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Even If You Let Go (I'll be holding on)

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Stardate 2259.60
0900

"Transfer request fucking denied," James T. Kirk announced as he stormed into the sickbay, flashing PADD in his hand. A couple of nurses looked up in alarm at the sight of their Captain who looked like he might throttle someone out of pure rage, his jaws pressed together and lips a thin white line of anger.

When he realised that the subject of his ire wasn't in the immediate vicinity, he had the decency to appear somewhat sheepish and turned his gaze to M'Benga who just tilted his head towards the door to McCoy's office and, a little deflated, Jim walked to the door, thumbed in the Captain's override and slipped inside.

"A transfer, Bones?" he asked, because his initial burst of fury that had carried him from his quarters to sickbay had been spent and his anger had taken so much out of his still-healing body that he couldn't really bring himself to keep it up, besides, he wasn't really angry. He supposed if he thought about it, he was hurt and confused. Bones had been really distant since he woke up from his death induced coma save for checking his vitals and making sure that he took those godawful pills that made him want to crawl up inside himself and die for good because of the side effects. But if he didn't take them, he'd die, and he took them because Bones needed him to, because Bones had said that he had to so he did. He always listened to Bones in the end. It was the shittiest of shit situations, save for this one, of course. "If you were that unhappy here, why wouldn't you just talk to me? Why send me this-" he tossed the PADD onto McCoy's desk "-already signed by you and Captain Holloway with the transfer agreed in principle? I'm your CO, Bones, you're meant to talk to me first, not go behind my back if you wanna get off this fucking ship."

"That's not what-"

"I'm not finished. Look, I don't get why you wanna leave, you're the best doctor in the fleet and you're on the best ship with the best crew and-" Blue eyes blinked slowly as Jim tried to hide the fact that he was so hurt by this request, that he felt so betrayed by the fact that his best friend was making the decision to leave him in the black, go somewhere else probably less dangerous, but that didn't change that Bones wanted to leave the Enterprise. Bones wanted to leave him and Jim didn't understand why.

"You done now, kid?" he asked, looking world-weary and older than Jim had ever seen him look, like the weight of the world was pressing down on him and on top of that the universe was pushing down on his shoulders to top it all off. Normally he had a good idea of what was going on behind those hazel eyes, but this time Bones wasn't looking at him, he had his finger and thumb pressing against the bridge of his nose, somehow still managing to fold his arms protectively against his chest. He looked tense, like he was triyng to work out what to say, rolling sentences over and over in his mind, censoring himself in some way. Jim didn't say anything and Bones cracked one eye open to look at him before he sighed again. Jim felt guilty, bizarrely, for charging in and demanding answers and shouting at the staff just from that single look from Bones.

Jim watched Bones wet his lower lip - the gesture as the one that Bones did when he was about to conduct a particularly difficult conversation - he saw the muscles in his jaw twitch and tick - knew that he was doing this because he was self-censoring, not wanting to say what was on the tip of his tongue. Saw whatever chance of pure honesty he had slipping away from him.

One hand - steady, calloused and so fucking talented - reached out and pulled the PADD closer, looking at the blinking transfer request before the good doctor pressed his teeth together and held the PADD out to his Captain again.

"StarFleet regulations say I can ask to transfer whenever I want, Jim," he said slowly, still censoring himself obviously and it was infuriating to Jim because he wanted to know why , why Bones wanted to transfer off the Enterprise, why Bones was leaving him when he'd promised never to do that. When he'd promised that he wouldn't be like everyone else and he wouldn't leave and he wouldn't quit on Jim and he wouldn't just- wouldn't just abandon Jim like everyone else in his life ever had. "I can't work here anymore."

"Why not?" Jim pressed, curling his fingers around the PADD, holding it close like if he didn't look at it he wouldn't be being royally screwed over right now, like if he didn't look at it, the transfer request wouldn't be blinking at him impatiently, waiting for his thumbprint and seal of approval to confirm that his best friend would be leaving them when they reached the Orion starbase where the USS-Endeavour was waiting for him with Captain Holloway right there, his eager claws ready to snatch Jim's CMO away from him. "You promised-" he started, catching himself before he launched into a passive-aggressive guilt-tripping diatribe the likes of which he hated. It was on the edge of his tongue, though, and he was doing his best not to lash out. To push Bones away before Bones pushed him away, make the first cut, make the first incision to rip this all apart.

Bones got to his feet, tension in his jaw and shoulders. "Dammit, Jim, you don't think I know that? You don't think I wouldn't be requesting a transfer if I didn't think there was any other damn way for me to stay on board this ship? I don't wanna leave, but I can't stay. Jim you gotta understand that and just approve my damn transfer, kid, 'cause believe me, it's better for everyone that way."

"Everyone? Or just you?" Jim asked before he took in a deep breath, holding up a hand to stop any potential answer from Bones. It was his turn this time for his jaw to tick as he pressed his teeth together so had that it was sending shooting pains up the side of his head as he controlled his urge to lash out. And just like that, he forced himself to be Captain James Tiberius Kirk, not Jim - or Jimmy - not Bones' best friend, but Captain James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, reviewing the proposal for his CMO to move to another ship as part of a permanent transfer.

He glanced down at the PADD and pressed his thumb against the mark, his autosignature scrawling across the screen and he sent the instruction off with a swipe of his thumb.

"We'll be at the Orion starbase in about fourteen hours," he said, voice tight and controlled, distant, his Captain's voice. "You'd better be packed, Doctor."

He tossed the PADD onto McCoy's desk again and walked out of the office, saying "Congratulations M'Benga, you've just been promoted to CMO. Complete your handover and report to the Bridge" before the door to Leonard McCoy's office slid shut.

Left behind, on the table, the PADD was blinking green.

Transfer request approved, James Tiberius Kirk. Message sent to StarFleet Command, USS-Endeavour and USS Enterprise Central Log. Stardate 2259.60.

*

1400

Jim sat in his ready room with his fingers curled into fists, pressed trembling fingers against his mouth as he drew in slow breaths, one after the other, trying to just pull himself together and deal with the fact that he was losing his best friend, that his best friend was going off the ship, somewhere where he couldn't protect him or keep him safe. Okay sure, they'd had their fair share of dangerous situations and scrapes but Jim had protected them, he'd saved them and he'd kept them alive which was more than he could say for some of the other ships and- Goddamnit.

He got to his feet, chair violently reeling backwards, hitting the wall behind him and he lashed out at his desk, kicking it. It didn't even do him the courtesy of falling over, or even moving a little bit. Stupid furniture being attached to the floor.

He jabbed at one of the buttons on the desk-based console to bring up the recorder for his Captain’s Log.

"Captain's log, supplemental, stardate 2259.60. Today, Bones quit. Well, not quit, but he asked for a transfer. I've approved it. Don't want him here if he's miserable, God only knows how we’d cope with him being in a worse mood than he normally is. I've promoted M'Benga to CMO and whoever transfers in and replaces Bones can just deal with the demotion. M'Benga knows the crew, and I'm not having some green CMO screwing my crew up because he - or she, let’s be fair here - doesn't know them. It's a delicate balancing act, taking care of my crew. They're a special bunch. My crew are too important to trust their healthcare to someone I don't know yet.

"We'll be at the Orion starbase in about five hours. I haven't slept since I approved Bones' transfer request nine hours ago - not that I would have needed to, but I'm off shift 'cause I've been doing the overnights to give Spock a break - and I haven't seen him either. I think if I did, I'd punch him in his stupid face.

"I hope I'm doing the right thing.

"God, I wish Admiral Pike was still- I- Pause recording."

Jim had been pacing back and forth whilst speaking but when he thought about Pike, his chest hurt with a remembered ache that flared up so fiercely in line with the loss that he was about to experience that he just needed to take a moment to breathe through his emotions. He felt like the floor was being ripped from underneath him. Fuck.

He took a few deep breaths, pressing his hand against his chest, feeling the wild hammering of his irregular heartbeat under his palm. He’d never really had a chance to mourn for the people he’d lost in his life so he didn’t know what to do with his grief other than pack it in a metaphorical box and ignore it, push it away whenever it reared its ugly head.

"Resume recording." The computer chirruped its acquiescence. "I wish Admiral Pike was still here. I could use his guidance, I think.

"When we get to Orion, I think I'll give the crew a couple of days to just unwind. Dr Russell says tempers are fraying a little at the moment. Most of the crew are so young they haven't fully been exposed to long stints in space. We've got the youngest average crew member age ever to have been sent on a mission. With Chekov being seventeen when we started and me- Well. They're just not used to being up here for so long, hell, I haven't either but I was born up here, I think this is where I belong. I'd go crazy if I was anywhere else other than on my ship, sailing through the black.

"God, I hope I'm doing the right thing."

He swallowed and pushed his fingers through his hair, taking a sip of the water he had on his desk that had barely even been rippled by Jim's kick. Everything was mocking him. He tapped the button to end the recording and submit it to the official Captains' Log. His computer then beeped at him to tell him it was time to take the scheduled meds he'd been forced to take every eight hours since he woke up from the death-induced-coma he'd been in after climbing into the warp core.

He picked up the water and popped two of the yellow and green pills into his mouth, swallowing them with everything that remained in the glass, throat working overtime to just get the pills down him.

It took about two minutes for the side effects to start and Jim just about managed to stagger through to the small, but oddly luxurious, bathroom connected to his ready room before his limbs gave out, trembling and shuddering and spasming. His body completely malfunctioned on him, the drugs doing their job in keeping him alive but really, did it have to be such a painful process? He hauled himself upright to lose the contents of his stomach into the toilet and knocked the bathroom door shut so it hissed into place and shut the world out so no one could see him like this.

The only person he'd ever allow to see him so weak was about to walk away from him, and he had to bring himself to stop caring about that.

*

2350

Jim had declined going to meet Captain Holloway - the asshole that was taking Bones away from him - when he'd come to the Enterprise personally to collect Dr McCoy and instead had stood in the hanger on one of the upper catwalks, watching as the crew said a fond - and tearful, in Uhura and Adelaide's (and Scotty's too but no one mentioned that) cases - farewell to the CMO that had saved their lives. In some cases, such as Lieutenant Castro who shook the man's hand firmly and clapped him on the back like old friends, he'd saved them from a lifetime in a wheelchair or worse, restoring their ability to walk when it had very nearly been taken from them. He watched Lieutenant Castro say something in a low voice to Bones, watched the older man nod his head in agreement.

Jim had his arms folded, hands clasping his biceps so tightly he knew they'd be leaving bruises in the shape of his fingertips, giving himself a headache from the way he was grinding his teeth together.

Maybe it was childish, to watch the departure of his best friend from relative obscurity where no one could see him. It was certainly against protocol but since when had Jim ever given a fuck about things like that? Rules were always for other people to follow. But he was watching Bones, he was watching him and he saw the way the man's eyes scanned the crowd for some sign of him and how there was a line of disappointment, of hurt perhaps, when he didn't see Jim anywhere amongst the people that had swarmed to say goodbye to him.

Good, Jim thought viciously, it did him good to feel hurt because that was exactly how Jim felt. He felt hurt and angry and betrayed and abandoned and he really should have known better, he'd been telling himself that his friendship with Bones was too good to be true for such a long time. It had to go sour eventually, they always did, everything always went sour in the end, but Bones had promised, he'd promised so many times and he'd been so earnest and- And somewhere along the line Jim had started to believe him. Perhaps that was what hurt the most, that Jim had given up on his own cautions and the experiences of the past and he'd let himself believe that maybe this would be different, that Bones would be the one person that would never leave him. But no. Apparently not. Even those promises didn't mean anything.

He wet his lower lip and set his jaw again, that moment of unguarded pain having been open to all to see if anyone had just thought to look up. And he felt himself crumbling all over again when he looked down to see those hazel eyes (he could see them from here, or maybe he just know them so well that could imagine what they looked like) searching the catwalks and falling on him.

He forced himself to unlock, feeling pinned like a rat in a trap by that look and he shrugged his shoulders, unfolding his arms as he dropping into that casual posture he held for all official conversations and times, that devil-may-care, I-don't-give-a-shit stance that he held when he was trying to be unaffected and keep the whole world at arm's length (which, clearly, he had to keep doing because he- because he couldn't trust anyone not to leave him). He refused to be hurt by this because he wasn't- he didn't care. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe Bones was right.

He lifted a hand and shot off a salute in Bones' direction, accompanying it with a smile that was as distanct and ridiculous and shallow as the ones he gave the girls he wasn't interested in, and the ones he gave the Admiralty when he thought they were talking shit but didn't want to verbally disagree with them. It was his distant smile, the smile he gave to the people who had never carried him home at 3am even when they had a test first thing the next morning, who had never patched him up after fights, the smile he presented to the people who hadn't learned about his history on Tarsus IV and the physical and mental scars it had left behind, who hadn't comforted him through nightmares and night terrors and each agonising January 4th when the whole damn world mourned the heroic sacrifice his father gave and he had to dodge the press that dogged his heels for some kind of interview or response about the hero father he never knew. It was the carefree grin he gave to the people who hadn't promised never to leave him and to sail the black together the way it was meant to be.

With one last look at Bones, he turned his head and walked away and by the time anyone else saw that the doctor was looking up and lifted their own eyes to see what he was watching, it was nothing but an empty catwalk.