Summary: Leonard McCoy has already been through the dorm room politics, the awkward drunken nights, the pain and fear and grief; he didn’t expect to have to start his life over again, but Jim Kirk is making sure he does it right this time.
Notes/Disclaimer: Terrible abuse of poetry. There are references made to “Fire and Ice” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, “John Keats” by J.D. Salinger, and “The Hollow Men” and “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. Also, the Vians and Gem are from the series 3 TOS episode “The Empath.” A few lines are stolen from Texts From Last Night.
Many thanks to mackem for betaing, and assuring me it wasn’t total shit.
I do not own Star Trek and would never claim to!
>>Initializing... program: start
The first time Leonard McCoy calls home after getting to San Francisco, he’s actually been at the Academy for a month. He certainly meant to contact his mother earlier, but he’s been so busy he’s barely had time enough to breathe, let alone think, eat, or sleep, what with orientation, classes, clinic shifts, and training courses taking up all his time.
Because he’s not completely lacking an instinct in self-preservation and has no desire to receive half-angry, half-disappointed voicemails in which she passive-aggressively calls him out on being a bad son, he has left messages weekly, assuring her he’s not yet died of malnutrition, but he’s aware her patience for time-delayed second-hand contact will wear thin pretty soon. So, the first Saturday he gets where he’s not on shift at the campus clinic or writing a thirty-page paper on the native diseases of Rigel VII and Jim is holed up in the bathroom showering away a hangover, he comms his mother and settles down in his raggedy terry-cloth bathrobe holding a mug of coffee the size of his face.
“Leonard,” she says immediately, “You shaved!”
She sounds inordinately pleased. McCoy scowls, patting his cheeks self-consciously. “It’s regulation,” he mutters, his fingers moving up to his hair, which must be an unquantifiable mess. He hasn’t brushed it, and previous experience has taught him his bedhead is more than a little impressive.
“Bones!” bellows Jim from the bathroom, raising his voice to apparently hear himself better over the sound of the shower. “Bones? Stop using my razor, man, get your own!”
“Jim, I’m on the PHONE,” roars McCoy in return. “I’ll stop if you quit using all my damn shampoo!”
Jim’s only response is to start singing “Don’t Stop Me Now”, loudly, and McCoy turns back to the vidscreen, expression woefully incredulous.
“I’m living with children, mama,” he complains. “I’ve been through this dorm shit before, and now I’m apparently in hell, living it all over again as completely undeserved punishment for a crime I still haven’t determined. It’s heinous.”
“It’s good for you,” contradicts his mother, in that overly specific tone of voice McCoy has privately dubbed I Know It Sucks, Honey, But It Also Builds Character. “You need something new and different.”
“I just said,” McCoy huffs in exasperation. “It’s not new and different. I’m twenty-eight, and I’m sleeping in a single bed that’s the exact-not-quite length of my body and rooming with a twenty-two year old blue-eyed terror with a magnet hidden somewhere in his skull that exclusively attracts fists to the face. I’ve done this before, back when it was called medical school and I was legitimately a student. I’m regressing. Yesterday I ate cereal with a fork and didn’t put on any pants all day.”
His mother snorts, her expression nothing but fond and indulgent. “Leo, you’re cracked if you think you can pull this Mature Old Man act with me. You got married so young, went to school even younger, just enjoy the chance to do it again. It’ll be good for you,” she repeats.
“BONES!” shouts Jim, again, moving into a decibel range previously unknown to man. “BONES I FORGOT A TOWEL. HELP A BROTHER OUT.”
McCoy pulls a face, and his mother laughs. “Send me a picture of Jim. And call more often, Leo.”
“I miss you too, mom. Call you again as soon as I can.”
It starts with two things McCoy adamantly doesn’t do: (1) clubbing, and (2) karaoke.
“I think,” says Jim expansively, from somewhere near McCoy’s left elbow, “That this is potentially what it would feel like, should your brain start to liquefy in your skull.”
“Do you really think you’d be alive to feel it?” asks McCoy, after a long, confused moment pondering this. “There are diseases that do that, you know, about sixty-five of them and counting just native to Earth. They’re totally fascinating, most of them involve your body freaking out and attempting to fight your own brain cells, just like leukocytes attack infection. Tissues break down, your skull fills with sludge, and sometimes there’s severe hemorrhaging –”
Jim makes a wet sound, like he just threw up a little in his mouth, and then something hard and bony digs into McCoy’s back.
“Oh my God, Bones, if this is another way of reiterating you’re a doctor, not a blank, then I give in. Uncle. Please. I will actually vomit on you. It might even be projectile; we’ll have to see what sort of mood I’m in.”
McCoy, because he’s drunk, laughs and flails one hand around vaguely, hoping to pat Jim on the head, but judging by the muffled yelp that emerges, he might’ve accidentally smacked him in the face, instead.
They fall silent. Jim wriggles until he’s plastered up against McCoy’s back like a bandage, sticky with spilled beer. Eventually, he pipes up with, “That was the best karaoke of my life. I didn’t know you could sing, Bones.”
“I can’t,” replies McCoy. His arm is numb, but if he rolls over, he’ll crush Jim. “Apparently, drinking a lot completely disrupts your auditory processing. Did you totally miss the pineapple that woman threw at me?”
“I guess,” says Jim. It comes out ‘guessssss,’ like he got stuck on the last letter and didn’t really feel like stopping the sounds coming out of his mouth. “I thought the pineapple was because I assumed it was you, behind me, and I reached out and ended up grabbing her boobs.”
“No,” says McCoy, with difficulty. He’s having trouble remembering, faces blurring together like someone dumped all his memories into a tilt-o-whirl and set it on Suicidal. “Different woman. That lady punched you in the face. You could’ve let go, you know, when you realized you were groping her breasts. How do you confuse a right hook with a pineapple?”
“Whiskey,” replies Jim, confidently. “Right, I’m going to go throw up, bee are bee.”
McCoy groans, because Jim moving around like that is shaking the bed, interrupting the delicately-tuned motionlessness he’s been trying in vain to achieve. It also offends him, on a deep, personal level, that Jim would speak an archaic, ridiculous, stupid acronym aloud like that.
Jim’s bare feet hit the floor with a light thump, and through barely-opened eyes, McCoy watches him weave dizzily into the bathroom. The lights come on automatically, a flood of cheerful faux-sun with relentless enthusiasm, and Jim groans audibly, hissing, “Lights, zero percent. You hear that? Zero. Oh my God, zero.”
“Oh my God,” echoes McCoy, smothering a yawn and knuckling sleepily at his eyes, and then Jim is throwing up, noisily, and McCoy groans again.
It takes a lot of effort and coordination that he’s severely lacking at the moment, but McCoy manages to get up off the bed. His head starts to pound the moment he’s vertical, so with a bit of maneuvering, he slides to his knees and then sprawls out on the standard-issue cord carpet and plants his face into it, ass in the air.
“Whoa,” says Jim, suddenly sounding distressingly close. A fraction of a second later, he lands on McCoy’s back.
“Oof!” yelps McCoy, breath hastily vacating his lungs. Jim is warm, and heavy, and doesn’t appear to be getting off him any time soon.
“I don’t get you, Bones,” says Jim conversationally. “You throw up if you so much as look at a shuttle, but I’ve never seen you puke ‘cause you drank too much.”
“I’m seasoned,” mumbles McCoy. A little wriggling has Jim sliding off him like a side of meat, and he sits up, eyeing Jim blearily.
His head is still pounding, and this is definitely not his best day, but Jim seems worse off. Now that McCoy has slipped out from under him, Jim is face-down on the rug, arms slack at his sides like rubbery overdone noodles.
“Hey, kid,” mumbles McCoy. He clumsily extends one arm, patting around, and hits Jim’s elbow.
“What,” says Jim, no inflection, his voice muffled by the floor.
“Don’t pass out,” sighs McCoy. There’s got to be more than that, but it’s too painful to think right now, and his vision is actually doing this weird thing where the world is throbbing in time with his pulse like a strobe light.
“Thanks, Bones,” replies Jim, disdain dripping from his voice in thick, unavoidable globs. “Helpful.”
“I’m a doctor, you know.”
There’s no response for a while, and with a rush of near-paralyzing fear, McCoy yanks his head up from the floor to look at Jim.
The idiot is staring at him over his folded hands, a smile on his face. “Gotcha,” he says.
McCoy lets out a growl, rolling over Jim and clamping his hands down on his biceps. Jim is hot, his skin radiating healthy body heat, the type of person that’s always preternaturally warm even in the dead of winter. He’s usually pink-cheeked and ruddy, whereas McCoy, despite his broad shoulders and sturdy frame, suffers from woefully bad circulation; his fingers and toes lose warmth easily, and Jim will flinch away from him with a dramatic exclamation of “Holy shit, Bones, you feel like a corpse!” if McCoy absently lays a hand on the bare skin of his arm.
“Oh man, not fair, I’m drunker than you,” Jim protests, squirming in McCoy’s grasp. It’s actually bullshit, because Jim drunk is still more coordinated than McCoy sober, and after a moment of indiscriminate grappling, the quiet hum of the room punctuated with yelps and half-hearted slaps, Jim manages to wriggle his hands around McCoy’s wrists. He lifts a knee, bracing it against McCoy’s hip, and then he rolls, overbalancing them both until they hit the bed, and Jim’s on top.
“It’s like wrestling with a bag of eels,” wheezes McCoy, winded. Jim is leaning heavily on his wrists, pinning them above his head, and he’s straddling his hips.
“I’m a wiry bastard,” says Jim cheerfully. And, because he’s Jim, he exhibits victory by ducking over McCoy and licking a stripe up his face, jaw to forehead, then giggling like a hyena, breath gusting over McCoy’s wet cheek in a soft puff of alcohol-soaked air.
McCoy makes a helpless noise of disgust, his face scrunching up as he bucks under Jim. “What did we say about licking, Jim? I made a rule about licking, I know I did.”
“You made a lot of rules.” Jim turns his head unsteadily, and then blinks owlishly at the hand-written sign McCoy insisted on sticking up over the sink in the kitchenette. It’s written in McCoy’s stabby, slightly illegible doctor’s scrawl, and it says:
RULES FOR JIM (version 3.4)
1. No sleeping/fucking/masturbating in McCoy’s bed.
2. Stop leaving crap on the floor, I nearly broke my neck.
3. Don’t read over my shoulder, it’s annoying.
4. Dishes. Do them. The soap exists for a reason.
5. Oh my God please don’t leave take-out in the fridge for longer than a week there was something growing
6. It was green.
7. What did I say about the fucking?
8. New rule: don’t lick me. You are not a dog. I am not a tasty treat.
9. I know, you’re a doctor.
10. Don’t write on my list, Jim.
11. Pick up your socks. All of them. Not some. All.
12. That better not be a condom in the sink. It also damn well better be gone by the time I get back from class.
13. Laundry. Do it.
14. Also we need milk.
By this point, it’s less a list of rules and more a running commentary, and Jim has doodled in the margins, mostly illustrating the stunning variety of faces McCoy has made in response to the catalyst that prompted each rule. He’s told McCoy he’s thinking of getting it framed when they run out of space.
“There’s definitely a rule about licking,” Jim finally replies, disappointed, squinting at the sign. “I forgot to get milk, too.”
“Jim,” says McCoy hoarsely. It’s becoming impossible for him not to fidget, his fingers clenching into fists, and then he rocks his hips up against Jim and groans. “Shit. Sorry, Jim.”
Jim’s mouth opens, and he runs his tongue over his lips, pressing down more firmly on McCoy. “Should we have rules for humping, too?”
Surprised, McCoy barks a laugh, even as his head falls to the side so that he doesn’t have to look at Jim.
“Those rules are for you, Jim,” he points out. McCoy doesn’t embarrass easily, but the skin on his cheeks and the back of his neck flushes hot.
“I could start humping you back, if you want,” offers Jim. He’s half-hard anyway, and he thrusts down experimentally to generously show McCoy he’s serious.
McCoy sucks in a startled breath, blinking sluggishly. Goddammit. He tries to go limp under Jim, but his hips still have a mind of their own, making minute little jerking movements. “Jim, stop. Jim,” he pleads urgently. Something must get through to Jim, because he lets go of him, shifting back to sit on his thighs.
“What, Bones?” he asks, concerned.
Without Jim’s weight on his wrists, McCoy half-rolls, folding his body over to prop himself up on the floor. The movement effectively dislodges Jim, letting McCoy finish sitting up. He doesn’t say anything as he gets to his feet, body turned away, shoulders hunched.
The bathroom is too bright, and far too cold, especially against his hot, prickling skin. McCoy drops his pants and tries to be as quick and clinical as possible as he spits in his fist and wraps a hand around his dick; the low, strangled moan he lets out is loud but not too loud, and he bites his lip as he strokes himself, hoping Jim can’t hear.
After McCoy has washed his hands and tucked himself back into his pants, he emerges to find Jim sitting on their small, fleet-issued couch with the vidscreen on.
He sits carefully next to Jim, limbs loose and heavy, and says, quietly, “We’re not going to talk about this again.”
Jim nods, genially, his smile bright and open. “We’re drunk,” he points out helpfully, and then hands McCoy a grilled cheese sandwich.
“Uh huh,” mutters McCoy. He takes the sandwich, settles the plate over his lap, but doesn’t touch it. “I think I need another drink, actually.”
So they have another. Actually, they have four.
When McCoy jerks awake interminable hours later, he’s lying on the bathroom floor, wedged between the shower and the toilet. His head is screaming, a mid-range howl of despair that immediately cranks up to an insistent, attention-grabbing high when he tries to peel open his eyes.
His tongue feels fuzzy, like he’s been licking wool. As far as hangovers go, he’s had worse, but it’s still a bit of a bitch.
It takes him ten minutes to vacate the bathroom, after pissing for what feels like a glacial age and then washing his hands and face. He can see Jim on the floor, or, at least, he can see his legs from behind the couch.
“Jim,” he says, voice forcibly wrenched from his throat like a shower of gravel. “Jim, wake up.”
He skirts the couch, to stand over Jim, and finds that he’s already awake, staring up at the ceiling. “Hey, Bones,” slurs Jim, and Jesus Christ, the kid is still drunk.
“Hey, Jim-boy,” says McCoy. His head is objecting vehemently to being this high up. He slides onto the couch, slumped down with his back flat on the seat cushions, feet near Jim’s head. “I feel like after you turn thirty, you aren’t supposed to black out anymore.”
“You learn something new every day. Blacking out is an all-ages past-time. Hey Bones, hey,” says Jim solemnly, “I can paint with all the colors of the wind.”
Then he throws up on McCoy's shoes, so that's kind of a drag.
It continues with another thing Leonard McCoy finds, in his opinion as a doctor, inadvisable and downright reckless: (3) matching Jim shot for shot.
He’s getting fond of the kid despite himself, but McCoy seriously wishes they didn’t keep having deeply awkward encounters while stupidly drunk.
Jim is the first real friend he’s had in quite a while; someone that doesn’t poke or prod at his past, doesn’t ask stupid get-to-know-you questions, and never makes uncomfortable small-talk. They get along extremely well, even though it feels like there should be a miles-wide communication fault between them. That’s not to say they don’t argue or bitch at each other or occasionally go a few days without speaking, because they do, but McCoy feels more content bickering with Jim than he does speaking normally with anyone else, which is saying something.
For them, operating entirely in scowls, rolled eyes, sarcasm, and terrible jokes is completely standard; McCoy feels like he’s found someone that understands him. Someone who looks at him, sees the minefield of insecurity, pain, and regrets surrounding him, and then carefully picks his way through and sticks out a hand. Jim looks at him and sees a kindred spirit, looking right through all his complaining to his fragile heart.
It’s exactly why McCoy sees through Jim, too, dismissing the fake smiles and cocky attitude. Despite all the careful posturing they both do, he and Jim both wear their hearts on their sleeves, and it’s easy to recognize the anxious, defensive commonality they share.
It’s not that McCoy thinks their friendship stands a chance of being ruined by sex, because Jim is persistent and does things without thinking, but McCoy knows he values what they’ve built just as much as he does. McCoy does think maintaining a friendship with Jim that fulfills them both is hard enough, because it’s a complex balance they weave, depending on each other so much. Sometimes he feels old and tired and too protective of Jim to risk hurting him like he hurt Jocelyn, in his stubbornness and anger.
McCoy is thankful that Jim doesn’t bring up that moment, the one he asked they refrain from mentioning again, but that’s totally okay, because it happens again, just for added fun.
“I'm not really sure how I got home, but judging by this headache, I’m assuming it involved bourbon,” groans McCoy.
“That would be a pretty accurate guess,” replies Jim, from directly below him. So that’s why he’s so warm. Apparently he spent the night curled naked around Jim Kirk.
McCoy curses, sitting upright far too quickly, and when his stomach does a sickening flip and his head goes spinning, he falls right off the bed with a yelp and a thump. After a moment, Jim’s head appears over the side, his eyes soft and tired as he rubs his cheek and cracks a massive yawn. “’Sup, Bones. I’m pretty sure we didn’t sleep together.”
“Oh,” says McCoy faintly, from the floor. “Are you wearing pants?”
Jim has to check, his mess of blond hair disappearing for a second. “No,” he confirms, reappearing over the edge of the bed. McCoy nods.
McCoy takes a moment to quietly panic. Then he picks himself up off the carpet, calmly collects his underwear from where it’s hanging from the back of his desk chair, and steps into it.
“Put on some clothes, Jim,” he says decisively.
“Mm,” replies Jim. He stays put, now sprawled face-first on the bed, his fingers stroking meditatively over the rumpled covers. His ass is bare, the sheets having slipped down to his legs. McCoy has a brief memory of the two of them standing by the bed, shedding beer-stained clothes. Jim had slung an arm over him and pulled him down to the mattress, and McCoy hadn’t refused, just tugged Jim closer, kissed him sloppily on the forehead, and then passed out.
McCoy picks up Jim’s pants from the back of the couch and drops them on top of his head. “Just in case you decide to conform to society’s usual standards of decency,” he says.
Jim grunts, waving a hand at him dismissively.
McCoy rolls his eyes. Jim would go to class naked, if he could. Without really knowing why, he opens his hand and brings his palm down flat on the curve of Jim’s ass, the resounding smack echoing sharply.
Jim’s reaction is instantaneous, his hips jerking away as he howls and rolls over twice, tangling himself in the sheets and then doing a somersault and landing on the floor in a defensive crouch.
“What the fuck, Bones!” he cries, trailing half the bed behind him like the train of a wedding dress. His eyes are wide and he looks two seconds away from laughing, but he’s keeping up the surprised front, for now.
“I blame you,” McCoy informs him calmly, turning around to search for a clean shirt. He can never tell his shirts apart from Jim’s until he tries to tug them on and accidentally splits them down the back. He and Jim are mostly the same size, but not quite, so he’s started checking labels. He’s frowning at one that’s been cut off, ready to dismiss it as not worth the trouble, so he’s distracted as he adds, “Just in general, but mostly for the headache behind my eyes that’s roughly the size of the sun, so – hurk!”
Sometimes Jim is like an overgrown barnacle, or limpet, flinging himself at helpless bodies and clinging on tight, and he’s doing it now, having thumped into McCoy from behind and flung an arm around his throat. McCoy securely in a headlock, Jim leans forward, using his weight, and McCoy chokes. It takes him a moment’s wriggling, but he manages to worm his elbow into Jim’s stomach.
They end up on the floor, wrestling like little boys, Jim’s laughter loud and bright and ringing like a bell, McCoy choking out guffaws as he struggles to get his breath back.
It takes them five whole minutes to realize that Jim is still naked.
McCoy is starting to wonder if everyone’s life is just as ridiculous as his, or if he’s just special.
He has absolutely no idea which moments in his life aligned in just the right way to get him here, right now, clinging helplessly to the handrail of a shuttle, but he’s definitely not happy about it.
His paranoia regarding space travel steadily increases based on the size of the vessel to which he’s expected to entrust his life. Shuttlecrafts are hideously awful little contraptions that, to McCoy, always feel as though they’re seconds away from imminent explosion. He can feel that there’s only a thin layer of alloy separating him from the vast crushing vacuum of space, and every turbulent rattle vibrates all the way up his body to settle in his teeth. Starships are marginally better, because they generally feel a helluva lot more stable than shuttles. Most don’t have windows beyond those found on the bridge and observation decks, which means that McCoy can delude himself and pretend he’s not actually in space, despite the desperate, panicky message his equilibrium sends him on an irritatingly regular half-hour rotation.
The most comfortable experience, if he had to choose, would probably be a starbase, which has the additional bonus of not moving the hell around.
What he has discovered today – and this is something he probably could’ve done with remaining blissfully ignorant about – is that there’s a step down from shuttlecraft which is infinitely more terrifying than all the other options.
It’s why he’s currently crouched on the outside of a shuttle currently in orbit around Earth, his fingers locked around the handrail.
It doesn’t really matter to him that’s there’s a tether bolted to his back in four places which keeps him from getting separated from the shuttle. As far as McCoy is concerned, that’s man-made tom-foolery, and he’d rather be able to feel the solid steel beneath his numb, tortured fingers.
“Bones,” says a voice in his ear, and McCoy turns his head to see Jim exiting the shuttle airlock. He crouches on the door and nudges with his feet, gracefully sending himself in McCoy’s direction. “You doing okay?”
Jim’s voice is small and tinny in his ear, curiously metallic; that’s another thing McCoy hates about space, the way the open, aching silence eats up sound and replaces it with a deafening void. All he can hear is his own breath, ragged and loud in his ears, and, when the wrong comm channel occasionally crackles to life, dry voices from the shuttle crew chatting nonchalantly.
“I haven’t thrown up yet,” McCoy manages to grit out, filling his vision with Jim, because it means he doesn’t have to look at the black sprawl around him, pinpricked with endless, infinite stars, and the colossal curve of blue and white below them.
“Yeah, let’s make sure that ‘yet’ doesn’t come true,” Jim says, angling his body down to land across from McCoy. His boots don’t make a sound. “A helmet full of puke is kind of a buzzkill.”
McCoy makes a face, grunting, and Jim stands, the light catching him just right to turn his faceplate completely reflective. For a moment, all McCoy can see is the Earth.
“This is completely unnatural,” says McCoy, because on top of his own breathing he can also hear himself grinding his teeth and he needs to distract himself from the gnawing fear building tight in his belly. “You know those 20th century space suits? At least those looked like they could protect you, keep you from imploding. But these goddamned things are thinner than those ratty old boxers you wear. I swear I could tear this thing open with my teeth.”
“You don’t implode in space, Bones,” Jim says, sounding amused. “You know what exposure actually looks like. The only thing that really kills you is lack of air and frigid cold. And these suits are heavy-duty elastic; you’d rip your jaw out.”
The silence that follows Jim’s measured explanation is heart-stoppingly isolating. Jim is barely two feet away from him, but McCoy needs to hear him.
“Keep talking, Jim, please,” McCoy says quietly.
Jim looks down at him, eyes full of stars, and smiles. He must hear the panic in McCoy’s voice, because he doesn’t bother teasing. “You know how mechanical counter-pressure works?”
“Yeah,” says McCoy. “But refresh my memory.”
By the time Jim is through explaining how their suits work, McCoy has managed to let go of the shuttle and stand, facing Jim, ready to get this over with.
“When I comm the shuttle crew, they’re going to kill the magnetic seal on our boots, and we’ll be in proper zero g,” says Jim, ignoring the fact that McCoy has memorized the entire training flight procedure.
McCoy nods, his eyes fixed on Jim’s. The quality of light feels thin, glinting off the metal surfaces around them in blinding flashes, and Jim’s teeth are white behind his faceplate, his smile confident.
“It’ll be cake, Bones,” encourages Jim. He reaches out, wrapping his fingers around McCoy’s arm. McCoy hears him ask for demagnetization, and then they’re floating, weightlessness taking hold. McCoy flails; he can’t help it, unintentionally shoving off from the surface of the shuttle, his voice caught in his throat.
Jim follows, bouncing after him, and they begin a gentle spin. McCoy shuts his eyes, desperate to keep his breakfast down, and pretty soon he realizes Jim is talking to him.
“- You don’t have to worry, Bones, seriously. They’ll reel us in, and I’m not going to let go of your arm. We won’t get separated, we’re just going to complete the exercise and before you know it, we’ll be back on solid ground. Just breathe. Breathe, Bones, keep breathing. That’s it. You’re hyperventilating a bit, but I’ll take what I can get. Oh snap, see that? That was a comet. Cool, huh?”
It’s the sort of comforting litany of inane nonsense that would normally drive McCoy nuts, but right now it’s just Jim’s words, and his hand tight on McCoy’s wrist, that are keeping him from screaming. Jim is slightly louder than the heavy thud of his heart against his sternum, so he concentrates on that deep, comforting voice, that clear beacon of life through his headset, and he drifts.
His tether jerks, and he opens his eyes, the shuttle a lifetime away. The Earth fills his vision, expansive; he can see the horn of Africa, a hurricane clustered over the Atlantic, clouds dotting the sky like puffs of smoke.
“Fuck,” he whispers, eyes wide.
“I know,” murmurs Jim. When McCoy turns his head to see him, Jim’s eyes are blue and white like the planet below them.
Jim turns them, and points to a distant star, his voice saying, “That’s Vulcan,” while his tone says I am entirely full of shit.
“Shut up,” scoffs McCoy, his anxiety slipping to a more tolerable level. “You’ve got no damn clue.”
“Fine, you rumbled me,” Jim replies cheerfully. “I have no fucking idea, so I’m gonna re-name it. After –”
“No,” interjects McCoy, already offended on behalf of whatever poor planet or star Jim is undoubtedly about to christen with a dick joke. “No, leave space alone, Jim. It’s got a couple of more years before you’ll be let loose in it on-board some hapless ship, so give it some peace.”
“You don’t even know what I was going to say,” Jim protests defensively.
“Yes, I do,” McCoy says firmly. “We don’t need a planet called Biggus Dickus or Wangerang or Tiberius’s Glory.”
“That mind-reading thing is getting pretty creepy, Bones,” Jim replies, after an awe-struck moment.
McCoy opens his mouth to reply, but then his tether jerks again, harder, and he flips upside down or right-side up – how the fuck do you even tell? – and all that emerges is a startled little cry, panic-ridden and helpless.
Jim’s fingers bring him back, tight around his wrist, and then Jim is wrapping himself around McCoy’s body in a bear-hug as they spiral lazily, tethers tugging gently as they’re towed back to the shuttle.
For once, Jim doesn’t feel warm against him. The suit is cool as they press together, but McCoy can feel every line of Jim’s body through the thin material. He hooks an arm around Jim’s waist, not able to bring himself to care that he’s clinging, and together they’re pulled back, free-floating and insubstantial.
It takes five days for McCoy to shake that unbalanced feeling, the one where his body is convinced he’s not actually on solid ground.
He wobbles through his classes, glad he hasn’t got any surgeries scheduled, and come Friday, he flops onto his bed and stares at the ceiling, the room orbiting slowly around him in an eerie way. He’s been so busy concentrating on not throwing up in the middle of lecture that the day has crept up on him, and suddenly it’s here, it’s unavoidable, and he’s –
Not the empty, sucking void of what it first felt like to wake up and know he’d killed his father, but the regular sort of numb that accompanies not feeling anything remotely worth writing in his diary about.
Not that McCoy has a diary.
But he still feels hungry, and he gets tired and knows when to go to sleep, which are things that seem as though they should be regular, reasonable, easy-to-accomplish tasks in life, but had been next to inconceivable in the days and weeks following David McCoy’s passing.
So it’s not depressed-numb but bewildered-and-small-and-doesn’t-know-wh
He lies in bed until the complaints of his stomach become too loud to ignore, at which point he rises woodenly and walks to the cafeteria.
Much later, when he’s back in the room and returning to his regularly-scheduled program of ceiling watching, wondering when he’ll start to feel again, he realizes he can’t remember actually eating anything, or whether he spoke to anyone.
Too often, he considers getting a drink, but it’s not like it’s going to help, especially since the goal of drinking is to stop feeling, and he’s not exactly having a problem with that right now. The guilt must be lost inside somewhere, along with the grief, but McCoy is tired and he was in space last week, actually physically floating in space, which still makes him sick to think of.
If there’s one identifiable feeling that he can claim, it’s complete and utter uncertainty.
He hasn’t been able to order his thoughts since he left the home in Georgia that was supposed to be his and Jocelyn’s for better or for worse.
When Jim comes back from class, McCoy has rolled over onto his stomach, still wearing his cadet reds, and he’s stock-still on the mattress, one knee hitched up and dangling over the side of the bed.
“Bones?” hisses Jim in what he thinks is a stage-whisper, approaching softly. “Hey, are you asleep?”
McCoy considers pretending, suddenly certain he at least doesn’t want to go over with this with Jim right now; he figures as far as bro-friendships go, he’s got one free pass for a drunken manly breakdown, and he should probably save that for his ex-wedding anniversary. It’s a lot easier to say “Hey, it’s my anniversary, let’s go get trashed,” rather than “Hey, so, you know that ex-wife I mentioned? Part of the reason she left me is because I was a pretty big mess after I killed my dad. Drinks?”
Jim makes his choice for him, though, when he crouches down near the head of McCoy’s bed, doesn’t do anything for a long moment where all McCoy can hear is Jim breathing, and then there’s a warm, dry hand pressing cautiously to his forehead.
McCoy reluctantly peels his eyelids open at the tentative touch, and mutters, “The hell d’you think you’re doing, Jim?”
In other circumstances, McCoy would’ve laughed at how Jim’s eyes go comically wide as he visibly startles and engineers an emergency reverse maneuver.
“Whoa! Holy shit, Bones,” laughs Jim. “Sorry, I thought you might be sick or something, there’s a flu going around. Did I wake you?”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” McCoy assures him, blinking heavy, hot eyelids. “And I know about the flu, I treated twenty-seven cases of it today. Look, Jim, it’s not really a good time. I need a few hours alone.”
Jim’s eyes flicker over what’s visible of his face, his expression wary and doubtful. “What’s the matter?” he asks quietly. “Something happen at the hospital?”
McCoy, having briefly exhausted his reservoir of speech, nudges his shoulders up in a half-hearted shrug.
Jim watches him a moment longer before laying a hand on McCoy’s shoulder, patting him vaguely, and shuffling to his bed and stripping out of his uniform.
McCoy closes his eyes. He doesn’t sleep. He drifts, just like the spacewalk, listening to the sounds of Jim entering and exiting the bathroom, the opening and closing of the fridge, the sink running, the clink of a mug. He must drift off for a little while, because when he opens his eyes next, Jim is curled up in his bed, a PADD resting on his lap, and there’s a mug of something on the side-table next to McCoy’s head.
It’s cold when he picks it up, but he drinks the tea anyway, because Jim took the time to make it for him.
Seeing Jim in a t-shirt and boxers makes him uncomfortably aware of how he’s still in uniform, so he wriggles off the mattress and spends a moment scowling at his fingers while he undresses himself. He doesn’t bother with a shirt, just strips down to his underwear and then slides under the blanket, turning his back to Jim.
He hears Jim sigh, a soft, disappointed sound, and then, haltingly, McCoy says, “Don’t suppose I told you what happened with my ex-wife.”
There’s a pause, as if Jim isn’t quite sure McCoy just spoke to him, before he says, “Nah, Bones, just that the divorce was pretty bad.”
“Well, it was probably never going to work,” McCoy says, curling his fingers against the blanket. He can still see the mark on his finger from his wedding ring. “We were too damn young when we married, and I wasn’t at home enough. We bought a house, and I worked every extra shift I could at the hospital to make sure we’d be okay for money. But my dad got sick, see, and that’s when everything went pear-shaped.”
He pauses, collecting himself, and he can hear Jim breathing, soft and even, behind him. “What happened?” he asks, after a while, when it’s clear McCoy needs a push.
“I spent a year trying to cure him,” murmurs McCoy, and now, now he can feel the fissure, spreading wide inside him, raw and molten with guilt and regret and, God, grief. “Nothing. Eventually he was in so much pain, he asked me to end it. I refused for weeks, but I couldn’t see him like that, Jim, I couldn’t. Here I was, trying so hard to extend a life that was nothing but pain and horror and despair for him because I couldn’t cure him but I could at least keep him alive. I couldn’t acknowledge what he was asking of me. It wasn’t in my nature. How could I give up on my own father?”
Jim is looking at him, McCoy is sure, he can feel the eyes on his back. “He died?”
“I put it off another few weeks,” admits McCoy. “But he called me in one day, and said he was ready. He’d made his peace, and now he wanted me to end it. Me. He wanted me to do it, Jim. His own boy.” He clears his throat. “So I did. I killed him.”
“Bones,” breathes Jim, shocked. “Don’t use the word ‘kill’. You’re acting like you murdered him.”
McCoy makes a choked noise, desperate, animal. “I as good as killed him, Jim, because not three months later, they figured it out. They found a fucking cure. I killed my daddy.”
“Bones,” repeats Jim, a helpless note to his voice.
McCoy’s breath is coming audible and ragged, and he clamps down on the wave of grief that rushes up like the ocean at high tide, relentless and unchangeable. He goes to tell Jim it’s okay, he doesn’t need platitudes, just needs Jim to stay here and not offer him meaningless words he’s heard countless times before, but all that comes out is a moan, low and broken and raw.
Despite his best efforts, all he manages are sobs, and he’s grateful when Jim gets out of bed and crawls in behind him, his arms wrapping around McCoy, pulling him snug against Jim’s chest.
“You don’t have to say anything,” says Jim, speaking into McCoy’s hair. “It’s okay, Bones. I know. I know.”
McCoy doesn’t have to say you don’t know because Jim doesn’t mean it that way, so he just sighs and snuffles and closes his eyes, listening to Jim talk softly, about plasma cores and thermodynamics and apparently whatever else comes to mind, and eventually he sleeps, and doesn’t dream.
He’s never felt so helpless, waiting in numb shock for word that Spock and Jim are coming back.
When he bolts through the door into the transporter room, “Jim!” falling from his lips like a prayer, his desperate, crushing relief to see Jim reappearing on the pad actually tangible, McCoy feels like he can breathe again.
Jim wholeheartedly abuses the ship’s log system. The official captain’s logs are, for the most part, professional, except when Jim slips up and peppers his speech with slang, idiomatic expressions, and witty asides. Every single supplemental log is a testament to the endless fonts of knowledge that Jim squirrels away in his massive, stupid, genius brain. They range from actual astute observations on current ship happenings to notes about alien species, with a healthy dose of bad jokes, non-sequiturs, pick-up lines, and dramatic poetry readings.
McCoy’s personal favorite, though he never said as much to Jim, involved sitting together in his quarters; they’d been drinking something carbonated and sugary sweet that had been in the cargo they’d picked up from their last starbase visit, and at one point, Jim held his finger up, interrupting McCoy mid-sentence. McCoy trailed off, eyebrow raised.
“Computer,” Jim barked, no-nonsense. “Begin recording captain’s log, supplemental.”
The computer emitted an affirmative little beep, and then Jim schooled his features, opened his mouth, and burped the entire alphabet.
At the time, McCoy hadn’t been able to think of anything else more appropriate to do, so he took another swig of his drink, sat up a little straighter, and then burped it all back at Jim – backwards.
It’s his personal log that McCoy never hears, and rightfully so, he thinks. Jim has the right to a place where he can record his thoughts without scrutiny, just like everybody else. It’s not like he means to be privy to it, but since he’s in Jim’s lap, dozing fitfully, as he’s recording an entry, it’s not really McCoy’s fault.
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” Jim is saying, his voice distant and muffled and lilting soft as he recites. “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. Miles to go before I sleep... Hear that, Bones? Yeah, I don’t think he can actually hear me. Fuck. He’s been out for a while. And I don’t think that even if he could, he’d appreciate the poetry, but I like Frost, and I always thought it was about Santa Claus, right – but then, that last stanza. It’s kind of ominous, don’t you think? He’s not going to sleep, he’s going to die. Or if you subscribe to the jolly old Saint Nick school of thought, he’s just going to finish giving out his presents and take a nap, but I, for one, think there’s a certain level of resigned sadness and morbid –”
“Jim,” croaks McCoy, cutting him off. “While I’m enjoying your schizophrenic ramblings, silence is also great, and would suffice.”
He gets shocked silence from Jim, and then the sound of him muttering, “Computer, pause log,” to his communicator as he shuffles around to adjust McCoy in his lap, his fingers light on McCoy’s feverish skin. “Bones? That’s not fair, I thought you were out. Don’t quote mangled Frost back at me.”
“I’ll stop if you shut up about Santa Claus,” counters McCoy, finally succeeding in peeling his eyelids open.
Jim is a concerned blur above him, his hands bracketing McCoy’s face gently.
“Deal,” says Jim. His fingers travel down McCoy’s face, his throat, to his chest, before branching out to feel along his arms.
When he reaches the left wrist, McCoy flinches, jerking in Jim’s lap and smothering a moan.
“Wrist, huh?” murmurs Jim, and McCoy nods as long, deft fingers prod gently at his arm and hand. “I can’t tell if it’s broken. It would be you, Bones, out here, with just a tricorder, a handheld dermal regenerator, and a few bone splints. I’m not a medic, I’ll need your help to set it.”
“The poison will get me quicker than a broken wrist,” replies McCoy, and he’s trying for a light tone, but judging by the unimpressed look on Jim’s face, it falls flat.
“You were shivering,” says Jim, very quietly. “You stopped a little while ago.”
“It’s not from the cold,” lies McCoy. “My nerves feel raw. You’re sure none of the symptoms are turning up for you?”
Jim shakes his head, and tucks McCoy’s field jacket around him more tightly. He squirms in response, his skin suddenly hot despite the chills racking him, and lets out a gasp.
“Easy,” mumbles Jim, petting his hair. “It spreads slower if you stay still.”
“I know, Jim,” slurs McCoy. “I know. I might’ve lied a bit. I’m damn cold.” He blinks, head swimming, and tangles his fingers in the end of the knit scarf Jim had taken off and wrapped around McCoy. He had his own, when they set out, but it disappeared into the storm, and Jim refused to keep his when McCoy collapsed. The fabric is soft between his fingers, and he looks up at Jim, his vision doubling. “John Keats,” he whispers, “John Keats, John. Please put your scarf on.”
Jim chuckles a little sadly. “I see your J.D. Salinger, and raise you T.S. Eliot, Bones. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea, by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed, red and brown....”
McCoy is drifting, drifting with the snow swirling down around them, Jim’s words taking him deep as he fades into unconsciousness again.
“Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
It’s the only logical thing he could’ve done.
He doubts Spock sees it that way (and McCoy will be lying to himself if he doesn’t acknowledge the tiny bit of smug glee he feels when he hyposprays him), and he knows Jim won’t, but tough for them.
McCoy isn’t standing around while Spock goes mad and Jim is forced to choose between them. He’s the doctor and Jim and Spock’s continued health and safety, as far as he’s concerned, is his only priority.
Jim isn’t thinking straight anyway, roughed up from the torture and suffering from the bends, and McCoy will not allow things to progress any further.
So he leaves with the Vians, and he knows he’s probably going to die. It’s giving him such a sense of peace, taking control like this, that he’s not afraid. He didn’t realize until now, just what lengths he’d go to for his two closest friends, but at least he knows, now.
They’re worth the agony.
He’s not really aware of much, just voices, and familiar hands, and then he’s in Jim’s arms. The padded bench Jim puts him on is blessedly soft, his joints screaming, and all he can really do is let the shudders wrack him. Jim’s body is a warm weight on one side, Spock’s on the other, and he can feel the elevated heat of Spock’s gentle fingers in his hair, steadying him when he dissolves into a rasping, pained cough.
“This is how the world ends,” he whispers, and Jim leans over him.
“Bones! What? What did you say?”
It’s a little too melodramatic; the world is hardly ending, but his part in it certainly is, and it’s with a whimper.
He doesn’t deserve Gem’s empathy, doesn’t deserve what she gives him.
And he’s right – Jim’s fucking pissed.
Jim holds out on the not-speaking-to-Bones front for two whole days, and then he turns up in McCoy’s quarters looking drawn but chipper and only slightly guarded.
“Come right in,” drawls McCoy, crossing his arms. “You get over yourself yet?”
“Did you?” counters Jim, raising an eyebrow. He’s got an armful of old books, paperbacks, and he smells musty as he brushes past McCoy to dump the pile on the end of his bed.
“What’s all this? Cultivating some mould, Jim?” McCoy asks warily.
“Poetry,” replies Jim. “For you. All these books belonged to my father. I want you to have them.”
McCoy is sure his jaw is on the floor. “What?! Jim, I can’t –”
“Relax,” cuts in Jim. “It’s not like I don’t know where you live. I can borrow ‘em back any time I want. But he had some good stuff, and I thought you might like it.”
“Jim,” tries McCoy, again, and he falls silent at the fragile look in Jim’s eyes. His jaw works for a moment, and he eventually asks, “Got any Yeats?”
“Yeah,” replies Jim, breaking out in a relieved smile. “The whole collection.”
“Listen,” says McCoy, after a moment. “I – I’m...” He trails off, spreading his hands helplessly. “Want to read me your favourite?”
Jim’s mouth twists a bit, but he picks up a slim volume and then sits on the floor, back against the foot of the bed. McCoy slides down to sit next to him, their shoulders and knees touching, and he listens to Jim read William Blake.
>>buffering...resetting program parameters
It all slots together.
McCoy is in bed, but he’s not asleep yet, just sprawled out, warm under the covers, waiting for his brain to shut down and his body to relax.
This time, Jim actually bothers to press the door chime, so McCoy doesn’t even consider it might be him at the door. He sighs irritably, sits up in bed, and calls out, “Come in, but this damn well better be good. Sickbay on fire? Invasion force? The mess hall ran out of potato salad?”
The door whooshes open, and Jim steps in, looking amused. “If the mess is out of potato salad, it’s ‘cause you ate it all, Bones.”
McCoy snorts. “Jim. I didn’t recognize you, what with the manners, and all.”
“Look, doors just usually open for me, okay,” Jim protests, sauntering in. He’s wearing jeans and a Starfleet Academy t-shirt, his hands tucked into his back pockets. “It’s a captain thing. You wouldn’t get it.”
McCoy lets out another derisive snort, and, because it’s Jim – he honestly can’t picture himself doing this with anyone else – he stretches back out and pulls the covers open. Jim slips in a second later, turning over to face McCoy. His eyes are bright.
“With a bang, Bones,” he says, winking.
McCoy groans, snatching the pillow from underneath Jim’s head and then smacking it into his face. They haven’t really wrestled since the Academy, and it’s not quite wrestling even now, McCoy holding the pillow down as he climbs over Jim, but it releases something heavy in his chest, something that was nervous and scared, and he laughs as Jim bats at him and utters muffled curses.
He’s a magnanimous sort, so he frees Jim from suffocation, sitting on his thighs and grinning down at him while Jim tries to sit up, fails, and then flops backwards, panting shallowly.
“Seriously, though,” says Jim, doing that thing he does where he leaps into a conversation he’s mostly been having in his head and hasn’t yet let McCoy in on. “'This is how the world ends', that’s what you said, and it kind of scared me, Bones.”
“Scared me, too, Jim,” McCoy reminds him. Normally he’s more careful, but Jim’s shirt is riding up and his fingers find their way there naturally, thumb brushing over the curve of his hip.
Jim looks up at him through his lashes, eyes half-lidded, and reaches out to take McCoy’s hand, threading their fingers together.
“You said you didn’t want to talk about it again,” says Jim. He pauses, waiting for McCoy to ask for clarification, to huff and snap ‘what the fuck are you talking about?’, but McCoy doesn’t, because he knows exactly what Jim is referring to.
“Yeah,” breathes McCoy. He squeezes Jim’s hand and then lets go, ready to get off Jim, but Jim’s hands end up on his thighs, digging his fingertips in.
“What scared you off, Bones?”
McCoy looks at Jim warily. He knows what he could say, blustering about not thinking Jim would be interested, but none of it is true. Jim is no idiot. And McCoy never thought Jim would treat his heart with anything less than total care, but McCoy had doubts about his own ability to not hurt Jim. He trusts himself to Jim implicitly; it’s trusting himself with Jim that’s always been the damn problem.
He can’t verbalize it, doesn’t know how to express what a risk this feels like, but he leans down and lets himself brush his nose against Jim’s, lets himself trail his lips over his cheek, down to the corner of his mouth. Jim has practically stopped breathing, fisting his hands in McCoy’s shirt.
“Would it help if I ordered you to kiss me?” demands Jim, dramatically giving McCoy a shake when he doesn’t progress further. “This is your captain speaking, Bones. Stop being such a raging pussy.”
McCoy snorts. “Since when do I listen to you? Whether you’re giving orders or not.”
“I could pull rank,” points out Jim childishly. “I’m going to spell it out for you, Bones. I’m a big boy. So are you. There’s very little you could ever do to fuck up the extent of the BFF-ery between us, even if we started having sex and admitted we’re pretty much pathetically lost without each other. To the average crewman, we look like we’ve been fucking – or married – for years. If you look up ‘codependent’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of us. I spend Christmas with you. We go on shore leave together. We –”
“Jim,” interrupts McCoy, exasperated. “This is exactly why we don’t need to talk about any of this shit.”
“Then make me stop,” orders Jim, triumphantly.
The grin on his face says I Am Awesome and I Totally Fucking Won the Game; McCoy could never resist that one for very long.
Time doesn’t stop, or slow down, or anything else involving temporal dumbfuckery that would actually be more disturbing than sexy, considering, when their mouths finally meet – instead, it feels like the whole galaxy finally breathes around them, a deep, shuddering exhale, like McCoy’s been teetering on the head of a pin. He relaxes as he gives in, lets go, sealing his lips to Jim’s with steady, insistent pressure. Jim opens to him like breaking waves, wild and tumultuous.
McCoy pours every word he can’t say into the kiss, laces it with I love you and I need you, mouthing wet, sloppy trails up Jim’s throat, dipping into the hollow of his jaw. Jim hisses, arching beneath him, and grips McCoy’s hair, tugging him down, bringing them flush, legs tangled, leaning on each other.
“It scared me,” whispers Jim, launching back into a previous thread of conversation with seamless ease. “Because you’re not hollow, Bones. You’re not. This is not the way your world ends.”
“Following the linear conventions of conversation won’t kill you, Jim,” says McCoy, to avoid saying something more substantial.
Jim huffs a laugh, a rueful grin on his face, but his eyes are warm. He pinches McCoy’s cheek. “You always know what I’m talking about.”
“I’ve got no choice,” complains McCoy. “Someone on this damn ship has to decipher your disjointed treaties on life, and you still confuse the fuck out of Spock.”
Jim laughs again. He rolls them over, abruptly, until they’re facing each other on their sides, and tucks himself up against McCoy, so familiar against his body that McCoy just slings an arm over him and closes his eyes.
Jim’s right, the little shit, he’s right about the glaring lack of need to quantify anything between them.
People normally make McCoy nervous, neurotic, too aware of his own faults, but Jim – Jim can be obnoxious, ridiculous, maddening, but he never makes McCoy feel like anything other than himself.
McCoy kisses him again, and the universe exhales.
>>program reset: end