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My Beating Heart

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His vision is bright, bright white. It’s like it’s been bleached out, and for a moment Jim thinks he’s gone blind from when he must have hit his head falling, but then he raises a hand, and he can see the burned, red welts on the back of it. He’s not dead, he realizes, at least not yet, but he doesn’t know how long he’s going to stay that way.

Dragging himself across the hot metal floor, he winces and bites back groans that die in his throat before they even make it to his throat anyway. His stomach churns as he makes it to the chamber door; he just manages to punch the button to open the door before it empties on the floor next to him, and he has to take a moment and pause, catch his breath, figure out which way is up again before continuing on into the decontamination chamber.

When he gets there and raises his head, there’s a face on the other side of the glass door. Scotty’s face is slack and grey, his eyes fixed on the chamber door Jim just crawled out from. He sucks in a short, sharp breath when he sees Jim, curses under his breath before lurching to his feet and making for the console.

“I’m-- Sir, I’m calling medical,” he tells Jim, his voice muffled through the glass but no less frantic as he tries to find the combination of button-presses that will save Jim’s life before it’s lost. “The decontamination sequence’ll be over soon, it only takes ten minutes--”

“Mr. Scott,” Jim rasps, his throat feeling like it’s been rubbed raw. “Mr.--”

“Don’t you worry, Captain, just hang on for nine--”

“Sc-… Scotty.”

That makes Scotty pause. He turns, not stepping completely away from the console, but enough to give Jim his undivided attention. It makes Jim’s chest feel warm to know that Scotty will still try to save him up until the last second, but that he knows that this might be it and doesn’t want to ignore the captain in his final moments if that’s the case. Still, he looks conflicted. Torn. Jim’s almost afraid he’s going to have to give a direct order, and he doesn’t want the last thing he ever says to Scotty to come from his captain instead of his friend.

“‘M fine… ‘m fine here, Scotty,” Jim says, but he coughs and something warm starts to creep up the back of his throat. He feels it in his nostrils, too, and recognizes it as blood, but this time there’s no Christopher Pike ripping a napkin in half and rolling the pieces up for him to shove up his nose. He wondered if he would, if he had been there. He wondered if he was proud of him. He wondered if this was how his dad felt.

“Captain, I’ve got to call medical,” Scotty insists, nearly pleads with him. Jim shakes his head the most that he can. There’s no use. He’ll be gone before the decontamination sequence is over, he can feel death settling in his--

Bones.

Scotty seems to have the same thought as him, only he starts doing exactly what Jim doesn’t want him to do. With a few button presses, he’s opened a comm to medbay and speaking almost before it connects.

“Scott to McCoy,” he says, urgency strung in his voice. Bones replies immediately.

“McCoy here.” He sounds a little confused and a little harried, but that’s Bones, and it makes Jim’s chest feel like it’s collapsing in on itself. “What the hell’s going on? We were in freefall five minutes ago.”

No, Jim mouths, shaking his head, just a clumsy tipping from side to side, but Scotty isn’t watching him, he’s still talking to Bones, and Jim can still barely hear anything on the other side of the glass but hearing the conversation is enough to make him wish he couldn’t hear at all.

“You’d better get down here, doctor,” Scotty tells him, and Jim sighs, letting his eyes fall shut. There’s a long pause. He counts the seconds in between.

“What did he do.”

It’s not a question. Maybe it’s purely rhetorical, because it’s obvious by now what Jim did-- namely, save the ship and his crew. The real questions are how did he do it? And maybe even how is he doing?, which is not well at all. He heaves again, and sweat mats his hair to his forehead as out of the corner of his eye he catches Scotty glancing quickly over at him.

“He realigned the warp core,” he replies, swallowing. “Manually, that is. Or, I dunno how he did it, but he went in…”

He trails off, nodding at something Bones says. “Okay, doctor.” Then he leaves the console to crouch by the door, his face nearly pressed against the glass as he scrutinizes Jim in a way he can see pains him. “Flushed,” he says. “He’s sweating a lot, he’s pale but his cheeks are red-”

“Christ,” Jim hears.

He sighs. “Sorry, Bones.”

But his voice is too quiet for Bones to hear him over the channel. There’s some dramatic irony to it that way. He blinks, and when he finds the strength to open his eyes again, there’s Scotty, still watching him like a hawk with several advanced engineering degrees, only his eyes are wider now.

“I’m not a doctor,” he’s saying. “I’m not a doctor, sir, I can’t--”

“I don’t care if you’re a goddamn circus performer,” Bones’ voice crackles over the staticky, newly-restored connection, “I want you to fucking help him.”

Scotty goes quiet, snaps his mouth shut. Jim lets his eyes close again. The glass is cool against his too-warm, too-sweaty forehead, but his skin feels cold all over despite being hot. He feels sick. He knows he’s gonna die. He’s gonna die. Bones is going to get there a minute, forty-five seconds, half a minute too late, and he’s going to watch Jim’s cooling body as the decontamination sequence finishes. God, it’s going to destroy him. He’s not good with patients dying on him, even when there’s nothing he can do to help them; his heart is part of what makes him such a good doctor, but it’s also part of what makes him so bad at letting go.

“It’s okay,” Jim says. His voice is getting weaker by the second, disappearing at the end. His breath is barely fogging the glass anymore, and he has to fight for it.

He doesn’t know when, or for how long, but he drifts off, and the next time he opens his eyes, Bones is there, barking orders at Scotty. From the look on Scotty’s face, he can’t comply.

“-the compartment, Doctor,” he’s saying, and Bones’ face gets wilder, almost looking desperate. A hand slaps against the door, the soft spots looking blue through the glass. Bones wants Scotty to help him, but the only thing he could possibly do would be to open the chamber; he can’t do that, Jim realizes, without flooding the compartment.

“Bones,” he says, his voice thin and breathy. “‘S not…”

“The hell it’s not,” Bones shoots back. His eyebrows nearly meet in the middle. “Goddammit, Jim…”

Scotty turns away from the scene, busying himself with the console, though there’s nothing he can do to help, neither to save Jim’s life nor ease his suffering. Because he is suffering, but a large fraction of it is the look on Bones’ face, the way the corners of his mouth are turned sharply down in a grimace rather than in a frown. Bones hasn’t worn that expression often, if ever, at least as long as Jim’s known him.

“‘S okay,” he tries again, softer this time as Bones stares at his face like therein lies the key. “Bones?”

“Yeah-” Bones’ voice sticks in his throat. “Yeah, Jim?”

It takes a moment for Jim’s eyes to focus on him again after he blinks, and he licks his dry lips. “Y’re okay,” he tells Bones, like he’s dictating what will happen. Bones will be okay, it is decreed. Bones shall be okay. “Y’re… gonn’ be okay,” he amends.

“Jim.”

Bones is shaking his head, his eyebrows drawing up in the middle, and Jim blinks heavily up at him, taking a moment for the smudges and dark spots to clear enough to make out the lines of Bones’ face. It’s like seeing him through dirty reading glasses; Jim fights the urge to take them off, fold them up, set them on the corner of his desk. No, it’s his own sense of sight that’s fucking up. His brain must be melting out his ears or something.

The little display on the wall of the chamber beeps the five-minute mark.

“‘S gonna be… fine, Bones,” Jim whispers, reiterating what he’s already told Bones and will probably go in one ear and out the other. But he just can’t stop talking, abandon Bones to the silence he’d feared years ago on that shuttle. It does nothing to counteract the crumpled expression Bones wears now.

“Like hell, Jim, I can’t just-”

He cuts off abruptly, dragging a hand down his face and glancing quickly up at the small chrono display on his side of the chamber wall. It’s somewhere around four-minutes-something now, and it’s almost funny how close it is. How little time is left for the sequence, how little is left for Jim, so that it’ll outlive him by seconds. He drags in a slow breath at the same time as Bones does.

“Jim,” says Bones, like he can’t get enough of the feeling of Jim’s name on his lips, like he’s trying to say it as much as he can in the time he has left with him: soft, but with the force of his breath behind it. “God, Jim, darlin’, don’t do this. Jim. Please.” As if Jim’s got any choice in the matter.

Jim can only repeat what he’s already said, “‘S okay,” and “Y’re gonna be fine,” and other platitudes, knowing that if their roles were reversed and Bones was the one stuck behind the chamber door, they wouldn’t mean shit to him. All he’d want would be to get him out and, if not get him to medbay to get help, at least just sit there and hold him until it was over. He sees Bones’ eyes flit over to the clock, and his free hand run along the seam of the door.

“No,” he tells him, equal parts “Please don’t,” and “I’m sorry.” Bones shakes his head.

“Can’t just leave you there,” he replies, but his hand has fallen back to his side and his shoulders are slumped, like he’s done moving for now, like he’s finally accepted that it’s hopeless. It’s not an emotion Jim ever wants him to feel, but he’s glad Bones isn’t preoccupied anymore and can just… just be.

“Y’re not… leaving me,” Jim says. One corner of Bones’ lips quirks up, but it’s sad.

“That’s my line,” he says back. Jim laughs. It turns into something like a gurgle, and he slumps on his side, coughs up bile. He can barely feel the sting of it, but it leaves his throat even more wrecked than it had been before, and it takes him a few precious seconds to look up at Bones again.

Bones’ face is set tightly. He’s trying to keep his fear-- sadness? grief?-- out of his expression, but Jim can see it clear as day in the lines between his eyebrows and the little shake at the corners of his mouth. It’s not worth it to mention, though, and his strength is waning, so he doesn’t, just watches Bones, face slack, and tries to give him a reassuring smile before letting his eyes fall lazily closed.

“Y’ know… I l’ve you, right…?” he asks.

“Yeah, I do.” He hears a sniffle. “And you better know I love you too, Jim.”

“‘M gonna… go to sleep,” he tells him after a few more moments. Bones nods slowly.

“Yeah.” He chokes on the word. “Yeah.”

The chamber is quiet. He can hear the newly-realigned warp core humming softly, sounding like the heartbeat of the ship, and realizes for certain, now, that things are okay. The ship isn’t freefalling through the atmosphere anymore. The crew is safe. He’s good to go.

“Gonn’... go to sleep… now…”

“You do that, Jim.”

Jim thinks he nods. Little pieces of the world are slipping away from him, bit by bit, until he can’t even hear Bones on the other side of the glass.

He’s going.

Going.

Gone.


Thirty seconds later, the chronometer marks the end of the decontamination sequence.