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It happens off-ship. Away mission, uninhabited planet—Jim pushes aside a large, slightly furry palm frond and asks Bones how much longer until they find what they’re looking for.

Jim trips at the same time, stubbing his toe and nearly careening into Spock, who steadies him with a light touch to his elbow.

“Careful, Captain,” Sulu says, crouching down over the upturned rock. “This ecosystem is very delicate.”

“This ecosystem better look where it’s going,” Jim mutters. He thinks he sees Spock’s mouth curl slightly at the corners; he hasn’t let go, yet, which Jim doesn’t mind, but they are trying to keep this new thing between them on the down-low, as the old Earth saying goes. He pulls away, limping as he calls out, “Bones, you might need to amputate my foot!”

Bones is up ahead, darkly silhouetted against a pinkish sky as one sun ducks down behind the mountains and the other smaller sun creeps over the ridges. He’s facing the landing party, but Jim can’t see with the suns in his eyes—he hobbles up squinting, hand raised against the glare. “Come on,” Jim says, “what’s the deal? Andorian fangworm got your tongue?”

Jim understands that he’s a bad person for hoping it’s a worm and not Bones refusing to talk to him. He hasn’t done anything recently that would earn him the silent treatment…except maybe sleep with Spock.

“Bones?” he says again, and Bones reaches out and grabs him.

His eyes are wide, frightened wide, and he’s red in the face, throat straining and mouth open and silent. Utterly silent.

“Kirk to engineering, beam all away team members directly to sickbay,” Jim says, “Have staff nearby waiting to receive Dr. McCoy.”

“Aye, Cap’n,” Scotty’s voice hails over the sound of Spock and Sulu’s alarm. “Prepare for tractor beam.”

In the few seconds before the world around him starts spiraling, Jim tightens his grip on his friend. “Bones? Hey, Bones, deep breaths, calm down.”

The last thing he sees is Bones’ curled lip, the silent snap of, I am calm, damn it! And they’re back on the Enterprise.

~*~

“I was kidding about the worm, does he really have a worm?” Jim demands.

Bones glares up at him from the bio bed, arms crossed over his chest. Jim tries to convey back to him with his eyebrows that he would gladly stop talking over Bones’ head if he thought Bones was in any way capable of answering Jim’s questions.

“It’s not a worm,” Chapel says. She still can’t look Jim in the eye without laughing, but Jim doesn’t have time to squirm in embarrassment about their disastrous night together that sent her several leagues across the galaxy just so she could avoid having apoplectic fits around a commanding officer. (She swears that wasn't the biggest reason, that the remote outpost was also an excellent career opportunity. But it was a reason.)

She pulls up a diagram of a spikey little ball, addresses Spock, “Grytlx Suthix. Flower pollen. It seems our good doctor inhaled some on the planet.”

“We should’ve inhaled it too,” Jim says, frowning, “The rest of us can still talk.”

“Dr. McCoy is very mildly allergic,” Chapel tells the air above Jim’s head. “It seems to have temporarily paralyzed his vocal chords.”

Temporarily is good. Jim lets out a breath he hadn’t been completely aware of holding. “Okay. Can you un-paralyze them?”

She shakes her head, which is not something he can see without getting flashbacks, but whatever. “The science is too new. We could wind up permanently damaging his vocal chords or setting off a chain reaction in the pollen that might paralyze his lungs. It’s best to wait.”

Jim watches Bones’ silent grumbling for a moment, lost in the way his mouth moves without making any sound.

“Estimated time of recovery?” Spock asks, jarring him out of it.

Chapel elegantly shrugs. “The pollen is rare, but there has been some research done to determine its chemical makeup—the spaceport we’re scheduled to dock at tomorrow may also have more information that’s not in our database. There’s no reason I can find that the paralysis should last more than a few days.”

Bones glares at Jim, expression so clear Jim feels like he can hear his voice ringing in his head: Don’t you fucking dare.

Jim grins, relief making him almost dizzy. He can feel Spock brush against him, a rock wall of solidarity. “Oh,” he says, “I’m sure the time will fly by.”

Spock nudges him. “Perhaps we should let the doctor get some rest.”

“Yeah,” Jim agrees, “I have to go make a list anyway.”

He sees Bones strain up from the bio bed before Chapel shoves him back down, sees the shape of his mouth make the word JIM. But it’s fine. It’s going to be fine. So Jim is going to pretend everything’s okay until it is.

~*~

“So, I know how much you’ve been wanting sickbay to be a little more…” Jim searches for the word. “…vibrant.”

Bones does not look up from his pad. He’s been cleared for duty, mostly—it’s not like he ever had much of a bedside manner to begin with, and now he has a perfect excuse not to talk to his patients, who he’s always claimed are mostly idiots.

“I’m thinking fuchsia,” Jim says, hopping up on the foot of the next occupied bio bed. “Hey Tony.”

“Hey,” Ensign Tony Vasquez says uncertainly, then coughs and adds, “Captain.”

Bones rolls his eyes and shoves his pad into Tony’s hands, jabbing at the image of a body on the screen. “He wants you to point where it hurts,” Jim says around a bite of the best apple he’s ever had replicated. He looks up at the ceiling. “Maybe cerulean.”

“I could just—show him, sir,” Tony says, promptly flinching under the force of Bones’ glare. “You, I mean. I could show you, Dr. McCoy.”

Jim leans way over to get a look at Bones’ face, just to be sure. “Yeah, that’s his ‘My damn ears aren’t broken, goddamn it, grrr’ face.”

“Sorry, Doctor,” Tony stammers.

“And that’s his ‘I don’t need a damn translator’ face,” Jim translates. “Which is clearly a lie.”

Bones picks up his hypospray, still not looking at Jim, and makes casually threatening calculations on the data pad.

The thing is, Jim might actually believe his threats if he hadn’t perked up when Jim arrived in sickbay. All of the medical staff are tiptoeing around Bones like he’s a ghost, avoiding conversations with him like he’s incapable of responding. He can respond, the typed out instructions on his pad for Jim to GO AWAY make that abundantly clear.

So yeah, he doesn’t need Jim—to translate. But he might need Jim to be an annoying little shit so he doesn’t start throwing things at his staff. Or all of this could be in Jim’s head. He’s got nothing better to do.

Bones takes his pad, now, shoves it in Tony’s face.

“Yes, I, uh, it’s here,” Tony says, lifting up his shirt to reveal spectacular bruising along his ribs. Bones starts poking around the edges with a tricorder. “Fell off a ladder in Engineering.”

“What’d ya do that for,” Jim says in a precise imitation of a Georgian drawl. “Damn legs not workin’ too? How ‘bout your brain? Dammit, Ensign, this is just the sort of carelessness that costs lives! Don’t you got a pinch of sense in that damn fool head of yours? The whole sky could come crashing ‘round our ears at any minute but thank god we got you manning the ladders.”

Tony—bless his heart—actually tries to laugh, nervously. Which turns abruptly into a yelp when Bones’ fingers push in at his side.

Bones just stares his patient down, kind of crazy-eyed, ignoring Jim past the point of toleration.

“Don’t say anything if you agree with me about the fuchsia,” Jim whispers, and hops off the bed when Bones takes a swing with the hypo. “I knew you loved it!”

~*~

Spock is not a lot of help re: Operation Distract Bones From His Speechlessness By Taking Ruthless Advantage of the Situation. But he is, as always, really fucking awesome at kissing.

“Thank you,” Spock murmurs against his mouth. Jim makes a small noise of protest and pulls back, even though it sucks.

“Sorry, I just—it’s going to take a bit to get used to you reading my mind like that.” He does his best not to squirm; there are going to be times when his head isn’t the best place to be, and he needs to…tell Spock that. Brace him for it.

“I have shielded myself so that I am unable to read direct thoughts,” Spock says, and it probably sounds very prim on paper but Kirk grins at how breathless it is in reality.  “Feelings, however.” He pauses to kiss Jim gently, slightly off-center. “I could feel your admiration and extrapolated that you were appreciating certain of my skills. I can also tell you are distracted. Concerned.”

“For Bones?” Jim scoffs, then realizes he’s given himself away there. “Uh.”

“I share your concern for the doctor,” Spock says.

Jim believes him, mostly, but—“You guys aren’t really friends though, right? You’re always snapping at each other.”

Spock gets his thinking face on, so Jim settles back on Spock’s lap to give him some room. Spock’s hands settle on his hips, though, not letting him move too far off.

“My feelings for Leonard are…complicated.”

Leonard, Jim repeats in his head, hopefully not showing it on his face; it’s always weird to hear Bones’ real name. “Complicated how?”

If Spock were all-human, he’d be sighing and running a hand through his hair. “I am reminded of our recent expedition to Phoenix V.”

“When the locals made me and Bones get married?” Jim prompts when Spock seems to stall, not sure what else there was to remember about that trip. “Good times. They braided flowers in my hair.”

Other than that, as far as fake marriages go it’d been fine. Bones got happy drunk on something blue and Jim had to all-but carry him to their honeymoon suite, but they’d nailed the treaty the next day. It seemed like it took Bones days to get over that hangover, though.

Spock nods, eyes trailing up as if he’s remembering Jim’s floral crown. “Do you remember what they called him?”

Juala,” Jim says. “My heart.” It finally, finally sinks in. “Shit, Spock, are you jealous?

Spock shakes his head so firmly Jim—Jim has to believe him. “No. However, the metaphor seemed surprisingly apt. If he is your heart, then I am your head.”

Jim looks at him, trying not to get mad. “I do just fine with my own head and heart, thanks.”

“Jim—“

Nope, it’s a lost cause. “I’m going to go check on Bones.” He tries standing, but Spock’s hands are still on his hips. “Let go, please, so I can go check on Bones.”

Spock does let go, and follows Jim to his feet as soon as Jim clambers off his lap. “Do you want me to accompany you?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jim shrugs, “You weren’t big on distracting him anyway, so.”

Uhura is the best at reading Spock’s body language, though that hadn’t saved their relationship in the end. Even Bones is picking up on it—a few weeks ago he noticed Spock was pissed about a non-vegetarian additive in his soup before Jim even knew something was wrong. Jim is working on it, and he’s usually better than the rest of the crew; it doesn’t take a genius now to know Spock’s shoulders aren’t drooping because he’s happy.

Deep breath. “Spock, it’s okay. I just need a quick mental break.” He reaches out and touches Spock’s hand. “See you at dinner?”

Spock curls his fingers to brush the tips against Jim’s. “Yes.”

Vulcan kissing never fails to make Jim all warm and tingly; despite his best efforts, he marches off to sickbay feeling marginally better.

~*~

“Bones?”

Bones doesn’t answer, which is not unexpected at this point. But he doesn’t even glance Jim’s way, which is…okay, also not unexpected, but kind of gives Jim the heebie-jeebies.

He’s sitting on the floor in the observation deck, back propped up against one of those little couch things, looking out at the stars whizzing by in a way that would have made him sick six years ago, back at the academy in one of those stale little practice rooms. Jim took him up on spot checks every few days for two months until Bones got tired of vomiting on him and actually started keeping his meals down. He still clutched at Jim’s hand and arm the whole time, and the first few trips he made solo Jim felt the ache like Bones was still holding onto him.

It’s a weird thing to remember now, maybe; it’s definitely weird that he can feel the phantom ache building in his wrist, rubs at it while he takes a seat next to Bones on the floor.

“Hey,” he says.

Bones looks sideways at him. It’s a start.

“I hope you know that…I know this isn’t fun for you,” Jim says, hand at the back of his own neck as he ducks his head down, tilting his face towards his friend.

Bones gives him a deeply unimpressed look.

“I mean, I tease because I care.” He nudges Bones’ shoulder, then stops, struck with a sudden thought. “If anyone else is giving you a hard time—“

Bones sighs, rolling his eyes. Jim reads him clear as a bell: No, just you, jackass.

Jim grins, ignoring the tight feeling in his throat. “But you’re okay, right? You’d tell me if you weren’t okay.”

Mouth twisting in something like a smile, Bones gives him a thumbs up. It looks sarcastic. Before Jim can question him further, Bones starts tapping at the pad in his lap; he shows it to Jim once he’s finished.

IT’S ONLY A FEW DAYS, KID.

“Right,” Jim says, fighting a smile at that last word. Like Jim’s the one needing reassurance, here. He gives Bones’ shoulder another friendly bump. “I’m going to make sure those days fly by.”

Bones groans—silently, but Jim recognizes the look.

“There’s no need to use up all my best stuff right now, though,” Jim says, stretching his arms out. “Ugh, tiring work talking for two.”

FEEL FREE TO STOP, Bones’ pad says when he pokes it at Jim again.

Jim scoffs. “What would you do without me?”

Bones doesn’t say anything, and it feels a little pointed this time, but when Jim looks over Bones’ face is just tired, and kind of amused.

~*~

True to his word, the next night Jim brings out the big guns.

“Are you certain about this?” Spock asks.

Jim takes a minute to take in his—boyfriend (the word sounds insubstantial) lover? (ugh that one makes him gag) special someone (no, just no)—his Spock, his First, his Chief Science Officer, his…yeah. He looks at Spock, and then he fucking hugs him, because he hasn’t seen Spock most of the day and he missed the pointy eared bastard.

Spock gives a quiet little, “Oof,” and then his arms slide around Jim’s waist, and it’s not like Jim gets much in the way of telepathic feedback with them both fully clothed, but he thinks Spock is giving off vibes of being pleased.

“You should come hang out with me and Bones tomorrow,” Jim says, half into Spock’s shoulder. “He missed you.”

He did, too. Actually asked about him on his pad: WHERE IS THAT GREEN-BLOODED HOBGOBLIN, and when Jim kind of shrugged, HE’S USUALLY GLUED TO YOUR ASS. Which, seeing as Bones doesn’t know about them yet, had been slightly awkward and Jim had feigned a bathroom break.

Spock goes still for a moment after Jim speaks, but Jim doesn’t notice until after it’s gone. “I would like that.”

For all the people who call Jim a genius (usually followed by ‘repeat offender’) there are times like this when he wants to take his brain out and shake it. “Shit,” he says as he pulls back to look Spock in the eye, “were you keeping your distance because of me? Because of what I said about you two not being friends? That’s not my call to make, and you guys do get along—”

“Jim,” Spock says, catching him before he moves further away; he runs his thumbs over the boring round shell of Jim’s ears. “I would very much like to spend time with you and Dr. McCoy.”

Jim starts to frown. “You can hang out with him on your own, too, if you want. I didn’t mean to imply yesterday—“

Spock kisses him on the forehead, which would make Jim’s eyes roll so hard if it wasn’t Spock, if Jim didn’t know down to his toes that Spock means to say he is cherished, not being patronized. Jim lets his eyes fall shut instead, sighs out a little of his tension.

“I consider Leonard to be my friend,” Spock says, “I believe he considers me a friend as well.”

That shouldn’t make him feel as relieved as it does—the kicker is that he knew that, he knows it, anyone with eyes can see the way Spock and Bones snipe at each other shows real caring, so why did he try to turn it into a fight? Fuck, emotions are hard.

It’s kind of funny (except mostly not) that he used to be slightly jealous that Spock didn’t have to deal with shit like this. Before he knew better.

“Come on,” he says, raising his head to rally. “We’re docked for the night, I heard somewhere this spaceport has some of the best dancers in the galaxy, and we are going to make Bones forget he ever had a voice box to begin with.”

Spock doesn’t look convinced. But Spock rarely looks convinced when it comes to one of Jim’s plans.

~*~

They weren’t kidding about the dancers.

“Oh wow, I had no idea there was a species that could bend that way,” tumbles out of Jim’s mouth as he stops to stare. Bones elbows him in the back to get him moving, then grabs him by the shirt when Jim can’t tear his eyes away. “What do you call that? Quadruple jointed?”

Spock clears his throat. “I believe the Fenn’k term translates to something more akin to sextuple jointed.”

“Yeah,” Jim says, faintly, “Yeah I can see that.”

Bones smacks him upside the head. When Jim squawks he levels a finger at his face. “I wasn’t gonna,” Jim starts to protest, but Bones snorts and Jim remembers—right, Bones doesn’t know Jim isn’t single. “Not feeling it tonight,” he lies, accidentally brushing all over Spock (and Bones, but for real accidentally) as he wiggles past them to the table that just opened up.

The rest of the team follows him over, Chekov sticking close to Sulu in a way that might not be crowd jitters, but hey, good for them if they finally worked stuff out. Uhura flicks her hair at Scotty and he laughs, goes to order them a round while her eyes flick between Jim, Spock, and Bones.

She knows already, of course she does, but Spock said it was Jim’s call to tell the rest of the crew and he’s thinking tonight might be the night—what better way to keep Bones’ mind off of things than throw this curveball at him?

The light here is strange but beautiful, seems to appear at random around the room in vibrant colors instead of coming from one source; the glow moves with the music and the sway of the dancers, and whatever Scotty comes back with is purple and potent, and it comes with tiny spikey fruit balanced on the rim.

It’s almost too loud to talk, which should be great for Bones, he’s not missing out. Jim keeps catching himself watching his friend, alcohol not helping with keeping his eyes to himself. He keeps waiting for Bones to call him on it, snap, Take a hologram, it’ll last longer, or smack him again, but he doesn’t—just raises his eyebrows like he’s waiting for Jim to say something.

All day in sickbay Jim expected some kind of volcanic eruption from his friend—all that rage bottled up and nowhere for it to go. But Bones…Bones seems to have found a sort of angry zen about the whole thing. Like he’s plotting revenge.

“You know, of all the people who could stand to learn from not talking for a few days,” Uhura starts, leaning pointedly over Scotty to give Jim a look.

He’s lost the thread of their conversation, doesn’t know if this is as out of the blue as it feels, but an offended, “Hey!” seems like the right call.

Uhura ignores him, turns her attention on Bones. “Plenty of species get by just fine without speaking. Deaf and mute humans, too. You should learn sign language.” Her head rolls toward her shoulder—Jim knows the feeling, thinks he might be leaning too heavily into Spock. Whatever’s in these drinks packs a hell of a punch.

Bones makes quacky duck fingers and then mimes trying to slice someone open while still quacking. It’s hilarious. Jim thinks it’s hilarious.

Uhura scowls.

“My grandma was deaf,” Sulu volunteers. “And she was a top chef at a five star restaurant in New New York for fifty years.” He shrugs. “You train people to look for visual cues instead of verbal ones, make it work for you.”

Bones looks indignant, probably at the thought of modern medicine not being able to fix simple deafness, but he gets a look at Sulu’s face and shuts his mouth. Not that he could’ve said anything anyway.

That stupid ache in Jim’s arm has worked its way into his chest. Jim takes another gulp trying to burn it away.

The topic veers without Bones to keep it on track, and Jim opens his mouth to say—something, he doesn’t know, but Bones stands up and points at the sign in the back for the bathroom, slips away into the crowd before seeing if anyone saw what he was going to do.

“That’s not—“ safe, Jim starts to say, but the word gets lost somewhere.

Sulu seems to hear it anyway. “He’s a grown man,” he tells Jim, like Jim doesn’t know, “and this isn’t his first time at an intergalactic space bar.”

“Yeah,” Jim says, but he’s tense, hyper aware of where Bones is in the crowd, even when Spock smooths a hand down his back. He tries to relax into Spock’s touch—it’s just, Bones can’t call for help if he needs it.

“Soooo,” Sulu says, raising one very well-maintained eyebrow (and this coming from the guy who sometimes stares at Spock’s forehead in wonderment). “You two? This is a thing?” he says, gesturing between them with his drink.

Oops. And shit, because he can’t exactly put it off. “Well, Bones was supposed to be here for the big announcement,” Jim says, rubbing the back of his neck. Spock’s arm goes around his waist, and it is a little easier to sink into him, Spock’s warmth seeping into his skin. “But yeah,” Jim says, tilting his head back. He finds a smile for Spock, and it isn’t even hard to come by. “Yup, we’re a thing.”

“Congratulations!” Chekov cheers, lifting his glass in a toast. “I win pool!” Scotty and Sulu groan.

“What pool?

“Are you truly surprised?” Spock asks, voice rumbling all down Jim’s back.

Jim thinks about it. “Okay, no.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Uhura says, “Hold up. Are we going by the date they announced their big gay romance or the day they actually got together?”

“Announce!” Chekov insists, banging his hand on the table.

“Nyota, you…?” Spock starts quietly, and Jim’s hand finds his knee before Uhura can even shake her head.

“No,” she says, reaching over to give Spock’s hand a squeeze. Her smile is real, and kind of sad, but Jim can’t find any hurt or jealousy there. “I didn’t place a bet.”

“I’ve got to find Bones and tell him, okay?” Jim says, reluctantly pulling away from Spock to get his unsteady feet on the floor. Sometimes he forgets how warm Spock is until he’s left shivering and feeling kind of…bereft. “Be right back.”

“One moment please,” Chekov insists in his slowly thickening accent, raising his glass even higher, “Is bad luck to leave table without toasting new relationship!”

“Perfect timing,” Scotty says, waving over a waitress with beautiful blue antennae and a tray full of viscous-looking shots. “Slàinte!”

The shot slithers down his throat like acid, and Jim knows he checked before sending his people down in shifts that the bar doesn’t sell anything that would be lethal for his crew, but this makes him wonder. Spock, who never makes faces at an alcoholic burn, delicately coughs. Scotty and Chekov sneeze. Sulu looks like he’s in the same sputtering boat as Jim—Uhura is smugly sipping at her shot and showing her teeth—so Jim claps his helmsman on the back as he leaves.

The buzz, though. The buzz is pretty fantastic. Happiness fizzles from his core down to the tips of his fingers, sparking as he bumps into people in the crowd. They’re happy too. Everyone is happy. This is the happiest bar Jim has ever fucking been to.

Bones is the one dark cloud in the room full of…other, happy clouds. Jim doesn’t understand how anyone could be that scowly with such a gorgeous woman on his lap, with her head tilted back laughing like she just pulled him down into her seat.

“Bones!” Jim hears himself say the word after he says it, confused by how he can talk while he’s grinning so hard.

Bones looks up, wide-eyed and flustered, the way he always is around women when they start petting his hair. He opens his mouth, shuts it, pointedly glowers.

“Is this your friend?” another beautiful lady says, appearing on Bones’ right. Jim isn’t sure if she’s always been there, but there seem to be more of her—of her friends, including the blonde in Bones’ lap.

“He won’t tell us his name,” the blonde pouts, drawing her finger over the rough five o’clock shadow on Bones’ chin. Jim has to be imagining that he can hear the scrape of it. “Is he shy?”

Jim, Bones says, but doesn’t say, because he can’t. Jim still knows the shape of his own name.

“You have no idea,” Jim says, trying to lean on a chair and almost missing his grip on the back. It’s so strange—he doesn’t feel drunk anymore, his head is clear like an empty bowl. “Traumatic event,” he shrugs, cool as a peach, “He’s gonna take a lot of coaxing, ladies.”

I AM GOING TO MURDER YOU, Bones mouths, obvious enough that Jim can almost hear him in his head.

“Ladies,” Jim says, “you are looking at the Doctor Leonard McCoy.” He stresses the Doctor a bit too, why the hell not. “Chief Medical Officer of the Starship Enterprise. He once saved thirteen thousand Tulusian babies by smuggling them inside serum containers for a deadly vaccine. He singlehandedly invented the cure for pancreatic epilepsy in insectoid life forms. And—“ Jim pauses for effect, because this is the fucking big one: “He once brought a grown man back from the dead. It’s true, it’s true,” he promises to their gasps of disbelief. “I am living proof that this man—“ He points at Bones’ red face. “—can perform miracles.”

Bones is staring at him. Jim only knows thanks to blurred peripheral vision; he can’t make himself look at Bones directly. He doesn’t think Bones is smiling.

“Enjoy!” Jim tells them, and he can’t look at the women either, fuck, looking at things is kind of hard.

Which is probably why he walks directly into Spock. He thinks he took a lot of steps away from Bones and the ladies, but he isn’t sure how many—he lifts his head to as Spock about it but Spock is unsteady on his feet, green flush along his cheeks.

“Whoa,” Jim says, reaching up to touch—his skin is almost hot, leaves Jim’s fingertips pink. “You okay?”

Spock takes his hand and…nuzzles it, there is no other word. Jim feels the heat swoop down into his belly, feels dizzy from it. “Holy shit,” Jim breathes.

“I am well,” Spock murmurs against his knuckles, before pressing a kiss to the middle one, where it’s scarred from the bar fight that lead him here, to space. “Did you speak with Leonard?”

“So weird hearing you call him that,” Jim whispers, distracted by how close Spock is. Then he shakes himself. “Uh, yeah. I think it went pretty good. I probably got him laid.” He grins up at Spock, at his lifted eyebrow, which suddenly dips down into a frown.

“He does not looked pleased,” Spock says.

“Hmm?” Jim turns, because it feels great moving with Spock’s hands on his hips, and maybe they can dance.

This fishbowl clarity means he’ll remember everything later in excruciating detail—the red fury on Bones’ face draining to shocked pallor, his lips parting silently out of genuine speechlessness; the way he gently disentangles himself from the women and leaves, without looking back, all while Jim sways to some imaginary tune in Spock’s arms, too drunk to remember why Bones would look at him like that, like Jim just slapped him in the face.

~*~

Jim twists over the edge of the bed, heaves.

Sheer dumb luck lands last night’s stomach contents in the bin that has until now only been used for condoms and tissues. It’s a bitch of a winning streak to break.

Jim spits, keeps his eyes closed, breathes through the wreckage of his mouth. God, he hasn’t had a hangover since joining Starfleet. Bones has always made sure to hypo them both with a cocktail of hydrating fluids and liver boosters, why wouldn’t he—

Oh.

Oh fuck.

Jim drags his aching body out of bed, bin clutched in his hands in case he can’t make it to the bathroom. He closes the door behind him, leans against it and waits for his legs to stop shaking. When that doesn’t work he cleans out the bin, waits to see if he’s got any more to throw up—doesn’t, can’t tell if it’s because it’d take too much effort—then brushes his teeth until his gums feel raw, and drags himself into the shower.

Somehow the sonic pulses don’t make him feel any cleaner.

The resonance is low enough that he should hear Spock come in, but he doesn’t realize he has company until the brief, quiet knock against the shower door. Jim turns off the frequency and knuckles the button to slide the door open. Not too long ago in earth’s history showers used to douse people in water—Jim wishes they still had that option on the enterprise. It’d be nice to look as half-drowned as he feels.

Spock isn’t looking so great either—Jim had no idea Vulcans could even get bags under their eyes. He isn’t green around the gills, the flush that would characterize a healthy Vulcan, but he looks pale, and tired, and sad.

“I fucked up, Spock,” Jim says, swallowing against the rasp in his voice.

Spock reacts, he does, but Jim can’t read the expression flickering across his face, and when Spock reaches for him he flinches back. “Shit, I’m sorry,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut, “I’m sorry, it’s just. Touch telepath.”

Even with his eyes closed he can feel Spock going withdrawn, and he shakes his head as hard as he can, blinks his eyes back open even when they want to stick. “It’s not the touching,” he swears, needs Spock to believe him because—he can’t fuck this up too, has to use real words. “I would really like some touching right now. But, uh. It’s not pretty up here.” He knocks a knuckle against his head and immediately wishes he hadn’t. “I know you can do that shielding thing…”

He leaves off the but, sure Spock can hear it unsaid. Spock can lock down his mind when he touches someone, keep himself entirely…himself. It really isn’t that Jim doesn’t trust him to keep out of Jim’s head—the many, many pamphlets Spock made him read on mental privacy at the start of their relationship that were probably hand-picked for him by Uhura say otherwise—but Jim doesn’t trust himself not to shout his thoughts at Spock loud enough that Spock won’t be able to shield hard enough.

Spock nods like he gets it, though, and Jim’s eyes feel hot and pinprick-y when Spock drapes a washcloth over his hand and offers it to Jim anyway. “Clothes?” Spock suggests, eyebrow quirked a little, and Jim bobs his head in hopeless gratitude.

Spock is already in pajamas—wears something similar under his uniform, too, to make up for those few degrees difference between Starfleet regulation temperatures and Vulcan comfort levels. Jim finds a pair of black gym pants in the back of a drawer and a grey long-sleeved shirt he doesn’t remember buying from his academy years. The shoulders are a little stretched out, but it’s soft and covers enough of his skin to lean into Spock, rest his face against Spock’s shoulder while Spock’s arms hold him tight.

“Not too much?” Jim asks, mouth smushed against Spock’s collarbone but unwilling to move.

Spock is careful not to let their heads touch when he shakes his. “Only impressions of your emotional state. Will you,” he starts, and Jim can feel his throat click. “Do you wish to talk about it?”

Jim really hates that Spock has to ask. But yeah, he’s not surprised that Spock expects a brush off. If Jim was dating the loosest canon in the federation he’d be braced for all the emotional availability of a rock, too.

“I think I forgot to tell Bones we’re dating,” he says. “But I think he probably figured it out when he saw us groping each other on the dance floor. So there’s that.” He swallows dry. “I also brought up that thing we don’t talk about while trying to impress some women into sleeping with him.”

Spock goes very still, muscles locked. Jim doesn’t think he could pull away if he tried, but he doesn’t want to, and Spock obviously doesn’t want him going anywhere either. “By…” Spock says, barely audible, voice tightly controlled, “You mean…”

“When I died,” Kirk whispers, though that won’t take the sting out of it. It’s been a long couple of years since then, and Jim knows he’s probably the best adjusted of the group, as fucked up as it is. Uhura, Scotty, god, Bones—Jim has never had to live with any of them dead.

Twenty one minutes, Bones had snarled at him once, when Jim was still in the hospital and wouldn’t let it go. He’d been the same furious red that Jim had drunkenly mistaken for embarrassment last night. Misery floods up the back of Jim’s neck, hot enough Spock drags in a breath, hands spasming against Jim’s back.

“I’m sorry,” Jim says, hopes Spock can hear it. “How do I tell him how sorry I am?”

He doesn’t say—because it sounds childish and small—You’re supposed to be my head. Teach me how to fix my heart.

“Talk to him,” Spock says, his own voice low and firm.

Jim nods against Spock’s shoulder. “And if he won’t listen?”

“Then you should contact me.” Spock pulls back enough to look Jim in the eye, his expression calm and serious. “I will make an attempt.”

His thumbs are drawing warm circles over the tension in Jim’s shoulderblades. “Do you want to kiss me?”

Spock lifts a teasing eyebrow. “Is your mouth sufficiently clean?”

Jim makes a face. “Don’t remind me, Christ, now I don’t even want to kiss me—“

Spock kisses him, and Jim keeps his lips closed just in case, but it’s warm and sweet and calming. Really calming.

“Are you doing your telepathic thing to calm me down?” Jim asks when Spock pulls back, wondering if he should be annoyed. “Taking away my anxiety or whatever?”

“I will never take anything from you,” Spock says, hands pausing their slow glide down Jim’s arms to gently squeeze at his wrists, well above the cuff. “Only give.”

Jim groans, giving up the fight to rest his head against Spock’s. Mental privacy is for—other times, he doesn’t have the words to vocalize how much he, he loves Spock. Fucking adores him, even when he drives Jim crazy.

Spock goes still like maybe he thinks it was an accident, the skin-contact, but Jim holds his ground and feels Spock’s tension bleed out under his hands. He can feel Spock giving back—love, affection, an earnest belief in Jim’s ability to fix even his biggest mistakes.

“I’m sorry I don’t know what to call you,” Jim admits all in a rush. “’Boyfriend’ feels like I’m back in eighth grade—“

Spock’s amusement hums through their skin. T’hy’la, Jim hears inside his head before Spock says it. “T’hy’la. It means friend, brother, lover.” He punctuates each word with a kiss that keeps lingering.

Friend, brother, lover. Head, heart, body. Lots of things coming in threes, Jim thinks in the back of his head, and feels Spock’s tentative excitement.

~*~

Chapel looks him in the eye, which is not a good sign.

“He’s in his office,” she says, “But he doesn’t want to talk to you.”

“Thanks,” Jim says anyway, edging around her.

He spends half an hour pushing the open button every few seconds, hoping Bones will get annoyed enough by the ding to let him in. When that doesn’t work he leaves. And comes back with his override code, because goddamn it—

But the office is empty.

“Oops,” says Chapel.

Jim sighs.

Bones’ badge—containing the locator beacon the computer tracked here—is on his desk, so Bones is actively being difficult to find. Jim checks his quarters anyway, checks the botany bay. Goes back to sickbay to face Chapel's glare again, and he’s still not here, but that’s not why Jim came back.

“Is his voice any better?” he asks Chapel. “Did he say anything to you about being better?”

She visibly thinks about ignoring a direct question from the Captain of the Enterprise, but eventually she does shake her head. “No change in this morning’s checkup.”

He could really use some calm from Spock right now, but Jim does what he can to unclench his back teeth. “This is day three,” he says. Chapel’s hands on her hips say she doesn’t need the reminder. “Are you still sure it’s temporary?”

She looks at him, blue eyes very sure. “Yes.”

“But he can’t talk now,” Jim says. “And he doesn’t have his badge to signal for help.”

Chapel raises her eyebrows. “Are we expecting an attack? Here in the neutral zone, in the middle of nowhere?”

“Space is dangerous,” Jim snaps, choking back the full quote, pretty much the first thing Bones ever said to him—before he was Bones, just some guy who might throw up on Jim but by far the most interesting misfit on the shuttle.

Now Chapel just looks sad for him, which was probably the feeling she’s always been hiding behind her laughter, ever since that really terrible time they tried to sleep together. Jim stands there and takes it—because he earned it, and he’s hoping for a scrap, anything to get him back on Bones’ trail.

“Let him cool off,” is what she says. Jim does his best not to sigh. “I don’t know what you did, but take it from someone who knows—give him some time to be mad at you.”

Jim thinks of what Chapel did, left for a career on the farthest reaches of the galaxy, and feels a wash of cold panic. She hesitantly pats his shoulder, then turns, gets on with her day.

~*~

Jim comms Spock, lets him know, “Bones doesn’t want to be found by me.”

Spock hums thoughtfully. “It seems logical, then, to return to your regular schedule—“

Jim sighs at Spock’s bridge voice. “Spock.”

“—and see if the doctor is more amenable to the idea of being found by me.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jim says because he’s run out of options that aren’t running through the halls screaming Bones’ name. “Thanks. Kirk out.”

He goes up to the bridge, where he should’ve been an hour ago. Populated as it is by most of last night’s party, no one seems surprised. Uhura is blatantly wearing a sleep mask, though she doesn’t seem to be actively sleeping.

“Captain,” Sulu grunts, from his slump at the helm. He still has his hands exactly where they need to be if the Enterprise has to kick out of autopilot, so Jim sees no problems there.

“Whoever dimmed the lights in here is getting a raise,” Jim announces; he hadn’t even realized how badly he’d been squinting until he didn’t need to anymore. He drops in his own chair, fingers pushing at the throbbing in his temples. “Report?”

“Quietly, sir,” Chekov begs.

“Oh. Right. Report?” Jim asks again, and lets himself be comforted by Uhura’s much put-upon sigh.

They’re all feeling a lot more human by the time lunch shift rolls around—or at least, Jim is feeling better until he spots Spock at their regular table…sitting with Bones.

Uhura’s hand—which always looks so delicate and always leaves him feeling bruised—catches his arm before he can lurch forward like he wants to. “They look busy,” she says, and they do.

Bones looks tired and hunched forward over the pad he and Spock are passing between them, and he’s in uniform, which makes Jim want to scowl; if Bones is playing hooky then he should be wearing something else, something soft and grey and long-sleeved, like…well, shit.

“Let’s go eat with engineering today,” Uhura says, nocking elbows like it’s a spontaneous decision, and not a distraction from the way she’s herding him along in the mess hall line. “I bet Scotty feels like death warmed over.”

“Scotty never gets hung over,” Jim says distantly, trying to see around her ponytail to catch Spock’s eye. They could be playing Angry Andorians for all he knows, with the intensity and the speed they’re shuffling the pad back and forth.

“Trust me,” Uhura says as she forcibly links her arm with his. “He drank two more of those shots after you left. I’ll be surprised if he’s mobile.”

Scotty is, in fact, drooling into his sandwich. It takes Cupcake and Jim to sit him upright, and three of the Engineering newbies help Cupcake carry Scotty down to sickbay on Jim’s orders. By the time their table’s settled again Jim looks around for Spock and Bones, they’re gone.

Chekov and Sulu start trading bites, and it’s nothing they haven’t done before but there’s suddenly nothing Jim wants more than to go hide somewhere dark and quiet, people-free.

“Eat your food,” Uhura orders, so he does that instead.

~*~

Food helps. A lot. So much that Jim comms down to sickbay and recommends they get some food in Scotty, because whatever was in their system last night melts away under the force of complex carbs.

He goes back to the bridge. He checks on Engineering, checks with the guy they’re training to be Scotty’s second so Chekov “newar newar newar has to do that again. Keptin.”

He says so little that he starts wondering if he caught Bones’ muteness somehow and didn’t notice, if it’s debilitating, if he’s fixating on that extremely slim possibility because he’s trying not to think about other…people. And things.

Jim shakes himself off and goes to the gym, where talking is vaguely taboo anyway and he can get out of his own head. He runs until his legs feel rubbery and his lungs are burning, throws his uniform over his shoulder and heads to his quarters to shower because this morning’s clothes smell like old sweat and bad memories.

It takes him three whole seconds after the door closes to realize Spock is sitting on the couch with Bones. It takes two more seconds to play back what he just saw and realize Bones had snatched his hands away from Spock’s.

And six more seconds to realize why.

“Heyyy,” Jim says, caught half-way between a greeting and a question. “Uh. You two. Vulcan kissing?”

Bones puts his head in his hands, which does nothing to hide the bright red tips of his ears.

“Jim,” Spock says. He starts to stand, looks at his companion on the couch, and thinks better of it, keeping his body angled between Bones and the door.

“Someone with a working voice want to explain what’s going on?” Jim asks. He’s waiting for the dread to kick in, other shoe to drop. But Spock looks happy, excited, unmistakably smiling.

“We were determining our sexual compatibility.” Spock shifts to look at Bones—on anyone else it would be an outright beaming grin. “I think we were progressing quite well.”

“Oh…kay,” Jim says, “Why?”

Bones hunches down, head almost to his knees.  At another time it might have been a pained groan, but all Jim hears is a faint wheeze.

“Bones, hey, Bones,” Jim says, dropping down on the other side of the couch, hand on Bones’ back. “Hey, buddy, can you breathe?”

Bones moves his hands just enough that Jim can see him lift his eyebrow and glare.

Jim snatches his hand away. “Right, you’re mad at me.”

Bones drags himself upright, then collapses back into the couch with a dramatic sigh, like Jim is just so vexing. Then he looks at Jim, and shakes his head.

“No?” Jim repeats, baffled.

Bones makes a face, waffles his hand back and forth, then marks an inch between his first finger and thumb.

“Little bit,” Jim translates. Bones nods. He gestures between Jim and Spock, gives a thumbs up and a grimace of a smile. “Oh come on.”

I’m very happy for you, Bones thumbs insist. Just look how happy I am.

“Bones.”

“Leonard.” Either Jim hit his head or he’s coming around to the way Spock says Bones’ name—especially now, when it sounds one note off from his bridge voice.

Bones looks at them both, rolls his eyes, mouth moving like he’d be grumbling under his breath if he could. He sits up straighter, muscle clenching in his jaw, and his eyes—green and brown, Jim has always wondered what color you call that, when it mostly looks impossible—staring at Jim like he can carve words directly into his brain.

There’s a flutter of movement in Jim’s periphery, and he’s still processing what looks like Spock resting a hand on Bones’ knee when suddenly…suddenly Bones leans over, and kisses Spock.

Empirically, Jim has been in worse situations. He’s been paid real money to give talks on how to handle high stress and high stakes. He tried to stop a planet from imploding and failed, ground zero with Vulcan’s dust in his mouth, and while this isn’t as bad as that—thank god—the ringing in his ears is the same.

It looks gentle, the kiss, not chaste or perfunctory or, or anything but what it is: sweet. Spock’s lashes are dark against his cheek and there’s a smile curled in the corner of the mouth he’s using to coax Bones’ lips a little wider, which Bones does like he’s rising to a challenge.

“You,” Jim starts, voice stripped bare, and he doesn’t know how to finish but then there’s a mouth against his, human warm and lightly stubbled around the edges and Jim feels it like an electric shock when it sinks in, when it clicks that this is Bones.

Bones is kissing him. Bones is kissing him.

Jim has to be hallucinating the taste of Spock on Bones’ mouth—for so many reasons, least of all the fact that Bones is keeping his tongue to himself and Jim can’t remember ever having a tongue to begin with. Jim isn’t even aware that he’s flinging out a hand reaching for Spock until Spock catches it, holds him tight as Bones pulls away.

Jim makes a wordless sound of protest—at everything, genius does him jack shit kinds of good when it feels like the ship’s tilting on its axis—and Spock gives his hand a comforting squeeze. He doesn’t send Jim any of that calm, though, which…Jim appreciates a lot, actually. He’s having a hard time dealing with his own emotions.

It takes a few tries to get Spock’s name out. “What just happened?”

Bones gives him a look—he’s flushed all over, pink like one of those Georgia sunsets he keeps bragging about—that clearly says he knows Jim is smarter than this. Jim knows the words he’d use if he was saying it out loud: Come on, kid, your head’s big enough to hold more than just air.

Jim looks to Spock a little desperately, because he wants to kiss Bones again, and that shouldn’t be allowed. Spock’s lips quirk; before Jim remembers that telepathy works skin-to-skin, he hears Spock’s voice whisper through his mind, It is permitted. And then, warmer, like Spock is wrapping him in an embrace, It is encouraged.

Jim shakes his head because—this is impossible. And Bones, because he missed out on what Spock said, recoils.

“No!” Jim yelps, other hand flying out to grab Bones, keep him close. It’s so, so strange with Bones this silent, everything seems clearer on his face—wary and hurt, hiding it badly. “I just—give me a second to wrap my head around everything.”

He feels a flicker of amusement from Spock, a remembrance of that whole head/heart metaphor; Spock apparently considers himself already well-wrapped.

Bones mouths something; he has to do it three times before he flicks Jim in the head, makes him pay attention to more than just the shape of his lips. His hand circles Jim’s wrist, pulls his bare arm closer and starts writing with the faint scratch of his nail. Jim watches the letters appear and pretends he’s not shivering.

Y-O-U  N-E-V-E-R-?

Jim swallows, makes himself speak even though his tongue feels thick. “Never thought of you like that?” He meets Bones eyes, watches him give a careful nod, watches his face fall when Jim shakes his head. “I couldn’t, I—some days it felt like you were the only thing keeping me from running out of there screaming. You’re my best friend and I didn’t—I would’ve fucked us up. And I didn’t know you—“ had feelings for me, he can’t quite say, because it still feels impossible.

Bones gives him a look, and it’s a look Jim’s seen a hundred million times before—tired and amused, fond. He takes Jim’s arm back, traces out the letters upside down and backwards: M-E  T-O-O.

“What about—this?” Jim says, hating the almost squeak in his voice as he gestures between Bones and Spock, Spock and Bones. “When did you…?” He doesn’t even know which one he’s talking to.

“My interest in Leonard began almost simultaneously with my interest in you,” Spock says, eyebrow quirked. “In fact, both involved copious amounts of grudging respect and increased patience with illogical behavior.”

Normally, here’s where Bones would quip back something about a hobgoblin, but handicapped as he is Bones reaches out and socks Spock on the arm.

That’s was cinches it, more than anything Jim has seen this far—it’s such a playground gesture, playful bullying disguising blatant affection. Bones has been manhandling Jim since they met, forcibly dragged him onto the Enterprise and probably saved the whole damn galaxy because he wouldn’t leave Jim behind.

“Okay,” Jim says, and then again, louder, because Spock was distractedly rubbing at his arm and looking all surprised and pleased and he missed it. “Okay.”

Bones’ entire face lights up with a sweet, beaming grin. “You’re amenable to our proposal, then?” Spock says, something sparkling in his eyes.

“Well,” Jim drawls, “I’m currently having a hard time remembering any actual proposing, but I bet you two could come up with a way to remind me.”

Bones gets him in a headlock, and Jim goes willingly, laughing, half-sprawled in Bones lap when he feels Spock’s fingers on his chin, and lets himself be led into a kiss.

~*~

The catch they don’t tell you about on the command track in Starfleet is that being Captain (or First Officer, or Chief Medical Officer) means you can’t have enthusiastic three-way sex in the middle of the day.

“No, not even in the ‘middle of nowhere,’” Spock says, omitting Jim’s expletives. “Shirking evening duties sets a poor precedent for the crew.”

Jim lets their knuckles brush but doesn’t try to take Spock’s hand—Spock gets flustered at personal displays of affection outside of their respective quarters, even here in the turbo lift where no one else can see. “Are you really okay with this?” Jim asks, not thinking about what he’ll do if the answer is no. Spock is first, Spock has to come first, and Jim can’t stop thinking about the way Bones had whistled when he’d headed off to sickbay, lilting and happy and so pleased with himself that he can still make noise that way.

Spock takes his hand, lifts it to his lips, and brushes a kiss against Jim’s knuckles. Jim shuts his mouth, not entirely sure when it fell open. “Yes,” Spock says, “I am…very pleased and relieved that circumstances are aligning favorably.” His eyes meet Jim’s and hold them. “I hope you understand that I would have been, and continue to be, astonishingly content in your presence alone.”

“I do—Commander,” Jim adds, clearing his throat when the lift doors open and they pull apart out of habit. He gives Spock a curt, captainly nod, makes sure his fingertips brush against Spock’s in a kiss before he steps onto the bridge. “I do understand.”

“I am glad that you do, Captain,” Spock says, hands clasped behind his back and the tips of his ears very faintly green.

~*~

Bones waits at the door when he chimes instead of listening to Jim’s hollered “Enter!” half-tangled up in his shirt. Jim answers the door with his hair fluffed in every direction, and it apparently does nothing to smother the smirk curling Bones’ mouth.

“Hi,” Jim says, feeling like he just stumbled onto his first Starfleet shuttle all over again.

Bones whistles, low and appreciative. It’s corny as hell and calms Jim like a hand on his chest.

He rolls his eyes. “Shut up,” he says, grabs Bones’ by the front of his shirt, and hauls him inside. The doors slide shut, and Jim isn’t sure if he meant to pull Bones into a kiss or if it’s Bones’ idea to be so close, but either way they’re chest-to-chest and Bones leans in with a sigh that would’ve rumbled through them both if it could have.

Bones’ hands settle higher than Jim expects, wide doctor’s hands bracketing Jim’s ribs as they expand.

“So Spock? Really?” Jim pulls back far enough to say.

Bones huffs, jabs Jim in the side.

“Yeah, okay, I know I’m one to talk,” Jim says, feeling his cheeks heat. “I’m just…checking.”

Bones gives him a look, somehow patient and pitying, and starts pushing Jim’s sleeve up his arm. “I should just get you a pen,” Jim grumbles good-naturedly. “Could probably find one in an antique store somewhere…”

Bones flicks him between the eyes, just enough to get his attention. 1-S-T  T-I-M-E, he writes in faint red lines across Jim’s skin, fading to nothing.

“First time…we met Spock?” Jim guesses. Bones nods, looks exceedingly patient.

Jim thinks back—tribunal, stiff dress-reds, everyone watching and none of them seeing Jim at all (except Bones), all of them staring at George Kirk’s son and coming up short. He remembers the distress call sending everyone scattering, adrenaline still hot and angry in his mouth as he wondered who the hell that pointy-eared bastard was. Remembers Bones saying, “I don’t know…but I like him.”

“Oh,” Jim says. Bones raises his eyebrows, agreeing.

There’s probably more, and Jim will have to wait for Bones’ voice to come back to get the whole story, but he remembers the way he’d hated Spock a little bit more at the time because of Bones’ flippant admiration. He’s self-aware enough now (after many long years of working at it) to realize that was jealousy.

“Bet you’re looking forward to getting your voice back, huh?” Bones’ look is half-questioning, half-no-shit. Jim doesn’t fight back a lopsided grin. “I’m going to set aside a whole day and let you rant it all out.”

After a moment Bones’ expression goes soft, a little wry.

“Yeah, okay,” Jim says, ducking his head, “I miss you.”

He thinks he means to end it, miss you yelling at me, but he can’t. Then Bones is kissing him, hard enough Jim doesn’t have to hear him say, I’m right here, Jim, I’m right here.

For a second he confuses the door opening with the sound of blood rushing in his ears—not that that isn’t happening too. He definitely hears Spock’s quiet inhale, though, and the sound of the door very quickly shutting.

Jim peeks to make sure Spock is on this side of the door, and he is, and his eyes are wide and dark.  And Jim knows he would put the brakes on in an instant if Spock showed even a flicker of jealousy—and he’s slowly coming to the realization that Bones would too—but Spock just looks, well, hungry.

“I see you have begun without me,” he says, voice one step up from a pleased growl.

And Bones—god, Bones rakes his gaze up Spock’s body so heatedly it makes Jim’s knees go weak.

Spock moves behind Bones, hands sliding down his sides in a slow drag to rest at his hips. Jim gets his feet back under him watching the play of emotion across Bones’ face, the brief confusion displaced by the feeling of Spock’s touch. Maybe he thought Spock would fit himself to Jim’s back, kiss Jim’s neck the way he’s kissing Bones’ now—the flash of teeth and plush, giving slide of his lips against not-quite-bitten skin. But no, this is good, it’s right that Bones is bracketed between them.

Jim ducks down to kiss along the trail Spock’s left, and Bones shudders, twists his head and finds Spock’s mouth first, kisses him while Jim makes room. He trails his thumb down the tendon in Bones’ neck as it stands in stark relief, watching them kiss, rough with each other in a way that should look like fighting for dominance but instead looks like wrestling for the joy of touching.

Spock lets out the growl he usually only makes when Jim is on his knees, and it ricochets through Jim, makes him pull back. “Wait,” he croaks out, “Wait, pause.”

Bones blinks his eyes open as Spock draws back, more brown than green, and Spock’s eyes almost black.

“We’ve got to,” Jim starts, has to swallow before he can continue. “We should have a signal, something, Bones needs a way to say stop if he wants, we can’t hear him.”

Bones has a bit of that don’t-pander-to-me-kid face on, but Spock pulls away immediately, despite Bones’ silent hey. “Yes, I.” Spock clears his throat, straightens the hem of his shirt. “Of course. That is highly logical.”

Bones lets his eyebrows fall in an exaggerated deadpan. Look what you did, his expression says, You broke the Vulcan.

But Jim is only guessing. In the heat of the moment he might not be able to read Bones’ face as well as he thinks he can—or Bones, being Bones, might grit his teeth and bear whatever since he can’t ask for something different.

He mimes kicking Jim in the leg. Jim narrows his eyes. “You might just kick me because of how much we’re rocking your world.”

Bones snorts, but, Jim reminds himself, Bones has no fucking idea how good they are in bed.

Spock clears his throat. “I have a possible solution, which you may, of course, decline.”

Bones’ eyebrows lift again. Jim wishes they were less fascinating than they are.

He tears his eyes away and settles them on Spock, who looks nervous for the first time since they started all this. “You and I have discussed my touch telepathy and your comfort levels in regards to how shielded I remain,” Spock says to Bones, adding for Jim’s benefit, “Before Jim joined us this afternoon.”

“Ah,” Jim says, because he feels like someone should say something, and Bones is just frowning in confusion. Also, he remembers the conversation Spock had with him about it, wouldn’t even let Jim kiss him before the whole speech on respecting Jim’s privacy to his own emotions. Bones probably really appreciated the lecture; Jim did too, eventually, once he had time to think of anything other than wanting to make out with Spock until he forgot how to function.

“If you were comfortable with slightly less shielding, I would be able to tell when you felt distress. It would be my honor to vocalize that distress for you, until a time when you are more capable of vocalizing it yourself.”

Bones looks thoughtful, so Jim steps in to clarify. “Like, just the feelings part, not actual thoughts?”

“Yes,” Spock says.

There’s this expression creeping in on Bones face that says he’s still going to argue needing any distress signal. “You can kick me if you want,” Jim blurts. God, talking about feelings is exhausting. He makes himself meet Bones’ gaze head-on anyway. “But you’ve got to have something.”

Bones is thoughtful a moment more, then he reaches out, rests a hand on Spock’s waist. Watching his face for objections, he slowly shifts his hand up, fingertips slipping beneath his shirt, until his whole hand is splayed against Spock’s skin. He’s surgically steady, all of his brilliant focus locked on Spock, waiting for a reaction.

Spock’s lips part. He might as well be heaving in a breath, and Bones looks like he understands. But he still frowns a little, pokes Spock with his free hand and makes a grabbing motion.

“That looks like he wants it to go both ways,” Jim says, relaxing a little. Bones gives an insistent nod, and Jim channels his relief into fitting himself to Bones’ back, nuzzling against his neck.

“Further negotiation,” Spock begins, but stops abruptly when Bones tilts his head back, lets Jim gently catch the lobe of Bones’ ear between his teeth.

“Are you good with it?” Jim asks Bones, who nods firm enough Jim worries for his neck muscles. “Are you?” Jim asks Spock, holding his gaze, careful not to do anything distracting. Spock’s nod is slower to come, but no less decisive; a green flush is creeping up his neck.

“Negotiations achieved,” Jim announces, and slides his hand into Bones’ pants.

A sharp huff of air that would’ve been a curse bursts out of Bones’ mouth, but his head lolls back against Jim’s shoulder, hips canting into the touch. He isn’t fully hard, but Jim—Jim is more than glad to get him there, strokes him root to tip and fights back the frisson of panic that is actually taking this step with Bones. He buries his face in Bones shoulder, breathes in that spicy, clean scent he woke up to too many times in the academy, crashed in the wrong bed after a hard night out and Bones too lazy to move.

Spock is suddenly much, much closer, eyes dark and intent, though he doesn’t make a move to touch. Jim drags himself together, feels Bones’ free hand thread into his hair. “Come on,” he says, only a little strangled. “I bet he can’t wait to kiss you again. Can you feel him? Wanting you?” Bones’ grip convulses in his hair, encouraging.

Sometimes it’s easy to remember Vulcans are a predatory race tamed by their own iron will.

Bones outright shivers at the look on Spock’s face, and when Jim checks, he’s grinning.

“We should retire to the bedroom,” Spock announces, voice as cool as an invitation for tea, completely belying the fact that he’s all-but forcibly herding them that way already. Jim laughs—impatient, bossy-Spock is quickly becoming one of his favorites—but it breaks off in a strangled gasp when Bones turns and swats him on the ass.

Bones purses his lips, not-really-fighting a grin.

“We have not yet explored spanking as a sexual kink together,” Spock says—he must not be touching Bones right now because both hands are occupied pulling Jim’s shirt over his head. “But perhaps another time?”

Bones is in the middle of getting rid of his own shirt when Jim surfaces, but the first thing Jim sees as the collar slips over Bones’ head is this bright, devious smirk that makes Jim flush hot all over. “Next time,” Jim gets out, “I vote next time.”

The smirk widens into a smile.

Spock turns to climb onto the bed fully clothed and Jim catches him. “Whoa, where are you going?”

He blinks. “I thought it might be best to leave one layer of cloth between us, as a buffer.”

“What are you thinking?” Jim asks, curious. “I’m glad you have a game plan, just fill us in.”

“Oh.” Spock stands straighter, gearing up for explaining a leap of logic. “In order to provide Leonard with the services we negotiated I thought it might be wise to remove myself from the charge of direct stimulation.”

That doesn’t sound like fun. “Spock—“

“So I thought I might sit against the headboard with Leonard reclining against me while you take him into your mouth.”

Jim has definitely heard Spock use filthier language in the bedroom, but he can’t honestly remember him saying something that has ever made Jim feel more heat flare in the pit of his stomach. He licks his lips, suddenly dry. “I’m game,” he says, looks to Bones. “You?”

Bones gives two thumbs way, way up.

This time when Spock gets on the bed Bones clambers after him, tugging at his shirt. “Are you certain?” Spock asks. Bones’ nod is firm, but then he hesitates, tilts his head in a question. “I would prefer to start with it on,” Spock admits, drawing Bones into a kiss, “Later, if you’re still sure, I will remove it.”

Jim gets to work on Bones’ pants, yanks a little too hard and pulls Bones out of the kiss. “My bad,” Jim promises, “Shit, did you paint these things on?”

Bones makes a grumbly face and wiggles out of them, removing his underwear out of efficiency or impatience, and drops back down between Spock’s legs without a hint of embarrassment or insecurity. Jim can do that too, but it’s usually through the means of swagger—Bones just doesn’t seem to care that he’s naked.

He wriggles like he’s getting comfortable, and not like he’s the biggest tease in the entire quadrant. Spock’s mouth falls slightly open, lids heavy; his hands fall on Bones’ bare legs, on his thighs, guides them open even though Bones is already splaying them wide.

“Jim.” Jim has no idea how many times Spock has said his name; he tries to shake himself back to awareness, but he can’t drag his eyes from the sight of them. Bones is naked and Spock isn’t and they’re both in his bed. Jim.

“Yeah,” Jim rasps, claws out of his own pants and forgets about his underwear, even though it’s half off his ass and half stuck on his hard-on. He feels like a teenager, all too-eager limbs and a watering mouth.

Bones’ dick is straining up, kissing at his belly, so Jim kisses it too, right at the head, just to watch Bones’ stomach muscles jump.

He lets his eyes take their time trailing up to Bones’ face, Spock’s dark gaze intent over Bones’ shoulder. “He enjoyed that,” Spock says, “very much.”

Bones tips his head in Spock’s direction, more of a nudge than anything else. Not the only one, his expression says, sharing this secret with Jim.

Jim flashes them both a grin, and swallows Bones down.

Jim is good at giving head. He’s practiced deep-throating since he figured out what it was, knows how to use it to his advantage, as a high note; he knows how to flick his tongue just below the head and tease it out, take it deeper every time with his hand working the shaft.

He never realized how much he relies on vocal cues until now—to know what he’s doing right, what he should do more of, what he should do less. Bones can’t even moan encouragement. All he can do is pant.

Jim watches his face with every inch of focus he can spare. God, there’s something skewed about this, that the two of them who like to talk can’t, leaving Spock—not comfortable with dirty talk to begin with—to fill the silence.

But Spock is doing beautifully, even though he’s clearly out of his depth. He moans so quiet Jim has to strain to hear him, but when Jim takes Bones down to the root Spock says, “There, just there,” even though Jim can see the bliss on Bones’ face.

Jim rolls Bones’ balls in his free hand, fingers slipping behind not-entirely-by-accident. Spock says, “Yes, what you just did, he enjoyed it,” babbling because he can’t see, and Bones’ eyes are dark when he nods his agreement.

Jim listens to Bones’ body, all his twitches and strains, the hand in Jim’s hair that doesn’t pull or clench but cradles the back of Jim’s skull like it’s holding something precious. His other hand is at Spock’s nape, and his hips start straining up against the grasp Spock has on him—not trying to get away, by the look of it, just to feel the pressure. He’s all but grinding himself back on Spock, on Spock’s dick still trapped in the confines of his clothes.

“H-he’s close,” Spock stammers, and Jim is surprised to find he knows already, can tell by the look in Bones’ eyes and the dark flush spreading down his chest. His fingers slide further back; he waits for Bones’ nod, and he gets it.

Jim goes down as far as he can, swallows as he slips his middle finger back, circling the rim of Bones’ hole, just enough to feel the ring clench at the pad of his finger as Bones surges up. He coats the back of Jim’s throat, his own throat straining like he’d be coming with a shout if he could.

Even if Jim has to invent a cure himself—if it comes to that, if Bones really doesn’t get better on his own—he’s going to hear Bones’ strangled curses, that rough drawl made even rougher. Jim can’t wait.

Neither can Spock, by the looks of it. He has his face tucked hard against Bones’ shoulder, panting like he just finished a marathon. His eyes squeeze shut, body wracked with convulsions.

“Bones, hey, up,” Jim says, gently manhandling Bones’ well-fucked body to the side to make some room for himself. Spock’s dark pants are staining darker; Jim gets a hand on him through the cloth, gives Spock something to roll his hips against. “Look what you did,” Jim murmurs, tells them both.

Bones makes a muddled, curious face against Spock’s shoulder, where he’s sprawled along Spock’s right side. “Vulcan orgasms last up to a minute,” Jim says, and Bones’ expression clears, shifts into one of scholarly interest. He sits up a little, and very deliberately draws two fingers down the length of Spock’s sternum, from the dip of his clavicle to his bellybutton. Spock’s back arches off the bed.

“Whoa,” Jim says, stunned and hot behind his ears now. He can feel Spock’s dick twitch and throb against his palm; god, the inside of his pants have to be a soaked mess by now.

“Erogenous zone,” Spock gasps out.

Jim’s eyebrows draw together. “I didn’t know that.”

“I was…mostly unaware of it myself,” Spock admits, chest still heaving but starting to come down.

Bones gives a decisive nod like Now you know. When he gets his voice back he’s probably going to give one or both of them a lecture on Vulcan sex education, but for now he settles for helping Spock strip out of his shirt.

Spock looks overheated and kind of winded, and Bones’ hair is going several directions at once, and it takes Jim a minute to realize why their gazes land so heavy on his skin.

He looks down at himself, his erection peeking above the elastic of his regulation underwear. “Oh,” he says, surprised and pleased, “Right.”

“Did you forget?” Spock asks as he pulls Jim between himself and Bones, voice rumbly and amused.

“Kind of,” Jim admits. He had to focus on making sure Bones and Spock were enjoying themselves, the ache between his legs had to be ignored. He knows what his own erections are like—this was exploring something new.

But there’s plenty new about the way Bones drags his careful surgeon’s hands over Jim’s skin, in the way Spock tells Bones what Jim likes, and how. Jim feels unraveled from the inside out, their hands on his cock and their lips on his skin, Bones lavishing attention on his nipple and Spock murmuring encouragement against his cheek. When he comes—spattering up his stomach and chest, and Spock works him through it while Bones strokes his sides and kisses his slack mouth—he remembers that word Spock used before: T’hy’la.

He keeps thinking it as he comes down, all of them a sprawling, fucked out mess. Bones tangles his legs with Jim’s and flings an arm over his chest, makes sure he’s touching Spock as he burrows down to sleep. Jim trades awkward kisses with Spock while Spock loses his pants—they really are completely ruined, it’s fantastic—and then less awkward kisses when Spock settles back down. Bones starts to snore.

“He can snore,” Jim whispers, incredulous.

Spock kisses the back of his neck. “The resonating chamber in his nose and mouth would not be affected by paralyzed vocal chords.”

“I really love you, you know,” Jim tells him, because he does, and he knows Spock knows already, and it’s amazing.

“I love you as well,” Spock says, half-slurred the way he only is when he’s on the edge of sleep.

“And Bones?” Jim prods, unable to leave well enough alone.

Spock just hums, sounding amused. “Yes, and Leonard.”

Bones, less asleep than previously assumed, reaches up and flicks them both between the eyes. He doesn’t even have to open his own eyes to do it.

~*~

Jim wakes up in the middle of the night, Spock a solid furnace against his back, Bones’ chest under his cheek. He can’t remember what it was that made him peel his bleary eyes open, and he’s just about to drop off again when Bones shifts his arm out from under the crush of Jim’s ribcage.

“Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a body pillow.”