Jim Kirk reminds him of Sam. That's what he tells himself at first, why he sticks close to the kid at the Academy. It isn't long before he realizes that's an excuse he doesn't need anymore. He likes Jim for Jim, for the optimism and smart mouth and fearlessness. The kid needs a guardian, someone to watch his back. He's too smart for his own good, uncaring about rank or authority figures. He says what he thinks when he thinks it, never mind who's in the vicinity or who the comment is about. He needs a keeper before he gets himself killed.
The Academy is easy, like everything has been since Mars. The hardest part is keeping certain things hidden, but he's mastered that over the centuries. He's been a killer and a teacher and a soldier; now he's a doctor. Sam wouldn't be surprised—before their parents died, he'd talked about going into medicine. It's his attempt to make up for the sins in his past, for his survival when everyone around him dies.
Sam would tell him there's nothing to make up for, but she's been dead over two hundred years now. He's still alive, and that right there is unforgivable. (He ignores the part where his survival is, in fact, her fault. He could've stopped her, if he'd really tried.)
Jim is an idealist, like Sam had been. Despite everything he's been through. And Sam's idealism got her killed, while John wasn't there. While Reaper wasn't there. She went on a dig without him, when he had only five months left in the service, and got herself killed when insurgents attacked. If she'd waited—
But she didn't wait, and John spent decades alone, determined to avoid making attachments when everyone around him dies.
And now there's Jim, and he's Bones. (John, Leonard, Reaper—which is he really? He wants to be Bones now, for Jim.)He's Bones all the way onto the Enterprise, and then he goes against orders and regulations to bring Jim aboard. He's Bones as he watches Vulcan die, and he brings Reaper to the forefront to deal with the horror and grief. He's Reaper as he deals with the fallout, with the elders and wounded crew.
He's Bones again, in sickbay, when Jim is ejected from the ship, and if he didn't have so many people to help, he knows he'd storm straight to Spock and start his own fight. He hasn't fought anyone who might be an equal since Sarge; he's already analyzed Spock's style without even meaning to.
By the time Spock summons him, Bones has calmed down. He still longs to tear his Acting Captain apart, but Spock has just lost his planet, his mother, and everything he ever knew. So, instead of literally of ripping his head off, Bones just gives Spock a piece of his mind, and isn't even surprised when, somehow, Jim manages to beam aboard a ship at warp. Seriously, the hell?
And then Jim gets up in Spock's face, clearly angling for some reaction. Bones sees the movement before Spock even makes it, and Reaper lunges forward, grabbing Spock's arm. "Captain," he grits out, centering all his weight to hold Spock still. "I think you're emotionally compromised."
Whether it's the shock of being stopped, being held back by a mere human, or the words, Reaper doesn't know, but he feels Spock's body loosen. "You are right, Doctor," Spock says softly. "I relieve myself of command." He is pliant in Reaper's grip, so Reaper lets him go, receding back.
As Spock quietly walks from the bridge, Bones keeps his eyes on Jim. "I trust there was a point to that?" he asks.
The shock vanishes from Jim's face as he smiles. "We're headin' back to Earth," Jim says.
One of the crew members pipes up to demand, "On whose authority?"
Jim turns to face him. "Captain Pike made me First Officer, Cupcake," he informs them all. "So, I'm Acting Captain now, and we're going home to stop that bastard from taking our planet, too." He spreads his arms, face unusually serious. "Anyone got a problem with that?"
Bones steps up next to him. No one says a thing, and Jim orders Sulu to set a course for Earth.
"I need to get back to sickbay," Bones murmurs, leaning down as Jim makes himself comfortable in the captain's chair.
Jim meets his eyes. "We'll talk after Earth is safe and Nero's dead," Jim promises. Bones nods because that's inevitable.
He leaves Jim the bridge, hurrying back to his own domain, and it's as he's setting another broken bone that the idea comes to him, a way to get aboard that ship unseen. "Chapel," he calls, "deal with this. I gotta talk to Jim." He doesn't wait for her response.
On the bridge, Sulu, Jim, and the wunderkind kid are all trying to talk over one another. As Bones sorts out the data, he realizes they're all right, just slightly off. He's about to break in when Spock does it for him. Spock meets his eyes with a measuring gaze, a hint of respect on his face.
It ends, of course, with Jim doing something suicidal and stupid, except this time a pointy-eared bastard goes with him instead of Bones. Reaper paces up and down the length of the transporter room, itching to kill something, to rip somebody apart. Scotty watches, wary and frightened; Reaper can smell his fear.
They come back, Jim smiling in satisfaction and covered in bruises. They come back and Reaper fades, as Bones takes Captain Pike from Jim's wavering grip. Before Bones can order him to sickbay, Jim is on the bridge, the stubborn ass.
Reaper hasn't come out so frequently in years. As soon as Bones has fixed him up, Reaper's going to kick the shit out of Jim.
Jim finally comes to sickbay, barely conscious, pure iron-will keeping him on his feet.
"I got ya," Bones says, Reaper right there with him.
"I was born," Bones says quietly, a bottle of whiskey in his hand, "over two hundred years ago."
"Were you born able to stop a Vulcan in his tracks?" Jim asks seriously. Why he doesn't mention the two-hundred-years part, Bones has no idea.
He shakes his head. "I was born normal. I was gonna be a scientist, like my parents, but there was an accident." He closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. It still hurts to think about that day. "Me and Sam—my twin—went back to Earth. We were raised by relatives."
He takes another gulp of his whiskey, passing the bottle over to Jim when he gestures for it. "Sam decided to follow in their footsteps. I joined the Marines and became special Special Forces." He holds out his hand and Jim gives him back the bottle. "Sam went on a dig on Mars and an experiment got out of control. My team and I were sent to retrieve the scientists and data, and eradicate the threat." He gulps down more whiskey. Jim just keeps looking at him, head tilted. Bones doesn't know what he's thinking.
"Out of everyone on Mars, Sam was the only one who survived."
At that, Jim starts, eyes widening. "But—" he says. "Bones, you're here."
Bones nods, lowering his gaze to the floor. "The experiment," he says. "The one that got outta control—Sam injected me with it to save my life. I was dying; I know I died. But the C-24…" He takes a deep breath. "I'm faster, stronger, got better senses, and heal way more quickly than any human."
Jim stares at him, blinks a few times, and then says, "Run that by me again."
Sighing, Bones looks back up. "I'm pretty much immortal, Jim. I'm as physically strong as a Vulcan, but faster, with better hearing and eyesight."
Biting his lip, Jim just stares at him. Bones does not fidget or look down. Moments pass and Bones lets Jim take his time, not fidgeting or blinking or—and finally, Jim slowly smiles. "Show me," he says, and Bones knows everything will be fine.
Jim is given the Enterprise, of course; no other ship would do for the golden boy of the galaxy. The first thing he does is ask Bones to be Chief Medical Officer.
Bones raises an eyebrow. "Who else could be trusted to look after you?" he demands.
Grinning, Jim slaps him on the back.
At night, when he dreams, it is always the Sarge from before Olduvai that he sees. His best friend, his brother, the one person outside of his family that he ever really cared about. Sarge had understood him in ways even Sam hadn't.
Even now, over two centuries after both their deaths, John misses them. Reaper misses them.
Bones doesn't. Bones has Jim and the crew and the stars he never cared about until Jim spent hours lying on the grass with him, telling him the stories that made them beautiful.
Bones expects someone to confront him for that scene on the bridge. If not Starfleet, then Spock or Uhura. Too many people witnessed it for it be ignored.
But it is ignored. No one except Jim ever brings it up.
Until five weeks into their mission, when Spock approaches him in his office and requests a sparring session.
"You want to spar with me?" Bones asks. "Really?"
"Dr. McCoy," Spock says. "From what I deduced of our interaction during—"
Bones interrupts him, "When are you free?"
Bones knows that he isn't that likely to do any permanent harm to Spock. He's faster with more experience, but this isn't life or death. This is just letting off steam for him, and—well, he doesn't know what it is for Spock.
He shifts his stance, letting Reaper out to play, and grins.