Title: Don't Know What You Got
Fandom & Pairing: Star Trek Reboot (aka AOS, ST XI, etc.), Kirk/McCoy
Warnings: Really, really embarrassing levels of sap and cliché.
Word Count: around 9200
Summary: Jim discovers something about Bones and reacts badly. Then circumstances conspire to make him feel REALLY REALLY GUILTY and he can't even tell Bones how sorry he is. OMG is it too late?????111
Disclaimer: Any resemblance to anything whatsoever is purely coincidental.
A/N : Written for the fabulous & talented mga1999's bday. Hope it's a great one, bb! <3 Also, this (not-so-)coincidentally fills my hurt/comfort bingo square (spoilery content is spoilery): "telepathy (always there, but sudden trauma)". Many thanks to wemblee and ennui_blue_lite for suggestions and hand-holding.
The door to Jim's quarters chimed. He reluctantly stopped tonguing Lithara's navel and threw a glance of irritation at the door. She ran her fingers through his hair.
"Can't you ignore it, Captain?" Her voice was practically a purr, which went really nicely with the short, silky fur that covered her body.
He groaned. "I wish. But no, I can't. Look, don't move, okay? I'll be right back." She nodded reluctantly as he threw on a pair of sleep pants and went to the front area of his quarters. It kind of sucked that as captain, he always had to be available, but on the other hand, he got to - ahem - entertain all sorts of alien diplomats, like Ambassador Lithara, so he supposed it evened out in the end.
He thumbed the button to open his door and stood in front of the doorway, preventing entry and blocking the view into his quarters. It was Bones. Shit. The last person he wanted to deal with right now.
He knew it had been a bad idea to sleep with Bones. Okay, that was a lie -- at the time, he'd thought it was an awesome idea. He'd been wondering since they first met how those skilled surgeon's fingers would feel in other contexts, how those lush lips would feel against his own. He'd been casually coming on to Bones since their academy days, but Bones had always deflected or outright refused him, usually with some choice profanities. Still, Jim was nothing if not persistent, and when, two weeks ago, Spock had rescued Jim from that prison on Cirrus IV, bruised and bleeding, he'd seen the panic in Bones' eyes. He'd gone to Bones' quarters that night and cajoled him into "life-affirming sex" and, as expected, it was amazing. Incredible. Possibly the best sex of his life. But ever since that night, things hadn't been the same between them. Awkward and strange, and Bones wouldn't look him in the eye.
And now, here he was, standing in front of Jim with a determined look on his face. "Jim, we've got to talk."
Trust Bones to have the worst timing possible when it came to finally deciding that they needed to hash things out. "Umm, it's not really a good time... Can we talk tomorrow?"
Bones' face grew stormy. "No, we damn well can't talk tomorrow. It's got to be right now. I know you're in there with the goddamned ambassador, and I wouldn't interrupt if it wasn't important."
Jim blinked. Well, shit. He'd been really fucking discreet about getting Lithara to his quarters, given her culture's taboos about opposite-sex relationships. He'd have to ask how Bones knew... later.
"Come on, Bones, whatever it is, can't it wait until morning?"
Bones growled. Actually growled. "I just said it can't, Jim. I need you to come with me. Right now."
Jim gaped. Apparently Bones was serious. What was this, some kind of weird jealousy thing? "Um, in case you didn't notice, I'm not dressed right now, and as you yourself said, I've got company. I'm not going anywhere unless it's a ship's emergency."
"It's a goddamn emergency, Jim, so come on." He grabbed Jim's wrist and tried to pull him out into the corridor. Jim easily twisted his wrist out of Bones' grasp which, given that Bones was putting his body weight behind trying to pull Jim, sent him stumbling backwards a few steps. Great. Just great. Exactly what Jim wanted to deal with right now. He could hear Lithara making impatient noises in the background. He forced himself to be calm and addressed Bones.
"It's obviously not a ship's emergency or I would have been contacted through official channels, by you or someone else. Since that's not the case, I can only assume you want to discuss something personal. Whatever it is, it can keep for a night."
He stepped backward, prepared to close the door. He wasn't expecting Bones to look up and hiss at him, "She's trying to kill you, you goddamned fool."
What the fuck? That He glanced over his shoulder at Lithara, who was naked on his bed, had no weapons anywhere in evidence, and was starting to look bored. Shit. He stepped forward and let the door slide shut behind him.
"You'd better have some evidence to back up an accusation like that," he said, face and voice hard.
Bones' eyes slid to the side. "I just... I need you to believe me, okay? I know it's true, but I can't tell you how I know. And no, I can't prove it."
Jim's jaw clenched. Okay, jealousy was one thing, but this? This was just insanity. Paranoid delusions, wild accusations? Maybe the stress of being in space had finally gotten to him and he'd cracked. Bones was just lucky Jim was the only one within hearing range.
"Bones, man, get a grip. Go back to your quarters and get a good night's sleep. That's an order. We will talk about this in the morning."
With that, he went back into his quarters, locked the door with his personal code and turned to Lithara, offering her smile #12, charming with just a touch of chagrin. No more than a second later, he heard the pneumatic hiss of the door behind him and the smile dropped like a rock. Shit. Bones had used his CMO override code.
He turned around, ready to tear into Bones, only to freeze when he realized that Bones was carrying a phaser. Which was pointed straight at Lithara. Bones may not have been the best at hand-to-hand combat, but he was a crack shot with a phaser. Jim's mind flew through possibilities, analyzing the best way to handle this situation.
Just as he was trying to decide between trying to reason with Bones, or just up and tackling him, he saw Bones squeeze the trigger of the phaser, his face cold, and Lithara collapsed flat onto Jim's bed.
Before Jim's rational mind had even caught up with what was happening, he was diving for his communicator, rolling behind his desk. "Security to Captain's quarters immediately," he barked into it, then looked around for something to use as a weapon.
He heard a clatter, and peeked around the desk to see that Bones had dropped the phaser, was sinking into a chair with his head in his hands.
"I wasn't going to hurt you, Jim. I'd never hurt you." He sounded... almost like he was going to cry, actually. Jesus fuck, this was just so many kinds of wrong. Jim wondered if he closed his eyes and wished hard enough, whether he'd open them and find out this had all been a dream.
Instead he moved out into the open cautiously, picked up the phaser. Then he moved to Lithara's side and felt for a pulse. There was none. "What the hell just happened, Bones?" he whispered.
Before he could answer, though, a security team was rushing into the room, looking around in confusion. He snapped at them to check on Lithara and to secure Bones.
An hour later, he was in sickbay, staring at his hands as M'Benga gave him the technical details of Lithara's cause of death. It was all a blur until -- "the phaser was set to stun? So he didn't mean to kill her!"
"No, probably not. It appears that the neuro-electrical processes of the Nasreldine can't withstand the stun setting on a Federation phaser. But since they are a newly-encountered race and their physiology is unfamiliar to us, Doctor McCoy would have had no way to know that."
Thank god for small favors. "He said -- he said she was trying to kill me. Did you find any evidence to support that?"
"I'm sorry, Captain. None."
"No concealed weapons? No poison capsules in her tooth? Nothing?" He knew he was grasping at straws.
"Nothing. And believe me, Captain. I looked. I wanted his story to be true as well."
Jim looked up at M'Benga with exhausted, bleary eyes. "Then I guess I'd better to straight to the source. Find out what the hell he was thinking."
"It can wait until tomorrow, Captain. He's in the brig -- it's uncomfortable, but he'll be perfectly fine. You'll think more clearly with a night of rest behind you."
Jim shook his head. "There's no way I'd be able to sleep, not with this hanging over me. Thanks for your help, doc."
He made his way toward the brig slowly, his thoughts sluggish and dull. He didn't know exactly what had happened this night, but he knew it was going to change everything.
Sooner than he would have liked, he was face-to-face with Bones in a small cell in the brig. Giotto had protested, but Jim overruled him. Bones wouldn't try to hurt him, he had to believe that. And if he did, well, Jim had always been better than Bones at hand-to-hand.
Bones was sitting, slumped on the small bench in the cell. Jim stood facing him, arms crossed across his chest.
"I really hope you have a good explanation for all this, Bones."
Bones didn't even look at him. "I already told you. She was going to kill you. Was about to do it. I had no choice. Don't you think I would have protected you some other way if I could? I tried to get you out of there. I tried. I didn't mean to kill her. Damn it, I was only trying to stun her. I didn't know her race was so susceptible to phaser shots. God damn it."
"You said she going to kill me -- how was she going to do it? And how did you know? You've got to work with me here." Jim could hear the pleading note in his own voice.
"I don't know how she was gonna do it, Jim. Don't you think I'd tell you if I did? All I know is that she was going to do it, and she was going to do it right then. I could feel it -- so much malice, so much murderous intent."
"Wait, you what? You felt it? Are you actually saying you're...?" he couldn't finish the sentence. It was too outlandish.
"A telepath, yeah."
"Oh, fuck, you've gone insane, Bones." And he was back to that. It was the only explanation Jim could come up with that made sense of any of this. "Or maybe, I don't know, maybe you're under some alien mind-whammy. We've got to get you scanned, I'll get M'Benga down here and - "
Bones cut him off, actually looked him in the eyes. "I'm not crazy. I'm not under alien control. I'm telepathic. Have been since I hit puberty."
"But then why...?" There were so many questions, Jim didn't even know where to begin.
"Why isn't it in my Starfleet file? Why didn't you know? I've never told anyone, Jim. No one. Most of the time I don't even remember it myself. I don't use it. I can't really control it. The only thing I can do is shield, keep my thoughts private, keep from feeling other people's thoughts, keep other telepaths from sensing my powers. My grandmother taught me that. She had it too, saw it in me when it first developed. She called it 'the curse'. She was right."
Despite his initial skepticism, Jim was actually beginning to think that maybe this was true. Stranger things had happened, after all. He considered his next question carefully.
"All right. Let's say that I believe you. If you shield so tightly, how come you could feel Lithara's intent to kill me?"
Bones' eyes slid away again. "Because of the bond."
"What bond? What the hell are you talking about?"
"My grandmother warned me about that too. She always told me that it was hell on earth. That if I bonded with someone I'd feel everything concerning them. All their emotions, and the emotions of everyone around them that are related to them. She said you can't shut it off, that it's like knives in your brain, all the time. She was right about that too."
"So you're saying you're bonded. To me."
"Yeah, Jim, that's what I'm saying."
"What the fuck, Bones? I know I didn't give my permission for that. And I'm sure you know that that's a crime under Federation law." Now he was getting really pissed off. This was too much to take in at once. His best friend hadn't bothered telling him he was a fucking psychic, had been reading his mind for god-knew-how-long, had fucking soulbonded them without his consent, and then had murdered someone as a result of that bond.
"Yeah, Jim, I know it's a goddamn crime. One of the most serious ones on the books."
"So how did it happen? Don't even try to tell me it was an accident." Jim didn't know how he knew that, but he did, sure as he knew his own name.
Bones clenched his jaw. "My grandmother said that if I ever gave myself completely to someone, it would happen. I knew that with you, I was close. Too damn close. There was only one thing left. So then, two weeks ago..."
"When we slept together," Jim finished. Fuck. Monumentally bad idea. Worst idea he'd ever had. Bones was his best friend, but this shit? This was too much. He didn't want this level of intimacy with anyone, ever.
"I know you don't, Jim. Don't you think I know that? It's why I wouldn't. Damn you for being so goddamn persistent."
And this, this is why he hated the idea of a psychic bond. His thoughts were his own and he didn't want anyone privy to them. He was well and truly pissed off now, angrier than he'd ever been at Bones. "Don't you dare try to blame this on me, Bones. This is on you. I wanted to have sex with you, not be psychically married to you. Shit. I knew you'd take it too seriously but this is beyond ridiculous."
Bones closed his eyes as if he was in pain. Hell, since he could actually feel Jim's fury, he probably was in pain. Good. Bones flinched, and Jim felt a thrill of vicious satisfaction. Maybe this had been forced on him without his consent or knowledge, but he could damn well get some of his own back.
"So, Bones, you've been reading my mind for two weeks straight. Find out anything interesting?"
"Jim, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen. I - "
Jim cut him off. "Been trawling through my memories? Frank? Tarsus? My life of juvenile crime?"
"It doesn't work that way, Jim, I - "
"Fuck you, Bones. Fuck you. I don't care how it works. I don't want to know."
Bones shut his mouth -- now that was a first -- and a grim silence descended.
"What do you want me to do here, Jim?" Bones finally asked, desperation etched into every line of his face.
"Break it," Jim said flatly.
"I don't know how."
"Then we'll find someone who does. In the meantime, stay the fuck out of my head."
Bones opened his mouth, probably to protest or apologize or try to explain again, but Jim cut him off.
"Shut up. I don't want to hear it. We're going to figure out how to get rid of this thing, and then we're done. You transfer off the Enterprise. I don't ever want to see your face again. Got it?"
Bones nodded silently.
"God, you fucking hypocrite. You always go on and on about how much you hate psychic powers, how wrong it is to go mucking around in someone else's brain. Now it turns out that you have those powers, and I have only your word that you haven't been using them all along, the whole time I've known you. And now, because of those powers, you've killed someone. You've taken a life, despite your oath to do no harm. How's that feel?"
Bones flinched again. Jim knew it was a low blow, but right now he didn't much care.
Bones was staring at his hands, silent and defeated. Jim looked at him, the man he'd thought was his best friend in the world, the only person he could trust. What a joke. He'd forgotten the one lesson that life had taught him over and over -- you couldn't trust anyone. Well, he wouldn't forget again.
"Whatever," he said, suddenly weary. "I can't deal with this right now. I'll deal with it in the morning."
He signaled for the door to be opened, moved towards it. Bones' head snapped up. "Wait, Jim -- something's not right - "
Whatever it was, Jim didn't want to hear it. He stepped out of the cell and the door slid shut behind him, cutting off Bones in mid-sentence. He turned to Giotto, ignoring Bones' agitated face behind the view-window.
"Lieutenant, I'm going to my quarters. Short of a Romulan attack, I don't want to be disturbed until 0700. If you need something, contact Mr. Spock."
Giotto nodded his understanding and saluted as Jim left the room. The walk back to his quarters felt endless. There was a tickling sensation in the back of his mind, like a moth beating against a windowpane. He focused on blocking it out, and the feeling dimmed. Fucking psychic links. He reached his door finally, punched in his entry code and stumbled towards his bedroom, pulling off his shirts as he went.
The last thing he expected to see was Lithara -- apparently hale and hearty -- lounging on his bed.
"You're supposed to be dead," he blurted, rather inanely.
"I could say the same to you," she replied, and there was no trace of the teasing purr that had been present in her voice before. She was all icy focus now.
Shit. Still, he didn't see any obvious weapons. "How are you planning to make that happen?" he asked, scanning the room for a weapon or anything that might serve as one. Discouragingly, nothing leapt to sight.
"With my brain," she said casually. "The briefing didn't tell me your friend had telepathic abilities. Quite inconvenient. Totally fucked up my plans."
"Why do you want to kill me? Aren't I more useful alive, as a hostage?" At this point, stalling was about his only option. Besides, the bad guys always wanted to justify their actions and brag about their clever schemes.
Unfortunately, she was too smart for that. "Sorry, this isn't a discussion. Bye now. I'd say it's been nice knowing you, but... it hasn't."
And with that, his head suddenly felt like it was splitting open, with the most excruciating pain he'd ever experienced. He fell to his knees, screaming and gripping his head uselessly. He couldn't think, couldn't focus, but there was something -- there. The tickling sensation in his mind was back, frantic and somehow familiar. Bones. It was Bones, trying to help him. As before, he didn't know how he knew, but he knew. Lithara was staring at him with intense concentration, and the pain was overwhelming him, but with the last of his strength, somehow he reached out to Bones, opened up and let him in.
The pain receded, almost instantly. It was an annoying background buzz, but nothing more. It felt like electricity flowing through him, using him as a conduit, rather than pooling in his head and building up until his brain exploded.
He got to his feet and advanced on Lithara. Her eyes widened in shock and she scrambled backwards. He could feel the energy streaming from her grow stronger and stronger, but it left him as quickly as she could throw it at him. He advanced on her, and with a few seconds' pressure on her windpipe, she went limp underneath him, unconscious.
For the second time that night, he called for a security team to his quarters. As soon as they arrived, he directed that she be taken to the quarantine lockup in sickbay and kept under heavy sedation. The team grimly and efficiently carried her unconscious body out of the room.
Jim caught his breath for a minute or two, got his uniform back in order, and headed for sickbay. Despite Bones' constant griping, he did know his limits, and after suffering a psychic brain-attack, even he knew that getting checked out was a good idea. That reminded him -- Bones. Bones needed to get checked out too. He'd somehow helped Jim, deflected enough of Lithara's attack that Jim had been able to subdue her.
Shit. He'd said some awful things to Bones. He didn't even mean half of it -- yeah, he was pissed that this bond had been formed without his knowledge, but he knew that Bones would never intentionally do anything to hurt him, that Bones was probably beating himself up over the situation worse than Jim could ever manage. Well, he'd have to man up and apologize. They'd work it out somehow; they always did.
Just then his communicator chirped and he flipped it open. "Kirk here."
Spock's voice, unruffled but unusually urgent, came through the speaker. "Captain, your presence is required in security lockup."
Bones. Fuck. He turned and began walking briskly in that direction, but soon he was running. Now that he was looking for it, he could tell that the tickle in the back of his mind was gone completely. That couldn't be a good sign. He arrived at the brig, panting and just short of panic, to see a medical team swarming around a prone figure that had to be Bones. Jim restrained the urge to push them aside to get to him. Instead, he turned to Spock.
"Unknown, Captain. Lt. Giotto reports that all was as usual, and then suddenly Dr. McCoy clutched his head and collapsed. He then began convulsing. Lt. Giotto called for a medical team and entered the cell, where he found that Dr. McCoy was unconscious. His pulse was fading rapidly. The medical team arrived and was able to stabilize his vitals. They are now preparing to take him to sickbay."
"Lithara. God damn it."
Spock raised his eyebrows. "I take it you have some insight into what happened to Dr. McCoy."
"Ambassador Lithara," Jim spat. "She tried to kill me with some kind of mental attack. Bones is -- he's a telepath, and we're bonded, and somehow he managed to intervene and protect me so I could incapacitate her. She's under sedation in sickbay now."
Spock's eyebrows had disappeared under his bangs. "Fascinating."
"Yeah, fucking fascinating that my best friend's unconscious because he saved my ass from some freaky psychic assassin." He immediately felt bad for snapping at Spock -- maybe they weren't the epic friends that Old Spock assured him they would be someday, but they had a good working relationship and he deserved better from Jim. But the med team was leaving now, carrying Bones on a stretcher, and Jim hurried after them, leaving Spock behind.
Sickbay was a flurry of activity, one team working on Bones and another on Lithara, apparently trying to figure out what dose of sedatives would keep her under but not kill her, given her unknown physiology. They were pulling out the heavy-duty physical restraints as well -- since she'd been able to somehow feign death well enough to fool M'Benga, it was a good bet that she could fake unconsciousness as well. Jim spared a glance for that team, but his focus was on Bones.
He looked like shit. He was far too pale, and there were trails of dark blood leading out of his nose and ears, drying on his skin. His vitals were fluctuating wildly, the biobed barely able to keep up as his pulse first raced and then dropped dangerously low. M'Benga, as the next-most-senior doctor after Bones himself, had come over to handle his treatment, but he was at a loss.
"There's nothing physical to explain these symptoms, Captain," he said, grim and focused.
Jim quickly gave him the thumbnail sketch. "He's a telepath. We're bonded. Ambassador Lithara came after me with some kind of psychic attack, and Bones intervened to save me."
To his credit, M'Benga absorbed the information without pausing for commentary. "I see. In that case, he's likely suffering from a psychic injury rather than a physical one. I don't have the ability to treat that kind of trauma. I'll do my best to keep him stable, but I can't promise anything, Captain."
"Would Spock be able to help?"
"I don't know, but it's certainly worth a try."
Before M'Benga was even done with the sentence, Jim was flipping open his communicator. "Spock. I need you in sickbay, now." It felt like an interminable interval until Spock showed up, but from Spock's slight breathlessness, he knew he'd raced across the ship. He gave him a brief, but sincere smile. "Thanks, man. And -- I'm sorry, about before."
Spock nodded, some of the stiffness relaxing from his posture.
"We -- I -- need your help. I need you to meld with Bones to see if you can help fix whatever's wrong with his mind."
"Captain, I'm sure you're aware that melding without the subject's consent is illegal under - "
"Yes, I'm aware. I don't fucking care." He took a deep breath, forced himself to calm down. "Look, Spock, I'll take the heat for it if it ever comes to that, say that I made you do it. But it's the only way to help him right now." His voice nearly broke but he managed to finish the sentence.
Spock looked closely at Jim, must have seen something in his face that convinced him, because he slowly nodded and then placed his fingers on Bones' face. He closed his eyes, and for a time it seemed as though nothing was happening. Then the biobed sensors went wild, screaming out alarms before suddenly going silent as Bones' pulse settled into a regular pattern. Spock pulled out of the meld, ashen and drawn.
"Captain, I've stabilized the part of his mind responsible for autonomic functions. If I attempt more than that, it will do more harm than good."
Jim exhaled, scrubbed his fingers through his hair. "Okay. All right. Thank you, Spock. So how do we fix the rest of his mind?"
Spock looked at him with something almost like pity. "Captain, Dr. McCoy absorbed almost the entire brunt of what should have been a lethal psychic attack. With the amount of trauma that the doctor's mind has endured, it is unlikely that he will ever recover."
No. No. It wasn't possible. "What are you saying, Spock?" Surely it couldn't be as bad as it sounded.
Spock's tone remained gentle, and oh fuck, that was a really bad sign. "Captain -- Jim -- the doctor's neural pathways have been destroyed. I am attempting to explain that Dr. McCoy is effectively in a coma, and will likely remain that way for the rest of his life."
"I don't accept that." He knew it was irrational, but he didn't care. "If you can't help him, I'll find someone who will. There are mind-healers on New Vulcan, right? Maybe Old Spock can help him."
"There are mind-healers on New Vulcan, yes. Perhaps one of them can give further insight into the doctor's condition. But I do not wish to give you false hope, Jim. Dr. McCoy's mind has suffered extreme damage. I have never heard of someone recovering from an injury of this severity."
He felt his knees beginning to give out and stumbled to a nearby chair. Oh, god, Bones. This wasn't supposed to happen. Bones was the steady one, the strong one, the one who was always there to pick up the pieces when Jim made a mess. The one who fixed Jim, held him together with gentle hands and a gruff voice.
Bones couldn't be gone. It wasn't right. It wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Jim knew he was reckless, had always expected to die young, had somewhere known in the back of his mind that it would hurt Bones when he did, but he'd always justified it. He'd go out doing something important, saving someone, and Bones would get over his loss.
God, he'd been a fool. There was no getting over this. There never would be. At least -- at least he was the one suffering this hurt, instead of his selfishly dumping it on Bones like he'd intended. At least Bones wasn't suffering. Or, oh fuck, what if he was?
He raised his head. Spock was looking at him with concern. He didn't want to know, but he had to. "Spock is he -- is he in any pain?"
Spock hesitated before answering. "I do not know, Jim."
He stood and moved back to Bones' bedside. The medical team had dispersed; M'Benga was across the room consulting with Nurse Chapel about something. The blood had been wiped from Bones' face, but he was still too pale, and there was a furrow between his brows, the same one that appeared whenever he was worried -- which was far too often because of Jim. He reached his hand out tentatively, smoothed his thumb across the indentation. Bones' face relaxed fractionally, but as soon as Jim lifted his hand away, the furrow was back.
Maybe... maybe Bones could feel him somehow? Through the bond that Jim had rejected, had scorned and thrown back in Bones' face? If he could soothe Bones with that bond, he would get down on his knees in gratitude for it. He realized guiltily that he should be doing that anyway -- Bones had only been able to intervene and save his worthless life because of that bond. Shit, he'd been a first-class asshole when he'd found out about it. He'd automatically gone on the attack, without even trying to talk to Bones about it.
Well, if he could use it now to give any comfort to Bones, he wasn't going to hesitate. He placed one of his hands on the side of Bones' face and grasped one of Bones' limp hands with his other. Bones' face smoothed out once again, but there was no other outward reaction. He vaguely heard Spock withdrawing, pulling the privacy curtain around them, but Jim's focus was all on Bones.
Time passed far too slowly, leaving Jim with too many painful regrets, reliving the night he'd had with Bones, how good it had been, how generous a lover Bones had been, and how he'd snuck out of Bones' quarters before morning so he wouldn't have to deal with the fallout. How he'd treated Bones since that day, like nothing had changed, even though everything had. How he'd flirted with everyone in sight and hadn't even hesitated when Ambassador Lithara made her interest clear. And then, of course, how he'd reacted when he learned about Bones' telepathy and the bond that had formed between them.
Eventually his mind spun down in sheer exhaustion. He gently moved Bones enough so that he could climb onto the biobed with him, could maintain the physical contact while he slept. The biobed chirped twice and then compensated for Jim's presence, ignoring his readings in favor of Bones'. Jim settled his head on the pillow next to Bones', wrapped himself around the body that felt so much cooler than usual, and laced their fingers together.
He woke up every couple of hours, unused to the bed, the room, the feel of another person next to him. And, of course, there was the underlying worry about Bones that refused to leave him, even in his dreams. So all in all, when M'Benga came in the next morning to check on Bones, he felt even more exhausted than when he'd gone to sleep.
"How's he doin', Doc?" he croaked, rubbing his eyes. If M'Benga thought it was odd that the captain was squeezed into the biobed next to the CMO, he gave no outward indication.
"About the same, Captain. Vitals stable, but non-responsive to stimuli."
Jim nodded, disappointed but unsurprised. He reluctantly pulled himself away from Bones' side. "All right. I'd better go get cleaned up. I've got a duty shift in an hour."
His shift passed in a blur. He made his report about the assassination attempt, received orders to head for the nearest starbase to get the situation sorted out, conferred with his security team to make sure they had Lithara under control. It was towards the end of his shift that he received a comm from sickbay. It was Chapel.
"Captain, Doctor McCoy's blood pressure is dropping. Nothing we're doing seems to be able to reverse it. Doctor M'Benga said to call you if Doctor McCoy's condition changed. He seemed to think that maybe you could do something to help."
"I'll be right there. Kirk out." He turned to Spock. "Mr. Spock, come with me."
They entered the turbolift. "Spock, one way or another, I'm removing myself from command until we resolve the situation with Bones. I'll need you to act as Captain, work up a duty roster to cover the bridge."
Spock nodded his understanding.
"And -- I can't order you to do this, but I'm going to ask, as a personal favor. I'd like your help with Bones. You're the only telepath onboard -- well, besides Bones. I don't know if there's anything you can do, but I'm grasping at straws here."
Once again, Spock nodded. "I will do what I can, Jim."
They walked to sickbay in silence. Bones looked paler, and his face had taken on a pinched, pained look. Jim didn't hesitate before climbing back onto the biobed and wrapping himself around Bones, getting as much contact between the two of them as he could manage. Almost immediately, Bones relaxed. Nurse Chapel came over to look at the biobed readings and smiled. "Much better. I can't explain it, but your presence is helping him."
Spock raised an eyebrow and held up his hand in the meld position near Jim's face. "May I, Captain?"
Jim nodded his consent and Spock gently placed his fingers against the meld points. It wasn't like the meld he'd shared with Old Spock. This was... gentler, less invasive. More of a surface skim than anything else.
Spock withdrew and Jim blinked a few times. "Well, did you learn anything?"
"Yes, Captain. I had thought after melding with the doctor last night that the bond between you was too attenuated to be of any use. But with his reaction to your physical presence, I was forced to re-evaluate that conclusion. The bond is still active. It is weak, but it is just barely possible that..."
Spock trailed off, apparently trying to work something out in his own mind before speaking. Jim was having none of that.
"It's possible that what, Spock? If there's any hope, no matter how slim, I want to hear about it."
Spock spoke reluctantly. "It is possible, Captain, that as his bondmate, you may be able to enter the doctor's mind and help him find his way back, to repair the damage from the attack."
"I'll do it," Jim said without a second thought.
"Jim, the risk to you is extremely high. You could become lost yourself in the prison of Dr. McCoy's damaged mind. I am not sure it is wise to risk -- "
"I don't give a shit. I'm doing it. If there's any chance of saving him..." Jim blinked hard as Bones' face in front of him was suddenly blurry.
"It is your decision, Captain. However, I must insist that you rest first, for Dr. McCoy's sake if not your own. You will need all of your mental strength to attempt this."
"There's no way I could get to sleep, not right now. Not if I know there's something I could do to help him."
"I am aware of that, Captain." Spock was reaching out to touch his shoulder, a strangely human gesture of comfort, and then his fingers were tightening -- oh, that bast--
Jim regained consciousness suddenly, all at once. He didn't know how much time had passed, but he did feel rested, not that he'd ever admit it to that sneaky nerve-pinching first officer of his.
He was still in sickbay, still wrapped around Bones, who was looking marginally healthier. Well, maybe he'd forgive Spock after all. Without giving it much thought, he leaned forward and pressed his lips against Bones'. They were unresponsive, so unlike the night that they'd been together, when those lips, that mouth, had seemed to be everywhere on his body, worshipping every square inch of him.
He wondered how long Bones had been in love with him. He wondered how long he'd been in love with Bones in return. Most of all, he wondered how he'd missed it for so long. For someone as brilliant as he was (and hey, it wasn't vanity if it was the truth, right?) he could be awfully obtuse about emotional shit. He wasn't sure why Bones loved him, as fucked-up as he was and with as much stupid crap as he put Bones through on a regular basis. No way he was looking that particular gift horse in the mouth, though. Well, maybe just a little. Maybe when Bones woke up -- he refused, utterly refused to use the word "if," even in his own thoughts -- he'd ask him. If nothing else, it ought to be entertaining to watch Bones splutter his way through an answer. He'd bet it would end with Bones saying "Damnit Jim, I just do, all right? Now get over here." And then... well, then it would get even more entertaining. He grinned wickedly, but the grin faded as the steady beep of the biobed monitors penetrated his consciousness.
All right, one step at a time. First he had to go into Bones' mind and rescue him. Kind of weird, but then, he'd done a lot weirder things in his two years as Captain of the Enterprise. Weird was like, par for the course for Jim. He wondered how he was supposed to do it. Was there an instruction manual for this sort of thing? He'd have to ask Spock.
As if conjured by Jim's thought -- though more likely, he'd known exactly how long the nerve pinch would put Jim out of commission -- Spock stepped into the curtained area around Bones' biobed. He was, as ever, impeccable in his uniform although Jim was pretty sure he wasn't on duty. He wondered who was on the bridge right now. Anticipating his question, something he was scarily good at, Spock said, "Mr. Scott has the conn. I trust you are feeling more rested, Captain?"
Jim scowled, but there was no heat behind it. "Don't think there won't be payback for that. But for now -- yes, thanks, I am feeling better. Now how do I do this, get into Bones' mind and fix him?"
Spock raised his eyebrows slightly. "Do not underestimate the difficulty of this task, Captain. It will not be as simple as 'fixing' Dr. McCoy's mind."
"Okay, so what does it entail, then?"
With that, Spock launched into a lecture about psychic bonds, and mind-healing, and the delicacy required to repair damaged mental pathways, and Jim tried to pay attention, he really did, because he knew this was the most critical mission he'd ever undertake, at least in terms of personal importance to him, but in the end he wasn't sure he'd absorbed more than every other word. He always thought best on his feet anyway, and he was raring to go.
"Okay, let's do this. Get me in there, Spock."
Spock looked utterly blank, which was a sure sign that he was annoyed. Or happy or miserable or constipated, but Jim was pretty sure this blank look meant annoyed.
"Captain, as I just explained, I cannot 'get you in there.' Nor, if you become lost in the doctor's mind, can I get you out. The Vulcan mind-meld and the bond that you have with Dr. McCoy work in completely different ways."
"Oh. Okay, so how do I get in?"
Yeah, that was definitely annoyance. "I cannot tell you that. I suggest that you meditate, look inward and seek the bond, and then attempt to follow it into Dr. McCoy's mind. Your mind will likely develop a visual construct to interpret the experience."
"Okey-dokey." Spock raised an eyebrow at Jim's flippancy but Jim was pretty sure that by now Spock knew that was how he dealt with stress.
Hmmm. How to do this? Well, he wasn't going to twist himself into a lotus position. He was sure this process would be easier on both of them if they maintained the level of physical contact that they had now. Hopefully he was rested enough that he wouldn't fall asleep while he was trying to "look inward and seek the bond."
He squirmed and got himself into a more comfortable position -- he wasn't cuddling, damn it, this was for purely utilitarian reasons. He ended up with his head resting on Bones' shoulder, tucked into the curve of his neck, his arm and leg slung over Bones' body. There, that was comfy. He closed his eyes, let the scent of Bones encompass him. He looked for the tickle that he'd felt in the back of his mind before. He couldn't find it, couldn't feel it at all. He started to panic. What if it was gone? What if Bones was gone, lost to him forever? He forced himself to breathe. Deep and even. In, out. In, out. He wasn't going to give up that easily.
He focused again on Bones' scent, on the rhythm of Bones' heart under his ear and hand. He didn't try to find the bond yet. He just floated there in a cloud of Bones-ness, let himself be fully immersed in Bones' presence. There! There it was. Just the faintest fluttering at the corner of his mind, and as soon as he focused on it, it was gone. But it had been there, he was sure of it. He composed himself and started again.
Two hours later, he was ready to scream in frustration. He kept getting tantalizing glimpses of the bond, but it always disappeared as soon as he tried to grab onto it.
He opened his eyes and glared at Spock, who was placidly doing some paperwork on his PADD. "This isn't working," he complained. "I can feel it, but every time I try to approach it, it disappears."
Spock set aside the PADD and considered for a moment. "Captain, the bond you share with the doctor is primarily... emotional in nature." Jim could tell he was valiantly attempting to cover up his distaste. Not really succeeding, but hey, points for effort. "Perhaps if you concentrate on your feelings for the doctor, it will bring the bond into focus."
Jim sighed, nodded, and got back into position to try again. This time he didn't try to coax the bond out of hiding. He just thought about Bones.
He remembered the first moment they'd met, how there had been a spark of something between them, even then. Bones had been his first real friend, the first person who'd actually given a shit about him, spent time with him and bailed him out of trouble and patched him up because he wanted to, not because he was obligated to. The first time he'd noticed how incredibly sexy he was, Bones wasn't even doing anything provocative. They were in the mess together, eating breakfast. Bones was on one of his tirades about something, and he was gesticulating with a piece of toast. Jim suddenly noticed how long and graceful his fingers were, the softness of his hazel eyes even when he was ranting, the way the light gleamed off his dark brown hair. He felt a painful tightening in his midsection, but blamed it on the piss-poor institutional crap that Starfleet tried to pass off as food. He wanted Bones, that was all. That was safe, comfortable. That night, when they were out at a bar, he made the first of many unsuccessful attempts to lure Bones into his bed. Or Bones' bed, or a nearby alley -- he wasn't picky.
It hadn't always been perfect between them. He'd let Bones down; Bones had let him down. Even worse than dragging himself out of that ice pit on Delta Vega had been the knowledge that Bones had just stood back and let it happen. Not that he could've stopped it, but he didn't even protest. It took him a long time to forgive Bones for that. Bones knew it, too. They never discussed it, but he could see the pain and remorse in Bones' eyes. He'd hurt Bones, too, throwing himself into harm's way every chance he got, doing reckless shit even when it wasn't really necessary, forcing Bones to worry about him. Plus, of course, fucking every sentient being who showed an interest. He'd enjoyed it -- he liked giving pleasure to others, liked feeling pleasure himself -- but he'd known, on some level, that he was hurting Bones.
But through it all, no matter what, they'd stuck together. Jim knew that, universe willing, they always would. And now -- now he could feel the bond. Not as a weak flutter, but as a pulsing glow that filled his mind, and as he focused on his love for Bones, it resolved itself into a shining silver path. He started walking the path immediately. As he went further and further, it became dingy, tarnished, until it was gray, cracked and pitted beneath his feet. The landscape was blasted and sere, nothing standing at all. Except -- there, in the distance, off the path, was what looked like a small concrete building. Squat, ugly, practically impenetrable. That's where Bones was. Jim could feel it. He'd hidden the core of himself, sealed it off somehow to escape the blast of Lithara's attack. And now he was trapped.
Jim started running towards it. But the faster he ran, the more it seemed to recede into the distance. He was tiring now, muscles straining and lungs burning. He knew they weren't real muscles, weren't his actual lungs, but it felt pretty damn real. He stopped, leaning his hands against his thighs, and caught his breath for a moment.
Then he smacked himself on the forehead. God, what an idiot he was. Hadn't he learned his lesson when he'd tried to find the bond? He stopped moving, and started thinking. He brought his love for Bones into the forefront of his mind, focused on it until it surrounded him in a misty glow. Now he started walking towards the building, not worrying about the destination, just thinking about Bones. And within moments, he was standing in front of the concrete bunker.
He didn't try to attack it, didn't try to tear it down. He just stood there, letting his affection flow out of him and towards the building. He was worried at first that it might run out, but no. There was an endless supply, and the more he poured out, the more he had. It drifted, mist-like, surrounding the building and as he stood there, he could see the walls beginning to tremble, just slightly. He grinned with a fierce joy and redoubled his efforts, calling out now to Bones with his mind.
Bones, come on, old man, I'm here. You're safe now. Quit hiding and come out!
He felt the faintest answering echo of a formless question and he poured all the love and reassurance he could into the mist that was flowing out of him. It glowed a bit brighter and the walls of the building were shaking now, groaning with strain.
Jim? This time he definitely heard Bones' voice.
Yeah, Bones, it's me! Come on, come out now. I need you.
What is this, some kind of trick? Jim hates me. He should hate me. I hate myself.
I could never hate you, Bones. Yeah, I was pissed and I said some stupid things. I'm sorry about that, okay? Can you come out and we can talk about this?
Jim, I don't deserve you. I'm a goddamn freak with these goddamn powers and now I've used them to trap you into something you never wanted. Just leave. It's better this way.
Bones, you're not a freak. And I'm not leaving you here. If I have to, I'll stand out here forever. I'll sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" until you have to come out just to strangle me. But you're not getting rid of me, ever. So get your ass out here!
There was only silence.
"Okay, then, here goes! NINETY-NINE BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, NINETY-NINE BOTTLES OF BEER! YOU TAKE ONE DOWN, PASS IT AROUND, NINETY-EIGHT BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL." Jim made sure his warbling was as painfully off-key as he could manage.
Still nothing. "NINETY-EIGHT BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, NINETY-EIGHT BOTTLES OF BEER! YOU TAKE ONE DOWN -- "
The walls of the bunker shook and shuddered some more and then, in a rather anti-climactic climax, the door opened and Bones walked out. He stood there, blinking a little in the light. The mist that was still flowing out of Jim coalesced around Bones and sank into his skin.
"What the hell, Jim?" were the first words out of Bones' mouth.
It was so Bones-like that Jim burst into laughter. Okay, maybe the laughter was a bit hysterical, but still. When he could breathe again, he gasped out, "I have come to rescue you, fair maiden!"
"Are you out of your mind?" was Bones' response and yeah, he literally was, and that set him off into renewed gales of laughter.
"Oh fuck, that hurts. Oh man," Jim said, clutching his sides. "God, I love you, Bones."
Bones' face didn't change, but suddenly there were tiny shoots of pale green grass scattered across the blasted landscape. Bones looked at them, turned red, and crossed his arms over his chest. "You don't mean that," he said, with a mixture of doubt and hope.
"Of course I do. I don't think I could tell a lie here, even if I wanted to. Which I don't," he added firmly.
"So, you're suddenly okay with all of this? My... abilities? The bond? Whatever's... between us?" Bones was clearly still skeptical.
"You know what an idiot I am when it comes to emotions, so it took some figuring out. It took almost losing you, Bones," and now Jim wasn't anywhere near laughter anymore. "God, I almost lost you. For all I know, I might still. We've got to get you out of here."
Bones' expression turned stubborn. "I'm not going anywhere, not until we get this straightened out. So when you said you loved me, you meant like, 'You're my best friend, I love you, man,' right?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "Come on, don't be obtuse. I know you felt it when that glowy mist stuff sank into you. I love you like -- fireworks and rainbows and all that shit. You're it, Bones. Clear enough for you?"
A slow smile spread across Bones' face, and now a bit of the glowy mist was leaking out of him, winding towards Jim. Jim grinned in response. The landscape was quickly taking shape - soft green grass covered the ground, trees were growing at an incredible rate, and puffy clouds drifted serenely through the blue sky. Jim laughed in delight. "Aw, man, you softie. I'm never going to be scared of you again after seeing your idyllic mental meadow."
Bones scowled. "Not like you were ever afraid of me to start with, you infant."
"True. Okay, can we go back now? I'd like to come visit again, test out if that grass is as soft as it looks," he waggled his eyebrows suggestively, "but right now I'm kinda anxious to make sure you're okay in the world out there." He waved his hand vaguely upward.
Now Bones looked embarrassed. "Uh, I don't know how."
"Hmm, click our heels together three times and say 'there's no place like home'?" Bones just looked at him blankly. Man had no culture whatsoever.
"Never mind. Let's just try thinking really hard that we want to be back on the Enterprise?" They both got intent looks on their faces, but nothing else happened.
"Um, how about -- " Jim didn't get a chance to finish his sentence, because Bones stepped forward, gathered him into his arms, and kissed him, full on the mouth, softly at first but then with increasing heat. Jim moaned into it, and his eyes fluttered closed. His hands clutched at Bones' broad shoulders.
The kiss ended gradually, and Jim's eyes drifted open. "Hey, what was that..." he trailed off as he realized he was back in sickbay, with Bones' beautiful hazel eyes looking into his. "Oh, hi," he said lamely.
"Hi yourself," said Bones. Then his brow furrowed. "Jim, I can't move. I can't move." There was growing panic in his voice. Jim's heart raced for a second, and then --
"Oh, that's because I'm pinning you down. Sorry." He sheepishly pulled away. Bones stretched, tested out that all his limbs worked, and then grabbed Jim and pulled him back against his body. He muttered something about idiotic child-captains that Jim pointedly ignored.
Instead he turned to Spock, a broad smile on his face. "I did it!"
"Yes, Captain, I see that. Congratulations."
Bones raised his head to look at Spock. "What the hell is he doing here?" he demanded suspiciously. Spock raised a supercilious eyebrow and opened his mouth to respond.
"Don't start, either of you," Jim warned. "I'm having a moment here. Spock, you have my undying gratitude. Bones, he saved your life. Can't you be nice to him for once and just say 'thank you'?"
Bones harrumphed and grumbled and finally said, "Thanks, Spock. I owe you one."
"You are welcome, doctor. However, if I am understanding your idiom correctly, I believe it is fair to say that you owe me far more than 'one'."
Bones growled and Jim felt his indignation, clear as day. Spock, satisfied at having gotten the last word, turned and left. Jim grinned and turned his attention back to Bones. "Okay, where were we?"
Bones ran a finger over one of Jim's eyebrows, his face serious. "Jim -- this bond, do you really want this? We'll be able to feel each other, we'll know each other's thoughts, and it's forever. If you still want to break it, I'll understand. We can figure out how, if that's what you want."
Jim put a finger over Bones' lips to stop the words. "Quiet, you. Yeah, I want this. I can't promise it isn't going to freak me out sometimes, and I can't promise that you'll always like what I'm thinking. But... it's sort of nice. I think I like it. I like feeling you with me, feeling your lo-- how you feel about me in the back of my mind. I'm pretty sure I can learn to live with it. It might take me a while, but since we have forever, I'll have lots of time to get used to it."
Bones smiled, that soft smile that was only for him. "That sounds good to me." Bones' voice was husky, gravelly, and it was so sexy that Jim couldn't stand it anymore. The widening of Bones' smile told him that Bones had caught the stray thought.
"Shut up," he said, even though Bones hadn't said a word. Then Jim leaned down and kissed him. He figured it was a pretty good way to start forever.