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Follow the River

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“Surely we could be drinking,” Leonard said under his breath.

Jim smirked, hiding it behind one hand when Nyota leveled a glare at him. He spoke softly from behind his hand, “No drinking on religious grounds, remember?”

Spock and Nyota moved from plaque to plaque, murmuring respectfully over the ancient alien writings engraved into the stone. Leonard rolled his eyes and cast a longing look towards the door, where warm, Southern-like sunshine poured across a pristine valley.

“Hey. Check this out.” Jim nudged him in the ribs, and pointed to a threshold with a rope stretched across it.

Leonard narrowed his eyes. “I'm not a master of the Khalek language, but I'm pretty sure that sign says 'no entrance'.”

“To that effect, yes,” Nyota said, approaching them from behind. She folded her arms over her chest. “You're not bored, are you?”

“No. Bored isn't in my dictionary,” Jim said, shifting uneasily.

Leonard snorted. “This wasn't what I had in mind when you said 'see the sights'.”

“I said 'see the sites',” Nyota said. “And we're going out after dark, so bear with us a bit longer.”

“We're going to check out this room,” Jim said, jerking a finger towards the blocked off room.

“I do not support this course of action, Captain,” Spock said.

“Jim,” Jim cut in.

“Jim. It would be unwise to abuse the privilege of our stations,” Spock said. “We were only allowed this far because of the nature of your command.”

“Relax, Spock. I used to do this all the time,” Jim said with a shit-eating grin. He walked to the rope, glanced around, and without a sound slipped over it into the darkened antechamber.

“Better make sure he doesn't kill himself,” Nyota said, with a long-suffering sigh. She gracefully stepped over the rope barrier and into the shadows.

“This is not going to end well,” Leonard said, scowling. Spock grumbled in agreement, and Leonard stalked forward. He and Spock joined the other two.

The sunlight fell away, but the room was still bright enough to reveal Jim and Nyota staring open-mouthed at new images carved into the walls around them.

“Now this is interesting,” Jim said. He pointed. “That is a penis.”

“This looks like some sort of ritualistic marriage chamber,” Nyota said, skimming the hieroglyphs. “Marriages consummated here were considered blessed by the gods.”

Leonard stepped closer, his foot giving in the floor slightly. The tile beneath his foot cracked and he moved to another tile, only to have the stone splinter under his foot also. “Not well built, is it?” he commented.

Jim turned to him, the grin sliding off his face in the instant Leonard felt himself start to drop.

The floor cracked open beneath his feet and he staggered, his heel plunging through stone and dirt into open air.

And then he was in freefall.


Jim's voice echoed after him, but Leonard didn't have a thought to spare to him. He tucked his head into his arms as he fell, and glanced off an outcropping of something. It struck him brutally in the ribs, and he gasped, the air punched out of him, and a split second later he hit water with bone-jarring force.

He choked, clawing for the surface.

He broke free, hacking and spitting up brackish water that slimed its way into his throat. He spun in the water, kicking desperately. Deep. It was deep. He couldn't touch, and he could feel himself being pulled along. There was a current.

A massive splash struck the surface beside him, washing freezing water over his face. He shook wet hair out of his eyes- not that it would help him see, it was dark as fuck down here- and nearly shat himself when he heard Jim's voice.

“Bones! Jesus. Are you okay?”

“Did you fall?” Leonard asked stupidly.

“No- I saw you go down- I just reacted.” Jim panted, and Leonard could hear soft splashing as he treaded water. “That was... Where the hell are we?”

“In a hole,” Leonard said, sheer terror from the fall giving way to hot fury. “Thanks to your dumb ass.”

“I didn't know-”

“No, of course you didn't know! How could you know? There was just a rope stretched across the entrance with a huge fucking sign over it,” Leonard said, hissing. “No way you could have known to stay out of that room!”

“I'm sorry,” Jim said, frustration leaking into his voice. “I just thought-”

“You weren't thinking, Jim, when do you ever think more than one step ahead?” Leonard ground out. “This water has been down here for god knows how long, probably full of disease and I'm pretty sure I swallowed half of it-”

“Bones,” Jim cut him off, stilling in the water. “Bones, there's something here.”

“What?” Leonard growled. “Don't try and pull any of that Luke Skywalker shit on me, Jim. You have no idea how fucking pissed I am right now-”

“I mean it, Bones. Shut up for two seconds,” Jim said. “Get to shore. Find solid ground.”

He shoved Leonard ahead of him.

“Go, go,” he said. “Seriously, there's-”

His sentence was cut off by a splash, and Bones felt a drag in the water around him. He spun, reaching out for where he last heard Jim's voice. “Jim!”

He inhaled and dove, forcing his eyes open. He couldn't see anything, even worse than above the surface. He struck out blindly, and realised the water was glowing strangely around him the further down he swam. Heart pounding in his ears, he kicked hard, and the glow intensified.

He saw a shadow writhing against a glowing, multi-armed creature that seemed to go on and on beneath him. Leonard grabbed for Jim's arm, and tried to pry him free of the creature's grasp. Twisting, Jim shoved at him, tearing Leonard's hands away. He shouted something in a flurry of bubbles, muffled by the water.

Chest burning, Leonard gritted his teeth. He swallowed down air trying to force its way up his throat and kicked to the surface. Bursting into the air, he gasped, sucking in deep gulps of oxygen. He flailed, splashing hard with one hand to keep himself afloat while he reached for his boot knife.

Freeing it from its sheath, he dove again and kicked hard for the glowing creature. Jim was kicking hard, stretching for the surface and life-giving air. The instant Leonard reached him, he slashed down hard at anything that wasn't human clothing or skin.

An ear-shattering trill pierced the water around them when Leonard split flesh, but all Leonard could hear was Jim gagging as water flooded his throat. Leonard kicked frantically as the limb around Jim's chest loosened, and dragged Jim free. He looped an arm around Jim's convulsing chest and struck for the surface as fast as his weakening legs could propel him.

He exploded to the surface, chest heaving. Jim was a dead weight in his arm, trying to drag him back under. Leonard twisted, trying to see anything. The water pulled him along, further from their original drop point, and he received a solid smack to the head.

Spitting out water, he grabbed it, fingers scrabbling along solid rock. He dug in as best he could, and managed to push and pull himself onto his chest. Dry land.

Well, not dry exactly. The rock was moist and cool from its proximity to the water, and it was slippery smooth from erosion. The river probably rose enough to wash over it during rains.

Shaking with exertion, he managed to haul Jim out of the river and onto his back on the rock.

Leonard tipped his head back and held a hand over Jim's nose and mouth, waiting for breath. Nothing. Biting back several sharply worded comments about Jim's character, he dug his fingers in Jim's neck and counted. Nothing.

He rolled up his sleeves and dragged his knife down Jim's shirt, splitting it from collar to hem. Pressing the heel of his palm over Jim's sternum, he shoved down hard.

Jim's ribs cracking was loud in the cavern, seeming to snap around the walls and haunt him as he kept up the compressions. His own breathing barely back under control, he paused just long enough to force a lungful of air into Jim's mouth. Shoulders burning, he kept thrusting the heels of his hands into Jim's ribs, trying to get his heart to remember what it was supposed to do.

“Come on, kid.” Leonard grunted. “Not letting you off that easy. Come on, Jim.”

He leaned over Jim again, sealing his mouth over cold, slack lips, and breathed for him. He wasn't down here with a corpse, god damn it. He still had time. He had time and he was the best god damn doctor in the Fleet- He could do this-

Jim jerked under his hands, and water bubbled out of his mouth. The horrible, choked sound he made shook Leonard to his core even as he flipped Jim onto his side, holding his head. Jim vomited water onto the ground, gasping violently.

“Okay. I gotcha, Jim, calm down,” Leonard said, forcing Jim to keep still. Jim tensed, adrenaline fueling the need to bolt, to stop the pain. “You're safe, Jim, get it up. I gotcha.”

Jim rolled in Leonard's grasp and retched again. Shaking hard, he let Leonard gather him up and hold him against his chest. Jim's fingers dug into Leonard's arms, keeping him impossibly close. Leonard pressed his face to the nape of Jim's neck. Underneath the stink of the water, he breathed in Jim.

“Wha'appened?” Jim asked finally. Leonard didn't like how wet his voice sounded.

“I used my boot knife,” Leonard said, refusing to lift his face from Jim's skin. Again. He had almost lost him again.

“Secret bad ass,” Jim said, fingers tightening on Leonard's arms.

As much as he could have sat forever with Jim in his arms, alive for the moment, Leonard started to lose feeling in his legs. Dragging Jim up with him, he stood.

“Where are we?” Jim asked, voice stronger but still rasping in a way that made Leonard nervous. They had to get topside. He probably still had water in his lungs.

“Still in the hole,” Leonard said.

“Thanks, Sherlock. I meant where are we with respect to where we fell?” Jim asked. “And how can we get back up?”

“I don't recommend another swim,” Leonard said. “As your doctor, I'm pretty sure it will be hazardous to your health.” He fumbled through his pockets, cataloging what he hadn't lost in his dunk. He drew his lighter from his pocket and flicked it on. It burst into flame, illuminating both their faces.

“What are you doing with that?” Jim asked. His face was deathly pale, bruised and utterly pathetic from his swim.

Leonard ignored him and swept the small balloon of light at their feet. They were standing on a natural bridge over the river. Glancing at the flickering edges of the light, he sighed. “We were so close.”

Solid ground was a mere foot away, and Leonard and Jim carefully picked their way onto sturdier footing. The adrenaline crash was settling in, and Leonard felt every ache and muscle in his body scream at him. He carefully touched his ribs that had connected with the wall during his fall, and could feel a few breaks. Perfect. Just perfect.


“Cracked ribs,” Leonard answered. “And I pulled every single muscle hauling your sorry ass away from that tentacle beast. You're welcome.”

“I'm sorry.” Jim actually sounded penitent, but Leonard was too furious and shaky to listen.

“I'd believe you if you didn't actually do shit like this all the time,” Leonard said.

“Hey.” Jim snatched his arm and dug in. Leonard whirled, furious. “I said I was sorry.”

“Actions speak louder than words, Jim, din't you learn your lesson with the volcano?”

“Fuck you,” Jim said, and god damn it. This was spiraling again. Like it always did since Harrison. “Fuck you and your- your god damn Southern accent and your- your fucking perfect Fleet record, okay? You know damn well why I did what I-”

“And you know damn well my record isn't perfect,” Leonard cut in, struggling to get a hold on this. To keep it from splintering them, digging deeper into wounds not yet healed.

His lighter flickered out, and Jim's fingers tightened, digging bruises into his flesh. Swearing, Leonard clicked the ignition, and it flared to life again.

Jesus Christ!”

Leonard lurched forward and smacked a massive, violently blue spider from Jim's shoulder. Jim jumped, startled, and crowded closer to Leonard as they watched it scurry away. Leonard cast the light on the walls around them. “Mother of God.”

The walls were crawling with spiders, bugs, and snakes. Deep underground, undisturbed for hundreds of years... They had taken over. Jim was pulling him.

“Let's go. Let's go. Douse the light.”

Against his better judgment, Leonard blindly followed the order. Jim's hand was clammy in his as he led the way along the wall, very carefully not touching anything.

Jim stopped so suddenly Leonard slammed into him, and they staggered slightly. “There's a wall,” Jim's disembodied voice said. “We can't go forward.”

Leonard activated the lighter again, and Jim winced at the flare of light. There was indeed a wall before them, stretched across the river, which ran through a grate in the center of the wall.

“It might be eroded enough we can-”

“No,” Leonard said sharply. “We are not getting back in the water.”

“It might be our only way out.”

“And it might get you killed again,” Leonard snapped back. “Look, it hits the top of the channel. How are we supposed to breathe in there?”

“You'd stay here until I clear the path,” Jim said, as if it was obvious.

“Yeah, like hell you're leaving me with a wall full of ravenous spiders,” Leonard said. “You're out of your god damn mind.”

“I'm just trying to figure a way out, Bones, I don't understand why you're making this so difficult-”

“Oh hell, Jim, I don't know. Maybe because the entire reason we're down here in the first place, half-drowned, is because you had the brilliant idea to check out the restricted room!” Leonard ground out.

Jim ignored him, refusing to rise to the bait, and flicked his eyes to the wall. The flickering firelight made his eyes glow unnaturally, and Leonard felt bumps raise on his arms that had nothing to do with being chilled.

“There's a hole up there,” Jim said, pointing. Leonard followed his finger and saw what looked to be an air vent just over their heads. “We can probably fit through there. I'll give you a leg up.”

“No. I broke your ribs performing chest compressions.” Leonard's voice did not break, and he moved into position under the hole. He stuck the lighter between his teeth and crouched. “Up you get.”

Jim looked at him, expression inscrutable, but approached and let Leonard cup his hands around his boot. Hefting Jim up sent a bolt of pain through him that left him gasping, nearly dropping the lighter in the process. He shoved Jim into the hole and collapsed against the wall, clenching his jaw to fight the pain.

“Bones.” Jim held a hand down to him.

With great amount of effort, Leonard scrambled into the hole after Jim. There was just enough room for them to crawl on their hands and knees. Leonard did not think about what he was putting his hands into, or brushing up against, or what was falling in his hair. The river had been bad enough. And now, crawling through a centuries' old ventilation shaft? What was his life.

“It drops off here,” Jim said, some time later.

His warmth vanished from in front of Leonard, and then Leonard put his hand down into thin air. He almost tumbled out of the shaft, but caught himself just in time to wrench his aching ribs. He groaned, and took a moment to recover before sliding from the shaft with Jim's help.

Leonard sat down to rest while Jim fiddled with something just to his left.

“Bones, let me have the lighter,” Jim said. When Leonard handed it over, Jim lit it and touched it to a bundle of dry vines he had gathered. They went up immediately, extending the circle of light further than the lighter could. “Much better.”

“What a little Boy Scout,” Leonard said under his breath.

“You're the one with the combustible lighter,” Jim said, handing it back. “Why do you have that again? You can't smoke on the Enterprise.”

“We're on leave, Jim,” Leonard said with a sigh. “Though why I'm spending my hard earned vacation time with you, I have no idea.”

“Still.” Jim looked uncomfortable. “Bones, you don't smoke, do you?”

“It's actually none of your business, Jim, believe it or not.” Leonard tipped his head back against the wall, trying to ease the pain in his lungs that spiked when he inhaled.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Jim asked, his voice low. Leonard tried to ignore the wet sound still in his labouring breaths. Definitely water in his lungs. “You've been incredibly tetchy since we were reinstated.”

“Excuse me for finding your personality grating,” Leonard said, closing his eyes. He was too tired to deal with this. “Are we just going to sit here?”

“We could. The further away we move from our drop point, the harder it is going to be for them to find us,” Jim said. He held up his comm unit. “It's dead. The creature crushed its outer casing and water got inside.”

“I don't have mine,” Leonard said. “So Scotty can't beam us up.”

“Or we could follow the river,” Jim said. “It cuts out from under the temple into the forest, remember? If we can get outside, we can use the temple to navigate.”

“Or we can not move,” Leonard said wearily. “Not moving sounds really great right now.”

“We don't know what's down here, Bones,” Jim said. He rolled his shoulder absently and picked at the remains of his shirt. “If you wanted me naked you could have just asked.”

“I can't really feel my arm right now, which is why I'm not giving you a concussion,” Leonard said generously. Jim cast a worried look at him, but said nothing.

The silence was glorious while it lasted, which was all of five minutes, until Jim prodded his pockets. Leonard was too tired to even jerk at the shock of Jim's hot skin brushing along his. He watched as Jim dragged his flask, and the epipen free. Jim eyed the injector.

“What are you allergic to?” Jim asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“That's for you, dumb ass,” Leonard said. Jim unscrewed the flask and sniffed it gingerly. “Don't. That's for emergencies only.”

“What do you call this?” Jim asked, taking a swig. He wiped his lips and sealed the flask. “I really think we should follow the river.”

“I really think you should shut up and let me rest,” Leonard said. “Seeing as you're the one who got me into this to begin with.”

Jim fell quiet again, fiddling with his boot knife and ID badge, trying to pry the needle free from the back of the his serial number pin. Leonard watched him. His hands shook badly enough he slipped, and nicked a finger with the knife. He hissed in frustration.

“Bones, is it hot in here?” Jim glanced up.

“No?” Leonard straightened.

“I... don't feel good,” Jim said slowly, his eyes wide when he looked at Leonard.

Leonard reached for the shoulders of Jim's shirt and peeled it back, his heart slamming into his throat. Jim's shoulder was swollen, red and purple. Jim exhaled sharply, prodding the inflamed flesh with a hesitant finger. Leonard slapped his hand away.

“It's venom,” Leonard said thickly. He traced a darkened vein, careful not to put the slightest bit of pressure on the wound.

“What does that mean? Hours? Days?” Jim asked, his breath coming quicker.

“Calm down,” Leonard said. “Speeding your heart rate will make it spread faster. I don't know, Jim. I'm not a zoologist. Shit.”

He scrubbed a hand over his eyes. He didn't have the instruments to even begin treating a venomous bite from an alien spider on a pleasure planet.


Leonard opened his eyes. Jim stared at him, pale as death with sheer terror in his eyes. Leonard's breath stuck in his throat.

“Don't let me go back there,” Jim said, his voice barely a whisper.

As if Leonard would ever.

Leonard slipped his knife from its sheath and cut around the rest of Jim's shirt, sliding the pieces away from the wound with the utmost care. He stripped the shirt into long rectangles, and loosely tethered Jim's arm to his chest in a sling.

“Don't move it,” Leonard said. He cupped Jim's face, palm sliding in a cold sweat. Leonard bit his lip and pushed wet hair back from Jim's forehead. “I'm going to get you out of here.”

“I'm sorry, Bones,” Jim said, giving a quick shake of his head. He leaned into Leonard's touch. “I'm so sorry.”

“Hush,” Leonard said. “You're just scared, kid. You're gonna be okay.”

He tugged Jim's head towards him and kissed the top of his head, closing his eyes against the sudden swell of terror that washed over him. He couldn't lose Jim. Not again. He wouldn't survive it.

“We'll follow the river,” Leonard said, breathing in deep, as if being this close to Jim would give him some of the kid's sheer force of will that made the universe bend to him. “Come on.”

He started to lift Jim and wrap his good arm around his shoulders, but Jim resisted. “Your ribs, Bones-”

“It's fine. Ribs less priority than poison reaching your heart,” Leonard said, gritting his teeth against the pain. Jim was heavy.

He assisted Jim to one of the walls, where they could hear the sound of water flowing on the other side. Follow the wall. Follow the water. It had to go somewhere. Somewhere out of this death trap.

“Bones, you're not really smoking are you?” Jim asked again. “I felt your pack.”

“Everyone knows cigarettes are cancer sticks,” Leonard deflected. He grabbed Jim's belt to keep him from sliding further from him as they stumbled slightly.

“But are you smoking?” Jim persisted.

“Yes, Jim. Yes, okay?” Leonard sighed heavily. Jim's hand tightened painfully on his shoulder.

“That shit'll kill you, Bones,” Jim said haltingly. “Even with the-the treatments. Why in god's name did you pick that up?”

“It's not like I'm gonna live forever anyway,” Leonard said, all too aware of Jim's increased heart rate. “You need to calm down.”

“Jesus, Bones. When were you gonna tell me?”

“Why would I tell you?” Leonard asked as they trudged into a new room, where the river split the floor in half.

“I kind of need to know that my best friend has a death wish,” Jim said. “And- Holy crap, Bones, you're my CMO. What would happen if this got out?”

“Nobody was supposed to know,” Leonard said through gritted teeth.

Jim shoved away from him and staggered before finding his footing. He glared at Leonard and knocked his hand down when Leonard reached for him. “What is going on with you?” he demanded. “Tell me.”

“Nothing is going on,” Leonard said, swallowing thickly. “You need to calm down, Jim, your blood pressure-”

“I will fucking calm down when my best friend, that I'm worried shitless about, tells me why the fuck he's decided he wants to kill himself!” Jim said. His voice rang sharply on the stone walls.

Leonard pushed a hand through his hair. He was shaking. “Shit. You weren't supposed to find out like this.”

“What is it, Leonard?” Jim took a step closer, his good hand gripping Leonard's sleeve. “Please.”

Leonard inhaled. “I have xenopolycythemia.”

Jim's eyes narrowed. Of course he didn't recognise the name. “What does that mean?”

“It's a rare blood disease, Jim,” Leonard said. “My red blood cell count will increase to the point my body can't circulate properly. I'll get to die a slow, lingering death, alone and a burden to the nursing staff around me.”

“But that's...” Jim's grip tightened. “Surely there's a cure-”

“There's no cure, Jim, and once the disease's genes are activated I'll have less than a year to-” Leonard couldn't finish. He exhaled harshly. “It doesn't matter. What matters is getting you topside. Come on.”

“Bones, you can't just tell me that and walk away from me,” Jim said.

“It doesn't matter, Jim, there's no cure. There's no point in worrying about it right now,” Leonard said, unable to face Jim right now. Damn him. This was the last thing they needed, down here in this hellhole of a tourist trap.


Jim was cut off by a violent dry heave. He dropped to his knees and Leonard slid to the ground beside him, supporting him. Trembling, Jim leaned heavily against him, clutching at Leonard's arms desperately. Trying to breathe around his body's instinct to purge itself and panicking.

“You need to calm down, Jim,” Leonard said, curling around Jim's body. “I need you to calm down. You can breathe, it'll be all right. I swear I'ma get you out of here.”

“Accent.” Jim wheezed around a chuckle. He rested his head against Leonard's shoulder, and Leonard dragged his fingers through Jim's hair.

It took Leonard all of two seconds to decide he would have to carry Jim. The venom was spreading too quickly. Ribs be damned. He was not going to leave Jim here to die alone.

It was a sign of how far gone Jim was that he didn't protest when Leonard lifted him. He hung, limp, head rolling along Leonard's shoulder as Leonard staggered forward. The torch hung listless in his hand.

Leonard made it to the next room before a decline in the floor sent his foot out from under him. He and Jim slid down a perfectly sloped incline, and crumpled into a pile at the base of the pyramid. Leonard pushed himself into a sitting position with effort, and collapsed against the smooth rock. Jim was sprawled across his lap, pale as death and unconscious.

The sun split through the trees around them in glittering patterns of golden yellow, and the sky had never looked so blue or bright. He closed his eyes against the prickling of tears, and smiled when he heard Spock shouting for him.


“Your propensity for retrieving the captain from the brink of death continues to astound me, Doctor.”

Leonard groaned and lifted a hand to his eyes. It was fucking bright. Too bright. He winced as he opened his eyes, and saw Spock staring at him, utterly unfazed.

“Jesus, Spock. Find someone else to stare at,” Leonard said. “That's unsettling.”

“I apologise. I merely wished to be at your side upon your awakening to inform you that the captain has-”

Leonard shot upright in the bed, quickly enough to startle even a half-Vulcan. “Jim! What happened- Where is he?”

“The captain is sleeping comfortably in the room beside this,” Spock said, quickly schooling his features from his start. “I believe he will greatly appreciate your presence as he was crying your name amidst his fever dreams.”

Leonard shoved the sheets back from his biobed and unhooked the line they had stuck in him. He winced as the needle slid free, and gathered up his trousers. Shoving his legs into them, he hobbled out of the room dragging them over his hips. Spock followed behind him.

“Our hosts were gracious enough to provide the antivenin, and Nurse Chapel was most efficient in developing a strand suitable for the human system.” Spock quickened his stride to overtake Leonard and open the door to Jim's room for him. “Leonard.”

Leonard froze, searching Spock's face. His eyes were tight, and his mouth thin. “It was close,” was all Spock said.

“You don't have to tell me that,” Leonard said. He remembered feeling Jim's shuddering pulse as they waited for rescue. His burning skin, scorched with fever.

Spock nodded and let Leonard enter the room. Though nothing was 'close' compared to death. And Jim had already seen death.

The room was dim for the patient sleeping, and Leonard dragged a chair to the bed and sat heavily in it. Eyes closed, Jim looked awful. He wasn't feverish, and he wasn't trembling, but it would be a bit before his colour came back. Leonard reached for Jim's hand and twisted their fingers together. Damn anyone who saw them, he didn't care anymore.

It felt like hours before Jim opened his eyes, blinking at him in confusion. Jim stretched under the covers, testing his limbs and leftover pain. “Follow the river,” he said.

“Yeah, follow the river, brat,” Leonard said, and the smile Jim gave him was worth everything. “Look, Jim, I'm sorry I've been a dick.”

“I get it, Bones, I do. It's-”

“No, you don't get it, Jim,” Leonard said. “You don't understand. You died. I sat by your bed for two fucking weeks, praying to a god I don't even believe in that he'd bring you back to me.” Jim stared at him, mouth open slightly. “You can't... know what it did to me.”

Jim's fingers tightened painfully around his.

“I can't lose you again,” Leonard said.

“I'm sorry, Bones,” Jim said, tugging him closer. “I'm so sorry. I didn't realise-”

He cupped the back of Leonard's head and pulled him in, touching their foreheads together. Leonard dragged his fingers along the tender skin of Jim's wrist, grounding himself in the feeling of warm, living flesh. Leonard opened his eyes, and Jim's bright blue filled his vision.

“How could you not realise?” Leonard asked, intimate in the small space between them. “I'd give anything for you. You need to know that. I followed you into the black.”

“Your ex made your life miserable, you can't-”

“Jim,” Leonard cut him off. Jim bit his lip. “I'm the best damn surgeon in the Fleet. I have my choice of postings. Who did I follow?”

Jim closed his eyes and tightened his grip on Leonard's neck. Exhaling shakily, he said, “You followed me.”

Tilting his head just slightly, Jim captured Leonard's lips. Leonard released a breath he hadn't known he was holding, and leaned close. The kiss was fragile, tender; the barest touch of mouth on mouth. Jim dragged him closer, halfway onto the cot, and twisted his fingers in Leonard's hair.

Leonard landed on his elbow at Jim's side, his head arched backwards in Jim's firm grip. His lips parted under Jim's insistence to get closer, to drink him in and completely expose him. Hands framed Leonard's face as Jim dragged his teeth over Leonard's lips, and pulled a low moan from deep in Leonard's throat.

They parted, the sound sending a flush through them both. Jim rested his forehead against Leonard's again, his breathing quickened. “We have to talk about this,” Jim said in a low voice. His fingers caressed Leonard's scalp, playing with the small hairs at the nape of his neck.

Leonard shifted, trying to get more comfortable. “Can't we just neck like horny teenagers?”

That drew a chuckle from Jim, the sound Leonard had missed most since Harrison. The earnest, uninhibited laugh that had faded after Pike's death. “You're on my ship. You're in my bed. We have to talk about it.”

“Look at you, all grown up.” Leonard sighed. He lowered his head, pressed his face to Jim's stomach. Jim wrapped his arms around Leonard's head, and Leonard clenched Jim's bedsheets in his hands. “You can't leave me.”

“It goes both ways, Bones,” Jim said into Leonard's hair. “You can't leave me either.”

Leonard pressed closer. “I'll incinerate the smokes.”

“We'll find a cure,” Jim said. “I won't let you go that easily. You have to hold on for me.”

“I will.”

The day after, Jim was released, and Jim spent hours upon hours detailing reasons for Leonard to hold on to him.