “And don’t go near those masks, Jim.  I don’t need you poking around in my inventory.”

He stashes the bowl safely on Uhura’s lap and rather than try with her, Jim retreats to the replicator and the pot they left of the stove with its cooling, congealing butter lining the bottle.

Maybe that makes Spock a little nuts, dishes left out like that, but McCoy wouldn’t know with how he just stands there.  During poker night, he’d often do the same, hovering beside the table and often refusing when Jim kicked a chair out for him.  Of course, they don’t have cards here and if they did, a game seems a bit jovial for the mood, with Uhura’s feet folded up under her again and even Chekov who won’t quit most days slumped on the far end of the other couch.

They’re out of energy, all of them.  They need a rest, a real one, the type they hardly got even half of before their first trip to this damn nebula, and one they certainly haven’t had since then.  Maybe Jim is willing to push past it and maybe Spock doesn’t see it, but McCoy was there in the quiet moments after the proverbial - and quite a bit of literal - dust settled, running his tricorder and then his hand over Uhura’s back where the bruising was the worst, and sitting Chekov down on a biobed until his electrolytes were stable.  Sulu had spent his last checkup with his heel drumming on the exam table and in the end, McCoy had let him go with a promise to get a decent meal and night’s rest; he hardly had in that sterile room what Sulu really needed, the glass doors opening to his family waiting in the corridor just beyond.

The couch sinks as Spock sits next to him.  McCoy looks up.  There’s space on Uhura’s other side, but maybe Spock doesn’t put much stock in popcorn.

Jim props himself on the arm of the couch next to Spock with a bowl of his own and the two of them are goddamn joined at the hip, aren’t they, on this ship and any other.  

“This is a classic,” Jim says.

Uhura leans forward across Spock and McCoy both and says, “Of course you’ve seen this.”

Jim grins at her.  “I have good taste.”

“But an inability to use a reasonable amount of butter,” she says and McCoy would ignore the two of them - always does and always has for years now - but Uhura’s still leaning across him and Spock’s shoulder, what with how McCoy is shoved into it, is goddamn bony.

When Sulu gets there, he steps over Chekov’s legs before Chekov can pull them back to make room and drops onto the couch.  His eyes are red and he stares at the movie instead of any of them.  The comm must be shut down, then.  They’ll be on duty soon enough if they’re that close to the nebula, a few hours at the most.  McCoy is sure he’s not the only one imagining that the ship just got a bit quieter, even with the drone of the engines and the blare of the movie.

Spock stands the moment the credits roll and McCoy gets to his feet, his arm brushed with cool air where Spock’s sleeve had been pressed to his own.

“Where are you two going?” Jim asks.  “This is a trilogy.”

“One was entirely sufficient,” Spock says.

“You-” Jim points a fist of popcorn at McCoy.  “Stay.”

“Unlike the rest of you, I value my sleep,” he says.  

Jim just rolls his eyes, but Uhura glances up at McCoy.  Maybe he could ask her for tips on dealing with Spock, since Jim has never been particularly helpful on that front.  The two of them, really, him and Uhura.  Like Spock’s fan club, or the leaders of it at least, since McCoy has seen more than one science ensign trailing after their favorite commander, peppering him with questions.  And Spock always makes time for them, whatever junior scientist it is that’s having a Petri dish crisis, which just encourages the rest of his staff to do it all the more, enough so that McCoy isn’t sure when the man ever sleeps. More than once, McCoy has come back from a late night in sickbay only to meet Spock in the halls, still in his uniform and not headed towards his quarters despite the ungodly hour.  No wonder he’s always got a quip at the ready, he’s probably perpetually exhausted and that would make anyone as uncivil as Spock typically is.

Just in case the sad fact of the state of his room is all a terrible dream, McCoy scrubs at his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.  When he drops his hands, Spock is still there in his quarters with him, pulling back the sheets on his own bed, and the room is still tiny and McCoy still has to haul himself up to the top bunk.  

The sheets are scratchy.  He tries not to sigh, not with his very own audience of a roommate.

He’s tired.  Feels it as soon as Spock orders the lights down.  Worn down and ready to be done with the day, though he doesn’t exactly want to be wishing for tomorrow.  No, rather that he’d blink and he’d be anywhere but stuck in this coffin of a bunk.

“Are you ok?” McCoy asks into the dark when Spock’s breathing hasn’t evened out.

“Yes.”

He can’t see anything - five percent lights isn’t the twelve he finally settled on as damn near perfect - but he leans over the side of his bunk anyway.

“You sure?”

“While your tone indicates distrust in my assessment-”

“-You’re shaking.”  His eyes are adjusting and Spock is a long curl beneath his blanket.  “You’re cold.”

“The temperature is adequate.”

“Oh, seriously.”  From the foot of his bed, McCoy strips off the blanket, a dense weave that is designed for the chill of space, and tosses it below him without bothering to see where it lands.  If that’s not enough, Spock can deal with it himself.  McCoy is going to lay and wait to drift off, no matter how long it takes him with Spock there in the bed below his own.

“Spock,” McCoy says into the quiet.

The shine of blue doesn’t even move.  “Are you not sleeping?”

“The room is lit up like it’s goddamn high noon.”

“That is entirely inaccurate.”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Reading.”  A pause.  “That should be apparent.”

“Can’t you just do us all a favor and go to sleep?”

“No.”

McCoy stares up at the ceiling.  Then, with a push, he rolls far enough over to hang his head over the edge of the bed.  Spock barely looks up.  He’s never seen Spock like this, the blanket tucked over his waist in the soft, quiet deep of the night.  His elbow is bare where his t-shirt ends, lit with a blue that highlights how knobby and thin it is.

McCoy would tell him to lay down, that the scar tissue on his side is still healing, that he needs a night off from whatever he’s working on and a hell of a lot more sleep than he’s probably getting, but Spock isn’t going to listen anyway, so McCoy just lays there, half off his bed as Spock’s eyes track back and forth.

“Can’t you put on another shirt if you’re cold?” he finally asks.

“It is not necessary.”

Or useful, maybe, not if he didn’t get issued the same thermal uniforms from Yorktown that he’d had on the Enterprise.  That thicker fabric sounded uncomfortable as all hell to McCoy, but then again there’s a handful of Andorians on board who perpetually push up their sleeves up and snack on ice like it’s going out of style.  

Were on board.  They weren’t among the survivors and now that McCoy thinks about it, he’s not sure he ever knew their names.  Jim would have though, and Spock too.

“How’s your side?” he asks.

“Healing.”

“Can I see?”

“There is no issue.”

“With the delay in proper medical-”

“-No.”

McCoy rolls onto his back.  Figures.  Maybe Spock is always this cranky in the middle of the night.  Though McCoy wouldn’t know, Spock asleep against him in that cave while McCoy had stared into the dark.

“The injury is not painful.” McCoy blinks at the ceiling.  Softer, Spock says, “Your concern is noted.”

“You should be sleeping,” McCoy says.

“You should be as well.” There’s a pause.  Then, “Thank you for the blanket.”

McCoy turns on his side, imagining that beyond the darkness is the familiar shape of his bedroom on the Enterprise, that the blanket over him is the normal red synthetic cotton he finally got used to, and that when he opens his eyes, he’ll be back up there, Jim bursting into the room with a grin, already talking before McCoy can ask him what he’s doing there.

“Turn off your damn padd.” He kicks at the mess he’s made of his own bed, the sheets twisted where he’s half tossed them off.

McCoy’s just shutting his eyes against that blue glow when Spock finally says, “I am not looking forward to this mission any more than you are.”

“The mission?” McCoy tips his head to the side like Spock is right there, not down below him.  “I’m not looking forward to any of this.  Ever.  Never do.  Hell, you might have had the right idea you know, clearing out of all of this.  And that’s the only time I’m ever saying that.”

He must have shocked Spock into silence because there’s no come back, just the silence of their room and the hum and creak of the ship around them.

The call for Alpha shift wakes McCoy up.  It’s a sound he’s only heard in old documentaries, back when ship wide shift changes were the norm.  On the Enterprise, the mess hall would be packed right now.  Jim would be at their normal table and Spock would be sitting across from him, but as it is, he can hear Spock sitting up in his bed.  McCoy should be looking forward to a plate of breakfast and a cup of hot coffee and there should be enough time to eat before he has to get to sickbay to hear the night’s report from the on-duty nurse.  It would be Wakeman today, McCoy’s had the schedule set for months now.  But he hasn’t seen Wakeman in a while now, and he won’t ever see her again.

He swings his feet over the side of his bunk, but closes his eyes rather than reach for the ladder, sure that when he opens them again, that nebula will be outside their porthole.

Chapter Text

McCoy eyes the bulkheads of the bridge, the view screen, and the winking readouts.  There’s more red on Sulu’s panel than McCoy feels like there should be.  

“You said the Franklin wasn’t designed for inter-atmosphere flight,” McCoy says to Scotty beside him, who only nods.

“I did.”

“We’re landing this hunk of tin on a planet. This planet. Again.”

“We are.  Though we can take off this time.” Scotty winks.  “Made a few wee modifications.”

“Not hunk of tin.” Jaylah shakes her head.  “My house is composite titanium alloy.”

Scotty tips his head towards her.  “Well, there you go.”

“God help us all,” McCoy mutters.

“Quarter impulse, Mr. Chekov,” Sulu says.

Scotty leans towards McCoy.  “You may want to buckle up, Doctor.”

It’s some special type of hell that Altamid is so beautiful, mist rising up from the forests just like it would if it were dawn at home.  This is a better view of it from up here, sun soaked mountains and low hanging clouds.  Much better than the sight he’d gotten the first time around, squinting out a viewscreen as their ship arced a fiery burn towards the bottom of that canyon.  Now, there’s no sickening jolt of falling, and hopefully there won’t be the accompanying shock when they crashed into the rocks.

There’s not, but there’s still a bump and McCoy has to grab the console in front of him.  Spock glances over, but McCoy turns away before he has to hear that sitting would have been the logical choice.

“Ready?” Jim asks the moment the ship settles.  Spock is beside him in two quick steps, pushed up out of his seat and ready to go.  If he’s any worse for the wear of a poor night’s sleep, McCoy can’t tell.  That morning, Spock had been dressed and gone before McCoy could finish rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“Let’s get this over with,” McCoy says.

On the threshold of the hatch, Jaylah catches Jim’s arm.

“Your hopes are useless here,” she says.

Jim nods with a quiet intensity that was once brashness, a loud laugh and a clap on the arm.  Half the time these days, Jim is now so subdued that McCoy isn’t always sure he’d recognize him if he hadn’t been there along the lengthy road of Jim growing up.

“We have to try,” Jim says and that at least is familiar, as is the drop in McCoy’s stomach as Jim opens the hatch and the filtered air around them is replaced with a billow of dust from outside.  

He hates this.  So, so much.

The mine camp is too still this time around.  There’s no drone army waiting for them, no stink of ionized air, no coppery, iron smell of blood clinging to the hulking, yellow structures that fill the space the Franklin doesn’t take up.  Instead, it’s a gentle breeze shifting tree branches at the edge of the forest and the call of what might be a bird up high above them.  McCoy wanders after Jim and squints upwards, but he can’t see it against the bright of the sky.

Spock’s shoulder to McCoy’s chest pushes the air out of him with a grunt.  They pitch downwards, the sky kicking up overhead and the hard crack of gravel meeting the back of his skull.

Near them, someone screams and McCoy shoves up against Spock’s weight draped over him.

“Stay down,” Spock says, a hand pressed to McCoy’s shoulder.  Spock squeezes off two shots and then a third.  McCoy didn’t even see him draw his phaser.

There’s another one strapped to Spock’s hip.  McCoy stretches for it but misses, his hand patting empty at Spock’s thigh.  A singe of heat streaks over his shoulder and he pushes up against Spock far enough to fumble for the phaser, firing it blindly in the direction the bolt came from.

When silence finally settles, it rings loud.  There’s the whisper of the breeze and above them, birds wheel, black in the blue sky.  The mountains swim, twisting and growing and when McCoy blinks, he’s sure he’s going to throw up.

“Jim,” Spock says and pushes off from McCoy.

McCoy’s foot slides out from under him when he tries to stand and he stumbles for his first step and his second.  Then, he spots a yellow shirt and gold hair and the long streak of red blood.

“I’m fine,” McCoy hears, rough and familiar, followed by a cough.

McCoy’s there in a scrabble of loose dirt beneath his boots, shoving Spock out of his way.  

“Jim,” he says.

“Bones.”  A hand closes on his arm.  Blue eyes blink from beneath a drip of blood and then there’s a smile, twisted up at the corner.  “I’m ok.”

McCoy sinks back onto his heels.  In his hand, the phaser is innocuous.  Identical to before his shot, not smoking, not warm, no indication that it was fired at all.  Sulu has both hands wrapped around his own phaser and beside him, Chekov has his back pressed to an outcrop of rocks.

“Manas,” Jaylah says.  Scotty has his hands half held up next to her and Uhura hasn’t lowered her phaser, elbows locked and the gun held out in front of her.  “He is here, still.  He did not die.”

“Maybe-” Jim licks at his lips and drags the back of his hand through the blood on his face so that it smears.  “Bones, you’re a good shot, right?  You may have got him.”

Some remnant of Spock’s weight on him squeezes McCoy in the chest.  

“Sure,” he says.

“We’re here in peace,” Jim calls out, still laid out over the ground. He wipes the heel of his hand on his forehead.  Around his eye, there’s still the rim of a bruise.  “Uhura-” Jim coughs and McCoy levers him half upright, a hand under his arm.  “-Are the translators-”

“-On it, Captain.”

There’s no more shots as Jim stands.  He doesn’t sway, but he doesn’t straighten his back, either.  McCoy would reach for his tricorder if he had it with him, but the only thing that fills his palm is that phaser.

“On behalf of the Federation, we are here to offer you safe passage,” Jim says to the surrounding silence.  McCoy scans the rocks, his neck pricking with the certainty they’re being watched.  “We can provide transport to the starbase Yorktown and from there back to your home worlds.”

Jim’s head turns as he looks around, the sun glinting off the shine of blood on his forehead.  “We can also assist with medical care,” he calls out.

“Great,” McCoy says.

“Sir,” Uhura says with a finger pressed to the commlink in her ear and her eyes on her tricorder.  “I’m not picking up any life forms.”

Jim sighs.  “I practiced that speech, too.”

“The rocks.” Jaylah still has her staff out.  “They block your signals.”

“Ok.”  Uhura folds her tricorder closed.  “If I can get up on that cliff, I can set up some relays.”

“Wait until we’ve secured the area,” Jim says.  “Until then, we’re going in blind.”

“Another shot and that won’t be a joke, Jim.” McCoy nods towards his forehead.  “Maybe duck a bit quicker, next time.”

“Ah, well.” Jim shrugs and tosses McCoy a grin.  “I didn’t have my own personal body guard.  Uhura, set up a constant communication loop once you get those relays up and running.  I want everyone on this planet to know that they have a ride out of here if they want it.  And if Manas is talking to anyone, I want to know where, when and who it is.  Chekov-”

“-Sir?”

“Set up beacons between here and the mines.  I want to know who’s around here, where they’re coming from, what weapons they’re packing, and what they had for breakfast.”

“Yes, sir,” Chekov says.

“Scotty, secure the ship.  Sulu, Spock, you’re with me.”  Jim grins again.  McCoy closes his eyes at the sight.  “Bones, you come too.  I know your sense of adventure is just itching for this.”

Jim is already on his way to the tunnel that leads into the mines when McCoy gets himself to look again.  Though Spock is still next to him, an arm’s length away if McCoy were to reach out.

“Jaylah?” Jim calls back.

Her staff is still out, gripped tight in two hands.  

“No,” she says.

“She’ll give me a hand,” Scotty says.

McCoy hardly blames her.  The back of his neck is itching after five minutes in this place, and he doubts its just the grit dusted over him already.  Though that’s what happens, isn’t it, when you get tossed on the ground with no warning.  He bats at his uniform with his palm and eyes Spock standing there beside him, stock still.

Spock still has his phaser out.  McCoy does too and he remembers all over again that he hates the feel of the thing, too cool and slick, a lethal weapon wrapped up in a shiny casing.

“Take this,” McCoy says, pressing the phaser into Spock’s stomach and holding it there until a too warm hand closes over his.

Inside the cave, it’s the particular sort of silence that makes McCoy’s skin crawl.  The quiet of the moment after life support machines are turned off, the stillness when another breath doesn’t come.  But there’s no time to pronounce here, and his sickbay smells of antiseptic and the tile always squeaked underfoot, not the crunch of gravel and this cloying, sweet rot that hangs in the dusty air.  A muscle in Sulu’s jaw jumps as he leads them forward.

“Did all those- their soldiers?  Did they all go to Yorktown with Krall?” McCoy asks and his voice echoes off the chambers.  “Are there any left?”

“Their drones?” Jim asks.  He turns, his face half lit in the blue light.  “Let’s hope not.”

“This way,” Sulu says and ducks down a passage.  It ends in a larger cavern, but the bigger space doesn’t do anything to help with the smell.  Instead, the air feels even closer and a bead of sweat edges down McCoy’s back.  Here, there’s no chance of a breeze and the darkness is a dizzy black mass, lit only by the light of the tricorder Spock shines around and the winking indicator lights of electronics strung up above them.

In the quiet, how Sulu swallows is loud.

“Here,” he says and touches a shadowed form next to him.  A shoulder, McCoy can see if he half squints.  A body, upside down.

His mouth goes dry and it’s not the heat.  He’d know that blonde hair anywhere.

“Chapel,” McCoy says.

“And Masters,” Sulu says and points to a second dark mass.

“Shit,” Jim breathes.

“They all have this.” Sulu points to the back of Chapel’s body, strung up as she is.  Like a side of beef, hanging there, gently swaying.  McCoy’s gut goes cold.

“A neural transmitter link.  Crude technology, and clearly antiquated,” Spock says.  He circles slowly behind Chapel.  What was Chapel.  McCoy covers his mouth with his hand.  At least here, these bodies don’t smell.  The stench is coming from somewhere further back in the cave.  It’d be so much worse if they did, another affront to the hell Krall put Chapel through.  

“Captain,” Spock says, “With your permission, I would like to analyze the device inserted into these bodies.  I believe it would be helpful in explaining how Krall was able to survive for so long.”

“Of course, Mr. Spock,” Jim says like this is routine, like Chapel isn’t hanging there like a rag doll.

But Jim’s eyes are pinched at the corner and Spock’s face is a little too blank in the shine of his light and McCoy knows well enough that desire to cling to normalcy, the banality of professionalism.  Easier that way.  Simpler than giving into the dark, churning mire that sits in his stomach and wants to come out as a scream.

He saw Chapel only days ago.  Left her in charge of sickbay when he went to the bridge, there at the edge of that nebula.  He had given her his padd.  The one with their patients’ charts loaded onto it that he used to carry around during his shifts.  I need that back, he always told her, and she always ignored the reminder but left it on his desk for him anyway, but now he can’t recall if he actually said it that last time, or left quicker than normal, Jim calling for him over the comm.

Outside the cave, Jim bends over, his hands on his knees.

“We’ve got to-” His head shakes, strands of hair falling over his forehead.  A few catch in the drying smear of blood.  “We’ve got to get them down from there.”

“Sir, there’s no response to the message,” Uhura says.  Her eyes are wide, but she seems steady.  The look she trades with Sulu says enough of what she also knows of that cave.  McCoy read their report.  She spent long enough in there to never want to go back.  Sulu too.  Hell, all of them, now that they’ve seen their crew like that, upside down and empty of everything that made them themselves.

“Nothing?” Jim asks.

“A few faint signal traces.  It might be someone listening, or it might be interference,” she says.

Jim nods.  “Keep transmitting.”

“I’m also picking up emergency beacons,” Uhura says and presses her lips together for a moment.  “A lot of them.”

“Starfleet?” Jim asks, though McCoy is sure he doesn’t need to.

“They’re ours,” she confirms.  “Personal EPIRBs.  They were activated when we evacuated the ship.  We’ll be able to find everyone in there, Captain, in that cave.  The signals are strong enough, even with the geology.”

“Captain,” Sulu says.  “In the back of the cave, there are bodies.  The ones that Krall…” His face tightens.  “Already used.”

“Alright.” Jim’s eyes close.  “We’ll start with those.  And let’s not waste any time.  I don’t want to be here any longer than we have to be.”

Above his shelves of medical texts in his office, McCoy kept a closed cupboard full of neatly folded Federation flags.  It had been the best place to stash them, since an ensign wasn’t going to go in there looking for a tricorder or a hypo, and they didn’t need to be left out with the business of sickbay, next to neat rows of dermal regenerators and annual flu shots.  When he needed to, he added more to his inventory order at provisioning stops.  Three body bags sent home, three new flags needed.  Yet another trip to his stock of flags, another call Jim made to a family that would keep him up that night and the next few, yet another personnel file Spock would close out of the ship logs and that McCoy would remove from his roster of patients.

Here, dry dust blows up with each body they lay down.  Even Spock is sweating, dark beads showing in a line down his spine, dampening the blue of his shirt.

“Not ours,” Chekov says, his arms looped under the armpits of some poor soul.  Uhura, holding their ankles, is quiet.  The body is humanoid as they all are, since apparently Krall had his preferences, but McCoy can’t tell the species, not with how desiccated their features and skin are, that same dry grayness that McCoy first saw during that firefight on the Enterprise, back when he thought Jim would get them and the ship out of there in one piece.

They set the body with the others they’ve pulled out, just past where some of their own crew is already laid on the gravel in the shade cast by the Franklin.  Uhura straightens again and presses the heel of her hand to her forehead and Chekov rests his fists on his waist before they move off together, disappearing back into the depth of the mine.

The Academy didn’t train them for this type of death.  In med school, McCoy had learned to mark the time, the cause, speak to the family, and move on to the next patient and hope he could make it to the end of his shift without having to do that twice.  This, here, is senseless.  The coldness of murder and to be out here so far from everyone’s homes.  Filling out recruitment forms and signing his name above Starfleet’s crest, McCoy hardly thought he’d be helping haul the bodies of the coworkers he used to see over morning coffee.  This is a cruel sort of misery, here in the heat of the day with so many lost around them, and more being carried from the mine by the minute.

“Water?” Spock asks like he isn’t already holding out a canteen.  His phaser is on his hip again.  Jim’s wearing one too and Uhura as well.

“I’m fine,” McCoy says but he takes it anyway.  The water is warm, like it’s been sitting in the sun.  He closes the bottle after a sip, unsure that he’ll keep any more than that down, but certain he doesn’t want to throw up in front of Spock.  Jim, maybe, but the last time McCoy saw him, he had his head tipped back against a jut of rock in the mine, his eyes wide open and blank.  He’d stirred only when McCoy had jostled his arm, and had set off again to carry yet another one of his former crew.  Dehydrated, he’d been.  Still is, in all likelihood.  It should be him that Spock’s checking up on, but instead Spock is here, just staring at McCoy.

“I was fine,” McCoy says.

“Pardon?”

McCoy points at his head and the tender lump that’s swelled up over the course of the afternoon.  “You cracked my head open.  I would have been fine.”

“Your skull appears to be intact.”

“Give a guy a bit of warning next time,” he says, but it’s not until the words are out there, hanging in the dusty mine camp that he really hears them, the echo of annoyed surprise when Spock leaned towards him only a few days ago, soft lips and the smell of copper blood.

But if Spock’s mind has tracked to where McCoy’s has, an immediate jump from the parched landscape around them to the gold light of early dawn dancing across the cave walls, he doesn’t so much as blink.

“Would you prefer a phaser shot to the chest?” he asks.

“I’d prefer to be anywhere else than there,” McCoy says and for once, Spock doesn’t argue with him.

Up on the ship, he’d at least have a place to wash his hands off.  As it is, dirt is worked under his nails and into the lines of his palms.  Spock’s hands are probably clean, knowing him.  McCoy watches him walk off and rubs his own palms together like it’ll do anything against the grime.

McCoy sighs and follows him, dirt puffing up under his boots with each step.

He finds Jim winding his way through the hanging bodies.  From the side, he watches Jim reach out and touch a shoulder of a former ensign, and the arm of someone who had been in Ops.  Engineering, maybe, or one of Uhura’s staff.

“This is a hell of a day, Jim,” McCoy says and when Jim’s shoulders slump, he walks over and takes him by the shoulder.  “You think this is your fault.”

“Yeah.” Jim won’t quite look at him.  “I do.”

“It’s not.”

“I agreed to the mission.”

“There’s no way you could have known,” McCoy says.  If Spock were here, he’d offer up some odds that they’d have sustained such a loss.  McCoy can only squeeze Jim’s shoulder.

“They’re all supposed to be on leave on Yorktown right now,” Jim says.  He lets out a breath.  “Sometimes, I think I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

“You’re too hard on yourself,” McCoy says.

Jim shrugs off his hand.  “Most of my crew is dead.  I think that deserves some introspection.”

“You saved Yorktown.  That’s millions of lives, Jim.  Nobody else could have done what you did.”

“Nobody else would have dragged their ship here and Rand would be enjoying an afternoon off with her girlfriend today, not-” Jim waves at the body next to him.  “This.”

“Jim…”

“It was sloppy.” He crosses his arms over his chest.

“You were tired,” McCoy says as gently as he can.  “You needed a break.”

“That’s no excuse.”

“You’re not exactly doing a desk job here, Jim, running that ship of yours.  It’s ok that it wears you down.”

“I know that,” Jim snaps and McCoy frowns and steps backwards.  “And when I don’t have my head in it, shit like this happens.”

“We were there with you,” McCoy says slowly.  “It was never just on you to realize Kalara wasn’t who she said she was.  Hell, us and all of Yorktown’s intel too.  You volunteered us because you thought you were saving lives - which you did, and you’re the only one who hasn’t noticed that.”

Jim’s jaw grinds together.  They’re all riding on the rough edge of the day.  McCoy can feel the stew of tension in the air.  Maybe Spock can too, because from across the cavern he looks over, his tricorder in his hand and Chapel hanging there before him.

“Jim,” McCoy tries again.  He thinks of the clink of whiskey glasses.  That bottle they never got more than that one sip of.  “You’re a good captain.  It’s… Jim, it’s what you’re meant to be doing.  This was just a bad spell of a mission.”

But his assurance doesn’t seem to go any deeper than a quick nod from Jim.  It’s cursory at best and McCoy frowns.

Get it together, he’d want to snap at him if Jim didn’t look so damn defeated.  As it is, he bites back the reminder he wants to give him that they’re all stuck down here together, and it isn’t just Jim’s mess to clean up.  If he’s going to wallow it in, it’s not exactly a one man party.

But that’s uncharitable at best, and halfway to being an asshole when he doesn’t need to be, not today, so he only smacks Jim on the arm and says, “What the hell else would you be doing anyway if you weren’t here with us?  Data input?”

“Maybe,” Jim says and McCoy rolls his eyes because Jim won’t quite grin.

“Great, you and Spock and a file cabinet.”

“Spock?” Jim asks and his shoulders begin to soften.  There’s something near enough in his voice that they could be back in Jim’s quarters, glasses between them at his tone.  “Nah, he’d be on the ship.”

“He’d be on the ship?” McCoy asks.  He wipes his hands off on his shirt, over his stomach.  He’s not looking forward to the next body they’ll haul out.  Not ready for it either, not really.  “He’d be on the ship if what?”

“If I was-“  Jim shakes his head.  McCoy feels himself frown again.  Jim’s not quite looking at him.

“What would you do, stick him with the rest of us?  You’d be back within five minutes, bored out of your mind and driving us all up the wall.”

“Probably,” Jim says, his voice soft.

“Hmm? Probably what?”

“Probably, you- You’re probably right,” Jim says, but McCoy’s had years of him - too many, he’d say if anyone asked - and years of Jim Kirk has him watching how that blonde head ducks down.  There’s too much held in that accompanying shrug.  When McCoy only stares at him, Jim adds, “About being bored.”

“I know,” McCoy says slowly.

“Ready?” Jim asks and tips his head towards the back of the cave.

“You’re-“ McCoy holds a finger up.  Jim blinks.  “You weren’t actually thinking about it, were you?  After all this?”

“Thinking about what?” Jim asks like McCoy doesn’t know that studied innocence all too well.

“Doing something else?” McCoy asks.  He can barely get his mouth around the word.  “Quitting?”

“Not-“ Jim licks his lips.  “Not after all of this mission, no.”

Jim’s blinking too much.  

“Before?” McCoy asks and the silence that follows is crushing.  He takes an unsteady step backwards.  Beneath his boot, the stones and gravel are uneven.  “You were going to leave?  You and Spock both?”

“Me and Spock both what?”

“Captain?” Spock asks.  Run, McCoy would tell him but he’s too busy staring at Jim.

A slow, hot knot forms in McCoy’s chest.  Spock isn’t helping it either, his eyes moving too calmly between the two of them like they’re discussing the ship’s gossip in the corridor, not stuck in this maze of rock and hanging, swinging bodies.  McCoy wants to shake him.

“What the actual hell?” he asks.  “The two of you were going to clear out of here?  And leave us all to do- to do, what, Jim?  Deal with this all ourselves?”

“No, Bones, Spock was- I would have recommended that Spock take over-“

“-Spock was out too,” McCoy says and Spock opens his mouth like he might respond, but just flicks open his tricorder instead.  How- how typical. Spock just standing there.

“I wasn’t- Bones, I’m not going to go.”

“Oh.  Oh, good,” he says and lets sarcasm swamp his voice.  “Because for a second there it sounded a hell of a lot like you had planned all of this out.”

“Bones…”

“You, off the Enterprise.  Perfect.  No, really Jim.”  He shakes his head.  He’d cross his arms, but his back hurts again.  “I’m happy for you.”

Jim sighs at his tone, his head dipping towards the side.  “I didn’t take it.”

“You were offered something?” McCoy asks and that simmering heat turns into a burn.  “When were you going to bother to tell us this?”

“It doesn’t matter, and I wasn’t- I was just seeing what else was out there.”

“What else was out there?” McCoy echoes.  “That is the point of this goddamn five years, Jim.  To see what the hell is out here.  And look-“ He waves up over their heads, the crew they had breakfast with and shared their ship with hanging up there.  “-We found it.”

“Bones-“

“-Don’t.”  When Spock looks up from his tricorder, Bones takes the finger out of Jim’s face and levers it at him instead.  “And don’t you, either.”

“You-“ Jim’s head tips to the side.  It’s so much like Spock that McCoy can barely stand to look at him.  “Spock, you were going to leave?”

Spock ducks back over his tricorder.  “I do not wish to discuss the matter.”

“But you knew?” Jim asks McCoy.  “You- About Spock?”

“Lucky me.  I wonder who else’s career plans I’ll find out about.  Uhura?  I’m sure every ship in the ‘Fleet wants her.  Sulu?  Wouldn’t exactly blame him for clearing out after all of this, would you?”

Jim’s blink is as good as a ‘no’, but it just leaves McCoy hollowed out.

“This is great, Jim,” McCoy says and throws his hands up.  “Could I maybe get a reference?  A letter of recommendation?  There’s  hell of a lot of hospitals out there where the commute isn’t traipsing through the far reaches of the Alpha Quadrant.”

From behind Chapel, Spock stares at him.  Sulu too, across the cave, and Jim with his mouth parted.  Jim’s eyes are too wide.  Out loud, the words kindle that flare in McCoy’s chest like a hot, dry wind on a spark.  

“I’m supposed to be helping people, not cutting their bodies down,” he says.

“Doctor-“

“-No,” McCoy snaps and Spock blinks in the light cast by his tricorder.  “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Doctor,” he says again and turns the tricorder around.  There’s a steady green blink on it.  “You are, in that case, in luck.  Nurse Chapel is - surprisingly - still alive.”

Chapter Text

McCoy twists his arm away when Spock grabs at him.

“Get her down!” he shouts and reaches for her, ignoring how Spock manages to get a grip on his shoulder.

“Doctor-”

“-We need her in sickbay,” McCoy says and again yanks his arm from Spock’s hold.  

“The readings are unclear,” Spock says with all that calm of his and McCoy wants to rip the tricorder out of his hand.

“Spock-”

“-I believe prudence is in order,” Spock says.  His expression is too smooth.  “This is quite a unique situation.”

“Unique,” McCoy echoes and shakes his head.

Chapel is too cool when McCoy touches her cheek.  Not cold, though.  And it’s apparently not the ambient temperature of the cave keeping the chill of death from her skin.

He should have checked more thoroughly.  This… Spock isn’t supposed to be the one to catch things like this.  Jim isn’t the only one who’s missing things and McCoy hates how his cheeks heat at the dim realization that had Spock not been there, had he not had his tricorder on, had they gotten any further in the day and started moving these bodies callously and casually…

“Prudence,” he mutters.

“What do we do?” Jim asks him.

Think, McCoy tells himself.  His neck is itchy.   Grit has worked its way into his collar, the too stiff fabric of their uniforms catching it and grinding it into his skin.  He wipes his forehead on his wrist and sweat darkens the fabric over his rank stripes.  

“I need my medkit,” McCoy says.  No idea, he doesn’t say.  The burn of wanting something to do claws at him.  “Spock’s right.  This isn’t normal, Jim.”

Jim’s crack about McCoy agreeing with Spock doesn’t come.  Instead, he says, “I’ll get it,” and turns and jogs down the tunnel that leads outside.

Chapel’s eyes are closed.  But maybe she heard everything.  McCoy certainly hopes not, because personnel issues are likely the least of what’s gone on in here.

“Chapel,” he says and smooths his palm over her forehead.  Then, he remembers Spock is still there next to him.  He straightens.  “If you have some logical platitudes, now is the time.”

But Spock is silently reading his tricorder and is focused on it with a bit too much attention.  Thinking, clearly.  Processing God knows what in that computer of his that he calls a brain.  Once, McCoy might have thought that silence of Spock’s would bend until it broke like storm clouds hanging on a summer’s horizon, but Spock has changed in the past few years, a settling to him that McCoy once would never have thought to predict.  Though it makes his quiet in the face of Jim wanting out that much worse.  Heavier, like it sits deeper.  Maybe it’s some small comfort Spock didn’t know about Jim either, though it hardly makes McCoy any closer to being happy.  Mostly, he’s just tired.

Which isn’t all that helpful, Chapel swinging there and now McCoy distracted as all hell, right when he doesn’t need to be.

“Spock?” he asks. He could use some of that laser-like focus Spock has in spades, which is normally so grating, and a helping of that type of pedantic logic he does so well.  “Find anything?”

Spock blinks and raises his head.  

“Unclear,” he says and McCoy frowns.

It turns out Scotty hasn’t seen anything like it either, and when Spock reboots back into being a useful science officer and not just hollowed out after the argument McCoy and Jim had, McCoy watches them have an ultimately useless conversation peppered with words he’s sure he’s never heard before.  By the end of the afternoon, McCoy’s neck is sore from craning over a padd with the two of them.  His shirt is stuck to his back and he has half a mind to blame Spock for it, reading over his shoulder so that twice ended up elbowing him by accident.  A third time wouldn’t have been a mistake, but Spock hardly seemed inclined to give McCoy his damn space.  

“Well,” Scotty finally says.  “The good news is that they’re not getting any worse for being in here.”

“Good news,” Jim repeats, a breath huffed over the words.  “What else do we have?  Bones?”

McCoy’s jaw aches and pressing his teeth together again at Jim’s question just makes the pain jab at his forehead.  He doesn’t look at Jim.

“They’re stable,” he says.  “That’s something.  We leave them like this and they’re ok, or as ok as they are in here.  But I don’t know how long their bodies can take this and we don’t know how long this-” he gestures “-thing is designed to keep them alive, if that’s even what they really are.  I can’t get a good picture of their brain activity with all this interference, and without that… Jim, without that, we don’t know if it’s them that we’re working to save, or just their bodies.”

“We can reconfigure our tricorders,” Jim says and puts his hands on his hips.  “And keep trying for more information, right?”

“I’ll pull Chekov if you can spare him, and we can take a look,” Scotty says.

“Do it,” Jim say.  “Bones, if they’re not- if they’re really alive, what are our options?”

McCoy rubs his hand over his chin.  

“If they’re able to be brought around…” he starts.  Spock could likely quote the odds.  Maybe that would be better than just guessing.  Take some of the pressure off the news McCoy has to give.  “We can’t know their brain activity until we can get them out of this cave, no matter what magic Chekov and Scotty might be able to work.  Which we can’t do without unhooking them from the one thing keeping them alive, and I’m not going to risk going in blind and just yanking those cords out.  And even so, I’d need a way to work on them… regenerators, a real biobed.  A sickbay, with trained staff, and even then I’m not sure what I’d be working with.”

A sickbay with Chapel in it.  Alive and handing him instruments before he even called for them.  McCoy touches his fingers to his forehead.  Just out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jim pacing.

“Can we transport them out of here?” Jim asks.

McCoy shakes his head at the thought.  

“The mechanism to which they are attached is not mobile,” Spock says, “and the same geological interference that affects our scanning systems stems from what appears to be a subterranean energy source that is keeping the mechanism operational.  In all likelihood, it is the same substance that was once mined here.  Krall has somehow rerouted it for this purpose, and to remove the crew from this cave would be, as Doctor McCoy has said, to sever them from the very thing that is keeping them stable.”

“But they’re ok for now,” Jim says.  “More or less.”

McCoy’s head throbs.

“It depends on your definition of ‘ok’,” he says.  Like that it’d just be ok to leave them and the ship in Spock’s hands while Jim jetted off for who the hell knows what.  McCoy crosses his arms and his back aches in protest.

Spock’s eyes narrow at his tricorder and his expression takes on that look of focus that McCoy is sure he’d never admit to.  

“Those with stronger vitals are in the back of the cave,” he says.

“How organized,” McCoy says and wipes his palm over his face.

“Can we leave them here?” Scotty asks.  Sweat darkens the collar of his uniform, staining the red a deeper dark like blood.  “At least for the night?”

McCoy presses his teeth together again.  “I don’t like it.”

“Theoretically, they would be unchanged,” Spock says.

“Theoretically, that’s our crew,” McCoy says.  He pinches the bridge of his nose.  “What do you want to do, Jim, leave all of them here while we settle on the Franklin for the evening?  Sit down for dinner and put our feet up for the day?”

“I’m open to suggestions,” Jim says.  Chekov is watching him as if at any moment Jim will come up with one of his own.  Scotty is too though he has a lot less of that wide-eyed optimism that clings to Chekov whenever he’s around Jim.

Spock is at least scanning the room, oblivious to the fact that it’s him Jim’s watching, like an idea will just pop out from between those pointed ears.

Great.  Just like always, Jim has Spock there for him to rely on.  How fitting that they would both come up with the brilliant idea to jump ship at the exact same time.  A perfect pair they are.

“Where are you going?” Jim asks as McCoy starts to walk away.

He doesn’t turn.  “Maybe I need a bit of a break, too.”

Outside, the sun is too hot.  He hunts around for a bottle of water, drains it, and stares back at the cave mouth.  His stomach turns against the water he just swallowed too fast.  There’s no hypo that he has that he can press into Chapel’s neck, or the rest of them, and wake them up one by one.  No vial of serum that he has stashed on the ship that he can duplicate until he has enough, and no surgery he can perform that would set this to rights.  Sweat drips into his eyes and frustrated, he rubs at his forehead with the heel of his hand.

“So,” Uhura says from next to his elbow and he lets his hand drop.

A goddamn minute, he’d tell her, but she doesn't deserve that.  Instead, he just screws the lid back on the bottle.  He’s so tired of this, all of them living in each other's pockets.  Never any privacy and no hope for it when all day every day it’s the same handful of people he always sees.

“You all right?” she asks.

“Did you know?” McCoy asks her.  “About Jim?”

At least she doesn't pretend to misunderstand.  But she’s good like that, Uhura is.  Always has been.  

“I did,” she says.

“And Spock?”

She pushes her shoulder into his arm.  She lived down the hall from his and Jim’s room in that dorm of theirs, and it’s years on now and he still hasn’t quite adjusted to the reality that she’s the same person who helped keep him from failing his xenoling requirements and now is next to him, squinting against Altamid’s sun at this godforsaken mining camp they’ve once again found themselves in.

“You three aren’t exactly subtle, you know,” she says.

“Three?” he asks.  “Don’t lump me in with those two idiots.”

Again, she lightly bounces her shoulder into his, and this time she leaves it there.  He can feel it when she shrugs.

“Just saying.”

“Now don’t you leave, you hear.” He shakes his head.  “This whole damn thing would fall apart on all of us.”

“No,” she says, still leaning into him.  “I don’t think that’s true.”

Spock steps out of the mouth of the cave.  McCoy doesn’t bother watching the look that he trades with Uhura.  They’ve always been fast friends, when even now it sometimes surprises McCoy that Spock’s even capable of that.

Which is unfair, he’s sure, but he’s hot and that water bottle wasn’t full enough, no matter how his stomach still hurts.

He lifts his eyes to the sky.  It could be days that they’re here.  Weeks.  Spock probably has an idea already.  McCoy would really, really rather not know.

Jim appears a step behind him, bright gold against the blue gloom of the cave.

“We’ll figure something out,” Uhura says when McCoy turns away.  He shrugs, dislodging how she’s up against him.  “We always do.”

That night, the rec room is full of the this and that of a long away mission.  Relay beacons, ship’s logs, who’s filing what report when, and the standard checks of the ship’s system.  It’s the old routine of Starfleet procedures they could follow in their sleep, and McCoy shuts his eyes and tips his head against the back of the couch.  Typically, these planetside jaunts end with a hot shower and a night in his own bed.  He’s not so much a fan of the ones that keep him stuck somewhere, and this one in particular will end in that glass ball of a space station.  Just what he needs, an inverse funhouse mirror of a planet, after the horrors of this one.

“You hungry?” Jim asks.  McCoy pries an eye open to look up at him and shakes his head.  It doesn’t exactly dissuade Jim, because he says, “We could whip up something good.  I make a killer grilled cheese.  Sulu?”

“Sure.” Sulu sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles.  When McCoy rolls his head along the back of the couch to look over, he finds him with his face pushed into his hands.

“Spock?” Jim asks.

“No.”

“Right.” Jim’s eyes dart back to McCoy’s.  McCoy looks away.  Any minute now, Jim should be coming up with some type of brilliant and insane plan to get them out of this, but instead he’s just staring at McCoy.  If Jim’s waiting for him to do something, McCoy doesn’t bother to even try.

“Ok, then,” Jim finally says.

The stillness in the room is worse than even standing in the damp heat of the cave with all those bodies.  At the stove, Uhura talks with Jim over a cutting board.  It’s not long before the smell of vegetables reaches McCoy, so she must be cooking too.  Still, the snap of oil in the pan and their quiet conversation does little to fill the room.  Twice, McCoy thinks about getting up and going back out there to the mine, but Sulu hasn’t straightened up yet and Chekov is staring into some glassy eyed middle distance.  He doesn’t trust that they wouldn’t follow him if he went.  

His stomach starts to churn as the smell of food fills the room.  It’s the same roil as used to happen at the end of long shifts during his residency, a particular mixture of exhaustion and the horror of how broken bodies can be.  Apparently the intervening years haven't been enough to settle his gut down.  Today was just too much.  His head hurts and he’d raise a hand to it, but his back aches, so he just sits where he is, the decking swimming before his stare.

“Sir?” Scotty asks.  “Jaylah says there’s a group north west of us, up in the mountains.” McCoy doesn’t have to look up to know that Scotty’s shrugging.  “Her sensors are a bit better than ours, Captain.”

“Are they hostile?” Jim asks.

“She says everyone in these parts are hostile, but they’re not moving any closer to our position.  They seem to be settling in there.”

“They can hear our transmission?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Well, maybe they like the sound of it.  Grilled cheese?”

The couch dips under Scotty as he settles himself near to McCoy.  The plate on his lap smells like hot cheese and too much butter.  Uhura’s right, Jim doesn’t know when enough is enough.  Best captain in the ‘Fleet, sidelined by hardened arteries.  It’d figure, wouldn’t it.

“You know, sir,” Scotty says.  “That tech there.  Whoever once lived here was far more advanced than we initially gave them credit for.  Those neural transmitters are old, but they’re still impressive.”

“So they took their ships and left.” Jaylah’s boots ring out loud on the deck.  McCoy wonders what this looks like to her, all of them listlessly sitting around what was once her living room, wearing dirty boots and stained shirts.  “They did not come back.  Logical, yes?”

Uhura gives a quiet laugh.  Maybe Spock has that tiny smile of his, but McCoy doesn’t lever his eyes up from the spot he’s found on the floor to check.

“This is incredibly unhealthy, Jaylah,” Uhura says and there’s a scrape of a spatula over a pan.  “Jim highly recommends it.”

“C’mere, lassie.  Pull up a bit of bench and have dinner on us for dragging you back here,” Scotty says.

“A suitable present would be to leave again,” Jaylah says.  “Not wet cheese.”

“Melted,” Jim says.

“It is not food.” There’s a pause.  McCoy should get up and find himself a place to sit that isn’t in the middle of all this chatter.  “But it is not bad.”

“One win for the day.” Jim sounds like he’s smiling.  “Maybe tomorrow we’ll do pizza.”

McCoy rocks forward and braces his forearms on his thighs.  “Tomorrow, we’re getting Chapel down,” he says.

“Yeah.” Jim clears his throat.  “I just meant.  You know, food to fuel the whole operation.”

“No, Jim, I don’t know.”

“Just… that she’s ok, right?  They all are, and we’ll get them out.”

“She’s upside down in a cave with wires plugged into her neck,” McCoy says.  “I’d have thought you’d be a bit more sympathetic to crew stuck in stasis at the hands of even more Starfleet maniacs.”

“Bones…”

“Reason enough to throw in the towel, isn’t it,” he says and heaves himself to his feet.  The room spins in time to the throb in his head.  “Enjoy your dinner.”

In the corridor, Jim tries to get around him.

“C’mon, Bones,” he says, his voice low and his arm held out.  McCoy shoves it aside.  “Can we just talk?  Please?”

“I’m tired, Jim.”

“And the crew- you don’t need to say that in front of them.  You don’t need to let them know, ok? It’s-”

“-Starfleet’s best and brightest that you have working for you.  I’m sure they’ll figure it out in their own time.”

“How can you even be this mad at me? Spock, he-”

The finger McCoy presses towards him makes Jim skip back against the bulkhead.  “Spock at least told me.”

“And can we talk about that?  Right?  Spock wanting to clear out?”

“No, we can’t, Jim.” McCoy doesn’t let their shoulders hit as he pushes past, though it’s tempting.

In his bathroom, he smacks on the sonics in the shower and turns them high enough that if anyone knocks at his room’s door, he can’t hear it over the whine of them.  The shower is too small to comfortably raise his elbows, but it’s fine because the back of his head hurts too bad to scrub at his hair for very long.  He should get someone to look at it, but he doesn’t particularly care to, and finally drops his half hearted attempts to actually clean himself and just turns his back to the rub of the sonics over his skin and lets them work off as much of the day’s dirt and sweat as they can.  It’s getting dark, the blue light of evening glowing through the porthole.  He braces his hands on the tile wall and tries to not think about Chapel and the rest of them, out there in the mine.  The grout needs to be scrubbed.  Idly, he scratches his thumbnail into it, where dirt has long ago wedged itself between two tiles.  He used to spend hours scouring his old shower, in his house in Georgia.  He blinks.  He hasn’t thought of that in a hell of a long time now, that bathroom with a window that looked over that tree in the backyard.  Their house, until it’s wasn’t theirs anymore because there wasn’t a them to own it, and then their home had just been hers.

The tap at the bathroom door is to quiet to be anyone else.

“Get out of here, Spock,” he calls.

“Are you well?”

“Great,” McCoy mutters and twists the sonics off.

The towel McCoy grabs is threadbare.  And it has a damn Starfleet crest on it, there in the corner.

Spock steps backwards when McCoy pushes out of the bathroom.

“What the hell was Jim thinking?”

Spock’s forehead creases.  “You have been in there for some time.”

“Taking some planetside job?  Does he think that’s some sort of joke?”

“In all likelihood, he was thinking that he did not wish to continue in his position as the Enterprise’s captain.”

“Sure he did.” McCoy grabs a pair of boxers.  He ignores the thought that Spock might care how he unwinds his towel and tosses it at the ladder to his bunk.  He’s too old to have a roommate, and the memory of the ease he’d gotten used to with Jim after years of tripping over each other at the Academy just makes him that much madder.  What a mess their dorm had been, textbooks and uniforms everywhere.  Spock would have had a very Vulcan cow if he’d seen it.  McCoy yanks his boxers up to his waist.

“Did he say anything to you?” McCoy asks.

“No.”

“Well, did you ask?”

“I did not.”

What an utter ass Jim is, to want to quit on them all like that, when McCoy had signed half a decade away for the man.  McCoy shakes out a shirt.  His fingers feel heavy as he sorts out the front of it from the back.

“Figures,” he says and tugs it on.  It catches against the back of his head and he winces.  The throb echoes through his whole skull.  Drained, he sinks onto Spock’s bunk and ignores the look he gets for it.  The bed is deep with blankets and a hell of a lot softer than McCoy’s is.  “You two need to talk.”

“The opportunity did not arise.”

“I’ve heard that one before.” The bed dips next to him.  McCoy shuts his eyes so that he doesn’t have to look at whatever expression is on Spock’s face, written out in minute detail.  “Are you upset?”

“Such an emotional reaction would-“

“-Oh, save it, Spock.”

Spock lets out a breath.  If McCoy were in a better mood, he’d accuse Spock of sighing.

“I am surprised,” Spock finally says.  The mattress shifts, but Spock doesn’t get up. “Yes.  I am… troubled by his decision.”

“Well, that makes two of you.”

“Did you speak with him?”

“It’s fine,” McCoy says.  The wall their bunks are set against isn’t that far behind him, not with how narrow the mattresses are, and he leans back until he can rest his shoulders against it.  “Another one of Jim’s crises.  And resolved already and I didn’t even have to do anything.  I think that’s a new record.”

“You are distressed.”

“Damn right I am.” He knocks his knee none too gently into Spock’s.  “What the hell are the two of you getting at?  Don’t you think?  Ever?  With that brain of yours?”

“There was hardly any collusion.”

“At least you had a better reason.”

“Granted, neither of us have been informed of his.” Spock frowns.  Just a little, the corner of his mouth turned down.  McCoy will never let slip how much he likes those tiny tells of Spock’s, not now and not ever.  He looks away before Spock catches him watching him.  “Though I will elect to take that as a compliment.”

“Don’t.”

“Thank you.”

McCoy chuffs out a breath and closes his eyes.  For what is probably too long, he keeps sitting there, his back braced in a way that’s more or less comfortable, and his legs stretched out across Spock’s bed.  He should get up.  Put on pants, find dinner, or at least climb up to his own bunk.

He rubs his hand over his forehead.  His back pulls tight again with the motion.

“I should have known,” he says.

He hears Spock turn towards him.  “That Jim was planning to leave?”

“Chapel.”

“Ah.”  

The mattress moves as Spock shifts backwards to adopt McCoy’s own pose, though likely considerably more upright.  McCoy could look and find out, but he’s spent enough time shoulder to shoulder with Spock in this same position that he can see the two of them with his eyes still closed.  At least this time it’s the cool metal of the bulkhead against his back, not the scrape of rocks.

“Her life signs were only discernible after I adjusted the settings on the tricorder,” Spock says.

“Still.  It’s logical, right?  Keep them alive for as long as possible?  Of course that would be Krall’s plan.  Stasis is the perfect solution to- to an unpredictable schedule of ships passing close by.”  

To an unpredictable feeding schedule, he doesn’t say.  Like goddamn protein bars.  Isn’t how to make rations last the first thing that Starfleet covers in their training.  It would have been the same even all those years ago for Krall.  Edison.  Whatever.  Stringing out supplies while marooned, counting out calories and ounces of water and calculating how long the team can survive.  It’s perfect preparation to be stranded out here, to take the type of resourcefulness that Starfleet installs in officers and apply it to decades stuck on this planet.

So briefly, McCoy was just a doctor.  Of course, his life came crashing down around him and the world he knew along with it, but for a time his days were a flow of patients, diagnoses, and prescriptions.  People came in to see him who were sick and injured, he fixed them, and sent them on their way, and each evening he drove home to the banality of dinner.  Neat and pat, and his only concern was bad traffic during rush hour.  

It didn’t last, but it was so nice while it did.

He wakes up at the call for Gamma shift.  His eyes are gummy and the overhead light is too bright and his neck hurts from how he’s slumped to the side.  

“Can’t the goddamn first officer do something about that announcement?” he asks.  He rubs the heel of his hand into his eye.

“Unlikely,” Spock says from somewhere near him and McCoy sighs.  

He’s going to sit up.  He yawns into his shoulder, crosses his arms over his chest, and when he opens his eyes again, the room is dark and there’s a weight next to him in the bed, the long line of a body stretched out against his side.

He freezes.  There’s a pillow under his head.  The metal slats of his own bunk are cast in grayscale above him and he can just make out the shape of them.

Next to him, Spock shifts.  His foot bumps McCoy’s ankle.

“Sorry,” McCoy says, but it’s too loud in the heavy quiet, and if Spock wasn’t already awake, he is now.  “I’ll get up.”

Spock clears his throat.  McCoy’s not sure he’s ever heard him do that before.

“So you do realize that this is not your bed?” he asks.

“Funny,” McCoy says.  “You know, it’s about ten degrees warmer up there.”

Spock adjusts himself again and this time the blankets shift with him.  Spock’s under the sheets and McCoy isn’t.  The fabric pulls beneath his back when Spock moves.

“I am under medical restriction to the bottom bunk,” Spock says.

“First time you’ve ever listened to a doctor’s order,” McCoy says.  Exceptions, Spock, he thinks.  “Maybe I’ll put a note in your file.”

The expected retort doesn’t come and the silence is worse for it.  McCoy scratches at his stomach.  He’d have to climb over Spock to get up.  Outside the porthole, the stars are shining and McCoy stares at them past the dark shape of Spock next to him.

“Think they’re still ok out there?” he finally asks.

“The crew?” Spock asks like he doesn’t know who’s on McCoy’s mind.  “Logically, they would be unchanged from how we left them.”

“I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse.”

“They are not conscious,” Spock says.

McCoy’s throat hurts.  Quickly, he scrubs the back of his hand under his nose.  His elbow bumps Spock’s ribs.

“Comforting,” he mutters.

Spock’s hair rustles against the pillows as he turns towards McCoy.  “Comfort is hardly my expertise.”

“Guess not,” McCoy says.  No, Jim is who McCoy goes to when the days get too long and hard.  The thought of it just makes him lonely, and he’s had enough of that for today.

He rolls over to face Spock.  He can’t see much in the dark.  The curve of a pointed ear, Spock’s pallor against the darker shade of gray of his pillowcase.  If there’s anything in his expression, McCoy can’t make it out.

“You wanna give me some probability?” he asks but Spock stays quiet.  McCoy taps his foot against Spock’s leg.  “C’mon, it’s the middle of the night and you whacked my head today, I think you might owe me a little statistical peace of mind.”

“I will interpret that as gratitude for ensuring you were not seriously injured.”

“As long as it isn’t retribution for using a superheated chunk of alien spaceship to cauterize your wound.”

“The thought had occurred to me.”

“Great.”

His arm is going to go to sleep if he keeps laying on it.  He should get up.  This bed is too small for them both to be in it and he needs a decent night’s sleep if he’s going to deal with whatever the hell tomorrow will bring, and Jim Kirk along with it.

“Where is Jim’s damn loyalty?” he asks.  “And don’t tell me that he didn’t technically quit.”

“I was not going to.”

“What do you think he was planning to leave us for?”

“I can only guess.”

“I don’t want to know,” McCoy says.  “I knew he was-“  He shakes his head against the pillow.  “Getting contemplative.  He always does, this time of year.  But this?” He sighs.  “Bad enough you had the same harebrained idea.”

“I had not considered the likelihood that he would want to leave his position.”

“Geniuses the two of you are.”  In the dark, McCoy frowns.  “I don’t mean that.”

“Not all of us can be so fortunate to have your particular brand of intellect, Doctor.”

“Well, thanks.”  McCoy shakes his head again, but it only makes the back of his head bump up against the wall behind him and he flinches.  “Ow.  Shit.”

“You should consider having the ship’s chief medical officer examine your head,” Spock says.

The blankets rustle and then Spock is pushing them down.  He’s in a matching shirt to McCoy’s own.  What the hell is the point of them having their own clothes, their own drawers, their own bags if Starfleet’s just going to stick them in twin outfits.  McCoy shifts, but that wall is too close behind him and now he’s thinking of his bare legs.  Surely Spock wears pants to bed, though McCoy can’t remember from last night.

Careful fingers probe over the back of McCoy’s head.  He can’t pull backwards, and Spock’s body hems him in from the front.  How Spock could be cold here, he’ll never know.  He feels sticky with too much heat, up this close to Spock.  Spock’s wrist is pale in the gray half light.  His forearm too, a milky sort of white.  McCoy hisses when Spock finds a tender spot.

“Dammit.  Stop that.”

“I did not intend to injure you.”

“Well, you did anyway.”  Spock doesn’t pull his hand back, but he stops poking at the worst of it.  “You still thinking about leaving us?”

“No.”  Spock’s voice is quiet.  Softer than it needs to be, given how close they’re laying.  His fingers are still in McCoy’s hair.

“How unfortunate.”  McCoy grabs his wrist and tugs his hand away.  The joint is thin and feels too delicate, a slim slip of tendon and bones under hot skin.  “You’re sure?”

“I am.”

Carefully, Spock twists his wrist from McCoy’s grip.  Slow enough that if McCoy wanted to keep holding onto it, he could.  He watches Spock tuck his hands up under his pillow, his wrists at his chin.  They could be at some type of sleepover, on their sides like this, their knees nearly brushing, whispering late at night as they are.

Spock’s shoulders draw up.  “Have you considered leaving your position?”

“Me?”  He shoves his face into the pillow.  Spock is curled in on himself, his eyes wide and dark against the pale of his face.  “Are you still cold?  Didn’t you eventually adapt to our climate?”

“As you should know, the diameter of Vulcan blood vessels dictate a heat loss that compared to humans-“

“-Oh, just stop.  Here.”

McCoy shoves his hands after Spock’s, wedged up under the pillow.  They’re warm to the touch, but isn’t that the point of it, a little pocket of heat under under the weight of their heads and the down of the pillow.

Spock pulls back, but not far enough to break McCoy’s hold on him.  Spock could.  He doesn’t, though, even though his body is suddenly signing with enough tension that McCoy lays there waiting for him to do so.

“You do understand the connotation of this gesture, correct?” Spock asks and his voice is strained.  His eyes blink open from that late night droop to fix on McCoy.

McCoy rolls his own.  Spock’s knuckles are bony, the thin skin covering them softer than McCoy might have imagined.  

“Don’t flatter yourself,” he says.

“As a human’s basal body temperature is significantly lower than-“

“-I’m a doctor, Spock.”

“Then you would know that any attempt to provide warmth through body heat violates immutable laws of-“

“-You’re sleeping on the floor if you keep that up.”

“This is my bed.”

“And I want my blanket back.”

McCoy should really be getting up.  But slowly, Spock’s hands unclench and the tipped up mess of McCoy’s life these days or not, the facts of thermodynamics are alive and well here in the dark and quiet of Spock’s bed.  McCoy’s hands grow warm.  Across the pillow from him, Spock blinks.

“It would be unfortunate if you were to leave,” Spock says.

“And here I thought you wanted your elbow room in your own bunk.”

“I am serious.”

McCoy sighs.  “You always are.”   

His hand, where it’s pressed to the back of Spock’s own, is rapidly going numb from lying on his arm.  His palms are starting to sweat a little.  It’s too warm down here and likely worse up in his own bed.  He’s not exactly looking forward to trying to fall asleep in the sweaty tangle of his own sheets.  Already, he knows that the moment his eyes close, he’ll be back in that mine, the winking lights shining into his closed eyes and the crew swaying before him.

“They will be fine,” Spock says.  “Nurse Chapel among them.”

McCoy jumps.  

“Don’t do that.”  His lips are dry when he licks at them.  “Can you-“

“Read your mind, as you call it?  No.”

McCoy rolls his eyes again.  His heart is hammering.  “Convincing, Spock.  Really.”

“It was the logical deduction that you were thinking of the crew.”

“Well, shit.”

“You were not angry, so you likely were not still considering Jim’s absence.”

“I’ll get mad, just give me a second.”

“And you were not asleep.”

“I can be.”

He should be.  Middle of the night talks were for when he was younger.  And that warmth of his hands is starting to pull at him.  He needs to get up.  This is a bad idea, jammed so close together like this.

“It is simple to presume that your concern for the crew would be forefront in your mind.”

Spock probably can’t see his expression, but he tips his eyes towards the ceiling again anyway.  “How logical.”

“It is.  Your consideration for our shipmates and their well-being is always paramount.”  Spock pauses.  “Despite your assertions to the contrary, that is.”

Under McCoy’s palms, Spock’s hands shift.  McCoy eyes him in the dark, wary, but he seems to only be adjusting himself.

“It is… appreciated,” Spock says.  “And admirable.”

McCoy casts a look up at the slats of his bunk above him.  

“Well, thanks,” he says.  “It’s only my job.  Maybe you can put it in my performance review.”

“And as our highest ranking doctor, you should know that the heat loss of Vulcans is-“

“-Oh please.  It’s listed right next to where that heart of yours is.”  McCoy frowns against the pillow.  “And your blood pressure.  I don’t know how don’t pass out when you stand up.  It’s practically nonexistent.”

Spock is closer than he should be.  McCoy blinks.  Closer than he was.  McCoy needs to pull back, he can feel Spock’s breath on his mouth.  Spock… Spock always knows exactly what he’s doing.  This isn’t some convenient mistake, him leaning in like that.

Spock does remember.  That cave, that day.  McCoy swallows.  

He should tell him to stop, but when he opens his mouth, it’s only to suck in air.  His body feels too heavy to jerk away.  That warmth of Spock’s hands is too comforting, and to shift backwards, to clamber out over Spock and put the space between them that he needs to, would be to slip his hands from beneath the pillow and that flow of heat from Spock’s skin to his own.  Spock’s right, because of course he is, that warmth is traveling from his hands to McCoy’s, carried through that green blood of his.  It was all over McCoy’s palms, staining the beds of his nails no matter how he scrubbed at it.  Spock was breathing so heavily as McCoy tried to clean up in that river.  Around them, the rocks were as hot as the blood seeping from Spock’s side.  Hot like McCoy is now.  His shirt is too tight.  He needs some air and quickly, though the next breath he draws in is shared with Spock.  Rough rock on his back, that shock of lips that had been pressed to his.  In the dark, McCoy lays stock still.

Spock’s nose touches his.  And McCoy’s hands are so warm, that trickle of energy from Spock’s skin to his.  Far warmer than when he reached over.  He blinks.  Shifts backs slightly, his mind working over a half formed thought.

But Spock doesn’t notice.  In a low voice, he says, “In fact, the dilation of blood vessels-“

“-Wait,” McCoy says.

Spock jerks backwards.  “I apologize.”

“Those rocks, the energy signal is coming from them, right?”

“The rocks?” Spock repeats.  

McCoy gets his elbow under himself.  It’s a tangle of limbs between the two of them.  The bed’s too small and they’ve slid too close together to break apart with any ease.  That fumble of someone else against him is some long forgotten familiarity, a bump of a foot through the blankets and the heave of the mattress as Spock moves further away from him.

“Doctor?” Spock asks.

“So what’s another rock that puts out an enormous amount of energy?” he asks.  He’s got it now, even if Spock is just staring at him.

“I am not certain.”

“Dilithium, Spock.”

“That is a crystal.”

McCoy climbs over him, a hand on Spock’s hard thigh and the other bracing his weight over the mattress.  He has pants here somewhere.

“Whatever,” he says.  His boots are there where he kicked them off.  “We need to- We need Jim.  And Scotty.  And probably Jaylah.”

Spock props himself up on his elbows.  McCoy orders the lights on and Spock blinks, squinting.  McCoy could be there with him.  In the dark still, their fingers threading and sharing a kiss the sort of which McCoy has worked so hard to forget.

Spock didn’t.  Apparently.  Instead was sitting on that shared moment.  Waiting.  Goddamn.

“What are you doing?” Spock asks and McCoy makes himself move, fumbles for the latch on a drawer.

“Get up,” he says and doesn’t look back at the bunk again, not when he’s bent over, forcing his feet into his pants.  “We’re going to get the crew out of there.”  


Chapter Text

Jim rubs at his forehead.  “You’re saying we need a battery.”

McCoy holds his hand up.  “What I’m saying is that if we move the crew from the cave and bring them to the ship, we can hook them up to our warp core and reroute the power to stand in for the energy from the rocks they’re currently drawing on.  Maybe it’ll give us something.”

Jim rubs a knuckle under his eyes.  He’s in his undershirt, not even his command uniform and the sight of it is odd here on the bridge.  

“Give us what?” he asks.

“I don’t know.” McCoy’s hands feel too empty.  He’s not sure he got his socks on right, because they feel bunched up in his boots.  Good God was he was motivated to leave that room.  The wedge of fabric between his toes is an unfortunate casualty of the moment, and the fact that his foot will be bothered by it or not, he’s more than certain it was worth it.  “We still need to be able to scan them.  But that might be possible out here, away from those rocks.”

“What about from orbit?” Sulu asks.  “If we load the crew up, we could fly out of here and get away from the interference.”

“If we can move them, even,” Jim says.  “What do we do, put them all in the cargo bay?”

That sounds particularly gruesome.  The Franklin’s cargo bay isn’t half of what the Enterprise’s was, and that’d be not exactly a spacious fit.  McCoy can too well imagine the sight of all of those bodies stacked up haphazard and ungainly.  Still, though.  It’s not that mine, and that’s something.  

“We could,” McCoy says.  “Hell, if we do that, we could just take them all back to Yorktown.”

And then he could really do something with them, in that hospital they had there.  More advanced than even the facilities he had on the Enterprise, and considering what he ordered after its - her he can nearly hear Jim correct him - last refit, that’s saying something.  He’d demanded a laundry list and then some, unsure of what they’d find out here.  That had been years ago now, and what Jim had dragged them to had needed each and everything McCoy could think of.  This, now, is just more of the same.

And they could be going, done with this planet, back in Federation space, and McCoy could have his damn life back, private quarters included.  He doesn’t look over at Spock.  Whatever insufferably logical destination that brain of his arrived at, McCoy wants no part of it.  He wants off this rock, a working operating room and biobeds, and for Spock to stick the thought of the two of them back where it came from.  

“If we do that, we’ll need electrical hookups,” Scotty says.  “And I’ll need some time to reroute the ship’s power.”

“And we’ve got to have a way to monitor their vitals as we move them,” McCoy says.

“I can compile the data into a central readout,” Chekov says.  “The displays here are very crude, but the interface is serviceable.”

“I’ll let the security teams to expect some more activity,” Uhura says.  “The last thing we’ll need is another firefight, since it’ll take awhile to get everyone out.”

“Great,” McCoy says.  Outside the porthole, the night is still black.  “Let’s get started.”

“Wait,” Jim says.  

“Wait?” McCoy asks.  He shakes his head.  “Jim, the longer they’re in there-”

“-We’ll start with one,” Jim says.  “Not all of them.”

“One?” McCoy asks.  “One?”

“We don’t know what we’re doing yet.”

“We’re rescuing them from a goddamn mine,” McCoy says.  His head still hurts.  And exhaustion is beating at him, the steady drag of it making his head swim.  “I’d say that’s pretty simple, now isn’t it.”

“You’re talking about moving our crew in an unknown state, when we don’t even know this plan will work.”  Jim frowns, his eyes creasing.  He’s turning the idea over, but McCoy doesn’t have much patience for anything other than an emphatic yes and a hand moving the first of them.  That’ll be that much sooner they’ll be out of here, and McCoy’s ready to go.  

“What’re you going to do, leave them there?” he asks.

“Maybe.” Jim’s frown deepens. “Maybe we should.”

“Great, Jim, we'll just let them be in there and we can hang out here, continuing to have a good long think about what to do,” McCoy says.  “Let me know when you come up with a better idea.”

“Bones.”

That mine is wrong in a way that crawls across McCoy’s skin.  The planet is, and the mine is the worst of it.  Jim can be as calm about it as he likes, but McCoy’s getting the crew out, and fast.

“We’re here now,” McCoy says.  “And we have the time, the people, and a place to put the crew.  Sulu’s right- we can be up in orbit soon enough.”

“I just think…” Jim bites at his lip.  “What if we’re wrong?  We can start with one and go from there.”

McCoy huffs out a laugh.  Jim Kirk, cautious as his grandmother.

“Sure, Jim, that’s perfect, one at a time, slow as can be.  Maybe we can have them draw straws for who gets to get saved,” McCoy says.  “Let the others know we just didn’t have a chance to take them, too.”

“It’s when we get them out,” Jim says, “Not if.  We’re not talking about an ‘if’ here.”

“You sound real sure about that,” McCoy says.

“Bones.”  Jim steps closer.  “This idea - it’s a good one, but those are lives we’re talking about.  Our crew.”

McCoy rocks backwards.  “You think I don’t know that?”

“I’m just saying, let’s not go head first into this,” Jim says.  He puts his hands on his hips.  His hair is a mess.  “I just want to be careful, which frankly I thought you’d agree with.”

“Don’t play God, Jim.  Get them all out of there.”

“Bones,” Jim says again.  “Listen.”

“And if we’re going to be frank, Jim, then-”

“-Let’s not rush this,” Jim says.

“The sooner we’re back on Yorktown-”

“-We’re going back to Yorktown, just first-“

“-We need to know what the problem is, so that we can-“

“-If you’d listen, you’d know that I-“

“-Get them back, Jim-“

“-Which we will do when-“

“-And get them off this hellscape of a -”

“-Stop.” Jim presses his lips together.  “Now.”

McCoy presses forward.  “Jim-”

“-You’re all dismissed,” Jim says.  Out of the corner of his eye, McCoy sees Uhura cross her arms.  They’re all watching and McCoy should probably care, but mostly he wants ice for his head, clean socks, and to have at least half the crew moved by morning.  Two thirds, if Jim would shut his damn trap and start working.

“Captain?” Sulu asks.

“Just- go.  Outside.  Somewhere.” Jim points towards the door.  “Doctor McCoy, you stay.  Spock, you too.”

When they’ve gone, Jim takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.  When he opens them, his jaw is set.

“You can be mad at me,” he says slowly.  His voice is low.  “But what I say goes.  Understood?”

McCoy shifts on his feet.

“This is the only time I’ve ever heard you argue for anything but the utmost caution when it comes to the crew’s health,” Jim says.  “So you can explain your reasoning, or you can go back to bed and we’ll discuss this in the morning.”

Bed is the absolute last place McCoy wants to go.  He raises his eyes to the ceiling.  Prudence, McCoy can hear in Spock’s voice.

“Don’t you start now,” he snaps at Spock.

“Captain, the Doctor is correct that efficiency will alleviate any further detrimental effect-”

“-See, Jim-”

“-That we are unable to detect because of the interference to our scanners.  However,” Spock says.  “Care must be taken.”

“We will get them out of there,” Jim says.  “I promise.”

McCoy probably shouldn’t scoff but he does anyway.

“Seems like you’ve promised a lot of things, Jim.  This sounds like just another one of them.”

“You’re tired,” Jim says.  “And you’re being unfair.”

“Me?” McCoy asks.  “Me?  Goddamn it Jim, get your ears checked, do you know what those words even mean?”

“And a bit of an ass,” Jim says, ignoring him.  “The crew is coming back home with us.  And if you’d like to talk to me, you can find a time that isn’t in the middle of the rest of the senior staff.”

“Well, I’m honored to still have the chance to talk to you face to face,” McCoy says.  Jim doesn’t flinch at the sarcasm in his tone, just steadily stares back at him.  “I didn’t know opportunities would be so damn fleeting.”

“That’s enough,” Jim says softly and walks to the door, leaving McCoy behind.

In the corridor, Sulu and Uhura stop talking too abruptly for the subject to be anywhere close to benign.  Scotty raises both eyebrows and looks between McCoy and Jim.

“Everything all right?” he asks.

“We’re starting with Chapel,” Jim says.  “She’s nearest the front so she’s easy to get at, she seems like she’s still in good condition, and when she’s back with us, she’ll be helpful as we deal with the rest of the crew.”

McCoy’s knows Jim well enough to recognize an olive branch when he sees one, though this isn’t exactly the type of appeasement he particularly wants.  But isn’t that the rub of it, he hasn’t gotten a single damn choice about any of this in so long he’s not sure what he’d do with freedom over his life that didn’t come in the form of orders, assignments, and a list of duties.  He raises his hand to his face.  He’s so tired.

Scotty claps his hands together.  “Alrighty then, Commander, let’s do this.”

McCoy turns to Spock.  “What?”

“Your-“ Uhura points to McCoy’s wrist.  She’s smiling.  Just a little, but it’s there.  Good thing someone’s having a fun time tonight.  “Nice shirt.”

Twin stripes winking up at him from his cuffs in the gray light of the corridor.  He stares at his wrists.  “Hell.”

Sulu’s grinning too when he grabs McCoy’s shoulder.  “Should have known you always wanted to be the one left with the conn.”

McCoy’s too impatient for their good moods, though he knows enough to recognize the thrill of having something to do.  Lifts the spirits, it does.  Another mission and McCoy might have that same grin.  As it is, the late hour grinds into him and he only rolls his eyes and follows Sulu out the hatch and into the dark of Altamid’s night.  It’s still humid as all get out, and the day’s dust hangs heavy, no breeze to blow it along, which makes the stick of the air all that much worse.  McCoy wipes his hand over the back of his neck and in the light cast by the ship, his palm comes away sweaty.

“Doctor?” Spock asks quietly.

McCoy turns and waits.  Spock’s collar isn’t laying flat against his throat.  It’s instead very slightly mussed, much like the rest of him.  An edge of disarray that McCoy would really rather not look at right now.

“What is it?” he asks when Spock only offers up that annoying brand of silence he does so well.

“Are you well?” he finally asks.

“I’m stuck on this damn planet, and I have every intention of getting off of it,” McCoy says.  He frowns.  He’s pretty sure he didn’t mean to answer.  “No.”

“You do realize that the Captain shares your goal.”

McCoy tosses his hands up.  “Do I look like I care?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then there you have it,” McCoy says and starts towards the mine.  Spock is quiet as he follows, and it’s about damn time McCoy had some peace to work in.  He’s had enough talking for today, and he sure as hell doesn’t need any more.

“Easy does it,” McCoy says.  There’s only thirty extra people standing around trying to help.  He can too clearly imagine Chapel rolling her eyes at the scene.  Find something to do, she would say so that he wouldn’t have to.  “Set her down gentle now, you hear?”

The biobeds on the Franklin are antique, at best.  Useless more like, though McCoy punches at the readout all the same.  It spits a line of nonsense at him and he smacks it off.

“Chekov?” he asks, but he can’t find that head of curls in the crowd around him.  “Good God.  Get out of here.  Get.  You and you, too.  Go.”

Ensigns scatter, though not fast enough.  Ops, half of them are, and McCoy never wanted the Engineering department taking up his entire sickbay but Scotty’s holding a goddamn coil of wire and splicing Chapel into an newly rigged outlet.  His nurses knew enough to not clog up space like this, but he’s only got a handful of his old team here and three of them are bent over Chapel all ready.

“Laughlan,” he says.  Frowns.  “Landridge?”

“Lavigne,” the one by Chapel’s feet says.  She straightens.  “Sir.”

“Lavigne, where the hell is Mr. Chekov?”

“I’m not sure, sir,” she says.

“Find him.  Now.”

“This is what you do with this?” he hears and spins around - everyone needs to go - but it’s Jaylah there, her fingers trailing along the edge of an empty biobed.

Which could be holding another crew member.

McCoy closes his eyes.  When he opens them, Jaylah is standing over Chapel.  Gently, she touches her blonde hair.

“Morning,” he offers.  Or afternoon, could be.  Probably is by now.

“I thought this room was for sleeping, maybe,” she says.  “All these beds.”

“Medicine.”  He waves towards the mass of wires.  “Of a sort.”

Jaylah fingers a limp lock of hair.  “You will fix her?”

“‘Course.”  He taps at his tricorder.  Chekov was here a minute ago.  McCoy cranes to see out the door that leads down the corridor.  “Soon as can be.”

“The others?” Jaylah asks.

McCoy shakes his head.  “Waiting on the good captain’s word.”

He feels for Chapel’s pulse and runs his tricorder over her.  That reading is at least accurate.  Mostly.  Which is something, considering the mess the rest of his diagnosis equipment is giving him.

“Say.”  He lowers his tricorder.  “You have any family in there?”

“No.”

That’s better, maybe, considering.  Though he won’t say that out loud, not to the set of her shoulders.  “The others.  The ones like you, that Jim wants to get out off the planet.  You know them?”

Her wad of spit lands halfway between them.  He feels his eyebrow rise.  Across the biobed, one of the other nurses - Navares, he’s pretty sure - looks up.

“They are vermin.”  Her ponytail drags across her back as her head shakes.  “Your Starfleet.  Wanting to help them.  It makes no sense.”

He signs.  It must be afternoon, he’s certainly tired enough.  “It’s what we do.”

“Where were you when we were here alone, wanting help to come from the sky?”

The sun streaming through the porthole is reflecting off the screen of his tricorder.  He tips it so it’s in the shade again.  These old ships and their windows.  McCoy got good and sick of staring at stars and warp trails, and that’s without goddamn holes cut in the walls of his sickbay.  Here, the sun glints too bright.  Jaylah’s sun, briefly, for the time she spent here, however many years that was.  

He sinks back onto his heels.  “Where are you from?”

Urq’u’an.”  She spins on her heel, a squeak against the decking.  “You call it Lambda Caeli III.  It is a terrible name.”

“Yeah.”  He flicks his tricorder of and then on again.  “It is.  You going to go back there?”

“No.”  A muscle flexes in her jaw.  So human, but so many that they have met are.  It was strange at first, adjusting to xenobio after so many years of human physiology.  The small differences that added up to so much of the same.

“You headed to the Academy?  Jim said you might be.”

“I go there and I end up here, rescuing thieves and murderers.”

“Or you come here and you get to return folks to their families.”  Probably poor logic, but Spock isn’t anywhere to be found.  Neither is Chekov.  “And anyway, we’re not getting very far with the thieves and murderers, if you haven’t noticed.”

“You come earlier, you return my family to me.”  She paces the length of Chapel’s biobed.  “Instead, you are at other planets, with other people.  You were busy with your missions, your orders, and we were here dying.”

Navares looks up.  Next to him, Hohstadt does too.  McCoy scowls at them until they keep working.  Small crews do that, that over eager interest in each other's conversations.  The best thing about working on the flagship was having enough staff that there was enough news and gossip to keep everyone satisfied without digging up more.

He sighs.  This is Jim’s job, and Spock’s, trying to explain what the hell it is that they’re doing flitting from planet to planet, one after the next.  McCoy’s in charge of surgeries, vaccinations, and apparently trying to make sense of the knots of wires that are keeping Chapel both alive and apparently unconscious.

“We try,” he says.  “We came back, didn’t we?”

“You will save your crew?”

“Yes.”  He wants to shake his tricorder, or give it a good whack against the side of the bed for all the help it is.  “We’ll recalibrate our equipment, figure out what’s wrong, and then we’ll fix it.”

“And then we go.”

“That’s the plan.”

“And I can have my own room again.”

“Lord, do I hear you on that one,” he says.

It’s probably coincidence that he turns around and finds Spock in the doorway.  McCoy hunches his shoulders up.  He has enough going on today.

“Mr Chekov is working on the scanners,” Spock says.  He tucks his hands behind his back.  McCoy tries to remember the last day he hadn’t seen Spock stand like that.  Maybe on Yorktown, but no, Spock was ubiquitous then and he’s always like that, isn’t he, those hands clasped at the small of his back.  So before that, some mission that Spock was assigned to that McCoy had the good fortune to miss.

“Great,” McCoy says.  “And he’ll be done when, exactly?”

“Unclear.” Spock moves closer.  “How is Nurse Chapel?”

“The same.  I think.  It’d be a hell of a lot easier to know if we had a single piece of equipment on this damn ship that actually worked.”

“Mr. Chekov estimates a day’s work,” Spock says.

“A day?” McCoy asks.  “Are you serious?  No, don’t answer that.  A day meaning the rest of today, or a day meaning a day from now?”

“I did not inquire into the specifics.”

McCoy tips his face up towards the ceiling.  “The one and only time.”

“Are you intending to stay here until the calibration is complete?”

“Yes,” he says automatically.  No.  He isn’t.  Chapel is as fine here as she was in the mine, and if McCoy has learned anything, it’s that waiting for patients to wake up is the worst kind of watching paint dry.

“I can be here, sir,” Lavigne says.  McCoy didn't see her come back in, but there she is beside Spock.  He needs a drink of water and a decent night’s sleep.  Alone.  In his own bunk.

Chapel normally is the one who stays with their patients.  McCoy eyes Lavigne.  For all he knows, they were friends.  He isn’t in the habit of socializing with his staff.  He has Jim for that, and more often than not, Spock hangs around too, especially of late.  Fatlot of good that’s gotten him.  Maybe he should have spent more of his time loitering around sickbay and getting to know his nurses.

“What training do you have, anyway?” he asks.

“Emergency xenomedicine.”

“Wonderful.  Chapel’s human.”

“I-I know, sir.”

Spock is hovering too close as always, his boots in McCoy’s line of sight.  There’s less dust on them than there should be considering how long it took them to get Chapel out of the mine, but Spock is like that, neatly pressed lines in his trousers even all the way out here.

“Doctor McCoy, regulations dictate that medical staff must be relieved at the conclusion of their shift due to exhaustion, which often leads to-“

“-Get out of here, Spock-”

“-Irritability, among other issues.”

“I can monitor her,” Lavigne says.  

“Conveniently, so can I,” McCoy says.

“Doctor,” Spock says and if McCoy doesn’t know better, he sounds a bit exasperated.  You’re being stubborn just because you can be, Jim had told him once.  He’d said it with a smile, though McCoy had still flinched at it, the words laced through with the sun soaked counters of what was once his kitchen and Jocelyn standing there with her mouth pressed tight.  He snaps his tricorder shut.  Of everything to dwell on today, that’s not a memory he particularly wants to dredge up.

“Fine,” he says.  See? he asks of the Jim and Jocelyn in his head.  “I want a full report every hour.  To my padd, you hear?  And keep an eye on these biolevels, would you?”  Even though Lavigne nods, McCoy still reaches across her and taps at the screen.  “It gets below fifteen percent and you call me.  I don’t care what time it is, or how much you think you can handle it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And if you have trouble with any one of them, anything at all, I want to know about it.  Don’t call the Captain, don’t call Mr. Scott, you call me.  Immediately.  And-“

A warm hand under his arm tugs McCoy away.  Lavigne swallows.  

“I’m going,” McCoy says and Spock lets go when he twists his arm away.  “I just need to tell her that-“

“Your directions were sufficiently detailed.”  Spock is once again eye to eye with him.  McCoy can still feel his grip.

“I don’t tell you how to do your job,” McCoy mutters.

“You do.  Quite often, in fact.”

McCoy ignores him in favor of walking away.  Spock, the insufferable man that he is, simply follows him down the corridor.  McCoy is sure as hell not going back to their quarters, so he ducks into the rec room instead.  He tosses his padd on the counter and pushes the heels of his hands corner of it.  A real stove.  Unimaginable on the Enterprise.  Maybe he can request one for the new ship, though the thought of a new version of that white tin can just makes him close his eyes.

“Have you eaten?” Spock asks.

“What? No.”  McCoy rubs his hand over the back of his neck.  “I was waiting for Chekov to finish up.”

“Were you able to discern anything of Nurse Chapel’s state in the meantime?”

“That she’s unchanged.  But without a real scan, I don’t want to try anything.”

“We came here to bring the crew's’ bodies home.  Considering the circumstances, you are performing quite admirably.”

McCoy huffs a laugh at the stove.  “Are you being nice to me?”

“I am stating the obvious.”

“Oh.”  McCoy brings his head around, chin towards his shoulder so he can raise an eyebrow at Spock.  “Is that what that was.”

But the quip he’s expecting Spock to return doesn’t come.  The quiet is that much more noticeable for it.  So is how Spock steps towards him.  Spock’s chest rises as he takes a breath.

“Doctor,” Spock starts and just the word makes McCoy’s stomach flip over.  McCoy stares at the stove again, hunches his shoulder against the words he knows are coming.  “I would like to say that last night-“

“-Don’t mention it.”  McCoy lifts a hand in a wave that hopefully is more casual than it feels.

For a moment he’s sure Spock will plow onwards anyway with that goddamn tenacity the man has, but then Spock nods.  Once, crisply.  McCoy looks away from those brown eyes.

“Very well,” Spock says.

“Anyway.” McCoy clears his throat.  He’s not sure what he was going to add after that.  He pushes away from the stove and adjusts his shirt.  He needs to change.  He needs to not suddenly think of Spock’s long fingers sifting over his scalp and how nice that had felt, to have his hair softly played with.  

It’s Spock and McCoy doesn’t have to dig too far down to know what kinds of bad decisions can crop up under the type of stress this week has brought.  

“I should get back,” he finally says.

“You are supposed to be off duty.”

“We’re supposed to be on leave on Yorktown.”  

Spock moves closer again.  He tilts his head like he does sometimes.  Earnest, almost, that look is.  

“You did not eat breakfast.  Nor dinner last night,” Spock says.

McCoy grabs his padd.  “I’m fine.”

“Jim asked me to speak with you,” Spock says and McCoy draws up short, the step he was going to take towards the door turned into an awkward half shuffle.  “He wished for me to pass along his apologies.”

“Did he now.”  McCoy smacks his padd into his palm.  “Next thing we know, he’ll be passing me a note in math class.”

Spock’s eyebrow rises.  McCoy has half a mind to tell him to put the damn thing back down again.

“Did you two talk things out?” he asks when Spock seems happy to continue just standing like that.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“No, then.”  McCoy taps his padd against his palm again and then busies himself flicking it on rather than watch Spock watch him.  There’s no update from Lavigne but there’s a new message from Scotty, an intraship memo that Uhura must have ensured passed along sometime between the other eighty tasks she’s probably simultaneously doing.  Always was the smartest of them all.  Even corrects Spock sometimes, and isn’t that a sight to see.

“What the hell is a reserve phase transducer?” he asks, scanning through the note.  Then he holds up a finger.  “Don’t answer that, Spock, I don’t want to know.  You’d think I was a doctor, for as much sense as this all makes.”  

Useless.  He squints at the message.  There are teams back with the rest of the ‘Fleet who specialize in this.  His expertise tends more towards overeager captains and their irritating XOs, though maybe McCoy should consider diversifying, given the way things are going.

Spock’s hands brush past his own when he takes McCoy’s padd.

“I was using that,” he says.

“Poorly,” Spock says and McCoy has to lean over the man’s shoulder to keep reading.  How absolutely irritating he is.

“Sir?” someone asks and McCoy jerks backwards.

Sulu is in the doorway, looking back and forth between him and Spock.  McCoy takes another step back.  

“Mr. Scott sent me to find you, Doctor.”

“Now?” Spock asks.

“I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Sulu’s eyes shift between them again.  “But McCoy, you’re needed on the bridge.”

“Alright.” McCoy takes another step away from Spock.  “And you weren’t.  Disturbing us.”

“Ah, two for the price of one,” Scotty says when McCoy reaches the bridge, Spock a constant step behind him.  Jim’s already there, bent over a padd with Uhura and Chekov.

He looks up at McCoy. McCoy looks away.

“Mr. Chekov, any progress?” McCoy asks, but it’s Scotty who steps forward.

“I’ve got some bad news, sir,” he says, rubbing his palms together with none of his customary bounce.

“Is the crew all right?” McCoy asks.  “Is Chapel?”

He shouldn’t have left.  Not for the chance at a break and not for a damn chitchat with Spock.

“Aye, Doctor.”  Scotty sighs.  “It’s the ship, sir.”

“The Franklin?” Jim asks.  “What’s wrong with it?”

“Captain,” Scotty says, and then, “Jim.  Whatever those rocks are, Chapel was pulling more than a wee bit of power from them.  If we continue to have her hooked to the ship, I cannot promise that it won’t drain too much from the power cells.”

Jim steps around Uhura.  “What are you saying, Scotty?”

“With her here…  Even with the improvements we made to the thrusters at Yorktown and the modifications to the impulse engines, that’s only for getting out of the atmosphere.  Finding our way through that nebula to get back home… Sir, that’s another thing entirely.  These old ships, they don’t have the power of the new ones.”

Home, McCoy thinks, is entirely further away than the other side of that nebula.

Jim braces his hands on Uhura’s console.  “So you’re saying we can’t take off.”

“With just Nurse Chapel, maybe.  Maybe, Captain, and I mean that.  With the rest of them.  Jim, there’s hundreds of our crew here.  We just… we can’t, sir.” Scotty holds his hands out then lets them fall back to his sides.  “Even if we got them all hooked up, had the ports and the capacity for that, the pull on the dilithium supplies would be- by the time we’re done, we wouldn’t be able to- to turn the radio on, Sir.  We’d be sitting in the dark, no lights, and protein bars because the replicators wouldn’t come on either.”

Jim leans further into his hands.  “Those rocks have enough power.  We’ll load those up.”

“There’s only so much cargo room,” Scotty says.

“And add that weight, with the atmospheric friction,” Sulu adds.  He looks tired, bags under his eyes.  He should be on a playground with his kid and his husband, but instead he’s tapping at his console even though he’s already grimacing at the calculations that spring up.  “It’s not possible, Captain.”

“Is there a shorter way out of the nebula?” Jim asks and even though Chekov shakes his head, he plows onward.  “One that might put us out further from Yorktown but at least get us out of here?”

“I am sorry sir,” Chekov says, “But no.”

“If Mr. Scott is correct, there’s no way through if we don’t have sufficient speed,” Sulu says.  “Those meteors are moving too fast for us to dodge, even if we do pull free of Altamid’s gravitational force.”

Jim’s hand covers his mouth.  “So what are our options, then? Take off, head back to Yorktown for help, and come back again?”

“If the crew is still here when we get back.  If nobody gets to them while we’re gone,” Uhura says, her head tipping in the direction of the cave.  “And if there’s another ship that can make it out here.”

“Which there isn’t.  Until the-“ Jim waves towards what ostensibly is Yorktown.  Spock could probably correct him, but he’s just standing there, McCoy’s padd still in his hand.  “That other Enterprise is done.”

“Hell of an original name,” McCoy says and his fingers itch where Spock touched them.

Jim’s tongue darts over his lips.  “Lieutenant, what are the chances of getting a message off to the rest of the fleet?”

“Minimal, sir.”  Uhura’s shoulders drop.  “Likely impossible.”

“Let’s try.”

She turns, already sinking into the seat at her console.  “Of course.”

For a moment, Jim hangs his head.  “So it’s either leave them here or leave all of us here.”

McCoy’s throat tightens.  It doesn’t release even when Jim straightens.

“Well, we’re not leaving them in that cave,” Jim says, “And we’re not heading back without them.  We’ll keep trying to get our scanners calibrated, see what we can do, and we’ll figure the rest of it out.”

“How?” McCoy asks.  He waits, but in the wake of the buzz of conversation, silence settles like a too thick blanket over the room.  “Jim?”

“We’ve gotten out of sticky situations before, right, Bones?” Jim asks, those bright blue eyes so wide that McCoy can barely stand to look at him.

McCoy threads his way through the crew and makes for the corridor.  Jim follows him through the halls of the ship and then outside, where the sky is just off from the right shade of blue.

“Bones, listen,” Jim says.  “This is hardly the worst thing we’ve seen ourselves through.”

“I don’t know Jim, is it?  Is it so goddamn fine that a madman stuck a bunch of wires into our crew while they’re hanging up like sides of ham?”

“Bones…”

“You know what the real rub is?” he asks and when he stalks towards Jim, Jim leans backwards.  “This is absolute hell here, Jim, our crew trapped in there, and us trapped here, and it’s somehow - somehow, Jim - not the damn straw that broke the camel’s back and had you putting a foot out the door.”

McCoy lifts his shoulders and feels that familiar pull of pain.  He needs his kit from the Enterprise.  He could scan his own back with it, find what it is that twinges like that.  He needs sickbay and biobeds and his staff - his Chief Nurse - to deal with the lines of unconscious bodies in that cave.  Hell of a thing to look at, all of them hanging there and nothing he can do for them.

“Can’t you get mad at Spock for wanting to leave too?”

McCoy laughs out a harsh bark.  “I’m just saying, Jim.  It’s a hell of a lot to want to stick around, when you of all people don’t.”

“I do,” Jim says, but McCoy starts walking and Jim’s forced to call after him.  “Bones, c’mon, just listen, give me a-”

“-Why don’t you tell Spock and he can tell me.  Explain it all to him.  Wonderful.  Great plan, Jim.  Nearly as good as the one you’re going to come up with to get us off this rock for the second goddamn time.”

“Bones!  Stop, come on.”

“I can’t be here.”  He backs up, a boot scrape over the gravel.  The collar of his shirt is too tight.  Choking at him, really.  “I have to go.”

“Where?” Jim asks, his voice raised over the distance McCoy has put between them.  McCoy pretends those yards across the mine camp are far enough he can’t hear, not with the breeze of this goddamn planet whistling across the camp, the chatter of birds above them, and the billowing dust that blankets everything here, a fine coating over the situation they’ve found themselves in.  Again.


Chapter Text

The stars are all wrong on this planet, and as it rises, the moon sits too large on the horizon.

Next to Spock in that cave, their shoulders pressed together for that entire night, the extra light had lit Spock’s chest as McCoy watched it rise and fall.  Now, hanging there just above the edge of the mountains, that same moon feels blazing, like it shines with the heat that seared across McCoy’s shoulders in the mine camp all day.

Enough.  He turns, gravel crunching under his boots.  Sweat and grit catches between his neck and the collar of his - Spock’s - shirt.  It’s too small and it rubs at him, a forgotten annoyance while he was working that now is grating.  It’s too much really, and he’d strip it off and leave it on a rock, but it’d probably just earn him a very logical lecture on how few supplies they have with them, to be discarding them here and there across this damn planet.  And now, a longer stay in this place than they ever intended.  For what, he doesn't know.  Some shot in hell that they’ll figure out a way out of this.  Fly back with a full complement of crew, resurrected from the narrow, dark caves they’re hanging in.

The rooms he had trained in during med school had been lit up as white as sickbay on the Enterprise.  Clean and scrubbed and achingly bright until his eyes had nearly hurt for the shine of it.  Outside the windows, tree branches had shifted and at night, streetlights cast their orange glow.  There was no neon blue of warp trails, no empty black where the stars didn’t even twinkle, just shone hard and dull.  If he had stayed, he would have walked out of work at the end of the day to a wind that pressed sweet and warm on his cheeks, the chirp of the bird calls he grew up with.  Impossible really, to have had that, when he had crawled away from that life and onto a shuttle, but the thought of what might have been hangs like a burn in his chest all these years later.  Always has, like one of these days he’ll push a door open and there will be moss hanging from the trees and that old, cracked, sunbaked pavement leading the road home.

He hauls himself over a rock.  Dirt is worked into his palms with the effort of scrambling through the trees.  He smacks his hands on his thighs to brush off what he can, but it doesn’t amount to much difference.  Out here, he can breathe easier, leaves crunching under his boots and wet logs to make his way over, not the gravel and dirt of the mine camp.  But that fresh air doesn’t unravel the stickiness of anger caught in his chest and neither does the rises of hills he tops, a scramble up one and down the next.

He’s clumsier as he presses on, his foot driving down into a hole he can’t see.  He swears and catches himself.  The ship without Jim.  Ass, he thinks.  Leaving them with Spock.  No, if Jim left, the crew would splinter, McCoy with them.  He’s started over before, and now the thought of it isn’t as heavy as it once was.  New place, new career, new people.  He’s never managed to get himself pointing in one direction for very long.  Maybe the Enterprise was only ever another stop along the way.  A bump in the road as it were, no matter how sure it had all seemed, up there every day with the lot of them all.  

When there’s a break in the trees, he looks up.  The stars are all wrong, but they haven’t been right for years.  If he squints, maybe they can be fireflies hanging in the blue dusk of evening.

He jerks around at the sound of footsteps.  Then he sighs.

“Quit following me around.”

Spock slips down a bank of roots that twist their way out of the hillside.  “It is dangerous.”

He seems nearly out of breath.  McCoy looks away.

“I’m fine,” he says.  “Jim said I was a good shot, if you care to remember.”

“You do not have a phaser with you.” And then, “I have perfect recall.”

“Dear Lord, of course you do.”  A puff of white hangs in front of McCoy’s mouth when he blows out a breath.  He can see Spock's exhale too.  All it does is stir the memory of hot fingers under his and the nudge of a nose.

McCoy turns and keeps walking.

Even footfalls follow him down the hill in front of him.

He smells it first.  Acrid, burning plastic and metal, the sharp stench of low hanging smoke.  He finds a foothold on a rock and levers himself over it to better see.  For all his effort, what he gets is a swamp of vertigo.  Fingers dug in tight fists to his palms, he stares.  Up this close, with trees and rocks for reference and not the blanket of black space, the saucer of the Enterprise is larger than it ever seemed at Spacedock, resting here against the ruts it’s drawn.  The fires that burned have mostly flamed out, but enough still flicker to cast the jutting decking in dancing orange.

The hand that falls on his shoulder is likely meant to hold him back, but McCoy scrambles down the hill all the same.  He’s drawn forward towards it, those streaks of black, scorched soot on shiny deck panels.  How many times had he told Jim he was sick of that tin bucket, only to now be nearly skinning his knees to get to it.  

He’d read the mission report.  Combustion of the thruster propulsion systems, Jim and Chekov sliding down through the bridge view screen.  Someday, the Franklin might reach home again, but the Enterprise is here to stay, settled amongst rocks, strung up at an awkward angle like a frisbee thrown but not caught.  

“Stop,” Spock calls.  A loose rock skitters past McCoy.  “Wait.”

The hull is sun warm, or maybe that’s the remnant heat of a burnt out fire.  Flames have melted polymers into lumpy drops that have dried hard.  Down the curve of the ship, as far as he can see, windows are blown out.  He carefully runs his hand over the hole it’s created in front of him. Whatever poor soul had this cabin, they had a nice view, once.  Must have been a sight to see the nebula with all its colors, that last evening they had on board.

With a push, he heaves himself up and into the opening.  It leaves his hands black with soot.  He wipes them on his shirt and pretends not to hear Spock’s more graceful scramble after him.

The name on on the plaque leading to the hallway reads ‘Benia, Sally, Lieutenant, Junior Grade.’  McCoy frowns.  He didn’t know her.

There’s no shake of the ship beneath his boots, not how it rolled and pitched the last time he walked down these corridors.  There’s only the off kilter slant of how it finally came to lie at rest, and the angle makes it all wrong to use Jefferies Tube ladders.  But the path is familiar even at an awkward crawl, and he picks his way through the decks, these halls with burned out holes in them, a maze of once white corridors that for a time he had been sure he’d never learn his way around, every turn looking the same as all the rest.

He has to shoulder open his own door.  The manual release only gives him a handspan and there’s no pneumatic hiss that welcomed him after a shift, boots shucked off and the shower turned on hot.  Behind him, Spock hovers.  Though he always does.  Only the familiarity that McCoy finds in his own quarters makes it out of place, that hesitancy with which Spock lingers in the doorway.  McCoy certainly never invited him in here, never tipped his head towards his door in the invitation he so often extended to Jim.

His books are scattered everywhere and blue shirts spill out of a drawer, still half folded.  A holo of his mom lies shattered.  When he pokes at the screen, the glass is splintered.  He sets it in its place on his desk and works open a jammed drawer.  Gravity is against him and he has to shimmy it an inch at a time.  But inside the stack of filmplasts are the same as he left them only days ago.  From beneath them, he pulls out an envelope, weathered and creased and bent at one corner.  Unburnt, untouched, though he checks it anyway, thumbing past old transcripts and a weathered diploma and licenses to the worn letters he long ago slipped in there.  Hand written, like his father always preferred.  McCoy used to lean over and watch him write, years before he’d ever been a recipient of one.  Often, a big hand closed over his to guide the pencil across the page.  The hazy blue smoke of the pipe his father always had would dangle from his lips, thick with the scratch of pen to paper.  

McCoy flicks the envelope closed and creases the flap down with his thumb.

“Don’t you have anything you want?” he asks.

From the doorway, Spock says, “No.”

“Nothing?”

“My father has my belongings from Vulcan.”

“Oh.”

“It is of no matter.”

“Still.”

Not that long ago, half a mention of the same would have cowed Spock.  Sent him into a silence that lasted hours.  These days, Spock’s expression is as even as it ever is.  Whatever ache clung to him has long since mellowed into this quieter, duller softness and when that exactly changed, McCoy can’t quite guess.  Now, that way Spock’s watching him makes McCoy’s neck prick.  A haughty shoulder turned to him might actually be better.  Whatever Spock is seeing, the shift in him isn’t enough to let on an answer, and he silently steps into the room.

He looks around with a mild curiousness that McCoy has seen on too many M-Class planets and his quarters aren’t a goddamn investigative site.  Spock can keep that interest reserved for sensor results, tricorder readings, and particularly fascinating trees, not the book he picks up and examines.

“Melville?” Spock asks.

“Why not?”

“It is hardly what I might have predicted,” he says and McCoy snorts, sure his reading hasn’t actually ranked high on what Spock idly wonders about.

“It’s Jim’s,” he says.

“Ah.” Spock turns it over and reads the back cover.  “I see.”

McCoy tries to see his quarters as Spock might, but even the mess of it doesn’t render it unfamiliar, not the lines of the bulkheads he grew so used to, the shadowed door to his bathroom, the bed made with the hospital corners McCoy had tucked neatly in that last morning when he still thought he’d be climbing into his bed that night.  McCoy sinks onto the edge of his mattress.  God, had he hated this room those first days.  Weeks.  Longer probably, though eventually he had forgotten to care.  A poor habit of his, he knows.  Grinding at what irritates him until he can’t keep track of all the little things and eventually gives up trying.  Hell of a way to settle into a place though, to make it a home through acquiescence.  Not at all what he had wanted, but what he had ended up with, and hell if there hadn’t been some good times in there, mixed in with the rest.

The give of the bed is so familiar beneath him.  He’d probably lay down if Spock weren’t there, if the angle of the deck didn’t mean he’d be half off balance.

He doesn’t let himself consider that a gentler landing and some solitude, he might just stay there.  Stretched out in the most recent place he’d hung his hat.

Instead, he rests his forearms on his thighs, his hands dangling between his knees.  “I’m tired, Spock.”

“That, then, would explain the desire for your own bed.”

“What if I don’t want to do this anymore?”

Spock abandons his post by the door and that stance of his too, trading that too straight back for sitting next to McCoy.  He doesn’t slump like McCoy does, but how he rests his hands in his lap could nearly be the same, though with an air of carefulness that bled out of McCoy long ago.

“What would you do instead?” Spock asks.

“Hell, I don’t know.”  He tips his head back.  A chunk of ceiling tile is missing.  He used to stare at that same spot at night, the ship humming and alive around him.  Now, the silence is awful.  He’s had plenty of sleepless nights in here, a host of them that he could lay out for Spock, a history of the mission mapped out in lost crew members, dead on his biobed that led to hours with his eyes tracking over the darkness.  His throat hurts.  All of that is best laid to rest in the quagmire of memory.  He swallows and rubs his fingers into his eyes. “There’s sick people back on Earth.  Or-“ He waves towards Spock.  “-New Vulcan.  Maybe your idea  of clearing out of here for that sand-ball of a planet wasn’t half bad.”

“There is very little in the way of alcohol there.”

McCoy sits upright.  “Which reminds me.”

He shouldn’t, but old habits and the comfort they bring are enough to quiet that voice that crops up.  The cabinet’s door is twisted to the point it takes a good tug to pull it open, no easy glide under his hand, but the bottle is there all the same.  He pops it open and the burn of it down his throat is full of Jim’s eyes across the table.  He closes his own as he swallows.  When he opens them, he holds the bottle out to Spock.

Eventually, Spock takes it.  He holds it all wrong, like it’s too big for his hand, and then raises it and takes a careful sip.

“I believe that my people may be, as you would say, ‘on to something’ with such little import placed on such a beverage.”

“You had three drinks at Jim’s party.”

“Which were far more pleasing than this.”

McCoy grabs it back.  “This is the good stuff.  I don’t want to hear it.”

He knows Spock’s watching as he takes another swallow.  He follows it with a third and drags the back of his hand across his mouth.  

“Drinking with a head injury is not wise,” Spock says.

“And drinking alone is never fun.”  McCoy bumps the bottle into Spock’s arm.  Don’t, he thinks to himself but Spock is just there next to him and he bounces the bottle into him again.  “C’mon.”

When Spock takes it, he just holds it balanced on his thigh.  “Would you truly consider a career on New Vulcan?”

“I don’t know.  Sure.”  McCoy shakes his head.  That dull throb is still there, mixed through with whiskey now.  “Why do this out here?  Think about how understaffed the hospitals are on New Vulcan.  Or- hell, hover car crashes on Earth.  Why is this somehow more important?  Isn’t a broken leg somewhere hospitable the same as one here?”

“It is duly noted that you referred to New Vulcan as ‘hospitable’.”

“There’s something insane about sending crews out to the edge of it all, Spock.”  He drags the bottle out of Spock’s grip.  “We’re here to explore, but how many people have to die before it’s not worth it?  What possible balance of new knowledge is worth this cost of life?”

Spock is just watching him.  He’s always too intense.  Too warm, too smart, too quiet.  It chafes at McCoy, though hasn’t it always.  Never irritating enough to quit himself of time spent with Spock, but enough to get under his skin.  Though McCoy never was good at staying away from what’s not good for him.  Like a moth to flame, Jocelyn had said once.  He frowns and tips the bottle up against his mouth.

“There is less death for the fact you are here with us,” Spock finally says.

“There’d be less death if we all had the sense to sit at home.  Go to work, drive back again, have our families and our friends.  What’s the point of this?”  He nods outside, the window that once showed him the stars now covered in a spray of dirt.  “You know how far we all are from our families?  Can’t we at least die with someone there to hold our hand?”

“It is just as possible to be lonely in one’s home as it is anywhere else.”

“But at least it’s home.”  He tries for a grin and it comes easier than he might have thought it would, but whiskey’s good like that.  “We’ll never agree, will we?”

“No.”

“Cheers to that.”  He tips the bottle towards Spock.  “I don’t blame you for wanting to be with your family.”

The breath Spock lets out leaves him looking hollow.  “I believe I am only just now learning what that means.”

“Hey.”  McCoy pushes his shoulder into Spock’s.  “I am sorry about the Ambassador.  I hope you know that.”

Spock’s chin dips down with his nod.  “That is… appreciated.”

“C’mere.”  It’s the whiskey that makes McCoy sling his arm over Spock’s shoulder.  That feels important to let register.  The fact that he doesn’t resist the urge, he pushes away.  Spock is so stiff.  Jostling his shoulder hardly helps but McCoy tries all the same, his hand holding onto the top of Spock’s arm.  “You know, I think you were wrong.”

“I am hardly surprised.”

With his free hand, McCoy waves the bottle at the room.  “You said you wanted to live as he did, and the Ambassador spent his career here, with us.  It’d be illogical to skip out on that.”  

Spock’s eyes are dark.  He’s not blinking.  Most Vulcans don’t need to, not as much as McCoy considers normal, but Spock does.  Not now, because he’s just staring.  But ordinarily.  Fascinating, McCoy had once found him before he’d developed the good sense to start rolling his eyes at the word.  A mishmash of genetics and body parts that shouldn’t work and yet do.  Very much so.

McCoy tightens his grip on the bottle.  Spock is still staring at him.

“Who the hell knows who you’d end up as if you didn’t have us around,” he says.  “We might even be good for you.”

Spock leans closer.  McCoy watches him do it.  Edge in and tip his head slightly and part his lips.  McCoy’s stomach flips over.

This time when Spock kisses him, McCoy knows it’s coming.  He could pull back, turn to the side, move away from those lips pressing to his.  Tell Spock that they shouldn’t.  

He doesn’t.  Spock’s hair is softer than he would have thought and he digs his fingers into it.  Messes up that terrible haircut and licks at his mouth.  Their kiss tastes of whiskey and he’s only sure that he expected this all to be worse than it is.  Harder fought and awkward when it’s instead a simple push of lips and hot breath.

Spock’s tongue dips into his mouth.  McCoy can’t quite breathe and he’s pretty sure he needs to.  A warm hand pushes down the length of his neck and his lips are caught at with an edge of teeth.  The bottle slips from his fingers to thud dully on the carpet.  Under McCoy’s hands, Spock’s sides are hard muscle and the fine lines of his ribs and McCoy palms at them, over where Spock’s heart runs too fast, that breakneck pace of a beat like a thundering, rolling peal tumbling downhill.  He grabs there, a solid spot to grip at while his lower lip is licked, but his hold is too tight and at the pull, Spock’s body gives, a curve of strength that fits to McCoy’s front.

“We should-“  ‘Stop’ is the next word.  Logical it is, to grind this whole thing to a halt.  McCoy’s skin is too small and hot and when hands lift the hem of his shirt he shucks it off, strips it from himself and tries to pull air through a chest that is too tight.  

It’s been so long that fingers on his bare back are novel.  A palm pressed to his shoulder blade, the fabric of Spock’s uniform brushing his chest.  He should blink his eyes open and think, but beyond the thin skin of his eyelids is the mess of his room and it’s simpler to be borne back into the mattress, no matter that it smells of smoke and the sour burn of the fire still raging elsewhere in the ship, that it’s Spock of all people.

“Dammit.”  He can’t get his hand beneath his head to grab where it stings.  Above him, Spock’s eyes are wide, his lips wet.  McCoy frowns.  “I told you it hurt.”

“Repeatedly.”  Spock rolls off and unbuttons his pants.  They’re really doing this, then.  Still, it takes McCoy a moment to catch up to the fact of it.  Spock hikes his shirt off and pulls it over his head.  His skin is so pale over the play of lean muscle.  McCoy drops his boots on the floor with twin thuds and fumbles at his fly.

McCoy is well acquainted with that stretch of shiny green skin over Spock’s ribs.  But the last time he saw it, he was wearing scrubs and the med center at Yorktown was lit up bright white around them.  Maybe it’s better like this, emergency lighting that can’t entirely fight through the gloom of his quarters.

He knows the rest of Spock’s body too, but not like this.  Not a palm fitted to his flank, the knock of their feet bumping together, the hard bony nudge of his knee into McCoy’s thigh.  Spock crowds over him and kisses him again, answers the stutter of his touch, that sweep of hesitancy, with a hand slipped down the front of McCoy’s body and McCoy gives himself over to the allure of that directness, that frank way Spock has swinging from irritating to convenient in the first tug of his hand.

McCoy can do this too, this bluntness of it all.  It’s easier than some alternative that’s laced through with sentiment. He licks at his lips and bumps his chin into Spock’s cheek as he levers himself upright.  Already, his stomach simmers liquid with heat.  

“I’ve got-“ He elbows Spock to the side.  A yank of a drawer and then the bottle he fishes for is in his palm.

Impossibly, Spock’s knee falls outward.  McCoy stares at it like he’s never seen the inside of a thigh.  But he’s been here before, leaning over a warm body, the air growing humid between them, the navigation of elbows and legs suddenly a careful dance.  And so he doesn’t give into the thought of how long it’s been, doesn’t let himself trace backwards to the last time his skin touched skin, just flicks open the lube and tries to focus on nothing at all beyond smearing it over two fingers with the pad of his thumb, the anticipation that’s taken over his body with a headiness that leaves him halfway close to dizzy.

He watches as if from some distance as he hovers between Spock’s open knees, the scene written before him in snatches and bursts of sound, corded together in a string of sense that he can’t quite grasp.  The shine of lube, the breath Spock catches and then releases immediately like he didn’t mean to be caught at such overtness from the touch of McCoy’s fingers, how the bedspread creases under McCoy’s knees.  He has half a mind to tug it smooth again but he can’t spare the hand for it and probably couldn’t maintain his balance anyway, not with the room crooked and pitched.  So he braces his palms on the mattress and doesn’t look at the fact that it’s Spock framed in like that, just focuses on the flare of pleasure that lights hot through his gut as he pushes inside him.

He closes his eyes.  His toes curl.  People do this together for a reason, he remembers now.  This slip and push against each other, the grab for friction and another’s body pressed up close.  Spock doesn’t haul him closer still which is a relief, for even without an arm wrapped over his back, McCoy finds the hand curled around his elbow to be plenty.  

Ok? he could ask but he’s not sure what he’d do with an answer and anyway, Spock is working himself over with his other hand and McCoy can well enough hear how Spock’s breath betrays him in its increased pace, that shallowness and tension.  McCoy is sure he’s equally laid bare, likely flushed and he knows he’s panting, but he doesn’t look, doesn’t check to see himself reflected in Spock’s expression.  If Spock’s even watching him, if his eyes aren’t screwed shut as tightly as McCoy’s, phosphenes flaring in the rhythm he starts between their bodies.

The rushing seesaw against the heat building at the base of his spine and the need to savor this is too familiar.  He doesn’t do this enough.  Hell if he knows why right now.  Make this last, he tells himself.  Firmly, because he knows what’ll happen if he centers his mind on the jolt of pleasure that sings through him with each thrust.  He’s too sure of the barrel forwards.  Beneath him, Spock tips his head back.  His hips lift, impatient, and the choice is made for McCoy, even biting at the inside of his cheek as he is, even with his own quilt scrunched in sweaty palms like he can keep a grip on himself through the hold.

“Fuck,” he says as instinct takes over, a fast, hard drive that he can’t slow, that breakneck search for more that rushes through him and leaves him gasping against Spock’s forehead.

It makes him nearly miss the moment where Spock stops breathing altogether, but certainly hears him start again, Spock’s slowing pump of knuckles brushing McCoy’s own stomach where he’s sagged forward.

McCoy licks at his lips.  His mouth is dry.  Spock’s hand is still on his arm.  His thumb is brushing back and forth.

He sits back and clears his throat.  There’s semen smeared on his stomach.  Spock’s, too.  What in fucking hell did they just do.

But the silence is too much and he’s afraid it might bring the sort of answer he’s not especially looking for, so he squirms away, ignoring the green flush on Spock’s skin, the shine of lube smeared over his inner thighs.  There’s no point in trying to run the tap in the bathroom, no clean washcloth to dampen under it, so when McCoy gets his feet under himself, he goes to his dresser and fishes out an old shirt.  His thighs are shaking.  The shirt lands next to Spock’s hip and McCoy leaves him to it, hunting around for his own pants.

Socks, and then boots.  He doesn’t sit on the bed to pull them on.  Jesus, he thinks.  Goddamn.  His undershirt is tangled in the sleeves of his uniform and he pulls them apart in sparks of static electricity.  

Spock gets up off the bed while McCoy has his head inside his shirt, and by the time it’s yanked down, Spock’s holding his own pants in front of himself.  McCoy smooths his hair out of habit, the same as he always does when he pulls a shirt on.  As if this is at all familiar.  His heart hasn’t slowed and he angles his shoulder towards Spock, knowing clear well how unfair it is to blame his pulse just on the rarity of sex.

An intake of Spock’s breath has McCoy looking up from adjusting his shirt, sure that Spock has pulled on that new skin over his ribs.  But instead of that flash of pain Spock is always trying to hide, he looks like he’s about to speak, mouth parted and tension held around his eyes.  McCoy doesn’t know whether to be relieved or not that Spock has his shirt back on and his pants fastened around those slim hips.

“If you are considering a change of career,” Spock says and then pauses, his head tipping.  McCoy’s hands still on the hem of his shirt, waiting, but Spock doesn’t continue and the silence only resolves itself in an increased sing of tension.  

Out with it, McCoy thinks.  Good God, don’t keep him waiting, not now.

But instead of breaking the silence that hangs, Spock just stands there, stock still at first and then his eyes growing wide and his shoulders locking.  McCoy watches his hand rise from his side and frowns at the gesture, trying to make sense of it.

Then, a bite of cold to his neck.  His skin is still flushed and the cool prodding is all the colder for it.  Spock’s eyes hold his and McCoy doesn’t move, not with that phaser jabbing at the base of his skull.

“What is this?” he hears.  The voice is low.  McCoy stares frozen at Spock.

A hand grips the other side of McCoy’s neck and he doesn’t let himself flinch as he’s yanked backwards, down into the point of the phaser.  He knows the face that crowds into the side of his vision from mission reports, but his tongue is thick in his mouth and when it works it against his teeth to speak, words don’t come, just the rise of the faint taste of copper.

“I hear noises.”  The hand tightens.  “Fighting, I think.  But you are not scavengers like the rest.”

“Manas,” Spock says for both of them.

“Yes,” Manas says and McCoy can feel the word in his own chest.  “And now we wait.  For your captain will come.  He always does.”

Chapter Text

McCoy keeps his hands in the air, knees digging into the carpet, and eyes on Manas.

“Our captain doesn’t know we’re here,” he says.

Manas shoves his phaser closer to Spock’s face.  Spock doesn’t take a step backwards, but there’s not much further for him to go, crowded back against the bulkhead like Manas has him.  

“You think I do not know what this is?” Manas flicks his fingers against the insignia on Spock’s chest.  Spock doesn’t blink at the proximity, his expression cool.  “You think I do not know?  No so much has changed between my time and yours, Doctor McCoy.”

“The geology of this planet interferes with our ability to trace signals, if that is your point,” Spock says like Manas doesn’t have his face an inch from Spock’s own.  Spock’s knuckles press to the wall next to his shoulders, the underside of his wrists pale again the cuffs of his sleeves.

“You have your Lieutenant Uhura.  You have your Mr. Scott.  You have your captain.”  Manas smiles.  The expression is gruesome.  “You think they will not find you?”

“Just you against our crew?” McCoy asks.  His arms are starting to ache.  He’s good and tired of holding his hands up in surrender and he doesn’t much like Manas stalking around his room.  “I don’t think I’d like your odds, if I were you.”

Manas angles his head towards McCoy.  “Do not speak.”

McCoy shrugs with a casualness he sure as hell doesn’t feel.  “Last I counted, we arrived with a full complement of crew and your buddies were dead.”

“Be silent,” Manas says, louder.  His phaser twitches in his hand.

“Just saying,” McCoy says, eyeing those heavy boots on the carpet where he once walked barefoot after a shower.  “And I’m not talking about your damn drones.”

Manas crouches down in front of him.  

“Silence,” he whispers, stands, and whirls around, his phaser cracking across Spock’s face.  Green splatters the wall, Spock’s lip split open.

McCoy scrambles forward, lifts a knee, and gets his toe curled under to stand.  But there’s a boot in the center of his chest, a light touch of a toe to his sternum and that phaser trained once more on Spock.  Blood coats the side of it.

Manas smiles.  “If I count, it was three of us versus your ship, and now your ship lies broken and your crew too.”

“Spock,” McCoy whispers.

Spock licks at his lips and keeps his eyes on Manas.  His tongue comes away green and blood dribbles down his chin.  McCoy spent an evening in that cave wiping crusted blood from Spock’s ribs.  Now, it would smear over Spock’s jaw if McCoy tried the same.  His fingers rub against the palm of his hand.

“You found your crew once,” Manas says, three strides to McCoy’s desk and three back again.  He doesn’t lower the phaser.  “Do not speak to me of rocks.  They will come again.”

“We tracked a crew member’s mucus excretions,” Spock explains like Manas is a science ensign with a mistake in his lab protocol.  “Your plan is illogical.”

Good on Keenser.  Though now when McCoy thinks back on those moments on the bridge of the Franklin, it’s not the flare of triumph that he remembers most clearly, that moment when he realized that smoking snot was unique enough to be pinpointed on this planet, but instead Spock with his hand cupped over his side.  Funny what sticks in the mind in those moments, those flashpoints of memory that get etched in, re-lived in the drift before sleep when his thoughts wander in the quiet hours that follow.

Now, he’s sure that he’ll forever see Manas standing over him and how he wipes flecks of Spock’s blood from his hand.

Damp sweat sticks McCoy’s shirt to him.  He doesn’t care for that careful examination Manas is giving Spock, how he puts his face so close, how he leans so far over Spock that Spock’s head has to tip backwards against the wall.

“I have not seen one of your kind in some time,” he says.  Spock doesn’t flinch when Manas takes his jaw in one hand, tipping Spock’s head at an angle.  “Strong, aren’t you.”

“Comparatively speaking,” Spock says through the blood on his mouth and the hand biting into his skin.  McCoy’s breath comes too fast.  He tries for the same calm Spock has clinging to him, but his heart is a dull pound in his chest and his palms are clammy.  He’s not made for this, these face offs, this headlong rush of adrenaline.  Jim should be here.  He and Spock would talk their way out of this and McCoy would patch them up in the safety of sickbay, annoyed as all hell with them both, relief nearly shaking his hands when neither was looking.

Manas tips Spock’s chin up.  With a single step, he’s close enough that their bodies brush.  McCoy winces because Spock won’t.  

“Better than a human,” Manas says.  Spock surely can feel his breath.  McCoy’s own neck itches as Manas pulls Spock’s head to the side and examines where his pulse flutters.

That phaser is still in Manas’ hand.  Lowered to his side, but the grip on it is tight.  He’s too well trained to let his fingers loosen.  Even with his attention riveted on Spock, McCoy’s sure he’s keeping track of every twitch, every shift of weight.

Well.  Nothing for it then, but to make the most of that slice of focus.  

“It’s all relative,” McCoy offers.  In his best laid plans, Manas turns, Spock gets an opening, and they manage to get out of here.

Of course in his best, best laid plans, they’re halfway back to the Franklin by now - or hell, wiling away an afternoon on Yorktown - but McCoy’s been making peace with the unexpected.

“Stronger,” Manas says, his eyes never leaving the lines of Spock’s body.  “Yes?  And faster?”

“Comes at the expense of poor thermoregulation,” McCoy says as if Spock doesn’t look as cool as a goddamn cucumber.  

“Even out here, we hear what happened to your planet.”  Manas’ nose brushes close to a pointed ear.  Spock’s chest is even in its rise and fall.  “So few of you left now.”

“Glad you kept up on the news,” McCoy mutters.

“What a shame,” Manas says.  “Such vigor.  Such might, when so many species have none.”

Spock stares across the room, unblinking.

“Hey,” McCoy says.  “Enough of that.”

“Krall might have had you for himself,” Manas says and there’s that smile again, that toothy twist of his mouth.  Disgust flexes the tendons in McCoy’s neck.

“You’re not keeping anyone,” McCoy says.

Manas’s tongue peeks out, gray and wet between his teeth.  “You will make an excellent supplement.”

“Let’s call Kirk,” McCoy says.  “Speed this thing along, I’m getting pretty damn tired of having my knees on the floor.”

“It has been some time since I’ve fed,” Manas says and the hand on Spock’s jaw slips behind his head.

For a moment, nothing.  Then, Spock’s eyes swim blank.  They stare empty at the ceiling and gray tinges his face around the dark run of veins.

“Stop,” McCoy shouts into the silence.  A phaser blast never comes at his yell and when McCoy lurches to his feet Manas doesn’t turn towards him.  Instead he shakes, and Spock shakes with him.

“Spock!” His voice sounds tinny and too small.  The room narrows, fading gray and black with panic and the pallor of Spock’s face.  McCoy staggers on the slanted floor, a hand on the edge of the bed for leverage to push himself in a lunge towards Manas.

He falls short, too much distance between them.  His palm hits the carpet and the breath shoves out of him.  Spock’s boots skid against the floor, his heels trying to dig in for purchase.

Somewhere, Manas laughs.

McCoy drives himself upwards, scrambles for a foothold, hands fluttering over the floor.  A nudge of something hard against his fingertips, and then a solid weight that he can heft in his palm.  He brings it up with him as he rocks onto his knees, his feet, swings it with his weight behind it into the back of Manas’ head.

His ears ring in the quiet.  The bottle of whiskey drops from his hand with a thud.  Manas lies face down, his mouth parted and his legs kicked out at the wrong angle.

“Spock,” McCoy says and then is next to him, warm cheeks under his hands and brown eyes blinking open.

Spock kicks Manas’ phaser from his hand and his fingers close over McCoy’s wrist.  “Is he alive?”

“Are you ok?” McCoy asks but Spock slips past him.  He’s left standing there, empty handed and breathing hard.

Spock scoops up the phaser, checks its settings, and sticks it in his waistband.  A distant part of McCoy’s brain protests, but it’s no longer connected to his mouth.  He knows he’s gasping, sucking down air.  Move, he thinks.

McCoy presses two fingers to Manas’s throat and he gives Spock a nod when he finds the flutter of a pulse.  

“He’s alive.”  He works his tongue through his mouth, wipes his palms down his stomach to dry them.  “And that didn’t even break the bottle.”

“Well done,” Spock says and in the buzz of McCoy’s mind he’s late to roll his eyes at Spock’s tone.

At least Spock can take a tone.  McCoy has rarely been able to temper that rush through him, to set it aside in the moment like Jim can, like how Spock always seems to, emerging clear headed and ready.  He wants to go, to move, to do something other than stand in the silence that’s settled, Manas at their feet and the bottle laid at an angle on the sloped deck.  

Slowly, McCoy picks it up.  And then the envelope that he got out what seems like hours ago.  But it was minutes, likely.  He doesn’t look at the bed.

“What do we do with him?” McCoy asks.

“We take him with us.”

“You’re kidding,” McCoy says.  “The way back is straight up hill.”

“Which perhaps should have been considered before walking down it.”

“I’m not the one who followed me,” McCoy says but Spock isn’t listening, already bending down to heft Manas.  “Hey.  Wait, would you?”

McCoy’s hand has found Spock’s arm.  He looks down at his own fingers curled there around the curve of Spock’s bicep.  He jerks his hand back.

“Manas was not incorrect that I am considerably stronger,” Spock says.

The shapes of McCoy’s fingers are still in the folds of Spock’s sleeve.  

“Your side,” he says.

“I am quite able to make the climb.”

“Your lip.”

Blood smears the back of Spock’s hand when he lifts it to his mouth.

“I am fine,” Spock says softly.

McCoy turns away and shuffles through his desk.  “Not a good look, Spock.”

He makes Spock sit.  The slant of the ship, is all.  McCoy tips his chin up and the dermal regenerator buzzes in his hand.  A better angle like this, not being face to face.

In the corridor, Spock starts towards the way they climbed in, but McCoy stops two doors down.

“One second,” he says, leaving Spock with Manas half resting on the floor as McCoy shoves at the door to Jim’s room.  There’s a small pile of papers in Jim’s sock drawer, the same place they were tucked years ago at the Academy, and a holo of his parents next to his bed.  They look so young.  McCoy’s been older than that picture of them for some time, but now they’re even younger than Jim is.  Maybe not Winona - Mrs. Kirk, McCoy tried to call her once - but George will never face crow’s feet, the injustice of creaky knees and a sore back.

“Sufficient?” Spock asks from the doorway.  McCoy looks up from the picture.

“Yeah,” McCoy says.  Spock has drips of blood on his shirt.  He could change, could grab a fresh one from his quarters, but he doesn’t seem inclined towards the sentimentalism of visiting his old rooms.  Figures, doesn’t it.  

McCoy tugs Jim’s door closed behind him.  Jim had smacked his hand against the jamb and grinned, that first day they’d had on board.  McCoy had hated this place back then.  So slickly white, so needlessly shiny and clean.  Couldn’t wait to be off of it, counting down the days until shore leave, for five years to tick past them.

He blows out a breath.  How long ago that was, Jim nearly bouncing down these halls.

“Is that all?” Spock asks.

“One more thing,” McCoy says.  Years may have passed, but he knows a good thing when he sees it.  He grins at Spock like everything is normal, like none of this evening happened, this day, this goddamn week.  “I’m not leaving that bottle behind.”

Jim’s waiting for them.

“The patrol needs work,” McCoy calls when they’re in earshot.  Jim’s silhouette spins around.

“Bones?” Jim asks.  He breaks into a jog, gravel kicking up in a scratch of stones and dust behind him.  When he reaches them, he grabs onto McCoy’s arms, open mouthed and blinking too fast in the moonlight.  “Are you- What-“

“Hello,” Spock says, a step behind them.  

“Spock,” Jim whispers and those hands disappear, one wrapped around Spock’s forearm and the other waving behind him.  “Lieutenant!  Ensign, they’re over here.”

McCoy shuffles to the side as security comes running.  Two of them lower Manas from Spock’s shoulder.  Sulu arrives at a sprint, out of breath.  Behind him, Uhura presses her commlink pressed into her ear with one hand, relaying orders to abandon the search twice over, and then three times.

“Sorry,” McCoy says.

“You found Manas?” Chekov asks when he gets there, staring as hard as Sulu is.

McCoy watches two ensigns cuff Manas’s wrists.  His head lolls against his chest.

“He found us,” McCoy says.

“Are you ok?” Jim asks.

“Fine.”  McCoy looks over at Spock.  There’s still a crust of blood beneath his chin, nearly obscured in the dark.  No one else would even know to look for it.

“What happened?” Jim asks.  “Where did you two go?”

For a walk seems too trite for Jim’s worry.  Manas is limp as the ensigns drag him away.  His boots leave twin furrows as they drag through the dirt.  McCoy can’t quite get his mouth around the truth.  He licks at his lips.  Jim waits, watching him.

“We found the Enterprise,” Spock offers into the silence.  “The saucer is in a better state than its exterior condition would suggest.”

“You went to the ship?” Jim asks and his voice cracks over the words.  McCoy looks away, off towards the suggestion of mountains against the stars in the sky.  “We left it on fire.  It was-“ Jim waves, as if his hands can conjure up the flames.  “-Burning.”

“Fire retardant bulkheads,” Scotty says.  He has a comm in one hand and a phaser in the other.  “That’s my girl.”

“It’s ok?” Jim asks.

“It crash landed in the middle of a forest, Jim.”  McCoy shakes his head.  “It’s exactly how you’d expect it.”

“What were you doing there?” Jim squints at them with that confusion he wears so well.

A laugh escapes McCoy’s mouth.  One that’s too high pitched.  It takes him a moment to say, “Getting attacked.”  

The words sound too slow to him.  Too much of an edge to them.  Jim stares.  McCoy doesn’t look at Spock.  

“That’s mine,” Chekov says and when he points to the bottle, McCoy dumbly holds it out to him.  “Where did you find it?”

“Ship got all shook up,” McCoy says.  Now he’s not looking at Jim, either.  “The place is a mess.”

Chekov’s eyes narrow.  “This bottle is opened.”

McCoy takes a deep breath of the night air.  He wants it to clear his head.  Mostly, his mouth just fills with dust.

“This planet is lousy with scavengers,” he says and gets himself to smack Chekov on the shoulder like it’s a night in the rec room.

Chekov follows him when McCoy makes towards the ship.  “And it was missing before we arrived at Yorktown.”

“Don’t know what to tell you, kid.”  If only it could really be like this, if the ease in his voice travelled down any deeper.

“If I am correct,” Chekov says, “I would say that-“

McCoy spins around, walking backwards now.  “Hey.  Are you even old enough to drink?”

“Am I old enough to- I am old enough!”

In sickbay, Manas is under three armed guards.  Nurse Navares is standing over him with a tricorder and a furrow between his brows.  He actually sighs with relief when McCoy reaches them.

“I’m not sure what to make of these readings, sir.  His blood oxygen levels should be critically low, but there’s no corresponding organ damage.  He has low blood glucose too, and his pulse is slow, but really the only thing that seems wrong with him is a contusion on the back of his head and what looks like a fairly severe concussion.”

“Is this working now?” McCoy asks and pulls the tricorder from the nurse before the man can hold it out to him.  “Any sign that he’s coming around?”

“Just for preliminary scans.  And no, sir, he’s still out.”

“Good.”  There hadn’t been any signs of him stirring on the climb back up to the Franklin either.  And McCoy would have noticed, a half a pace behind Spock, complete silence between them except for the crunch of brush beneath their boots and McCoy’s labored breathing.  Spock hadn’t even broken a sweat, not with Manas draped over his shoulders and not with the length of that uphill scramble.  

McCoy scans Manas, confirming the ensign’s readings, and then hands the tricorder back.  “You call me if he so much as twitches.”

“Is there anything to do in the meantime?”

“Fluids and regular scans of his vitals.  I’m sure the Captain will want to speak with him when he wakes up.”  

If, McCoy doesn’t say.

But it’s not Manas that Jim is apparently intent on seeing, hovering outside the door to McCoy’s room.  Spock’s too.  McCoy can hear the whine of the sonic shower through the door.  Not exactly a resounding endorsement of the Franklin’s soundproofing.

“Manas is stable,” McCoy offers, a thumb hooked back over his shoulder towards the Franklin’s tiny medbay.  His legs are sore from the climb, cramping up now that they’re back on the ship.  “Any update on the rest of the crew?”

Jim has his arms crossed, feet spread apart.  His jaw is set.  “Don’t do that.”

“Jim…”

“That was half of our ship’s personnel out there looking for you, and don’t try to tell me that it was Spock’s idea.”

McCoy crosses his own arms.  “I wasn’t going to.”

“You can’t take off like that, on an uncharted planet, without- without at least telling us where you’re going, Bones!  What the hell were you thinking?”

“I told you, I’m sorry.”

“Did you even think about what might have happened to you?”

“We found Manas,” McCoy says.

“Manas found you!  Spock said he had a phaser on you both, and that you two barely got away.”  Jim’s hands are waving in time with his voice.  It’s raised loud enough that McCoy has to assume everyone up and down the corridor can hear them.  “And what the hell were you two doing that he snuck up on you like that?”

McCoy wants to laugh again.  Instead, he coughs into a closed fist.  “Jim.”

“I’m serious, Bones.”  Jim’s eyes are wide and they’re growing red.  “That’s twice now on this damn planet, the two of you out there…” His breath shakes when he blows it out.  “I don’t know what I’d do.”

Wouldn’t matter if you’d’ve left.  But the words just bang around in McCoy’s head because he won’t speak them.  Jim likely hears it anyway, his chin ducking and the corners of his mouth twitching.

“Here.”  McCoy reaches into his waistband.

Jim stares at the handful of papers and the holo McCoy holds out.  It’s a long moment before he takes them.

When McCoy squeezes his shoulder, it shakes.  Jim clears his throat.  “Thanks.”

“‘Course.”

“I know you’re mad at me.”  Jim blinks too quickly.  “I’m really sorry, Bones.”

His life would be a lot easier if staying angry with Jim wasn’t so damn difficult.  “I know you are.”

He watches as Jim thumbs through the letters.  Decades old now, written out in George’s handwriting, a careful ‘Winona’ at the top of each one.  His scrawl was half as bad as Jim’s is.

“Hey,” McCoy says.  “Don’t tell Chekov about that whiskey, you hear?”

Jim tries and fails to smile.  “Did Spock let you have it?  Isn’t stealing against regulation sixty one point three?”

With terrible clarity, McCoy remembers Spock’s lips pressed to the bottle.  How soft his mouth looked, the angle of his chin.  McCoy clears his throat.  “Sixty two point three.”

“Ah, well.”

He lets himself think that lingering with Jim in the hall is solidarity, not the intimidation of those sonics, the idea of Spock in there.  But then Jim is squeezing his arm and McCoy is pressing his palm to the back of Jim’s hand in a rough pat, and Jim is gone, bent over his letters as he sets off down the hall.

Which leaves McCoy with a blank, closed door and the growing allure of just sleeping in his clothes in the hall.

He should have kept that bottle.

It’s when he has his shirt off that he remembers that it once was Spock’s.  Those matching thick stripes on the cuff, the cut of it that suddenly reminds him that it’s slightly unfamiliar.  Figures that even in the relative privacy of being alone in his room, he can’t get away from the man, not the faint sounds from the bathroom and not in the fabric he bunches up and shoves into the recycler.  

Let the guts of the ship deal with it.  McCoy is more than ready to be done with today.

The sonics cut off with no warning.  Which leaves him barefoot and bare chested, waiting for the door to whir open.  

Spock has a towel knotted around his waist and what might be surprise on his face that McCoy is standing there.  It’s gone before McCoy can really tell.  Maybe he should still be in sickbay, or maybe Spock thought he’d actually sit down to debrief with Jim.

Which only makes McCoy wonder at all the two of them talked about while McCoy was checking over Manas.

But Spock isn’t exactly forthcoming, green rising in his skin from the sonics, and a hand holding his towel closed.  McCoy doesn’t need to think about what’s under it.  The shapes his mind can now fill in between Spock’s waist and his thin calves, swathed over in light cotton.  Though he’s not sure he even looked at Spock’s knees, the length of his thighs.  He chews on the inside of his cheek.

Spock steps forward and McCoy moves back, his shoulder hitting the edge of his bunk.  There’s not really enough room for them to shuffle around each other and McCoy’s feet feel heavy when he tries.

“Pardon me,” Spock says.

“No, go ahead,” McCoy says and waves towards the bathroom.

Spock looks at his hand and then at the doorway.  McCoy scratches the back of his neck.

“I am finished.”

“Of course you are.”  McCoy has to search for what to say next and it comes a beat too late.  “Took you long enough.”

His arm brushes Spock’s as he edges past.  It makes his skin tingle through his whole shower, even as he scrubs at it, annoyed.

In the mirror, the face that stares back is drawn and tired.  He passes his palm over his chin and grimaces, sure he should shave.  But Alpha shift isn’t that far away and he weighs just sinking into bed against dragging a razor across his cheeks.  In the end, he pulls out a packet of shaving cream, Yorktown stamped on it next to a Starfleet crest, and smooths it over his face like it’s something typical, this cramped bathroom, the ache to his muscles, how his head swims.  He tugs the skin of his neck taut with his fingers, working the razor around his jaw.  It’s these little things that are the most familiar, out here in the unknown black of space.

Spock is sitting on the edge of his bed when McCoy’s finally done.  He looks up as McCoy finds a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, but stares back at the floor as McCoy dresses.

He tosses his towel onto a hook.  Spock’s is hanging next to it, far neater.

“Well,” McCoy says.  He hopes he has the energy left for the ladder up to his bunk.  He eyes it, and then Spock.  Spock’s own shirt is long sleeved, the cuffs ending in a neat line at his wrists.  Even in the dim light, McCoy can see how plainly the fabric outlines the shape of his body.  He grips the side of the ladder, gets a foot on a rung.  “Goodnight, then.”

McCoy drags himself into his bed, kicking at his sheets until they’re more or less over him.  But Spock hasn’t laid down yet.  Instead, McCoy hears him stand and then sees him, their eyes level.

“I do not want you to leave.”

McCoy blinks.  Then he runs his palm over his face, wanting only that when he opens his eyes, the room will be dark, Spock will be in his bed, and this entire day won’t have happened.  

“Good news.  I’m stuck on this rock just like you are,” he says.

“I am serious.”

“You always are.”

McCoy covers his face with his arm, turning into the crook of his elbow.  What a complete ass he is and he knows it too, to let that silence stretch between them.  It’s some time before he hears Spock settle into his own bunk.

Twice, McCoy starts to speak, but both times he never finds out what he might say, the impulse stilled before any words come.  He eventually drifts off, the quiet of the room nearly complete except for how Spock shifts in his bed, the constant rustle of someone not sleeping.


Chapter Text

On the biobed, Manas looks small.  Stripped of his armor and dressed in a thin hospital gown, his arms are wiry and thin, his chest sunken.  Maybe there’s some injustice to that, a cotton sheet where he had once worn layers of synthetic reinforcement, but mostly McCoy’s concerned with weak vitals and how someone so slight can be responsible for so much.

But old age comes for everyone, and it seems that in the end Manas is the same as the rest.  McCoy is halfway sure that next time he looks there will be wisps of white hair covering that gray scalp of his, deep lines furrowing his forehead and the sides of his mouth, some signal of his decaying humanity showing through the other species he’s mixed into himself.  

Manas’ wrists are still cuffed to the bed.  Across the room, there’s two security officers at parade rest.  Staring down at Manas’ prone body, McCoy can’t help but give into the surge of relief that lingered overnight.  Jim was right.  It was crazy, what they did.

Though everything he shouldn’t have done yesterday is a muddle of memory he’d rather not dwell on.  Best left to lie.  Illogical, or something a hell of a lot like it.  He grimaces.  At least he has the good sense to be embarrassed at his relief that sardine tin of a ship or no, he’s not tripping over Spock this morning.  What exactly to say to your XO, to your best friend’s best friend after a quick roll around in the sheets.  McCoy rubs at the bridge of his nose.  He could have used that goddamn vacation on Yorktown, and if last night wasn’t proof of the need to blow off some steam, he’s not sure what is.

He jumps at the sound of footsteps.  The morning has been an exercise in yesterday catching up with him in a heavy weight he can’t quite slip out from under.  What in actual hell, he’s been thinking on a loop since he woke up and now his blood is singing too fast at the noise.  But it’s only Jaylah in the doorway and the ongoing audience of the red shirts.  She pauses when she sees him and then those same firm strides carry her into the room.

“What can I do you for?” he asks and sets his tricorder down in favor of his coffee cup.  Bitter and replicated, but still hot.  He’ll take it.  As well as some decent company.  He’s not overly keen to let his mind wander since the track it takes leads through the forest, down the mountain, and to a mattress sized slice of the Enterprise, the whisper of Spock’s breath ghosting in his ear.

But he gets brushed past and left to sip at his coffee as Jaylah takes a slow turn around the room.  

“He is alive,” she says.  Her jaw flexes.

“And I intend on keeping him that way, so don’t be thinking of any funny business.”

“What is funny business?”

“Anything fishy.”

“What are fish?”

“You don’t have fish here?”

“I have nothing here,” Jaylah says and turns her back to him.  McCoy frowns into his coffee.

“Hey, now.”  He walks around the other side of the biobed to where she stands, but he can’t quite make out her face, not with her head ducked down like that.  Still, it’s better than talking to her ponytail.  

“I didn’t mean anything by that,” he says.  When she doesn’t look up at him, he blows out a breath.  “Are you ok?”

“You have him here.  On this.”  Her palm smack the biobed.  “My house.”

McCoy blinks.  He lowers his mug.  Maybe musing over everything he and Spock shouldn’t have done would actually have been better than this.  “That would… I can see how that would be upsetting.”

“You don’t ask.  Starfleet, you never ask, you tell.  You order.  Do this, do that.”

“Hey, would that we could, I’d spirit you right on out of here,” McCoy says.  His eyes flick towards the bulkhead.  Through it is the corridor, a set of out of date science labs, and the hull of the ship.  Beyond lies the mine and their crew in it.  He doesn’t turn around to look at Chapel laying behind him, stock still and terrible in her quiet.  “I don’t like being stuck here much either, is what I mean.  And I imagine you’re enjoying it even less.”

“I promised I would never return here.”

“Jim can be pretty persuasive.”  McCoy sips at his coffee, his eyes lifted towards the ceiling.  “Believe me.”

“Believe what about you?”

“Just a saying,” he tells her, but she’s still watching him.  He sighs.  Uhura should be doing this, or Jim, not him.  He’s never been good at this.  “I just meant that I didn’t exactly intend to end up all the way out here, but Jim Kirk happens to good people.”

Jaylah’s sets her mouth and pushes her lips together.  “But now you are here.  Helping him.”

“Starfleet operating orders, ma’am.”

“You do not think they are wrong?  To come here and to save him?”

He feels his forehead tighten.  He hasn’t had enough coffee for this.  “He’s in need of medical attention.”

“But would you help him anyway?” she asks, her fingers flicking at Manas’s bed.  “Without your commands?  These- these instructions you receive?”

“C’mon now, that’s not fair,” he says, but Jaylah just tips her head back, narrow-eyed and glaring.  “He’s sick, and I’m a doctor.”

“Not fair?  You save him.  He breaks my leg.  In two places, steps on it with his-“ She tosses her hand towards the corner where Manas’ clothes are piled.  “His boot.  My back, my head.  My father, he holds down.”  She raises her hands and mimics a grip on her throat.  McCoy stares at her.  “Manas was bleeding, blood on my father’s face.  Who would you heal then, Doctor McCoy?  Who do you save?”

He holds out a palm in a poor pass for appeasement.  “Our staff treats anyone who’s in need of medical attention.”

“Everyone.”

“‘Fraid so.”

“And if it is just you?  No team of your people to help you?”

“Nurses, you mean?  All of our officers are trained in first aid,” he says.

“And if they are not with you?”

“We use a triage system.  Whoever is in more serious need gets help first.”  Or whoever is more likely to survive.  He rubs his thumb over the handle of his mug.

“So you treat him,” Jaylah says.  “You treat Krall.”

McCoy tips his palm up, lifts his shoulder.  So hollow, all of this.  “We do.  If Krall hadn’t died- If Jim hadn’t killed him, then yes.  We would have, at Yorktown.”

“Do you not think?  Do you not care what this means?”

“Jaylah,” he says, lowering his voice and making as if to step around the bed towards her.  The only effect it has is to draw her up tight, her arms locked and her mouth hard.  He pats his palm at the air, searching for what to say.  But this has always been hard to explain hasn’t it, those medical ethics that stretch beyond what seems like common sense.  It’s not up to him, he could tell her, but it’s too weak to rely on Starfleet’s explanation when it’s the same as the one he would give himself.  

He tries to pretend it’s not relief he feels when he hears someone race down the hall towards them.

Chekov skids around the doorway.  “Sir!  Sir, I have rerouted the axial transmitter through the bionueral transducer matrix, which allowed me to calibrate duotronic pulse sequencer and with that, I could-“

“-Breathe, kid.”

“The scanners!  They are working!  You can now…”  Chekov blinks, eyes wide.  McCoy’s sure they make quite the sight, him and Jaylah with Manas between them, her stare and his palm still raised.  He drops his hand.

Manas’ biobed beeps in time with his pulse, slow and regular.  If only the whirr of machinery were louder.  McCoy sets his mug down with a hard click.  “Thanks for your work, Mr. Chekov.”

“What has happened?” Chekov asks.

“Just a light chat about values and morality,” McCoy says.  He shakes his head at Chekov when he takes a step towards Jaylah, but Chekov ignores him.

“What is wrong?” Chekov asks.  His hand hovers near Jaylah’s shoulder.

“Give me that,” McCoy mutters and yanks the tricorder from Chekov’s other hand.

Chapel’s eyes don’t shift behind her closed lids.  Above her, a readout shows her pulse and blood pressure, the mix of the cocktail of nutrients they have her on.  He brushes her hair back.  To better scan her.  Come on, Chapel, he won’t say out loud, not with the guards and now Chekov and Jaylah in the room.

But whatever those wires poking into her neck are doing she isn’t exactly waking up to tell him, and the tricorder he runs over her beeps and whirs without showing him more than a few lines of readout that he squints at.  He doesn’t resist pressing his fingertips to his forehead.  A headache is threatening and he has half a mind to give the tricorder a solid whack on the edge of the bed to see if it helps the damn thing be useful.

“Anything?” Chekov asks.

“I can’t tell much with this.  I’ll need to upload it and pick through the output data,” he says.  

There’s no silver bullet waiting on the screen, not that he much expected it.  Still, a prescription for a specific stimulant would have been pretty damn useful.  Some serum to replicate a hundred times over until they had enough.  The setting to dial a hypo to so that he could walk down the line of the crew in that cave, all of them hanging there like they’re just waiting for him to figure all this out and wake them up.  He rubs his palm over his face.

“Do you need my padd?” Chekov asks.  He looks so hopeful.

“Sure,” McCoy says.  “That, and some time.”

“Time?” Jaylah asks.  “We have too much of it.”

McCoy heaves out a sigh that catches in the back of his throat.  “Don’t I know.”

By nightfall, McCoy has abandoned working in sickbay, the rec room, and even the bridge in exchange for his own bunk.  The ship is too small and so is his room.  Their room.  He pulls his padd closer to his face when the door opens for Spock.

“Evening,” he offers when the quiet becomes too much.

“You were not at dinner.”

Or lunch, Spock could surely point out.

McCoy scowls at Chekov’s padd.  “M’working.”

“Sufficient blood glucose levels aid-“

“-Preaching to the choir,” McCoy says easy as could be, eyes trained on the graph he’s compiled and not Spock moving around.  

“I was doing no such thing.”

Spock pulls his boots off and sets them again the wall considerably neater than McCoy left his.  There’s the rounded curve of a pale shoulder and then Spock’s arm lifting through the sleeves of a clean shirt.  McCoy tightens his grip on his padd.  Ignoring that man has never gotten McCoy very far, though his life would be a hell of a lot better if it did.

“Any news on Manas?” he finally asks.

Spock settles blessedly out of sight on the edge of his own bed.  “You would have heard if there was.”

“Right.”

McCoy pulls his knees up, then stretches his legs back out and crosses his ankles.  Then uncrosses them, sets his padd aside and talks himself out of picking it up again.  Instead, he swings himself down the ladder.

He has to step around Spock’s knees to get anywhere, not that he has a place he’s going.  He taps his padd into his palm.  He’ll check on Manas.  Again.  Or the crew, out in the swampy humidity of the mine.  His neck pricks at the thought.  Maybe Jaylah is up for another philosophy debate.

“May I look at what you have done?”

I know how to do my damn job, McCoy could say.  But the cool silence of the room is too heavy to snap at Spock through and he lets Spock take the padd from him.

As Spock bends over to read, McCoy can study the top of his head, the slope of his shoulders.  The skin of his neck is nearly white between the crisp line of that haircut and the collar of his shirt.

McCoy looks away.

“I haven’t seen a stasis system like this before,” he says to his own pillow.  It’s eye level, not the same height as his waist, not like Spock is with how he’s sitting.  “The good news is that they’re somewhere well past being unconscious, so there’s little likelihood that they’re aware of anything that’s happened to them.”

Spock’s still reading.  McCoy plows onward in the room’s quiet.

“If there’s any good in the universe, they were already knocked out when he put them in those things, but that might just be a pipe dream,” he says.

“Have you deduced a method to revive them?”

“No.”  McCoy sighs.  “I haven’t.”

“Is there any variation among non-human crew members?”

“You think I wouldn’t have checked?” McCoy glares at that shiny cap of hair.  “Chapel’s the only damn one Jim let us bring in, if you don’t remember.”

“I remember,” Spock says softly.

McCoy clears his throat.  He wants to go.  Though where to, he has no idea.  Just scratch at the itch to move by sticking his feet into his boots and pushing out the door.  

“Whatever tech they’re using out there, it seems to be all the same,” he says.  The mess hall, maybe.  He really didn’t have dinner, now did he.  McCoy shifts, willing to answer more needless questions if Spock would only keep talking.  As it is, his attention on the padd makes it impossible for McCoy to focus on anything else but him, his eyes flicking to the ladder, to the corner of his mattress, to their boots, and back always to Spock again.

That’s the problem with away missions.  For the few seconds of nausea inducing panic as the shit hits the proverbial - and inevitable - fan, there’s the hours that drag.  Sometimes it’s better to be up on the ship with the familiar rhythms of shift changes and duties that carry on the same as if they were comfortably at warp, rather than be part of the team muddling through their latest catastrophe that Jim likes to call missions.  Though if he’s up there in orbit, then he’s just waiting for bodies to beam back, Jim covered in blood as often as not and Spock just as bad off and already denying it.

Still, he might not mind that familiar wait if it meant not being forced to linger here, because in the absence of anything to do, his padd in his hands, a tricorder, a hypo, he’s left prodding at the thought of Spock and it doesn’t help being half crammed in a room the size of a closet with the man.  

McCoy crosses his arms.  At least that ache in his back is the same as ever.

“What is the matter?”

McCoy stops rubbing at that spot, his arm hooked over his other shoulder.  “Nothing.”

“Are you injured?”

“I’m fine.”  

Spock’s still watching him.  McCoy looks anywhere else he can find to rest his eyes on.

“Have you come up with some genius solution?” he finally asks, pulling his hand from his shoulder to wave at the padd.

“No.”

“Great,” he says and lets himself roll his eyes.

“However, I did notice that you overlooked the readouts that display the delta waves of the crew’s neurological scans.”

McCoy shakes his head.  The man is infuriating.  “I didn’t overlook them, there’s just nothing to note.”

“On the contrary-“

“-Oh, you’re a doctor now too?”

“On the contrary, this readout clearly illustrates that the calibration done by Mr. Chekov inaccurately adjusts the frequency level.  Correcting for that-“ Spock spins the padd around.  “-Reveals a pattern that would, I believe, be very much of note.”

“Damn.”  McCoy jerks the padd from Spock, tapping at it to resize the graph and then tracing his finger over the peaks and valleys of the graph.

“If I am not mistaken, the distribution is far lower than normal.”

McCoy sinks onto the bed next to him.  “I’ve never seen them that slow.”

“A side effect of the stasis systems they are held captive in?”

“Maybe.”  McCoy purses his lips, his fingers flicking over the graph.  He knows Spock is watching him work.  Feels the course of it over his skin.  “It’d go a long way to explaining how Manas and Krall could hold them like that for so long.”

“Would accelerating their brain activity then revive them?”

“I don’t think so.”  McCoy flicks to his earlier work and superimposes Spock’s graph over his own.  “No, it wouldn’t.  We’re looking at the symptoms of them being so far in stasis - so deeply asleep, as it were.  As for the cause… it could be those wires stuck in them, or it could be something else entirely.  And as for undoing it, hell Spock, I don’t know.  The way out may not be the way they got into this state to begin with.”

“You are saying it may not be as simple as reversing what Krall did to them.”

“I don’t know,” McCoy says.  He can hear the edge of frustration in his voice.

“Where does that leave us?”

“Hell if I know.”

McCoy clears his throat.  There’s only a small gap between their thighs.  He’s sure he didn’t meant to sit down so close.

“Thanks,” he finally says.

“I did very little.”

“Still.”

Spock doesn’t seem inclined to argue.  McCoy bends over the padd again, but he doesn’t have anything else to do with it and Spock will realize too quick that how he’s poking at it doesn’t have any purpose.  He sets in his lap and covers it with his palms so that he doesn’t start drumming his fingers on it.  

“I can rescan Chapel,” he says when the silence begins to stretch. “I’ll have Chekov help this time and see if we can’t dial in the calibration to dig a bit deeper into what’s going on.”  He rubs his palm over his face.  “Think he’s up?  We could get a jump start on this.”

“I believe he is has already retired for the evening.”

McCoy has half a mind to wake Chekov up, though he doesn’t actually push himself to his feet.  The kid will be more useful after a decent night’s rest.

McCoy would be too, which is why he’s going to lever himself back up into his bunk.

Or go back to sickbay and scan Chapel himself.  Won’t be the first time he’s avoided his quarters for the draw of more work, though typically it’s because four walls and a bed are too quiet some nights.  And it would be useless anyway without Chekov’s help, a voice in his head says that sounds entirely too much like Spock.

Elbows on his knees, McCoy pushes his face into his hands.  A long day, after a long week, after too many goddamn long years.  And this stay on Altamid is hardly over yet.  He sighs when that muscle in his back pulls, straining at how he’s leaning forward.  He grimaces and reaches around to rub at his shoulder.

“You are in pain,” Spock says and McCoy yanks his hand back.

“Just a sore shoulder,” McCoy says.

He begins to push to his feet, but warm fingers interrupt him.  Just there, light, on his back.  He swallows.  Spock searches over his shoulder blade and zeros in with maddening precision right on that knot that has set up residence between his scapula and spine.  

Supraspinatus.  Serratus posterior.  There’s another muscle in there.  Spock’s thumb pushes against it and McCoy flounders for the name.

What a good reason to tuck himself away in his own bunk with Gray’s Anatomy and no uncertain terms that he wants to be left alone.  He leans forward, curving his shoulder so that Spock can reach better.

“There,” he says even though he tells himself not to.  But that sure pressure is making his head drop forward.  His lips part.

“What caused this?” Spock asks and McCoy snaps his eyes open.

“Starfleet,” McCoy says.  “One Jim Kirk.”

He doesn’t groan when Spock starts rubbing in a circle.  His tongue pushes into his lower teeth and he bites back on the sound that wants to rise.

“And Kirk’s first officer,” he adds for good measure, sure that if he doesn’t, a noise is going to escape him anyway.

“Curious.”

“It’s - ah - logical.”

A second hand joins the first, long fingers curling over McCoy’s shoulder to straighten him from his slump.  Out of the corner of his eye, he can see neatly trimmed nails.

Spock works the knot beneath his thumb.  McCoy shifts his feet against the floor.  It nearly hurts, how Spock rubs slowly back and forth over that spot.  Feels good too, in a way that McCoy has long since forgotten.  Hands on him that aren’t his own, that pull of someone else’s touch.  He can’t quite stop how he arcs into it.

“Is it?” Spock asks.  His voice is low and so close.

“Is what?” McCoy asks as Spock presses with what must be two fingers.

“That is flawed reasoning.”  

The hand on McCoy’s shoulder shifts to lay flat at the base of his neck.  Fingertips brush over his skin.  An inch upwards and they’d be in his hair.

He listens to himself say, “Ok.”

McCoy flushes hot when those fingers settle more firmly on the skin at his collar.  Spock’s hand doesn’t stop its slow circles on his back.  His whole body is too warm.  

“Sit up,” Spock says, but where a lecture about posture should be, instead Spock just moves closer.  McCoy watches Spock’s thigh brush the side of his own.  It pushes the fabric of his pants against his leg and he can feel every inch of it against his skin.

McCoy has to work his tongue through his dry mouth to say, “I am.”

“Hardly,” Spock says and that hand on McCoy’s neck drops to his waist.  Fingers cup the side of his ribs.  Cool air hits where Spock’s touch had been on his nape.  In his chest, McCoy’s heart pounds.

“What-“ McCoy says and does straighten, his thighs flexing and more fully pressing into Spock’s.  He now knows what Spock’s leg would feel like beneath his palm.  Good.  It’d feel good, all the trimness of a well cared for body.  McCoy liked - likes - to touch.  Did and still does, even if he’d pushed that fact away for so long he’s mostly forgotten it.  He lifts his hand and turns- and the padd slips from his lap to hit the floor.  

He jerks backwards at the noise.

For a heartbeat, they watch each other.  Their faces are too close.

It’s the worst sort of staring match.  McCoy smoothes his hand down his chest, straightening his uniform.  Then, he bends for the padd and pushes himself away from Spock.  The bedspread pulls taut between the dips of their weight.  He knows his face is flushed and can feel the rush of his own blood.  

It’s too unfair to ask Spock what the hell the two of them are playing at.  He’s not sure he wants to hear Spock’s answer anyway, so he fumbles for the next best thing.  

“This isn’t a good idea,” he says.  It could be.  God, it really could be.  But, no.  He shakes his head.  At Spock, and himself too.  

But where Spock should be agreeing, should be nodding and giving him a pedantic speech about logic, instead Spock’s eyes just travel over his face.  McCoy wonders if he’s imaging the faint stain of green on Spock’s cheeks.

McCoy clears his throat and tries to think past the race of his own pulse, the casual expectancy of the open angle of Spock’s thighs.  If McCoy leans over there, he’s sure of what will happen.  He grips at the padd hard enough his fingers slip on the casing, sweat slick and clumsy.

He tries again.  “I don’t think this is something we should be doing.”

He waves between them for emphasis.  Or for clarity maybe, because Spock is hardly agreeing with him.  Though hell if McCoy knows what he would have expected, except maybe anything but this.  Any single thing except this, inches apart, Spock’s eyes warm and dark, and McCoy’s skin warmed over with the flush of slow, sure touches.

“Why?” Spock asks and the urge to argue with the man is annoyingly subsumed and muddled up in the shape of how Spock’s mouth moves as he says it.

McCoy shoves the thought of those lips away with a short laugh.  “You can’t be serious.”

“You think I am not?”

Oh God.  He tries for a deep breath.

“I don’t sleep where I work, Spock.”

“A misnomer, as we all live aboard the ships that we serve on.”  McCoy narrows his eyes, unsure if Spock is irritating him on purpose or trying to flirt.  The fact that McCoy doesn’t know is only made worse by the fact that he might have missed this all along, misinterpreted that impertinence, that cheek for years now.

But that can’t be.  This has to be some terribly ill-advised Vulcan joke, except that if Spock is anything, he’s earnest.  And a complete pain in the ass, but McCoy has always known that at least, even if this version of Spock who sits too close, who looks at him like that is entirely new.

“Spock,” McCoy says.  He’s going to end this, for good, because this is… this is ridiculous.  Absurd, he repeats to himself, specifically at that twitch in his pants.  He’s seen a lot of insane things in his time in Starfleet, but this takes the cake.  “I’m not looking for anything.”

And especially not with you, he doesn’t add, not with how Spock is still watching him.  McCoy is growing suddenly sure that whatever Spock is, he isn’t joking and McCoy doesn’t need to make this worse.  There’s no flippancy on Spock’s face, just a slowly spreading stoniness, so that it’s only once Spock’s expression has tightened that McCoy can realize how expectant he looked.

McCoy licks at his lips.  It’s awful how still Spock is sitting.  

“Spock-“

“-Of course.”  Spock stands.  “Logical, Doctor.”

For once, the title sounds cool.  Detached in a way it never does.  McCoy grimaces.

“C’mon, it’s not-“ That McCoy doesn’t… like him, at least of a sort.  But it’s Spock, and it’s him, and McCoy is pretty sure that there couldn’t be two people less suited to starting something up.  He swallows thickly.  

“I appreciate your forthrightness,” Spock says and then he’s standing and in two steps across the room, he’s gone.

“Spock,” McCoy says again, but it’s to the door that’s already slid shut.

He groans and drops his face into his palms, annoyed when his shoulder doesn’t protest at the motion, when there’s no tug of sore muscles, just the remnant of warm, liquid heat and an ease in his back that feels nothing at all like relief.

Chapter Text

In the morning when McCoy wakes up, Spock’s bed is empty.  Neatly made, to boot.  It’s either good news or not that the the impressions they left in the blankets from sitting there side by side are smoothed out and gone, but he wouldn’t exactly know which one it is and alone in their room, he isn’t about to try to take a stab at guessing.

Though he’s not above checking if Spock’s toothbrush has shifted position, but staring at it, it might well have been in the same spot the night before.  

In the mess hall, his stomach growls, an unhelpful reminder him that he never managed to make it to dinner.  He jabs at the buttons on the replicator and frowns at the coffee that materializes, as if weren’t exactly what he ordered.

His breakfast is worse and he pokes his fork at eggs that bounce back into their original shape before he chucks the mess of it into the recycler and follows it down with a splash of tepid coffee.  This morning’s not exactly the poor night’s sleep to blame, though wouldn’t that be nice.  He always was good at ruining everything and now he’s gone and dragged Spock down with him.

In sickbay, he runs a scanner over Manas like the banality of a checkup will cure the tenor of the day’s start, but all it gets him is confirmation he clocked the man too hard, and that years of xenomedicine or no, he doesn’t have a magic wand that will wake Manas up from whatever sleep he’s settled into, nor Chapel to boot - and that the tricorders still don’t work worth a damn.

He leans his hip against the table and lets it take up the slump of his weight, sighing.  What a day, and he hasn’t even done anything yet.

He will, though.  He’ll finish up here, find Chekov, and work through what those abnormal brainwaves mean, which hopefully won’t just resolve itself into some odd but ultimately meaningless fluke.  And then he’s going to eat a square meal even if he has to force it down, and he’s going to find Spock and… talk. Somehow.  A hell of a lot of good dodging the man has done him.  He sighs again.

He has to close his eyes against a sudden swell inside of him, one that aches for home.  A simpler place and time than this.  Pine scented forests and the right color of sunlight, the stars where they should be, each of them arranged in their proper constellations.  Real food and real coffee and the crunch of his own planet beneath his boots.

Except that Earth worked out just about as well as Altamid has.

He clears his throat.  Opens his eyes and pretends to not notice the security guards watching him.

Outside the Franklin, he finds humidity, dust that eagerly coats his clothes, and Jaylah standing in the shade of the ship, her arms crossed.  

“Hey,” he says.  She doesn’t back away so he walks over to her.  

“Yesterday… Your leg,” he starts. She walks fine, stands upright, and her shoulders are square and firm, no damage to her left side that he can see.  Though she’s struck up quite the friendship with Scotty, so there might be something to that head wound. “Is it all right?”

Jaylah looks down at herself.  “I am standing.”

“I just meant…”  He shakes his head.  He’s not entirely sure he has the energy for this.  But her unknown physiology or no, this is a hell of a lot easier than picking through the mess he created with Spock.  He casts a look towards the mouth of the cave.  There’s only so many places in this damn mine camp to go, and the ship is good and empty of wayward Vulcans. Half Vulcans. Whatever.  “I’m happy to take a look at it for you, if it’s still bothering you.”

“Bothering?”

“If it’s sore, ever.  Or your back, too.  Do you get headaches?”  

She blinks at him.  He gestures to her forehead.  

“My head does not ache.”

“Ok.”  Maybe he can just get back into bed.  Pull the sheets up over his head, enjoy a solitude that is too scarce these days, and pretend this morning hadn’t ever started.  “I just thought that maybe it hadn’t healed right.  But suit yourself.”

He waves a hand at her and remembers too late that he should listen to Uhura more often than he does, all those intercultural competencies she’s always on about.  His own damn fault it’s in one ear and out the other.  Untranslatable gestures, or something of the like.  Jaylah just stares at the air his hand swept through.  

“I healed right,” she finally says.

“Ok,” he agrees.

“I could not walk and now I can.”

“Great.”

“I carried deck plates.  I carried conduit tubes.  I rebuild your bridge, where your Captain sits in my chair.”

“I got it.”  McCoy squints up at the sky.  The clouds aren’t as puffy here as they would be at home.

“I survived out here.  Alone.”

“I know.”  He lets out a slow, measured breath.  “I was just trying to help.”

“Help,” she says, the word short and harsh.  “Manas captures your crew.  You help them and you help him too.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not doing much helping of anyone,” McCoy says.  “Would that I could.”

“He attacked you too, and now you fix him.”

“I try not to think about that too hard.”

“If I hit you with my staff, do you still help me?” she asks.

“I’d really rather prefer you didn’t,” he says.  Though hell if he doesn’t probably deserve a solid whack or two.  “But yes.”

“Why?”

“It’s the right thing to do.”  He shakes his head.  “Not hitting me with your staff.  I could really live without that, you hear.”

“And if Manas killed James T?”

“Is this the third degree?” he asks.  “Thanks, but I don’t enjoy spending my mornings thinking about my friends being offed.”

“Or your Mr. Spock?”

“Jesus,” McCoy mutters.

“You would help Manas even then,” Jaylah says.  

McCoy needs a moratorium on all things Spock.  And Altamid.  And Starfleet, with its goddamn associated chats about morality.

“I took an oath, Jaylah.”

Her eyes are narrow.  “You think it is right.”

McCoy braces his hand against the Franklin’s hull.  Leans into it, arm locked and his traitorous back refusing to ache.  For a long moment, he closes his eyes.

When he opens them again, he nods. There’s a reason he went into medicine, and all the years - and lightyears - he’s travelled since then hasn’t changed that.  “Yes. I do.”

She blinks and looks away.  

“Montgomery Scotty said you were a ‘good person’.  Is this what that means?”

“He did?”  McCoy frowns.

“My knee.”  Her fingers tap over her left thigh.  “When I climb, it hurts.”

“Always?” he asks slowly.  Her jaw is set in a tight line.  “Or when you’ve been using it for a while.”

“Always.”

“Anything else?”

Her eyes close on her inhale.  There’s a pause before they open again.  “My… my ribs, you call them.  I cannot breathe deeply.”

“We can take care of that,” he says. This, at least, he can do.  “Your knee as well.”

“I have killed.”

He presses his lips together.  “It’s ok.”

“Many times.  You would still treat me?”  

“I’m not here to ask questions, Jaylah.  I’m not passing judgement, I signed up to - well, to lend a hand in anyway I can.  Whoever it is.”  And to get the hell out of dodge and away from the ruin of his old life as fast as he could.  Convenient, then, that Starfleet always needs doctors, and he’d needed a place to run to. Though look where that ended up for him, here on this hellhole of a planet, mired in yet another mess.  He jerks his head towards the hatch.  “It’ll be easier if we go inside.  All my instruments are in there.”

But she only straightens and pushes her shoulders back.

“No,” she says.

“We can do it out here, but frankly ma’am-“

“-You want to help your crew.

McCoy frowns.  “Well of course I do.”

“In the mountains, there is a woman who woke up.”  

McCoy turns the words over in his head.  And then he feels his lips part as he understands them.  

“What do you mean ‘woke up’?” he asks.  He pushes off from his lean against the hull.  “From those stasis systems?  The ones in the cave?”

“That is what I said.”

He can’t be hearing this right. He shakes his head, squinting at her.  “Were you going to bother to tell us this?”

“If I tell you, you will go, and she will try to kill you.  Then, I never leave here.”  Jaylah puts her hands on her hips.  “But you and your helping - we will not leave without your shipmates, will we?”

“Jim,” McCoy calls out but Jim’s not there, not Sulu, not Uhura, not even Spock.  He grabs at the comm on his belt.  This damn ship is the size of a shoebox and of course now is the time he’s not tripping over half of the crew.  “McCoy to Captain Kirk.”

“She will succeed, most likely,” Jaylah says.  “She does not care about ‘good.’ And she does not like help.”

“Should have let me do your leg first, then.”  He smacks his thumb at the priority button.  “McCoy to Kirk!”

A crackle of static, and then, “What’d’ya got for me, Bones?”

“Jim, you’re going to want to hear this.”

“I can’t let you go, Bones.”

McCoy takes three steps across the bridge, a finger held up in front of him.  “I don’t know if you need your ears cleaned out, Jim, but if you weren’t listening, Jaylah said there’s a woman who can help us.”

Jim shakes his head.  He’s wearing his Captain face.  How he ever grew up from that wet behind the ears kid who drank half of McCoy’s whiskey on that goddamn shuttle, McCoy will never know.

“We need you here,” Jim says, hands braced on the back of his chair and his jaw firm.

“Need me here?” McCoy parrots back.  He laughs.  It’s not even remotely funny, the harshness echoed back to him in the wide eyes of Chekov and how Uhura has her arms crossed over her chest.  “There’s not a damn thing for me to do here, Jim, not if we can’t get the crew up and at ‘em.”

“You’re the only senior medical staff member we have.”

McCoy throws his hands up.  “You’re the only captain we have and I’m betting that’s not going to stop you from hightailing it out there.”

“I will go,” Chekov says.  He looks at Jim.  “Where is it that we are going?”

“I’ll go too,” Sulu says.

“I’m in.”  Uhura sits up straighter in her chair.  “I doubt that whatever it is that this woman speaks, our UTs are up to the task.”

“See, Bones?” Jim grins.  McCoy scowls at that smile and paces over to Sulu, hands on his hips.  “We’re good.  You and Spock stay here.  Keep an eye on the crew and just sit tight until we’re back.”

“No,” McCoy says.

“Doctor McCoy is correct that it is inadvisable for you to leave the relative safety of the Franklin, Captain,” Spock says and McCoy nearly jumps at the sound of his voice, his fists falling from his hips and turning quicker than he meant to.  Spock was supposed to be rerouting power conduits with Scotty, not apparently lurking in the shadows.

“Glad you could join us, Mr. Spock,” Jim says.  “And thanks but no thanks for the advice.”

“Captain, I respectfully disagree.”  

“I’m not sending anyone else out there to do this,” Jim says.  He straightens from his lean on the chair as if he’s already moving to the door.

“I’m still coming,” Uhura says and stands too.

“Lieutenant…”

“Nice try, Kirk,” she says.  “We both know I’m the better shot.  And you’re not going alone.”

“You are not going, Captain” Spock says.

“I’m going,” McCoy says.  “Nobody else here even begins to know the questions to ask.”

“An issue that is avoidable by simply retrieving the woman in question and bringing her here,” Spock says and McCoy opens his mouth in a retort, except Spock is watching Jim, his shoulder angled like McCoy isn’t in the room at all.

Another day and he’d grab for Spock’s arm, get in the man’s face and argue, irritation borne forth by all the times Jim has listened to Spock and not him.  Now, he rocks back on his heels, his molars pressed together and his glare useless against the fact Spock won’t look at him.

“That’s a lot of ifs, Spock,” McCoy says anyway.  “I know what information we need, and I’m going.  There’s no other way to get the hell off this rock.”

“Fine.”  Jim rubs at the bridge of his nose.  There’s some logic working there, some voice of reason that is sifting its way through Jim.  McCoy would put a hell of a lot of money on that voice sounding exactly like Spock.  “You and me, Bones.  The rest of you are sitting this one out.  You’ll have to have our backs from here.”

“You need a map,” Uhura says.  She always was sensible, that one.  And Spock is just standing there, silent.  McCoy frowns at the back of his head.  “A direction to head in.  Jaylah, what can you tell us?”

McCoy hates this rush of preparation.  As if they can possibly equip themselves for everything that waits out there.  He paces across the bridge to the view screen and its picture of the mine camp around them.  A couple hours, he tells himself, and they’ll be heading back.  It’s no so far, Jim will work that diplomatic magic of his talking to this woman, and they’ll be back on the ship.  Maybe on their way to getting out of here.  Tomorrow, even.  Or sooner.

Jim catches him there at the edge of the room.

“Excited?” he asks.

“Good God,” McCoy says.  “A hike through mountains lousy with - what did Jaylah call them?  Vermin?  Comms that barely work?  Sensors that are gummed up with goddamn alien rocks?”

“Thought so,” Jim says.  “It’ll be ok, Bones.”

“You always say that.”

“It always is,” Jim says and McCoy walks off with a huff.  Oh, to forget all the times it isn’t, or so conveniently brush them aside with that confidence Jim wears so well.

In sickbay, McCoy stuffs med supplies into a pack.  Chapel used to do this for him.  Hell, most of the time she’d have supplies set to go in crates to be beamed down before Jim had finished the mission briefing.  He’d gotten so used to how she arranged everything that once it had been M’Benga doing it and he’d searched for ten minutes for a scalpel, cursing the entire time.  God does he miss her.

“Sir?” he hears.  Lavigne, with a padd and a tricorder.  “Any orders?”

“Keep them alive,” he says and adds four rolls of gauze to what he already has.  “Hell, wake them up if you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

He glances up.  “You’ll be fine, Nurse.”

She licks at her lips.  “Of course.”

He grabs a stack of hypos.  He needs pressure bandages, wrappings for a splint, antihistamines, tricorders calibrated for the unknown, electrolyte supplements, thermal blankets, plasma packs - human only, no need for the half-Vulcan ones, carefully crafted from the blood McCoy has eked out of Spock over the years, badgered at him to stockpile for what if.

“Dermal regenerators?” he asks.

“Here’s two,” Lavigne says.

“Make it three,” he says.

This is not his first rodeo, not on some hellish planet and not with Jim in tow.  There’s always a crazed sort of hope, heading out for something like this, and today is no different.  Now with him and Jim up on two feet, all limbs working and accounted for, blood firmly where it should be, pumping through them and not soaking into bandages.  It’s a macabre vision that floats across McCoy’s mind but hardly unfounded with the times he’s sent off crews whole and healthy and gotten them back on his surgery table, mouths gasping like fish and their eyes blown wide.

“Be careful around here,” he tells Lavigne.  She nods and gives him a small wave as he shoulders his pack and walks out.

There’s an envirosuit hanging in his quarters.  One for Spock too, but McCoy’s careful to grab his own, medical insignia and all.  He was proud of that once he’s sure, even though he can barely remember that feeling now, being handed his insignia and rank stripes at a long ago ceremony he had found himself caring about despite his best intentions.  Now, he chucks his uniform up on his bed and shakes out the undershirt that Starfleet has deemed most likely to keep him breathing and conscious out in the thick of things.

He yanks the shirt over his head.  When he reemerges, Spock is in the doorway.

He draws up short.  McCoy slowly settles the shirt over his stomach.

“I thought you had already left,” Spock says.

“Can’t be quick about anything when Starfleet issues forty seven different uniforms, all to be worn at overly specific times.”  McCoy jams his shirt into his waistband, then stops.  He needs to change his pants too.  “I thought you’d enjoy the particularity of it all.”

McCoy doesn’t think he’s imagining that backwards lean Spock has.  He should get on then, Spock should, if he can’t bear to be in here.  It’s McCoy’s room too, and he’s the one who’s supposed to be pulling on boots so he can tramp out into this world he doesn’t want to be on.

He sighs.

He doesn’t need to put Spock through anything more, now does he, not even that snap at him in his own mind.

“Listen,” McCoy starts.  

“If you do not have any questions regarding the tricorder calibration, then our business here is concluded.”

McCoy frowns.  Spock is the one who walked in here, after all.

“Hey,” he says, his own voice so soft he’s not sure that the word has even come out.  Except that Spock searches out any part of the room that doesn’t have him him in it, which isn’t a whole hell of a lot.

Then, Spock does step backwards.  It triggers the door to open.

“Stay safe,” McCoy offers though it falls hollow.  Not nearly enough, except he hardly knows what would be.

And Spock doesn’t apparently want to hear it, because he only peers at him.

“I mean it,” McCoy says.

And then Spock walking away, a clip of a boot heel on the decking and then another, that even rhythm across the floor that carries Spock down the hall.

The door shuts again before McCoy is done listening.

There was a thrill to this back in those early days, one that even McCoy could admit to when they had just left Earth and these missions were new enough to taste.  And earlier still, back at the Academy, when following Jim through training exercises was novel, out in Yellowstone, Yosemite, that week they spent in Alaska, all mosquitos and long nights of sunlight.

But that was their sun, the bright yellow shine of it, and the air had been sweet with the smell of summer.

Jaylah’s right, this planet feels wrong.  Pricks at him, like a deep crawl over his skin.

As dusk settles over the mountain, Jim rests his hands on his hips.  Sweat dampens his hair to brown, and McCoy feels an answering stick to his own shirt beneath his unzipped jacket.  

“Camp here?” Jim asks.

“Camping involves s’mores,” McCoy says and dumps his jacket on the ground next to his pack.  “And a guitar and a cooler of beer.”

“When we get home,” Jim says and points a finger at McCoy.  A grin spreads over his face. “We’re doing that.”

“When we get home,” McCoy says, “I have no intention of ever sleeping on the ground again.”

“C’mon, we’ll roast weenies.  And we’ll make Spock come, right?  I’d pay money to see it.  Him and marshmallows- he’d probably dissect them and declare them illogical.”

McCoy squints out at the hills around them.  “What’d we bring to eat?”

“What?  Oh.  Protein bars.”  From his hip pouch, Jim produces a foil wrapped package.  McCoy should have known.  His stomach clenches at the thought of them.  “The good kind though.  Chocolate chip.”

“There is no good kind,” McCoy says.

It’s synthesized, all of it.  There’s no real chocolate in space.  He drops down onto a rock and lets his boots splay out wide into the loose gravel they’ve been hiking through.

After a moment, Jim sits across from him.  With two hands, Jim scrubs his palms over his face, and then into his hair, making it stick up.  For a moment, McCoy seizes on the memory of their old dorm room, early mornings with Jim bleary eyed and blinking, pillow creases over his cheek.  Then, he lets the image float away again.  McCoy’s not sure he’d recognize that kid anymore.  Of course, he’s not sure he’d know himself, either.  Too much has come into their lives since then, that day he found the hulking silhouette of the Enterprise rising out of Iowa’s cornfields.  The shape of it had seemed auspicious.  A portent, for better or worse.

Crazy to think that it’s as good as gone now.  Black and burnt, never to fly again.

He tips his face up towards the sky, eyes closed against the setting sun.  When he opens them again, Jim has his lips pressed together and his expression is a bit too soft.

“Are you really thinking of leaving?” Jim asks.  In his hands, he turns the bar over and around, the foil crinkling.

“You were,” McCoy says and wipes sweat from his face off onto his sleeve.  A day of hiking doesn’t leave him particularly charitable, with sore heels and a wet shirt drying on him.  He’d had a shower with real water on the ship.  The privileges of rank, dispensed in paperwork, too long shifts, and the chance to fill his bathroom with steam.

“Yeah.”  Jim ducks his head down.  His hair is still a mess.  McCoy watches him peel open the bar and then hold it out so hopefully that McCoy sighs and takes it.

“This mission is even worse than what I thought it’d be,” McCoy says, two bites in and wishing even for the Franklin’s antique replicator.  That food is warm at least, and with the sun settling behind the hills for the night, the chill of evening isn’t so far off.

“Is that enough to throw in the towel?”

“Jesus, Jim, I don’t know.”  McCoy digs his thumb and forefinger into the corner of his eyes.  “I want to go home.”

“I thought you did, hightailing it back to the ship.”

Georgia, McCoy doesn’t say.  Swampy heat and lightning bugs.  He swallows another bite.  These bars are always too chalky.  Get in his molars and stick there.  

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he says and shoves the rest of the bar in his mouth.  He stands and brushes his hands off on his thighs.  Around them, the mountainside is descending into blue shadows, and the sky is tinting yellow, a poor approximation of a true sunset.  He scratches his fingers through his hair.  It’s crusty with drying sweat.  “I am, you know.”

Jim sighs.  When his eyes dip closed, there are lines on his face that weren’t always there.

“Listen,” Jim says.  “If you’re sitting here, looking at your life and wondering if you’re going to be doing this job until you retire, I can relate.”  He holds his hands up, palms out.  “Just don’t start yelling again, ok?”

McCoy is standing.  Even in his head, that distinction sounds too much like something Spock would point out.  Pedantic and unhelpful, at best.  He presses his lips together, gravel grinding under the heel of his boot.

Jim’s watching him.  Not the way that Spock does sometimes, that McCoy can feel skitter across his entire body, but with the corners of his eyes folded up and his eyebrows raised.  He looks so unsure and isn’t that the hell of it, their intrepid captain who used to run out of matching sets of socks ‘cause for all his brilliance, he had never quite mastered laundry.  

McCoy lets out a long breath.  His head is starting to hurt, a dull pound of a too long hike on a too hot day.  Never did scan his own skull after Spock whacked him into the dirt.  He should have had Lavigne do it while he had the chance.

“I thought this is what you wanted,” McCoy says.  “A ship.  Your own crew.”  He waves towards the mountains around them.  “Deadly planets to explore”

“It is.  It was.”  Jim looks up at him.  “I just had a- a momentary lapse.”  

“That’s a hell of a midlife crises, Jim.  Giving up on everything you’ve worked so hard for.”

“Yeah.”  Jim leans forward, his elbows on his knees.  “I know.”

McCoy stares out at the sunset.  Damn Jim and damn Starfleet for getting him here.  Himself too, he should add to that list, but isn’t it always easier to lay the blame at someone else’s feet, unfair as it is.

“Jim,” he says softly and waits till Jim looks up at him.  “What brought this about?”

“I don’t know,” Jim says.  His hands hang limp between his knees.  “I guess I just thought that… I thought that if this is what I’m doing for the rest of my life, I should maybe reevaluate.  My- my dad was married with a second kid on the way at my age.  And I don’t even have-“  Jim looks over at him.  His eyes are soft.  Sad.  “It’s all great, up until you realize nobody’s going to be there next to you at night, you know?”

“That’s what all this was?” McCoy asks.  Good God, there must be something in the air these days.  Though trust Spock and Jim to independently arrive at the destination of not just cutting out of Starfleet, but that their beds were too big and too empty.  McCoy grimaces. Geniuses, the two of them are.  He would smack some sense into them both, given the chance.

Jim sighs.  “Is it such a bad reason?”

McCoy watches him, that hang to his head.  

“Carol?” he finally asks.

“Aw hell, Bones, I don’t want to talk about Carol.”

“You were really going to leave because you’re not picking out china sets?”  McCoy shakes his head.  He’s been there, and he’s the first to tell anyone it’s sure as hell not what it’s cracked up to be.  “Really?”

“When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound as good,” Jim says.  He rubs his hand up the back of his neck.  “But two more years out here, a debrief on Earth, maybe a rotation through a teaching position - God help me - and then back out again?  And then again after that?  I started counting years, Bones, and they add up.”

“You’re trying to tell me this?” McCoy asks.

“I know.”  The smile Jim offers him is weak.  “I should have- I should have told you.”

“You told Uhura,” McCoy says.  He doesn’t have enough energy to pretend that doesn’t sting.

“Spock told you,” Jim says.  Then he sighs again, his shoulders slumping.  “She worked it out.  All those transmissions.”

“Your own damn fault for hiring a genius for a comms officer.”

“Figures, doesn’t it,” Jim says, easy and light until the expression slips, the brightness of it falling from his face like he can’t quite hold onto it for any longer.  He fumbles with his utility belt and fishes out a second protein bar, fiddling with it, his head bent forward.  “Five years is longer than I thought’d be.”

“I’ve been telling you that for ages, Jim.”  McCoy waves towards the mountains, their rather lacking dinner, the ground that they’ll be sleeping on, hard, rocky, and likely damp once evening settles and with it the night’s dew.  “Why would anyone want to do this for very long?  So far from home and our families?”

“I wasn’t-“ Jim scratches the back of his neck.  “I wasn’t really thinking of going home.”

McCoy turns.  “You weren’t.”

“I don’t know.  Iowa?  What the hell is even back there.  At least Spock…” Jim shakes his head.  “He’d have a reason to go- well, not home, exactly, is it.  But me?  Hell, you?”

“Speak for yourself,” McCoy says.

“C’mon, Bones, what would we do back on Earth?” Jim asks.  “Isn’t it one of those things, the thought of it is better than being there?”

But McCoy can’t answer that, so he doesn’t try.  Instead, he crumples the wrapper of his bar in his hand, the foil wrinkling.  When Jim opens his, McCoy sits back down and tugs off his boots.  He won’t get any decent sleep tonight and breakfast will be no better than dinner was, but he can at least put on clean socks.

That night, already cold as soon as he settles himself down on the ground even with his jacket zipped to his chin, McCoy tries to drive Jim’s question out of his mind, but it’s stuck there like a chorus of a bad song.  He worries at it, turning it over and around again in his head, annoyed at himself for even wondering.  He’s wanted to go home since he left, now hasn’t he.  Hasn’t done shit about that want, but it’s lingered all the same.  Gnawed at him until he ignores it most of the time.  And thinking about it now will just make it yet another night of tossing and turning, this time on the poor comfort of gravel.  Though yesterday at this hour it was the hard slats of his bunk through a too thin mattress and that wasn’t much better, now was it.  He closes his eyes, like blocking out the foreign stars above him will also blot that memory, the too quiet room and how he strained to listen for the door.

“Jim,” he finally whispers.

“Huh?”

“Do you really want to be with someone?” McCoy asks.  In the blue black of night, Jim turns to look at him.  “That badly?”

“I dunno.”  There’s a long pause.  “Yeah.  I do.”

“It’s the Enterprise.”

“I’m staying, Bones.  But it’s- I still want that.”

“Jim Kirk,” McCoy says.  “Settling down.”

Jim huffs out a quiet laugh at that and for some time, McCoy stares up at the stars.  Then, he rolls his head over to look at Jim again.  “And after the mission?  Does it- does wanting that change what you’ll do?”

“I don’t know what I’ll end up doing.”  Jim palms his face.  “You?”

“Dunno.”

“Would you be up for another one?” Jim asks.  “Another five years after this?”

“I don’t want to finish this one,” McCoy says to the sky above them, but there’s no heart in it and when he blows out a frosty breath, it’s resigned.

Still, Jim looks over at him.  “I wouldn’t want to do this without you.”

“Cause it’d take you all of three minutes to end up back on a biobed.”  McCoy frowns at the night sky.  “How the hell do you think we feel, you wanting to cut loose?”

“Aww, Bones, I love you too,” Jim offers, easy as can be and with a note of lightness that tells McCoy everything he needs to know about how little Jim wants to keep talking about this.  

Whatever, he can suit himself.  And McCoy can play ball, if Jim wants to pull back into himself.

“This conversation isn’t going to end up with you thinking we’re going to cuddle tonight, Jim.”

“C’mon, I’ll let you be little spoon.”

McCoy rolls his eyes.  In the dark, Jim had better not be wagging his eyebrows.

He doesn’t turn to check.  Instead, he studies the moon, just peeking up above a hill.  It’s still too large.  It throws the shadows of rocks around them into strange shapes, the inky black far darker than McCoy would like to peer into.  

“Uhura had a date,” Jim suddenly says.

Gravel crunches beneath McCoy’s head as he turns quickly to look at him.  Jim’s staring straight up.  McCoy eyes him.  

“Did she,” he finally says.

“At Yorktown.”  McCoy can just make out his grimace.  “She was telling me about it before we got there.  And Sulu- he and Ben are thinking about having another kid.”

“Good for them,” McCoy says.  “Uhura, too.”

“Yeah.”

“Did she go?” McCoy asks when Jim just keeps laying there.

“Oh.  I don’t know.”  Jim crosses his arms over his chest.  “I think so.”

“Is that-“ McCoy licks at his lips for a moment to pause.  “Is that what this is about?”

“The Hood wants Chekov.  Badly.  I was just… being preemptive, I guess.”

So it wouldn’t hurt so bad when the crew drifted away from him.  He doesn’t have to say it, cause McCoy can hear it loud and clear.  Get the hell out of dodge now, and Jim wouldn’t have to face the end of the mission, his crew straying away from him for their own lives.

“Jim…”

“Forget it.  It was just a long couple months.”  Jim covers his eyes with his palm.  “I’m fine.  I’m over it.”

“Hey,” McCoy says.  Jim wipes at his nose with the back of his hand.

“What if Spock really resigned?” Jim asks.

“He says he’s not going to,” McCoy says.  Which means two more years of the man.  On the ship - their ship - his and Spock’s quarters were across the hall from each other.  How many mornings McCoy would walk out into the corridor bleary eyed and interrupted on his way for coffee by Spock standing there in his own doorway, he’ll never know.  Too many for it to be anything but commonplace, Spock the first person he saw when he woke up most days, heading off to some lab somewhere before his shift started, or trailing McCoy to the mess hall, silent beside him in the turbolift.

Maybe McCoy will be on a different deck on the new ship.  He hadn’t bothered to look at the designs Jim had sent around, though now it seems like it’d pay to be prepared.  Know what he’s getting into when they board that damn thing.

If he goes.  Which he sure as shit doesn’t want to.

Jim chews on his lip long enough that McCoy wants to tell him to stop.  Or deal with it himself when it ends up raw and in need of a dermal regenerator.  But McCoy would do it anyway, he knows.  Hunt through his pack and lean over Jim until he was patched back up.  

“Uhura seeing someone doesn’t mean she’s transferring her commission,” McCoy says.  “And Sulu was with us when Demora was born.”

“Yeah.  But now you.”  Jim’s so quiet that McCoy can hear the details of the night, a low rush of the breeze.  Somewhere near them, a stick snaps.  Back on Yorktown when none of them thought they would ever be here again, Jaylah had told them about the large herbivores she used to hunt.  Now, McCoy just hopes the thing is well fed and not interested in investigating if humans resemble roughage in any way.

Two more years of this.  Cold nights and sounds from the dark, following Jim out into the unknown.  Of Spock there at every turn, and McCoy living full well with the memory of what they did.

Though there’s shuttles from Yorktown.  Not direct, but a few connections and he’d be back.  A transfer at Andoria’s spaceport, he’s pretty sure, and another not far from Risa.  

Vulcan would have been one.  It was such a huge transport hub in this section of the quadrant, not that McCoy had ever been there before… before.  He never had been much for interstellar flight, not in those days.  Jocelyn had wanted to go to Aldebaran for their honeymoon.  He had thought Europe sounded nice, and in the end they spent ten days on Io.  He had a nice time, he thinks, though neither of them had been particularly satisfied with the compromise.  She had asked again, later, some anniversary or birthday, to go to Procyon.  Or Capella Prime, maybe it was.  He remembers the fight even if the planet slips away from him.

He had visited the moon once, with his dad.  How far away that had seemed, Earth blue and white and green hanging beyond his outstretched fingers.

“If-“ Jim clears his throat. “-If you want to go, you should.”  He’s blinking up at the sky.  “I won’t give you a hard time about it.”

McCoy wants to laugh at that, the idea of Jim Kirk letting him slip out of his life quietly, but the noise sticks in his throat.  After too long of working his tongue through his mouth, Jim turns towards him.

“If you want something else out of life than this, I get it,” Jim says and hell if he doesn’t sound serious now, moonlight cutting over his face.  Around them, the dark feels pressing, too close.  It makes McCoy want to scratch at the back of his neck, like he can itch away the press of this planet.  “A house.  A dog.  All… that.”

McCoy had a dog.  For a long time, that click of nails over the floor and the thump of a tail against his legs when he eased the door open after a too long hospital shift was what he missed the most.

Illogical, his mind supplies.  He frowns.  It was hardly his greatest loss.

He’d roll onto his side away from Jim, but surely the gravel would only be harder like that, would jut into his shoulder and poke at him worse than it’s doing now.  As it is, he’s already put in mind of another night on this planet, spent shivering and sleepless, and it’s not one he wants to think of.

“I don’t know what I want,” he says instead and hears the truth in the words as soon as they’re out there in the night, hanging silver and frigid between them, a warm puff of air.  

And hasn’t it been years of that, really.  Flying away from what had been at warp speed, Jim Kirk beside him the entire way, and the rest of them too for most of it.  Uhura, down the hall in their dorm and then on the ship, Sulu in half of his classes, and Chekov tagging along anywhere and everywhere Jim was.  Spock too of course, ubiquitous at Jim’s side as soon as they’d met.  This cadre, motley as they are, privy to so much of the distance McCoy had put between himself and all that he had come from.

But getting the hell out of dodge at a sprint isn’t exactly the same as going towards something, a fact he spends a lot of time ignoring.  Which is easier to do with the regularity of shift changes and annual vaccinations and checkups of a crew of hundreds.  Less so with the quiet of the night around him.

He closes his eyes.  He can’t exactly blame Jim for trying to stack the blocks of his life up into a resemblance of normalcy.  Any of them would do the same.  Are doing the same maybe, if Sulu growing his family is any indication, and Uhura too, looking beyond the banality of ship life.

Spock as well.  Apparently.  If that’s what that was.  Though hell if McCoy knows, since that man hasn’t ever made any sense and as if the last days haven’t been the worst of that.  Ever since that cave, a delirium to Spock that McCoy had been glad to chalk up to his wound.

It’ll settle back down, he knows.  There will be a day that all of this has faded and God willing, he and Spock can slip by this, leave it buried down deep in a past that McCoy doesn’t need to think about.  Until then, he’ll keep his head down and wait for Spock’s frostiness to thaw.  And keep his hands to himself, because Jim isn’t wrong about a warm body at night, someone to be there at the end of a shift, and Spock is as warm as they come.  That shape of him.  How he felt under McCoy’s hands, and that’s without taking the time to really explore.  He grits his teeth before his mind can wander like his fingers wanted to.

But it’s the thought of that which is tempting, not the actuality.  Jim’s right about that.  McCoy has been there before, that allure of opening his life up to someone, and he doesn’t need to walk that path again.  Some doors once shut are better left to lie.

He rubs his finger and thumb into his eyes, his sigh blowing onto his wrist where his jacket sleeve pulls back.  Move on and along, a well worn mantra in his life.

He should ask Jim to change rooms with him when they get back to the Franklin.  Put some space between himself and Spock.  It’d be better than living together with Spock, what with all of this hanging between them.  McCoy doesn’t need to be there as a constant reminder, not if he doesn’t want what Spock so apparently does.  He can spare him that at least, a too close roommate when it’d be best if they could both get some distance.

Though asking Jim for that would mean at least some sort of reason he’d have to furnish.  And Spock… Spock’ll likely never tell Jim. McCoy can’t imagine that he would, what with how tight the man can clam up.  Though the idea of years ticking past and Jim not knowing is all too odd.  Makes the silence that much heavier, like it’s too clandestine to speak aloud.  And maybe… maybe if Jim knew, he could talk to Spock.  Do it in a way that McCoy can’t.  Find out what’s going on with the man.

McCoy licks at his lips.  He shouldn’t, probably.  But he does anyway, the jitter inside of him building into how he drops his hand and turns his head on the crunch of the gravel.  He wants it out, this jump inside of him at the thought of Spock, wants it worked free and unknotted until it finally leaves him the hell alone.  

“Jim,” he says. “There’s something-“

Another stick snaps.  Closer this time.

“Hmm?” Jim asks.  His eyes are on the dark, peering at the night around them and he’s half upright.  When nothing happens, he lays back down, and McCoy finds his attention on him again.

It’s harder the second time.  

“Spock,” he starts.

“Yeah?” Jim asks when McCoy stops there.

McCoy draws in a breath but he doesn’t have to push it out with words formed around it, because there’s another crack and this time, the shadows move.

One, two, a dozen figures step out.  McCoy makes out the shape of a phaser rifle.  Beside him, Jim’s already crouching and McCoy scrambles to sit upright too.

A silhouette detaches from the group, the shine of the moon throwing her features into stark silver and shadows.

“You have Manas,” the woman says.  She’s holding a phaser too.  “You will take us to him.”

Chapter Text

In the dark, the walk back to the ship takes longer than McCoy feels like it should. And certainly a hell of a lot longer than he wants it to.  It’s all downhill, not the scramble of the afternoon, but picking his way over rocks he just climbed up is still no treat, not with only the moon to brighten the deep of the night.  Twice, McCoy stumbles, but he’s not concerned with his bruised shins through the padding of his pants.  No, he’s got a new friend walking beside him each step of the way, phaser in his hand, even if it’s pointed towards the ground.

McCoy eyes it.  His buddy doesn’t seem to like that too much, shifting the phaser to his other hand when he catches McCoy looking, but McCoy doesn’t particularly like being marched around as the clock ticks past midnight.  And not by this bunch, all of them a head taller than McCoy and Jim both, the rags and robes they’re swathed in doing little to hide the swell of muscles beneath their clothes.  Whatever life they live out here, McCoy doesn’t exactly envy them, not if it’s turned them into this, silent and hulking and, when McCoy glances over again, given towards a hell of a glare of an expression on their gray, pale faces.

As the crag of the mountains turn to forest, the moon sets.  They walk the last pitch in near blackness, and when they come to the mining camp, their arrival is heralded only by the sense of looming openness, the broad brush of air that means trees aren’t hemming them in anymore.  Instead, there’s that particular vulnerability of being in a wider space.  It must be the breeze that he feels on his face, even in the stuffiness of the night.

“Leave the guns here,” Jim says into the silence.  It’s how he speaks when he’s working.  Concentrating.  And a bit scared.  McCoy’s come to dread that tone.  At some point, it stopped being odd to hear Jim speak with such gravity and instead just became a harbinger of what was to come.  Most often a firefight and a mad scramble to beam out, though they’re not going anywhere right now, no safety to be found in the distance of a ship in orbit.

Across the mine, the Franklin sits, glowing with a handful of lights.

“No,” the woman says.

“Our security team isn’t going to take kindly to you walking us in here like this,” Jim says.  McCoy eyes the rim of the mine, trying to pick out a red shirt in the blue black gloom of night.

“Your security team is on patrol on the far perimeter,” the woman says.  “They were here six minutes ago and will be here again in twelve more.”  She smiles.  She’s standing too close to Jim.  McCoy’s phaser is still on his belt just beneath the hem of his jacket, but he doesn’t need to count the weapon’s surrounding him.  Too many for his back to not crawl with it, and he’s never been one for shooting anyway.

“Your tricorders work,” Jim says.  He’s so calm.  Even looks a bit impressed.  Uhura would be, and Scotty too.  Probably they’d be halfway towards asking how, no matter how armed their new friends are.  The two of them would be wondering aloud at calibrated frequencies and the particulars of interference signals.  McCoy peers towards the ship.  He can’t quite judge the distance to it, the size of the Franklin too big for this parking lot they’ve landed it in.  His strength has never been these kinds of tactics, these middle of the night adventures.

Give him a hypo, he thinks, not this hell.

“We know how to make use of our sensors,” the woman says.  She leans even closer to Jim.  “We have been here a long time.”

“We’re offering clemency and transport,” Jim says.  “We’re from the United Federation of Planets and we-“

“-Hush.”  She taps her phaser to her other palm.  “That’s enough, now.”

She circles him, too slow.  When she’s done, eyes raking up and down his back, she walks over to McCoy.  He doesn’t let himself flinch, though his skin ticks.  Instead, he stares right back at her as she examines him, the sewn together rags of her clothing, the dirt under her nails, her hair, twisted and tied up exposing a long scar on her neck.

“He talks too much,” she says and points the butt of her phaser towards Jim.

McCoy licks his lips.  “That he does.”

“You are much quieter.”

“Just enjoying the night,” he says.

“I like you.”

“Lucky me,” he mutters.

“Bring me to your ship,” the woman says and with a claw of a hand curled around his upper arm, McCoy can feel how strong she is.  When she pushes, he’s steered right around.  “And then we will hear of your offer.”

She shoves him and he tries not to trip over his boots.  Dust kicks up behind him.  His mouth feels gritty, dry.  He has to clear his throat to call out towards the ship, “Hey!”

Probably not what he’s supposed to yell, but protocol is well and good when he can remember it.  He swallows and shouts, “It’s us!”

Nothing happens.  McCoy can feel the woman behind him.  Then a shape, a movement of shadow near to the hull resolves itself into long legs and a too straight back.

McCoy takes a step forward.  “Spock!”

What the hell he’s doing awake, McCoy doesn’t want to know.  But it’s Spock.  Stargazing, for all he could guess, or something else equally, blithely logical.

When there’s no hand grabbing him back and no sound of a phaser charging, McCoy walks forward.  The crunch of all those boots against the gravel is loud, that stomp of all of them behind him.  Uhura’s with Spock, he realizes.  There’s no mistaking that ponytail, the hemline of her skirt, now walking out to meet them.

His stomach drops.  Imagining what they might be talking about… maybe he would have preferred a longer march through the night.

By the time they reach the ship, more lights have winked on, and someone who sounds a lot like Sulu has appeared, calling out, “Is that them? Captain?”

“Thought we’d wander back,” McCoy says when he’s close enough to not have to raise his voice.  “And we brought guests.”

Uhura’s the one who crosses to them first, a light jog across the crushed stone.  “You made it.”

She’s in her uniform.  Still, or again maybe.  She should be sleeping.  They all should be.

“Hi to you too,” McCoy says when she only walks as far as Jim, where he’s circled to the edge of the group near to one of the Franklin’s landing struts.  Probably some carefully calculated decision in that.  McCoy’s mostly thinking about his bed.

“Are you ok?” Sulu asks.  McCoy can just make him out near the hatch in the Franklin’s hull that they’ve been using like a front door.  Should have put out a welcome mat, McCoy can’t help but think, what with their newcomers.

Spock’s hovering too far away to really easily speak too.  And just standing there, stock-still like he does, hands loose at his sides.  He has his eyes on Jim and McCoy blinks, looks away before his own attention is noticed.

“We’re here,” McCoy says to the woman and waves towards the ship.  “If you want the details of our illustrious captain’s grand plan, now’s your chance.”

But the woman is just examining the hull of the ship, and then Sulu and Spock both, standing there against it.  

“We’re here to offer you a way home,” Jim says.  Next to him, Uhura seems patently unarmed in this group.  And though Uhura with bare hands is more than McCoy thinks this crowd might want to take on, he feels that lack of her phaser like it’s his own, that unpreparedness for what walks out of the night.

He hates this.  So, so much.

“Home,” the woman says.  “And how will you do that?”

“You’ve been marooned here,” Jim says.  “We want to right the wrong that Krall has done to you.”

“Oh.”  She smiles.  It’s ghastly.  “So kind.”

“Where are you from?” Uhura asks.

“Not so far,” she says.  “Not so far as you.”

“We want to help you,” Jim says.  He has a hand out.  McCoy wonders if the woman recognizes it as the peace offering it is.  It could be an insult to her family for all McCoy knows, an extended palm the one gesture not to be made.

But the woman just smiles again.  “You are talking again, Captain.”

“He can’t help it,” McCoy says.  “Would that he could.  For all of our sakes.”

“For our sakes,” she repeats, slowly.  “Tell me.  How do you know you are not the ones in need?”

“Kattel!”

McCoy jumps at the shout, his heart kicking into a higher gear than can be healthy.  Though none of this is, nighttime jaunts and all these guns.  Next to the jut of a rock pile, Jaylah stands with her staff in both hands.  

“You,” the women says.

“James T, do not speak with her.”  Jaylah slips from behind the rocks.  Spock takes a step towards her, moving out of the shadows one pace and then two.  “Kattel is not to be trusted.”

Jim straightens, his shoulders drawn back and firm.  “We’re-“

“-Enough,” the woman says.  “Enough from you, Captain.”

“We’re offering a ride, in good faith.  That’s all,” McCoy says when Jim’s eyes cut towards him.

“On this?” Kattel asks.  She walks towards the ship and Jim lets her go, turning on his heel as she moves past him.  Jaylah’s eyes follow her and even from this distance, McCoy can see how tightly she’s holding her staff.

What a hell for her this must be.  First Manas here, and then the lot of these folks.  It’s easy to forget how long Jaylah lived on board the Franklin. McCoy sees only the stamp of Starfleet, the antiquated design that is still echoed through modern ships, upgraded and tweaked but familiar in the bones of the space.  Though he hardly has an eye towards what Jaylah changed in those years, all the ways in which she made the ship hers.  He’s not one to notice the particulars now is he, all those small details.

Kattel approaches Sulu and the open hatch beside him and McCoy tries not to grimace.  He’s not too keen on playing host to a group that just walked them here at gunpoint, though he’s not exactly given a vote, what with how Jim lets her inspect the ship without calling out for security, a slow walk up one side of the hull and then down another, nor how she stops next to Sulu again, her eyes on the slice of light coming from the corridor inside.

Jim looks at McCoy.  McCoy shrugs.  Jim points his chin towards Kattel and raises his eyebrows and McCoy sighs.

“We can offer you a meal,” he says and makes himself walk over to her.  He glances back at Jim, who gestures both hands.  McCoy wants to rolls his eyes.  Damn Jim and his big mouth.  And moreover, damn the fact that McCoy knows him entirely too well and is too capable of translating Jim’s motions into something sensible.  “I suppose you ought to leave your weapons here.  Regulation, I’m afraid.”

“You will offer us a meal,” Kattel says, “And we will bring our weapons.”

Over her shoulder, Jim shakes his head.

“No can do,” McCoy says.

“She brings her weapons on your ship,” Kattel says and her chin juts towards Jaylah.  “Do you know what she has done with that stick of hers?”

McCoy sighs at that.  Logic is for Spock, and even then - especially then - it’s hardly McCoy’s favorite.  

“She’s with us,” he says.

“Do you know what she is?” Kattel asks.  “Because you are a very, very trusting man, if you do.”

“She,” McCoy says, “is with us.  And according to our overly accommodating captain, you could be as well, if you’d like to leave this here planet.”

For a moment, McCoy is sure she’ll just walk past Sulu.  McCoy’s not one for a fight, fists or phasers, but given the choice, he’d prefer landing a few rather than be pushed around on his own ship.  Jaylah’s ship.  Edison’s ship.  Whatever.

But Kattel just shrugs.  It’s too human of a gesture and it gets under McCoy’s skin, the ease of it.

“Leave your phasers,” she calls to the others.  She smiles at Sulu, leaning in close to him.  “Even mine I will leave.  Though do not think Jaylah will be separated from her staff.”

When Kattel puts a heavy boot up on the rim of the hatch, Jim lets her walk through, his jaw set and eyes on her back.

“This a good idea?” McCoy asks him softly as she walks on board.

“Thought you wanted to get off this planet,” Jim says and McCoy gets a hard clap on the shoulder.

He sighs and follows Jim.  No, then.  Though nights like these never do lead anywhere good.

Though once inside, McCoy immediately feels better.  The air is replicated in here and there’s not enough openings in the hull to let Altamid’s swampy breeze blow through.  The climate control chills his skin and cools the sweat on him, blowing away the stifling night he just hiked through.  Twice.

But even with the lack of stick to the air, McCoy still feels hemmed in, what with all the extra bodies on board.  He unzips his jacket to halfway down his chest.  He’d head for his room and a change of clothes, but there’s a knot of their new friends in the way and Jim is at Kattel’s heels while she explores.  McCoy would put money on the fact that he doesn’t have much of a choice but to follow.

“Our rec room,” Jim says when Kattel finds the door to it.

She ignores him.  McCoy might just have to start taking notes, watching her step into the room and make a slow lap around it without a single glance towards Jim.

Baring a clean shirt, he’d settle for dinner- breakfast, maybe.  Something hot.  And a coffee, but he can’t quite make it to the replicator, not when the group of Kattel’s people cram into the room after her and the rest of the crew besides.  Still, he tries anyway, edging along the side of the wall and circling the lot of them.  One after the other, Kattel’s people start poking at this and that.  Jaylah, her back against a bulkhead, watches them, her arms crossed.  Next to her, her staff leans against a control panel.

“You came back,” Kattel says when Jim hands her a plate of food.  “We watched you fly away.”

She’s looking at McCoy and he wipes his palm over his face.  He’s tired now- has been all night, but it’s catching up with him in deep waves of fatigue.

“We did,” McCoy says.

“No ship has left.”  She taps her fingers over the edge of the plate.  “So many years here, so many ships crash.  They are trash on this planet.  Salvage, sometimes.”

“How many?” Jim asks, but Kattel doesn’t bother to look at him.  From the plate, she lifts a cube of meat and holds it up to the light, pinched in two fingers.  McCoy wonders what it is.  Beef, maybe.  

“Jaylah says you escaped like she did,” McCoy says.  “That Krall had you, but you managed to make your way out of those- the apparatuses he has.”

“Like Jaylah did,” Kattel echoes and bites at the meat.  She smiles, her mouth full.  “No.  We are not like Jaylah.  We do not run into the woods and hide.  We fight Krall.”

“He’s dead,” McCoy says.  “Krall died attacking one of our stations.  You’re safe now.”

“You have Manas here on your ship still,” she says.  “So we are not safe.”

McCoy feels his eyebrows rise and a look at Jim tells him that he shouldn’t have reacted.  But Kattel is just eating, one piece of meat at a time held in her fingers and raised to her mouth.  She’s too calm, too unruffled.  

“We tracked him to your ship.  The one that burns.”  She smiles.  “Then your people go in, and when they come out, they have Manas.  Carry him here, dead we think, but we need to know.”

“You were there?” McCoy asks.  The words come out despite himself and he would bite them back, that he could.  He can feel his own heartbeat, the rapid rise of it that catches him too fast.  He doesn’t look at Spock standing standing there next to the doorway.

They all were there.  This group of them. Tracking them, him and Spock.  Waiting.  While they…  Just waiting, outside, and then watching them make their slow way back to the Franklin.

McCoy can’t unstick himself from that thought.  Jim has his arms crossed, his eyes pinched and forehead creased, but it’s Uhura who steps forward.

“What our crew does is none of your concern,” she says.  “If you’d like a way off this planet, we can discuss that.  If not, then a meal and we can all be on our separate ways.”

“Your transmission offered medical services,” Kattel says.  “Your doctor, where is she?”

Uhura turns to McCoy.  It takes him a moment of her watching him to rouse himself.  

“What do you need?” he finally asks.

“It is you?” she asks.

“‘Fraid so.”

“I will see your medical facilities.”  Her finger slick from her food, she taps at her elbow.  “It hurts, no?  You fix it.”

“Great,” he mutters.

McCoy slips from the room just for the chance to escape it.  Spock’s still next to the door.  He steps back as McCoy passes through, and if Spock is looking at him, McCoy doesn’t lift his eyes to find out.

In sickbay, Lavigne’s eyes widen as McCoy walks in, followed by the lot of them, the group Kattel has in tow and Jim and Spock and Sulu and Uhura and Jaylah crowding in behind.  

Lavigne looks harried, and only growing more so at the horde of them showing up here.  McCoy well knows that feeling.

“What’s the word, nurse?” he asks, relieving her of the tricorder and wishing the replicators in here were capable of something more than hypos full of antibiotics.  If he can’t manage coffee, he’s sure a stiff drink would fix how this night is going.  He rubs a finger into the corner of his eye.  There’s grit there that he has to blink away.  He wants his bed and his pillow and the chance to pull the blankets up over his shoulders, his head, burrow in there and pretend that half of this hadn’t happened.  The whole of it really, the entire night that is now ending up with muddy boots on the floor of his sickbay and so many bodies packed in the small space that he can’t turn around without elbowing someone’s stomach.

It’s Spock’s stomach.  McCoy edges away.

“The record of Chapel’s vitals from since you left, sir,” Lavigne says.  

“Good on you, Nurse,” McCoy says and grabs the padd from her.  It takes him a moment to flick through it.  Maybe he should have stayed here on the ship.  Spock could have gone with Jim, hauled his own ass up that mountain and left McCoy in the relative peace of his sickbay.  He belongs here, not negotiating with hostiles.  He can nearly hear Chapel say the same, that sigh she would give him when Jim would call him to the transporter room on yet another half planned escapade.

“Manas is our patient,” Jim says when Kattel approaches Manas’ bed.  His warning is in his voice, those low, slow words.  McCoy wonders if Kattel hears them.  And if she cares, even if she does.

Those guards are here, thank God.  Both of them now towering over Manas’ bed, their eyes tracking Kattel.

McCoy taps the padd into his hand, watching her, and tries to not let the crowd push him into Spock, that half an arm length from each other that they are.

“You have kept him alive,” Kattel says and walks the length of Manas’ bed.  She circles the foot and passes Jim, pacing down the other side of the bed while her eyes rake over Manas.  “You will heal him?”

“I don’t discuss patient cases,” McCoy says.  He folds his arms over his chest.  The padd bumps into his hip.  “So I’m afraid you’ll just have to wonder about that.”

“Do you know what he has done?”

“I have an idea or two,” he says.  “But what’s for certain is that you seem to especially like listing off other’s resumes.  Wanna share some details of your own?”

“Bones,” Jim says.

“It’s one thing to throw everyone else under the bus,” McCoy says.

Kattel turns to him.  “What is a bus?”

“Put your money where your mouth is,” McCoy says.  “And you can show me your elbow or you can find another part of the ship to spend your time in, ma’am.”

“This man,” Kattel says and that elbow of hers points towards Manas, prone there on the bed between them.  “Why have you saved him?”

“Well now, that’s none of your business.”

“Is this what you do?” Kattel asks.  “Your ships, you fly around, and save us?  Save him?”

“I don’t come up with the mission parameters,” McCoy says.  “Trust me on that.”

“Trust you?” Kattel asks.  “You treat him and you ask me to trust you?”

“I’ll treat you, and you kept me up from a night’s sleep.”  McCoy pats the empty biobed behind him.  “Now let’s see about that elbow and all be on our way.”

“Your offer to take us from here,” Kattel says.  “You will bring Manas, too, no?”

“He’s committed crimes against the Federation,” McCoy says.  “And he’s one of ours.  We’ll bring him back to face justice.”

“Justice,” Kattel says.  “This is not a planet that cares for justice.”

“If you care for a chat about justice, how about you tell us how you did that, waking up like you did.  We’ve got a lot of good crew out there and we want to take them back too, let their families know they’re all right,” McCoy says.

They’ve gathered quite a crowd, the two of them have.  Not that the pack of them in the room exactly leaves sickbay all that spacious, but now McCoy can feel everyone’s eyes on him and Kattel, dancing between them.  Jim braces his hands braced on Manas’ biobed and next to him, Uhura looks a little too alert.  Spock’s still hovering.  Though of course he is, the man doesn’t know how to do anything but stand right there, still a step too close to McCoy.

“If you wanted justice, you would give him to us,” Kattel says.  “Let us take him.  Make him pay for what he has done.”  

Across Manas, Jim looks at McCoy, then Spock.  Both of them seem so calm, but doesn’t Spock always, that veneer of tranquility he wraps himself in, one layer at a time.  Until it cracks into splintered fragments of anger and hurt that he can’t quite sweep up.  Though that won’t happen now, McCoy knows, not with that set to his shoulders, the heavy tension in the room, how Jim’s watching him, waiting for a solution to click between the two of them, unspoken half of the time.

And to think they both wanted to leave.

McCoy lets out a breath.  “Let’s talk about what you did to get out of Krall’s devices he has in that cave.”

“Let us talk about Manas’ release,” Kattel says.  “You give us him, we tell you what we did.”

“Our crewmates,” McCoy says.  “Nurse Chapel over there, we need your help to get them back to normal.”

“I am thinking you do not listen so well, Doctor,” Kattel says.

“We can offer you transport,” McCoy says.  “Not Manas, ‘cause he’s staying with us.  But medical care.  We’ll take care of you and yours.  Like we said, food, safe harbor, and a chance to go back to your families and homes.  Surely you want that.  Maybe it’s not fair, not after what he’s done, but it’s the best we can do to right his wrong.”

“Doctor,” Kattel says. “I am home.” She smiles again.  “And if you do not give us Manas, we will take him.”

“He’s my patient,” McCoy says, “And you’ll do nothing of the sort.”

A hand grabs McCoy’s shoulder.  It’s too strong and he twists against it, but he’s held tight.  He looks down at it, cracked nails and dirt beneath them, those fingers pressing indents into the shoulder of his jacket.  From the corner of his eye, he can make out the jut of a jaw and stringy hair.  The same man who walked down the mountain beside him.  McCoy shifts, but that hand doesn’t budge.  When Jim tries to step towards him, Manas’ bed is in the way, positioned there between them.

“We have very little need for doctors,” Kattel says.  She’s too calm for his liking.  The grip on him is cutting of McCoy’s circulation.  His hand is starting to tingle.  Numbness will follow, he knows.  He jerks at the grip.

“Jim…” he says.  Manas’ guards have their phasers out, both hands wrapped around them and their legs spread.  But there’s no clear shot past Jim and Uhura and from how Kattel smiles, she knows it too.  McCoy swallows.

“Let him go,” Jim says and rests his hand on his own phaser.  

“I’m not the problem here,” McCoy says and tries to yank himself away again.  There’s still a phaser on his own belt too and if he can twist far enough he can reach it.  Kattel against the lot of them is insane odds, unarmed and just standing there.  But no matter how he wriggles at the hand holding him, he can’t grab for his holster and that grip isn’t budging.  

“You can’t be serious,” he says.  His shoulder is starting to ache.  “Let me go.  Look around you, you’re outnumbered.”

“You are treating Manas,” Kattel says.  A hell of a thing it must be, to not mind all those phasers trained on her.  “And that is a problem.”

“Listen,” Jim says calmly.  “We can work this out.”

“You are too trusting, Captain,” Kattel says.  She smiles at him, ghastly with her cracked teeth and reaches into her pocket.  “We are your guests here, no?  Then you will not mind sharing.”

“Hands out where we can see them,” Jim says with a firmness in his voice that Kattel only continues to grin at.  He draws his phaser and McCoy can hear the whirr of it powering up, the breath of the man holding him, the peculiar silence of everyone in sickbay, stock-still and too tense.

When Kattel pulls her hand back out, there’s a stack of something small and round filling her palm.  A handful of silver discs that glow with blue lights on their sides.  She flips them over and around with an easy casualness, playing with them and still with that smirk on her face.

“Those are mine,” Jaylah says, pushing off the wall.

“Silence,” Kattel barks at her.

“You took them,” Jaylah says.

“You left.”  Kattel flips them over again and then with a twist of her wrist, tosses them clear across the room.

“No, James T, she will-”

-And then there’s four, five, six Kattels standing around them, those discs hovering in mid air, and each one of her still smiling.

“Outnumbered?” Kattel asks and all of her mouths move.  “We will see about that.”

“What are those things?” Jim asks.  His fingers are flexing on his phaser. “Holographic projectors?”

McCoy feels a tug at his waist.  A dirty, scraped hand pulls the phaser out of his holster.

“We’re here to help,” McCoy says.  “Don’t do this.”

“Now it is your turn to be quiet,” Kattel says and when the man behind McCoy tosses the phaser over, a half dozen of Kattels reach out and pluck it from the air, a phaser fitting into each of her hand.

“There’s still only one of you,” Jim says and takes a half step closer to her.

“But now I have your gun,” Kattel says and raises the phaser to point it right at McCoy’s chest.

Out of the corner of his eye, McCoy sees Spock move towards him.  Don’t, he wants to say because Kattel’s hand is steady as anything.  But the word sticks and all he can do is meet Spock’s eyes.  Brown and clear and wide.  The hand on his shoulder tightens.

“We do not need a doctor, but we do want you gone,” Kattel says, and her phaser flashes.  

Too strong hands catch at him and he tries to push them off, but the deck’s rushing up hard and with it, the sear of phaser burns across his skin.  Somewhere, someone’s yelling.


Chapter Text

McCoy’s ears are ringing.

Far off above him, a too bright light.  He blinks but the world doesn’t focus.  When he tries to wipe at his eyes, his hand doesn’t move.  

Near him, someone says, “Shit.”

I’m awake, he tries for, but all he hears is a grunt and then there’s hands on him, on his shoulder, his arm.  Scared and half blind, he tries to shrug them off.  He pulls in a breath, but it just leaves him coughing against smoky air.

Then, he’s propped half upright and something’s pressed to his mouth.  A glass.  “Drink,” he’s told and the first sip splashes down onto his chest.  

“M’fine,” he chokes out after the second but that arm doesn’t leave his shoulders.

“Jesus, Bones,” he hears and it must be Jim that he’s pulled against.  “You’re really not.”

This time, he gets his hand up and works his wrist into his eyes.  He’s still half held up, that arm not letting go of him.  The smell around him is the acrid stink of burnt out fires and the tang of blood and sweat.

“What happened?” he manages.  His chest is bare.  And wet with water, now.  Clumsily, he rubs at it.

“Kattel’s in the brig,” Jim says.  He shoves a pillow behind McCoy’s back, and then another one.  He’s fussing, McCoy thinks dimly.  And he needs to shave.  

“What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” Jim says.  His voice rises a little at the end.  “She shot you.”

“Oh.”  McCoy touches his chest again, his stomach.  A sheet is pulled to his waist.  Gracelessly, he lifts it.  “Oh my God.”

“That nurse - Lavigne - the anesthesia, she said you couldn’t feel it.  Can’t feel it.”  Jim’s eyes are red.  “Do you want more?  She can- I’ll get her, she can fix it”

McCoy prods at the gash on his left thigh.  His finger comes away red.  “Get me a regenerator.”

“She used two,” Jim says.  “And I don’t know how, but Kattel, she had this reverse modularity polarizer she used on our phasers and the frequency distortion-“

McCoy stares at him.  Watches his mouth move.  “In Standard,” he says.

“They do something wacky to your skin.  She used two,” Jim says again.  “I told her you would rather rest and let it heal than have stitches.”  He smiles the smallest smile McCoy has ever seen.  “Though I could do my initials, no extra charge.”

“She couldn’t have used three?” McCoy asks.  “Good God.”

“We needed them,” Jim says.

“Needed them,” McCoy echoes.  Then, he sits up straighter.  “Who else?”

“Navares.  He’s not awake yet.  And- And Kierzkowski.  In security.  She didn’t-“  Jim scrunches his face up and shakes his head.  “-Make it.  Through surgery.”

“There’s no surgeon here.”  Not if McCoy was passed out.  Navares is a damn fine nurse.  And McCoy’s running a bit short on those these days.

“I know,” Jim says.

“Lavigne operated?” McCoy asks.

“I think she might be taking a walk,” Jim says.  “I can get her.”

McCoy coughs again.  It makes his back and chest ache, the force of it inside of him.  He doesn’t want to know what the hell he breathed in, the air around him smelling like it does.

“It’s fine.”  McCoy pushes himself further upright, palms braced on the table.  More blood seeps from his leg.  The skin holding it together is too thin, the knit of it too raw.  Across the room Chapel lays apparently unchanged, for better or worse, and behind her on another bed is Navares, his blue shirt stained with red.  Beyond him is a sheet covered body.  McCoy looks away.

“I guess I should have ducked,” he says.  Kierzkowski would have made it.  He can repair phaser wounds in his sleep.  And now that death is settled over Lavigne.  McCoy props himself on one hand to rub at his face.  “Where is everyone?”

“They’re ok.”  Jim half sits on McCoy’s bed, his arms tucked over his stomach.  “We’re waiting for Kattel to come around.  Or our doctor to wake up and tell us how to rouse her.”

“I hope you gave her a taste of her own medicine,” McCoy says.  Again, he pokes at his leg.  “Did you stun her?  And don’t we have a bandage, at least?  Have you ever heard of gauze?”

“We, um, used it.”  Jim squints at the floor.  “And-“ He taps at his neck.  “Kattel got served up a nerve whammy.  Spock wasn’t messing around, I guess.  I didn’t even get a shot off.”

McCoy stops jabbing at his thigh.  “Oh.”

“Took care of half of them, too.”  Jim tries for a smile.  “I’m glad he’s on our side.”

McCoy pulls the sheet back up over his waist.  Enough of poking at his own skin.  “He’s ok?”

“He’s in his quarters.  Your quarters.  Meditating, I guess.  Just… being Spock.”

Being Spock.  Whatever in the world that means.  Once, McCoy might have thought he knew, though these days he’s more than sure he’s gotten it ass-backwards for entirely too long now.

He scrubs his fingers into his eyes.  What a goddamn week this is.

“Bones,” Jim says softly.  “I’m sorry.”

“Jim…”

“You were right.  This entire thing was a mistake - Kattel and - and being back here again and...”

When Jim trails off, McCoy drops his hand.  “I know.”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll work out,” McCoy says.

“Isn’t that supposed to be my line?”

“Gotta be someone’s,” McCoy sighs.

The door whistles and then opens, and Uhura is there.  She has a cut above her eye.

“That’s going to get infected,” McCoy says.  Jim is still draped over himself and only half glances up at her.

“You’re awake,” she says.  “I washed my face.”

“Can’t you replicate a bandaid, Jim?” McCoy asks.  “I’m not sure what type of ‘ok’ you’re talking about, but I think I’d rather like to see the rest of the crew, if this is what counts for you.”

“We have the one replicator,” Jim says and tips his head towards the wall, where scorch marks mar what was once control panels, the bright winking of options McCoy could order up.  Now, what was the left replicator sparks and the other two are blackened with soot.  “Scotty thinks he can manage some hypos.”

“God damn,” McCoy whispers.

“We’ve got these,” Jim says and tips a handful a handful of hypos onto the bed next to McCoy’s hip.  

“And what we brought with us,” McCoy says.  Yesterday, was it.  Or more than that.  McCoy touches his cheek.  He needs to shave too.

“I’ll get those,” Jim says and with a push, he’s off McCoy’s bed and through the doors.  It shifts the sheet over McCoy’s lap, and mindful of Uhura there, he pulls it higher.

“You need anything?” Uhura asks.

“M’okay,” McCoy says.  He can’t reach his water, not where Jim set it.  But Uhura always was a smart one and crosses over to hand it to him.

“That was quite a fall,” she says.

“You’re sure you’re not hurt?”

“Been worse.”

McCoy cups both hands around his glass.  “Think Jim’s ok?”

“No.”

“Yeah.”  

When McCoy drains the glass, Uhura refills it for him.  And that’s just the icing on the cake that this mission is, isn’t it, stuck here while she runs the tap. McCoy knows too well the drugs running through his leg, the cost of not feeling the wound he’s dug around at for the fact he won’t be able to hold himself upright until they start to wear off.  He looks over at the door.  Hopefully, Kattel and her group are well secured.  Or hell, if he’s going to dream, it’ll be of the engines rumbling to life and the inertial dampeners compensating for the pull of gravity as they fly off this rock.

He tips his head back against the pillow and doesn’t open his eyes again until he hears Uhura walk back towards him and set his glass next to the bed.

“Is Spock alright?”

She crosses her arms.  She doesn’t curl in on herself when she does it, not like Jim did.  Instead, her shoulders are back.  Straight.  “I think you know he’s not.”

McCoy’s heart stills and then starts pounding.  Her lips are pursed.  She looks… if not angry, exactly, then something a hell of a lot like it.

Which makes him unsure as hell of what to say to her.  Though he tries anyway, licking his lips and offering, “Listen-“

She holds up both hands.  “I don’t want to get involved.”

“Uhura,” he starts.  

“I really don’t.”  She shakes her head.  His stomach drops.  “For Spock’s sake, not yours.”

“Uhura…”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she says and he doesn’t want to know what it is, any blanks she might have filled in.  Or that Spock filled in for her.  Jesus.  

“I didn’t mean to-“

“-Stop,” she snaps.  She tips her face up towards the ceiling.  He’s never seen her mad at him, not in any serious way.  Not like this.  She lets a breath out and her tone gentles.  “Please stop.  Let’s not do this now.”

He doesn’t especially want to do this ever.  He tugs the blankets higher.  “Ok, then.”  

He drinks his water in silence.  Spock and Uhura have always been close.  Friends, the two of them are.  He can feel Uhura watching him still.  She worked it out, Jim had told him.

He’s uncomfortably grateful when Jim reappears with an armful of supplies and the space he takes up in any room.  He doesn’t need to look to know that Uhura hasn’t uncrossed her arms, standing there above him.  

He fingers the hypos Jim gives him from the pack he’s brought, McCoy’s own that he just organized before that hike up the mountain that led him right back here.  What luck he has, doesn’t he now.

“Who else is hurt?” he asks.

“Honestly that’s it,” Jim says.

“Jim.”

“Sulu has a cut on his arm,” Jim says and McCoy sets two hypos aside.  

“Give me that,” McCoy says and grabs the pack from Jim.  He sticks his hand in and fishes around until his fingers close over a small tube.  Next to it is a ball of socks.  He wonders who, exactly, stripped his clothes off of him.  Chapel would have at least found a hospital gown.  And more likely would have left him a shirt.  And a coffee.

She’s so still, laying there.  McCoy’s sure she’d hate the affront of dirty hair for so long.

“Come here,” he says to Uhura, twisting the cap off the tube.  But he can’t reach her, not half laying as he is.  “Hell.  You do it.”

He tosses it to Jim and keeps hunting.  There, at the bottom are the dermal regenerators he packed, but there’s not much more in there otherwise.  Just the shape of a protein bar, half of it mashed in its wrapper.  He leaves it.

“Can I get some clothes?” he asks.  He holds the regenerators out to Jim.  “Put these somewhere safe, would you?”

“Don’t you need those?” Jim’s fiddling with the tube.  “What?”

“Pants,” McCoy says.  His head hurts.  And his ears are still ringing.  “Please.  And I’m fine, they’re not going to make a difference anyway.”  Not if they didn’t all ready.  He closes his eyes.  “Tell Scotty to grab one of those and dial up the duotronic phase charge.  We’ll give that a try and see if it works.”

Jim’s just squinting at him.  “What’d you need pants for?”

McCoy shoves his hands into the bed and levers himself upright again.  “Pretty sure it’s against regs to walk through the ship naked, no matter how many insane things have happened today.”

Yesterday.  All this week.  He wants a plate of hot food, his bed, and to be able to feel his leg.  

Feel his leg and have it feel normal.  McCoy’s not exactly looking forward to the drugs wearing off.

“Where are you going?” Jim asks.  “We can bring Kattel’s vitals here, we just need an idea of how to-“

“-You can bring them to my quarters,” McCoy says.  “After I shower.”

And eats breakfast.  And sleeps, not the knocked out unconsciousness of blood loss and a steep pitch to the ground, but an honest to God nap.  He’ll take the too hard slats of his bunk.  Wants it, in a way he never thought he might.  He always hates that, how easy it is to adapt in the end, the uncomfortable itch of newness worn down by the need for anything familiar, no matter how tenuous that is.

“‘Scuse me,” he says to Uhura, bunching the sheet up over his lap and swinging his legs off the bed.  “Give me a hand, Jim.”

“I can’t.”

“I’m not spending the night here.”  Day.  Whatever.

“No, I know, I’ll get Spock, hold on.”

As if this could get worse.  McCoy tests his good leg on the floor, flexes his foot against it.

“I’ve managed you drunk, Jim,” he says and if it were anyone but Uhura, McCoy would bite his tongue, but she was there for half of those nights.  More.  How incredibly long ago that was, slipping into their dorm well past curfew.  She and Jim would drag themselves out of bed at dawn to run off the hangover, loops around the Academy’s campus.  McCoy would drag the pillow over his face.  “I think you owe me one or two.”

Jim’s not looking at him.  “I, ah, might have…”

“Jim.”

“I hurt my shoulder.”  Jim holds his palms out.  “We need you around, Bones, what can I say?  I’ll get Spock.”

“Jim get back here!” McCoy snaps but Jim’s already halfway to the door and then through it, and McCoy couldn’t follow him if he tried.

He wipes his palm over his face.  It comes away dirtier than he thinks it should.  Just looking at the grime makes him want to cough again, but he swallows it down, hunching his shoulders up against it.  Or maybe it’s against the stare Uhura’s giving him, still two paces away and her mouth set.

He should say something.  Though what she knows or what she guesses or what she’s figured out with that goddamn brain of hers isn’t a puzzle McCoy particularly wants to sort through.  Don’t mess around at work has been his rule since God knows when, and isn’t this the hell of it, the chance it would end up here, too many people in the middle of his business.  Don’t mess around at all is a close second, which has been serving him just fine for long enough now he probably shouldn’t be surprised that the first hands on him were something he leapt at and bowled onwards towards with barely a thought.  He’s too good at making a mess of things, and his general plan to clean it up again has always been to get the hell out of dodge.

Ironic then, that he’s on a grounded ship with a leg that doesn’t work.

“This has been one hell of a mission,” he says.

“Hasn’t it,” she says.  “We’ll let you know about Kattel when we compile the data on her vitals.”

Always the professional, she is, though he’s sure he doesn’t want to know what she really has to say to him.

“Thanks,” he says.  Means it too.

“Anything else?”

“Get the environmental controls in here cleaned up,” he says.  In this, at least, he knows what to do.  Spock is another issue entirely.  “Don’t leave a bunch of sick people hacking up a lung.  They need some halfway decent air.”

“Of course.”  Gently, Uhura touches his shoulder.  “I’m glad you’re ok.”

“Keep an eye on Jim, would you?” he asks and the hand on his shoulder turns into a squeeze before she slips out the door.

Which leaves him there waiting, half balanced on the biobed and clutching the sheet over him.  He rubs his finger and thumb into his temples.  

He jumps when a nurse walks in.  He squints at him.  Michaels, maybe.  Or some equally bland name.  Though McCoy should probably know, since he’s down to a handful of staff these days.

He watches Michaels- Mitchell, it could be- walk over to him.  He could be here to help, it occurs to him.  Spock could not be coming.  

“It’s time to take your vitals?” the nurse asks.

“Right,” McCoy says.  “I’m discharged.  Go check on Navares and Chapel.”

“Your chart states-“

“-Go.”

“Yes, sir.”

He doesn’t let himself startle when the door opens again.  Instead, he steels himself, unsure he wants to look up when he hears measured footsteps.

Though he’s being ridiculous.  He clears his throat and straightens.

“Sorry to bother you,” he says.  Spock looks like he could use a nap, dark green under his eyes.  There’s a rough patch of green on his jaw, a layer of skin scraped off.  Not enough to bleed, maybe, but there’s a crust of scab over it.  “I asked Jim to-“

“-He is injured.”

“Yeah.”  McCoy clears his throat again.  With the hand not fisted in the sheet, he touches his own chin, the stubble there.  “Are you ok?”

“Fine.”

“Good.”  He drops his hand.  “Do you have pants?”

A sardonic remark doesn’t come.  Instead, Spock places a stack of folded clothes on the foot of the bed.  Far enough that McCoy has to reach for them.  He hitches the sheet higher and tries not to be bothered that Spock’s so quiet.

“Thanks,” he makes himself offer.  

McCoy brought this on himself, didn’t he.  Should have guessed that he’d have to face a music of his own making.  Bite the proverbial bullet, lay in the bed he made, whatever.  God, that sounds nice.  He’s so tired.

He has to shove the sheet aside to fit his boxers over his good leg.  At least Spock has seen it all before.  Some terrible comfort, that is.  Michaels - Mitchell - thankfully sees himself to the door.  Of course, then it’s just McCoy and Spock and the blood seeping from his wound, one bright red bead at a time.  Regenerated skin doesn’t bleed like it should and he’s always found that fact somewhat off, no matter how many cuts he’s sealed shut.  He presses his thumb to it, glad at least that the shocks of pain don’t reach him.  Still, what a special type of hell this is, blood darkening the clean sheet.

He manages his other leg too, and to squirm his boxers up to mid thigh and - with an awkward wiggle - his waist.  Then, he stops, hands curled around the edge of his bed.  His breath is coming short.  Heightened respiration, light headed.  Significant blood loss, in all likelihood.  Dehydration, exhaustion.  He’d prescribe rest.

In his own bed.  He shakes out his pants.

“Do you require-“

“-I got it,” he says and winces through shimmying his pants to his knees.  What a show this must be.  His muscles are tightening, and he can feel the pull in his abs and down his calf, that stiffening of inactivity, of his body drawing itself up and in.  He’d shake his leg out, if it wasn’t going to spray blood all over the room.  He’s a bit short on med staff to call for a biohazard cleanup.

As it is, the sheet he wads up and shoves away has red splotches over it.  It looks like something from a crime scene.  

He’s panting.  When Spock puts a hand under his arm, McCoy doesn’t have the energy to pull away, just lets himself be lifted so that he can hike his pants the rest of the way up.  His elbow bumps into Spock’s side as he fastens his pants.  His hands are shaking.  He hates this.

Spock holds out his shirt and McCoy sticks his arms into it, pulls it over his head and is thankful for the split second respite, the chance to settle it over his chest and stomach and busy himself with smoothing it, not think about how he’s half propped against the bed, balanced between it and Spock.

Of all the goddamn times for Jim to mess with his shoulder.

Spock is so strong.  Which McCoy knows.  But it’s another thing to have a warm hand on his wrist pull his arm over Spock’s shoulders and to be steered like he weighs nothing.

McCoy thinks of hot, beating sunlight, and green blood through a blue shirt.  How the tables turn, don’t they.  Though then, he’d been more concerned with how unnecessarily heavy Spock was, and the particular terror that they might be all alone on the planet’s surface, the rest of the crew… gone.

There’s no such distraction now, just a corridor ahead of them, a turn, and then another one.  McCoy feels too short like this, barefoot when Spock’s in his boots.  The deck’s none too clean, either.  Gently, Spock eases him through their door.

When it shuts, their room is quiet.  McCoy’s trembling.  His stomach hurts like it’s twisted in on itself.

“Thank you,” he gets out.  Low blood sugar, he registers.

“Do you need anything?”

“No.”  He fumbles for a grip on the ladder.  He’s getting sick of balancing on one leg.  “I’m good.”

He looks up at his bed.  Then, towards the bathroom and its shower.  And his toothbrush.  He leans his head against the rung his hand is wrapped around and closes his eyes.  It makes the room spin.  He presses two fingers into his sternum and lets out a breath.

“Is there a protein bar in here?” he asks without opening his eyes.  Shouldn’t have left that pack behind in sickbay, now should he.

“No.”

“Ok.”

“I can-“

“-Don’t worry about it.”

McCoy could sleep standing right here, he’s sure, his eyes still shut against the brightness of the room.  It’s quiet so long that Spock might have left.  Or sat on his own bed.  Or hell, started meditating again, cause God knows McCoy certainly jerked him away from that.  And McCoy wouldn’t know if he had, his ears still feeling like they’re stuffed full of cotton.  He has half a mind to dig a finger into one and would, but he’s gotten a good look at the dirt under his nails.  What a loud fight that must have been, raging on above him.

“I would have assumed you would spend the night in sickbay,” Spock finally says.

“Yeah, well.”  He doesn’t particularly want to tell Spock that he wanted his own bed, though the bunk up above him shouldn’t really qualify.  But he’ll take what he can get, which is apparently being shot in the leg after dragging himself up and back down a mountain.

He rubs the back of his hand under his nose.  It smells good in here.  Not his hand, certainly, but the room.  Something a lot like lavender.  Incense, he realizes belatedly.  Of course.  

Spock should be resting.  The others should be to, rather than wherever Jim ran off to and Uhura after him in all likelihood. And they were, until McCoy woke up.  He pinches the bridge of his nose.  He should have left the lot of them alone.  He drops his hand to look at Spock, standing there as far across the room as they can get from each other.

He’s tired.  And thirsty, too.  Uhura brought him that water.  He’d have to ask Spock for a drink now, if he wanted one.

Suddenly, horribly, he’s worried he’s going to cry.  He tips his head back against the ladder and swallows.  His throat aches.

“Doctor…”

“I’m fine.”

“You are not.”

He’s too tired for the lingering awkwardness.  He can feel himself swaying.  “I know,” he says.

When he looks again, Spock is watching him, but McCoy can’t tease apart his expression.

His throat is too thick.  “I’m going to shower,” he says.

The bathroom is close enough that McCoy could probably manage his way over there.  The indignity of hopping can’t be any worse than the rest of it.  But Spock gets him under his arm and isn’t that something solid to press into, Spock’s body a firm line against McCoy’s side when he stumbles.

He has to hold his hand over his thigh where the wound is so that the sonics don’t tear the skin open.  His palm cupped there, McCoy can’t help but feel like it’s a middle school locker room again, his shoulders hunched against prying eyes.  Though Spock is examining a chipped tile and McCoy can angle his shoulder to him.  Still, he doesn’t move his hand, not when he lets the sonics work over him.  It’d be ragged ribbons of skin and an arc of spurting blood on the tile wall if he did.  Spock wouldn’t like that, he’s sure.  He’s probably cleaned the shower twice already since they’ve been on board.  McCoy hasn’t shared a bathroom since the Academy.  Perks of being senior staff, nobody to complain if he took his time in the morning or left a soggy bath mat behind.

What he wouldn’t give for a water shower now, even though Spock would probably make him squeegee the stall.  Hot water through his hair and real shampoo, not the hard waves of sonics.  A bath, even.  An entire tub that he could sink into.

He wonders if Spock has ever taken a bath.  No, he thinks.  He could ask.  

His whole world is spinning, the shower stall making a slow circle around him.

He sways forward.  Spock grabs him, a hand on his side and the other on his elbow.  They’re standing too close together.  Spock’s palm is warm on his skin.  Dimly, it registers all over again that he’s naked.  With a finger, McCoy touches that scrape on Spock’s chin.

“What happened?” McCoy asks.  Not clearly.  He’s mumbling.

Spock pulls back a little.  McCoy’s slow to move his finger.

“There was an altercation.”  Spock’s eyes track over his face.  “Clearly.”

He probably shouldn’t poke at it.  He does anyway, runs his thumb along the edge of that raised scab.  “Does it hurt?”

A hand circles his wrist.  “When you touch it, yes.”

“Sorry,” McCoy says.  He doesn’t think he means it.  Spock’s skin is so warm.  It always is.  And his hands are clean.  His palm feels good around McCoy’s wrist.

He squeezes his eyes closed.  He’s pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to think that.

Their door chimes.  Spock steps back, his grip falling.

He leaves McCoy there propped against the shower wall, his back to the sonics as they beat into him, rubbing over his skin and the tired muscles beneath.  McCoy leans into the tile and doesn’t think about fingers tracing that same path over his shoulder blade, the murmur of voices he can hear in the next room.

“Mr. Scott brought this,” Spock says.  He lays a dermal regenerator next to the sink and doesn’t step towards the shower this time.  “He recalibrated it for your use.”

“Thanks,” McCoy says and blinks like that will clear his head of the fuzz that’s settled between him and the world around him.  Spock seems far away as he edges from the bathroom again.  Sounds it, too.

McCoy limps out of the shower.  The tap doesn’t run cold water, but he cups his palms beneath it all the same and slouches his hip at the edge of the sink to hold himself up.  Water dribbles down his chin as he slurps at it, over and over again until he’s gotten a decent amount down.  Dimly, he hopes Spock isn’t watching.

When he stands, the room stays still and God, what a difference that is.  Water’s not food, but it certainly helps and he’ll take what he can get.  He tucks his toothbrush into his cheek and blinks past the swim of his thoughts to examine the job Scotty did on the regenerator. Too quick to be a real adjustment and the indicator light is on the fritz, blinking on and off intermittently.  He tests it against his palm.  The buzz of it is weak and for a moment, it splutters.  Well, that makes two of them who aren’t exactly one hundred percent today.  Then, it hums to life again.  He eyes his thigh, hidden now by the thin cotton of his towel.  Spock left the door open and it’s stranger to unknot his towel and let it drop than it had been to kick his pants aside.

Spock is reading.  Or at least holding his padd in front of him, perched on the edge of his bed.  McCoy lowers the regenerator to his leg and watches the skin knit closed, uneven and patchy.

He finishes and spits into the sink.  His thigh stings, though he can’t really feel it, not like he should be able to.  As it is, his skin is a splotchy, angry red and when he runs his thumb over it, he can barely make out the touch.  He can, though, reach down for his boxers and get them on by himself and that’s at least something.

Spock is still just sitting there with his padd.  Maybe he’ll give McCoy a boost up into his bed.  Hell, Spock could probably lift him up like he’s a little kid.  McCoy’s annoyed by the fact that doesn’t sound unappealing, being deposited in his bunk.  He wouldn’t be able to get down either, without help.  What a reason to get some decent shut eye finally, marooned in his own bed by his roommate.  

Except Spock stands and puts his padd up on McCoy’s mattress.  

“Are you on shift?” McCoy asks.  He wedges his shoulder into the wall.

“No.”

“Ok.”

Spock waves towards his bed.  The gesture is off.  Awkward, almost.  Stilted.  “Please.”

“You don’t have to,” McCoy says.  Spock just stands there.  Finally, McCoy nods, once.  “Thank you.”

“Of course.”

Now he waves around the room too.  It does feel awkward, his hand out in the air like that.  

“For everything, I mean,” he says.

Again, there’s no quip.  McCoy lowers himself onto Spock’s bed.  After a moment, he puts his face in his hands.  He’s half asleep, drunk with the pull of exhaustion.

“Listen,” he says.  “I’m sorry.”

He can feel Spock still standing there.  Probably close enough to touch, if McCoy blindly reached out and batted a hand around.  He puts his elbows on his thighs and braces his feet on the floor.

“For?” Spock finally asks.

“Can we clear the air?”  McCoy looks up, his palms on his cheeks.  He’s still dizzy as all hell.  And likely should keep his mouth shut until he can think straight, but he never was very good at choosing what’s best for him, now was he.  He rubs his fingertips below his eyes.  “I’m- the other night, on the ship I mean, I…”  

He blows a breath into his hands.  He wishes he had put on pants.  And a shirt too.  Spock still has his entire uniform on, because he’s Spock so of course he does.  McCoy blinks up at him, standing there and staring with that bland, neutral expression he wears so well.  It drives McCoy nuts, it does, when there’s clearly so much ticking away behind the careful smoothness of his eyes and mouth.  

“There is no need for an apology,” Spock says into the silence.  He shifts his attention to focus on his padd, still lying there on McCoy’s bunk.  “I was… forward.”

McCoy bends forward to scrub his fingers into his hair.  He stares down at his feet, bare on the decking.  His toes are cold.  Beneath the grip of his fingers, he shakes his head.  

“You weren’t,” he says, even though Spock was.  Cause McCoy would never have… If it were up to him, they would have finished a hell of a lot more of that bottle on the Enterprise and Manas would have found him tipsy, not fastening his pants.  And McCoy would still be working his knuckle into the knot in his own shoulder, like he has been for weeks now.

“How did we get here?” he asks his knees.  He lets out a laugh.  It sounds hoarse.  “And don’t give me a warp vector, Spock.”

For a moment, he’s sure that he’s going to get a wall of prevarication and logic.  Instead, there’s a beat of silence, and then the mattress next to him dips.  That’s better, isn’t it, the weight of Spock beside him, even if he’s sure Spock’s back is straight and he’s hardly slumped over like McCoy is, unable to peel himself upwards.

But Spock only sits there and the floor isn’t exactly offering up any answers, let alone platitudes, so McCoy just scratches at his own head.  He’s sure it’s making his hair stick up, but it’s just Spock, isn’t it, and McCoy’s pretty certain he shouldn’t care at this point.

“There’s nothing for you to apologize about either,” McCoy says.  His palms on his thighs, he pushes himself to sit up.  It’s not comfortable like this, actually looking at Spock, but he’s going to see this through, now isn’t he.  “I could have been a hell of a lot more clear, before we - well.”

Briefly, Spock’s mouth tightens.  Then he says, “That would have been preferable.”

There’s a spineless part of himself that would really like to blame it on the whiskey.  But that’s hardly fair to Spock and whatever this has been, McCoy wants it smoothed over and done with, feathers unruffled and the milk unspilt.  The strained woodenness is far worse than plowing through this, and he hates this unnatural carefulness between them.  What McCoy wouldn’t give right now for that smirk of Spock’s that somehow manages to look a hell of a lot like he’s rolling his eyes.

“Trust me,” McCoy says.  “You wouldn’t want to be with me anyway.  If that’s what you- well, if that’s what you were gunning for.”

He’s ready for Spock to nod.  It could be the first thing they’ve ever agreed on.  But instead, Spock just rests his hands in his lap.  They look limp there, his fingers loosely curled on his thighs.  

“You said you might leave,” he says.

McCoy squints at him.  “Is that what this was?”

“I care about you.”  Spock’s mouth works once, and then he adds,   “Quite deeply.”

Jesus, McCoy thinks. It’s followed by, No.  Emphatic, even in his own head, the degree to which he doesn’t want Spock to bother with anything of the sort.

“Why the hell would you do that?” McCoy asks.

“I find you attractive and I enjoy your company.  The conclusion of what to do was…”

Spock trails off like continuing is just too much.  And it certainly is for McCoy.  He can feel his own pulse.  It’s a hell of a lot to spring on a man who still needs breakfast.  Dinner.  Whichever.

Of course I care, Spock had said.  McCoy stares at him.  That had been after Spock had pressed his mouth to his in that cave.  The next morning.  Had he still been thinking of how Spock had kissed him then?  He can’t remember now, though it had stayed with him for days.  Longer than that, really.

“Logical?” McCoy finally supplies.  He’s sure he’s going for joking.  “How hard did you hit your head?” McCoy asks and gestures towards Spock’s chin.  

“I assure you I did not intend this,” Spock says and there’s that lift of his eyebrow.  McCoy didn’t quite know how much he was waiting for it.  “The conclusion was obvious.  Though perhaps lacking in sufficiently thorough consideration.  I apologize for the presumptions I took.”

“Sufficient consideration,” McCoy echoes in a mutter.  “Jesus.”

“If you are planning to offer an inane comment on felines and bags, there is no need,” Spock says.  He looks like he’s about to stand.  McCoy doesn’t blame him, he’d get the hell out of here too, and only one of them can really manage to walk.  “And it is clear that your opinion on the matter does not match my own.”

“I hadn’t ever really thought about it,” McCoy says and that’s honest, at least, since that’s what they seem to be doing here.  Trust a Vulcan to just lay all his cards on the table.  

From how Spock eyes him, McCoy’s nearly sure that he’s is about to ask And if you had?  McCoy’s mouth is dry.  Though it has been all day.  This is some terrible cherry on top of a sundae he never wanted.  McCoy’s just about ready to wake up again in sickbay, shaking his head from a doozy of a fever dream.

But Spock only offers, “That is apparent.”  Then, he does stand.  “If you are apathetic to the notion, that is enough to know.”

McCoy swallows at that.  In the space where he’s sure he should have said something already, Spock steps towards the door.  

“I am pleased you are once more conscious and apparently recuperating,” Spock says.

The door swishes shut after him.  McCoy rubs his fingers over his mouth and stares at the blank, gray metal that’s closed behind Spock.

For a long time, his mind stutters like a skip on a record.  He’s too close to laughing.  A high pitched peal that wants to escape his throat.  

Apathetic.  McCoy presses two fingers to his temple and is sure that nobody could be apathetic in the face of that.  Amazed, more like.  Shocked into a stupor.  Thunderstruck, he is.

“Goddamn,” he says to the empty room.

He’s cold.  He pushes himself to the edge of Spock’s mattress and yanks a drawer open.  Not intended, Spock had said.  That’s either a hell of a compliment or the worst thing Spock’s ever said about him.  He pulls a shirt on.  Probably both.

Spock still has McCoy’s blanket on his bed, so he has to peel both blankets back and then the top sheet, neatly tucked in as if they’re facing room inspection.  Figures, doesn’t it, making him jerk at it, balanced on one leg.  But when he sinks onto the mattress, it’s nothing but warm and soft.  He drapes his arm over his face and stretches out on his back.

He lets out a long sigh and chases from his mind the sight of Spock’s pale hands in his lap, how he didn’t even let himself fidget as he talked.  He’s going to think about nothing, cause he’s going to go to sleep.  Finally.  After the longest goddamn day of his life.

The door chimes.

When he ignores it, it chimes again.

“What?” he barks.

“Sir?” he hears.  He doesn’t move his arm as the door slides open.  “I have Kattel’s vitals.”

“Great.”  He sits up and squints.  It’s Lavigne, standing there with a padd.  “Are you alright?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ensign, it’s ok to-“

“-I’m fine.”  She presses her lips together.  She looks a little shocked that she snapped at him like that.  He takes the padd from her and waves her off.

“Get some rest, you hear?”  

He hopes she has a friend to talk to.  He should check.  Or send someone after her.  Jim, probably.  Or Sulu or Uhura, if the ship’s captain is too much.

Or hell, Spock.  Who apparently has quite the sensitive side.  Who knew.

He lays back down and raises the padd above him, squinting at the blue lit readout.  It swims a little in front of his eyes.  Never did get that meal.  Squirming, he sinks down deeper into the mattress.  Then, he sits up as best he can and prods at the pillow before settling himself down once more.

The bed smells like Spock.  The pillow, mostly.  Clean soap and that trace of incense.

The chart spells out high glucose levels, though hell, that could be normal for someone like Kattel.  He flicks backwards in the records.  No change over the preceding two checks.  Lavigne is certainly thorough, McCoy will give her that.  He shoves at the pillow again.  Trust Spock to have found the only one on the ship that is hard as a rock.

Slightly decreased blood pressure since the morning.  He brings the padd slightly closer.  Lavigne ran the same brain wave scan, or had Chekov do it.  Interesting.

Fascinating, his mind supplies and McCoy blows out a breath, annoyed with himself.

“Get a grip,” he says out loud and rubs his hand over his face.  He yawns into his wrist and shifts to cradle the back of his head in his palm, still squinting at the padd.  The readouts are different than the crews’.  Which figures, since Krall didn’t exactly nerve pinch any of them.

“Vulcans,” he mutters.  He shakes his head and frowns when his wrist digs uncomfortably into the pillow beneath his head.

There’s a lump there.  Underneath the pillow, he realizes, propping himself up on his elbow and searching around.  His fingers close over a gold case.  Or it’s a box, maybe, small enough to fit in his hand.  He flips it over, examining the intricate design.  Hell of a thing to keep under a pillow, whatever it is.

The door flies open with no knock this time.  In the backdrop of light, Lavigne is silhouetted, out of breath.  She braces a hand on the frame and says, “Doctor, it’s Chapel.  She just moved.”

The padd clatters to the deck and the case after it as he shoves the covers back, already searching around for his boots.

Chapter Text

“And then?” McCoy asks again.  

“And then I turned around and her mouth moved,” Lavigne says.

“How?”

“Like she was-“ Lavigne purses her lips.  “Sleeping.  Dreaming?  I don’t - I don’t know, sir.”

McCoy holds a finger up.  “But she moved.”

Lavigne nods.  “And her hand twitched, like I said.”

“Like you said.”

“I’m afraid that’s all, sir,” Lavigne says.  “I’m sorry, but I came and got you right away.”

McCoy presses his fingers to his mouth, staring down at Chapel.  He tries to remember how her hand was earlier.  Slightly closer to the edge of the bed, where now it’s nearer her side.  Maybe.  Or not.  He wonders if he’s ever seen her asleep.  Not that he can remember.  She never came on many away missions, lucky enough to miss the nights they spent huddled on the planet of the week, wishing for their own beds.

“Chapel,” McCoy says.  Under his hand, her shoulder is slight.  He gives her a small shake.  “Nurse.”  She just lays there.  “Christine,” he tries.

Jim walks through the door, Spock a stride behind him.  McCoy squeezes Chapel’s shoulder and lets his hand drop.

“Any news?” Jim asks.

“We’re not sure what happened, Jim.”  McCoy points at the readout above Chapel’s head.  “All of her vitals are unchanged, but Lavigne says she moved.”

Jim peers down at Chapel same as McCoy had when he first came in, like if he looked long enough, she’d do it again.  Spock takes the padd Lavigne is holding and starts flicking through it, his finger scrolling across the screen as he reads.

“What could have caused this?” Jim asks.  “Has it happened with anyone else?”

“Not that we know of, but I sent Sulu and Chekov out to the rest of the crew to see if there’s been a change.”  McCoy shakes his head.  “And I don’t know.  It could be anything.”

“Chapel’s in here,” Jim says.  “Could we bring a few more of the crew in and see what happens?”

“Oh, now you want to move everyone?” McCoy asks.  “Right after hosting a firefight in the middle of my sickbay?”

“Could it have been the fight?” Jim asks.

“It could be the height the biobed is off the ground, it could be the time of day, it could be what you had for breakfast,” McCoy says.  He’s been at this long enough to know that the answers aren’t easy.  He shakes his head.  “Or a host of pretty much anything else.  I have no idea, Jim.”

“Lavigne,” Jim says.  “I’m going to ask you something, ok?”  She nods quickly.  Jim steps closer, his voice soft.  “It’s been a long day.  Are you sure of what you saw?”

“Yes, sir,” she says and her nod is firm this time.  “I’m certain.  I wouldn’t have gotten Doctor McCoy if I wasn’t.”

“Good.”  Jim pats her arm.  “Now I know you’ve already told McCoy, but from the top again, exactly what happened.”

While Lavigne talks, McCoy limps his way across the room.  Giving into the urge to move feels good, even if it’s at a slow, stiff hobble that takes him past where Manas is lying, gray and too still.

“Anything?” McCoy asks when Spock looks up from his padd.  He hates how he has to half hop over there.

“No,” Spock says and McCoy touches two fingers to his own forehead, trying to forestall a sigh.  And a headache.

He could take one more step and grab the padd from Spock to scroll through himself.  But it’s the same data he’s already examined backwards and forwards again, and it isn’t any more helpful than Chapel laying there, still as a stone.  None of this makes sense, though McCoy’s sure he should be used to that by now, yet another mystery to tease apart with lives on the line, enemies in their brig, and a hostile planet outside.  It’s horribly commonplace isn’t it, the drag of exhaustion tinged through with adrenaline spiking.

“We’ll run those scans again,” McCoy finally says.  “Now and in an hour.  Let’s get Chekov to complete another diagnostic on the sensor calibration and make sure we’re not losing anything to the planet’s interference.”

“I’ll go get him,” Jim says and in a swish of the doors, he’s gone.

“I’ll start on the Nurse’s vitals,” Lavigne says.  

When she’s bent over Chapel, McCoy lets out that sigh.  Next to him, Spock’s still holding the padd, and he’s examining it once more, the blue of it shining on his face.  He looks so still.  Focused, really, in that way of his.  Up until he blinks and catches McCoy watching him.

“The logical conclusion is that our tricorders cannot discern that which has altered in the Nurse’s condition,” Spock says, which saves McCoy from having to come up with something of his own.

McCoy balances his hip against the nearest biobed.  His bad leg is tired from the weight on it.  He doesn’t want to think of the layers of muscles, barely healed and now strained.  

There’s another logical conclusion that Spock isn’t saying.  Jim did though - that Lavigne imagined it all.  And McCoy wouldn’t blame her, since he’s seen a thing or two after too little sleep and a too long surgery.  One that went off the rails too.  But Spock’s not voicing that, and McCoy isn’t going to either.

Instead, he just says, “If that’s the case, Chekov will catch it.”

“Indeed,” Spock says.

Someone moved Kierzkowski, which is a small relief.  But that’s then just one more body in the ship’s morgue.  McCoy’s not certain there won’t be more by the time they make it off this godforsaken planet.  It’s an old thought, to hold in his mind the crew on the ship around him and to be sure enough that some of them might make the trip back in cryovac.  Who, he’s never taken to guessing, but it sometimes feels like it’s one after the other and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.  First aid doesn’t do much in the face of a hostile enemy, and not stuck out here with a poor stash of supplies and an overworked staff that was thin to begin with.

He pinches the bridge of his nose.  If there’s a hell, he’s sure this is it - a crew he’s unable to wake up and the rest of them dropping like flies around him while he watches.

He manages his way down the corridor on his own this time, though he’s sure he’s making a mess of it, one hand propped on the wall with each step.  Spock walks a pace behind him.  Slow too, to match McCoy’s speed.  He wonders if Spock’s waiting for him to fall.  And when he does stop, Spock draws up short, a careful distance that McCoy can feel at his back.  Though it’s not the shake of his leg that makes him stop shy of their quarters, but the smell of food.  His stomach growls and he turns down the hall to the rec room, half dragging his leg with him.

“Heard you were up,” Sulu says.  He’s holding a sandwich.  McCoy could order him to hand it over.  He’s dimly aware that his mouth started watering several ungainly steps ago.  “How’re you feeling?”

“Did you replicate that?” he asks

“There’s more,” Sulu says and McCoy could kiss him, but he’s too busy dragging himself to the counter Sulu tipped his head towards.

Soft bread, lettuce and a thick slice tomato.  Definitely replicated, it has that slight graininess to it, a quality of being too close to perfect.  But there’s roast beef too, and a healthy slather of mustard, and what has to be cheddar cheese.

McCoy puts half the sandwich in his mouth.

“Scotty got this all together last night,” Sulu is saying.  He sets his plate down and produces a bowl of chips.  “Here.  It took Keenser four tries, but they came out all right, I think.”

They did.  McCoy eats a handful.  “Is there coke?” he asks.

“We tried, but all the soda kept coming out purple,” Sulu says and McCoy shrugs and takes another bite.  With the back of his hand, he wipes mustard off his cheek, chews, swallows, and sticks the rest of the sandwich into his mouth.  He takes the bowl from Sulu and makes his way to the couch.  With a groan, he sinks onto it and lifts his leg to rest on a packing crate.  Replicator parts, he’s pretty sure, from the look of them.  Well worth it, if this is how everyone spent last night, doing the good work of making some halfway decent food.  

“How’s your arm?” McCoy asks.

“Fine.”  Sulu brings his elbow up and down.  “Been worse.”

“Haven’t we all,” McCoy says and grabs another handful of chips.  He doesn’t look up from the bowl until the couch sinks.  Spock sits a cushion and a half away.  He peers at McCoy like he’s a particularly abnormal lab specimen.  McCoy wipes at his mouth again with his wrist.

“Are you fan of chips, Spock?” he asks and holds the bowl out.

“I am not.”

“Live a little,” McCoy says, only to really hear the words once they come out.  That was, very precisely, what Spock was angling to do, now wasn’t it.  McCoy fishes around for an unbroken chip and eats it in two bites, one half and then the next.  He doesn’t look over at Spock again.

He’s finished half the bowl when Uhura comes in and sits on Spock’s other side.

“Kattel’s people aren’t talking,” Uhura says.

“They’re waiting for her to wake up?” McCoy asks.

Uhura shrugs.  “They’re not saying one way or another.  Is she ok?”

Her question just makes it McCoy’s turn to shrug.  He sticks his hand back in the bowl.  “Spock knocked her out something good.  There’s not exactly an antidote.”

“Well, it at least gives us a break from her negotiating skills,” Uhura says.

“Or lack thereof,” Sulu says.  He balances on the arm of the couch next to her.  “Does she really think we’re going to just hand over Manas?”

“We’re not going to,” Jim says from behind them.

“Hey,” Uhura says and shifts to the side to make room for him.

“Shove over,” Jim says and his tap on Spock’s shoulder moves Spock one graceful scoot closer to McCoy.  Jim sighs as he settles between Spock and Uhura and kicks his feet up too.  “We’ll figure something else out.”

McCoy will figure something else out.  He hears it, even if Jim doesn’t say it.  He tips the bowl forward onto the crate next to his foot and wipes his hand on his pant leg.  

“Give me some,” Jim says, leaning across Spock towards the bowl.

“How’s the shoulder, Jim?”  McCoy asks.  He doesn’t look down at where Spock’s thigh is pressed close to his own.

“Improved by potato chips,” Jim says and snags the rim of the bowl.

“You’re giving me gray hairs,” McCoy says and Jim grins around a mouthful of chips.

“Nah, you’re just getting old.”  Jim cranes himself backwards and twists to call to the door, “Scotty!  Your sandwiches are under attack.”

“And fine sandwiches they are, sir,” Scotty says.  He has a wrench in his hand and Jaylah a step behind him.  Keenser, too, the three of them looking like the motliest of crews, whatever it was that they were fixing.

Hopefully the backend of the replicators for some more decent food.  Or the engines, though McCoy’s pretty sure Scotty wouldn’t be wandering over here, tapping the wrench idly against his palm if that were the case.  No, they’d be scrambling for the bridge if there were any real progress being made.

By Scotty or by McCoy himself.  He crosses his arms over his chest.

“The food on Earth is good,” Scotty’s saying when McCoy looks up again.  Jaylah’s bent over a control panel on the wall, the cover of it popped open to reveal a mess of wires, but McCoy’s sure she’s listening.  “What’s that deli, Jim, near the Academy Hall with the-“

“-Sonny’s,” Jim says.  He grins.  “So good.  With the chicken?”

“The chicken,” Scotty sighs.  He circles behind McCoy and comes around to grab a handful of chips.  “What I wouldn’t give for one of those sandwiches.”

“We used to take them down to that park, remember?” Jim asks and Uhura nods when Jim nudges her with an elbow.  McCoy remembers that too.  Warm days, when the most they could eke out of their schedules was an extra ten minutes on their lunch break.  But it was worth it, wasn’t it, sitting with the ocean breeze and the view of the bridge over the bay, peeling greasy, sticky paper from their sandwiches.  Uhura would never finish hers, would just hand the rest of it to Jim, who could have probably polished off two more of them without slowing down.

“The Commander says that Earth is foggy,” Jaylah says.  “Why do you eat outside in fog?”

“Don’t listen to him,” Uhura says.  “Earth is lovely.”

“Ah, that it is,” Scotty says.  “It’s why the Academy is there, and wasn’t built on Andor or Vulcan.”  His eyes cut over to Spock and there’s the pause in the conversation that always follows those off hand mentions.  It’s shorter now than it once was, and Spock just looks mildly over at Scotty, waiting for him to continue.  Once, he would have stood and walked out, or wrapped himself in a silence that would have persisted well through the next day.  “It’s habitable to the most number of species in Starfleet.  Not that different atmospheric conditions to Yorktown, really.”

“The Commander says it snows,” Jaylah says slowly.

Uhura grins.  “The Commander is not particularly enthusiastic about precipitation in general.”

“I appreciate its ecological function,” Spock says and Uhura rolls her eyes.

“Debbie downer, you are.”

“What is that? A Debbie?” Jaylah asks and abandons her panel to walk over to Uhura.

Later, McCoy leaves the lot of them behind for the chance to limp back to his quarters, and waves Jaylah towards his seat.  She still lingers at the edge of the group like that.  McCoy wonders if it’s just how she is, or if they all aren’t too loud and too chatty, too many years together amongst them, that familiarity he once thought they’d never strike up.

Even Spock, who hadn’t exactly relaxed, but who had stayed at the very least, once brushing crumbs from his lap when Jim gestured too wildly with a handful of chips.  

McCoy forgot the mess he left the room.  Spock’s bed is rumpled, the blanket tossed back and the pillow askew.  From the floor, McCoy retrieves his padd and flicks it on.  It’s not cracked and hums back to life, Kattel’s vitals staring up at him.  He scrolls through them again, his shoulder against the ladder to his own bed as he reads.  She should be awake soon.  In the morning, maybe.  McCoy’s seen enough of Spock’s handiwork to know it doesn’t last forever.  And her vitals look good.  If he had enough, he’d give her a hypo to stem off any dehydration.  As it is, she’ll be fine.

A hell of a lot better than Kierzkowski.

And then McCoy can give her a piece of his mind for shooting him in the leg.  He flicks the padd off.  He’s looking forward to that more than he should be, he’s sure.  

With a sigh, he drops himself onto the edge of Spock’s bed.  From there, wincing at the pull on his leg, he works his boots off, dropping one onto the floor and then the next.

Then, he pauses.  Bends further forward.  

“Dammit,” he says, and sticks his fingers under the edge of the bunk after the edge of the gold case he can just make out.

He can’t reach it, not from where he’s sitting on the bed.  Straining for it only nudges it and it skitters away from him.  Gingerly, he lowers himself to his knee and grimaces at the tug at his thigh.  And even so, an arm beneath the bunk, he’s still groping for it, brushing his fingertips against it with no way to grab it.

“What are you doing?”

McCoy smacks his wrist on the bed frame when he jumps.  “Ow.  Jesus.  Knock, would you?”

“This is my room,” Spock says.

He rolls his eyes.  “Good for you.”

His palm flat on the mattress, he tries to press himself upright.  Spock’s hands are warm on his arms.  

McCoy sighs as Spock lifts him.  “I can do it.”

“Clearly,” Spock says and sets him on the edge of the bed.  He’s so close.  It’s this room, too damn small, no way to get away from each other.

“Your-“ McCoy holds his hands out, his fingers framing the shape of the case.  His can still feel Spock’s touch on him.   “Sorry, I dropped it.”

When Spock kneels and slips one long arm under the bunk, his head is level with McCoy’s lap.  McCoy stares at the wall across from him.

“Is it all right?” McCoy asks.  Whatever it is.  McCoy probably threw off some precise internal logic of the thing, for all he knows.  Spock is still on his knees, his shoulder just at McCoy’s thigh.  He should apologize again, he’s sure, but Spock nods, his thumbs sliding it open.

It’s a screen of some sort.  Bright, in the dimness of their room.  McCoy thinks now he should have turned on more lights.  The glow of it plays over Spock’s face.  Those too long eyelashes of his and those lips. Spock doesn’t tip the screen towards him so McCoy can make out what’s on it, just snaps it closed again and then rocks to his feet, the case held in one hand.

“Lavigne came in,” McCoy says.  “I dropped my padd, too.”

“And created a quite unfortunate state of my bed.”

McCoy looks behind him at that pillow.  “Should have seen Jim’s at the Academy.”  

“I am perhaps fortunate to not have borne witness.”

“No kidding.  You want it back?” McCoy offers and hooks his thumb at the mattress he’s sitting on.  “I can do a mean hospital corner.”

“That is not necessary,” Spock says.  His hand is still cupped around that case.  When McCoy glances up again, he knows Spock’s caught him looking.

He levers himself backwards, further onto the bed, and clears his throat.  “I’m probably going to try to get some sleep, unless you want to un-nerve pinch Kattel and give me yet another thing to do today.”

“That is not possible.”

“Figured it’d be a snowball’s chance in hell,” McCoy says and ignores the look Spock gives him at that.  

Though that arched eyebrow is a lot better than any sort of stony silence that Spock could be throwing his way.  McCoy’s sure he wouldn’t blame him.  But maybe they can sidle past this.  Play pretend at normalcy for long enough that they can leave this mess of theirs here on this planet when they finally fly away.

Which they can do as soon as McCoy figures out what the hell is wrong with the crew.  He jerks his socks off, frowning.

“Did you really hate living on Earth?” he asks when the silence stretches on too long.  Of course Spock would.  He’d probably enjoyed it as much as McCoy would spending years on Vulcan.  There’s no real substitute for a home planet, though he doesn’t need to be the one telling Spock that.

“It was an adjustment,” Spock says.  

“I’m sure.”  He can’t quite help himself.  He nods to the case in Spock’s hand.  “Mind if I ask what that is?”

Spock does, he’s sure.  Spock minds a lot of what McCoy does, has since day one.  Though maybe pissing the man off can launch them back into an old, well worn ordinary that is so distant now McCoy’s not sure he’d recognize it if it drifted back into the room.  I find you attractive, Spock had said.  McCoy frowns, irritated with himself at the memory.

Spock turns the case over in his hands.  McCoy’s sure he’s going to tuck it away somewhere, in a drawer, under the pillow on McCoy’s bunk, somewhere McCoy won’t find it again.  

“Sorry I asked,” he finally offers.  Spock’s privacy is his own and hell if McCoy needs to go poking around.  He’s done enough damage already, he’s sure of it.  The best he can do is leave the man alone.

But Spock opens it again, slowly this time.  His head ducked forward, he says, “It was the Ambassador’s.”

“Oh.”  Good God.  There’s something right to say in this moment, but McCoy fumbles for it.  “I didn’t… open it.”

That eyebrow lifts.  “I know.”

Smug bastard.  McCoy shakes his head at Spock, not that he’s looking, his eyes on the glow of the screen McCoy can’t see.

“I do not believe you would have been able to refrain from commentary if you had,” Spock says.

“I can refrain from anything I damn well please,” McCoy says, but takes the case when Spock holds it out for him.

For a long time, he cups it in his palms.  Then, he raises a fist to his mouth and coughs into it.  His chest goes tight and he can’t swallow that back down, his throat too thick.  

Finally, he manages, “I’ll have to tell Jim to lay off those chips.”  He doesn’t miss the twitch at the corner of Spock’s mouth.  What a goddamn sight this is, all of them there, staring back at him, the years worn into them all.  “The Ambassador left this for you?  He had it with him?”

“Among other belongings.”  Spock’s looking at it.  McCoy starts to hand it back, but thinks better of it and just slides to the side to make room for Spock next to him.  It takes him a moment, but Spock finally sits there beside him.  “He left it to me.  I suppose the… benefit of dying of old age is the ability to set one’s affairs in order.”

McCoy runs his finger over Scotty’s gray hair.  He wonders what prompted the mustache.  “We should all be so lucky.”

“Indeed.”

How odd to see himself.  Idly, McCoy spins the ring on his pinky finger with his thumb.  Out of the corner of his eye, he peers at Spock.  The Spock next to him.  It’s nothing next to being face to face with your own self from the future.  But still.  He could be holding a picture of his father, nearly.  He touches his thumb to the frame again.  Jim’s too, though nobody in this life will ever know how George might have aged.

And they’ll never see Spock as old as the Ambassador was.  Spock will outlive all of them, in that life and in this one, God willing.

“Uhura cut her hair,” he says.  “Have you shown her this?”

“I have not.”  McCoy can feel Spock lean towards him, just slightly.  He tips the picture further towards Spock in answer.  “Nor have I shown Jim.”

“Did you two ever talk?”

“No.”

“You should.”

“We have been rather occupied otherwise.”

“I’d put money on excuses being illogical,” McCoy says.  In the picture, Spock stands off to the side, just slightly.  Some things likely never change.  Not that, not Chekov’s grin, not Jim there in the center of them all.  McCoy takes a breath and searches for the right words.  “Was he - the Ambassador-“ You, McCoy thinks, “Alone?  When he passed?”

Spock blinks.  McCoy’s seen that sheen in his eyes before.  “My father was with him.”

McCoy lets out a breath.  “Goddamn. That’s something, isn’t it.”

“I do not believe he had the same opportunity to build interpersonal connections in this timeline as he was afforded in his own.”

Too much work to do, Spock doesn’t have to say.  McCoy’s half sure the same fate would have awaited the man next to him, had he really jumped ship.  What a hell of a way to go, on a planet that’s a poor facsimile of your own, in a universe that doesn’t fit quite right.

McCoy’s not sure he should touch Spock, but he presses a hand to his forearm anyway.  

“He gave you quite a gift,” he says.  “Making it possible to be here, I mean.  He knows it’s what you wanted.  What he would have wanted.”

Spock blinks again, too quickly.  “It took me some time to realize that.”

“Is that…” McCoy shouldn’t ask.  And he should pull his hand back.  Instead, he squeezes Spock’s wrist.  The bones are delicate and thin beneath this hand.  Leave him alone, he tells himself but the stern words don’t help much.  “Is that what gave you the idea for, well, you and me?  Were we…”

“Involved?” Spock slips his arm from beneath McCoy’s hand and touches a finger to his eye.  It comes away wet and Spock sniffs, such a human gesture McCoy can’t help but stare.  “I do not know.  But I do not believe so.”

Maybe McCoy was still married.  Hell, maybe Spock was.  Or maybe things shook out there like they did here.  A different setting perhaps, or a different time in their lives, but the same gist of the conversation.

Or not at all.  Maybe… Maybe Spock, unbeknownst to even himself, was pushing this universe closer to that one.

That’s a thought, isn’t it.  Growing old together.

McCoy keeps himself from laughing at that, but there’s a hysteria to the notion that rises up in him all the same. Deranged, that is.  The very idea of it leaves him agitated.  

“If it makes you feel any better, my ex wife could give you a hundred and one reasons I’m a bad idea.”  Spock swallows, his throat working.  Shut up, he tells himself.  Either that or smooth this all over until it’s right again.  At a loss to do either, he settles somewhere in the middle, a bad idea if there ever was one, and says, “And listen, I don’t think you being with me would be fair to you.”

“You are oddly compassionate in a very peculiar way,” Spock says.  Illogical, his voice says, even if the word doesn’t come out of his mouth.

“I’d end up hurting you,” McCoy says since it’s as simple as that, isn’t it.  “And you- of everyone, you’ve had enough of that, Spock.”

“I believe that is a decision I am capable of making for myself,” Spock says.  “Though your concern is noted.”

With that, he stands.  Beneath McCoy, the mattress shifts with the motion, and he’s treated to the sight of Spock shutting the ‘fresher door between them.

See, McCoy could say.  A handful of words in and here he is again, Spock’s back to him.  Proof’s in the pudding, isn’t it.

When the sonics kick on, McCoy lays back on Spock’s bed.  He flicks the picture open, studying it all over again.  Chekov’s hand on Sulu’s shoulder, Spock with his hands tucked behind him, the red of their uniforms.  Starfleet always did like to change things up.  Though the bridge looks somewhat similar, the shape of it and those blue displays.  Maybe their ship didn’t crash onto Altamid.  Spock wouldn’t know, McCoy’s sure of it.  What a stickler, to not even tell himself any of what had transpired.  How typically Spock, that is, in a way that makes McCoy want to smile.

He looks at himself carefully.  He used to wear his hair like that, parted and combed.  Back at the Academy, before cutting it short right before they shipped out on the Enterprise’s maiden voyage.  

Spock never changed his haircut, apparently.  That does make McCoy smile.  He casts a look towards the bathroom door.

To be that much older and all of them still together.  To last that long out here.  And to be working still.

What it’d have been to talk to… well, himself.  He can see the appeal, that’s for sure, strange as all hell or not.

Apparently he was happy enough to stick around, living out his life on that ship without giving into the siren lure of home.  What he wouldn’t trade now for that sticky summer humidity he grew up in, that kick of red dirt beneath his feet.  To be out here, away from that, for years more to come.  To die out here, like so many of them do, not having had that again.

Though in one life, at least, he lived to a much older age.  And spent those years with the crew, apparently without much regret at all.

He knows he’s falling asleep before he does.  Hell, being horizontal is enough, and a meal did the other part of the trick.  Still, he blinks against the drag of his eyes, looking at the group of them there staring back at him.

Chapter Text

From her slouch against the back of her cell, Kattel smiles.  It’s dark down here in the belly of the Franklin and the stained yellow of her teeth only adds to the gloom clinging to her.  Some throwback to the brigs of old this is, dim lighting and shadowy corners.  None of the openness that they had on the Enterprise, that sparse white room where it was impossible to hide.  Here, McCoy wants to squint against the edges of the space, shine a light around to see better.

“You were held by Krall,” he tries.  Again.  His leg is starting to ache from this much standing.  And to think that this morning when he woke up, he was almost feeling good.  Or an approximation of it, at least - close enough that he could imagine that he remembered what good felt like.  Now, he sighs and shifts his weight.  “In that cave, just like our crew.  And you woke up and escaped.  We need you to tell us how you did that.”

“Need?” Kattel asks.  “I need you to let me out of here.”

“Would like,” he amends.  Slowly, he forces his jaw to relax.  “We would like you to tell us how you did that.”

He throws a look towards Uhura, but she just lifts a shoulder in a shrug.  McCoy sighs.  No help she is, with this circled, doubled back on itself conversation.  Not that he’s all that helpful himself, now is he, a morning of this after Jim had given up.  It’s a headache, this entire thing is.

“Our crew,” McCoy says.  “We want to bring them home.”

“As you have said.”

As he’s said.  That, at least, they can agree on.

Leaning against the bulkhead behind McCoy, Jim has his arms crossed.  He looks like he might also just toss a shrug to McCoy when he looks over.  Goddamn useless, all of this.

“What can you tell us about leaving that cave?” McCoy asks.  When Kattel doesn’t answer, he purses his lips.  “Ok.  What can you say about when he brought you in there?”  She’s silent.  He wants to groan.  He should probably be awarded a medal for the fact that he doesn’t.  “What about when you arrived on the planet?”

Finally, Kattel pushes away from the wall.  

“Arrived?” she asks.  “Doctor, I told you, I am home.”

He frowns.  “What do you mean by that, now?  You, what, want to actually stay here?”

“Always,” she says.  “This is where I live.  You understand that, yes?”

It takes him longer than he’d like it too and he’s still frowning when he asks, “You’re from here?”

“I was born in the mountains,” she says and he feels his interest catch, though that might just be for the chance at a new conversation topic after the circles they’ve gone in.  “I do not need your transport.”

“And the rest of your people?  They’re from here too?”

“Some,” she says.  She steps up to the glow of the field separating them.  “We want our planet back.”

“Back,” McCoy says.  Jim is so much better at this.  Even with a hot breakfast and hotter cup of coffee, it takes too long for his mind to turn over the words.  “Back from Krall?”

“We had peace before him.  He comes in your ship, and this is what we have now,” she says and wraps her knuckles on the forcefield.  

McCoy crosses his arms.  Good God she’s old then, by most standards he knows.  

“Which is why you want Manas,” he says slowly.

“Justice,” Kattel says.  “With your morals, it is important, no?”

“It is.  So you can imagine why we don’t turn the unarmed and injured over to the likes of you,” McCoy says.  

“You all come from the skies.  Visitors here.”  Kattel leans in closer.  There’s a forcefield between them and still, McCoy wants to edge backwards.  “Krall comes.  Manas comes.  Jaylah, and you and so many more.  This is our planet.  You and your people- you are the ones who need to leave.”

McCoy makes himself step closer too.  “Tell us how to wake our crew up, and we’ll be gone.”

“Give us Manas, and we’ll tell you.”

“That’s cruel.”

“One life, for all of yours.”  Katell tips her head to the side.  “Is it so hard of a decision?”

“He’s my patient,” McCoy says.  “There’s no discussion.”

He’s through the door before Jim can stop him.  The stomp of his boots down the corridor is at least more satisfying on the Franklin than it ever was on the squeaky, polished tile of the Enterprise.  Though what he would give for a door to yank open, not the smooth hiss that greets him when he pushes in sickbay.

One of the guards standing over Manas looks up and McCoy used to have an office, didn’t he, where he could lock himself inside and groan into his hands, not this shoddy facsimile of privacy in the quiet of sickbay, guards eyeing him and the horrible silence of Chapel laying just there.

McCoy braces his hands on the side of Navares’ bed and stiff armed, lets his head hang.  Leave Manas to the likes of them.  A man who has committed atrocities, he is.  But to turn him over to a certain fate. He’s a doctor, not a jailer, and he sure as hell didn’t sign up for any of this.

McCoy pushes off the bed and walks over to where Manas lays.  His electrolytes are down.  His blood pressure, too.  But McCoy has no hypos to change that, not until the replicators are fixed.

The door whisks open, though McCoy doesn’t bother to turn at the sound.

“Is he ok?” Jim asks.

“Do you have a plan?” McCoy runs his tricorder over Manas’ forehead.  His face is subsiding into a echo of humanness.  All of his features are, softening into a recognizable shape.  “No, he’s not ok.  He’s knocked out from a head contusion he should have woken up from days ago.”

“The same thing that has Chapel out?” Jim asks.

“God dammit Jim, I have no idea.”  McCoy shakes his head, when he really wants to just shove his entire face into his hand and make Jim, sickbay, and any sight of the Franklin go away.  “He’s old, Jim.  Kattel’s older, apparently, but Manas is human.  He’s not supposed to live this long.”

“Hey,” Jim says.  “Are you doing all right?”

McCoy looks up.  “I’m fine.”

“How’s your leg?”

Across from him, Jim has eyebrows raised.  McCoy looks down at his thigh.  

“This is annoying as all hell, Jim.  Can’t you just make her talk?”

“I can’t,” Jim says.  

“You gonna give her Manas?”

“So she can kill him?” Jim asks.  “I agree with you, Bones.  War criminal or no, that’s not exactly how the Federation deals with this type of thing.”

“Good on us, I guess,” McCoy says.  He leans his hip against Manas’ biobed and lets the fight drain of himself with the help of a deep breath.  What a goddamn day.

Jim is watching him and he doesn’t like the itch of it, Jim’s careful attention like McCoy is something to be studied, so he reaches out and presses two fingers to Manas’ pulse.  That at least is the same, the drum of his heart pushing oxygen around, no matter what other physiology that damn contraption of Krall’s mixed into his body.

“You know, Kattel has a point,” McCoy says slowly.  “Not about Manas, but about us all being here.  We’re on her turf, and Manas was too.  And Jaylah.”

“Possession is nine tenths of the law?” Jim asks.  “That’s mighty kind of you, for getting shot in the leg.”

“Trust me, that’s occurred to me.”  McCoy sighs. “My leg’s fine.  Sore.”

Weak as all hell and likely going to leave a scar, if he’s going to be charitable enough with Jim to be honest about it.  He closes his eyes.  Getting up this morning was no treat was it, his thigh stiff and the bed warm enough he wanted to just pull the blankets up over his head and lay there in the silence of the empty room, Spock long gone for work while McCoy slept far longer than he likely should have.

“Spock help you out ok?”

McCoy looks over at Jim.  Quickly, he nods.  Jim is guileless in his question, his eyebrows cocked.  Curious and only eager to know that McCoy’s all right.   Whatever itch it is that Spock’s trying to scratch, he hasn’t mentioned it to Jim.

McCoy tenses when the door to sickbay slides open.  But it’s just Scotty and behind him Keenser, both of them loaded down with piles of equipment.  From the stack on Scotty’s arms, a coil of wire slips to the floor, and he kicks it forward over towards McCoy and Jim.

“It’s better in here, aye?” he says and dumps the mess he’s holding onto a biobed.  “Got that cleaned up right quick, didn’t we.”

“What the hell is all this?” McCoy asks.

“The air,” Scotty says.  “Doesn’t smell like a firing range anymore, does it.”  From the clutter, he produces a box.  When he pulls it apart, there’s a row of filters inside.  “We got this for you.  Gotta turn down the environmental controls, but this should finish the job.”

“Turn them down?” McCoy asks.  Scotty bends over his pile.  Jim doesn’t quite look at him.  “What’s going on?”

“The ship’s power supply,” Scotty says without looking up.  “It’s a wee bit low.”

“Low,” McCoy repeats.  “Were you going to mention this, Jim?”

“You were hurt,” Jim says and spreads his hands out.

“Do you need an anatomy class?  I got shot in the leg.  My ears work just fine.”

“I’ll just leave this here,” Scotty says and clicks the box on with a hum.

“What does low mean?” McCoy asks when Scotty’s left again.

“You’ve got your hands full,” Jim says.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m worried.”  McCoy says sharply.  “You let me sleep all night, and now you’re telling me the clock is ticking?”

“It’s been ticking,” Jim says.  “Now it’s just… going faster.”  He grimaces, his face pulling into lines so different than the easy smile McCoy was so used to once.  “With Kattel awake, I was hoping… well, for something, clearly.”

“You’re thinking about it,” McCoy says.  “Handing Manas over.”

Jim lets out a breath.  McCoy steps closer to him.  

“Or leaving the crew here,” he says.  He knows his mouth is open.  “You said - yesterday, you said that we’d figure it out.”

“We’ve got to be realistic,” Jim says.  “I’ve got a ship that, as of now, can still get back to Yorktown.”  He tries for a smile.  “I thought you wanted out of here, Bones.”

“What about Chapel?” McCoy asks.  “What are you going to do, just dump her outside?  Tell her that we’ll be seeing her around, if we can find a good time to come back?”

“Bones,” Jim says.  He throws a glance towards the guards.  “Keep your voice down, would you?”

“Give Kattel and her people Manas?  Let them tear him apart?” McCoy asks.  “You and I both know what they’d do to him.  Starfleet doesn’t exactly condone torture.”

Jim breaths out through his nose.  His jaw is set.  “Bones, we’ve got a complement of crew here that I’m responsible for.  The ship is - it’s getting worse.  Clearly.  And I’m going to bring home as many as we can.”

McCoy puts his finger in Jim’s face.  “We’re bringing them all home, Jim, and don’t be telling me otherwise.”

“I’m trying,” Jim calls after him, but McCoy’s already heading for the door.

He doesn’t even get the pleasure of being able to go for a walk.  A limp, more like, and even so as soon as McCoy makes it out of the hatch to the heat of the mine camp, he has to brace a hand on the hull and rest there.  He’s shaky, dragging his leg after him like this.  The sun is too bright coming from inside the ship, and dust hangs thick in the air, stirred up on the breeze that blows through the mine camp.  Propping his shoulder against a landing strut, he scrubs at his face with two hands, ring fingers rubbing into the corner of his eyes.  He kneads at his temples and for a moment hides his closed eyes behind his palms, grateful for the dark.

“Doctor?” he hears and jerks, dropping his hands.

“Don’t sneak up on a guy like that, Spock.”

“What happened?” Spock asks, his voice soft.

“I’m fine,” he says and sighs out a breath that nearly ends with a groan.  He has to fight to keep that thread of annoyance burning through him cause God dammit, it threatens to slip at the gentleness of Spock’s voice. He’s sure that when it does, nothing will flow into that spot in his chest except an empty sort of ache.

You don’t have to be nice to me, he nearly says at the tiny quirk to Spock’s head.  If Spock would stop and draw that haughtiness around himself that he wears so well, it would be a hell of a lot easier to bear him.  

But with the suddenness of a tumbling deluge he can’t stop, he blurts out, “Scotty thinks the ship won’t be able to take off.” And once he’s started, Spock’s watching him and the rest follows too quickly to staunch. “Jim- Jim has Kattel down there, asking for Manas, and Spock, he’d give him to her, just to get us out of here, while the crew-“

“-Doctor,” Spock says and moves closer.

“I don’t know what to do,” McCoy says and hates that his voice threatens to crack.  Go away, he wants to bark but instead what comes out is watery and quiet.  God, what he wouldn’t give for Spock to snap back at him.  As it is, McCoy’s pretty sure if he asked for a hug, Spock would give him one.  “And don’t give me some logical bullshit about how leaving the crew here is our only option.  I don’t want to hear it, Spock, especially not if you and Jim have already settled on it.”

“We have not.”  Spock’s eyes are pinched at the corners, his brows drawn together.

“Manas could die soon,” McCoy says.  “He’s old.  And medical supplies or not, I can’t string his life out, not against old age.  If he goes, then Jim’ll have no choice but to-“

“-If,” Spock says.  He looks so calm, damn him.  McCoy can feel the beat of his own pulse singing through his body.

He puts his palm back over his eyes.  Into his wrist, he says, “That picture of yours.  He- me- whatever, would have figured this out.”

He’s sure of it.  But when he looks again, Spock is just watching him, his head once again cocked.

“You believe you are at fault,” he says.

It’s not a question and McCoy just nods.  “This is my job, to take care of this crew.”

“It is all of our responsibilities,” Spock says.  

“This- their health, Spock?  This is mine.”

Again, Spock steps towards him.

“Assigning blame solely to yourself is illogical,” Spock says.  “We are all here.”

McCoy waves him off.  “You sound like a broken record.”

“Dismissing my argument does not invalidate it.”

He could shove their old uniforms up over his elbows.  This shirt is too stiff.  He hooks three fingers into his collar and tugs, his knuckles up against his throat.  

“I have work to do,” he says but he doesn’t move.  He just squints  out across the camp, those odd yellow structures, the haze of the air and the ring of mountains around them.  Over there, towards that peak and through a swath of forest is the Enterprise.  It’ll be here forever, long past when they fly away.  Overgrown eventually with weeds and then trees, animals burrowing into what were their rooms.

Maybe someday, other travelers will come and wonder at the saucer crashed there.  Question where the people aboard had gone to, and why they left.

Kattel might be here, still.  

But Manas won’t.  And God willing, they won’t either.  Their crew too.

McCoy digs the toe of his boot into the dirt.  Clears his throat and says, “Thanks.”

“It is no matter.”

He scrubs at his face again.  “Still.”

He should go.  He should leave Spock the hell alone if he doesn’t want anything from him, not linger in the breeze that kicks up, and not let Spock follow him around the ship.  

And especially not be so grateful that he’s done so.

He crosses his arms over his chest.  “I need to get back.”

“Of course,” Spock says and McCoy tightens his arms around himself.  The hatch to the ship is just over there.

The wind is sifting through Spock’s bangs.  It flattens his shirt against his side over where that new skin is stretching.

“Commander?” Scotty asks, leaning out of the hatch. McCoy jumps in surprise.  His thigh pulls and he rubs at it, wincing.  “We’ve got the magnetic dissipation dampener ready if you are.”

Behind Scotty, Keenser holds up a wrench and Spock nods.

“The mine,” Spock says when McCoy looks between him and Scotty.  “We are attempting to take a reading.”

“Right,” McCoy says.  “Well.”

“No time like the present to try again now is there,” Scotty says and taps what was probably once a tricorder and now looks like just a mess of wires.  

“Good luck,” McCoy says and lets sarcasm lengthen his words as Scotty and Keenser walk past them.  Spock goes with them, his back straight and his head already bent in conversation.  It leaves McCoy standing there in the sun, still holding onto himself.  

He wipes his palm down his face.  His leg hurts.

What that other crew must have seen.  Themselves, really, but years on, so many of these missions under their belts, all of them there on the bridge, shoulder to shoulder.

You believe you are at fault.  When Spock became the one who he talked to about all this, he has no idea.  He used to time when he ate dinner so that he didn’t have to suffer through a conversation with the man, back in those early days on the ship when it felt like those tin walls were closing in too tight, and his life had been ripped away from the Academy too soon.  It had, really, being thrown into a new job, a new room, no Jim next to him in class, in the other bunk, at hand hour to hour.  

Now, Spock is just as ubiquitous.  Around every corner, at every meal, every day of McCoy’s life over the last years, it’s been.  

For that other McCoy, it was years to come, too.  He certainly never threw in the towel.  This must have been what he wanted, then.  This life out here, one of these hellish missions after the next.

McCoy finally makes his way back inside, each step a pull at his hip and thigh of tightening, tense muscles.  He grabs the tricorder he left on Manas’ bed and runs it over Chapel.  Maybe his other self could pick something out of the static the readout gives him.   What with insane theories of parallel universes, that other crew of themselves is out there now in their own version of this reality.  Maybe on Altamid, maybe not.  Hopefully, their universe was kicked off course enough that his other self never stood here, staring down at his head nurse, waiting for her to wake up.

“Chapel,” he says.  He wants to shake her shoulder again.  “C’mon.  Please.”

He should go find Jim.  Tell him he let his mouth get away from him, and Jim will give him a grin and a slap on the back.  He could find Spock too, maybe.  Tell him… something.  Thanks.  He could say thanks for the talk.  For… caring, like he said.  He certainly walks the walk, Spock does.  McCoy’s not sure how he’d react to being so thoroughly turned down, but it probably wouldn’t be with that quiet stoicism.  

And of course he doesn’t know, it’s been so long since part of him sang at the thought of someone else.  He’s not even sure he’s capable of that flutter of warmth anymore.  That spark at the sight of another.

He squeezes his eyes shut at the thought.  When he opens them, the security guards are thankfully ignoring him, their stance an easy and likely bored parade rest, and their attention doesn’t even bother to follow him across the room as he manages his way to a console.

He wishes he weren’t so grateful for the chair to sink into.  With a groan, he leans his bad leg out straight as he uploads Chapel’s readings, and Manas’ after them.  While the computer whirs - ancient, the thing is - he digs his thumb into the knot of muscle that’s formed high in his thigh.  God is it sore.  Maybe he could just stay like this, leg kicked out and the computer humming in front of him in harmony with Scotty’s box of filters.  Let the ship die around him, like one more patient he couldn’t save.  Sit here and dream of some other life.  Sweet tea and mosquitos, the swampy heat that lingers at sunset, all that he never thought to miss before he was so far gone from it.  Those parts of home that fade into the background, the little pieces of the day that stitched together wove into a backdrop of everything that he was used to.

Apparently, there’s a version of him that never looked back after trading that for recycled air, scrubbed clean of everything that makes it sweet.

Maybe, then, there’s one of him that never left.

He’d be half jealous of that man if he ever met him, the one who stayed home.  Though he must have had a path there in Georgia, to live his life on.  In all reality  - his own reality - he got up, packed up, and scrounged up a new life for himself, when every other door was slammed shut.  And met one James Kirk on a shuttle in the middle of a cornfield, though wouldn’t that be something, if that was an inevitability in any of his lives.  Too cocky for his own good and with a grin that McCoy had waved off, irritated and intrigued all at once.  Should have known better, he thought more often than not, and look at him now, too many years and half a galaxy away, Jim still in his life, and now all the rest of them, too.

But it’s a universe full of choices, and foretold destinies aside, pictures of him thirty years on and apparently happy, he could decide otherwise.  Can.  The moment his boots hit Yorktown, if he wants.

Which he can’t do until they get off this damn rock.  He scrolls through the graphs on the screen in front of him, sorting through the readouts of brain waves and frequency signals.  His eyes blur before he’s done reading with exhaustion or just the low throb of what feels too much like defeat.  He wonders how long Jim will let them stay here.  A day, maybe two.

And then McCoy’ll get what he wanted.  Jim wasn’t wrong.  A flight off this planet, out of the nebula, and back.  Civilization, or the edge of it at least, that glass ball hanging in the dark of space.

Not really what he wants, though.  Whatever the hell that might be.

But this isn’t it, the sting of a mission that isn’t working out.  Getting shot in the leg.  Spock, who decided to take hold of McCoy’s life and turn it upside down with a firm shake that started as a hand fisted in his uniform collar.  

It’ll all smooth out.  It’ll have to, cause Spock is not on any list of things McCoy could use, like a stiff drink and some peace and quiet.  No, he never was looking for anyone to sweep him off his feet.  He’s done that once and never again.  He wasn’t looking for any of this, ever, back in the dry heat of Iowa, just a ride off and away from his past, and he’d found that, strapped into the shuttle with Uhura rolling her eyes across the aisle.  He hadn’t cared where he went.  Just… away, and it had been good enough.

Apathy, he thinks.  The word rises to mind in Spock’s voice.  He wants to shake his head clear of it.  That’s what it had been, hadn’t it, when he had scrawled his name on the commission forms and signed away the next years of his life.  He’d been half drunk and more than half hungover and his indifference was heavy enough that even the fact of all the space flights ahead of him hadn’t stayed his hand.

Now, the same hysteria rises in him that is normally reserved for the thought of space’s vacuum beyond the ship’s bulkheads.  Not apathy but that too fast beat in his chest.  He’s panicked, a far off corner of his mind names that drum of his heart.  Not apathetic at all.  A terror he can recognize, now.  Too many options laid out, and that Spock - Spock - is one…  

“Jesus,” McCoy mutters, only to have one of the guards blink at him.  He frowns and stares at the screen in front of him and the readout that’s been busily whirring by.  Nonsense, all of it is.  And made worse by the way his eyes want to glaze over and his mind wants to continue to circle over on itself.

Spock should have had the good sense to leave him alone.  What the hell was he getting at, thinking McCoy was fit for anything of the sort of what it was that Spock intended.  No, McCoy came to Starfleet to get away from all of that.  To start over, and at least attempt to shake off the life he had lived before.

He hears a cough.  He twists around, his thigh protesting.

Manas hasn’t moved.  Chapel is still as a statue.

“Sir?” one of the guards asks.

“Was that you?” McCoy asks, but they both shake their heads.

McCoy stands.  

“Chapel?” he asks even though with the guards watching now, he feels stupid saying her name out loud.  If only he could scan her.  Really scan her, with the tricorders he had on the Enterprise and no interference.  He sighs.  These rocks are giving him a headache, just thinking of his scanners cycling with no new answers.

Another cough.  Half of one, really.  Like someone’s clearing their throat.  He squints at her, edging closer to lay his palm over her forehead.

Then, she coughs again, her stomach hollowing with it.

“Chapel?” he asks, louder this time.  Her hand twitches.  When he takes it in his own, her fingers curl tight around his.  Her eyes blink open and she coughs once more, the motion wracking through her body.  But it’s followed by a long, pulled in breath, and then another until she’s gasping for it.

“Easy,” he says.  He smooths her hair back.  It’s still dirty.  “You’re all right.  Can you hear me?  You’re just fine.”

She nods.  It’s there, between how she’s panting and her eyes are blown wide, but it’s a nod, and she’s focused on him, her eyes tracking when he bends closer.

“I’ve got you,” McCoy says. “It’s just me.”

Her hand smacks at the bed and her mouth moves before her shoulders curl inward and she hacks out another cough he doesn’t know how she has the air for.

“Breathe, Chapel,” he says.  He squeezes her hand.  “You’re ok, you hear?”

She keeps coughing, the force of them ripping through her body.  He works his arm beneath her shoulder and props her upright.

“C’mere,” he says.  “You - an oxygen mask.  Now!”

One of the security guards detaches from the wall and hurries over.  McCoy points with his elbow until the man gets the one he wants.  A nurse.  He needs a nurse.

“Lavigne,” he says as he gently fits the mask over Chapel’s mouth.  “Get her.”

“Sir, I’m not sure where-“

“Go. Now.”

He goes, the door rushing open in front of him as he jogs out.

“Chapel,” McCoy says.  She’s shaking.  Coughing and trembling and tears squeeze out of her eyes.  He brushes them away with his thumb.  “You’re in sickbay on the Franklin.  You’ve been out for a while.  But you’re ok now, all right?  Sit up, sweetheart- careful there, there’s some wires in your neck, neural transmitter links, and they’re in there good.  Deep breath in, there you go, let it back out.  I’ll get you some water.”

McCoy pins the remaining guard with a stare and jerks his head towards the faucet until the kid gets the hint and fills a cup.

“Comm the Captain,” McCoy says.  He tugs the mask down enough to hold the cup to Chapel’s mouth.  Carefully, he tips it so she can sip.  “Get him in here, would you?”

Chapel coughs again and water splashes onto McCoy’s wrist.  

“Easy,” he says.  Those wires going into her neck look all the worse for her skin to be flushing with color for the first time in days.  “Try for a swallow.  You got it, careful now.”

He pats her shoulder as her throat finally works and ducks down to meet her eyes when she looks up at him.  

“Y’alright?” he asks.

“McCoy?” she asks in a shattered wreck of her normal voice.

“Hey.”  He’s smiling.  He can feel it dimly, a hard pull on his cheeks.  “Welcome back.”

“Bones!” he hears and he turns towards the door, grinning.

“Jim, look at- What in the goddamn hell?”

But Jim doesn’t answer, coming into the room at a run that brings the stink of blood and a wild-eyed glaze on his face.

“Scotty,” he gasps, and there’s red splashed wet across his gold shirt.  He presses his palms to his thighs and sags over, panting.  “It’s Scotty and Keenser.  The mine it- The back tunnel-”

“-Spock?” McCoy asks.

“Oh God, Bones,” Jim says.  “Come quick.”

Chapter Text

Blood soaks through Spock’s shirt.  The fabric sticks across his chest and stomach in the gray light of the corridor and when McCoy presses his hand over Spock’s collarbone, his hand comes away wet.

“I am fine,” Spock says and McCoy’s hand only steadies when Spock takes his arm.

Red.  Red stains his palm, not green, and the world around him snaps back into focus.

“Keenser,” Spock says and McCoy looks down at the bundle of Ops uniform in Spock’s arms, crowned with a gray head covered in the same blood.  

“Good God, get him into sickbay,” McCoy says.

Spock deposits him on a biobed in a crumple of red fabric and a darker, tacky spread of blood.  It’s stickier than a human’s and leaves Spock’s hands stained, smeared like his shirt is as he backs away to make room for McCoy to press forward.

“Keenser?  Ensign, can you hear me?” McCoy asks.  Nothing.  “Spock, get Uhura in here.”

Carefully, McCoy rests his fingers on the top of Keenser’s head and feels his way across it.  Parietal ridge, lachrymal bone, occipital fontanelle- none of it broken as he walks his fingers over the ridges of his skull.  No, it’s firm when he presses, no shifting of bones grating against each other, and none of the softness that would make him wonder if he’s about to be prepping for surgery.

“He’ll be ok,” McCoy says and Jim, his chest still rising and falling from his sprint inside, sags against the edge of the biobed.  “Where the hell is Scotty?”

“The wall,” Jim says.  “It collapsed.”

“Sulu and Hendorff have Mr. Scott,” Spock says and behind him, Uhura crowds into sickbay.

“We’re here,” Sulu says.  Between him and Hendroff, Scotty hangs limp, and arm draped over each of their shoulders.  The tips of his boots squeak over tile as they drag him forward and his head lolls at an ugly angle.

“Lay him down,” McCoy snaps.  In two steps, he’s there with them, a hand bracing Scotty’s chest and the other stabilizing his neck.  McCoy’s leg cramps.  He ignores it.  “You carried him like that?  Watch his neck- get his head Jim.”

“He was awake,” Sulu says.  His shirt is streaked red too and McCoy hopes the blood is Scotty’s.  He doesn’t have time for this, not when he’s feeling up the length of Scotty’s neck and snapping his fingers in front of closed eyelids.

“Scotty,” he says loudly.  “Can you hear me?”

There’s no answering stir.  McCoy grits his molars together and feels up Scotty’s arm to his wrist and presses his fingers there.

A pulse.  A weak flutter of a pulse, but it’s there.

He pats at his hip for his tricorder, but his hand comes up empty.  Of course.  He twists around, searching.

“Here, Doctor,” and Spock flicks open McCoy’s tricorder and holds it out.

But McCoy doesn’t grab it.

“Your face,” McCoy says.  He frowns.  “You’re cut.”

“Inconsequential,” Spock says.

There’s a hairline of green across Spock’s cheekbone and temple, and a bruise forming beneath it.  Beads of blood appear as McCoy watches and when he looks down at Spock’s hand, there’s an answering smear across his shirt cuff.

He reaches towards Spock’s face.  “You all right?”

“A rock fell.  I am not seriously injured.”

“You lose consciousness?”

“No.”

“You’re sure?”

“Keenser,” Spock says and holds the tricorder out to him.

McCoy takes it and turns away again.  It’s fine, that is, that cut on Spock’s face.  And this will be too, God willing- all of it.  Flaring the shine of the tricorder into Scotty’s face makes him twitch, and McCoy bends over him, patting at his cheek.  

“Scotty,” he says.  “Scotty, it’s Doctor McCoy.  You’re in sickbay, and we’re going to fix you up, all right?”

McCoy gets a mumble in response.  He grabs Scotty’s hand and squeezes.  A pause - a long one, far longer than McCoy’d like - and then there’s a faint pressure in return.  

“There was an accident,” McCoy says slowly and loudly.  “You got injured when the tunnel wall collapsed.”

Scotty’s eyes flutter open, glazed and too wide.

“Follow my finger,” McCoy says, but Scotty’s eyes slip shut again.  McCoy pats his cheek again.  “Scotty!”

But there’s nothing and finally, McCoy straightens again.  A fierce sort of silence fills sickbay.  Too many bodies are packed into the space and even when McCoy raises his voice and barks “Out, all of you,” there’s only a slight shifting in the crowd.  

“Bones?” he hears.  

“Make yourself useful,” he says and grabs a strip of gauze and Jim’s hand.  “Steady pressure on that cut on Scotty’s head.  Don’t let up, now.”

“Are they alright?”

“Sure as hell hope so,” McCoy says.  He tosses his tricorder next to Keenser’s feet, and rifles through the instruments stashed inside the drawer set in the base of the biobed.  Another tricorder, empty hyposprays, a dermal regenerator that by the looks of it ran out of charge while McCoy was the one knocked out, and an empty package of emergency bandages.  He slams the drawer shut.

Everyone’s watching him.  Jim, with his fingers pressed to gauze that’s growing red, Spock standing next to him, Uhura there with them, Sulu and Hendorff and those two guards McCoy’s sure good and tired of, and-

“Aw hell,” McCoy mutters, crossing the room.  “Lavigne, how is she?”

One crisis at a time would be nice.  He cups Chapel’s chin and tilts her face up.

“Nurse?” he asks.

She’s sitting up, he doesn’t need Lavigne to tell him that.  And blinking at him, which is a hell of a something, considering.  He’d shake himself to make sure he’s seeing what he’s seeing, if he thought he had half a second to do so, not a sickbay full of patients and Jim breathing down his neck to hurry.

Her lips press together and her chest shakes in a shallow cough.

“Easy,” he says.  “I might just need you around here, you know.”

“I gave her twenty cc’s of inaprovaline like you said, sir,” Lavigne says.  She’s rubbing Chapel’s back.  McCoy nods.  That at least sounds like something he’d prescribe, though now he can’t remember more than passing Lavigne in the corridor at as close to a run as he could manage, let alone ordering medication.  He shifts his weight to his other leg.  A mistake that was, to go careening around the ship like that.

“Bones?” Jim asks again.

McCoy sighs.  What a hell of a day.

“Keenser’ll be fine,” he says, still staring down at Chapel.  Beneath his hand, he can feel another weak cough rise through her.  “He’ll come around soon enough.  Head’s like, well like a rock.”

“And Scotty?”

“Blood loss, head injury, possible internal injuries from blunt force trauma… Hell if I know without a real sickbay, Jim.”

“When did Chapel wake up?” Jim asks.

“Just before your engineering team crushed themselves under an avalanche and tried to take your XO with them.” McCoy tips Chapels face to one side and then the other.  Her eyes narrow.  Good on her then, she always did hate being examined.  Her check ups tended to be a special sort of hell.

He lets her go.  He needs two of himself, or for his head nurse to be on her feet and working beside him, not a patient in her own right.

Scotty’s pulse still beats a thready, weak tempo against McCoy’s fingers when he checks it again, a fact born out by the readout on the biobed.  Gently, McCoy palpates his stomach and across his ribs, feeling the shape of them rise with each of Scotty’s shallow breaths.  They’re firm though and moving as they should and that at least is something.

“His cut?” Jim says.

“Uhura, second cupboard, no to your left, up- there.  Three packs of that gauze, wash your hands, Jim, would you?” McCoy asks.  “Lavigne, I need a hypo of neodextraline and another of midodrine.”

One hiss and then two and he peers down into the eyes that slowly blink open.  He gets a bleary look in response.

“Good man, Scotty, there you are.  Hold still,” he says and takes the gauze from Uhura, peeling away the wad that Jim stuck there.  It’s a hell of a cut, congealing over now and clotting in dark clumps.  He presses the fresh gauze to it and scowls down into Scotty’s slowly blinking eyes.

“What the hell were you two doing?” McCoy asks.  “I don’t want to know.  Flex your toes.  Good.  Fingers?  All ten of them.  Good.”

“I was trying to-” Scotty shakes his head against the biobed and thumps himself on the chest, coughing over a breath, wincing through it.

Trying to grab Keenser, by the look of things.

“Stay away from falling rocks,” McCoy says.  “I’m a doctor, not a goddamn excavator.”

“Keenser?  Is he-“

“-He’ll be fine.  Unlike you, he’s keeping his bodily fluids exactly where they should be.”  McCoy adjusts his hold on the gauze.  “Dizzy?  Disoriented?  Federation President?”

“President Shani zh'Vrosia.”  Scotty winces.  “My throat hurts.”

“Hurts how?” McCoy asks.  “Jim, that tricorder.”

Scotty sits up slowly, a hand braced on the bed beside him and McCoy yanks the tricorder from Jim’s hand when he holds it out.  Though running it over Scotty only turns up gibberish on the screen and no matter how he shakes it, it whirrs without spitting out a reading.  Damn useless, it is, whatever wizardry Chekov worked on it clearly having worn off.  In need of additional calibration, he can nearly hear Spock say.

“I’m going to scan you with the biobed,” McCoy says.  “Stay still, you hear?”

It’s ancient, this sorry excuse for an interface.  Poking at it twice yields nothing, and at a third the screen slowly winks on.  He bends over and peers at it, frowning at the old controls.  He stabs a button.  It takes the screen too long to respond and he sighs.  Another problem.  Great.

Then, the lights wink out and the room goes black.  McCoy stares around himself in the sudden dark.

“Just what we needed,” he mutters.

“The flux modulator,” Jim says from near to him.  McCoy blinks against the blackness, squinting.

“What the hell is that?” McCoy asks into the dark.

“The starboard actuator,” Scotty says.  He coughs and McCoy feels for his arm, frowning and fumbling to find him.  That’s again now, a hacking echo of Chapel over there.  “It’s been a bit funny all day.”

McCoy gropes for the tricorder and flares the shine of the screen across Scotty’s face.  He’s rewarded with a flinch and he blinks again, like he can clear the inky blackness away if he just tries hard enough.

“Get the lights on, Jim,” he says.  His eyes aren’t adjusted to the dark and he leans close to Scotty, squinting at him in the dim light of the tricorder.

“You’ll have to reset the-“ Scotty raises his hand to his mouth and clears his throat into it.  “-The polarity matrix manually.”

“Does your mouth feel dry?” McCoy asks.  He pats at his own chest, his hand casting a deep shadow onto his shirt.  “Or like you have an obstruction?”

Uselessly, he thumbs the scanner on the tricorder, but it’s only benefit remains the light, milky blue over Scotty’s face and throwing the room beyond into a shadowed twilight.

“Jaylah knows the one,” Scotty says.

“Scotty, look at me,” McCoy says.  “Your throat.”

“I’ll get her,” Jim says and puts a hand out, feeling along the nearest biobed for the way to the door.

“Good, the rest of you go on and get too,” McCoy says and jerks his head towards the door closing behind Jim.  He’s soundly ignored.  He lifts his eyes towards the ceiling, though hell if he can actually see anything.  “Could someone, I don’t know, maybe hold the damn light?”

“I’ve got it,” Uhura says and slips it out of his hand.  The only reasonable one of the lot of them.

“Sit up straight and stick out your tongue,” McCoy says to Scotty.  “We’ll do this the old fashioned way.”

“I’m dizzy,” Scotty says as he swings his legs over the edge of the bed.

“That’s what happens when you misplace your blood all over your commanding officers’ shirts,” McCoy says.  He feels up Scotty’s neck, frowning when no matter how he presses into the thin skin, all seems normal.  It’d be better if he could see, too, now wouldn’t it.  “Try to keep the rest of it where it is, it might help you some.”

Scotty grazes two fingertips over the cut above his ear and winces.  “Ow.”

“Don’t poke at it, I’m short on regenerators.”

“I can charge one if you-“

“-Don’t,” McCoy says and smacks his wrist away when Scotty makes to touch his wound again.  Of course he wants to prod at it, of all of the goddamn idiot things to do.  “Who the hell knows where your hand is been, the last thing I need is some type of xenovirus running rampant through this crew.  Do you want a case of Menkalinan leprosy?”

“No?”

“Open your mouth.  No, you don’t,” McCoy says.  He peers down Scotty’s throat, pointing his elbow to Uhura to shine the light as best she can.  There’s a reason tricorders exist, and it’s so he doesn’t have to try to squint past a patient’s tongue like it’s the middle ages all over again.  “I’m sure you want your skin on you, not on the floor.”

“Sounds lovely,” Uhura from beyond the glow of the tricorder.

“Absolutely,” Sulu says.

“I don’t think I’d want that,” Scotty says.

McCoy straightens.  He can’t see a damn thing.  Maybe he can take Scotty outside.  Hendorff could help again, and McCoy could get himself there too, in a fashion.  Use sunlight to do this, if the ship’s systems aren’t going to do the trick.  His leg… well, he’d be fine making his way there.  More or less.

He rubs at his forehead.  This will be all right.  Somehow.  Eventually.

He turns.  “Hendorff-“

“-Montgomery Scotty!”

“Woah now,” McCoy says as Jaylah sprints into the room, stopping at the edge of the tricorder’s glow in a skid that has her throwing her hand out against the edge of Keenser’s bed.

“What happened?” she asks.

“The lights?” McCoy asks.  “Could we get them on?”

“Hey there lassie,” Scotty says, “I’m alright.”

“Your head,” she says.  “You are cut.”

“Which I can clean up a hell of a lot better if I could see,” McCoy says.  “How’s that flux compensator?”

“Polarity matrix,” Spock says from somewhere in the dark.

“How about all of you get out of my sickbay and leave me some room for my patients?” McCoy asks.

“James T is adjusting the magnetic variance buffer,” Jaylah says.  “I told you, this planet is not good.  It is not a good place to be.”

“Would that we could leave,” McCoy mutters and gives up on the crowd around Scotty’s bed when Jaylah pushes herself into the mix.  He throws a hand out to find the edge of a biobed and uses it to feel his way over Chapel, trying not to stumble.  That’s the last thing he needs today - pulling at his half healed leg and tripping over himself in his own sickbay, pitch black or not.  “You still with me Nurse?”

“Can I have some more water?” she asks.

“What you can do is sit good and still while we see about getting you unhooked,” McCoy says.  “Fortunately, we have our entire engineering division here.  Lavigne, go see about Keenser, would you?”

“Sir?”

“A hypo of methylxanthine and another of cocculin directly afterwards.”

“Where do I-“

“-Second drawer down, on your left.”

“-Sir, I’m not familiar with-“

“-In his foot,” McCoy says.  He searches blindly for Chapel’s cup and then for a sink.  What a treat this is, really.  Maybe he can get the rest of the ship’s tricorders in here too and ask for them to be strung up like holiday lights to give him a chance to get some damn work done.  “Tried his palm once, and he didn’t like that all that much.  Not his neck, Nurse.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sit up straight,” he says to Chapel and pushes the cup into her hand.  “Ok?  Dizzy?”

“Might vomit.”

“Turn your head if you do,” he suggests.  “I didn’t exactly pack for an extended stay here.  Uhura, that light?”

The points where the wires burrow into Chapel’s skin are slightly inflamed, a harsh pink even in the glow of the tricorder.  Maybe due to the relative grime of the cave, or maybe having her on her back in here where the Franklin’s none too clean either, compared with what he had on the Enterprise.  He has no way of knowing, which pricks at him as bad as the fact that he can’t do anything to sterilize the area, not with what he has on hand.  Gently, he touches where her flesh meets the black tubing.

“Hurts?” he asks when she pulls in a soft breath.

“It’s all right.”

“How all right?”

“All right.”  She looks up at him.  “Take it out.”

“I’m going to,” he says.  “But easy now, I don’t want you conking out on me all over again.”

“I’m fine, I-“ Her cough hits him in the chest and he steadies her as she bows forward with it.  Slowly, she gets her hand up to cover her mouth with her wrist, her shoulders shaking with each hack.  When she’s done, she winces.  “That hurt.”

“That’s not right, coughing like that,” he says.  He snags the tricorder from Uhura and runs it over Chapel’s chest, though of course the screen comes up blank except for its shine around the room.  “You felt ok leaving Yorktown?”

“Yes.”

“Scotty?” he calls over, squinting against the dark.  He can see better now than he could, but Scotty’s still just a mostly dim outline against the grays and blacks of the room.  “You feel like you’re coming down with something?”

“I’m fine,” Scotty says.  “And I have been.”

“What is it?” Sulu asks from somewhere beyond the line of the tricorder’s light.  “Are they ok?”

“I’m not sure.  A virus, maybe, or something bacterial.  Or hell, nothing at all.”  McCoy turns, tapping his finger against his mouth.  “Scotty, Keenser?  How’s that cold of his been?”

“Doing better than he was,” Scotty says.  “Until now, that is.”

“Hmmm.”  McCoy dials up the tricorder’s scanning frequency, tries again, and tosses it back to Uhura when it just glows with an error message.  Keenser had been better, though McCoy hasn’t exactly seen much of him in the last few days.  And it’s not the first time he’s come down with something since they’ve shipped out.  They needed that damn leave on Yorktown to rest, not another round of this.

“Sir?  After the cocculin?” Lavigne asks from across the room.

McCoy frowns, turning towards her voice in the dark.  “He’s not up from it?”

“Didn’t stir.”

“Pulse?”

“I’m not sure-“

McCoy fumbles past Uhura through the gloom and limps his way over.  Pressing Lavigne to the side, he can feel a beat just behind Keenser’s ear, but faint and even slower than it should be, and that’s saying something.

“Keenser,” he says loudly.  Blood still oozes from his shoulder, but slowly enough not to be the issue, not with how many pints the man has packed inside of him.  “Nurse, another hypo.”

“Yes, sir.”

Carefully, he injects it, looking for any twitch, but Keenser’s far stiller than he should be.

“Another,” he says and Lavigne hands it to him.  McCoy presses it into Keenser’s foot and he can hear the hiss of it over the quiet of the darkness around him.

“C’mon,” he says.

Sulu steps into the tricorder’s shine, lit in grays and blues next to Keenser’s shoulder.  “I’ve actually heard of a botanical supplement that- oh, shit.”

A clatter, followed by a thump.  McCoy whirls around, staring into the dark.  

“What the hell?” he asks.

“I’m all right,” Sulu says.  Then, he winces.  “Though it did land on my toe.”

“I’m not available for stubbed toes,” McCoy snaps.

“It appears unbroken,” Spock says and the light bounces around the room as Uhura holds the tricorder over him when he bends down to right the box of filters.

“Those are our last ones,” Scotty says, “So I hope you’re right, sir.”

Spock pops the lid off and pulls out a filter, turning it to catch the shine of the light.

“Unfortunate,” he says.  “As it appears they are already in need of replacement.”

“It’s that bad in here?” McCoy asks.  With a hand braced on Scotty’s bed for support, he limps his way over to Spock, careful not to lean too close.  His face heats up, so near to the crusted blood that’s drying on Spock’s shirt.  He didn’t need to have grabbed at Spock like that.

“It would appear to be,” Spock says and draws one slim finger through the particles clinging to the filter.  Even in the ghostly glow of the tricorder, the scattering of dust over the tip of Spock’s finger has a shine to it.  A tinge of blue that certainly looks more like the rocks outside than not.

McCoy frowns and turns towards Chapel, still sitting on her bed and half propped up on Lavigne’s arm.

“Say-“

“-There’s something wrong with the starboard generator,” Jim says, jogging back into the room.  He has a spare light in his hand and the beam bounces across the faces that turn towards him.  “Scotty, you up and at ‘em?”

“Nearly,” Scotty says.

“No, he’s not,” McCoy says.

“I’ve got Chekov down there,” Jim says and hooks a thumb over his shoulder.  “But we could use you.  Jaylah, you too, and Keenser.”

“He’s not going anywhere,” McCoy says.

“Keenser’s the only one who’ll fit back in there,” Scotty says and heaves himself to his feet.

“Oh, well, let me just wave my magic wand,” McCoy says.  “Scotty, sit down.  Now.”

“It’s not the generator, Captain,” Scotty says.  He touches his cut again and rubs the blood that dots his fingers onto his uniform.  “It’s the power sequencer.”

“It’s on the fritz?” Jim asks.

“No,” Scotty says.  In the shine of Jim’s light, Scotty straightens his shirt and wipes his palms off on his thighs.  “It’s out of power.”

“Are there reserves left in the batteries?” Jim asks.

“I’m guessing if there were, the lights’d be on,” McCoy says.  “Scotty, you’ve got a serious head wound.  Now I don’t exactly love flying around in these ships, but all the less so for letting a walking concussion put this scrap heap back together.”

“Bones, when will Keenser be up?” Jim asks.  

“I don’t know, Jim.”

“Soon, though?”

“I don’t know,” McCoy says again.

“But today, or tomorrow, or-“

“-I don’t know!  And I don’t know what the hell you expect me to do!” he snaps.  They’re all watching him in a silence sits as heavy as the darkness does beyond the beams of light.  He rubs at his temples with his thumb and forefinger.  “Would the lot of you get out?  Please?”

But instead Spock steps forward.  How damn normal that is of him, ignoring McCoy like that.

“Perhaps if we cannot scan Ensign Keenser, I can be of help.”

McCoy presses his fingers to his forehead and doesn’t even want to bother wondering at whatever it is that Spock means.

“Yeah,” he says.  He’s out of energy.  And feeling damn sympathetic with the Franklin, since he wouldn’t half mind shutting down some essential systems too.  “Sure.  Go ahead and try.”

When he finally drops his hand, Spock has his fingers splayed across Keenser’s face.  Spock’s eyes are shut, his face perfectly still, with a tiny furrow cutting between those slanted eyebrows of his. His body hangs motionless too, hovering over Keenser like he is.  Then, his eyes open, a clear, placid brown even in the glow of the tricorder and Jim’s light.

McCoy clears his throat.

“Lung irritation,” Spock says.

“Water’s wet,” McCoy says, spreading both hands out wide and suddenly annoyed all over again.  “He never kicked his cold.  And you saw what the air quality in here is like, let alone what the lot of you pulled down onto yourselves when you kicked that damn wall in.”

“We did not-“

“-Hell, this entire place is probably lousy with that dirt, us cooped up in the ship here, and everyone else out in that cave.”

He stops.  Raises his hand to his mouth and presses his fingers to his lips.  Maybe… maybe there’s no mistake that Keenser’s the one still out, and has been suffering respiratory distress.  And that Chapel was in here for days now, the Franklin’s air filters whirring… Goddamn.  

And all at once, his thoughts jolts into action, a rapid tumble over themselves until his head is buzzing.  His hands too, where he rubs at his mouth.  His whole body, filled with a spark that so quickly snapped into being.

“Jaylah,” McCoy says, spinning around.  “That protoplaser.  You had other equipment with it.  Where is it?”

“You will fix him?” she asks.

“I need those supplies, all of them.  Five minutes ago,” he says.  He levers himself past Scotty’s bed and over to Chapel’s, pointing a finger at Jaylah as he goes.  “Hurry, would you?”

“What are you doing?” Jim asks.

“Montgomery Scotty?” she asks.  “And Mr. Keenser too?”

“Go,” McCoy says to her.  “Now.”

Jaylah goes, her ponytail disappearing into the dark through the door and the door sliding slowly shut behind her.  McCoy glances into the dark that coats the edges of the room.  The doors should have zipped closed, not edged towards each other like that.  He grimaces at the ship around him.

“Doctor?” Spock asks.  But McCoy doesn’t look up from where he’s once again running his hands over the wires stuck into Chapel’s neck.  Her skin is so swollen and puffed up he winces for her when he gives one of the tubes a gentle tug.  But he’s got it now, and pauses only to lean forward to get a look at her face.

“All right?” he asks.  She nods, a hand fisted into the dirty, stained blue of her uniform.  That damn dust really is everywhere, all over her hands, beneath her nails, and rubbed into the fabric she clutches.  And all over her lungs too, probably packed in there in a way he doesn’t quite want to know.  “Bend your head forward.”

“Is that safe?” Jim asks.  “To take those out of her without knowing exactly what they’re doing?”

“Doctor, the Captain is correct.  Are you certain that-“

“-I, for one,” McCoy says and begins to pull, gently and steadily, “would like to get off this goddamn planet.”

Chapel’s mouth opens silently.  Her eyes close, and then crease at the corner and the light shifts when Uhura leans in to rub at her arm.

“Almost there,” McCoy murmurs.  Blood slicks the tube.  He could really use a dermal regenerator or three, but the most he’s got is pointing his chin at Jim and nodding towards the clean gauze.  As the last millimeters slip free, he quickly trades out the tube for a wad of the bandaging, pressing firmly.  Chapel gasps.

“Fuck,” she whispers quietly.

“That’s one,” he says.

A muscle in her jaw flexes.  “How many?”

“Sulu, behind you in that drawer is a roll of medical tape, and beside it is an analgesic cream,” McCoy says.  He folds the gauze back on itself and presses it to her neck again.  “More than you’ll like, and you’ll definitely be feeling it.”

Her eyes squeeze and her face folds up into a grimace, one that doesn’t ease as he spreads the ointment over her skin.  

“Keep going,” she says.

“Scotty,” he says and grips the next tube.  “Those oxygen masks.  Can you recalibrate them to adjust the mix of gases?”

“If I don’t go with the Captain to fix the ship-“

“-I’ll get your power back soon as I can get the Nurse here unhooked,” McCoy says as he slowly works another wire free of Chapel’s neck.  There’s pus there that oozes out with a drop of blood.  He’s likely to need more antiseptic than the Franklin carries, though maybe they can replicate some, given a working ship.  “And your Ensign, but I need a mask that can produce air with half the oxygen and a hell of a lot more nitrogen than those put out.”

“I don’t see why not,” Scotty says.  “But can I ask what it’s for?”

“You can ask if you’re already working on it.  Lavigne, more gauze.”  

“All right, all right, hold your horses,” Scotty says.  “Give it here, Hendorff, and your light, Captain, let me have a look now.”

“You said it yourself,” McCoy says and wipes at the wound he’s opened up on Chapel’s neck.  She’s sweating, the moisture darkening the roots of her hair just above where he works.  “The Academy is on Earth because it’s the most hospitable planet to the greatest number of species, but it sure as hell ain’t home for anyone except humans.”

Scotty frowns.  “So the nitrogen?”

“It’d be the atmosphere Keenser’s evolved for.  Why do you think he’s always coming down sick?  He’s not meant to live breathing our air for a sustained length of time any more than Commander Spock is comfortable at the ship’s ambient temperature,” McCoy says.  

“You’re ok?” Jim asks and when McCoy looks up, he has his hand on Spock’s shoulder.

“He got hit on the head,” McCoy says and turns back to Chapel.  He frowns down at her neck.  “He’s fine.”

Apparently.  Though that cut across his face is scabbing over an angry green.

“It was not a substantial impact,” Spock says.

“Hard headed,” McCoy mutters.  “Vulcans have extra cilia in their lungs that keep their air passages cleaner than ours, a happy adaptation when you grow up on a sand ball.”

“Evolutionary traits are randomly occurring, they are hardly purposeful,” Spock says.

McCoy looks up.  “That’s what I meant.”

“It is not what you said.”

“But I know that when-“

“-So you’re saying that it’s this- this dust?” Jim asks, stepping forward.  “That’s the problem here, keeping the crew knocked out?”

“Air quality contamination, likely of a rather special kind, though hell if I actually know what’s in the dirt here.  In all likelihood, it’s no mistake that this planet could support Krall for so long, nor that it was abandoned,” McCoy says.  “Jaylah’s right.  This planet is no good, at least for us.”

“Is it going to affect us?” Jim asks.  He drops his hand from Spock and gestures around the room at the crew still packed in there, right in the middle of McCoy’s sickbay.  “Are we all right here?”

“How long are we planning to stay?” McCoy asks.  He grips a third wire and begins working it out, as careful as he can.  “I’m betting it creates a low lying amount of stress that the body can’t overcome enough to regain consciousness, especially when already compromised, though frankly I have no real idea.”

He could, though, with proper equipment and enough time.  His teeth clench.  A single tear leaks out of the corner of Chapel’s screwed up eyes.

He’s got two more out by the time Jaylah gets back, and when she does, he tips his head towards Lavigne.

“Finish Chapel up,” he says to her.  “Be gentle, would you?  Jaylah, what do we have here.”

“I do not know what they are,” she says.  “This one, you use on your Commander.  These, broken.  This makes funny sounds, is all.”

“Huh,” McCoy says and takes the tangle of piping from her.  In the poor light, it takes him a minute to sort through and he squints down at the mess, frowning.  “I’ve only ever seen a picture but…” He shrugs.  “Might work.”

“What is that?” Uhura asks.

“It’s for auscultation,” McCoy says.

“I don’t actually know every word.”

He nearly smiles at that, her tone and the look she gives him as she says it.

“Listening to internal sounds.  A rudimentary scanner, if you will.  They used to be as common as tricorders.”

“That?” she asks, an eyebrow rising.

He fits the earpieces in and raises a shoulder.  “I know.”

It’s archaic is what it is, and a sorry substitute to what he should have.  But he’s had to make due with worse, and at least he’s not ankle deep in a river, cauterizing a wound with an alien phaser.  He glances over at Spock, who has his head tipped to the side.

“Do you know how to use it?” Spock asks.

“I’m a doctor, of course I know how to use it.  Bend forward,” he tells Chapel and pulls her collar away from the back of her neck.  He read his textbooks.  Those for his History of Medicine courses, along with the rest.  “This might be cold.”

“Watch it,” Chapel says and catches the front of her uniform with a hand pressed over her collarbone.  

McCoy rolls his eyes.  “Don’t flatter yourself.”

Across the room, Spock looks up.

“Sorry,” McCoy mutters.

“It is cold,” Chapel says.

“Not the worst you’ve been through,” he says.  His face is hot and he doesn’t look up again, focusing instead on avoiding Lavigne’s hands and elbows as she works, and listening to the dull drum of Chapel’s heartbeat in his ears.  “Deep breath in.”

He can make out the quiet rush of air, both the low warble of it drawn in and the flow of it back out again as Chapel’s back sags on her exhale.  He adjusts the stethoscope lower on her back and listens again to the faint rustle of her breath through her chest.  Like wind through leaves, it reminds him of, not the gentle push of air through a tube and he lets his forehead furrow as he concentrates on it, that whistle he’s not sure should be there.

“If we know it’s the dust,” Jim says and McCoy curls his shoulder up, focusing.  “Then we know what we need to do, right?”

“Yes, but I cannae filter out the air in that cave, Captain.  The volume of the space is simply too great for the equipment we have, not to mention all of the dust that we just kicked up while we were in there, what with the rocks that came down,” Scotty says.

“Can we bring oxygen masks out to them?” Uhura asks.  “It’d be one by one, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

“Recalibrating between each crew member?” Scotty asks.  “The Captain here is known for his diversity in hiring.  I’m not sure the Franklin has that much time.”

“We’ll think of something,” Jim says.

“Think of it somewhere else,” McCoy says and pulls the earpieces down to hang around his neck.  “All of you get out, I can’t hear a damn thing.”

He doesn’t bother to be surprised when he’s ignored again, just tugs Chapel’s uniform back up and makes his way over to Keenser.  Spock shifts to the side, getting out of his way, and McCoy angles his back towards him and the room, wishing for a quiet - and private - place to work that he’s certain to not get.  He slips the stethoscope beneath the ruin of Keenser’s uniform and tips his head as if it’ll help him listen better.  Again, there’s a crackle like static, and he’s no expert on Keenser’s lungs, not the way he likely should be, but he’d be willing to put money on the fact they shouldn’t be sounding like someone’s making popcorn in the rec room.

“I’ve got this here for you,” Scotty says at his shoulder.

“A minute,” McCoy says and shuts his eyes, concentrating on that crackle coming through each time Keenser breathes.  It’s the dust all right, though what he wouldn’t give to figure out the exact interaction it’s causing as it hits the bloodstream.

“The mask?” Scotty prompts.

“I will take it,” Spock says.  There’s a squeak on the tile floor as Spock steps closer.  McCoy focuses on Keenser’s slow exhale.  “Are you ready for it, Doctor?”

“Go ahead,” he mutters and Spock fits it over Keenser’s mouth.  Still, he can hear Jim’s chatter, and Scotty’s mixed in with it.  They’re broken only by Uhura’s more measured suggestions, and Sulu raising his voice to say, “I don’t think so, Captain.”

McCoy sighs.  Spock is too close to him, the room is too loud, and Keenser’s breaths are so spaced out and shallow that it’s near useless to be bent over him doing this.

His leg still hurts, too.  Which isn’t helping any.

Keenser twitches.  McCoy rips the stethoscope out of his ears and drops it by Keenser’s feet.

“Steady there, Ensign,” he says.  “Spock, keep that over his mouth.”

“I am.”

“Well, don’t stop,” McCoy says.  He pats at Keenser’s leg.  Spock’s hand is spread wide over the mask, the plastic of it beginning to fog.  “Ensign, you all right there?”

Suddenly, Keenser’s eyes open.  Then, he sneezes and Spock jerks backwards.

“Keenser,” McCoy says, leaning into the space Spock vacated.  “Hey, there.  That was easy, now wasn’t it?”

A grunt from Keenser, which all things being equal McCoy can be happy with.

“Uhura,” he calls.  “Scotty?  What’s he saying, is he all right?  Spock, where’d you put- Good God.”

A tangled mess of what was one of McCoy’s very few oxygen masks rests between his and Spock’s boots and beyond it, when McCoy raises his eyes, Spock is holding his wrist out.  His sleeve is smoking.

“Get that off,” McCoy snaps.  “Lavigne, a level six decontamination sterilizer, Spock, your shirt, now.  He has a cold, dammit, you couldn’t have watched out for his nose?”

“I was not aware that-”

“-Take your damn shirt off, or I’m going to take it off for you.” McCoy hauls at Spock’s shoulder and shoves him towards Lavigne.  “If you’re not a nurse or a patient, I want you out of here five minutes ago.  Jim, you’re not the ranking officer in my sickbay.  Get your crew and get them gone.”

There’s blessed silence after the echo of his shout fades.

“Thank you,” he says to the door when it slides shut behind Sulu.  He pushes the tricorder into Chapel’s hand.  Two wires left in her neck, which isn’t half bad.  “Make yourself useful and hold this.  Lavigne, get him undressed.”

Wide-eyed, Lavigne stares at Spock.  “I’m not sure-”

“-I am quite all right, Doctor.”

“Your wrist is going to be down to the bone in half a minute,” McCoy says and yanks the hem of Spock’s shirt up.  Spock lifts his arms so it’s not the struggle it might be, but McCoy is left with a handful of inside out, blue uniform that’s stiff with dried blood, and Spock’s arm still sheathed within.  He grimaces and murmurs, “Easy now.”

Carefully, he peels the fabric from Spock’s skin, gentle with where it wants to stick to his arm.  Keeping his hands well away from the charred fabric, and the blisters that rise across Spock’s forearm, he slowly works it free, grimacing at the shiny green across Spock’s wrist that reaches over the back of his hand.

“Jesus,” he breathes.

“I admit it causes considerable pain.”

“How surprising,” McCoy mutters.  He pushes Spock down onto a biobed with a firm press on his shoulder.  “Sit.”

He’s still holding Spock’s shirt.  The fabric is as warm as Spock’s skin is.  He drops it and makes his way to Keenser, leaning over where he’s curled up on his side.

“Lavigne, go ahead and get the Commander cleaned up,” he says.  “I’ll take care of the Ensign.”

But a couple breaths is all Keenser needs, and with a solid, thudding pound of his fist to his own chest, he jumps down from the bed.

“Good?” McCoy asks.  “Your head?”

Keenser waves him off and McCoy watches him go, the door edging open in front of him.

“Tell your Mr. Scott that he’s technically supposed to be in sickbay with a head wound of his own,” McCoy calls after him, but Keenser keeps walking.  McCoy shakes his head.  How the lot of them stay standing is beyond him, an entire crew of walking medical disasters headed up by Jim Kirk, the worst of all of them.

“Can I go too?” Chapel asks.

“You got two more wires,” McCoy says.  “And, no, you can’t.”

“I want to shower.”

“I’m sure you do,” he says.  “But you’re under medical evaluation for at least-”

“-I’m perfectly capable of monitoring-”

“-No,” he says firmly.  “You’re the only head nurse I’ve got, and we have a couple hundred patients waiting on us.”

“Which is why with some rest and decent food, I’d be-”

“-This is not a democracy,” McCoy says.  “I’m your CMO.”

“I can keep an eye on her,” Lavigne says.

“Can none of you follow a damn order?” he asks, looking around sickbay only to find Spock on his feet as Lavigne finishes tying a bandage off on his wrist.  “Goddammit, Spock, you too.  Sit down.”

“I am needed to assist with the starboard generator.”

“If Jim can’t fit in there, then you can’t either, even if you don’t share his potato chip habit,” McCoy says.  “And you’re not discharged, last time I checked, so you’re staying put right where you are.”

“No,” Spock says.

“I’ll take these out,” Lavigne says and edges past McCoy so that she can lean over Chapel’s neck.  He lets her, stalking over to Spock and putting a finger in his face.

“You’ve suffered a blow to the head and sucked down plenty of whatever it is Scotty and Keenser were breathing in that tunnel.  Let’s have a listen, and then I want to look at your hand.”

“I am quite well.”

“They give you a medical degree along with those ears?” McCoy says and snatches the stethoscope off of the foot of what was Keenser’s biobed.  “How convenient.”

“One more,” Lavigne says softly.  “It’s all right, Christine.”

“I can assure you, Doctor, that I am not in need of-”

“-One of us is in charge of the health of the ship’s personnel, and the other is in charge of sitting down and shutting their mouth,” McCoy says.  “Do you want to be halfway down the corridor and lights out, falling and hitting your head?  Do you think I just revive people around here a dime a dozen?  That I happen to like fighting alien dirt on an alien planet that’s doing God knows what to my crew?”

“The lights are already out,” Spock says.

“There you go,” Lavigne says and slips the last tube free.

A flare of bright and McCoy grimaces as a glare like high noon fills sickbay.

“Dammit,” he snaps and raises his hand to cover his eyes.  They ache.  Still, he squints through the smarting and scowls at Spock.  “No, they’re not.”

“I’m going,” Chapel says.  “You can comm me when you need me.”

“The draw on the ship’s power,” Spock says, looking around like it’s not as if the sun didn’t just come out at midnight.  McCoy’s head hurts with the brightness of the room.  And to think of how dim everything on this ship seemed, compared with the gleam of white he was so used to.  “Unhooking the nurse must have eased the load on the generators, raising their capacity to-”

“-Quiet,” McCoy says and presses the stethoscope to the middle of Spock’s back.  “Enjoy your logical deductions in silence, some of us don't care.”

“It will likely allow us to leave this planet,” Spock says and McCoy can hear the rumble of his voice straight through, flaring up in his ears.

“Hush,” he says to the back of Spock’s neck.  

The door slides shut behind Chapel and Lavigne and the silence is better than he’s had all day.  Best, really, for watching her walk out of here.  He pulls at Spock’s bare shoulder to straighten his back and satisfaction flares in his chest, warm and thick.  A good thing finally, in all of this.

“I am certain you are glad to have Chapel back,” Spock says softly and McCoy glances up at what he can see of him, the curve of his profile and the sharp angles of that haircut of his.

“What?” McCoy asks and lets his hand fall again.  “Oh, yeah, ‘course I am.”

Uncanny, Spock is sometimes.  Someday, McCoy might even get used to it, but for now, he lays a hand over Spock’s side and feels over his ribs as he breathes.  He needs to eat more.  The fine lines of his ribcage are too close to that warm skin of his, buried beneath the thinnest slip of muscle.

“You get hit anywhere but your head?” he asks.

“No.”

“Good,” he says and shifts the stethoscope over his back again.  His breathing sounds good.  Clearer than Keenser’s, and definitely more so than Chapel’s.  Now, if everyone could have the lungs of a damn Vulcan, they wouldn’t be in this mess.  No, McCoy would be on Yorktown with a glass of whiskey and his feet up, not bent over Spock and his leg aching from being on it all damn day.

He drapes the stethoscope around his neck and with two fingers on Spock’s temple, tips his head to the side to better see that cut.  It’s scabbed over, but there’s yellow and purple bruising around it, and when McCoy presses the pad of his index finger to the edge of it, Spock flinches.

“Sorry,” he says softly, though he doesn’t pull his hand back, just traces a touch over Spock’s high cheekbone and around to his jaw, feeling for more damage.

The cut isn’t deep at all, but Spock could have cleaned it better.  McCoy rubs his thumb over the mark, and then the soft skin around it.

He’s an attractive guy.  Here in the silence of sickbay, alone just the two of them in this corner of the room, McCoy can’t help but notice it.  Horrible hairstyle, but he has that brown of his eyes and a nice mouth to match.  It’s been more than once that McCoy has caught sight of that stern profile, though he prefers to chalk up his attention snagging on Spock to the air the man has, that way of carrying himself.  

Spock’s eyes shift to catch his own.

“Hurts?” McCoy asks.

“No.”

McCoy pushes at his cheek, feeling for a bruise on the ridge of Spock’s jaw.  Beneath his fingers is a hint of stubble and the firm line of bone.

“Doctor,” Spock says.

“Hmmm?” He presses his thumb into the hollow beneath Spock’s jaw.  There’s a give there, and the tension of a tendon beneath.

A warm hand covers his wrist and McCoy jerks to a stop.  The shower, he remembers now.  Spock’s eyes on him the same as then, but now with none of the heat of that guardedness he’d wrapped himself in.

“Cease,” Spock says softly.  His throat works beneath McCoy’s hand.  “Please.”

McCoy clears his throat.

“Your arm all right?” he asks.

Spock draws a breath in and McCoy watches the rise of his shoulders and the even way his ribs expand around the sides of his slim torso.  

“Is your breathing ok?”   Spock’s hand is still on his.  His neck is warm.  McCoy shouldn’t be touching him.  “Because really, I’d like to-”

“-Leonard,” Spock says.

McCoy frowns.  “What?”

“If I had approached you differently,” Spock says.  “Would it have changed your decision?”

“Differently?” McCoy echoes.  They’re too close together.  He steps back.  Approached him?  Oh.  Good God.    “You mean about…”

He doesn’t say it.  Just waves at the empty air between them and then lets his hand fall to his side.

No, he wants to say.  And also tell Spock to shut it and let him continue his exam, like a logical patient should.

McCoy rubs his hand over his chin.  Spock sits there, watching him.  He’s not blinking.  

To let Spock get in under his skin.  A slow creep to it, not the guns blazing, out of left field way that Spock so apparently tends to prefer.  Given the chance for that difference…

“Haven’t thought about it,” he mutters.  He’s been so long used to the company of his right hand and the silence of his quarters that there’s a stubborn burn that ignites in his chest at the thought that he’d give voice to the fact that considering it now, he’s unsure.  God, he just might have, faced with how far Spock has already inched into his life...

“Maybe,” he says and Spock lowers his eyes.

McCoy fiddles with the bell of the stethoscope.  It’s still cool to the touch, even after being pressed to Spock’s warm back.  He pats his thumb against it and imagines he can hear the beat of those taps.

“Sorry,” he says softly.  “Spock, I-”

“-I respect your choice,” Spock says.  “I was simply curious.”

“Yeah.” He clears his throat.  “Can I take a look at your hand?”

Spock eyes him.  Horribly, intently so.  Then he takes a deep breath and his expression shifts.  Closes in on itself with that way Spock has of suddenly staring into some middle distance McCoy can’t see.

“I would prefer that you wear gloves.”

“Spock…”

“Furthermore, Nurse Lavigne did an adequate job.  Do you have extra uniforms in sickbay?” Spock asks and stands.  McCoy has to take a step back to make room for him and God does his leg hurt.  He scrubs at his face with his palm.

“The top cupboard,” he says into his wrist.  “Can’t we just-”

“-Thank you,” Spock says crisply and that apparently is that.  That tap of his boots on the linoleum and the finality to his tone.

McCoy’s stomach twists.  Hungry, he’d like to think.  Dehydrated.  Exhausted.

He watches the muscles play over Spock’s back as he pulls out a shirt.

That Spock is so… regretful.  The weight of it sits heavy in McCoy’s gut.  How long has Spock been, well, feeling this way, if he’s standing here now with downcast eyes and too slow movements.  They had so long together, before this mess out here.  Three too long years, back on the Enterprise.  And Spock had never let on.  Reevaluate, Jim had said.  Goddamn if Spock hadn’t been doing some of that on his own apparently, and that computer he calls a brain had so suddenly spit out a course of action that he dove into head first.

Which is just somewhere beyond unhinged to even consider, all that time they had on the ship - their ship - when McCoy was blithely living his life, morning staff meetings, inventory requests, monthly vaccination records, the in and out of shifts and missions and the occasional odd shore leave.  And meanwhile Spock was… Doing whatever it was that Spock did.  Making a pros and cons list, for all that McCoy knows.  Running a cost benefit analysis, or inputting variables into an algorithm that took until now to complete its calculations.

There’s no way to get back to how it was between them, now is there.  That affable friendliness they had, the one that had long since grown out of genuine irritation, mellowed over months and years into something entirely easier.  Simpler, even, in its own way.  And now… Whatever tectonic plates Spock shoved around in their lives, they’ve shifted but good and those aftershocks aren’t likely to fade anytime soon.  

McCoy sighs.  This isn’t the first time he’s been pushed forward despite his ungainly attempts to cling to what was.  Though he’s always gone kicking and screaming, hasn’t he.  Across the room, Spock shakes the shirt out.  There’re no rank stripes on it, no insignia.  He’ll be walking around like some Ensign until he goes back to their room to find clothes of his own.  A room that, God willing, they won’t be sharing for too much longer.  No, maybe they actually have a chance to get out of here and draw this mission to a close, Jim with his engineers and Chapel now back on her feet.  Though something new will be waiting for them after they leave, he knows. There always is - and this time it’ll be another round of these missions if that’s what he wants. And if not… a life somewhere else. Away from all this, one that likely will fit all wrong for who knows how long, like the ill itch of anything that needs breaking in.  

And well… That newness has always scared him stiff, hasn’t it.  But he can’t go back, so he might as well go forward.  Whatever that means, at least, since hell if McCoy knows.  It’s a nice thought, comforting especially now, to remember all that lays behind him, that life he had on the Enterprise that maybe wasn’t so bad at all.  Spock there in the background of his days, Jim happy and contented as captain, the crew hale and hearty, and the Enterprise too.  Now, a wreck of what it formerly was and a new version waiting for them at Yorktown like a funhouse mirror of the ship they had made their home.  It’s not exactly lost on him that he wants to climb backwards in time and on board their old ship just for the sake of something that feels closer to a normal he knows.  It might be crazy, to want that all over again when faced with the uncertainty of whatever might lay ahead of him, and yet he misses what was so ordinary with a pang that mixes in with the disquiet Spock stirs in him.  Those quarters he’d made his, the mess hall with the table they always sat at, him and Spock, and Uhura and Jim, the rec room where pleasant enough nights had passed.  And hell - lights that worked and environmental controls that ran like they were supposed to.  They were always a backdrop to his days, they were, them and the warp drive, that welcome hum of white noise throughout the ship that more than once lulled him to sleep after a too-long shift. Hell, they were so ubiquitous they were probably still running the last time he was back on board, that ill fated trip with Spock that sent all of this into careening motion.

He straightens.  They might have been, in all actuality. Environmental controls run on a priority system, so trust them to still be whirring away even when the ship is smashed onto the face of a planet.

And if not… even if not, the guts of them - the filters and particle dispensers and diffusion matrices, they were in the saucer.  The Franklin might be the size of a shoebox, but the volume of the Enterprise

“Spock,” he says.  “The other day when we went back to the ship-”

“-Doctor, in all honesty, I do not wish to speak of-”

“-Were the environmental controls on?”

“The environmental controls?” Spock blinks.  “I do not remember.”

“You don’t remember?” McCoy stares at him.  “Because of all the times for your pedantic, ridiculous memory-”

“-I was distracted.”  This, so shortly.  Spock’s mouth tightens and his eyebrow twitches.  “Rather severely.”

See, McCoy wants to say.  A terrible idea this would be, the two of them.  Not a shred of focus between them.  But he doesn’t have the heart for it, not now and not when he’s halfway to the door, moving as fast as he can drag his leg.  

“Jim!” he shouts down the corridor.

“Where are you going?” Spock asks.

“We need to get to the ship,” McCoy says.  “The Enterprise will get us out of here.”

“The Enterprise is in no state to-”

“-She’s not out of tricks yet,” McCoy says.  “And I, for one, am not giving up.”

Chapter Text

“You’re sure?” Jim asks.

“It’s hundreds of crew we need back on their feet,” McCoy says.  “I’m not saying it’s the only way, but we have how long left in the Franklin’s power banks?  It’s a way at least.”

Which is a hell of a something, considering.

Jim presses his lips together, his eyes shifting across the officers gathered around them on the bridge.

“Chekov and I set the ship on fire,” Jim says slowly.  “I know you said you walked around it, but structural integrity is one thing.  The chances of the environmental control matrix still being operational- hell, even still being there-”

“-Thirty six point seven four percent probability, Captain.” Spock paces, his hands tucked neatly at the small of his back.  His shirt stretches across his chest.  It’s too small, looks like.  A size too tight on him.  “The Doctor’s plan, while not infallible, may be the best available course of action.”

“Sounds like you’re in favor, Spock,” Jim says.

“For once, perhaps, we are in agreement,” Spock says, though he doesn’t look at McCoy, just spins on his heel and walks back across the bridge again with those even, measured paces.

“Say this works,” Jim says.  “Say that we can get the air filters from the Enterprise up and running, and say that we can use them to flush out the cave, we still haven’t solved for the fact that there are, as we know, quite a variety of different species among our crew.”

“If Scotty can recalibrate one oxygen mask, we can just do it on a bigger scale,” McCoy says.

“Hell of a job you’re volunteering me for,” Scotty says.  “Though… aye, yes, if you knew the atmospheric percentages that everyone would need, and we got most of say, the Andorians out, and the humans, and the Tellarites in a first go, some of the fine tuning…” He tips his head to the side for a moment, silent.  Then, he nods.  “We could do it.  Might take a wee while, but we could.”

Jim holds up a finger.  “Another issue.  How are we going to get the filters and regulators over here?  You’re talking a lot of equipment, Bones.”

“Beam it,” McCoy says.

Jim raises both eyebrows.  “Beam it?”

“Scotty said this transporter was used for cargo, and it sure as hell feels like it,” McCoy says.

“The Franklin’s power,” Scotty says.  “I’m not sure that we can-”

“-The rocks,” McCoy says, tipping his head towards the bulkhead, and beyond, the mine camp outside of the ship.  “They’re a power source, right?  We can draw from them.”

Jim stares at him.  Scotty too, and behind him, Spock.

“What?” McCoy asks.

“Where did you get all these ideas?” Jim asks.

“Once in a while, the lot of you should consider listening to me,” McCoy says.

Jim huffs out a laugh.  “Apparently.”

“If we do that, I need time to reroute the generators.  That’s a totally new power source, and to remodulate the polarity regulators and reverse the ion fields-” Scotty holds up both hands.  “-This is a hell of a plan, Doctor, and I’m not saying no, but-”

“-I’ll help,” Uhura says.  

“You will?” Scotty asks.

“You’re talking about demagnetized the auxiliary pulse generator and rebooting it once it’s routed through the transference inverter,” Uhura says.  Scotty squints at her.  “If Jaylah gives me a hand, it’s no problem.”

“You ever consider a transfer to the Engineering division?” Scotty asks.

Uhura shrugs.  “I like Communications”

“Sweet lord,” Scotty whispers.  “All right, Jim.  This is still a maybe but… All right.  Though we’re still low on power.  And drawing straight from the mine or not, that’s a big ask.  I won’t be able to beam anyone over there to scout out the ship, I don’t think.”

“We’ll walk,” McCoy says.  “It’s not too far.”

“We will,” Jim says.  “But Bones, you won’t.”

“I won’t have you forgetting, Jim, that this is my-”

“-You can barely stand,” Jim says.  “And this planet, as you’re so fond of pointing out, is none too safe.  We need you here in one piece once we start, not gallivanting around the countryside.  I’ll go with Spock.”

“Jim-”

“-Get ready for us to be coming back,” Jim says.  “Sulu, you have the conn while I’m gone.”

“You’re just going to leave us here to wait?” McCoy asks, but Jim is already moving towards the door.

“Take a load off, Bones,” Jim tosses over his shoulder.  “A few hours to relax.  Isn’t that what you’ve wanted?”

“Dammit, Jim, I-”

“-See you soon,” Jim says and with a swish of the door he’s gone, and Spock with him.

Scotty bends over a control panel, already murmuring to himself.  The bandage above his ear needs to be replaced.  McCoy rubs his hand over his forehead and sighs.

“I hate this part,” Uhura says and he looks at her.  “Waiting for the two of them.”

“Yeah?”

Her nose wrinkles.  “Jim and Spock have all the fun.”

“Fun,” McCoy mutters and presses his face into his palm.

“Are you going to try to wake him up?” Chapel asks.

“You look better.”

“Told you,” she says.  She takes Manas’ chart from McCoy, pulling the padd from his hand.  “I’m assuming it’s the same lung irritation that’s keeping him unconscious?”

“Probably,” McCoy says, studying Manas laying there stock still as she flicks through his records.  “Though he’s been in here a while now, so likely old age isn’t exactly helping.”

“Who is he?” Chapel asks.

McCoy cocks an eyebrow.  How strange that she wouldn’t know.  “One of the men you have to thank for what happened to you.”

“There were others, too?”

“The Captain already… took care of them,” McCoy says.  “This is the sole survivor. And he’s a real piece of work, trust me.”

“You know,” Chapel says, tapping her fingers against the edge of the padd.  She does it when she’s in deep thought, a small tell that McCoy once didn’t know to look for.  How much he’s missed her cuts right through him with a sharpness that makes him swallow.  “It’s funny.  It’s been a while, right?  That I was here, I mean.  I used Lavigne’s shower and suffice to say, didn’t even need to shave my legs.”

McCoy frowns.  “Ok?”

“And I’m not all that tired, being up and walking around.  Whatever stasis I was in, it’s not as simple as a coma.  It’s more of a- I don't know, a hibernation.”

“Being unconscious can slow the growth of-”

“-No,” Chapel says.  “There were no changes.  It’s like no time passed at all.”

“You’re sure?” he asks.

“I got a pedicure at Yorktown,” she says.  “Uhura and I did, and we compared toes.”

“That’s… an odd thing to do, Nurse.”

“I needed hairpins,” Chapel says and waves her hand, dismissing him and his comment.  He tries not to smile at that.  God, how irritating he had found her when they started working together and she had walked all over him and his opinions.  “I’d put money on keeping this Manas out for a while longer might be the best for him if he really is that frail, at least until we can get him back to a real medical facility.”

McCoy looks at her.  A clean uniform, outdated as all the ones on the Franklin are, but smartly pressed, and a shine to her boots.  He wonders whose they are - Lavigne’s extra pair, maybe.  Her blonde hair is tucked neatly at the nape of her neck, and she’s holding that padd with clean hands.

“Glad to have you back,” he says.

“Doctor-”

“-Nope, that’s all you get,” he says, holding up his hands, palms towards her.  “I’m not saying it again.”

“Your leg,” she says.  “What happened?  It’s bleeding.”

“Huh?  What- oh.”  McCoy grimaces, looking down.  “Shit.”

“And who exactly fixed you up?” Chapel asks.

“Lavigne,” McCoy says, even though it’s probably not fair to throw her under the bus like that.

“Lavigne,” Chapel repeats.  “She let you walk on this?  Take off your pants.”

Once, he would have thought to argue with her.  Did argue with her, for weeks and months of their mission back when they first shipped out.  Now, he knows well enough where that’ll end up if he tries.

There’s a mark on her neck from the wires Krall tucked beneath her skin.  It’s an angry red.  He watches the skin pull as she adjusts the patched together regenerator Scotty made.  Then, she bends over his thigh.

“Ow!”  He tries to bat her hand away.  “Quit it.”

“A couple inches to the right and it’d be a different story, wouldn’t it,” she says and she’s so goddamn cool, standing there over his bare lap.

“I missed you too,” McCoy says.  “Leave it alone, would you?”

Instead, Chapel presses a hypo into his neck.  He frowns.  They only have so many of them.

 “Unfortunately for us all, we need you functional,” she says.

When she’s done, he hikes his pants back up and tests his weight on his leg.  He’d be annoyed it feels better - stronger, and not as wobbly - than when he did it, but mostly he’s just riding that burst of happiness that’s been growing all day.  

“What do you remember?” he asks as he readjusts his uniform.

She sets the hypo back in order the same as she always does, that same way they kept them organized on the ship.

“I was in sickbay,” she says.  “And then we heard the red alert.”  She adjusts two more hypos, ordering those too.  “We were boarded?”

“We were.”

“I remember being in a Kelvin pod and then getting hit.”  She shakes her head.  “That’s it.  Then I was here and you were talking to me.”  She blinks, then looks around sickbay.  “Uhura said… The rest of the crew.  They’re still out?  Like I was?”

“We’ll get them back,” he says and for the first time there’s no accompanying jolt of worry at the words.  “How’re you doing?”

“Like I said, I’m fine.”  She holds her arms out and examines her wrists, her hands.  “I feel maybe a little odd.”

“I’m sure,” he says.  “You haven’t walked in a while now, no matter what type of stasis you were in.”

“You shouldn’t have been either, not on that leg,” she says and McCoy waves her off.

“Rest,” he says, even though she’ll ignore him.  “I’ve heard it improves demeanor.”

“You know, I do remember… I remember thinking that this is it.  In that Kelvin pod.  That I’d made it this far, and it was-“  Her lips press tight.  “The end of the road.”

“Don’t get all maudlin on me,” McCoy says, even though - well.  That’s two of them, then.  Coming out of that nebula, he wasn’t exactly going on anything much more than a crazed, frantic hope that he might see another day.  Now, though, there’s the high of having survived.  He’s felt it before, that buoyed lift that comes on the other side of adrenaline and despair.  Doesn’t always last all that long, but it sure is nice enough while it lingers.

“Thank you,” she says seriously and again he waves his hand between them.

“Oh please don’t start,” he says.

“I’m serious.”

He rolls his eyes.  “Great.”

“Did you call me ‘sweetheart?’”

“Something’s wrong with your hearing,” he says.  “Make sure you get that checked out.”

Her chuckle follows him from the room.  He’s smiling too, he knows.

When he steps outside, the sun has slipped lower in the sky.  He blinks at it, sure that he was just out here, frustration balled up tight in his chest.  He runs his hand back through his hair.  His entire body is humming.  Pent up energy and a deep thrill.  The breath he lets out is long and feels like a loosening, welled up from somewhere deep within him.  There’s so much more to do but it’s… possible, finally. Hopefully.

And everything can all go back to normal now.  They’ll be here just long enough here to take care of the rest of the crew, and then they’ll really be gone.  Done with this mission and planet.

McCoy peers back at the ship.  Done with sharing space with Spock.  McCoy will have his own room again.

With a sigh, he settles himself onto a packing crate.  Some sort of equipment that is likely important to the proceedings, but it’s been set in the shade and makes a good enough bench.  This isn’t his part of the mission to solve.  No, Jim and Spock will work whatever magic they need to on that ship of theirs, and Scotty will do the rest.  As for him, he’s got a good long stretch until he’s needed again, and for now, that’s more than fine with him.  He leans back and is somewhere closer to relaxed than he’s been in all too long when Uhura finds him there.

“All right?” she asks and to his surprise, she nudges him over until there’s room for her to sit too.

“Aren’t you linking the doohickey and the thingamabob?”

“Done,” she says and smooths her skirt.

“Well, shit.”

Her head tips as she smiles.  “I know.”

Out across the camp, Sulu and Chekov are staring up at one of the… structures, whatever they’re called.  Yellow and odd, is all McCoy knows, what with their rounded sides and oddly graceful geometrical design.  In another setting, they might even be pretty, but here they make his skin crawl.  Even so, this is nice enough, a breeze playing past them, and enough fresh air McCoy feels like he can breathe without wanting a particle filter, now that he knows what’s in the air in this place.  Jaylah never was wrong.  The one they should have listened to all along it turns out, about how terrible this planet is.  Though maybe there’s some consolation that given half a chance, they might scrape themselves and their crew off the face of this rock and never have to come back again.

“You all right with not having gone back to the ship?” McCoy asks at length.  “With Jim and Spock?”

“I think so,” she says.

“You didn’t want to say goodbye to it?”

“Jim does,” she says and McCoy nods.  “But it’s… it’s the people isn’t it, that’re home.  Not the ship, not really.”

“Anyone ever tell you you’re the smartest one on the crew?”

“I’ve heard it now and again,” she says and offers him a smile and well… that’s something, coming from her.

“Do you hate me?” he asks, not especially wanting to have to sit here through her answer.

“I think you’re a genius and an idiot,” she sighs.  “If you really want to know.  Professionally the former.  I’ll let you extrapolate the rest.”

“Been called worse.”

“Hmmm.”

McCoy props his elbows on his thighs and rests his chin on his clasped fists.  It’s hot out.  Maybe not so much here in the shadow of the ship, but it’s a hell of a lot warmer than inside.  Spock must be thrilled, hiking through that forest in this heat.

“I care about him,” McCoy says without quite meaning to.  He sits up and rubs his palms over his thighs, daring a glance towards Uhura.

“I know.”

“Yeah?”

“Otherwise it wouldn’t have been just the once.”

He grimaces.  “Aw, Jesus, Uhura.  What the hell did he say?”

She lifts her chin, a curl playing at the corner of her mouth.  “I’m not going to gossip.”

“C’mon.”

“Nope.”

“I’ve known you for- for years, now.  A lot of them.”

Too many, he’s sure of more often than not.  God, they were all so young.

“Actually, I’ve known him longer.” She tips her shoulder into his, jouncing him.  “He’s the best person I know, and I know a lot of pretty incredible people.  You would have been damn lucky, McCoy.”

“Yeah,” he sighs.  “Maybe.”

Probably.  She’s not wrong.  Never is.  He scrubs his hand through his hair and swallows thickly.

“Like I said.” She stands and lifts her hair off her neck, wrapping the weight of it around her hand and drawing it forward over her shoulder.  “You’re none too clever for your own smarts, though I owe you my thanks for figuring our way off this planet.”

“Sure,” he says and shrugs.  Wasn’t just him.  Never is.  “And why?  You got plans?”

“I’ll be glad to be gone,” she says and he nods.  “We all will.”

Right as rain she is.  He can’t help but grin at the thought of flying away from this rock.

“Pedicure?” he asks her, silhouetted there against the fierce blue of the sky.  Years and years it’s been, her and Jim and the rest of them, right there with him through this life.  

She laughs, her head tipping back and strands of her hair falling behind her shoulder.

“Maybe,” she says, flexing her toes in her boots and looking down at them.  “I might just.”

He raises an eyebrow.  “No second date?”

She steps towards him, her boots kicking up dust.

“Who told you that?”

He shrugs up at her.  “I hear things too, you know.”

Her mouth presses together in a thin line as she studies him.  He waits and sure enough, she purses her lips and says, “I didn’t go.”

“Really,” he says and grins again.  “Fascinating.”

Across the mine camp, there’s the twin sparkle of the transporter next to a large shape that has to be a pile of equipment and she sets her jaw, her eyes sparking.

“Don’t say a word,” she tells him.

“I mean, I’m not one to gossip,” he drawls.

“I’m serious.”

“I am too,” he says and stands, brushing off the seat of his pants.  “Hey!  How was it?”

Jim waves a hand in greeting.  Spock ignores him, already bent over the equipment that materializes without a glance over.  Look at that, he could tell Uhura.  He’s fucked this up between them before anything even started, now hasn’t he.  Some type of new record that is.

But as much as he hates that curve of shoulder Spock has angled his way, it’s showtime for better or worse, and McCoy points himself across the mine camp and slowly begins walking over.  They’ll be gone soon, with any luck.  Done and finished with the lot of this.

“You know,” he says slowly.  Dust puffs up around his boots as they walk and he frowns down at it.  “We’re going to have a lot of families to tell that their loved ones are all right.”

Uhura looks up at him.  “I suppose so.”

“I’ve told more folks than I’ve ever wanted to that a patient isn’t coming home to them.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to tell them that they actually are.”

A hell of a lot of calls that’ll be.  And confusing as anything, when word of what’s happened reaches the rest of the ‘Fleet and the families at home.  Though better than any other alternative, the type of which McCoy doesn’t like to spend too much time dwelling on.  Easier almost for someone like Jim, and McCoy himself, with a tiny family left back home, and most folks who’d care to hear the news one way or another already out here together.  Spock too, come to think of it.  They’d all be the first to know anyhow, no network of calls to make to drag out news either happy or sad.

“We’re not out yet,” Uhura says.  “Though if I didn’t know better, I’d say you sound downright optimistic.”

“Good thing you know better.”

She smiles again.  “Good thing.”

By the time they make their way over, Sulu and Chekov have joined Jim and Spock as well, and Scotty and Jaylah aren’t far behind.

“Ready?” Jim asks, rubbing his palms together and looking around at them all.  “Let’s get this done and we’ll be off home with everyone.”

“What about Kattel?” Sulu asks.  “When we head out, what will happen to her?”

“Leave her,” Jaylah says.

Jim tips his head to the side.  “It’s not the worst idea.”

“She is an enemy combatant,” Spock says.

“She’ll be stuck here without a ride,” Jim says.  “Not many enemies to combat.”

“Ships pass by Altamid with some regularity,” Spock says.

“She wants this planet for herself,” Jaylah says.  “She will not go.”

“She is technically a prisoner,” Spock says.  “And she committed violence against our crew.”

“What do you think?” Jim asks and turns to McCoy.  “You’re the one with the bum leg.”

McCoy raises both eyebrows.  He’s not exactly judge or jury, and it sounds like Spock and Jaylah have opinions enough on the matter.  Though still… he shrugs.

“Not the worst that’s happened,” he says and God if it isn’t true.  When this became his life - when it became normal - he’s not sure he wants to know, to walk around injured and exhausted after a mission and have it feel so same-old.  “It seems like one more bad day out here, nothing more.”

“Furthermore,” Spock says.  “There is no guarantee that she will not resurrect the same technology that Krall used and artificially extend her life at the expense of others.”

“We’ll torch it,” Jim says.  “Leave this place so that nobody can ever use it again.”

McCoy crosses his arms.  “Well that’s a flair for the dramatic, isn’t it.”

“I’m thinking there’s an internal combustion engine sitting over that hill, and I’m not sure I like the idea of her crawling around on my ship once we’re gone.”  Jim has that gleam in his eyes, one that McCoy knows all too well.  A plan, a course of action, a way forward.  McCoy can feel it like a shift in the air.  “Spock, that blast from the ship will level this area, won’t it.”

“I agree with Doctor McCoy’s assessment that this idea is rather grandiose.  Also a gross misuse of Starfleet property.”

But Jim’s already bending over and unlocking the lid on the case of supplies they beamed over.  “We’ll leave behind a good sized crater, that’s all.  Bones’ll get the crew fixed up, we’ll get Katell and her people a good ways away, and we’ll send the Enterprise up in style before we go.”

“That’s your ship,” McCoy says.  He shakes his head at Jim’s back, still bent over and rummaging around, and turns to Jaylah.  “You know, not all of Starfleet is this exciting.”

“Unless you serve under Captain Kirk,” Spock says and kneels to help.  

McCoy looks down at him there.  He’ll put money on the fact that Spock’ll manage to keep his pants clean, even kneeling in the dirt like that.  

Then he clears his throat and walks off towards the cave.  Now that they’re back, he has work to do.  No need to be staring after anyone, is there.

Spock is helping a very pretty ensign to her feet.

McCoy frowns.

“Bones?”

“What?” he snaps.  Then, he clears his throat and at least tries to take some care with his tone the second time around.  “What is it, Jim?”

“Scotty just said that if we can get everyone who’s awake cleared out, he’s ready to readjust the output measures to up the sulfur ratio and I for one wouldn’t mind being outside when that happens.”

“Yeah,” McCoy says.  He straightens, rubbing at his neck.  In front of him, Rand is fine.  Bewildered and a bit shaky, but when he asks her the stardate she’s off by the right number of days, and Jim nodding at her pulls out a prompt, ‘Sir’.

“C’mon now, Yeoman,” Jim says.  “We’ll see you out.”

“Thank you,” she says, her voice dazed, but she lets Jim take her arm and guide her over to the tunnel that leads out into the sun.  McCoy trails them, watching for anyone who might not have as easy a time making it.  Behind him, Spock is patiently answering the Ensign’s confused questions.

“Doctor?” he hears and spins around, ready to deal with whatever it’s going to be.  He can nearly feel the headache forming behind the spike of adrenaline.

But it’s just M’Benga walking towards him, smiling.

“Geoff,” McCoy says and then he’s hugging him with a hard slap on the back.  Good God is it strange - and wonderful - to have him here in the flesh, hugging right back.

“Hey there,” M’Benga says and leans back to hold onto McCoy’s shoulders, still grinning.  “I heard you’re the man of the hour.”

“What?” McCoy asks, shaking his head.  “Good to see you up and about.”

“You figured all this out, how to get us out of here, that’s what Rachel said,” M’Benga says, releasing McCoy with a squeeze of his arm.  “Interesting stuff, the way these particles inhibit the return to consciousness.”

McCoy squints at him.  “Rachel?”

“Rachel?  Rachel Lavigne, she’s got quite a story about the last few days.”

“Huh.”  

“Chapel too,” M’Benga says.  “She’s already working up some theories on all of this.  Though I’m sure you’ve given it some thought- How do you think the particles transfer into the bloodstream?”

“No idea,” McCoy says.  He blinks at the bright sun of the mine camp.  Next to him, M’Benga holds his hand in front of his eyes, squinting.  “I’ve been pretty focused on getting all of you up.”

“But we’ll take a sample back with us?” M’Benga asks.  “Oh, Commander, just the man.  What do you think about getting a few cross sections of the rocks around here?  And maybe some vials of the air?”

“Welcome back, Doctor,” Spock says.  His Ensign is rubbing at her eyes in the sunlight.  Spock barely blinks.  “A reasonable request.  I believe some of my staff may indeed be looking for a way to occupy their time.”

“You’re not going to give them five minutes to recover?” McCoy asks.

“Your own medical team is hard at work with their bevy of new patients,” Spock says.  “And I admit a certain curiosity with the workings of this planet.”

“A damn hell hole,” McCoy says and Spock turns more fully towards him.  God, McCoy’s too caught up on him.  Always has been, in some sense, though that irritation has faded over the years.  Always might be too if he’s not careful, and that realization as dull as it is, feels like a hell of a thing to teeter on the edge of.

Spock doesn’t bother with a response.  Just tips his head and with a “Doctor” for them each, leaves McCoy and M’Benga there at the mouth of the cave.

“Glad to be back,” M’Benga says.

“You’re certainly jumping in with both feet,” McCoy says as he stares out across the camp, full with their crew mates wandering around instead of the echoing emptiness it has been for days now. It’s a sight to see, for sure. Also keeps him from turning back around to watch Spock make his way down that tunnel.

“You discovered a whole new mystery to explore.  Can’t quite help it,” M’Benga says.  “And anyway, aren’t you wondering yourself?”

“I’ll wonder a lot more once we’re gone from here,” McCoy says and M’Benga grins.

McCoy thought he’d never see that sight again, or feel the hand M’Benga claps to his back.  

“Let’s go breathe down the science ensign’s necks,” M’Benga says.  “We’ve got some time before there’s more of us awake.”

With a hand warm on his shoulder and that friendly weight to it, McCoy lets himself be steered around, off to what is apparently Starfleet’s newest research project.

McCoy’s in sickbay with the worst off - and the last - of the crew when the engines come on line.  The lights flicker and a padd vibrates its way to the edge of a table.  He grabs it before it can drop.  

It feels as if the deck is pressing up into his boots.  The Franklin and its crappy inertial dampeners.  He reaches for the edge of a biobed to steady himself.  

“Give us some warning,” he says to no one in particular.  Lavigne doesn’t even look up.  She must be getting used to working around here.

On the bed in front of her, a science ensign is blinking, her eyes wide as she takes in her new surroundings.  Ensign Masters, McCoy is pretty sure.  He’s seen her in the labs once or twice.  

And might do again.

The thump when Sulu sets them down again is worse.  Lavigne has to steady Masters with a hand on her arm.  McCoy sets the padd down and heads for the bridge, though he finds Jim well before then, already opening up the hatch outside.

“I think Sulu could work on his parking skills,” McCoy says.

But Jim just pushes past him, out into the evening.  The sunset lights the Enterprise’s deck up pink and gold.  The fires that lingered last time have drifted out, though the stink of burnt metal remains all the same.  

“C’mon Bones,” he calls.

“What the hell are we even doing here?”  McCoy cranes his neck back towards sickbay.  Then, he follows, shaking his head.  “I’ve got patients, Jim.”

“I know.”

“I’m busy.”

“Of course you are.”

“I-“

“-Look.”  There’s something slack about Jim’s face.  Horror maybe, or just a deep seated sadness.  McCoy’s sure he never thought he’d be here, his ship a twisted, scorched wreck, a scar across the valley.  “Look at it, Bones.”

Jim leaned across him, fever hot and sweaty on a shuttle headed for space dock.  McCoy had wanted to click his jaw shut with a knuckle under his chin, how it had hung open like that.  Cadet reds, he remembers now.  And that flight, away from the city and into what they couldn’t even see coming.

McCoy puts a hand on Jim’s shoulder.  “You all right?”

“Yeah.”  When Jim turns to him, his eyes are too bright.  “It’s good to see it again, you know?”

“You going back aboard?” McCoy asks.

“Didn’t have time earlier to look around, not really.”  Jim clears his throat.  “Yeah, thought I might.”

Jim makes for the bridge, picking his way through the corridors that slant at that same awful angle they had last time McCoy was here, and that’s where Spock finds them, his footsteps soft on the blackened, burnt tile.

“Captain,” he says.  “The crew is requesting an opportunity to return to their former quarters.”

“‘Course,” Jim says.  He runs his palm over the back of his chair.  “The ship’s log?  And our archives, we need to-“

“-I have already begun the necessary recovery process.  The data is currently uploading to the Franklin’s servers and I have a number of crew members emptying the archival vaults.”

Jim smiles.  It’s faint, what with his eyes still tracking over the wreck of the bridge.  “Thank you.”  He touches the edge of Chekov’s station.  “Say, Bones, the dust.  Is it what’s keeping Manas out?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe,” McCoy says.  “But Manas is old.  I told you Jim, he’s dying.”

“Well, he’ll die in Federation space, then,” Jim says.  “We’ll take him with us, back to Yorktown.”

“If he makes it that far,” McCoy says.  “It’s been a long time since he’s… recharged, or what have you, and I don’t have a lot of supplies at hand.  I can’t stop old age, nor death in its tracks.”

“You can bring a couple hundred people back,” Jim says.  

McCoy shakes his head.  “They were just asleep.  It’s hardly the same.”

“I’m serious, Bones.”  His hand on the edge of Chekov’s console, Jim turns to face McCoy.  “I can’t believe it.”

“I should have figured it out sooner,” McCoy says.  “Then we could be well clear of here by now.”

“That you figured it out at all,” Jim says.  “That has to be one in a million.”

“Oh please,” McCoy says.  “You would have, Jim.”  Spock’s standing next to him, so McCoy tips his head in his direction.  “Or logicked it up, in the end.”

“No,” Jim says, “I don’t think so.”

“I agree with the Captain’s assessment,” Spock says.  

McCoy rolls his eyes.  “I don’t want to hear a statistical probability, Spock.”

“Then you will have to suffice with that which the Captain provided,” Spock says and McCoy lifts his eyes to the ceiling again, that glass dome that once showed them the stars now splintered open to the blue sky beyond.

“So look, I know I gave you the whole talk about you being free to go on your way,” Jim says.  “But I’m thinking, given recent life saving performances, I’m going to have to reconsider that.”

There’s a tenor of earnestness behind the joke and McCoy grimaces.

“Jim…” McCoy says.

“Stay with us,” Jim says.  “C’mon, you, me, Spock.  The rest of the crew, too.  There’s so much more out there, and you gotta be there for it, Bones.”

Jim would still let him go home.  Hug him goodbye, slap him on the back, and wish him the best.  McCoy could leave with a bag slung over his shoulder and an application in for a position at some hospital, and Jim would probably write him a reference for it.  Broken bones and twisted ankles.  Winter colds, births, the banality of livers and kidneys that need a round of hypos and to be sent on their way.

He looks over at Spock.  That same rush as earlier is still sitting high in his chest.  The wash of success always makes everything brighter.  Shinier.  Easier, the very thought of it, as if what was once complicated can be pulled free like a knot he’s worried at for too long.

“Please,” Jim says.  “And Spock and I promise not to get any harebrained ideas about quitting either, right Spock?”  

Spock nods.  He’s looking right at McCoy and McCoy’s not sure what to do about that stare.  Hasn’t ever been sure, has he.

“And,” Jim says.  He doesn’t sound like he’s bothering to stop for a breath.  Some part of him apparently won’t ever grow up.  McCoy is maybe ok with that, all things considered.  “We’ve got the new ship.  New quarters.  They’re going to be nice, right?  And-“

“-I heard you the first time, Jim.”  McCoy crosses his arms.  He has a feeling he knows where the road this decision will take him on leads, and it’s standing around a chair a hell of a lot like this one, just on a newer, updated bridge.  He probes at the thought.  It doesn’t bother him as much as it might, which in itself is a little alarming.  But not more so than the thought of leaving, turning his back on all of this.  No, he walked out into the world once, away from all that he knew, and it was like falling with no ground there to catch him.  How very long it took to stitch a life back together.  And if this is what he made for himself… he looks at Jim, and then back at Spock again.  It could be worse.  Cause really, it’s not all that bad.  

He sighs.  And then he says, “I’ll be there.”

Jim grabs him by the shoulders.  McCoy’s seen that grin before but God has it been a long time.

“Enough, enough,” McCoy says and bats his hands off.  “Don’t bust a gut, I’m busy as it is.”

Jim’s still smiling when he walks away.  And then he’s gone, and it’s just the two of them.  

“I am pleased,” Spock says.  For a long moment, they look at each other before Spock turns.  The door doesn’t slide shut behind him, not without power to it, leaving the slice of corridor visible and Spock’s back as he walks down it.

And that might be all.  The end of it.  All of… whatever it was, this thing they got themselves into, might well have just dissipated, floated away like smoke on the wind with Spock’s measured steps down the hall.  Spock will continue to be… Spock.  And McCoy can go back to a different type of ordinary, a normal that he’s sure will feel common enough, given some time.  

He wants that.  To not feel the jump under his skin every time he catches sight of Spock.  To even everything out again, roll it smooth and calm.  

Though he wanted off this ship too, and to scrub his life free of the thought of the next one.  So maybe… well, maybe he doesn’t really know half of what he should do.  And maybe he’s wrong about the half he thinks he does know.

It’s easier riding high on the wave of success to imagine it, the idea of him and Spock.  But the answering ebb will come, one McCoy knows all too well.  The next mission could be just as bad, worse even.  Though... It’s an odd thought, but Jim might not be wrong about wanting to have someone there to share that with. To go home to at night, and to be there in the morning when the going gets as rough as McCoy knows that it can.

For the first time, McCoy really lets himself consider it.  Him and Spock.  Spock.  

It’s unhinged, is what that idea is, that picture he conjures of the two of them and a future that stretches. Working together and then seeing each other after their shifts. Shore leaves, days off, those long evenings when the ship is quiet, humming away at warp speed or in a slow orbit over a new planet. Lunches, breakfasts, the officer’s mess, the new rec room, whatever it’ll look like. His quarters. Spock’s own.

Unhinged and still terrifying.

Wouldn’t that be the hell of it though, out here at the edge of the known galaxy and all that they’ve faced.  Scared stiff by Spock of all things.  A laugh nearly bubbles up in him at that.  But under it…  If he’s going to be honest with himself - as honest as Spock has been - under it is a deep, coursing curiosity.

Maybe he is ready for a change.  Maybe… maybe it’s been enough years that trying something new isn’t that bad of a thought.  But good God, to wrench his life into a shape that fits another person into it.  He rubs at his face.  What a goddamn thought.

He sits with that, standing there by himself on what was their bridge, and later that evening when he climbs off the ship for the last time he’s still working over the idea.  He stares up at the shape of the saucer, towering at that godawful slant and frowns at it over the churn of his mind.

Then, he pats the hull next to him, a blackened sheet of deck plating, and picks his way back to the Franklin.  

Onwards, he thinks.  One foot and then the next, away from the life he lived on that ship and towards whatever it is that’s coming ahead.

The rest of the crew is milling about, staring back at the Enterprise.  They’re ready to go, McCoy knows, that expectancy in their step.  He’s seen it before, an edge to everyone’s movements that means it’s time to move on along.  

When he spots Spock, he’s halfway around the curve of the ship standing by a landing strut, a tricorder in his hand.  He’s looking at a fern, McCoy realizes.  McCoy watches him squat down to turn the frond this way and that.

For a long moment, McCoy stands there a good distance away, taking him in.  The last of the day’s sunlight on his hair, highlighting the brown in it.  That crease at the corner of his eyes as he reads the screen of his tricorder.  A tiny expression, that is.  McCoy’s sure his face would be blank if he thought anyone was watching.

He can be gone before Spock sees him.  Before anybody does, the rest of the crew hidden by the hull of the Franklin.  He can head into the ship and slip away from all of this, or… not.  He can go on over there.  

Which, well, he might not actually mind doing.

His mouth is dry.

There’s nothing for it then but to make his feet move, unsure the steps are real even as he’s taking them.  But he walks over all the same and watches his progress as if from outside of himself, his own body held at a distance.

Spock looks up and then stands.  McCoy can’t help but wish he was a bit more engrossed.  It’d give him another moment before he licks at his lips and says, “Ok.”

Spock’s head tips to the side.  There’s a question in those eyebrows and McCoy’s sure that if he has to hear it spoken, he’ll back out, so he just plows forward.  

“This isn’t going to work,” he tells Spock and that eyebrow rises higher.  “Between you and me, but if you’ve rationalized good enough odds that it’s worth a shot… Ok.”

Spock’s staring.  McCoy’s sure this isn’t how it was ever going to go, the half formed thoughts he barely ever even allowed of someone.  He wants to rub his palm over his chest where his heart is beating too hard.  Dinner, he’d have guessed, would be the order of things.  A cup of coffee, or a drink, not extraterrestrial flora.

“If you still want to,” McCoy adds.  He knows it sounds odd, coming a beat too late.  And maybe Spock doesn’t.  Which would be… fine.  Some version of fine.  He hates how he can feel his own pulse.

“Why will it not work?” Spock asks and damn him, it’s got to be this difficult, apparently.  Yes would have been preferable.  Or a stiff nod.  They could have shaken on it and Spock could have let McCoy retreat again to ease off the tremble of all of this in private.

Though he apparently just chose the opposite of that, now didn’t he.  Throwing his life open to someone, and that someone is evidently going to be Spock.

He sighs.  Spock makes him do that, doesn’t he.  This is a terrible idea, and yet all the same he’s staring at Spock and how that damn sunlight shines on his face.  

“I like to spend most of my time alone,” McCoy says.

“I do as well.”

“I don’t know anything about your- your culture,” he says and lifts a hand far enough to sort of wave at Spock, standing there with that eyebrow still cocked.

“Incorrect,” Spock says and really, what a goddamn catch this man is.  A complete and utter ass.  Though McCoy probably should have known this is where he’d end up, watching the breeze stir through the hair of someone so thickheaded.  “You know a sufficient amount.”

“Sufficient,” McCoy mutters.  “I work too much.”

He’s heard that one before, now hasn’t he.  That he’d rather be bent over a hospital bed than at home.

“You work fewer hours per week than myself,” Spock says and takes a step towards him.  

“I’m not good at this,” McCoy says and would hold a hand up to stop Spock, except it probably wouldn’t deter him.  Spur him on, more like.  They’ve always gone at each other like this, haven’t they.  Round after round.

“That much is apparent.”

“Hell, Spock, I thought you were trying to win me over.”

“And I believe you are realizing you will not win a debate on this topic.”  Spock sets his tricorder down on the lip of the landing strut and God, he takes another step.  McCoy’s body flares with the movement, the anticipation and the nerves of it all.  It wasn’t better when Spock was pissed at him, but it was at least closer to a normal he’s lived with for so long now.  This… this is entirely too new.

“I told you I’m going to mess it up, and I stand by that.”  McCoy would cross his arms but Spock has come too close.  “And then we’ll both be miserable, so fair warning.”

“You are afraid that it will succeed,” Spock says.  

McCoy frowns.  “Don’t you listen?  I’m telling you that this- us, won’t work at all.”

“Then why make the attempt?” Spock asks.  His eyes are bright and McCoy doesn’t think it’s just the sun.  There’s a feeling caught in the air between them that McCoy had sure as hell better answer right, though his voice sticks.

“Well, the way I figure it,” he finally manages and God is his throat tight, “I’ll either get to be right or I’ll get to be happy.”

Spock’s mouth quirks.  McCoy realizes he’s staring at his lips  

“I would imagine that you would rather like those odds, Doctor.”

Spock’s finger lifts McCoy’s chin.  He smells good.  How anyone can after working all day, McCoy has no idea.  

“Oh shut the hell up,” McCoy says and Spock kisses him.  Hard and slow, and McCoy’s nose bumps against Spock’s cheek before he remembers to shut his eyes and kiss back.  

Spock’s mouth is warm and he’s holding the back of McCoy’s head and McCoy can’t think of what to do with his hands until Spock steps into him.  And then it’s easy enough to rest his palms on Spock’s waist.  Which is better.  A lot better.  Something firm to hang on to.

When Spock pulls back, McCoy swallows.  His lips are wet.  He can see the soft brown of Spock’s eyes, up this close.

“You are certain?” Spock asks.

“No,” McCoy says.  Spock’s thumb rubs back and forth over McCoy’s neck and McCoy wonders if he knows he’s doing that.  “But I’ll let you try to convince me.”  It registers that he’s talking too fast.  His heart is still racing.  He moves one hand to the small of Spock’s back and tests what that feels like, his palm resting there.  “You’re stubborn as all hell, so I’m sure you’ll make a go of it.”

“I am?” Spock asks.  His touch is so nice on McCoy’s neck.  “What is your term?  A kettle?”

“You know it, don’t pretend you don’t,” McCoy says and he’s ready when Spock kisses him again.  Leans into it and holds on tight to Spock’s slim waist.

When Spock finally lets him go, McCoy can still feel the shape of his sides under his hands.  They feel warm.  His neck, too, where Spock touched.  There’s a crazed sort of giddiness lodged up in his throat.

That evening, he catches Spock looking at him.  All around them, the ship is shifting into action, a call for stations, diagnostics read out on the engines, the shields, the impulse thrusters, and amid it all McCoy is buzzing.  Like something monumental just shifted, a shove of what was immovable slipping into a new place, a different shape.  He wants to worry at it, but then the ship lifts off the ground and they’re all staring down at the Enterprise, there on Altamid’s surface.

Scotty’s voice crackles over the comm.  “Kattel and her people are clear.”

“Chekov,” Jim says. “If you would do the honors.”

Chekov spins his chair halfway around.  “Don’t you want to, sir?”

“I don’t think so,” Jim says.

Jim orders the ship turned around after the torpedoes are shot.  Whatever goodbye he gave to the Enterprise, they steer clear of watching the explosions roll over it.  Instead, the shock of the detonations push at the Franklin as Sulu steers them up into the atmosphere.  The air thins, clouds rushing past, and then the last of the wisps are pulled away and the view screen just shows the black of space, pinpricks of stars hanging there.

“Take us out, Mr. Sulu,” Jim says.

Across the bridge, Spock is still watching him.  McCoy lets himself look back.

Chapter Text

His last day on Yorktown, McCoy sleeps in late.

When he finally rolls over, squinting at the sunlight streaming in the window, it’s to the sight of an empty bed.  The pillow is set neatly against the headboard, the sheet and blanket pulled up, taut except for where McCoy has rumpled them, tugging as he dozed well past dawn.  He’s sure if he peeks over the mattress, the covers will be neatly tucked under.  Instead, he sprawls on his back, yawning.  Idly, he rubs a palm over his stomach and thinks of just staying here a good while longer.

Then, he thinks of the coffee shop just down the block and levers himself out of bed.

In the bathroom, his toothpaste is carefully squeezed to the bottom of the tube.  He rolls his eyes and presses right in the middle.

Most of his clothes are packed, but he’s left out a few civvies.  And boots that aren’t standard issue, which he sits on the edge of the bed to pull on.  It musses the sheets that much further.

Outside, the breeze is simulated, but it’s good enough for McCoy.  That, and the warmth of the sun on his face, the idleness of a morning with nothing in particular to get to.  He has a chapter of his book waiting for him and an entire day to waste away.

Which is probably why Jim finds him on a park bench, under the shade of a too-purple tree and halfway through his coffee.

“What’d’ya get?” Jim asks and peeks into the paper bag McCoy set next to him.

“Get your own,” he says and rescues his muffin from Jim’s search.  McCoy nearly wouldn’t recognize him in jeans and an old shirt.  He could be anyone on the street, not a captain shipping out the next morning.  He hasn’t seen Jim out of uniform in a while now.  Like a kid in a candy store he is, with that new ship.  Spock too, buried in one half constructed lab or another well past any decent hour, and back at it again before what McCoy feels can truly constitute morning.

You’re relieved, he had told Spock.  To be heading back out.  You didn’t want to go to the colony, did you.

Which had earned him a speech about duty and the needs of the many, which apparently remain quite important.  It had also gotten him, later, after Spock had run out of steam, a very quiet yes.  

Jim leans his elbows on the back of the bench and kicks his legs out in front of him.  “Manas’ trial starts today.”

“You going?” McCoy asks.

“I gave a statement.”  A bird flutters by and they both watch it hop onto a branch above them to peck at a purple leaf.  “We’ll be gone by the time I would have testified.  Jaylah’s staying, though.”

“Hell of a witness she’ll be.”

“She wants to see it through.”

“She’d miss the beginning of the semester, wouldn’t she,” McCoy says.

“The Antares is headed home for a refit.  We got her a bunk on it, and she says she’s going to take it.”  Jim turns towards him.  “Last chance, huh?  You thinking you might join her?”

“You thinking you’re out, too?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”  McCoy sips at his coffee.  “I’ll be there tomorrow.”

He feels Jim study him.  What he sees, McCoy has no idea, but eventually Jim nods.  

“You seem ok with it,” Jim says.

“For the record, space exploration is-“

“-Oh quit it, you’re as excited as the rest of us are.”  Jim crosses his ankles.  Above them, the bird hops to another branch.  McCoy peels the wrapper off his muffin and breaks off a piece.  While he chews, Jim sits in silence, but he’s never been all that good at keeping still, so McCoy doesn’t bother to be surprised when he sits upright again, his knee bouncing.  “Wanna go check out the ship?”

“I’ll see it tomorrow,” McCoy says and takes another bite.

“Have you been on the bridge?  It’s-“  Jim holds his hands out.  “It’s huge, Bones, it’s great.  And sickbay?” Jim grins at him.  “I got you a present.  One of those bioneural axial-“

“-Focus modulators,” McCoy says.  “I know.”

“You know?” Jim asks.  McCoy rolls his eyes at Jim’s pout.  “How?”

Cause Spock brought the specs over.  Handed them to McCoy along with a bag of takeout for their dinner.

McCoy fits the rest of his muffin in his mouth.  “Just do,” he says.

“Well, it’s something to see.”  Jim elbows him.  “C’mon.”

“I have one day left,” McCoy says.  “Learn to relax a little, Jim.  Enjoy the sunshine.”

For a half a minute, Jim does.  Then, he folds his arms over his chest, his head shaking and his eyes focused out on the park in front of them.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, Bones,” he says.  “Not heading back out.”

“I do,” he says.  He brushes crumbs off his hands.  “It’s hell out there, Jim, you know that as well as I do.  We’re just addled by it enough to remember the good over the bad.”

But Jim just shakes his head again, his gaze distant.  

“It’s the crew,” he says.  “You know?  I think if I were to stay here, if you all were going without me… well, it’d be damn hard, watching the lot of you leave.”

McCoy lowers his cup, balancing it on his thigh.  “Is that what you were thinking?  Staying here at Yorktown?”

“What? Oh.”  The corners of Jim’s eyes crease as he looks out across the park.  “Yeah.  I got… They offered me the vice admiral position here.”

“Offered?” McCoy asks.  “Or you applied for it?”

“Jesus, Bones, gonna make me say it?  I applied.”  Jim leans forward, his forearms on his thigh.

“Anything else to share with the group?”

“No.”  Jim ducks his head forward and rubs his hand up the back of his neck and into his hair.  “Fine.  While we were on the ship, I applied then.  When we first got our orders to come here.”  He sits up.  “That’s all, I swear.  I turned them down before we headed back out.”

McCoy frowns at the park around them.  “You wanted to live here?”

“The trees are kind of cool,” Jim says.  He sighs.  “I didn’t want to go back to Earth.  This was at least something new.  And the ships being built here… I guess I figured I could stay in the loop.”

“You would have been bored to death.  Jim Kirk, expired due to filing one too many reports.”

Jim groans, and then he laughs.  “I know, I know.”

“Next time,” McCoy says and bumps his arm into Jim’s, “Do yourself a favor and say something about all that to me, you hear?”

“Yeah.”  Half of Jim’s mouth pulls into a grin.  “Doctor’s orders, I got you.”

“Someone’s gotta talk you down.”  A ball bounces by, a kid chasing after it.  McCoy pulls in a breath.  He already knows the answer, but asks anyway, “Did you ever talk everything out with Spock?”

“Yeah.  The other day.”

McCoy sips his coffee.  “Good.”

“The colony… I guess he felt like he had to go help out.” Jim says.  McCoy nods like it’s news.  “He says things are going better now, though.  And that he’s doing well, I guess, or whatever he said.  Logically contented, these days.”

“Hmm.”  McCoy picks at a crumb that fell onto his lap.  Then, he looks up again, out across the grass.  That bird’s settled under a nearby tree and is picking at the roots, its long bill scratching over the ground.  Jim will get up soon and leave McCoy be.  He can feel it coming, that wave Jim will give him before he heads out, hands in his pockets as he finds his way back to his uniform and his ship.  Which means that right now… well, this was always coming, wasn’t it.  

McCoy breathes past the swell that rises in him and sorts his way through the words that crowd into his head.  “Jim, there’s something to tell you.”  

Jim looks benignly expectant, his eyebrows raised. Fat a lot of help Spock has been with this.  You and Jim are friends, he had said as if that settled the matter. What the hell that makes Jim and Spock, McCoy hadn’t - and doesn’t - know.  He had just thrown his hands up.  What a goddamn illogical excuse that had been, and it leaves McCoy here, the days until they’re all on the ship ticking down into hours, into now.

Nothing for it, he figures, than to dive right in.  Rip the bandaid off.  Go for broke, he tells himself, something he should have done already.  Still, he has to clear his throat before he continues.

“Spock and I are seeing each other,” he says and takes a long drink of coffee.

Jim squints at him.  Then he laughs, a short huff of a chuckle.  

McCoy probably shouldn’t be surprised that it hurts, but it does.  

“Jim,” he says.

“C’mon,” Jim says.  He sounds like he’s going to laugh again and that pushes McCoy upright, out of the slump he’s settled in.

“We are,” McCoy says and makes himself look right at Jim.

Jim’s eyes narrow.  Slowly, that grin slides off his face.

“Close your mouth, would you?” McCoy clears his throat again.  For too long, he waits.  “Say something, Jim.”

“I’m…”  Jim pulls his upper lip into his mouth.  He’s still staring right at McCoy.  “Wow.”

McCoy looks off across the park.   

“I wanted you to know before we head out tomorrow,” he says.  He finishes his coffee and crumples the cup in his hand.  “What the hell Jim, are you upset?”

Are you ok, he thinks he meant to ask.  He fusses with the ball he’s made out of the cup.  Is this ok.

“No,” Jim says.  “No, I’m- I’m excited.  For you two.  Wow, really?”

“Glad someone is,” McCoy mutters.  There’s a trashcan just over there.  He puts his hands on his thighs like he’s going to stand.  

“Aren’t you?”

“Hell, I don’t know.”  He eyes that trash can.  Spock had asked just the other morning.  Your impression so far, or something of the sort.  McCoy had just shoved his spoon into his cereal.  He probably should have answered.  He knew that then and knows it now, too.  Knew what to say even, just couldn’t get his mouth around it.

“I guess,” he says to Jim.  “Yeah. I am.”

“Is Spock?”

McCoy lifts his eyes towards the tree branches above them.  “He’s Spock.”

“You two are really…”  Jim blinks.  He’s still staring.  “Since when?”

McCoy does stand.  “Getting on a while now,” he says and tosses the cup in the trash can.

He walks away.  Jim jogs to keep up.  “But… days?  Weeks?  When did you… God, when did this happen?”

“I’m not saying, Jim.  Mind your own business.”

“How?  Did you two… How?”

McCoy keeps walking.

“Spock?” Jim asks.  “Spock- our Spock?”

The one and only, these days at least.  “Can it.”

“God damn,” Jim says.  He’s laughing.  Again.  But happily, a deep smile on his face.  McCoy gets his shoulder cuffed, hard.  “Bones!  Really?”

Give Jim Kirk an inch, and he’ll follow you around all morning.  All day, McCoy figures, at this point.  Hell, for years now, and McCoy is no closer to shaking the man than he was when he stepped off that shuttle into San Francisco’s fog.

“We can go to the ship,” he says.  He’s had years of practice trying to shut Jim up and the Enterprise has always been the fastest way to that, any iteration of her.

Jim puts his hand over his mouth.  His voice drops and he says, “I have so many questions.”

“Which you best be keeping to yourself.”

“Spock,” Jim says.  “And you.”  He slings his arm over McCoy’s shoulder and he could shrug it off, but he doesn’t bother to.  It’s always been like this.  Always will be, probably.  “This is going to be one hell of a mission, Bones.  I cannot wait to see this.”

The End