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His staff calls it “autopilot,” but Bones doesn’t think of it that way.

 

When there’s a crisis—which happens too goddamn frequently on their flying deathtrap of a starship—Bones never hesitates. He doesn’t have a single moment of uncertainty, never stops to take a deep breath, never shows a single sign of panic.

 

“I don’t know how you do it, Doctor,” one of the techs will say. “It’s like you’re on autopilot and you don’t stop for anything.”

 

Bones swallows his reply, doesn’t tell anyone that it’s not really like that at all. When a ship is set to autopilot it knows exactly what to do; it follows pre-programmed subroutines to take the right course of action without any human input. What Bones is faced with never comes with a plan. There’s no subroutine for how to save a life when Sickbay is crumbling around him, or how to diagnose a disease no one in Starfleet has ever seen before, or how to treat one hundred wounded crew members when he only has enough beds for twenty.

 

There’s no autopilot when your best friend is dying. When he’s dead.

 

It’s more like denial. His brain refuses to believe that Jim can die, so it finds a way to bring him back. Bones finds a way to keep moving, to keep working, until he sees the first blip on the monitor. The first new beat of Jim’s heart.

 

Bones has to feel it for himself. He presses two fingers to Jim’s cold wrist and checks for a pulse. It’s there. It’s real.

 

“Stay with him,” he tells the nurse. “Keep your eyes on this monitor.”

 

“Doctor, don’t you—”

 

Bones ignores her and walks calmly out of Sickbay. He nods at an engineer as he walks down the corridor, then waits for the turbolift. He makes it to his quarters just in time—the panic’s rising in his throat as he taps in the code to open the door.

 

He lets it wash over him as soon as the doors close behind him. Panic, abject and overwhelming, and grief. His hands shake as he pours himself a glass of bourbon. He carries it to the too-small sofa and sits before lifting the glass to his lips.

 

He breathes deeply, lets the familiar scent calm him, but he doesn’t take a sip. He has to stay sharp in case they need him in Sickbay. In case Jim needs him.

 

Five minutes. Bones gives himself five minutes to think of life without Jim Kirk, to think of what he almost lost. Then he abandons his glass of bourbon, splashes cold water on his face, and heads back to work.

 


 

Jim demands to be released from Sickbay five minutes after he wakes up.

 

“Are you insane?” Bones asks, pushing Jim down onto the biobed. “For God’s sake, Jim, you died.

 

“And I was resurrected,” Jim says, smirking. “I’m basically Jesus.”

 

“Then you know what that makes me,” Bones replies, waving a scanner over Jim’s head. “Looks like your ego’s intact, but I want to do some more tests.”

 

“Fine, but get Spock down here, I need a briefing.”

 

“You need some goddamn rest,” Bones grumbles. He reaches for Jim’s wrist, wraps his fingers around it and takes his pulse again. The readings from his equipment are far more accurate, but Bones can’t tamp down the urge to touch Jim’s skin, to feel for himself that Jim’s alive.

 

“I’ve been resting for two weeks, apparently.” Jim shakes his hand free, sits up, and swings his legs over the edge of the bed. “I need to get back to work.”

 

Jim hops down from the table and wavers immediately, his body too weak to hold him up after two weeks of lying flat on his back. Bones catches him, helps him back onto the biobed, and pushes him down with a hand on his chest. Bones’ hand lingers there just a beat too long, just to feel the rise and fall of Jim’s chest.

 

“You need to rest.”

 


 

The ship needs repairs—again—and most of the crew gets two weeks leave to spend on Earth.

 

Bones rents a quiet place outside of San Francisco, a little cabin that hasn’t been updated since the twenty-first century.

 

He spends the first week reading books, actual hardbound books, and relishing in the silence. There’s noise out there—the trickle of water in a stream behind the cabin, birds chirping at godawful hours of the morning—but there’s silence too. Bones doesn’t realize it until he turns on his PADD to check for messages from Starfleet, but he’s gotten used to the constant hum of technology. It’s nice to be able to hear himself think.

 

He sleeps like the dead, too, once his body readjusts to fresh air and real gravity, so when Jim shows up at the cabin in the middle of the night, he has to pound on the door and yell Bones’ name to wake him up.

 

“What the hell are you doing here,” Bones says, opening the door wide.

 

“I can’t come for a visit?” Jim slurs. He stumbles into the light, and Bones sees blood dripping down his forehead.

 

“Try to have a nice, quiet vacation,” Bones mutters, pulling Jim into the cabin. “Good God, man, did you get into a fistfight with a Klingon?”

 

Jim has a deep gash in his forehead, a bruise on his cheek, and he’s cradling what looks like a broken wrist.

 

“Close,” Jim says, wincing. “Captain of the Roosevelt.”

 

Bones guides him into the cabin, helps Jim into a worn leather chair, and retrieves his emergency medical kit. “That overgrown bastard? What the hell were you doing picking a fight with him?”

 

“He had some things to say about Admiral Marcus’... vision.” Jim frowns, then winces when it pulls at the skin Bones is mending.

 

“Hold still,” Bones warns him, cupping his cheek.

 

“I think I could’ve taken him,” Jim says, his jaw working under Bones’ hand. “I just got the wind knocked out of me. I could take him.”

 

Bones sits back, looks Jim in the eye and lets his hand linger. He just nods, then drops both of his hands to Jim’s. “This is broken.”

 

“Can you fix it?”

 

“I can,” Bones says, brushing his thumb over the tender skin of Jim’s wrist. “It’s going to hurt.”

 

Jim looks... relieved.

 

“Do it.”

 


 

Jim refuses to sleep on the couch, and there’s no way in hell Bones is letting him drive back to the city after all the “medicinal” bourbon he’s had.

 

Bones lies in bed, flat on his back, as Jim walks around the bedroom. He stops at the window, pushes the curtains open and lets moonlight flood the room.

 

“Don’t you miss the stars?” he asks, pulling his bloodied t-shirt off over his head.

 

“You know I don’t.” Bones rolls onto his side and punches his pillow, trying to get comfortable. Trying to look like he’s trying to get comfortable, while he watches the muscles in Jim’s back flex as he strips off.

 

“You could come back. Request an assignment at the academy.” Jim falls into bed next to Bones, turns to face him and props his head up on his good hand.

 

“Because I’m so patient with cadets.” Bones rolls his eyes.

 

“Hospital? Private practice?” Jim offers. Bones just huffs and rolls onto his back. “Research? You have a few more vials of Khan’s blood.”

 

Bones stiffens at that. He does have a few vials of Khan’s blood locked up in Sickbay, but no one else knows. His official medical reports show that Jim’s injuries were far less severe than they really were, and that he was successfully treated with traditional methods. Bones doesn’t want to play God, and he sure as hell doesn’t want anyone else to. He tried to discard the last of the blood, to throw it out with the rest of the medical waste, but he couldn’t. Not with Jim on board, not when Jim is a magnet for danger and Bones can’t imagine a universe without him in it.

 

“Someone has to be up there to save your ass.” Bones’ voice is gruff; he hopes Jim thinks it’s from lack of sleep and not the well of emotion he’s desperately trying to keep at bay.

 

Jim is quiet, and Bones is grateful. He closes his eyes, tries to breathe evenly, wills himself to fall asleep.

 

“Thanks for tonight,” Jim whispers, after a long silence. “And for—”

 

“No problem.” Bones cuts him off. He can’t have this conversation.

 

Jim’s quiet, again, and Bones starts to relax. And then: “I started it. The fight, with Captain Gonzalez.”

 

“No shit, Jim. You start ninety five percent of the fights you’re in. Hell, you start ninety five percent of the fights I’m in.”

 

“It was different, though. He didn’t really—I mean, the guy’s an asshole, but he’s not that big of an asshole. I think I just knew he would fight back.”

 

“That’s the stupidest goddamn thing—”

 

“I remember. It hurt—the radiation—I could feel it making me weaker.” Bones turns his head just enough to see that Jim is looking towards the window now, up at the stars. “And then I felt nothing. For a few seconds, just before I lost consciousness. I felt nothing.”

 

Bones thinks he understands. He reaches out in the dark, finds Jim’s wrist, and wraps his hand around it. Presses his fingers to the soft spot he’s searching for and feels Jim’s pulse, slow and steady. He feels it start to speed up, stops trying to count the beats per minute and looks over to where Jim is waiting, watching Bones now.

 

They come together like it’s inevitable, with no hesitation and no restraint. Jim wrestles Bones onto his back and kisses him until they’re both breathless. Jim only pulls away when he needs to breathe, and even that he does against Bones’ skin, letting his lips drag over Bones’ stubbled jaw.

 

“More,” Bones demands, threading his fingers through Jim’s hair and tugging him back up for another kiss, deeper and longer this time. He tries to pull Jim closer, wanting more contact, more skin, but he doesn’t have the leverage to move them how he wants.

 

The next time Jim comes up for air, Bones pushes him off. Jim’s eyes widen when his head hits the pillow, but Bones is straddling his hips before he has a second to think.

 

Jim tilts his hips up at the contact, moans, and opens his mouth to speak. “Bones, fuck, I—”

 

“No talking,” Bones growls. He leans down for another bruising kiss, covering Jim’s body with his own. They rut against each other, kissing and gasping into each other’s mouths, Jim’s hands clutching at Bones’ broad shoulders.

 

Bones likes it this way, with Jim caged underneath him, safe and his, but he needs more. Needs to see every inch of skin, kiss every wound that he’s healed, touch Jim in places that he’s never been allowed before.

 

He scrapes his teeth over Jim’s Adam’s apple, then sucks at the tender skin below. He sucks a bruise into the skin over Jim’s collarbone, pulls a long, low whimper out of Jim with that, and then trails soft kisses down to his chest.

 

Bones stops to rest his head against Jim’s chest, his ear to Jim’s heart, and listens. Jim is still panting, still hard against Bones’ stomach, but he doesn’t make a move until Bones tears himself away.

 

Jim’s fingers thread through Bones’ hair, pulling him up so they’re face to face.

 

Bones,” Jim breathes. “Thank you.”

 

“You’re okay,” Bones says, like it’s the first time he really believes it. “You’re alive.”

 

“I’m alive,” Jim says, his lips twitching into a smile.

 

Bones barks out a laugh and kisses Jim again, then gathers up his wrists and carefully pins them down next to Jim’s head.

 

“Stay,” he says, kissing Jim’s bicep. He continues his exploration where he left off, sucking at Jim’s nipples until they’re both too sensitive and Jim pushes him down. Bones licks at the flat planes of Jim’s abs and drops a soft kiss over the raised scar on his hip—from the time Jim stitched his own wound when he was twelve, just to see if he could.

 

Jim’s cock is hard, pushed up against his belly so the head peeks out of his underwear. Bones avoids it completely, licking and sucking at the skin on either side while he slips one hand under the thin cotton to cup Jim’s balls.

 

He waits until Jim’s whining, until he’s practically begging for it, before he pulls the elastic down and licks a hot trail up Jim’s cock from the base to the tip.

 

“Oh, fuck!” Jim cries, the muscles in his stomach tensing.

 

“Good?” Bones asks, wrapping his lips around the head of Jim’s dick and flicking his tongue over the slit.

 

“Smug bastard,” Jim says wrapping a hand around the back of Bones’ neck. Bones reaches back, pushes Jim’s hand away, and sucks Jim’s cock deep into his mouth. “Oh fuck, okay, yeah, it’s good. It’s good.”

 

Bones pulls Jim’s underwear off and tosses them aside, then wiggles out of his own. Jim’s knee bends just a little at first, slowly, and at first Bones thinks he wants leverage to thrust up into Bones’ mouth. Before long he realizes that Jim is spreading himself open, making room for Bones between his legs, and Bones knows an invitation when he sees one.

 

He slicks up two fingers with spit and trails them down below Jim’s balls, taking note at Jim’s moaning, squirming reaction to even the lightest pressure on his perineum. He works a finger into Jim’s ass, his mouth still moving over Jim’s cock, until Jim pushes him away.

 

“Too much,” he gasps. Jim curls his hand around the base of his dick and squeezes hard, and Bones knows he means the good kind of “too much.” He rests his cheek on Jim’s hip and watches him stroke himself slowly, gently, while he works a second finger into Jim’s ass.

 

Bones is grateful for the silence in the cabin—he can hear every sound Jim makes, can hear every “yes” and “fuck” and “please” that escapes Jim’s lips.

 

“C’mon, more,” Jim says, bearing down on Bones’ fingers.

 

“More” means lubrication, and there’s a frustrating scramble to find something suitable. (“What do you mean you don’t have lube? What kind of vacation is this?”) Bones comes up with a bottle of hand lotion that will be effective, and quiets Jim’s snarky comments about his lack of preparedness when he pushes three slick fingers into Jim’s ass.

 

When Jim’s ready, when Bones kneels between his spread legs and slicks up his own aching cock, Bones has a flash of self doubt. Jim’s had a lot to drink, and he’s clearly emotionally vulnerable, and maybe this is—

 

“Been thinking about this since the academy,” Jim says, reaching up to curl a hand around Bones’ hip. “I want you. Fuck, I need you, Bones.”

 

Bones leans down to kiss him, ignores the whine in Jim’s throat as he draws it out.

 

It’s Jim who reaches down and lines them up, guides Bones forward until he’s pushing into Jim’s body. Bones drops his head to Jim’s shoulder, overwhelmed, and thrusts in slowly, working Jim open with his cock. He concentrates on making it good, not hurting Jim, going slowly until Jim’s hips are working against his, setting a faster rhythm.

 

“I need you, too,” Bones murmurs into Jim’s neck.

 

Bones doesn’t last long, but he isn’t embarrassed—he has a feeling he’ll have a lot of opportunities to make it up to Jim. He comes with his cock buried deep inside Jim, and his fingers wrapped around Jim’s wrist.

 

Bones pulls out, shaky and still twitching, and wraps a hand around Jim’s cock.

 

“You want my mouth?” he asks, not opposed to the idea.

 

“Your fingers,” Jim says, bucking up into Bones’ hand.

 

“You can have both, you know,” Bones says, reaching down to where Jim is slick and open, Bones’ come dribbling down his thigh.

 

“Don’t need both,” Jim gasps, coming apart when Bones starts fucking him roughly with two fingers. “Fuck, fuck, fuck...” Jim comes, shooting in thick ropes over his stomach, his face flushing a dark red as he curses and laughs and cries through his orgasm.

 

They fall apart only after Bones has wrung every last ounce of pleasure out of Jim’s body. They relax for a while, hands roaming lazily over each other’s bodies, until Bones turns Jim towards the window.

 

“Sunrise. Enjoy not being trapped in the black emptiness of space for once.”

 

“It’s not all that bad, is it?” Jim asks. Bones imagines staying here, waking up to the sunrise every day, treating scrapes and bruises from a local clinic instead of mortal wounds and alien influenzas. He imagines staying here and looking up at the stars, knowing Jim is up there somewhere without him.

 

“No,” Bones says, wrapping an arm around Jim’s chest. “No, it’s not all that bad.”