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the sum of a man

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Jim knows it's bad news the moment he sees Pike on the screen. His mentor usually looks worn out, but this is a new level entirely. The bags under his eyes are stark against his pale skin, his forehead is furrowed, and the lines around his downturned mouth are deeper than Jim remembers.

In summary: Jim is about to get reamed.

The problem is, he doesn't know why. It's been months since the crew has seen action of any sort; they seem to have hit a patch of uninhabited space. So unless Bones ratted about Chekov's booze- which he didn't, because that would make it harder for them to steal it- Jim is coming up short on an explanation.

"Hello, Admiral," he says, hiding his curiosity behind formality. Starfleet may not be a military organization, but it certainly inherited the proclivity for ritual.

Pike nods. "Captain. How are things?"

"I sent a brief last shift-"

"You, Jim. I'm asking how you are."

That's... not the way scoldings usually begin, but Pike is a crafty guy. He could be working up to anything.

"I'm well, sir," Jim says. "We haven't come across any new life forms or colonies of known ones. I beat my record for running the mile, Bones is ecstatic about not having to patch anyone up, and Spock is relieved to have time to himself."

"Good. That's good, Jim." Pike is obviously preoccupied now, frowning down at his lap and fiddling with his Academy ring.

Jim has never been much for waiting on people to dole out punishment. "Is something wrong, sir?"

"No." Pike squints at the screen. "Not immediately wrong, but there's trouble on the horizon."

Jim's gut clenches. "Who is it now? Klingons? Romulans? A new species? It's not earth, is it?"

Pike shakes his head. "None of the above. It's danger for you, Jim, of a sort." He lets out a breath. "The brass is concerned that you're too flighty, Jim. You don't have anyone to keep your head on straight. Most captains of active ships are married- or they're older than you. The fact that we had to rebuild the Enterprise didn't sit well with people."

"But I do have someone," Jim objects. "I have my crew. Admiral, I would never endanger them. You must know that. And you do," he adds, realization dawning. "You know I would never risk their lives. What's going on?"

"They want a better assurance," Pike admits, "the rest of the Admiralty. A spouse, a child... Someone you would be extra careful for."

Jim freezes. "I'm in no position-"

"And yet you are." Pike runs his hands over his face. "Find someone, Jim. It doesn't matter who. You have twelve hours."

"Or what?"

"Or the next time the Enterprise docks somewhere, she'll be grounded indefinitely until you do."

 

xx

 

Jim wastes an hour in his quarters trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. When that fails, he spends another hour in the gym. Or he intends to, but as he puts another weight on the barbell, a familiar voice calls his name.

Twisting around, Jim spots Bones scowling in the doorway. The good doctor must have heard about the meeting with Pike.

"This is going to be fun," Jim mutters to himself as he puts the weights away. Talks with Bones rarely go quickly, and this one, Jim senses, is going to be especially long.

Bones barely waits for the door to shut behind them before asking, too casually, "So, what did Pike want to yell at you about?"

Jim opens his mouth to brush Bones off, if only because riling his friend up is fun, but an idea pops into place first.

Jim and Bones are best friends. There is possibly no one Jim cares about more than Bones. He certainly wouldn't ever put Bones in harm's way. Back at the Academy, Bones was always the one who rolled his eyes and dragged Jim out of bad situations. Pike would know that if the others don't.

It's the perfect solution.

"Hey, Bones?" he asks. "Would you get married again?"

"I don't see how that's relevant."

"Bones."

Bones sighs. "Yes, I think I'd like to get married again. Someday."

Jim puts an arm around his friend's shoulders. "How about today?"

 

xx

 

Bones stares at him like he's stupid.

"Did you hit your head?" he hisses. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Jim tells him about Pike's call, the order to get himself, essentially, a family. Bones' face twists, and even if Jim couldn't see his expression, he would be able to feel the disgust pouring off his best friend.

"That's not how it works," Bones points out, rubbing at his forehead. "You could marry a stranger in an hour and not give one more damn than you do now."

Jim shrugs, only to frown a moment later. "Are you implying I don't care about the ship?"

"No, Jim. I'm flat out saying your attachment to the Enterprise and our crew isn't dependent on anything but your own damned self."

Bones has his hands on his hips, his ire directed at Jim now, which would be more concerning if Jim didn't know Bones is coming off a long shift and might fall over any minute.

"The Admiralty doesn't care about that," he says, stepping forward so he can get Bones somewhere to sit before he really does tip over. "And I need a spouse. Or a child, I suppose, but a spouse seems smarter. Although," he adds thoughtfully, "with you I get both."

"And an ex," Bones says sourly.

"And an ex," Jim agrees. He's sure he can handle Jocelyn if he needs to, but from the sound of it, Bones' only contact with her is the occasional call when his scheduled call to Joanna has to change time. Jim has overheard a few of those. Bones always white-knuckles it through and looks the worse for wear afterwards.

"So, what will it be, Bones?" Jim asks as they reach his quarters. "Will you become Leonard Kirk?"

Bones scowls as he follows Jim inside, shoulders creeping toward his ears. "McCoy-Kirk, if anything," he says sharply.

"What if I like Kirk-McCoy better?"

"What if I don't marry you and instead get to spend the rest of my years enjoying a nice, safe life planetside?"

"You wouldn't dare."

Bones flops down on Jim's bed and snorts. "Wouldn't I?"

"You know it would make me sad," Jim says mournfully as he does the same on the other side of the bed.

"Space makes me sad. To live is to suffer, James."

Jim feels himself wince. "McCoy-Kirk it is."

"Smart man."

"So you're really doing this?" Jim asks. He hadn't actually thought Bones would say yes. But if he does, if Jim can get Starfleet off his back just by putting a ring on his best friend's finger, then that would be incredible.

Bones hums thoughtfully. "We'll have to tell our families. Is yours going to take well to a newfound interest in men?"

"Not a problem," Jim says easily. "Winona won't care, and even if Sam does, which I doubt he will, his wife won't."

"You never mentioned Sam got hitched."

"I thought you'd be touchy about happy marriages," Jim says lamely.

Bones laughs. He outright laughs, just looks into Jim's face and laughs in it. "I get that you're being sensitive, Jim. I do. And I appreciate it. But I'd be one pathetic man if I couldn't handle people being happy." Put that way, Jim can see the foolishness of it, but Bones isn't done. He sobers and looks back up at the ceiling. "I wish all marriages were happy," he says after a beat.

"We'll be happy," Jim promises.

He feels rather than sees Bones roll his eyes.

"Pike is going to be thrilled," Jim says. "He made it clear he wasn't in favor of the decision."

"I'm not surprised. Pike isn't married either- he's probably imagining himself next." Bones shakes his head. "Best get on those calls, then. You want to go first, or do you want me to?"

"You go," Jim says, lazily waving his hand. "Use my stuff."

"Oh, no, you don't," Bones says sharply. "You’re doing this with me. If the Admiralty finds out this is a sham, they'll come after you. I am not getting divorced again so soon."

He has a point. Jim sits up reluctantly and watches Bones do the same. "Do we start with your family or mine?"

 

xx

 

The calls aren't as bad as Jim would have thought. By virtue of coming first alphabetically, they start with the Kirks.

Winona is thrilled. She wells up the moment Jim takes Bones' hand and holds it up, and she's still teary-eyed when she says goodbye. "You're a good match," says just before then. "I was afraid my Jim would never find happiness like I did with George, but after all he's told me about you, Leonard, I see it. I see it perfectly."

After her image fades, Jim turns to Bones and finds him, predictably, looking guilty.

"It's the only way," Jim reminds him gently. He knows this goes against the grain for his friend. Bones only nods stiffly and gestures for Jim to make the next call.

Sam is less enthused than Winona, but not because of Jim's surprising revelation of liking dick. "You're really picking Jim?" he asks sharply when Jim introduces them. "Aren't you supposed to be a bright guy?"

Jim just sighs- that's Sam for you- but Bones' frown only deepens the longer Sam talks.

"You do know that's my fiancée you're bad mouthin', right?" he drawls when Sam finally stops. Sam has the grace to look embarrassed, but Bones puts an arm around Jim's shoulders and quirks a brow at Sam. "At his age, he's already captain of a distinguished ship and entrusted with a multi-year voyage into uncharted space. I figure I did pretty well for myself."

An awkward silence falls after Bones finishes. He's got that mulish look on his face that says he isn't about to yield, Sam looks like he can't remember how to talk, and Jim really just wants the call to be over.

Luckily for them, Aurelan is home.

"I think they both did well," she says diplomatically, laying a comforting hand on Sam's shoulder. "I'm sorry we'll miss the ceremony, though. I've never seen a wedding on a spaceship. You'll tell us all about it, won't you?"

Bless her, Jim thinks. Bless his brother's better half.

"Yes, ma'am," Bones replies, really pouring on the Southern charm. Jim would roll his eyes if he didn't know it's exactly what Aurelan wants to hear. "I'll be sure to have Jim here get in touch with you just as soon as he can. It may take some time, though, mind you."

Aurelan eats his words up. Jim subtly pinches Bones' shoulder- charming Aurelan is one thing, but there's a point where charming becomes flirty. Jim really doesn't want to deal with that.

From Sam's scowl, his brother is getting a similar feeling.

Bones just smiles and crosses his legs, not-so-gently jamming his heel into Jim's shin as he does. "It was lovely to meet you both," he finishes. "I hope to hear from you soon."

Sam cuts the feed right after that.

"What the hell, Jim?" Bones snaps, twisting to glare at him. "I was just bein' polite!"

"We both know your accent isn't that thick," Jim says, feeling snappy himself. "That's my sister-in-law, you animal."

"Lord help me," Bones grumbles, rubbing at his temples. "Let's get my family over with so we can call Pike and I can leave this awful place."

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"

"Jim, you're my best friend. I enjoy spending time with you. But your quarters stink."

"Like what?" Jim asks, hastily trying to recall if he's sneaked any food back lately.

"Like you," Bones says with a sigh. "Like a sad, sad bachelor whose only contact with women folk is when one comes over to fuck him."

"That's specific."

"It's a specific smell."

Rolling his eyes- his quarters smell just fine- Jim gestures for Bones to make the call. "Who are we talking to first?"

"My ma and grandma. They'd kill me if I talked to Joss before them."

Sure enough, the first words out of Bones' mother's mouth when she hears of the engagement are, "Does Jocelyn know?"

Bones shakes his head, and his grandmother smiles. "I always knew Leonard was a smart boy," she says proudly, getting a nod of agreement from her daughter.

"Congratulations to you both," Mrs. McCoy says after that. Her smile is soft but genuine, and she takes hold of her mother's hand with a profound look of sadness. "I'm just sorry your father didn't live to see this."

Bones coughs, discomfort pouring off him. Jim knows the story behind Bones' father's absence, and he gives Bones a companionable pat on the thigh.

"I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him," he says. "I'm sure he was something else."

"Leonard got his patience from him," Mrs. McCoy says, expression serious, and Jim chokes. Bones gives his hand a pointed squeeze.

Jim covers by faking a coughing fit, which gets tuts and recommendations of cough remedies from both women.

Bones' expression turns pleading. "You do realize I'm the CMO on this thing, right?" he asks.

"Yes, dear," says his grandmother, "but your gift is surgery. You don't have the gentle touch of a family doctor."

"I have a great touch," Bones mutters mutinously.

"What was that?"

"You're right," he says quickly. "I'm sure it's nothing, but why don't I take a look just to be sure, Jim, honey?"

Both women nod and convey their hopes that Jim recovers soon. The call disconnects after that, and Jim has to bite his cheek not to laugh.

"Go on," Bones says tiredly. "Let it out."

Jim does. He laughs until it hurts and keeps going. "Your patience," he says, a touch too loudly, and has to wipe at the tears forming in his eyes. "God, you've really got them fooled."

"I'm very patient," Bones insists. "Just not with you."

"You barked at Spock yesterday for taking an extra minute to come down for his physical!"

"He was dawdling! I checked the feed, and he was intentionally taking his time. I'm busy; I don't have time for green-blooded bastards slowing my work."

Jim only shakes his head. "Your ex is next, right?"

"And Joanna."

"And Joanna," Jim corrects. This is the call that's got him most nervous. He isn't worried about Jocelyn or her new husband; if they were going to be an issue, Bones would have told him. No, like any step parent, Jim is most concerned about his daughter to be. Bones hoards information about her, keeping it close as though sharing it might somehow hurt the girl.

"Don't worry about her," Bones says suddenly, as if he'd read Jim's thoughts. "Joanna isn't like either of her parents," he says wryly. "She's a sweet girl. I've told her enough about you that she'll probably just want to ask you about the Enterprise."

"She likes space?" Jim asks, surprised.

"At the moment, yes, and don't encourage her," Bones orders. "It could just be a phase, and if it is, I want it to pass as quickly as it can."

"What if it isn't?"

"You probably will have gotten me killed by then, so I won't have to worry about it."

"Nice to have your confidence, man."

"Of course."

Jocelyn is the one who answers. She's alone, which Jim isn't sure is a good thing or a bad one. She frowns when she recognizes Bones. "Leonard," she says, sounding confused. "You're early. Is everything all right? Who's that with you?"

Bones nods. "Everything is fine, Joss. And this is Jim. There's been a, ah, development. In terms of my relationships. You and Jo ought to know about it."

She doesn't look happy, exactly, but she doesn't look unhappy either. "Jo," she calls over her shoulder. "It's your father!"

A moment later, a little girl comes tearing into the room. She must be about ten, maybe? Jim isn't great with kids' ages, but he thinks that's about what age Bones said she would be.

He can see the resemblance immediately. She's got Jocelyn's fine features, but her dark hair and the intensity of her gaze are pure Bones.

She lights up when she recognizes her father. "Daddy! Hi!"

Bones just about melts in his chair. The smile he favors his daughter with is nothing like anything Jim has ever seen on his face, and his voice is softer, happier, when he says, "Hello, girl. How are you?"

"I'm good!" she chirps. "I got an A on my spelling test." Bones' smile widens, only to waver when she adds, "I miss you, though." She tilts her head. "How come you're calling now?"

Bones doesn't look away from her as he takes Jim's hand. "I wanted you and your mom to know things have changed up here." He swallows hard. "This is Jim. I told you about him before, remember?"

"The feckless pig fucker?" Joanna asks, brow furrowing.

"Joanna!"

"Leonard!"

Bones cringes away from his ex's ire.

Jim can't help it. The opportunity is too good. He gives Bones a hurt look. "Oh, Bones... Is that really what you think of me?"

"I didn't think she'd heard that," Bones tells Jocelyn hastily. "And you," he says, glaring at Jim, "don't make things worse."

"But you told your daughter I'm a feckless-"

"Finish that sentence, and I'm not going to marry you."

"Marry you?" Jocelyn echoes.

"You're getting married again?" Joanna asks. Her eyes are open impossibly wide. "Really, Daddy? You're gonna marry Mr. Jim?"

Bones sighs. "That isn't how I was planning to tell you, but yes. Jim and I are getting married."

"You didn't tell me you were together," Jocelyn says, looking concerned. "Leonard?"

"It crept up on me," Bones says with a crooked smile. "Things are different in space, Joss."

"Yes, I understand that, but, Leonard..." She puts her hands over Joanna's ears. "Tell me you know what you're doing. Tell me this won't hurt our girl, and I won't make a fuss. But you have to promise me."

Considering Jocelyn broke their marriage up for another man, Jim isn't entirely sure she should get to dictate the non-affair terms of Bones' relationships. Bones isn't getting prickly, though, so Jim stays quiet.

"I know what I'm doing," Bones says quietly. "I promise."

Jocelyn still looks skeptical, but she nods and takes her hands off Joanna's ears. "All right, then. I take it you're having the ceremony out there."

Jim and Bones nod.

"Well, I suppose I don't have to be worried about my successor wearing a nicer dress," she says dryly, her eyes dancing, and Jim suddenly sees in her what Bones must have.

He can't help but push his luck and say, "I don't know. I think I'd look nice in a white dress. What do you think, honey?"

"I think you have a difficult silhouette for most dresses," Bones replies lightly. "But if that's what you want, darlin', then I guess it's what you want. You might have to borrow heels from Uhura, though, and I'm not sure she'll let you after that disaster with Scotty."

"Scotty?" Jim asks, interest piqued. "What did Scotty do?"

"What didn't Scotty do is more the question," Bones grumbles. He shakes himself a second later and refocuses. "But that's beside the point. I wanted to tell my girl what was going on. Sorry you aren't going to be here for it, pea. I wish you could be."

Joanna nods, looking crestfallen but holding it together surprisingly well. "Will you take pictures?"

"I promised your grandma I would. I'll send them to you both, all right?"

Joanna nods, and she looks a little less devastated.

Jocelyn on the other hand... "Of course you spoke to them first."

"Joss..."

"No, it's fine. I should have guessed." She shakes her head. "I'd like to speak with Jim for a moment."

"He's right here."

"Without you, Leonard."

Bones' eyes narrow. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

Jocelyn raises one brow in a gesture that's eerily reminiscent of Bones. "I'm not looking for trouble," she promises. "But there are things an ex and the new guy ought to say without worrying about you hearing."

Bones doesn't like it, but Jim is just about dying with curiously. "Go on, Bones," he urges. "You know me. I'll be fine."

"Five minutes," Bones tells Jocelyn.

She nods, and Bones slowly gets up and retreats.

"Why don't you go play for a bit?" Jocelyn tells Joanna. "Jim and I have to talk about some boring adult stuff, and your dad won’t be back for a bit."

Joanna nods and slips off.

Jocelyn watches her for a minute before she turns back to Jim. Her expression says she means business. "Last I heard," she says slowly, "Leonard wanted to wring your neck."

Jim clears his throat. "That's-"

"None of my business," Jocelyn finishes. "I let Leonard go, and I don't want him back." She lets out a breath and seems to shrink in her seat. "I wasn't good to Leonard when I was with him. I'd like to make sure you do better."

"You what now?" Jim asks, thrown by this curve ball. "I don't-"

"He carries tension in his shoulders- and he has a lot of it- so if you haven't been rubbing them, you really should," Jocelyn plows on over him. "He loves sweet tea. Make it right, and he'll do just about anything for you. He can be uptight about keeping things clean. Don't bother trying to accustom him to living with some mess. It won't work. And don't be surprised if he neglects himself when he's sad or busy. Just push him into the shower, turn it on, and don't let him out until he doesn't stink." She hesitates before adding, "This might be too much, but don't scold him if he's being too sweet in bed. You'll only hurt him. Oh, and he's a cuddler. It got to be too much for me, but maybe you go for that."

This is surreal. His best friend's wife is telling him what Bones is like in bed, information Jim has never wanted and wishes he didn't have now.

Admittedly, Jim already knows most of what she said from rooming with Bones at the Academy, but the last one is just... "You actually said that to him?"

"I was young," Jocelyn says with a half shrug as if she hasn't just admitted to saying the coldest thing Jim has ever heard. "I thought if I pushed him, he would go for it. Needless to say, he didn't."

Well, now Jim understands why Bones wouldn't just sleep with the few people he's gone out with. Damn.

"I'll keep that in mind," he promises.

"Good. You should also know that Len will probably be a bit clingy after your wedding. He'll get over it after a while." She tilts her head. "He's just one of those guys. It's sweet, if you like that sort of thing."

Jim may not be big on clingy people, but in this moment, he feels a sudden, vicious desire that he were.

"I like Bones' attachment to me," he finds himself saying. "He's the most reliable man I've ever had the pleasure of fucking, and I always know where we stand. So yes, I do like that sort of thing. Quite a lot, actually. "

Jocelyn just blinks at him for a long minute. Jim isn't sure where that came from any more than she is, and all he can think to do is look her dead in the eyes and look confident- in for a penny, in for a pound, after all.

Luckily, Bones comes in not long after.

"Right, time's up," he announces, and Jim has never loved the guy like he does in this moment. His eyes flicker from Jim to Jocelyn and back to Jim. "I don't want to know, do I?"

"Nope."

"Great. Where's Jo?"

"Playing," Jocelyn says, shaking off her stupor. "She has Starfleet Club soon, though."

Bones instantly straightens. "I thought we said she wasn't old enough."

"She was desperate, Len. It makes her feel closer to you."

"Then let her volunteer at a clinic or something," Bones hisses. "Damn it, Joss. We talked about this. I told her no, and I need you to back me up."

"It's just a school club."

"It's a goddamn recruiting drive is what it is! My little girl is destined for better than a cold, lonely death in the asshole of nowhere!"

"Language!" Jocelyn hisses back.

"Don't talk to me like I'm a child."

"Don't act like one."

Bones draws a sharp breath in through his nose, and that's when Jim knows someone has to step in. All it takes is one well-aimed kick to disrupt the signal and end the call.

"Oops," he says lightly.

"That," Bones says, sounding tired, "was probably the best way things could have ended."

"Kind of what I was thinking."

Bones stares off into the distance for a long time, probably thinking of a way to justify his disappearance to Joanna. Jim doesn't bother him, just sits next to him quietly and waits him out. That's the key to being around Bones; you've got to be patient. He'll come around eventually. You just can't hurry him along.

Jim knows his friend is back when Bones sighs and says, "Let's call Pike."

 

xx

 

Pike actually answers, which Jim hadn't been expecting. The moment he realizes Jim isn't alone but has Bones with him, though, his expression moves from tired to something almost sad.

"No," he says. "Absolutely not."

"But, Admiral, it’s perfect!" Jim protests. Beside him, Bones makes a noise that says he's less than confident about that. Jim ignores him. "Everybody already knows Bones and I are friends. It wouldn't take much to convince them we've actually been dating on the sly."

"And you're okay with this, McCoy?" Pike asks.

Bones shrugs. "Better he's off in space than making trouble on the planet, sir."

"That's not exactly a ringing endorsement."

"It's Jim," Bones says dryly. "You'd be even more skeptical if I were singing his praise."

Pike nods.

"I'm right here!" Jim says.

Bones and Pike ignore him.

"You're sure about this?" Pike asks.

Bones nods. "Yes, sir."

Pike sighs. "I'll let the Admiralty know, then. But be careful, you two. Any whiff of this being fake gets out, and you two are done for."

With that ominous warning, he ends the call.

"Well," Bones says after a beat. "Time to tell the kids."

 

xx

 

The reactions of the crew are what Jim would have guessed. The crew as a whole is surprised but happy- a wedding means a break from the tedium, if nothing else.

Uhura is skeptical. She asks Bones more than once if he's sure he means this Jim Kirk. Spock is outwardly congratulatory, but he keeps sneaking looks at Uhura that mean he's either concerned she might be getting ideas or that he thinks she might be able to do something stupid. Given the way she's eyeing Jim, he would put the odds at fifty-fifty.

Scotty and Keenser immediately turn to Chekov, who in turn shrinks a little deeper into his seat even as he claps along with the rest of the crew. Bones must not be the only one aware of their littlest officer's stash.

Sulu alone looks genuinely concerned. He keeps looking back and forth between Jim and Bones, forehead pinched. He claps along, though.

Jim makes a mental note to keep an eye on him, but he's having too much fun watching Bones try to duck hugs from well wishers to care that much.

"You'll be gettin' married here on the ship, won't ye?" Scotty asks.

Jim nods.

"So you'll be needing rings."

Jim hadn't even thought of that.

"No need tae fret," Scotty continues. "I've got some scrap metal from some of the equipment. Keenser an' I'll make ye rings fit fer kings!"

Not for the first time, Jim decides his crew is the best. And if he makes certain not to wonder why there's scrap metal from equipment, all the better.

 

xx

 

Jim realizes about halfway through the ceremony that he and Bones are going to have to kiss. Normally, this wouldn't be much of an issue. Jim can happily kiss just about anyone. He could probably even kiss Bones and make it out alive under normal circumstances. The problem is, Bones takes things like marriage seriously- and he's not one for displaying affection openly in the traditional manner. He's more of a "call you an idiot while he sticks a hypo in your neck" kind of guy. Scotty- and why the hell their chief engineer is a certified justice of the peace, Christ only knows- is rapidly approaching the line, though, and Bones is looking grumpier and grumpier by the second.

When Scotty loudly proclaims, "You may now kiss the husband!" Jim's mind goes blank. All he can see is Bones' pinched face. His wrinkled forehead. His narrowed eyes. The thin line of his pressed lips.

It's only natural, then, that Bones is the one who rolls his eyes, puts his hands on either side of Jim's face, and leans in. It's a chaste kiss, no tongue or heat to it, but the moment Bones pulls away, Jim misses having him near.

That's when the cheering registers, and suddenly Bones is tugging Jim toward their crew.

"You're goin' first," he mutters just before he pushes Jim in front and frog marches him through the crowd toward the dining hall where they're holding the reception. Jim doesn't resist. It's nice having Bones at his back.

The mess has been rearranged so there's a table sitting alone at the front, and Jim and Bones take their appointed seats without being told.

"This is absurd," Bones says as the crowd comes running in to grab their own seats.

Jim laughs him off and slings an arm around his shoulders. "It's been too quiet, Bones. You know that as well as I do. Let them have this."

Bones doesn't quite manage to be friendly the whole time, especially when Sulu produces a cake from nowhere and gracefully places it in front of them.

"Where the hell did you get this?" Bones hisses.

Sulu merely shrugs, an enigmatic smile tugging at his lips. "Sorry, McCoy, but that's classified."

Bones turns to Jim. "Captain?"

Jim shakes his head, fighting a smile as Bones' frown deepens. "Let's not spoil the magic."

"You're only getting one piece."

"Yes, Bones," Jim tells him happily.

By the time they leave, Jim has eaten three pieces and Bones is looking mutinous. He doesn't snap at any of the people who wolf-whistle as they leave, though he does come to an abrupt stop when someone shouts something about them using protection.

"I married the CMO," Jim calls over his shoulder as he takes Bones' hand. "You really think I'm gonna be short on condoms?"

A laugh ripples through the room, and Bones manages to unstick his feet from the floor to follow Jim out. The halls are clear with everyone either at their stations or in the mess. The only sound is the hum of the engines.

When they get to the door of Jim's quarters- their quarters now- Jim turns to Bones. "You ready?"

Bones gives him a flat look. "You do realize I'm the one who's done this before, right?"

"But not with me," Jim points out, which gets him a spectacular eye roll. "Want me to carry you across the threshold?"

"Want me to beat your ass and eject your corpse into space?"

"That was bleak."

"So's the idea of you carrying me. Can we go in now?"

"Yes, dear," Jim says sweetly and steps forward to be scanned. The door opens, and he and Bones step inside.

 

xx

 

Seeing Bones in his quarters shouldn't make Jim feel so awkward. Bones has been here plenty of times before. He's even slept over a few times when they had too much or a mission went badly. If someone had to be stepping into Jim's space, Bones is the one who seems least out of place.

"I see they brought my things over," Bones observes. "Thoughtful of them."

"That was probably Spock's doing," Jim tells him. "I caught him going over the moving process with Uhura in the mess while we were setting up."

Bones makes a face and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, "Green-blooded bastard better not have touched my toothbrush with his creepy hands."

The tension between Bones and Spock has, for some reason, continued after the defeat of Krall. Jim doesn't get it. Bones likes Spock, and Spock likes Bones. But the two of them snipe at each other constantly. Spock is "a heartless alien". Bones "would not know a rational thought if it introduced itself by name". The bickering only makes Uhura shake her head and roll her eyes, though, so Jim isn't worried. Besides, it's nice to see Bones harassing someone else for a change.

"So," Bones says, coming to stand by Jim, "how are we working this?"

Jim frowns, confused. "This?"

"Well, we'll be rooming together for the foreseeable future, and I'd like to know what I'm in for." Bones' eyes narrow. "I refuse to sleep on the floor."

"Hey, who said anything about sleeping on the floor?" Jim asks, hackles up. "The bed's big enough for two."

"Barely."

"Then I'll sleep on the floor." Inexplicably angry, Jim marches to the bed and reaches for a pillow.

"Damn it, Jim. That's not what I meant."

"Then what did you mean?"

Bones scratches at the back of his neck, forehead wrinkling. "I haven't done this since Joss," he admits. "And I know we're not really doing this, but we're gonna have to do some of it, which makes everything harder. I'm just trying to make things as easy as they can be."

"So am I."

"I know you are." Rubbing at his temples, he echoes, "Boy, do I know it."

"So...?"

"So I don't know. I'm in over my head, Jim."

When it comes to people, Bones is never in over his head. He may be a grouch, but he reads people like nobody else. He can tell when Spock is hiding an injury, and he can take one look at Chekov and know the kid needs to go sleep. He knew Jim needed a drink on the shuttle. He was the one who made sure Uhura didn't beat herself up after the mess with the Klingons. If either of them was going to know where to go with this, it was Bones.

But Bones is standing in the middle of the room looking lost, so it's going to have to be Jim this time.

"It doesn't have to be weird."

"Yes, it does. This situation is inherently, fundamentally weird."

Jim narrows his eyes. "Are you done?"

"For the moment."

"As I was trying to say, we don't need to change that much. We roomed together in the Academy. This could be the same, except with the beds pushed together." Bones still looks dubious, so Jim presses, "I know I'm going to have to listen to you snore all the time again. You know I don't wear pants when I don't have to. We'll be fine."

Some of Bones' defensiveness bleeds out, but he's still looking grim when he says, "But this time, you can't bring people back. If the Admiralty finds out you're sleeping around, they'll ground us."

Jim shrugs. "I've got two hands."

"This isn't finals week," Bones insists. "This is months, possibly years, Jim."

The thought of not having sex for years is daunting, but if Jim's ultimate goal was to get laid all the time, he wouldn't have joined Starfleet. "I'll be all right, Bones. If Pike can handle blue balls, so can I."

Bones' face twists. "I wish you hadn't said that."

"Man, you're a doctor."

"Doesn't mean I enjoy thinking about another man's balls."

"But you don't mind touching them."

"I am going to flush you into space," Bones growls, right before he leaps at Jim, and that's how they end up wrestling around the room, knocking into walls and rolling around on the bed, panting and yelling the whole time.

And if the crew looks mildly sick the next day at breakfast, well, it's not Jim's fault their minds are in the gutter.

 

xx

 

The ring takes some getting used to. Jim can't seem to stop fiddling with it, spinning the metal around his finger and sliding it up to his knuckle and simply touching it. He doesn't dislike it, exactly, but it isn't anything he anticipated wearing, which makes him chafe at its presence longer than he would have if he'd had more warning.

Bones catches him playing with it sometimes. He doesn't criticize it like Jim had thought he would, just rolls his eyes and gets on with what he's doing.

Jim has yet to catch Bones worrying at his own ring once. Maybe it's because he never wanted to stop wearing his first one- and yeah, that was a confession that came on the heels of a hell of a lot of pilfered booze. Relinquishing his ring meant giving up, and if there's one thing Bones is bad at, it's giving up. He hides it well, but when Bones gets an idea in his head, he won't let go for the world.

For some reason, the fact that Bones doesn't need to adjust to the ring irks Jim, and he winds up staring at Bones' hands whenever he sees his friend, searching for signs of discomfort. Instead, he winds up knowing more about Bones' hands than is strictly normal.

"You've got soft hands," he observes one day as Bones pats at his face, checking the healing of a broken brow bone Jim got on the planet they just visited.

Bones' eye twitches. "Is that a criticism?"

"Nah. It's just unexpected."

"It's easy to have soft hands if you don't run off in search of danger at the drop of a hat."

"My hands aren't that bad."

Blowing out a breath, Bones abandons Jim's face in favor of lifting his hands. He studies them for a minute before he declares, "Scotty has softer hands than you."

Jim's heart sinks, which is weird. "How come yours are so soft, then?"

"Tradition." Bones gives him a wry smile and drops his hands. "I come from a long line of doctors, Jim. Back in the olden days, when we would hack people apart like animals, it was customary for surgeons to maintain every aspect of their hands. My father did it, as did his mother before him. I'm sure it goes back as far as McCoys have practiced medicine."

"I didn't know your grandmother was a surgeon."

Bones snorts. "My grandma was a lot of things. A surgeon was probably the least interesting of them."

"I suppose she'd have to be, with you for a grandson."

"Your face healed well," Bones says rather than be drawn in, "as it always does. Try not to get hit by anymore women. Human or alien."

Jim flushes. "It was a misunderstanding."

"I'm sure it was," Bones says blandly. "Now get out of my bay."

 

xx

 

Bones doesn't actually snore. Just the opposite- he's a naturally quiet sleeper, which scares the hell out of Jim. Bones barely moves, barely even breathes, until he wakes up. Then it's all grumbling and "Did you move my pants?" and "You know I hate when you use my toothbrush." The split is unnerving. Bones should be the kind of guy who rolls around and steals blankets, whose snores shake the walls. Not the guy Jim thinks might be dead half the time.

"Well, what do you want me to do about it?" Bones asks one day at dinner. "I sleep the way I sleep, Jim."

"I'm not saying you have to do anything about it," Jim says. "I just want you to stop asking why I look so tired when you know it's because I can't sleep when it feels like there's a corpse in bed with me."

"You're being childish."

"And you're acting like a dead body somebody put in my bed as a warning."

Bones sighs and gets up to put his tray away. Jim follows him.

"I'm not trying to be a dick, you know."

"Unfortunately, yes, I do." Dropping off his tray, Bones turns to look at Jim. "I got used to keeping still with Joss, but if it will get you to stop looking like a zombie, then fine. I'll see if I can untrain myself. Happy?"

Jim beams. "Delighted."

Five nights later, when he's lying on his back and Bones has wormed his way up against him, Jim wonders if maybe it wasn't better when Bones looked dead after all.

 

xx

 

Being married isn't half bad, Jim decides. He gets to hang out with his best friend all the time, he doesn't get that creeping sense of loneliness nearly as often, and it turns out he can beg off a bunch of command exercises by virtue of "demonstrating an ability to maintain a healthy relationship".

Bones scowls and throws a sock at him when Jim mentions that. Apparently, being in medical means Bones' mandated exercises have increased in number.

Jim does miss sex, though. He's fine jerking off in the shower, but there's a particular intimacy about sex that he just can't get with Bones. There's something about knowing someone that way, about seeing them laid bare and vulnerable, that he misses.

They're on shore leave now. Bones begged off drinking, citing a headache. Jim suspects there's something else going on- Bones has been looking exhausted lately, even though the workload has been light, and Jim is sure he hasn't been sleeping- but dragging his friend out of their hotel when Bones clearly isn’t feeling well seemed like a dick move.

So Jim is drinking by himself when a human woman- or very convincing alien- slides into the seat next to him. She gives him an inviting smile and asks, "Buy a girl a drink?"

Jim smiles back. "How do you know I'm not with someone?"

"Because if you were, they wouldn't leave you sitting all by your lonesome."

She winks, and Jim falls a little bit in love.

They get to chatting. It turns out she's an intergalactic bounty hunter. She certainly looks fit enough- which he tells her. They get to talking about their regimens, and she even gives him a few tips on getting more out of his push-ups.

Her drink comes just as Jim is finishing his. He considers ordering another, but it's getting late. He doesn't want Bones to stay up worrying.

"It was nice to meet you," he says as he gets up.

"You aren't going so soon, are you?"

Jim frowns. "It's past midnight."

"On this planet, that leaves more than twelve hours of darkness before first dawn," she points out. "We're only just getting to know each other."

Bones is probably asleep by now, Jim reasons. "One more couldn't hurt."

Somehow, one drink becomes three. Jim is laughing with Ana over a tale she has of a wayward Orion when she leans in and kisses him. It's a nice kiss, fruity from her drink, and Jim is only too happy to return the kiss. She raises a hand, threads her fingers through his hair, so he puts a hand on her waist, his thumb sliding under the hem of her shirt.

It isn't until the bartender clears his throats that Jim pulls back. He grins at Ana, who grins back.

"My place or yours?" she asks, and just like that, reality comes rushing in.

"I'm sorry, but I'm married," Jim says. The lie tastes stale in his mouth, the sour tang of regret coating his throat.

"You don't kiss like it."

Jim huffs a laugh. "Yeah, well, it was a bit of a shotgun wedding."

"Baby on the way?"

"Not quite."

Ana looks at him for a long moment. "It doesn't have to matter, you know."

Jim hesitates. He isn't that desperate for a fuck if he's honest with himself, and as nice as she is, Ana isn't the only pretty woman out there.

"I'm sorry," he says. "It's going to have to be yours."

 

xx

 

Jim wakes up before first dawn. Ana is still asleep as he slips out of bed and hunts for his clothes. He ends up missing both socks, but he gets the important things without waking her up. There's no sense in pushing his luck over socks, so he steals out the door and hightails it to the hotel.

Bones is awake when Jim gets there. He's sitting up with his back against the headboard. There's a PADD on his lap and a dull look in his eyes.

Jim coughs. "Hey, Bones."

"Just like the Academy," Bones says. His voice is bland, as far from Bones is supposed to sound as possible. "I'm glad you aren't dead."

"I didn't set out to do it," James says lamely.

"Do what, Jim?"

"I don't know." Jim shakes his head. "We aren't really a couple, Bones, and I just-"

"It doesn't matter."

"But-"

"Like you said, we're not a couple." Bones picks up his PADD. "We leave in two hours. Do you want the first shower?"

Jim nods quickly.

 

xx

 

Sulu is the one to say it.

They're flying through more empty space when he turns around and says, eyes locked on Jim's, "Damn, Captain. You fucked up."

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu."

"No, really. If I cheated on my husband, he'd drop my ass. I'm surprised the doctor hasn't done the same."

"I think that's enough," Jim says lowly.

Sulu raises his brows. "I'm not sure I trust your judgment at the moment, sir."

Jim's hands clench around the arms of his chair. "I said enough."

Sulu shakes his head but turns around. He isn't quite done, though, as Jim discovers when Sulu says, voice pitched to carry through the deck, "Is that what she said when you fucked her?"

Jim is out of his chair before he realizes it, hands fisted at his sides.

"Like I said," Sulu says from his own chair, "I'm not sure I trust your judgment."

"Mr. Spock, you have the conn," Jim orders. "I'll be back."

He doesn't wait to see if Spock obeys, just turns and heads to the gym.

 

xx

 

He gets the notice just before bed that night. It's direct: a new class for captains has opened up, and Jim is expected to attend.

News travels fast in space, Jim thinks tiredly.

Bones doesn't come to bed that night.

 

xx

 

It takes nine days for someone to approach him about Bones. The lucky someone is M'benga.

"He isn't sleeping," he says, getting right down to it. "And I doubt he is eating either."

"What do you want me to do?" Jim asks. "Bones doesn't want to see me, let alone talk to me."

M'benga closes his eyes, visibly counting back from ten. "Are you sure?" he asks when he opens them.

"Pretty sure, yeah."

"Well, I am certain that he does wish to see you. So, which will you trust: your halfhearted intuition, which is probably fueled by guilt rather than fact, or my objective assessment?"

Jim winces. "When you put it like that..."

"He's free now, if you hurry."

 

xx

 

Jim does hurry, only to linger outside the doorway. He shuffles for an awkward moment, knowing that the longer he delays the harder it will be but unable to hurry himself despite it.

He's so lost in thought, he nearly jumps out of his skin when the med bay opens up and Bones steps out.

"Are you coming in, or would you prefer to loiter out here?"

Jim puts some steel in his spine and says, "In."

Bones nods and steps back, ushering Jim inside.

They end up standing facing each other by one of the biobeds. Bones has his arms crossed; Jim's are, too. He feels like shit, and Bones looks like it.

"I didn't actually sleep with her," Jim blurts.

Bones tilts his head, considering. "All right."

"That's it?"

"I told you before- we aren't a real couple. You can't be unfaithful to something that doesn't exist." Drawing a breath, Bones gives him a crooked smile. "Though we both know you didn't go through with it."

Jim's heart stutters. "Excuse me?"

"I know you, Jim," Bones says, almost pitying. "You're a lot of things, not all of them good, but a cheater- which is what you'd think of yourself as?" He shakes his head. "It's not in your nature."

"I did kiss her," Jim admits.

Bones nods. "I told you this would be hard."

"Yeah, you did." Jim ducks his head, looking at the floor rather than at Bones.

"Jim, I'm not saying this to rub it in. I'm trying to look out for you, you ass."

Jim looks up quickly, but Bones is giving him a flat look. "I don't understand you," Jim says quietly.

Bones quirks a smile at him. "The crew's been bothering you, haven't they?"

"Constantly."

"I'll talk to them."

"You don't have to."

"I heard what happened on the deck, and Sulu is due for a physical now anyway. Two birds, one stone."

"If you're sure..."

"I'm sure."

"So you'll come back to bed?" It comes out more desperate than Jim wanted, but maybe the desperation is what makes Bones blink in surprise.

"I've got a lot to do here..."

"Let M'benga take care of it," Jim says. "He says you've been sleeping here, and I think it's freaking him out."

Bones sighs. "I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

"Nope."

"Great. Well, I'll be up in a few." Jim hesitates, and Bones rolls his eyes. "I'm genuinely busy, Jim. Being your CMO comes with a lot of paperwork, and I'm only just finishing inventory with Christine. If I'm not up at the end of this shift, you can come drag me away. All right?"

Jim grins. "Sounds good."

Bones does come up on his own. He brushes his teeth and changes into his worn sweats without a word, but when he catches Jim watching him, he raises a brow and huffs.

"Scoot over," he orders when he finally comes to bed.

Jim does happily, and Bones gets settled under the sheets. He's back to lying on his side, his body on the very edge of the bed, though. Jim wants to tug him over, but he can almost feel the tension in Bones. Now is not the time to push.

Now is the time to be thankful Bones is here at all.

 

xx

 

"This class is killing me," Jim whines from his desk.

Bones, who's fresh out of the shower and standing in his boxers by the bed, snorts and pulls his uniform pants on. "It's what you get for cheating on me," he says lightly.

"Can't you just dump me?" Jim rubs at his eyes. "If I have to read one more story about the dangers of a divided crew, I'm going to kill someone..."

"You said that about xenoanthropology, but you made it through that just fine."

"Yeah, but you were in it with me," Jim explains. "You made it bearable."

"By which you mean you got to distract yourself by sending me every thought that popped into your fool head," Bones says sourly.

Jim opens his mouth to answer, but right then, he happens to look over at Bones properly. He still hasn't put a shirt on, so Jim gets an eyeful of the firm planes of Bones' back. The dimples in his back are half-hidden by his pants' waistband, his skin made even paler next to the black cloth. Curling up from there is Bones' spine. Jim may not be a medical genius like Bones, but even he knows how important spines are, how easy it is to break them and how difficult it is to repair them.

It seems wrong that something so important is so delicate.

Bones bends down to grab his shirt, and Jim watches as his back stretches, muscles shifting, changing the planes of skin. They change again as he straightens, arms reaching above his head, and shimmies into his uniform shirt. He stands there for a moment, adjusting his clothes, and Jim finds himself following the curve of Bones' side with interest. His trim waist leads to long legs, the fabric of his pants just starting to stretch to fit around his thighs.

Turning around, Bones gives Jim a funny look. "No cute comeback? Everything all right?"

Jim gives himself a mental shake, and once again it's just Bones standing there. Whatever that was, Jim is relieved it's gone.

"Just worn out from all this busywork," he tells Bones. "You ready for breakfast?"

"Starving," Bones says, and Jim quickly gets to his feet.

"Let's get you fed, then. Can't have my CMO fainting on the job."

Bones' face scrunches. "I'm not going to faint," he protests, even as they head out the door and he falls into step with Jim. "I went without eating for days at a time during med school. I can handle missing one meal."

Jim can't help but poke at him. "Even if it's the most important one?" he asks.

"I wouldn't be happy about it, but yes, Jim. I could skip breakfast."

They're going back and forth about which is more important, lunch or dinner, when they get to the mess. The moment they step through, the room goes silent. Every pair of eyes blatantly falls on them, and Jim feels a flush of heat. Bones doesn't react, though, just walks right up to the window and starts picking things out.

"You comin'?" he calls when Jim fails to follow.

Jim nods quickly. "Yes, dear," he says, rolling his eyes, and Bones elbows him in the ribs.

"Don't forget to get something with protein. We can't have our fearless captain getting cranky because all he ate was sugar."

Just to spite him, Jim grabs the sweetest thing he can find, heaps his plate full of it, and gives Bones his most winning smile. Bones, as usual, just scowls at him.

"You're such an infant."

"Yet you married me."

"Worst decision of my life," Bones mumbles. He's already turning away, though, so Jim doesn't get to tease him about whether it's really worse than the time he tried flirting with a woman only to realize she was an Andorian- and an Andorian who didn't like humans at that.

They grab two seats opposite each other at the end of a mostly empty table. Jim is just digging into his prize when he hears footsteps approaching and someone clearing their throat. When he checks Bones' expression, his friend has the blandest expression Jim has ever seen on him. He knows immediately that it's a show and resigns himself to yet another uncomfortable conversation- this one to be held in the dead silence of the mess.

When he turns around, Sulu is standing behind him, looking decidedly uncomfortable. "Sorry about the other day," he mumbles. "I was out of line."

Jim blinks. Suspicious, he turns to Bones and finds him calmly cutting up his fruit. He doesn't look up from his plate, just cuts piece after painstakingly accurate piece of fruit.

Clearing his throat, Jim turns back to Sulu. "Emotions were running high," he says, hoping this will put a stop to whatever this awkward scene is. "And you had a point. I wasn't thinking straight."

Sulu visibly relaxes. "Good to know." His eyes flick to Bones, then back to Jim. "So, you two are good?"

"Yeah," Jim grunts when Bones kicks his shin. "We're good, Sulu. You should, uh, get back to your breakfast. Don't want it to go cold."

Nodding rapidly, Sulu hurries away, leaving Jim to round on Bones. "What the hell did you say to him?" he hisses.

Bones merely shrugs. "We had a friendly chat is all."

"No chat is friendly when you're holding a man's balls, Bones."

"I wasn't holding his balls," Bones says. Then, tilting his head, he adds, "Well, not right then."

Eyes narrowed, Jim kicks Bones in the shin.

"Ow! Jesus, Jim."

"You're my husband," Jim says, putting on an air of hurt. "I don't want to hear about you manhandling other men."

"But, Jim, it's my life's work," Bones replies, straight-faced. "Who else can I share my day with if not you?"

Shaking his head, Jim steals a bite of fruit off Bones' plate. "You're a sick man, Doctor."

Bones gives him a wry grin. "Yet you married me, didn't you?"

"There's nobody I would have rather asked," Jim says, really laying it on.

Rather than going along with the bit, Bones frowns down at his tray. "You know, I'm not too hungry this morning. You take it."

Never one to refuse food, Jim takes the tray and happily tips the contents onto his own. It's weird of Bones not to finish his meal, but Jim doesn't think too hard about it. He learned a long time ago that Bones is a moody kind of guy. If it's serious, he'll bring it up himself. If not, there's no sense in worrying about it.

 

xx

 

Things return to a form of equilibrium after that. The tension that had gripped the ship- a tension Jim hadn't even been aware of, caught up as he'd been in his own emotional mire- dissipates, and the cheerful, curious crew Jim set off with returns. Scotty and Keenser nearly blow up the ship twice in one day. Uhura gets into a fight with her second about declensions. Chekov and Sulu report to the deck hungover and stinking of vodka.

The only thing- well, person- that doesn't return to normal is Bones.

He and Jim share their space without more conflict than at the Academy. That is, Bones gets annoyed when Jim leaves his boxers on the floor, and Jim gets annoyed at Bones moving things without telling him. Jim gets the first shower by virtue of needing more time to wake up. He also sleeps closer to the door. In exchange, Bones got dibs on the desk. Jim would have protested were it not for a fact he quickly discovered after Bones moved in: if even one person gets hurt or sick, on the ship or planetside, Bones will end up spending hours filling out forms. In triplicate. It's far more work than anyone else has to do, but Bones just shrugged his shoulders when Jim asked how he does it.

"If filing things three times is what it takes to make sure the next guy won't give you a shot you're allergic to, then so be it." He turned from the screen and rubbed at his eyes. "This crew is my responsibility, Jim. Full of idiots and adrenaline junkies though it may be, I'd rather fill out a hundred forms than see any of you get hurt- or be deprived of compensation."

"Compensation?"

"If anybody gets permanently hurt, Starfleet will owe them a certain number of credits. But if I haven't kept accurate records of what happened and what I did to counteract it, they can wriggle their way out of paying." He gave Jim a crooked smile. "I'll probably get sued if that happens, but it's not like I won't know what to expect."

And that was that.

Jim had thought, initially, that the paperwork was to blame for Bones' constant state of exhaustion. Or maybe it was the weight of keeping so many people alive and well. Even with Chapel and M'benga helping him, Bones is the one who's ultimately responsible.

But the more he thinks about it, the more it just doesn't feel right. Bones has been managing the work for years, and he's never had trouble with it before. Plus, they haven't come across a hostile planet in ages. The only injury anyone's gotten in months is a papercut. And the skinned hands from the time Jim and Spock got drunk planetside and Spock thought it would be hilarious to trip Jim. And the time Uhura got accidentally poisoned and broke her knuckles punching the Enterprise. The locals had been deeply apologetic about that, though, and Bones had counteracted the stuff before she could do any real damage.

"What are you writing?" Jim asks one night when the sound of Bones tapping at his PADD doesn't stop.

"Prescription," Bones grunts.

"For?"

"A prophylactic- not that kind, you child. Chekov gets tension headaches, and it's about time someone made him take something for them."

"I didn't know he got headaches."

"Of course you don't," Bones says easily. "You're the captain."

Jim frowns. "Why would that matter?"

"They don't want you to think they can't do their jobs. I only found out because I caught the kid trying to steal ice packs. There's all sorts of low-level stuff wrong with people, Jim. Even at our best, humans get all sorts of stupid shit."

"Like?"

"Like, I'm not telling you. It's bad enough I told you about Chekov. The crew has to trust me to keep their secrets."

"One more?" Jim wheedles.

Bones puts the PADD away. "No."

"Please?"

"What did I just say? Fuck off."

"Aw, come on!"

"Good night, Jim."

So no, Jim doesn't think it's the work that's getting to Bones. The only big change in his life is his marriage to Jim, but everything seems fine on that front. They get along swimmingly. Aside from the occasional weirdness, it's just like being back at the Academy. Jim sometimes uses Bones' body wash when he takes a water shower. Bones gets pissy about his special stuff getting used up.

"It's expensive!" he grumbles when he catches Jim trying to sneak it back into its latest hiding spot.

"Mmm, feels it," Jim says, grinning widely.

Bones throws up his hands and walks away. "At least put it back correctly this time!" he calls over his shoulder.

Everything is good, yet Bones continues to look like he's dead on his feet. The dark circles under his eyes are starting to look like they might be permanent, and the wrinkles around his mouth and between his brows have deepened. He looks, Jim has to say, like Pike.

With no answer except "Fuck off I'm fine," coming from Bones, Jim is forced to turn to alternative opinions.

"You're an idiot," Uhura tells him.

"Are you sure he's sleeping? That's usually what's going on when my husband looks like that," Sulu says. Jim knows Bones is sleeping, though, because that's when he steals the body wash.

"Is he no lookin’ well?" Scotty asks.

"I do not believe this is an area in which I can help you," Spock says, sounding distinctly cagey. Uhura yelled at Jim to leave Spock alone before he could press.

"Perhaps he is hiding an illness," Chekov suggests, and that's when Jim reluctantly concedes defeat. Almost.

"No."

"M'benga, please."

"I am not tattling on Dr. McCoy."

"So there is something wrong!"

M'benga gives him a flat look. "With all due respect, Captain, go away."

Jim does, but now he knows something's up.

Nurse Chapel is no more helpful than M'benga.

"Captain, you need to relax," she says shortly when Jim appears in the Med Bay for the third time that day. "Dr. McCoy is fine."

"Bullshit. He looks like death."

"Are you certain that isn't just his face?"

Jim levels a glare at her. "I know what Bones' face looks like."

"So why are you worrying?"

"Why are you so nonchalant about your boss possibly dying?"

She rolls her eyes. "He isn't dying, sir."

"How would you know?"

Chapel huffs. "Because I know what's wrong with him."

Jim perks up immediately. "And?"

"And it's nothing you can help with."

"If I need to make him take some time off-"

"No!" Eyes wide, she quickly coughs. "That is, free time is the last thing Dr. McCoy needs. Just... let him work, Captain. Please."

It goes against everything in Jim, but he nods. "You'll tell me if I can do anything for him?"

For some reason, that makes her face crumple. "Sure thing, Captain," she says, voice soft.

Jim leaves the Med Bay feeling more concerned than he was before, but he knows when he can push and when he has to back off. Right now, it's definitely the latter. So long as Bones isn't in immediate danger- and he's getting the feeling that isn't the case- then Jim can wait. They can't hide the truth from him forever.

 

xx

 

Jim's in the shower, jerking off. In itself, that isn't noteworthy- it's not like there's anywhere better to do it, what with Bones asleep next door in the bedroom. Sure, Jim could probably rub one out without waking him up, but besides being creepy, Bones would know. He'd take one look at Jim, and he would know.

So Jim's in the shower, doing what he's got to do. And it's going great, it really is. The thing is, he's using Bones' body wash to do it. Sure, he picked it because it feels good and makes the bathroom smell like mint, but he can't escape the fact that it's Bones' stuff. As in, this is what Bones smells like. And it's maybe getting a few of Jim's wires crossed.

He started out thinking about Ana- the night might have been mortifying, but that doesn't mean she's not hot- but somehow she morphed into a brunette. With short hair. Wide shoulders for a woman, too. And her hips are a little narrow, her legs a bit heavier than Ana's were-

"Fuck!"

Jim smacks his head against the wall.

 

xx

 

Bones is tugging on his boots when Jim finally gets the nerve to leave the bathroom.

"Hey, man. No need to rush. The bathroom's all yours."

Bones shakes his head. "Chekov's having trouble with the meds I gave him. Now I gotta go check on him, make sure it's nothing too serious. Which it probably is, because the damn kid takes after you," he grumbles. "Always trying to tough things out when he could just come see me and get it taken care of."

Then he's out the door, leaving Jim standing stupidly by the bed. He feels oddly bereft, as if he missed something important.

He's seen Bones get dressed hundreds of times, though. Hell, he's even seen Bones naked. It was just once, though, and Bones only did it because everybody was drunk and they were with a bunch of girls who insisted they all go skinny dipping. Jim was too distracted by a pretty redhead to take much notice at the time, but he remembers thinking Bones had nice calves.

Why the hell does he care, though? It's never mattered before if Jim saw Bones getting ready or not. He and Bones aren't like that. They're friends, regular old friends. That's what they are.

Somehow, Jim can't shake the feeling he's missing something.

 

xx

 

If he's thinking objectively, Jim can see that Bones is a good-looking guy. Tall, in shape, got a nice face. He's smart, too- top of his track at the Academy and a respected Starfleet research scientist. And he's not even forty. Anybody with any sense would see what a good catch he'd be.

Sure, he can be a bit cantankerous- even downright surly when he's in a mood- but it's not that bad. And it's all bluster. Everyone knows Bones is a softie at heart.

Not for the first time, Jim wonders what a younger Bones was like. Before the divorce, back when things with Jocelyn were good, was Bones more open? Was he one of those obnoxious guys who's always holding his partner's hand and being openly affectionate? Or was he always brusque?

Jim sighs and pushes the thought aside. There's no one he can ask other than Bones himself, and he certainly isn't going to tell Jim.

 

xx

 

It's a slow day today. There's nothing happening on the bridge, so Jim's mind starts to wander.

He's slept with women who weren't, comparatively, as attractive as Bones is. Uhura swears that caring about someone makes sex better- a claim Jim is deeply skeptical of. If he had to pick a friend to sleep with, though... Well, who else would he pick?

The question, then, is what kind of lay is Leonard McCoy? Jim's first thought is traditional. Missionary, on the bed, lights out. But the more he thinks about it, the more he wonders if maybe that's not right. Bones is an adaptable guy- he'll whine about it, but he'll do what he's got to. So maybe he'd rather let Jim lead and follow along? That isn't quite right either. Bones isn't a follower. He makes his own way. And he's got all that energy... So maybe he would be a hard fuck, fast and dirty?

Here, too, there are no answers, and Jim just winds up more frustrated than he was before.

 

xx

 

They're in the bedroom, Jim sitting up under the covers and Bones stripping down at the foot of the bed, when Jim says, "I think we should fuck."

Bones stops short, head flying up. "Pardon?"

"You and me," Jim elaborates. "I think we should have sex. Sleep together. Make love. Canoodle. Bump ug-"

"I got it," Bones says quickly, holding up his hands. "You can stop talking now."

"So?" Jim prods.

Bones frowns. "'So' what?"

"So, what do you think about it?"

"I think it's a bad idea."

Not an entirely unexpected answer. "Why do you think that?"

"Well, let's see." Bones finishes stepping out of his pants and folds them over his arm. "How many men have you slept with?"

"How many men have you slept with?" Jim asks, a touch petulantly.

Bones blows out a breath. "Two. Which is two more than you, as we both know."

"How do you know that?"

"Do you know what you're like when you drink?" Bones raises his brows. "You once reenacted going down on a girl using a peach. Bad as it was to watch, it didn't look like it felt good, Jim." The corner of his lips twitches- in sympathy or amusement, Jim doesn't know.

"So you think I'd be a bad lay?" he asks.

Bones shakes his head. "No, I think you'd be a stupid lay."

"That's not-"

"Isn't this enough?" Bones asks, and he sounds tired, as tired as Jim has ever heard him. "We're great friends, Jim. The best of the best. I'd take a phaser blast for you, and I know you'd take one for me. But what you're suggesting, it's not something I think we ought to do."

Jim sighs and flops back onto his pillow. "I disagree," he tells the ceiling. "I think we'd be awesome, Bones."

"That's the blue balls talking."

Jim snorts. "Yeah, maybe. But it's not just getting off that I miss. You connect when you fuck. You and I are already so close, I feel like it wouldn't turn out bad."

"Jim..."

"I'm done now," Jim says. "I've given you the spiel. Whatever you decide, I'll live with it."

Bones sighs, and a moment later, the bed dips. "This is a terrible idea," he says, placing his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Probably one of your worst to date."

It's possible, but Jim seriously doubts it.

He's grinning hard enough to hurt when he asks, "Can we start tonight?"

 

xx

 

They end up sitting facing each other on the bed, naked, with their legs folded and their knees touching. In the room's low light, Jim lets himself look Bones over, even as he feels Bones doing the same to him.

The sparse hair on Bones' chest thickens into a line that runs down his belly, and Jim finds himself wondering if Bones will let Jim touch him. It's one of his favorite things about sex, getting to touch his partner just for the hell of it. Bones is sensitive about what clothes he wears; Jim is itching to find out if he's equally sensitive about being touched.

"Here's how this is going to go," Bones says, and damned if the authority in his voice doesn't go right to Jim's dick. "We jerk each other off, we clean up, then we go to bed. Deal?"

"Could you at least try to make it sound a little more romantic?" Jim pleads, grimacing. "Or are you always this clinical in bed?"

"Fine. You want romance? I can do romance. I'll take your throbbing manhood in my hand and-"

"Okay, okay. Sorry I asked."

Bones makes a noise Jim takes to mean approval, then grabs the bottle of lotion he dug up from God knows where. "Give me your hand."

"Which one?"

He can practically feel Bones' eye roll.

"The one you're gonna use, dumbass."

Jim holds out his right hand, and after a quick pump of the bottle, Bones runs his hand over Jim's, slicking up his palm and fingers.

"Can I touch you now?" Jim asks, eager to get things going.

Bones doesn't answer aloud, instead wrapping his hand around Jim's dick.

It's been too long since someone else touched him. They're both soft, but it isn't going to take much to get Jim hard- never does. Bones on the other hand might take a while.

Jim leans forward and wraps his fist loosely around Bones' shaft. He hears Bones' breath stutter. It's odd doing this on someone else's dick, but it's not bad. He likes the way it feels to hold a part of Bones like this, likes it enough that he almost doesn't notice when Bones starts making an effort at jerking him off.

"That's good," Jim sighs. "A little harder- Yeah, just like that."

He can't help but scoot a little closer. Bones doesn't tell him not to, just keeps pumping Jim slow and hard, so it must not bother him.

It's hard to keep his mind on Bones when he's getting jerked off, but Jim is determined to be good at this. If he's good enough, Bones won't say no to a second time- and Jim already knows he's going to want a second time.

"A little faster," Bones breathes, and Jim nods, forcing his mind back into the moment. He firms up his grip on Bones' dick, drags his hand along him faster, and hears Bones' breaths speed up.

"Feel good?" Jim asks. His voice is hoarse, the slick sounds loud between them.

Bones nods. His eyes are dark, nearly black, his lower lip shiny where he's been biting it.

Jim doesn't mean to get to his knees. He's too focused on Bones, the warm weight of his dick, the catch in his breathing when Jim gets closer. One moment, Jim is sitting across from him and the next he's straddling Bones' thighs, looking down at his best friend's wide eyes.

"Hey, Bones?"

"What?" It's meant to sound annoyed; Jim knows that. Instead, Bones sounds desperate, as desperate as the curling in Jim's gut that says he wants more, has to have all of Bones.

"Can I kiss you?"

He watches Bones' throat work as he swallows.

"Yeah, Jim," he says softly. "I'd like that."

Lifting his free hand, Jim winds his fingers through the hair at the back of Bones' head and tilts his head back. It's a gentle kiss. Jim is out of his element with this, and Bones is quivering under him.

It occurs to Jim that he can't think of a single person, human or alien, that Bones has slept with since his ex. The thought sends a shiver through him; it's electricity in his veins, racing through him with the beat of his heart.

He deepens the kiss, licking at Bones' lips, and Bones opens his mouth. Jim tightens his grip on Bones' hair, and Bones moans, his hips pushing into the circle of Jim's hands.

When he breaks away so they can breathe, Jim gets an idea. Sliding his hand down Bones' shaft, he cups his balls in the palm of his hand.

"Now who's got whose balls?" he asks, grinning wide enough it feels like his face might break.

Bones splutters. "Damn it, Jim! Now is not the time for that."

"I disagree, Doctor," Jim says lowly, really playing it up. "I think now is exactly the time."

"Of course you do."

They're having fun, Jim realizes. Sex isn't usually fun for him- it's good, it's great, it's mind blowing, but it's not his style to linger, to ignore the endgame and just fuck around for the hell of it. But this is good. He likes feeling Bones's wry smile against his lips when he goes for another kiss, likes the way Bones pinches his nose when Jim tries to move his hand back farther.

"Not that kind of girl," Bones tells him. "Not on the first night."

Jim feels himself smile. "You're a proper lady, aren't you?"

"Something like that," Bones murmurs, then he's stretching and pressing their lips together.

Jim had thought he would feel more uncomfortable. Bones was right earlier; as much as Jim had thought about fucking men, he'd never actually done it before tonight. He doesn't feel out of his depth, though. He's got Bones, and Bones isn't going anywhere any time soon. He's right there with Jim. Not pushing. Not forcing things. Just looking up at Jim through half-lidded eyes.

"We gonna be here all night, old man?" Jim asks, rolling his hips. "Or are you gonna show me some of that experience you claim to have?"

"You've got some cheek," Bones growls, just as he slides a hand over Jim's hip and squeezes one of his cheeks.

"Jesus!"

"No need to bring the Lord into this."

Jim tries to scoff, but Bones isn't done. He leans forward, tipping Jim back onto their bed. He shifts a bit, and Jim nearly jumps out of his skin when he realizes what Bones is doing. He still has Jim's dick in his hand, but a moment later, Jim feels the long line of Bones' dick pressed hotly against him. The hand on Jim's ass gives him another squeeze.

"Fuck-"

Bones hums and starts to stroke them hard and fast. It's like nothing Jim has ever done before; he feels stupid just holding onto Bones, but it's all he can think to do. He's rushing toward finishing, his breath loud in his ears, heat pooling in his belly. Bones must know, but he doesn't let up, just keeps up the punishing pace until Jim bites his tongue and comes.

The world goes white for a second while Jim floats above himself. Then he crashes back into himself.

He feels heavy and full, but above him, Bones' arm is moving furiously, chasing his own release. Jim can't do much to help, but he does manage to tug Bones down for a sloppy kiss. Bones groans against his lips, and a moment later, Jim feels him come.

Bones collapses onto him, breathing hard, and Jim throws an arm over his waist, a sense of accomplishment blooming in his chest.

"You okay?" he asks. "I didn't break you, did I?"

"Shut up."

Jim does, but only because Bones gets up to grab the wet wipes.

Nice ass, Jim thinks happily, craning his neck to watch Bones’ retreating backside a little longer. It jiggles a little when he walks, and Jim can't wait for Bones to come back so he can find out what it feels like in his hands.

When Bones gets back, though, he's wearing a pair of boxers, which lowers Jim's high until he realizes they aren't Bones' underwear. Bones wears white and gray Starfleet issue briefs. The blue boxers he's wearing now are definitely Jim's.

Smiling to himself, Jim lets Bones clean him up without comment. It's a little too much for his sensitized skin, but he doesn't complain.

He's going to have to get Uhura something incredible, he decides as Bones slides into bed beside him.

 

xx

 

Jim wakes up the next morning feeling lighter than he has in months. He slept soundly through the night, and it's only five minutes before his alarm will go off. He raises his arms with a yawn, arching his back and luxuriating in the stretch. That's when he notices it.

Bones is lying on his side, chest to Jim, his face buried in the pillow, snoring away. It's a truly awful sound. There are aliens out there who would lose their minds if they heard what passes for a "normal" human noise. Hell, Jim used to throw things at Bones in the morning to wake him up, just because he was pissed at being woken up by Bones' godawful snoring. He gave Bones a black eye once with a poorly (perfectly) well-aimed shoe.

All that is normal, though. What isn't normal- what is decidedly not something Jim has gotten used to- is the arm around his waist.

Maybe Jim ought to have spent the night with someone once or twice in his life, because that might have given him a clue about what to do with this. Should he ignore it? Is he allowed to move it? What if Bones wakes up? Will it be worse if he wakes up and finds out he's holding Jim or if he wakes up as Jim is escaping from him?

This is why Jim doesn't do relationships. They're always messy, and somebody always winds up getting hurt.

He's weighing his options when Bones makes a horrendous choking noise and startles himself awake. He looks up at Jim with wild, confused eyes for a long moment before he shakes his head, closes his eyes, and turns over, taking his arm with him.

"What the hell was that?" Jim asks, voice rising.

Bones grumbles something unintelligible, so Jim gives his shoulder a shake. "Bones!"

"I'm sleeping!"

"Yeah, well, I'm probably never going to sleep again! What the hell, man?"

Huffing, Bones heaves himself back over. "You want me to diagnose myself," he says flatly. "That is the single most pressing matter on your mind this morning."

"I've never heard you do that before," Jim says hastily.

"Congratulations. Now you have. Are we done?"

Jim knows Bones is just being a dick because it's the morning after and he's feeling vulnerable. He knows that. After a shower and some breakfast, Bones will warm up again.

The thing is, Jim isn't that patient.

"Are we good?"

Bones doesn't play stupid. "Depends. Are you good?"

"Yeah, Bones. I'm good.” Jim risks a smile. “I'm real good."

"Then we're good."

"Why do I get the feeling you're hiding something?"

"Why do I get the feeling you aren't going to let me go back to sleep?"

"Bones."

Raising himself up on one elbow, Bones studies Jim for a long moment. "Things are going to be different now."

"They don't have to be."

"Yeah, they do."

"But I like the way we were."

"Then you shouldn't have rocked the boat!" Bones snaps. "Damn it, Jim. This is exactly what I was afraid of." He throws the covers off and rolls to his feet. "I'm taking the first shower."

"But I-"

The door slams shut behind Bones.

A moment later, Jim's alarm goes off.

 

xx

 

When Bones finally emerges, he looks ready for a fight. His head is up, his chin is out, and his hands are white-knuckled where he's holding up his towel.

Jim can't help it; he flinches.

Bones makes a noise of disgust. "If this is how you're going to behave..."

"How the hell am I supposed to know how to behave?" Jim demands. "I've never slept with someone I cared about before! I thought this was supposed to be easier! It was last night," he adds, relenting, dropping his eyes.

Bones doesn't reply for a long time, which Jim passes by studying the floor. When he does answer, his voice is quiet. "Oh, Jim. I don't know who made you think caring makes things easier, but it doesn't. Take it from me- emotions only make things hurt more."

Jim looks up. "Then why do it?"

"Because," Bones says, lips quirking, "when things do work out, it's like nothing else."

"Does that mean we can't do it again?" He hesitates. "'Cause I want to do that again."

That gets a burst of off-key laughter from Bones. "We can do whatever you want, Jim."

It's the right words, said in Bones' normal drawl, but Jim gets the feeling he and Bones aren't talking about the same thing.

 

xx

 

Bones knows a hell of a lot about sex.

Jim has been with older women, partners who knew what they wanted and how to make sure they got it, but they’ve got nothing on Bones. There's nothing Jim wants to try that Bones can't guide him through. It's not entirely fun to be the one fumbling around in the dark, but Bones is always there, suddenly endlessly patient.

That doesn't mean he doesn't laugh himself sick when Jim forgets he squirted out too much lube earlier and slips on it.

It doesn't mean he doesn't occasionally yell at Jim for taking shortcuts either.

"Jesus Christ," he grumbles once, marching Jim into the bathroom. "Do you know how unsanitary that is? Don't look at me like that- No, you know what? Don't look at me at all. God damn it, Jim."

But it's worth it. Good God, is it worth it.

 

xx

 

Jim had an early morning meeting with Spock, so he's late joining Bones for breakfast. He picks out Bones' hunched figure without much difficulty- no one sitting anywhere near him. Jim doesn’t blame them. Bones isn’t a natural morning person, and Jim waking him up half an hour earlier than usual can’t have helped matters. Today it was an hour and half earlier. Jim is almost surprised Bones hasn’t managed to murder any of the talking and laughing crew around him through sheer ill will.

He grabs an extra tray as he goes through the line- Bones is clearly clutching at a cup of coffee, which means he was kind enough not to inflict his morning self on the staff- and proudly walks over to Bones.

“Morning, sunshine,” he says brightly, placing Bones’ boring tray in front of him. “I got your favorites.”

“Die,” Bones says with feeling, and Jim-

Well, Jim decides now is the perfect moment to kiss him. It’s just a quick peck, barely a touch at all, but when he pulls back, Bones is looking at him like he’s grown an extra head.

“What?” Jim asks, bristling.

Bones just shakes his head. “Thanks for breakfast, darlin’,” he drawls, gesturing for Jim to take the seat opposite him, which Jim does. It’s painfully easy to slip back into their usual routine of kicking each other under the table and stealing food off each other’s plates. The latter is more Jim than Bones, but he sees the bites Bones sneaks. He doesn’t say anything, though, just lets Bones pretend he’s too good for sugar.

 

xx

 

They've been fucking for maybe two months when Jim makes a visit to Engineering to check on Scotty- both as a routine matter and as a spy for Bones, who for some reason wants to know if the head of Engineering is squinting.

Jim tries not to smile when he notices Scotty is indeed squinting at just about everything as he runs Jim through the ship's status. Finally, someone else for Bones to fuss over.

"You all right, Captain?" Scotty asks.

Jim nods quickly, refocusing on the topic at hand. "Yeah, Scotty, I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"Why?" Jim asks, immediately suspicious.

"Oh, nothing. It's just... you're walkin’ a wee bit funny Captain."

Immediately, the memory of Bones working three fingers into him last night surfaces, and Jim feels his face heat. "Been sitting the captain's chair for too long," he says, aiming for nonchalant but falling short of the mark.

Luckily for him, he's talking to Scotty, who has the least interest in prying into Jim and Bones' married life.

There's one thing he and Bones haven't done yet, though, he thinks as he returns to the bridge. Jim has been waiting for Bones to bring it up, but from the radio silence on his friend's end, he suspects that isn't going to change soon. Which is fine. Maybe Bones just isn't interested. Not all men are.

The problem is, Jim is very much interested.

He means to bring it up delicately, maybe after plying Bones with some nice food. At the very least, he doesn't intend to bring it up when Bones is running a wet wipe over Jim's ass.

Yet here they are.

"You want me to what?" Bones asks, sounding strangled.

Jim closes his eyes and pretends he's anywhere else, doing anything else. "You heard me."

"I think I did, but I'd like to be sure."

"Oh, well, in that case: Bones, would you mind sticking your big, fat dick up my ass one of these days? Please and thank you."

Bones blinks at him. "Jim..."

"Forget about it." Jim turns over onto his side, putting his back to Bones.

It does little to muffle the sound of Bones sighing, or to mask the way the bed dips as Bones sits down at the foot. "You've been thinking about this for a while, haven't you?"

Jim pulls away from the hand that comes to rest on his ankle. "I said forget it."

"Too bad." That's all the warning Jim gets before Bones flops down beside him and squirms his way up so his head is lying on the pillow next to Jim's. Jim can't help but glance down him, taking in the jut of Bones' hips, his soft cock.

"You wouldn't have brought it up if you weren't interested," Bones says, dragging Jim’s attention back up to his face.

Jim feels himself tense. "If you're just going to be a dick-"

"I would never."

Scowling, Jim points out, "You're doing it right now."

Bones makes a seesawing motion with his hand. "Maybe yes, maybe no. But that's beside the point."

"Which is?"

"You're supposed to trust me." Stretching up, Bones lightly slaps the back of Jim's head. "You're such a child. You make all this noise because you want something, but you won't talk with me about it."

"You hit me!" Jim breaks in.

"And?"

"It hurt!"

Bones rolls his eyes. "No, it didn't."

It didn't, but Jim doesn't have to admit that. "What do you want from me?"

"For you to talk," Bones says simply, awkwardly folding his arms. "I can't know what you want until you tell me, Jim."

"That's what I did!"

"No, you dropped a bombshell on me and immediately retreated. It's not talking if I don't get to respond."

He may have a point, but Jim isn't about to encourage him. "Does that mean you'll do it?"

"Incredible. I really just got to see my words go in one ear and out the other."

"Come on, Bones-"

"No, hush. This was a medical miracle. You made history, Jim, and I got to witness it."

"You're not funny."

"And you're not getting away with half-assing this," Bones says, poking Jim in the chest.

"You know you might not like it."

"I'm pretty sure I will."

"I'm pretty sure 'pretty sure' isn't good enough."

"Fine," Jim says. "Yes, I know I might not like it. I also know I could get hurt."

"Finally," Bones mutters. "And you still want to try."

"I do."

Scratching at his jaw, Bones considers things for a long moment. "We're not doing it tonight."

"How about tomorrow?"

Bones shakes his head. "We've got that meeting with Pike the day after."

Jim sighs. "After the meeting with Pike?"

"After the meeting with Pike," Bones agrees.

And just like that, it's set.

 

xx

 

The morning of the meeting with Pike dawns bright and crisp. Jim barely notices it, too distracted by the wet heat of Bones' mouth and the fingers in his ass. Bones has been kissing Jim's thighs for what feels like hours, his face so close to where Jim wants it but still so far, and he isn't showing any signs of moving things along any time soon.

"Bones, comes on," Jim pleads. He fumbles for Bones' head, hoping to get a handful of hair he can use to pull Bones where Jim wants him. Bones is too, quick, though. He jerks out of range before Jim has any chance of latching on.

"Don't be so impatient," he chastises. "I'll get there when I get there."

"Ugh." Jim lets himself fall back into the pillows. Typical Georgian. The man moves as slowly as he talks.

With nothing better to do, Jim lets himself just ride the feeling of Bones doing his thing. Bones isn't trying to get him off yet, so his fingers only occasionally brush up against the spot that makes fireworks dance across Jim's vision. His other hand is squeezing the base of Jim's dick just hard enough not to be fun. Jim doesn't think about that for long, quickly moving onto the feeling of Bones sucking hickeys up his thighs. He's exacting about it, nosing along Jim's skin, pressing a kiss here or there, before he decides he's found the right spot to worry with tongue and teeth.

It's such a Bones thing to do, Jim could almost laugh.

He's gotten so used to the rasp of Bones' stubble and the sore throb of new hickeys that by the time Bones finally takes Jim into his mouth, he almost flies out of his skin.

As it is, he squawks loudly and almost knees Bones in the face.

Bones just smiles and takes him in deeper.

 

xx

 

They aren't due to meet with Pike until late afternoon, so Jim and Bones split up after lunch. Bones wants to brainstorm with another doctor over an idea he has for an experiment, which would normally be interesting, but the doctor he wants to see drives Jim nuts. The guy takes forever to talk, and he says the same thing six times, only altering his wording slightly each time. He doesn't know how Bones can put up with him, but Bones does.

With nothing to do, Jim decides he may as well just wander around, poke his head in a few doors, see what's going on. He's bound to find something interesting eventually.

 

xx

 

He doesn't find anything even remotely interesting, so Jim gives in and heads to Pike's office early. He's about fifteen minutes early, but Pike will probably be happy Jim isn't late. They might even start early- which will get Jim and Bones back to the Enterprise faster.

He hums to himself as he heads down the corridor but stops just outside the door when he hears Pike's voice. The man really is getting on if he's talking to himself now, and Jim is going to tell him that- until a second, familiar voice answers him.

"-not like that, sir," Bones says, sounding weary.

Pike sighs. "I've watched the two of you since you were cadets. I know what I see."

Jim's heart stops.

"With all due respect, sir," Bones says evenly, "I don't think you do."

"McCoy, you can play the fool for as long as you need, but just because you're fooling yourself doesn't mean you're fooling me." Pike sighs again, and Jim's heart rate skips into overtime. "All I'm saying is, when Jim breaks your heart, there's a bottle here with your name on it. You know the kind of hours I keep. Come any time."

Jim frowns. Break Bones' heart? How the hell would he do that?

"Thank you for the offer," Bones says stiffly, "but I don't think I'll be taking you up on it."

"If you say so." Pike clears his throat. "Any chance you know where Jim is?"

"With my luck, he's lurking outside the door," Bones says dryly, and Jim's heart skips another beat. "More likely, he's looking at those new hovercruisers Starfleet is releasing and trying to find a way to smuggle one onto the ship."

Pike chuckles. "He does love his machines."

Jim's heart is hammering in his chest, but he takes a deep breath, reminds himself he's the goddamn captain of the goddamn Enterprise, and joins Bones and Pike, head held high.

"Afternoon, gentlemen," he says as he takes his seat. "What's this I hear about machines?"

 

xx

 

The meeting passes in a blur. Jim barely understands a word Pike says, barely manages to make himself respond; all he can hear is a conversation he definitely wasn't supposed to know about. But he does know about it.

The pieces are all there, but Jim doesn't want to solve the puzzle. He wants to go back to when he didn't know there was a puzzle at all.

He feels sick, and from the way Bones is squinting at him as they shake Pike's hand and file out the door, he knows it.

Jim can't risk tipping Bones off, so he pastes on his most convincing smile, murmurs, "I'll see you at ours," and slaps Bones' ass.

The last part was probably a mistake. Not only did he do it too hard, now he can't stop thinking about Bones' ass and the fact that Jim is probably the biggest ass of all.

He needs to talk to someone. He can't sort this out himself. There's only one person who might be able to help him, though, and he's not sure of his welcome.

He's got no other choice.

 

xx

 

Jim knocks on the door three times.

A man he doesn't quite recognize answers it. From the smile that stretches his face, the feeling isn't mutual.

"Jim Kirk," Ben Sulu says, smiling widely. He holds out a hand, which Jim shakes. "What brings you here? Oh, wait. I imagine you came for my husband."

Jim nods.

"Hikaru!" Ben shouts, twisting to shout over his shoulder. "Your captain's here!" Turning back to Jim, Ben waves him in.

Sulu is standing in what looks like the kitchen, a little girl Jim assumes is his daughter in his arms. "Captain?" he asks, forehead wrinkling. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, no, everything's fine," Jim says quickly. "I just need a quick word."

"Sure thing. Ben, if you could..."

Ben steps over quickly and takes the girl into his own arms. "Come on, sweetheart," he coos. "Let's go build something!"

She claps her hands, and the two head off.

Jim watches them go with a sinking feeling. "He's a good man," he says.

Sulu nods. "The best. But that's not why you're here."

"Actually," Jim says, "it is. Sort of. Can I sit down?"

"This isn't going to be quick at all, is it?"

"Nope."

Sulu rolls his eyes. "Into the living room, then. Follow me."

Jim does, and Sulu leads him into room that reminds Jim of something out of a magazine.

"Damn, man. You did all this?"

"Technically, the interior designer we hired did," Sulu says as he drops into an overstuffed armchair, "but it was my idea to hire her, so yes, essentially, I did."

Jim smiles, and something clenched tight in his chest loosens a little. "I'm going to get right to the heart of it."

"All right."

"I think Bones loves me."

Sulu laughs. It isn't a chuckle. It isn't a rumble. It's a full on howl. And not a short one. He keeps closing his eyes, calming down, then opening them again, only to let out another howl when he sees Jim.

"I don't see what's so funny," Jim mumbles.

"No?" Sulu gasps, finally calming down. He wipes at his eyes. "You don't see what's funny about the fact that you are probably the only person in the galaxy who hasn't known McCoy loves you?"

"It can't be that obvious!"

"Jim." Sulu leans forward, eyes bright. "Leonard McCoy, noted marriage skeptic, let you put a ring on his finger. Oh, and he broke how many ethical guidelines to bring you back from the dead?"

"He's my CMO. Of course he did everything he could to save me. It's his job."

"Please tell me you aren't that deep in denial. Tell me you get that working himself to the bone in order to rip you out of death's grip was the closest to a declaration of love that that damaged man could manage."

"I don't think I'd call him damaged," Jim protests weakly.

Sulu groans. "He expresses himself through profanity and words even my little girl knows are mean because it keeps people out." He tilts his head. "Except you. How'd you manage that?"

"We shared a flask," Jim says, for lack of a better reason.

"You shared a flask," Sulu repeats dully.

"It had good bourbon in it if that's any consolation."

"It isn't, but thanks for trying."

They lapse into silence after that, until something strikes Jim. "You knew. About me and Bones- you knew it was a sham, didn't you?"

"Of course." Sulu picks up a cup from the table next to his chair, gives it a quick look, shrugs, and takes a long swallow.

"Then why did you get so upset?"

"Because it was a sham." Sulu's expression is soft. "I was angry at you because Leonard couldn't be. I yelled at you because you damn near broke that man's heart a second time."

Jim lets that sink in. "I didn't know you two were close."

"We aren't. But if anything happens to me, he's the guy who's either going to patch me up or make sure Starfleet takes care of my family for me." His expression turns wry. "And I know he's too stupid to protect himself. Ben would want me to watch out for him."

"Ben knows Bones?"

"You didn't know?" Sulu asks. "McCoy got one of those special Starfleet connection boosters for calls to his daughter. It was part of what got him to agree to sign on apparently. Now, Ben and I had just gotten our daughter when I was assigned to the Enterprise, and I was missing my girl." He shakes his head. "I was a mess when we got too far out for the regular communications, even after Uhura made all the adjustments she could. McCoy found me crying on the bridge one morning, and he just dragged me to his room, sat me down on his bed, and gave me his device. He said I'd be able to reach my family with it, and he was right. Of course Ben insisted on meeting the man who let us talk."

"Bones did all that?" Jim shakes his head. "Of course he did."

"That's not all he did. I didn't find out until later, but those boosters have a limited number of uses. He gave up time with his family so I could see mine." A smile creeps over Sulu's face. "When we got back, he threw his weight around and got me a booster of my own- without telling me. I tried to thank him, but he threatened to shove it up my ass if I didn't leave him alone."

That sounds exactly like the sort of thing Bones would do. "Does Ben know about Bones and me?"

"He knows you're married."

Jim looks down at his ring. He forgets he's wearing it most days. "I don't want to hurt him."

"We're past that, Captain. He's already hurt. It's just a question of how much more."

"Well, how do I hurt him the least?"

Sulu leans back, dark eyes considering. "How do you feel about him, Jim?"

"He's my best friend," Jim says automatically.

"That's it?"

Jim coughs. "I may be fucking him, too."

Sulu drops his head into his hands. "Jim..."

"We share a bed!"

"Do you even hear yourself?" Jim flushes, and Sulu pinches the bridge of his nose. "Usually I wouldn't interfere, but the two of you are such a mess... Jim, has it ever occurred to you that you might be in love with the good doctor?"

"No."

"Well, that was definitive."

"I don't do love, Sulu," Jim explains. "Not that kind."

"Horseshit."

Jim blinks, thrown. "What?"

"Jim," Sulu says, sounding tired. "You have possibly the biggest, stupidest heart of anyone I know. Stop making excuses. You love him or you don't. Either way, try to be gentle with him."

Jim nods, and silence falls again, this one lasting. It goes on and on, for far too long, before Jim shakes himself. "Now's the time I leave, isn't it?" he asks.

"And they say blonds are stupid."

Jim passes Ben on his way out.

"Good to meet you," Jim says, lifting a hand in farewell.

Ben nods, smiling widely, and lifts his daughter's hand to wave at Jim.

It makes Jim's heart clench.

 

xx

 

Bones loves him. It isn't that surprising, is it? He's always one step behind Jim, always ready to drag Jim's ass out of the flames. And he bends for Jim like he does for nobody else.

 

xx

 

Does Jim love Bones, though?

He certainly cares about him. That's easy. He likes Bones' company, and he doesn't want that to stop. He appreciates how good Bones is at his job, likes watching Bones work. He even likes how angry Bones is.

And the sex is great, the best by far.

But love is supposed to be more than that.

Isn't it?

 

xx

 

What the fuck, Jim thinks an hour later as he drops yet another tiny bottle from the mini fridge into the floor, is love?

He's contemplating this when Bones finally comes to the room.

"Somebody's been drinking."

"Those bottles should be bigger," Jim complains, and Bones snorts. "I mean it, Bones. Do you know how many I drank?"

"How many?"

"All of them," Jim says mournfully. He glances down at the pile of bottles on the floor. "Meant to save one for you."

"Well, that was... sweet of you."

"Yeah, it's 'cause I think I might love you?" Jim tells the floor. "But I'm not sure. Sulu said I should be gentle, but I don’t know what the fuck that’s supposed to mean."

Bones pads across the room. "And this was your grand plan? Get hammered and blab it all?"

"No-o," Jim singsongs. "But we can't fuck if I'm drunk."

"You could have just said you changed your mind."

"But I didn't."

"You're a real piece of work, Jim Kirk," Bones says, but he sounds more amused than upset.

"You love me anyway."

"Not right now I don't."

"Boo," Jim says. "Boo, you're supposed to love me always and forever."

Bones laughs outright. "You're going to hate yourself in the morning."

"Boo," Jim says to that, too.

"Lord, you stink," Bones says as he sits down on the edge of the bed, sounding scandalized. Two thumps follow, which Jim assumes are Bones’ boots hitting the floor. "It's like I'm in the floor of a brewery."

"You like breweries."

"Only the ones that don't make you spit out good whiskey. It's the twenty third century. How do dry counties still exist?"

"I don't make you spit anything out," Jim says proudly.

Bones chokes. "Go to sleep, Jim. Please."

He doesn't mean to, but with Bones stretching out next to him and a belly full of booze, Jim quickly nods off.

 

xx

 

Drinking was a mistake.

Not dying in the night was a mistake.

Bones bringing him breakfast in bed is a miracle.

"Am I dying?" Jim asks hopefully, just in case.

"No," Bones says brightly, "but you're real cute when you're drunk and not throwing punches."

Jim moans but accepts the bag. "Please don't remind me. I'd like to forget the whole thing."

"That's a shame, because I think you said some things worth remembering."

Jim freezes, fork halfway to his mouth. "What?"

Bones is still standing by the bed, and folds his arms across his chest, expression tightening. "I never asked you to love me," he says after a moment. "I agreed to marry you because you asked, not because I expected anything. You should know that."

"I never thought you did," Jim says softly.

Bones nods sharply and makes to leave. "Then I'll let you eat."

"Wait!"

Bones freezes.

Jim hesitates. He doesn't know why he said that. But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes he doesn't want Bones to go.

"You should stay," he says at last.

Bones slumps. "I don't think that's a good idea, Jim."

"Stay," Jim says again.

Slowly, Bones turns back around and settles himself on the edge of the bed. "What do you want from me, Jim?" he asks.

Jim shakes his head. "I know this isn't fair, but I want you here."

"Okay."

"That's it? 'Okay'?"

"Would you prefer that I leave? 'Cause I can still do that."

"No, that's- Okay is great. Yay okay."

Bones quirks a brow, and Jim winces.

"Eat your food," is all Bones says, but Jim can hear the silent, you fool.

Jim is more than happy to oblige.

 

xx

 

It's noon, and Jim and Bones are watching some trashy divorce court show. It's normally the sort of thing Jim would try to avoid around Bones, but his friend doesn't seem to mind it.

"She is going to take that moron to the cleaners," Bones says at one point. "You don't win a case where you're the cheater in Judge Bev's court."

And that's when it clicks. "Oh, my God," Jim breathes. "You love this shit, don't you?"

Bones shrugs. "’This shit’ got me through my divorce. It was nice to know I wasn't the only sap getting taken to the cleaners."

"That's dark, man."

"Misery likes company, I guess," Bones says simply. "You're breaking up a home. That would be bad enough, but you're admitting defeat, too, which is a thousand times worse."

"Isn’t it better to break up than be miserable all the time?"

Bones nods. "Sure it is, but Joss didn't let me fight for our relationship. She just looked at me one day, told me the love was gone and that she was tired. And that was it. The next day, she handed me the papers and started divvying up our things."

"You never told me that."

"There's not much to tell."

"From the way you talked about it, I thought you guys really got into it."

"Nah." Bones shakes his head. "I couldn't have done that to Joanna, and I don't think Joss would have either. So I told her to take what she wanted."

"And she took the planet," Jim finishes.

"She never was one to let an opportunity pass her by," Bones says. He sounds almost wistful.

Jim bites the inside of his cheek. "Do you still love her?"

Bones scratches at his jaw. "Yeah,” he says slowly. “I guess I do."

"How?"

"How could I not? She was good to me for as long as she could, Jim. I can't begrudge her her happiness.” He frowns. “Well, not permanently."

There's no hesitation. No second-guessing. Bones still loves his ex, even though she put him through the wringer.

Jim feels floored by the idea of loving one person. How the hell can Bones be okay with loving two people, one or both of whom don’t love him back?

"Love isn't that hard, Jim. It's there or it's not. You accept it or you don't. Personally, I don't see any point in fighting something I can't help."

"That sounds an awful lot like bullshit."

Bones shrugs. "Maybe you just want things to be more complicated than they are."

"Jesus, you really did get that psych degree, didn't you?"

"What a subtle subject change. I barely noticed that deflection."

"Fuck you."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

They go back to watching Divorce Court with Judge Bev after that. It's ridiculous and a little disheartening, and Jim wouldn't mind changing the channel. Bones is smiling to himself, though, and looking more relaxed than he has in a long time, so Jim keeps mum. It's not exactly a hardship.

 

xx

 

When they get back to life on the ship, Jim and Bones go back to their room. They sleep in the same bed, they spend almost all their time together, and they fight.

What they don't do, by unspoken agreement, is have sex.

It's disappointing to go back to jacking it in the shower, but Jim has endured worse.

 

xx

 

They encounter two planets, both of which are uninhabited, before disaster strikes.

It starts with a cough. Spock gets it first. Then Jim, then Sulu. After that, it rapidly spreads throughout the crew. It isn't a bad cough, just a constant tickle. But it doesn't stay that way. Over the course of a week, it progresses into a productive cough, then a bloody one. The med bay gets slammed with a rainbow of bloody smears.

It falls to Bones to get everyone calm, which he does in his particular way.

"Nobody's dying on my goddamned ship!" he shouts one morning. "So we are going back to those 'uninhabited' planets, I am going to collect some samples, and you idiots are going to stay alive! Am I understood?"

A couple crew members groan their understanding, but that isn't good enough for Bones.

"I asked if I am understood!" he shouts, and all the pathetic souls in the med bay make enough collective noise to satisfy him.

"Good! Now, get back to resting and taking in fluids. God have mercy on any of you morons who dies."

By the time they get back to the nearer of the planets, the only person well enough to go get samples is Bones. He doesn’t even have enough healthy crewmates for a guard. Jim watches as Nurse Chapel breaks the news to him. Bones rapidly goes from his natural color to white to red to green. But he doesn't argue, just nods and starts to walk away.

"Bones!" Jim rasps. "Bones!"

Like any good husband, Bones changes direction and comes over to Jim's side. "What do you want?"

"Be careful, will you?"

Bones' lips twitch. "I'm always careful. You’ll hardly have time to miss me."

Then he's turning on his heel and marching out into danger.

 

xx

 

The wait is interminable. Jim spends every second of it thinking of progressively more gruesome ways Bones could be dying. Each one leaves him feeling emptier than the last. What would he do without Bones?

Jim has never had to go without him. He doesn't much care for the idea of having to.

 

xx

 

They lose five crewmates.

 

Bones returns to the ship beaten and bloodied and carrying the most disgusting alien corpse Jim has ever had the displeasure of seeing. From it, Bones is able to synthesize a cure.

 

But not before one of Scotty's people, one of Jim's people, and three of Bones' people succumb.

 

Bones blames himself. Jim doesn't have to ask him to know it; he just has to look. Besides the guilt that weighs on Bones's shoulders and darkens the skin beneath his eyes, it's also clear in his refusal to let Chapel or M'benga or anyone else treat him. He types out his reports with one hand, the other immobilized in a sling. His face is mottled with bruises and cuts, and when Jim catches him coming out of the shower, he sees the damage reflected on Bones' torso.

 

"Enough," Jim says when he catches Bones staring at the screen, looking at pictures of their dead crewmates. "You did what you could."

 

Bones doesn't look at him. "I should have done more. Look at them. They were all so young."

 

Jim rests a hand on Bones' good shoulder. "Let them go, Bones. Even you can't stop death every time."

 

"Why not?"

 

It isn't rhetorical or nasty. Bones sounds like he genuinely doesn't know.

 

"Because," Jim says, gently tugging Bones' head away from the screen, "you're only a man. Even gods have to stop for death. What chance do we have?"

 

Leonard swallows and lets himself lean against Jim. "I hate space," he says thickly.

 

Jim doesn't try to tell him that space has given them incredible things. He doesn't remind Bones that it was space that brought them together and space that gave Bones renewed purpose. He doesn't point out that their dead didn't die wrapped in darkness and silence but surrounded by their family. He just runs his fingers through Bones' hair, the best comfort he can offer.

 

xx

 

They're cuddled together under the sheets, with Jim getting to be the big spoon and Bones curled up as the little spoon, and everything is warm and good. Jim has an arm around Bones' waist, hand splayed across his chest, holding him close. Bones is finally sleeping. He shook and shivered all last night, until exhaustion finally pulled him under. He's gone still now, his chest moving evenly with his breaths.

Naturally, that's when the banging starts.

It doesn't quite wake Bones up, but he does begin to stir.

Jim carefully extracts himself from Bones and reluctantly makes his way to the door. He opens is a crack to tell the knocker to fuck off, only the moment they can see in, a roar goes up from the other side and the door gets forced open by the weight of way too many bodies.

Bones is awake by then, but his reaction is hidden from Jim as people stream into the room, squeezing Jim into the farthest corner.

"What the hell?" Jim asks, just as someone shouts, "We love you, Doc!"

And that's when Sulu emerges, his shit eating grin visible even on the back of his head.

"You saved our asses, McCoy," he says solemnly. "I'm sorry Chiune ever doubted you."

"Hey, fuck you, Sulu!" calls someone from the back of the crowd, which gets a ripple of laughter.

"That's nice of you," Bones says carefully, and Jim can practically feel him twitching from across the room. "I was just-"

"Don't you dare say you were just doing your job," Sulu warns. "Fighting aliens is Jim's job."

"Speaking of Jim," Bones says pointedly, "that's my husband y'all have decided to crush to death in that corner."

The crowd parts immediately, and Jim gratefully hurries to join him on the bed.

But first...

"All right, you've said your thank yous," he tells the assembled crew. "Thank you for caring for your CMO, but it's time for you to leave. Go on. Shoo!"

Sulu flashes Jim a wide grin right before he leads the herd out of their quarters.

The moment the door closes, Jim turns to Bones and asks, "What the fuck was that?"

At least, that's what he means to do. Instead, while he does turn to Bones, he doesn't get to ask what the fuck happened because he's too busy watching Bones stare at a balloon someone must have given him.

"They got me a balloon," he says needlessly. "They got me a balloon, Jim. For failing five of them, I got a balloon."

Jim shakes his head and gently crawls back into place behind Bones. "You know that's not what it's for," he says, as kindly as he can. He feels Bones shrug and hooks his chin over his shoulder. "How come we didn't cuddle like this before?"

"Every time we had a free moment, you wanted to get your dick out," Bones says, though the words have no heat. "Bit tough to cuddle with a man humping your leg."

"So it's my fault."

"Usually is."

Jim snorts. "Stop being mean. You're supposed to be depressed. Can’t you just eek out a tear for me?"

"Do you ever stop talking?"

"Nope."

Bones groans as if that's a bad thing, but Jim knows better.

 

xx

 

Jim has to leave Bones in their quarters to be captain for a while. Bones promises not to do anything stupid, which Jim instantly finds suspect.

He's vindicated in that feeling when he comes back and finds Bones playing cards with Spock.

"What the hell is this?"

Neither man looks up from his hand.

"Bones," Jim says, raising his voice, "I specifically told you not to do anything stupid."

Bones waves him off. "Shh, I'm about to win."

Spock harrumphs but reveals his hand. Bones lets out a soft, "Ha!" and lays down his own, apparently superior, cards.

"Again," Spock orders, and Bones grins.

Jim sighs. Clearly he isn't going to get anything out of either man until they finish, so he grabs one of the extra pillows and gets settled with his back to the bed.

He's been sitting for a while, playing with his PADD, when something touches his face. He splutters and swats at it until, red-faced, he realizes it isn't something awful but Bones' hand. He gets a playful tap on the nose for losing his cool, but other than that, Bones doesn't react except to pull his hand up and rest it on the crown of Jim's head.

It doesn't take him long to begin playing with Jim's hair. He runs it through his fingers, rubs the tips of his fingers into Jim's scalp. It feels perfect, and Jim feels himself relaxing into the touch, his eyelids growing heavy.

He doesn't notice when Spock leaves. He probably would have fallen asleep right there on the floor if Bones hadn't gives his hair a pointed tug.

"Bedtime, sleepyhead," Bones says and pulls his hand away.

Jim gets to his feet and quickly strips down to his boxers. He lets his uniform stay where it lands, too tired to bother with it. Bones doesn't tease him about it, just lifts the covers and lets Jim snuggle up close.

"Night, Bones," Jim says around a yawn.

Bones replies by tugging him closer.

 

xx

 

Barely a week after the cough emergency, a second one crops up. This time, though, there's just one person who gets sick.

Bones looks at Jim flatly through the glass. "You really need to stop doing this."

Jim shrugs helplessly. "It's not like I meant to make the guy pop his spores at me or whatever."

"The fact that that isn't a euphemism is just one of the many reasons why space should be left alone."

Bones looks like hell, and Jim knows it's killing him that there's nothing he can do.

"It's not your fault," he says anyway.

"I know that," Bones snaps. "You're the one who disregarded protocol and shook that thing's- hand? Leaf?" He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter. I know this one isn't on me, Jim. It’s on you."

"Good." Jim means that. He isn't ready to die, but if he's got to go, then he'd at least like to make sure Bones doesn't beat himself up for it for the rest of his life.

Jim should maybe try to answer whether he loves the guy or not, but that's... He doesn't want to deal with that. And even if he did figure it out, he doesn’t think Bones wants to hear the answer anytime soon.

 

xx

 

Uhura and Chekov are sitting with him when Jim puts two and two together and gets five.

"Where's Bones?" he asks, interrupting Uhura's steely silence and Chekov's babbling.

"Sleeping," Uhura says immediately. “He was wiped out from spending all day in the lab. M’benga practically had to drag him to your quarters.”

"You checked?" Jim asks. "You saw him physically lying down in bed, asleep?"

"I didn’t, but-"

"When have you ever known Bones to stop when he’s got work to do?" Jim asks. "He isn't in our quarters, Uhura. He's out there doing something stupid."

She bites her lip, uncertain.

It's Chekov, little baby Pavel, who says, "I believe the captain is correct. Dr. McCoy was not heading to the med bay or to his rooms when I saw him."

Jim and Uhura turn to him. "Where was he going, Chekov?" Jim asks, despite already knowing the answer.

"I believe he was headed for the transporter."

 

xx

 

Bones did indeed use the transporter to get to the planet. Not only that- and Jim only has Spock's word for this, but the guy looked so shaken, Jim is inclined to believe him- but Bones had been shaking the creature who spored all over Jim, shouting, "Give me your goddamn pollen, you overgrown dandelion!"

Jim would give his left arm to have seen that- and the struggle that followed when Spock tried to wrestle Bones away from the alien.

Spock has a swollen green eye now, and there's a line of dried blood down the front of Bones from his broken nose.

"I think I can synthesize something from this," he says thickly, proudly holding up a bag of what Jim assumes to be the equivalent of alien ejaculate.

"That is so gross," he whispers.

Bones isn't fazed. "You aren't dying today, Jim," he announces. Then he walks off, presumably to get to work in the med bay.

"He bit me," Spock says a moment later, after Bones has disappeared. He sounds shaken, and he keeps looking down at his hand where there's an imprint of Bones' teeth in the flesh between his thumb and index finger.

Jim can't help it. "You and me both, my friend," he says mournfully. "The man is an animal in the sack. You wanna see?" he asks, reaching for his waistband.

Spock's spine gets impossibly straighter. "I believe I have business to attend to with Miss Uhura," he says stiffly. "Goodbye, Jim. Please don't die. It would be unfortunate to lose you."

Jim lasts until Spock gets to the door before he loses it.

 

xx

 

"Congratulations, Ranger Rick," Bones says two hours later, just as the itching and eye watering have started. Jim's arms and nose have turned green. "I've got the cure."

"I knew you could do it."

"Do you want the good news first or the bad news?"

Jim doesn’t like the sound of that. "Good news."

"The treatment will work."

"And the bad news?"

"It's going to take a while, and I need to inject it intramuscularly." He gives Jim a bright smile and waves a wicked looking needle at him. "So drop your pants, Captain. This is going in your ass."

Jim swallows hard.

 

xx

 

It does work. It takes about twenty-four hours, but Jim gets the all clear from Bones after just one godawful jab of the stuff.

Now he's on mandatory bed rest, which isn't as terrible as it could be. Bones is with him, which is great. There’s a heating pad placed over the site where Bones stuck Jim with the needle, and he's been petting Jim's back for almost two hours.

It's almost worth nearly dying from pollen.

Almost.

 

xx

 

Bones is already in the mess. Jim had to have a face to face with Pike after the last situation, and the admiral had not been pleased about Jim almost getting himself killed or Bones going on a killing spree, to say the least.

Jim leaves the meeting feeling more tired than he has in a long time. He almost skips going to the mess in favor of going to bed, but he knows Bones would just get ticked off and grab something gross for him to eat as punishment.

When he gets to the mess, he finds Bones immediately. He's sitting in their usual spot with two trays and a look like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world. Then he spots Jim and his whole face lights up.

And that's when Jim knows.

The answer he's been dreading pops up, clear as day. It’s right there, written in Bones’ lips.

Jim walks over to the table, feeling numb. He doesn't say hello, doesn't stop to mirror Bones' smile. He just steps right into Bones' space, leans down, and pulls his husband's face in for a kiss. It's rougher than he intended, but Bones doesn't protest, simply fits his hands to Jim's face and kisses back just as hard.

When they separate, Jim doesn't put more than a few inches between his face and Bones'.

"What was that for?" Bones asks.

"I figured it out," Jim says simply. "Sorry it took so long."

Bones shakes his head. "Just to be clear..."

"It's a yes, Bones," Jim says. "Now can we get out of here? I've been living like a monk."

"Jim, it hasn't even been three months."

"Doesn't mean I don't miss you," Jim says, and he dips his head for another kiss.

At the other end of the table, someone makes a gagging noise. Someone else wolf whistles. Jim flips them all off without opening his eyes. Some things are more important.

 

xx

 

Bones is propped up by a pile of pillows and the headboard. It took a long time to get him to agree to do it this way, but Jim is glad he waited it out. This way, he can see every inch of Bones, from his forehead to the hard line of his cock to his toes. Once he gets up close, he'll be able to see every expression on Bones' face.

Bones doesn't rush him or try to reassure him, just watches Jim's face with his dark eyes.

Jim takes a deep breath and slowly kneels on the edge of the bed. He stays there a moment, watching Bones watch him, before he crawls up the bed and throws a leg over Bones' hip.

Bones immediately puts his hands on Jim's hips. His grip is firm, enough to let Jim know he's there without holding him in place.

Prepping took forever. Bones wanted to be thorough, but he also got carried away. Instead of just opening Jim up and letting him get on with it, he lingered until he made Jim come with just his tongue and fingers.

Some of the jitters died when he came, though, so Jim isn't that upset.

Reaching behind him, Jim blindly feels for Bones' slick length. He can't help but run his hand along it; the shuddering sigh that escapes Bones when he does isn't encouragement to stop. He thumbs the head just to make Bones squirm, and Bones delivers.

Jim gives himself a shake. This isn't what he's here to do.

Reaching up with his free hand, Jim takes hold of Bones' shoulder. Bones feels solid in his grasp, steady. He's someone Jim can lean on.

So Jim does.

Resting his weight heavily on Bones, Jim lines himself up and slowly sinks back onto Bones' cock.

The stretch is different from Bones's fingers. It's fuller, and he has to remind himself to breathe as he feels the head slowly spreading him open.

"That's it," Bones murmurs, his grip on Jim's hips tightening. "That's good, Jim. You're doing real good."

Jim sinks down a little harder, pushing Bones deeper inside him, and he hears Bones' breath catch.

As much as Jim enjoys the fact that Bones is a talker, he needs to concentrate and not get carried away by the way Bones is looking at him like he's the best thing in the world.

He keeps sinking down, taking more and more of Bones, until Bones is pressed flush against him. He can feel the neat thatch of dark, wiry hair around the base of Bones' cock brushing his balls- Jim always thought he preferred his partners clean shaven, the way he does for himself, but he's coming around to Bones' way of thinking, especially when he gets to run his fingers through the dark trail of hair that runs down Bones' belly, which he does now with the hand that's finally free. Bones sighs, and Jim smiles. His husband loves a good rub.

Slowly, Jim shifts his weight from his hand to his knees.

"God, you're gorgeous," Bones says in his thick, honeyed accent, and Jim would roll his eyes if he didn't know Bones is one of those guys who just says whatever pops into his head when he's fucking. "Have I ever told you that, Jim? You're so damn gorgeous. Never seen someone I wanted as much as I want you, even if you do like space."

Now Jim does rolls his eyes. "Can you please concentrate on what you're doing?"

"'M just watchin' you. Like watchin' you. We should get a mirror, set it up right across from the bed."

Bones, Jim recently discovered, has been thinking about all the ways he wants fuck Jim as well as all the ways he wants to watch. It's sweet, in an overwhelming kind of way.

"I'm gonna move, okay, Bones?"

Bones nods quickly.

Jim pulls himself up until he feels Bones' head slipping out. Then he slowly lowers himself back down.

He's barely done anything, but he can already feel sweat prickling at his skin.

"Okay," he says, swallowing hard. "Okay, you can fuck me now."

The first thing Bones does is release one of Jim's hips and push at his chest, changing the angle as he slowly pushes back in.

"Fuck, you feel good," he says, eyes wide. "No more Starfleet, huh? Just you and me. Lord, I wanna fuck you forever, darlin'."

Jim opens his mouth to say something back, but all that comes out is a low groan as Bones hits the spot that makes Jim see stars. He hears a strange keening noise and spends a long moment wondering what the hell happened before he realizes it came from him.

"Do it," he gasps. "Come on and fuck me, Bones."

"Anything you want, Jim," Bones says. He tilts his hips back, then slowly presses back in. "Just tell me what you want and I'll do it."

Nails digging into Bones, Jim hisses, "Don't be so gentle. God- Fuck, I can take it, okay? Just hurry up and fuck me!"

And Bones does. He sets a brutal rhythm of short, hard thrusts that make him rub right against Jim's prostate, pulling noise after noise out of him he's never heard himself make before. Jim tries to meet him, but his legs have started to quiver, his hard dick bouncing a little every time Bones bottoms out. There's a line of wetness that runs from the tip of his cock to Bones' belly, and Jim watches, mesmerized by it, until Bones tilts his chin up.

Jim doesn't need to ask what Bones wants; it's the same thing he wants.

The kiss is sloppy and awkward, but Jim loves it. He doesn't let Bones pull away when it ends. "Stay close," he whispers, and Bones tilts their foreheads together.

"'M right here," he says. "Right here, Jim. I've got you, all right? I've got you."

Jim doesn't reply, simply goes for another kiss right as Bones's dick nudges him squarely where it feels best. He doesn't know what happens to the kiss, if it happened at all or if it was good. His orgasm hits him out of nowhere, and all Jim can do is cling to Bones until he remembers what way is up.

When he comes back to himself, Jim smiles down at Bones. "You coming or what?"

Bones gives him a flat look and rolls his hips into Jim especially hard, nearly sending Jim careening off his lap.

"Jesus! Fine, I get it. Sorry." Jim hesitates. "You, uh- Are you going to pull out, or...?"

"Nah, I thought I might stay in your ass for another hour or two," Bones says dryly. "Hell maybe all night."

"That sounds impossible."

"I'm sure you could find a way." Then Bones' expression softens and he runs his hand through Jim's hair. "You aren't in any pain, are you?" he asks.

Jim gives him a flat look. "Bones, I love you, but sometimes, you said say stupid shit."

"Oh, excuse me for thinking you might be able to intuit my meaning."

Jim feels himself smile, though he can't help but wince as he lifts his hips and Bones' dick slides out. "I love you," he says as he settles back on Bones' thighs.

He pauses, considering, before shrugging and taking Bones in hand.

It feels like the most natural thing in the world to be sitting naked in their quarters, his hand tight around Bones. One of Bones' hands is fisted in the sheet, the other fitted to Jim's cheek; his thumb lightly strokes the skin below Jim's eye, Bones's own eyes half shut as Jim slowly brings him off.

There's nowhere Jim would rather be, no one he would rather be with, than right here with Bones. He's never been more certain of his welcome than when he leans forward and presses a kiss to the corner of Bones' lips and feels Bones' lips quirk into a smile.

"Love you, too," Bones says. His voice is breathy, and Jim knows he's close.

"Come on, Bones," he urges. "Come for me."

Bones nods, his eyes screwed shut, and as Jim gives him a few rough tugs, he finally comes.

Jim lets go reluctantly to wipe his hand on the sheet, which Bones will yell at him about later. He studies Bones for a long moment, taking in the way his chest is heaving, the sheen of sweat down his throat, the wild mess of his hair, the way his eyes aren't quite focused. This is Jim's Bones. He's mussed and smelly and exhausted and wholly, completely, Jim's.

Jim stretches forward to bump his nose against Bones'. It gets him a weak laugh, so Jim does it again. Bones huffs at him but puts his arms around Jim's waist and tugs him closer.

Jim goes willingly, happy to cuddle.

"We should clean up," Bones mumbles.

"In a bit," Jim agrees. He doesn't feel like moving right now. He just wants to sit on Bones' lap and bask in the glow of good sex.

Bones fits his fingers to the divots in Jim's back. "How did I get so lucky?"

Jim is the lucky one, really, but Bones won't want to hear that. So Jim just hums and crosses his arms behind Bones' neck.

They doze off like that and only wake up when Jim's alarm goes off, signaling it's time to get up and get ready for the next shift. Bones follows him into the shower, kissing and petting and all around distracting Jim- after Jim lets him check to be sure everything is all right. It's exactly what Jim's always wanted but thought beyond his grasp.

Yet here Bones is, tripping over the bathroom rug and cursing a blue streak, and he's Jim's. Sharp tongue, morning breath, and all.

Life is good, Jim thinks as he pulls his still-swearing husband into the shower. Life is real good.