Leonard finishes strapping everyone in and looks around. Scotty and Jim are already nowhere to be seen and he curses himself for assuming that the two would stand still for the one second it took for him to grab his medical bag. He tears after them and leaves M’Benga in charge of the sickbay, amidst the chaos that would get him court-martialed for criminal negligence but this is important, he knows where they’re headed.
On the bridge, in full view of everyone else, Ambassador Spock recanted the tale of his fight against Khan, the sacrifices made and the regrets that were never fully expressed. When the dark, almost alien eyes settled on him with familiarity, affection and wryness borne of a man who’s tried reason and found it wanting, Leonard looked away.
So when Spock asked him to prime the torpedoes against Khan, against every oath he’s made as a healer, a physician, a doctor, he has to say yes. But they’ve failed anyway because the Enterprise is falling like a little kid in a Superman costume, thinking that he can fly. It is his every nightmare come to life.
He stumbles down the rolling hallway, nearly crippled by his phobia and the powerful sense that the ground might fall out from beneath him at any second. But there are more important things at stake, the lives of two men more brilliant than anything the world has ever seen. Leonard gets to the engine room just in time to see Jim cold-cock Scotty and wince.
He sticks a hypospray in the side of Jim’s neck, a flicker of blue revealing surprise and anger at his apparent betrayal. He makes sure to strap the two men in. If he fails, it might save their sorry asses in the wreckage. He’s only a little sorry that he doesn’t get to check Jim over one last time.
Leonard McCoy is a doctor, not a physicist, not a mechanic, nor a torpedo technician. But he’s heard of what the old Vulcan has said of the universe and refuses to let it happen. Halfway to the warp core, the ship shudders and lets out a groan that is utterly human in sound.
He can already feel the uppermost layer of derma peel away. He’s nauseous and bleeding from one nostril. He knows the effects of radiation on the human body, studied it intensely because he knows Jim. It is inevitable. He knows that the other man belongs in the black and willingly or not, he will follow, like a moth trapped in an intricate dance with licks of flame.
Starfleet teaches all its recruits the bare necessities of spacefaring. On some days, he can be fucked to pry open his PADD to fix it instead of sending it over to engineering. The two prongs of the injector are misaligned, even he can see that.
He’s bleeding from his gums now and he spits to the side. With shaky fingers, he loads up a hypospray and presses it against a vein. Instantly, his vision sharpens, the pain clears from his abdomen as his heart starts pumping three times as fast like he’s running a marathon or the Kentucky Derby. He’s taken double the dose of stimulants allotted for his weight and body type and is headed towards a cardiac arrest if he doesn’t get some help soon. But that doesn’t matter, he won’t last long. What matters is that he lasts long enough.
In his head, he’s writing a thousand apologies, to his mother for never visiting her during the holidays. To his wife, for being a bastard and a half during the last fateful months in a collision course to their divorce. To his neighbor Rick, whose toy rocket he broke when they were nine. To Scotty, for never getting that drink with him, to Doctor Carol Marcus for leaving her hanging in the sickbay, to the poor tribble whom he’s injected the blood of a mad man, to Spock for giving him a hard time, and to Jim, because he will never get to see him become truly great or to follow him into the black.
Blood bursts from the wall of his mouth, raw and fresh, sliding down his throat like his lungs and diaphragm stopped working a long time ago. Finally, he pushes the injector back in place and for a moment, he sees it when the ship comes back to life, the sudden surge of energy like the light that blooms in Jim’s eyes when they touch down to greet the alien sun and then, oblivion.
Jim wakes up with a headache that’s never gone away since seeing Pike dead. His head lolls on his shoulder like an axel in a hub, he sees that Scotty too is coming to and dread grips his stomach as he realizes that they’re both strapped in.
“Are we dead?” He croaks and Scotty mutters “Can’t be” The harness unravels and they both spring free. “The ship is a mess! One day, one day I’m gone and...” Jim’s lips quirk at the simplicity of the Scotsman’s demands.
Simultaneously, they both look towards the small door in the corner, the pane of glass with the shadow at its base, blocking the view of the chamber inside.
Jim doesn’t recall the sound he makes as he slides to his knees in front of the door, demanding, demanding Scotty to open this door right now or he’s going to wish that Jim left him on that godforsaken ball of ice.
Green eyes flutter lazily at his voice, hands, the steadiest hands on the entire ship, he recalls with a hysteric hiccup, shakily pushing buttons to lock the doors closed. Bones smiles when he sees him, his teeth awash in red. “Good thing I didn’t have lunch.” And that’s how Jim knows that he’s in hell.
He pounds his fist against the door, punching in every lock combination he’s been given and few more besides as Bones literally dies in front of his eyes. Spock arrives in an attempt to calm him down but the commander too is at a loss for words, his eyes darkening with thinly veiled horror at the sight of their CMO on the wrong side of the door.
The half-Vulcan’s words cut through his unintelligible pleas. Spock is upset, showing more emotion than he had when he was strangling him on the bridge. “Why? My counterpart revealed the measures necessary in order to subdue the criminal known as Khan Noonien Singh. Why doctor, did you not adhere to the plan?”
“Because” Bones leans against the glass, struggling to keep his eyes open as though they’re being weighed down by fistfuls of sand. “I’d heard enough. You and me, we’re not the same people. We’re just not there yet. I couldn’t take the risk.” He adds unnecessarily, “Besides, I hate space.”
Bones coughs, his face devoid of blood even though his mouth his full of it, dripping down in half-congealed clumps from the corner of his mouth. “The Enterprise needs you.” He shudders and Jim wants him to stop talking but at the same time, continue, because Bones talking, explaining, bitching, complaining, is Bones who is alive. And he wants to keep it that way, forever. “Both of you.” His mouth falls slack. “In a way... it’s never, going to... need me.”
“Bullshit, bullshit Bones!” Jim explodes, incandescent with fury. “You’re my CMO, you’re not replaceable! How am I supposed to command a ship without my CMO?!”
“You’ll figure it out.”
Bones is smiling and he can’t figure out how he’s doing it. He remembers Spock’s words, about Pike. About feeling scared and alone. “How do you do it Spock?” He keens, surprising himself and everyone else. “How did you choose to not feel?”
Spock kneels down next to him, a careful hand squeezing his shoulder.
“I do not know.” His first officer answers him. “Right now, I am failing.”
“Jim” Bones presses a palm against the glass, leaving pink smears across the bottom pane and Jim slides his bloodied knuckles alongside as though he can somehow grab it and pull him through. In his head is a loud rushing sound, threatening to overtake him and everything else. He claws at the doorlock one last time, pulling at it as though it might give way if he tries hard enough. “It’s okay Jim.” Bones soothes. “I know. I know kid, I know. You’re going to be great.”
The other man coughs, a great phlegm of red landing on his shirt. “I’m honored to have served with you.” He trembles, turning to Spock. “Both of you.”
To him, he says,
The containment unit arrives exactly two-point-one minute after the doctor’s passing to pull them away. The captain observes, limp in Uhura’s arms, as the doctor is silently, reverently, placed in a body bag. When the two officers in the hazardous materials suit bend forward to carry him, Spock volunteers his services.
The doctor proves to be surprisingly light against his Vulcan strength, seemingly illogical considering the weight of his presence on the Enterprise. Spock carries him all the way to the secondary medical bay on deck D where the doctors M’Benga and Sanchez are waiting along with Carol Marcus and a number of medical staff who can ill afford to be spared in the light of recent events.
He allows it. He finds that he has no desire for disciplinary measures to be taken at this time. Dr. McCoy would have certainly approved.
Dr. M’Benga opens the bag to confirm the identity of Dr. McCoy and several officers openly show their grief. The captain, supported by Mr. Scott, sinks into a chair beside the biobed. Despite being fluent in several Federation languages, Spock cannot find anything to appropriate to say.
“I grieve with thee.” He offers and finds the words inadequate for the occasion, turning sour inside his mouth.
The tribble on the table takes that opportunity to purr and thrill in calming notes, shuffling along the clutter of vials and inventory. To use the common human vernacular, the captain appears floored at the sight, enraptured by its movements.
“It’s alive.” The captain says hoarsely and Spock tilts his head, perplexed by the sudden shift in his emotions.
“It is indeed captain.”
“No, no, Spock, Spock,” The captain shakes his head. “This is the dead tribble, this tribble was dead.”
Dr. Marcus lets out a small gasp.
Spock does not understand. The tribble is clearly alive.
They turn to M’Benga who seems to shrink away at the force of their attention before steeling his resolve. “Len must have left his notes around somewhere. Maybe I can figure out what he did.”
“I will provide assistance.” Spock says immediately and the captain jumps to his feet.
“How much of Khan’s blood do we have left?” He demands.
M’Benga spreads his hands in supplication.
They reach the bridge in record time.
“Hey sleeping beauty.”
Leonard blinks at the familiar sight of a hospital room, the smell of antiseptic permeating through the overlay of citric lemon. He reaches out towards Jim, so sure that the other man is a mirage and is pleasantly surprised when he can feel the warm stubble of a growing beard and sleep-wrinkled skin.
“How long have I been out?” He asks quietly, feeling overwhelmed.
“Two weeks, you uh...” Jim looks desperately towards the other side of the bed where he can see Geoff squinting at the readouts and shrugging, hey, he’s your problem now, I’m just a doctor. “Feeling homicidal, power-mad or despotic?”
“No more than usual.” He growls, giving Jim the hairy eyeball. “What were you thinking?!”
Geoff simply observes, “I see your personality is intact.”
“Me?!” Jim sputters, “What did I do? You don’t get to take the moral high ground here Bones. You. Died.”
“What, and you think being a captain makes you immune to lethal doses of radiation?!”
“You would have brought me back!”
“How Jim? I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!”
“How do you think you’re alive Bones?” Jim throws his arms in the air in frustration, knocking his chair back. “You saved yourself.”
“You know, Commander Spock and I had a hand in it too.” Geoff interjects with a measure of disapproval clear in his voice. “And I will ask you captain, not to aggravate my patients.”
Something clicks in Leonard’s brain.
“You... you used his blood on me, you put Khan’s blood in me?!”
Geoff sighs and takes over for Jim who stomps to a wall and barely restrains himself from punching it. Leonard winces.
“You were dead for nearly six minutes Len, and your cells were heavily irradiated. Your serum was the only chance we had at bringing you back.”
He gapes. Through the corner of his eyes, he can see his vitals skyrocket. “What if I’d come back brain-damaged, or worse, like one of them?”
“But you wouldn’t have.” Jim says from the corner of the room.
“Khan and the others are human.” He points out. “A few bricks shy of a load but they were still human.”
“You wouldn’t have.” Jim repeats, stubborn, returning to his bedside. “I know you.”
“Apparently not well enough.” He struggles to sit up, winces at the song of every nerve ending and relents to rolling on his side. Geoff sighs at his efforts, untangling a few of the wires caught in the crook of his arm. Leonard thanks him before turning to Jim who’s staring at him as he might a Circassian plague cat about to pounce. “Promise me you won’t ever do it again Jim. Not without telling me.”
Jim chuckles humorlessly.
“We really need to work on your self-esteem issues.”
“Dammit Jim,” He hisses. “That’s not funny.”
“No, it’s not.”
Geoff makes a discreet exit, oh look at the time; it’s time to feed the gossip mill. It’s an art Leonard has yet to perfect. Chapel told him it was his personality. He half-suspects she was making fun of him.
“I meant what I said Bones. We're going to talk about this when you're better.” Jim says solemnly, wrapping their hands together. “You’re my Chief Medical Officer. Not going anywhere without you.”
“And what makes you think I’d go anywhere with you?” He grumbles, voice muffled, settling in and his breathing evened out.
“Can’t explain it.” Jim says, his smile fond.
Leonard McCoy is a doctor, a surgeon, a plain old human who was lucky enough to serve with men and women who cared. He’s heard what the old Vulcan’s said of the universe and cheated it out of the two most brilliant people he’s ever known. And that’s enough for him.
Jim covers his eyes. Doesn’t mention the hot tears that scald his fingers.
“It’s a gut feeling.”