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If Saturn's Rings Should Fade Away (It'd Still be an Impressive Planet)

Chapter Text

Spock eyes the clock in the back of the classroom very carefully. It's in direct line with the teacher's vision, yet despite the designated end of the class having occurred, the teacher is still continuing his lesson. The students don't seem to mind or perhaps they have yet to notice that it is time to proceed to the next classes in their schedule. They appear to be enthusiastic about the presentation occurring in the small lecture hall, both class and teacher building on each other's interest in the topic. While well versed in a variety of subjects, specifically those of a scientific nature, Spock's understanding of this subject matter is rather stunted. The holograms of models have little meaning to him compared to those in the classroom. He straightens his uniform jacket and contemplates the likely outcome of his proposal should he barge into class before the teacher dismisses his students.

Humans are rarely logical, and thus disrupting the proceedings would most likely diminish his chances of eliciting a favorable response. He's been warned of the vindictive nature of the man he seeks. Spock will wait; however, punctuality is a desired trait in Starfleet officers. It is a trait he intends to enforce under his command.

Class finally lets out, fifteen point thirty-eight minutes late. The students file out, enthusiastic about the topics covered and engaged in boisterous conversation as they disperse to their next classes. Spock nods in greeting to the few cadets that acknowledge him as they pass through the door.

"It's rude to linger in doorways," barks the teacher from within the classroom as he starts to put items away in his attaché.

Spock raises an eyebrow. He thought he had stayed out of the professor's eye line during the lecture as he lingered in the hallway waiting for his opportunity to speak with the man. Apparently Spock miscalculated.

He makes his way into the lecture hall, past the rows of now abandoned desks, to the front of the classroom. There's something about the man before him that sets Spock on edge. He's studied up on his target with everything Starfleet could provide and even went so far as to contact former colleagues and classmates to assure his success in this mission. Everything he's learned has been a contradictory that further expands the riddle of just who is Doctor Leonard McCoy.

The source of his visit is busy cramming PADDs, and an actual paperback book in his attaché case. "Plead your case," snaps Leonard, closing his case with more force than necessary.

"My case?" asks Spock. "I'm not sure of your meaning professor..."

"Doctor," corrects Leonard, harshly. "It's Doctor. My PhD means I can save lives. A fact of which I'm sure you're aware since you've been askin 'bout me."

"You'll catch more flies with honey, Spock," rings in his head. Captain Pike had warned Spock about McCoy's difficult nature but insisted the benefits would outweigh the doctor's cantankerous tendencies. That conclusion has yet to be seen, but his mentor has yet to steer Spock wrong. Humans however, are not infallible.

Leonard stares expectantly at Spock as though he's waiting to hear the excuse for an unfinished assignment. "You stood in the hall for twenty minutes and didn't manage to find the time to have your sales pitch planned out?"

"You knew I was waiting in the hall?" asks Spock. It's this behaviour that perplexes Spock. Clearly the doctor is rather astute but is waiting for something specific from Spock.

"I'm not blind," huffs Leonard. "Figured if it was important you'd stick around. Plus you might cut to the point quicker if I kept you waitin."

"Very well," concedes Spock, "I have been given captaincy of the USS Enterprise and the authority to pick my crew for a five year exploration expedition."

"Congratulations, Captain," says Leonard half-heartedly as he picks up his case and starts to head for the door. Spock is quick to follow on his heels. "Finally get to step out of Pike's shadow?"

Leonard spares a glance over his shoulder to catch an inquisitive look on the Vulcan's face. "I remember you. You're kinda hard to forget," he says. "There ain't a lot of Vulcans left after Nero, even fewer still in Starfleet."

Spock remembers McCoy too. Captain Pike had him shuttled out to meet the Enterprise when an important delegate had contracted a new parasite. The doctor's stay was brief and he spent most of the month tucked away in medical, but Pike spoke highly of him and often. The delegate was saved and the negotiations were successfully completed, giving Spock no grounds to dispute Pike's claims, though he never interacted with the doctor himself.

"Based on your credentials and recommendations by Starfleet command, I have come to offer the Chief Medical Officer position to you," explains Spock, cutting to the heart of the matter. His mission starts in two months and the CMO position is the last one he has to fill.

Leonard lets out a laugh, but Spock fails to see the humour. The opportunity to serve aboard the Enterprise is a high honor, second only by the opportunity to be at the forefront of frontier exploration that promises to reveal new discoveries in science and medicine.

"I'm a teacher not a ship's surgeon. Not anymore at least," concedes McCoy.

"Accepting the post would change your status back to an active serving officer." After the incident with Nero had been settled, McCoy had taken an extended leave of absence from duty. There is nothing in the records about it other than being classified as medical leave. He returned to serve at Starfleet medial for year which included the month aboard the Enterprise, before taking an earth position as a professor at Starfleet academy, teaching advance xenobiology classes for the last five years. It's a peculiar career path for a man that was a shining and promising star in frontier medicine.

"That's the least of my concerns, Captain. Not all of us can just drop everything and fly out in to the black on some sparkly tin can."

"It is the duty of every officer to be prepared..." starts Spock. Status can change in a moment, and even though an officer expresses desire to stay on earth, they may be required to serve elsewhere. McCoy may be holding an inactive post but for all intents and purposes he is still an active officer, not having officially retired from Starfleet.

"Some things are more complicated," counters Leonard, feeling the last of his patience die a quick death. "I wouldn't be a good fit." He's not a stranger to receiving requests to join crews, though they have dwindled in the last few years. Leaving earth for a posting on a vessel just isn't an option these days, even if the idea sounds good on paper. Most people have gotten the hint and leave Leonard to teach the next group of cutting edge physicians that are going to change the face of medicine. The front lines just aren't for him anymore.

"As a commanding officer, I can have you reinstated as an officer with an active post," points out Spock.

Leonard rounds on Spock, jabbing him in the shoulder with each hate filled word he utters, "Try it and see what happens!" He storms off after that muttering to himself all the way.

Spock stands there in the hallway looking in the direction McCoy stormed off in. Everyone else he has approached for assignment aboard the Enterprise has considered it a high honor. No one has turned his down yet. Based on his interaction with McCoy, he thinks the doctor is correct, he wouldn't be a good fit, but McCoy's name is the only one Captain Pike insist that he recruit out of the page of recommendations he gave Spock for various positions on the ship.

Perhaps more research is required to sway Dr McCoy to consider the post.

"That sounds like McCoy," chuckles Pike, as Spock recounts their encounter.

Spock frowns. "If you knew he would not be receptive to my offer, why would you insist I make it?"

"Consider it your first real test of your captaincy," says Pike seriously, leaning closer to the camera. "Get McCoy to be you CMO. Consider that my final order as your captain, Spock," says Pike before taping the communication video closed.

Spock opts to draft a letter asking McCoy to reconsider his offer. He's prepared to listen to considerations McCoy might need to un-complicate his situation. He sends a copy of the letter to Nyota Uhura for review. Their relationship may have turned from romantic to platonic years ago but she is willing to help him navigate the treacherous waters of human behaviour whenever he needs it. Perhaps she can help him phrase it so the doctor will reconsider.

Spock presses the doorbell yet again. He would assume no one is home but he can hear someone thumping around the old large farmhouse and it was a rather long drive to get here, to simply turn around because McCoy is being stubborn about answering the door. The door finally opens. Spock's mouth hangs open as he tries to rethink his opening line now that he's faced with someone other than McCoy.

"What do you want?" demands the disheveled young man. He's probably a decade younger than McCoy, with blond hair, intense blue eyes and an impish grin that dances behind his eyes even if he's scowling at Spock and blocking the door like McCoy`s personal bouncer. There's a scar that runs along his hair line starting from his left ear, creeping over his eye and terminating in the middle of his forehead. While his hair is kept on the shorter side, it's shaggy enough that falls over the scar unless he moves his head abruptly. It's only slightly more noticeable than the one running jaggedly down his left forearm near the wrist.

The young man must notice Spock's gaze because he shifts his body so his left arm is tucked behind him.

"I was looking for McCoy," states Spock.

"Well you found him," replies the young man as he continues to stare down Spock as though daring Spock to challenge the claim.

"Dr Leonard McCoy," restates Spock.

"Oh, you wanted Dr McCoy," he adds in a tone that suggests he never actually thought Spock had come looking for anyone other than Leonard. "He stepped out for a bit so you'll have to wait."

The young man turns and ambles back through the house. He has a rather pronounced limp that hinders his speed. "Don't stand in the doorway; you'll let all the bugs in. Leonard hates bugs," he calls over his shoulder.

Spock steps inside with that rather informal invitation. While he cannot see any physical resemblance between the young man and Leonard, they seem to share a similar disposition. He follows his guide through the hallway heading to the living room. The hallway is covered with photos, mostly of a little girl that seems to grow up by the time he reaches the living room. McCoy is in a lot of them, looking every bit the proud parent, so the girl must be the daughter Spock discovered in his research. She turned eighteen this year so that shouldn't be one of the complications Leonard referred to.

Also in the pictures of the later years, is the young man, looking just as disheveled as he is now and just as proud as Leonard. "Are you Leonard's brother?" asks Spock, eliminating other options based on the evidence or lack of evidence he has observed.

The young man chuckles. "Sure. Let's go with that."

Spock doesn't get the joke but he often fails to see the humor in things. He sits down on the couch in a formal and rigid manner, feeling like he's intruded in a world he doesn't belong. He never would have expected McCoy to be the farm type, yet here he is, on a piece of land two hours outside of San Francisco. There are even animals running around the property.

"You want something to drink? I think we have tea or water, or... tea," offers the young man staring at the kitchen intently like it will tell him what is stored there.

"Tea would be appreciated," says Spock, employing a social method Uhura taught him. His host gets up with a great deal of effort and makes the arduous journey to the kitchen. There's a cane leaning against the couch that would no doubt make his efforts easier, but he doesn't seem inclined to make use of it.

"Leonard doesn't get many visitors out here, especially ones in uniform. What brings Starfleet out here anyway?" shouts the man from the kitchen whom Spock has designated 'brother McCoy' until he can access McCoy's file and look up the name that the young man seems to be with holding.

"I've come to see if he will reconsider a posting on my ship," states Spock, over the rattling and clanging in the kitchen.

Spock's eyes take in every detail of the house. Every square inch goes against what Spock would have calculated for McCoy. He would have hypothesised the doctor would live in a modern sleek apartment in the heart of the city, close to the academy and medical, yet not too far from the trendy shopping and dining the city affords. Part time husbandry in a cluttered and messy dwelling is a far cry from the sterile surgical rooms McCoy made a career from.

"What ship do you command?"

"I am taking command of the Enterprise," answers Spock.

The house fills with the ringing of smashed glass as shards tap dance across the wooden kitchen floor. "Fuck!" yells the young man, followed by the sound of more glass shattering as it collides with the wall.

Spock starts to get up to see what's happening when the front door opens and Leonard walks in. His face contorts from surprise to anger as he sees Spock standing in his living room.

"You just don't take no for an answer do you?" he demands.

Some more glass shatters in the kitchen and Leonard's irritation at Spock turns to concern for the man in the kitchen. "What did you do?" demands Leonard, glaring hard at Spock as he hurries towards the kitchen. He puts his hand up to stop Spock from following. "Stay there. I'll deal with you in a minute."

"Jim?" is all Spock can make out before Leonard shuts the kitchen door.

It's an hour before Leonard reappears. Spock looks but he can't see 'Jim' anywhere in the kitchen. Leonard looks particularly angry and somehow equally exhausted as he comes back in the living room. "What do you want, Spock?" he asks tiredly.

Spock stands at attention. "I've come to ask you to reconsider my offer."

"I've told you no in person and in writing to all seven of your letters. Isn't that enough?" Leonard flops tiredly into an oversized recliner, like he has nothing more to give this world.

"It is not the answer I seek," says Spock.

Leonard looks longingly back towards the kitchen. "We don't always get what we want."

"He wants you to serve aboard the USS Enterprise. That's a hell of a thing to turn down," says Jim, appearing from another room. He's changed his clothes but even the new long sleeved shirt isn't long enough to hide the fresh bandages on his hand.

"Jim, don't those chickens need feeding?" asks Leonard, exasperated.

Jim scowls like a petulant child but finishes putting on a worn flannel coat. "Yeah, yeah. Adults are talking. I get it," he mutters before heading outside in a huff.

"Jim, don't be like that," Leonard calls after him but the door is already closed behind Jim.

"I told you it was complicated," says Leonard in what sounds like an apology as he shows Spock to the door. "Maybe in another life time Spock, but I just don't see it working out in this one."

Spock gets in his car. He still doesn't have the answer he came out here for and the enigma that is Leonard McCoy has just grown more tangled, yet the doctor didn't say no specifically this time.

Leonard sits as long as possible, his fingertips pressing craters into the leather arms of the chair as he waits. The sun starts to set, beginning its slowly lazy journey down the hills in the distance. The soft patter of rain drops beginning to fall spurs Leonard into action, throwing on a rain jacket and grabbing Jim's from the closet. All he needs is for Jim to catch his death out in the rain and the pathetic whining that inevitably follows a sick Jim.

The chickens are feed and settling into their coop for the night. Jim's not there, so Leonard continues meandering through the yard. The path is well worn from Jim's daily morning and evening routine. Bacon the pig and Wellington the cow are munching happily in their pens. The morose names were Jim's idea, though to exercise Jim's dark sense of humour after the Nero incident, or to simply remind himself not to get too attached to the animals, Leonard's never been sure. No matter, the animals they've purchased have earned a reprieve from death by anything other than natural causes.

The rain is starting to come down a little harder now, not torrential yet but still not fit for man or beast. The horses have even demonstrated the good sense to head into the barn, while Jim is still outside somewhere. Leonard would be concerned if it wasn't part of Jim's usual pattern when things are bothering him.

Jim's hanging out with the sheep. One of the ewes birthed a lamb a couple weeks ago and watching the young thing discover the world has become one of Jim's new favorite things. Leonard stands there and watches Jim for a couple of minutes. Out here, when Jim thinks he's alone, are the few moments when all the stress and disappointment drains from his eyes and he's that enthusiastic lover of life that Leonard met on that shuttle to the academy all those years ago.

Leonard misses those days.


Jim's leaning heavily on the metal rails of the sheep pen, a good indicator that his leg is bothering him something fierce. Of course the kid didn't take his cane with him when he left the house and Leonard has more than a sneaking suspicion that Jim doesn't use it around the house when Leonard isn't there to nag him.

"Even the animals have the good sense to come in out of the rain," says Leonard walking over and draping Jim's coat over him. Jim snuggles into it pressing back into Leonard.

Jim shrugs. "I thought you just kept me around for my good looks."

There's something hesitant and unsure in Jim's voice, a broken piece that Leonard's never been able to set right after Nero, that creeps through even when he's trying to make a joke. He hates to see what everything has done to Jim's confident swagger. "Well not only," hums Leonard, squeezing Jim a little tighter before letting out a soft laugh.

Jim snickers too, before tipping his head back to plant an awkwardly placed kiss on Leonard.

"You should take it," says Jim seriously.

"It's not that simple, Jim," sighs Leonard.

"It could be," counters Jim, changing his gaze to focus on the shaky lamb. He clenches his teeth as he waits for Leonard's answer.

Leonard feels Jim tense up. It's an old conversation that just goes round in circles. "I'm happy here," he insists. It sounds convincing enough and for the most part it's true. He has the most important thing, wanting anything else would just be selfish at this point.

"Maybe I need a change? He seems pretty desperate. And he did come all the way out here. You could probably get anything you want," says Jim suggestively.

He's not wrong. Most people give up after the initial no, but Spock has made seven written request and two personal visits one of which included the trek out here with a pretty tempting offer. CMO of the flag ship out on a five year mission to parts unknown; aside from all the horrible ways they could and probably will die, the medical breakthroughs are enticing. Being out there in the fray is far more exciting than grading papers and instructing students on the difference between Kelpians from Torra Five and Torra Six.

"I like him," states Jim.

Leonard rolls his eyes. "You would." Spock isn't the kind of friend Jim needs. The two of them will have Leonard tied to the port nacelle and heading out to deep space in no time. He kisses the top of Jim's drenched head. "Don't confuse stupid with likeable, kid."

"Sound advice, you should take it," replies Jim.

"Well, I like stupid," counters Leonard as he steers Jim towards the house. He has to carry most of Jim's weight, his leg tired of the abuse of the day.

"He'd give you anything you want," insists Jim. "It could work this time.

"Mmm-humm," hums Leonard, continuing their slow trek indoors.

Chapter Text

' This is the USS Troubadour hailing unidentified Romulan vessel, please respond.

Repeat, this is the Federation research vessel Troubadour. We come in peace.'

Spock glances up as Uhura enters his ready room.

"I can't believe you got your white whale," she says sitting down across from Spock with an impressed look on her face. "No one's been able to convince McCoy to take a posting for any amount of time except Captain Pike and that was only for a month. You managed a five year commitment. How?"

"We are still negotiating," replies Spock. He may yet still be in the group of people unable to obtain the doctor's services.

"Negotiating?" asks Uhura. "That's new."

"Dr McCoy requires special consideration if he is going to accept the position. Among other considerations we have agreed to a temporary assignment and re-evaluation of the situation after eight months time," explains Spock. He hands her a PADD.

She reads over the list of requirements. There's nothing completely outrageous on the list but it is rather specific in a way that can be accommodated with enough time but since the Enterprise is due to depart in two weeks, makes implementing rather tricky.

"I was hoping to use your connections to meet these requirements," says Spock.

"You want me to sweet talk already busy and settled members of the crew into making these happen?" surmised Uhura.

"It is my hope," agrees Spock.

"Alright, but you owe me one," warns Uhura with a smile that promises she will collect. She takes the PADD and leaves the ready room, smiling at First Officer Roberts and helmsmen Sulu as she crosses the bridge to the turbo lift. She has a lot of work to do; first trying to convince two crewmembers to give up their quarters and Engineer Scott to retrofit the quarters into one that meets McCoy's specs.

Uhura taps her foot as she listens to Scotty rant about all the work he still has to do and the time it will take to modify the rooms to accommodate the doctor's requests. He never pauses in his welding as he complains. She waits until he finally lifts the visor on his welding mask to ask, "So can you do it?"

"I'm not a miracle worker, lassie."

"We both know you are, Scotty."

He lets out a long sigh. They're still in space dock so configurations like this are easier but not something that's done this late in the game; and for all things, creating a bigger living unit for a doctor so he has one of the best views on the ship. Quarters have already been assigned, but if the Captain wants to go to all this trouble, Scotty will rise to the challenge. Even if he doesn't agree with it. "Aye lassie, I'll see that it's done."

"Thank you, Scotty."

"This is a lot of trouble to go to over some doctor, isn't?" he asks, scratching his head. Diplomats and special delegates are usually the ones that are a pain in the ass.

"Dr McCoy was one of the best in the field and the research papers and breakthroughs he made for Starfleet are at the top of medical advancement. He's the best and Captain Spock wants the best. This is what he needs to serve aboard a starship."

"I don't see what a double large family size room with extra large viewports has to do with being the best doctor," states Scotty casually.

Uhura isn't sure of some of the requests either. In fact, what she can recall of Leonard from their friendship at the academy, he absolutely hated being in space and certainly had no use for seeing it out a window. "It's what he asked for. Perhaps it has something to do with his daughter coming aboard." She looked at Leonard's crew file: Dr Leonard H McCoy and dependant J McCoy assigned to USS Enterprise for eight months. Leonard's daughter has to be almost an adult by now, maybe this is just old fashioned nepotism to try and get her ahead in Starfleet?

"Since when does Starfleet allow families on board a flag ship?"

"It's not ours to ask questions, Scotty. But McCoy is the best. I hear he was the one called in to help save Captain Pike after the battle with Nero. It was one of the first things he did after being rescued from the Narada."

Scotty goes a little pale. "He was one of the poor bastards taken hostage by Nero from the USS Troubadour?" He may have been stuck on a frozen rock while Vulcan was destroyed but the heroics of the crew of the Troubadour spread throughout the Federation. Not only were they the first Federation ship Nero encountered after destroying a fleet of Klingon ships, but the crew managed to warn the Federation they were heading into a trap at Vulcan at great personal cost.

Uhura nods.

"I'll make this my top priority," assures Scotty before going off to yell at some crewmen.

McCoy isn't on board when the Enterprise departs. In fact he doesn't board the ship until a week later and in the middle of the night via shuttle craft. The crew is mostly unaware of his arrival until the next morning when he's in medbay to start the crew's annual physicals and make sure their medical files are up to date.

It takes one hour after the first round of physicals are done for word to spread like wildfire that their new CMO has finally arrived.

Leonard takes lunch in the crew mess hall to escape sickbay for a moment but eats all other meals in his cabin. He makes no efforts to socialize with the crew or other officers at meals or after shift and sticks straight to the point during staff meetings before leaving as soon as they're concluded. It only serves to turn the rumor mill even more.

"He never comes sit with us," laments Chekov, about three weeks in. He looks dejectedly at McCoy's turned back a few tables over like he personally has been forced to sit in the corner.

"He's probably busy and wants to eat quickly so he can spend time with his daughter," surmises Uhura, tired of the McCoy gossip game. The rest of the senior staff get along like a house on fire; if McCoy doesn't or won't be a part of that, it's on him.

"I heard they had the corridors cleared when they came aboard, and it wasn't his daughter with him," says Sulu salaciously.

That piques Uhura's attention. She's pretty sure the daughter McCoy used to talk about started with a J. Joan or Jolene perhaps? It certainly couldn't be his ex wife. It would be a cold day in hell before those two could be civil in the same room together from what she can remember. Did Leonard have another child since the academy? "Are you sure?"

"I heard they were wearing a hoodie with it pulled over their face but it was diffidently an adult male. Nobody's seen him since," says Sulu with flourish, like he's telling a ghost story to green cadets.

"Nobody stays in their quarters for three weeks," adds Scotty in disbelief.

"Maybe the doc has a boy toy and we should see if he needs rescuing," chuckles Sulu, stabbing at a potato.

"Rescue your damn self," mutters McCoy as he walks past to take his tray back to reclamation before returning to sickbay for the rest of his shift. The table goes silent and stays in contemplative silence for the rest of lunch.

It's an adjustment, Leonard reminds himself. There's no molecular difference between recycled ship air and planet air and yet they're different. This is a new routine in a new place with new people but home was once like that too; it's the same, yet different. Though back on the farm there were nice wide fields to put between Jim and the idiots. He can't help but feel like maybe this was a mistake.

"Damn it Jim!" cries Leonard, stubbing his toes on a foot stool that has no business being at the door, especially if Jim's going to sit in the dark. This isn't how he wanted to return to his quarters. "Computer, lights," he orders

The furniture has been rearranged around the living room, mostly in a jumble to clear out the center of room. Today's already been tedious, he's not sure he has the patience for whatever this is. Honestly, if Jim's having a meltdown right now, it's all the sign Leonard needs to pull the plug on this half baked idea of serving on a ship.

"Oh you're home," says Jim, sauntering out of the kitchen with a picnic basket in hand and a bottle of wine tucked under his arm. He walks to the center of the room where he has a red and white checkered blanket laid out in front of the giant window.

"What's going on here?" asks Leonard more curious now than irritated.

"I thought we could have a picnic to celebrate your position as CMO of the Enterprise. You've been so busy getting things sorted in medical and us settling in lately, that we haven't actually taken a moment for this. I thought it would be nice," says Jim. There's hope in Jim's eyes like he's not sure if he's brought it up at the right time or not. He's familiar with each one of Leonard's scowls and he's not sure if this one is directed at him or just the after effect of some poor bastard that landed in sick bay for something preventable.

Jim starts to second guess himself. He sways slightly on his feet not sure if he should take the basket back to the kitchen or soldier on. "You look like you've had a rough day," he concludes, leaning more towards the kitchen. Today's not the day for this.

Leonard walks over and grabs Jim by the wrist, stopping him from retreating. "I was, until now." It's moments like this that Leonard lives to get lost in: the feel of Jim in his arms, the smell of his hair, the slow rhythm of his breathing as he nestles his head against Leonard's chest.

"Let's sit down," says Jim, the words muffled in Leonard's tunic. Leonard takes the basket and bottle of wine so Jim doesn't have to struggle with them as he lowers himself down. His limp isn't as horrible as it was. Being stuck on a shuttle for seven hours caused the muscles to cramp up for days limiting Jim's mobility even more than usual.

Once settled, he hands the basket back to Jim who begins pulling out and arranging its contents. Leonard turns the wine bottle over in his hands as he sits down next to Jim.

"It's synthehol," assures Jim as though he can read Leonard's mind. Leonard smiles, handing the bottle over like he never had any doubt. It kills Jim a little that there will always be that flicker of suspicion and worry that things will spiral down that path again.

Leonard curls up behind Jim as he takes out the glasses from the basket and pops the cork. He's not a wine person by nature, preferring the harder, well aged stuff, but drinking whisky out of a champagne glass isn't all that sexy. Whatever Jim's found to drink, it's blue like cotton candy and just as sweet.

"I made your favorite, peach cobbler. Just like mom used to make," hums Jim leaning back into Leonard so he can take in the expanse of stars.

"Your mom or my mom?" asks Leonard, cautiously. Jim looks like some play-doh mash up of amusement and irritation. Leonard loves that look. "Your mom was a nice lady and all," he concedes, "but a horrible cook."

Jim slaps him lightly on the shoulder, but doesn't argue. He's only got a handful of recipes that he can make from scratch and most of those were, easy to make when hung-over, comfort foods. Kirks aren't known for shining in the kitchen. Leonard not only has the wherewithal to make a three course meal by hand but the talent to make breads and pastries if he's feeling domestic. His father contributed to cutting edge medicine but Mrs McCoy was a surgeon in the kitchen.

They fall asleep there, on floor after desert. Leonard's not surprised. Jim sleeps better on a ship if he can see the stars.

They couldn't see the stars in the hold of Nero's ship.

"Did McCoy bring his daughter aboard?" asks Uhura, casually at dinner one night. Spock broke things off between them to honor his duty to the Vulcan race and take a Vulcan wife since there are so few Vulcan left. While she was angry about the decision for a long time, once the hurt melted away, she could see Spock's reasoning behind the decision, even if she still didn't agree with it. They fell into a platonic relationship, her feelings never completely going away and based on the loneliness in Spock, she suspects if logic wasn't a factor, he would have changed his mind. It doesn't hurt in getting favoritism and special privileges when you're close friends with the Captain.

"No," is all Spock says. Uhura doesn't miss this part of the relationship- the pulling teeth to get information.

"Then who did he bring with him?" she presses.

"I believe it is his brother."

"Leonard doesn't have a brother," she counters. He doesn't have living parents, any siblings or any other children than Joanna- she checked.

Spock looks thoughtful for a moment. "He agreed he was Dr McCoy's brother. I saw no reason to doubt him. Has he done something wrong?" asks Spock, concerned.

"No. The crew is talking, that's all. It happens when someone is smuggled on board and then never seen."

"The doctor said Jim would most likely stay in their quarters."

Uhura's fork clangs against her plate. "Jim?" she asks. It's not a name she's heard in a long time.

"Do you know Jim McCoy?" asks Spock, unsure if the look of surprise on Uhura's face is positive or not.

"I might have once," she says, then changes the subject to Spock's day. Clearly she has to do some more digging but she's not going to compromise Spock's position to do it. She has other sources.

Chapter Text

Leonard losses the uniform top the second he enters their quarters. It's not even that this rendition of the uniform is that uncomfortable, anything is more comfortable than the cadet reds, but the reminder of what could have been makes it itch and pull tight in a way Leonard can't describe. It's been a long day with more 'emergencies' than he's become accustomed to over the last five years. Clearly officers fresh from the academy are still a little short on brain cells and balance, having had to treat five sprains, four cuts, six burns and one broken arm that came with a vague story that Leonard doesn't want to look too closely at. Nothing serious; just tedious work that requires a mountain of paperwork.

Jim's camped out on the couch under a mountain of blankets in front of the large viewing window, poking away at a PADD. It immediately revives Leonard and perks him up. Jim's not a potted plant that's going to die if Leonard's away at work, but it just makes him feel better to lay eyes on the kid and know things are copasetic. He places a kiss on the top of Jim's mop head as he passes by to change out of his uniform pants. "You can raise the temperature if you're cold. We have the technology," says Leonard.

"Not cold," says Jim absently, too invested in whatever he's doing on the PADD to really give Leonard his attention. "It's my blanket fort," he says as Leonard returns to the living room.

"You gonna let me in or do I need a password or something?" asks Leonard.

"There's always room for you," assures Jim lifting his legs up for Leonard to sit down.

Leonard pushes the blankets out of the way and let's Jim prop his leg in his lap. He stares out the large windows at the vast scape of stars passing by, mindlessly curling Jim's bangs through his fingertips. It took awhile to get used to Jim letting his hair flop in his face. He's not sure if it's a remnant of when Jim gave up or if it's strictly to hide the scar that now mars his boyish good looks. Leonard stopped seeing it long ago but he doesn't miss the way other people openly stare or go out of their way to look anywhere but at Jim.

"What are you working on?"

"I got the computer to give me access to the star charts for the next quadrant of space we're going to be passing through. I'm plotting the course I would take if I got to call the shots," explains Jim, thoroughly invested in his work.

"Got the computer?" That's all Leonard needs is to have the hobgoblin haul him in for a reprimand about Jim hacking the computer to get classified charts.

"It's not as hard as it should be," criticises Jim, like a child placing the blame on an adult for not making getting into trouble more difficult.

"I don't care if it's child's play. We've talked about this. You can't break into secure systems," lectures Leonard. And god he's getting tired of having to go over the rules.


"No buts, Jim. If you want the charts I can make a formal request for them but you can't create security breaches like this."

"Fine!" retorts Jim, getting up and throwing the PADD at Leonard. He storms off to the bedroom in a huff. All that's missing is the slamming of the bedroom door. Leonard's surprised he hasn't reprogrammed the computer to let him do that yet.

He picks up the PADD from where it missed his head and collided with the wall. There's a crack in the screen but the display still comes up. He's a doctor not a navigator though he managed to pass the basics back at the academy. The trajectory Jim's planned out looks good but Jim's IQ and skill have never been the problem.

' Mayday. Mayday. Starfleet, this is the USS Troubadour requesting immediate assistance. We're being attacked by an unidentified Romulan ship.'

Leonard looks up abruptly as Uhura enters his office unannounced and uninvited. "What can I do for you Lieutenant?" he asks, every bit of irritation he's feeling coloring his words.

"Jim McCoy? Is that really Jim Kirk that you smuggled onboard?" she says, direct and straight to the point. Jim Kirk was an over confident, womanizing trouble maker with a capital T. Spock already has all eyes of him being the first Vulcan to take command, of the flag ship no less, he doesn't need the type of trouble and disorder that follows Kirk around. She's always liked Leonard but she's protective of Spock and has to be sure nothing is going to derail all that he has achieved.

"First of all," says Leonard, affronted, "nice to see you too, Nyota. Second, I didn't smuggle anyone on board. Out of everyone I thought you'd be the last to give into ship's gossip."

She doesn't flinch under his look of disappointment. She's stared down a logical Vulcan before; she can stare down one Leonard McCoy. "Is is Kirk?"

Leonard takes a long breath, looking resigned. "Yeah," he sighs. "Jim McCoy is probably better known to you as James T Kirk."

"Why hide it?" presses Uhura like a seasoned interrogator. "What's his game? I thought he was out of Starfleet?"

"I wasn't tryin' to hide anything. Jim took my last name."

"To pretend to be your brother?" she accuses.

"My brother?" asks Leonard, looking confused. "Who said Jim was my brother?"

She crosses her arms. "That's what he told Spock."

"Why would he... never mind. Jim's not my brother, he's my damn husband," says Leonard raising his left hand to show off a ring on his last finger. "He uses my last name so he doesn't have to use his. He doesn't need or want the attention the Kirk name brings."

"Wrong finger," she points out. She's read Leonard's file inside and out; there is no spouse listed only one dependant. "And since when does James Kirk not want attention?"

Leonard lowers his hand, his right absently twirling the ring around his pinky finger. "It's complicated. Most things with Jim are... complicated." He slumps a little in his chair. "He doesn't want attention, not anymore. Not since Nero." Leonard's eyes start to glisten with unshed tears.

Uhura's starting to feel like a bit of a bully, but she's fiercely protective of her family, which includes most of the senior officers on this ship. Everyone's heard some version about the first Federation ship Nero encountered before the attack on Vulcan. Whatever the version, they all end with Kirk being kicked out of Starfleet for one reason or another soon after Nero's defeat.

"Please don't tell anyone it's Kirk," begs Leonard. "Jim's not who you remember. That kind of attention from the crew, it'll break him. He can't handle people, hell, most situations. He just needs to be left alone. Please."

Uhura takes a seat, her voice taking on a softer tone, "People will find out eventually. Few secrets are safe on a starship, especially when the mystery is already gaining attention." She almost looks apologetic. She and Leonard got along fine at the academy, her and Jim on the other hand...

"I'll cross that bridge when I get there but just not today."

Uhura leaves feeling something she never thought she'd feel for Jim: sympathy. Obviously she was quick to believe the stories of Jim being a reckless idiot and endangering people that lead to his dismissal a little too quickly. Leonard wouldn't beg for someone like that. It will take some digging but she's determined to get to the bottom of what really happened to one Jim Kirk after the academy.

Scotty's not used to a lot of tourists in his department apart from the odd delegate that's sent to see the engines and fake interest in his lovely lady for the sake of peace. Medical only pays a visit if it's life or death so it's a surprise to find the doctor wandering around the engine room. If one of those babies that have been posing as engineer graduates has dropped something on their toes again, Scotty's going to petition the Captain to start a daycare center and drop the whole lot of them off there.

"Are ye lost doctor?" he shouts over the purr of the engines as he descends from one of the catwalks.

McCoy turns around looking relieved. "Actually, I was looking for you."

"Here I am, at yer service."

McCoy holds out an older PADD with a horrifically cracked screen, looking rather sheepish. Scotty looks at it skeptically. Starfleet PADDs are made to take a beating. No use having the things if one drop during a firefight finishes them off. "I'm told you're a miracle worker. I'm hoping you can fix it."

"It would be easier to put in a requisition for another one. I'm sure there are a couple newer ones in storage and it takes but a lick to replicate one," says Scotty inspecting the PADD. It's about seven years old now, ancient in tech standards. The thing is hardly worth the material it's made from anymore.

"It has sentimental value," offers McCoy.

Scotty doesn't look quite convinced. "I can replace the screen and refit the guts to make it faster and with more storage."

"No!" sputters Leonard. "It has to be exactly the same except for the screen. No upgrades, no program changes and please don't look at whatever is on there."

"Worried I'll find your stash of naughty vids doctor?" jokes Scotty.

"If only," mutters Leonard. Revealing some porn collection to the crew would be a cake walk compared to dealing with Jim's paranoia if he thought someone was messing with one of his PADDs. Just getting the screen fixed is going to cause a few bad days but since he only trusts devices he had at the academy to not be riddled with surveillance and the like, Jim's quickly running out of PADDs that have survived his meltdowns over the years.

"I'll have it fixed up in a couple of days and drop it off at your quarters," vows the Scotsman.

"That's alright. Just message me and I'll come get it from you. No need to go to my quarters. And thank you Scotty, I appreciate it."

The thing about exploring uncharted space that no one tells you, is there are long stretches of nothing. Planets and anomalies are big question marks just floating out in space and finding them is like throwing a dart in the dark. It's mostly crunching data to looking for the tell tale signs that something is just around the corner, otherwise it's long shifts stuck in limbo until that beautiful sight of something pops up in the view screen. They're in that vast stretch of nameless stars now and the most interesting part of the day is lunch.

Uhura's the last to join the table of their little quartet and the conversation is already in full swing. "What are we talking about today, boys?"

"Chekov was just telling us about astrometrics," informs Sulu.

"That sounds exciting," says Uhura rolling her eyes. If they'd found anything worth looking at, the whole ship would be a buzz, so whatever's gotten Chekov's attention must be some technical breakthrough that gets navigators and astrophysicists excited.

"Dr McCoy has a standing reservation in the lab for zero three hundred hours. The lab is to be cleared fifteen minutes before and must stay empty for fifteen minutes after," says Chekov.

"Are there a lot of people booking the lab for private use in the middle of the night?" asks Uhura, not seeing the issue yet.

"Just insomniacs and people on gamma shift trying to finish research," injects Sulu.


"It is not Dr McCoy going in there at night, rather the mystery man," Chekov clarifies.

"It's a little weird, lassie. Most people are asleep unless on shift and this guy isn't technically part of the crew," adds Scotty.

"It's probably the only time he can access the lab for non official business. And just because it's zero three hundred ship time doesn't mean it's not afternoon where he's from," suggests Uhura, keeping her gaze directed on her salad. It is odd behaviour, which makes the things she's heard about Jim seem more likely to be true than she first thought. She hates lying, even if it's by omission and especially to cover Kirk's ass but she doesn't have it in her to break Leonard's trust without good cause.

Sulu sits up straighter. "You know something," he accuses.

Uhura can feel all eyes lock on her. If she doesn't feed the wolves something they're going to keep circling Leonard and Jim until they find an opening. "He's McCoy's partner. Jim McCoy is Leonard's husband, so you can all stop speculating and move on."

"Since when do they allow family members to accompany officers on exploration vessels?" asks Sulu. He's not sure which side he falls on in regards to the subject. Missing Ben and their daughter tears him up while he's on assignment but he's not sure he wants to take the chance if something happens that his family will be caught up in it. He made the decision to risk his life for the Federation, his daughter didn't.

"Why don't we ever see him or them together?" adds Scotty.

"He has agoraphobia and you three are the cause of it," answers Uhura with an evil grin. "We're done talking about it and tell your sources they're done talking about it too," she threatens. The fear of her wrath won't hold the crew for long but it will slow them down and give Leonard and Jim a little space.

There are eighty-six black marble tiles comprising the floor space in the hallway outside the court room. Five of them have scuff marks on them. Leonard's considering polishing them just for the sake of having something to focus on other than the agonizing wait.

He should be in there. A court marshal behind closed doors can't be a good thing, especially when it's taking this long. A slap on the wrist doesn't require this much time. And a slap on the wrist is the best they can hope for. There's no arguing the facts, that Jim endangered lives.

Extenuating circumstances be damned when you have to explain to some family why their loved one isn't coming home. They were so close to that this time. Leonard has a foreboding feeling deep in his gut that Starfleet won't be able to look past this incident- even for its golden hero.

"Any news yet?" asks Pike as his sits down next to Leonard on the old worn leather bench.

Leonard shakes his head. The silence has been killing him. At least if he could sit in chambers with Jim he'd have some clue as to the mood the assembled council was in. He should be there when they reveal their decision, it's Leonard's life too.

"I thought you were off world?" Pike is probably Jim's last ally within Starfleet command. If he had been on the panel there might be a chance that Jim's command wouldn't completely be in jeopardy.

"I was," says Pike, turning his uniform hat over in his hands. "As captain it's within my prerogative to bring my ship to whatever port I believe is best equipped to handle repairs." They both know there's nothing wrong with the Enterprise.

"Thanks. He'll appreciate you being here," says McCoy.

"Whatever happens, it will be alright," Pike assures.

Leonard desperately wants to believe that but he knows too much and has seen too much to believe in happy endings anymore. If Jim loses command, it will break him, probably worse than Nero did.

"There are things beyond Starfleet," continues Pike.

"Says the career captain," snaps McCoy. "Tell me, if I hadn't performed that surgery and you lost the ability to walk, would you still be happy with your life?"

"Probably not," concedes Pike, "but Jim has something I've never had."

"What's that?"

"He has you."

Leonard's not sure that's enough in the grand scheme of things.

The door finally opens and Jim walks out. They rise to their feet. Leonard searches for any hint about the proceedings but Jim is an unusually blank slate. There's nothing but disbelief coloring Jim's features.

"Well?" asks Leonard unable to stand the nothingness he's getting from Jim.

"I'm done," says Jim, hollow and empty. "They took it away from me. I'm out of Starfleet." His blue eyes glass over in the first sign of emotion he's shown since the proceedings started. Starfleet just took his life and showed him the door.

Leonard feels like he's in freefall. His future is in doubt now too and he feels like he has nothing to hang onto as he tries to keep Jim from drowning. How's he supposed to serve on a ship when Jim can't follow? It's been him following Jim since that fateful shuttle ride out of Riverside. Where's he supposed to lead them?

Leonard steps forward to wrap his arms around Jim and try and hold all Jim's pieces together but Jim takes a giant step back. "I just... I can't right now, Bones. I need to be alone," he says before turning and walking numbly away.

Leonard wants to die a little as he watches Jim's back.

"I'm done too," he says, the words flying out of his mouth.

"Are you sure?" asks Pike. "You should probably take some time to think about it. I can talk to the brass, see if there's something that can be done."

They could fight this. Pike's that good that they might even get Jim back in a uniform and on a ship but it's not going to be what Jim had. Leonard's not sure how many times he can go through this. They can't take many more losses. Maybe it's selfish to not try, to just take the out and try and build something simple somewhere; Jim's always been a fighter. Leonard's the one that doesn't have it in him. He can't watch Jim be disappointed anymore.

"No, says Leonard. "If they don't want him, then I don't want them. He was good enough to save their collective asses but they wash their hands of him the second things get rough. I'm done." He knows it's more complicated than that. Bigger picture and all that but Leonard only has enough in him to care about Jim right now. The rest of the universe will just have to fend for itself. "I won't change my mind."

It's been two years since Nero took their carefully planned lives and torpedoed them. Rescue was supposed to mean they could rebuild and reclaim their lives. Everything is still slipping through their fingers though.

Chapter Text

Scotty whistles as he makes his way through the corridor. He's had the tune stuck in his head all day long and he can't quite think of the words that go along with it. It's driving him mad.

He's been behind schedule all day thanks to an overly eager ensign who thought he was going to revolutionize warp drive but instead, fried several circuit relays. McCoy's PADD's all fixed but in all the craziness he forgot to message the doctor to come get it today. With alpha shift long over, McCoy has to be back at his quarters and probably getting ready to turn in by now.

Their cabins aren't that far apart and the doctor seemed to want the PADD as soon as possible, so it couldn't really hurt if Scotty just drops it off. Maybe he can invite the couple out for a drink one night? At the very least he can catch a glimpse of their mysterious stranger for himself and gain some insight on exactly what the good doctor is hiding away.

He presses the computerized door bell and waits.

And waits.

He's just about to conclude that they've either gone to bed or gone out for the evening when the door slides open. He stands there gaping, unsure what to say when he realizes it's not McCoy that answered. There's a little disappointment that the guy doesn't have sixteen eyes and three heads as his mind processes the entirely regular looking person before him.

"What?" snaps the blond, sticking his head out the door to look up and down the corridor.

"Ummm," answers Scotty, not sure what to make of the man standing before him or the hostility. He holds up the PADD and points to it. "I fixed McCoy's PADD?"

"Thanks," says the blond snatching it out of his hand and tapping it on.

"You must be Jim," says Scotty regaining his wherewithal and extending his hand. The young man doesn't take it, just starts tapping away at the PADD like he's forgotten Scotty's even there or an inconvenience that will disappear if ignored.

"I thought you could use the extra computing power and memory and I added a program too," shares Scotty, reaching over to point out the new features he added. He knows he was asked not to but sometimes you don't know what you're missing until you get something new. He also can't help himself.

Jim steps back quickly letting the door slide shut in Scotty's face without so much as a word leaving the engineer standing there awkwardly. So much for trying to be friendly.

A hypothesis has been nagging Spock all night. It's disrupted his meditation and since science waits for no one, he might as well test it out. The start of his day is only two and a half hours away anyways.

The corridors are dimly lit to simulate night and there's a calm silence that's settled over the ship as she runs on a minimal gamma shift. The only crewmen up and about are those on duty, so it takes Spock a moment to conclude who is wandering the corridor at this hour.

He hasn't had an encounter with Jim McCoy since picking up the shuttle Leonard requested so as he and Jim wouldn't have to deal with the chaos that happens during launch. He has heard other crewmen recount encounters with the civilian McCoy that has left a lot to be desired.

While Spock has no desire to 'make friends' as it were, with his crew, he has made a point to become familiar with each soul that is willing to give their life on his orders. Jim has been the exception until now.

There aren't many places to go on this level; mostly science labs that Jim has shown no inclination towards, storage and weapons lockers which he has no access to and astrometrics, which Jim has a standing reservation for and frequents regularly. It doesn't explain why he appears to look lost now.

There's confusion on his face as he paces up and down the corridor, and walking in circles at each junction. He's looking frantically around like he's lost his way in the maze of the ship.

"Can I help direct you somewhere?" asks Spock, coming up behind Jim.

Jim flinches noticeably, his hand wrapping tight around his cane as though bracing a weapon. He turns sharply, standing up as straight as his leg will allow and pins a scrutinizing death glare on Spock. "Do I look like I need help?"

There's bitterness and accusation in Jim's tone that suggest he doesn't believe he does but Spock has been watching him and come to the conclusion that he must. "Yes."

Jim softens a little. His hand gripping the cane never relaxes. A lost look washes over him as he looks down the corridor. "I'm just looking for... I can't seem to find astrometrics."

"It is in the same place," assures Spock, slightly confused at Jim's confession. One of McCoy's stipulations to joining was that Jim be allowed a specified block of time in astrometrics alone, a time that Jim has made repetitive and frequent use of.

He's about to ask if Jim is in need of medical attention when Jim snaps, "Fuck off then!"

It's a clear act of insubordination. Since Jim is not technically apart of Starfleet, there is no standard form of discipline for such an incident. Spock weighs his options. He'll try and speak with McCoy later. "Room c-469," offers Spock. Jim just stares blankly. "On the left."

"Right." Jim still doesn't seem inclined to move.

Spock raises an eyebrow. Humans are often curious, but Jim is especially so. "Do you require assistance getting there?" he inquires. Perhaps Jim is physically incapable of making his way there right now.

The scowl returns to Jim's face sending the lost look retreating to the dark shadows of his features. "I don't need your fucking help," he snaps, turning in the right direction. "I'm not a god damn invalid or a circus freak," he adds as he starts to amble towards the lab. He walks away with purpose and certainty, which was missing when Spock first laid eyes on him tonight.

"Curious," mumbles Spock, before heading towards one of the science labs.

Sulu can't hide the bounce in his step. It doesn't matter that it's two in the morning; he'd be up at any time for this. It's been far too long since he's heard his daughter's voice and like a drug, he's going through withdrawal. Uhura and Scotty managed to work some magic and correlate a time that Sulu could set up a personal communication with home by bouncing the signal off some old relay bacons, otherwise he'd have to wait another two weeks before the ship is in proper range to allow for personal communications to be sent.

He grabs his PADD and heads to one of the crew dining rooms to grab a plate of cookies and milk. It's tradition: to share a meal and talk about all the things that did or are going to happen in the day. Being light years away, means he has to miss most meals but when he gets the chance to call home, he and Demora share a plate of cookies, no matter the time. Ben's never enthusiastic about cookies before breakfast, but who can say no to tradition and their sweet, little girl with big, heart melting, brown eyes.

He arranges his plate and glass and props up his PADD. The window on screen pops open and there's Demora's smiling face. "Morning, daddy," she greets with the biggest smile.

It makes Sulu weak in the knees. "Morning, sweetheart," he replies while he catalogues every curve of her face and every slight change in her appearance that has occurred since the Enterprise left orbit. Ben waves in the background as he tirelessly works to get breakfast cooked and Demora's backpack ready for school.

"I lost a tooth," she says, pulling her cheeks wide apart to show off the new gap she's sporting.

"Look at that." Sulu can feel himself beaming at the excitement his daughter has for another milestone in her life but underneath there's a small twinge of disappointment that he missed being there in person.

"It was wobbly and got stuck in my apple and popped right out. Papa says if I put it under my pillow a fairy will come and give me toys. Is it true?"

"I guess there's only one way to find out. You'll have to put it under your pillow and report back your findings."

"I hope the fairy... leaves..." The screen flickers and freezes before gong black.

"No, no, no," mutters Sulu, frantically entering codes and troubleshooting options to re-establish the link.

The bright orange words 'lost signal' are a dagger in the heart.

"Damn it!" snaps Sulu, slamming his fists down against the table. There's never enough time with his little girl but they barely said hello this time. It's certainly not enough to hold him over for another two weeks when the ship is in a better position.

"You can get that signal back you know," say Jim stopping next to Sulu's table, coffee mug and plate in hand with his cane hooked over his arm.

There isn't another soul in the dining room and frankly, Sulu thought he was completely alone. He's not entirely sure he's not hallucinating this encounter, except that there is only one person aboard the ship that he hasn't seen before. This must be the mysterious Jim McCoy. "Ummm, how?" he asks, slightly thrown by the unexpected company.

Jim looks like he's going to tell Sulu, but then thinks better of it. "Just let me," he says grabbing the PADD. He frantically taps away at it so fast Sulu can't quite tell what he's doing but there's diffidently a few sub routines and ship's programs he shouldn't have access to being played with.

The picture pops back up. "Daddy's back," cheers Demora with the connection restored.

"How'd you do that?" whispers Sulu.

Jim shrugs and says "You learn some tricks trying to foil a Romulan plot to destroy Earth while a prisoner on their ship," causally like it's an everyday thing. He takes a seat opposite Sulu so he's behind the PADD and not on video with him, and snatches a cookie off Sulu's plate. He sits there quietly eating his pie while Sulu continues his conversation with his daughter.

"She's cute," Jim says when Sulu's finally ends his call. "They always are at that age. Let me guess, horses and princesses?"

Sulu nods. It's a little weird sitting across from someone who's been the topic of conversation for weeks but no one had anything concrete to say about and have them ask about his daughter's interests.

"Joanna liked horses and princesses at that age."

"You have a kid?" Sulu's kind of surprised, though he's not sure why. He knows very little about the doctor and even less about his supposed husband. It seems unfair to have a notion in his mind as to whether he would have a kid or not.

"God no. That would be negligent on someone's part," insists Jim, with a laugh. "Bones... Leonard, has a daughter. I'm her Uncle Jim," he says with a bright beaming grin. "Uncles are cooler than parents anyways. All the fun none of the rules."

Sulu gives Jim a half smile, the one that knows exactly what it's like to spoil someone else's child but has since learned the error of loading up a child with sugar and excitement from experiencing it as a parent. "How old is she?"

"Old enough that she's arguing the merits of the practicality of moving in with her boyfriend while she attends university in the fall." There's a wistful look in Jim's eye as he remembers what it's like to be that young with the whole universe open to you.

"Definitely not the princess and pony phase." Sulu's already having nightmares about that phase and it's still over a decade away.

They both look towards the door as it hisses open. Leonard stumbles in sleepily, rubbing his eyes. His hair is mussed up and his uniform shirt slightly askew like he hastily threw it on with little concern for appearances.

"One more and it's party," cheers Jim. It's extra boisterous in what was a quiet space. "Evening, Bones. Or perhaps morning?"

"Jim what are you doing?" asks Leonard around a yawn. Jim had said he was staying in tonight, so imagine his surprise when he rolled over to find Jim's side of the bed empty, the sheet cold and even the astrometrics lab empty.

Jim leans forward across the table closer to Sulu and whispers conspiratorially, "I was never here," waving his hands like a magician making someone disappear. He picks up his cane and strolls over to Leonard, wrapping his free arm around the doctor's waist. "I miss the farm. Woke up and I had this weird craving for bacon and eggs," he says as the pair heads back to their quarters.

"You're a sadist," huffs Leonard.

Chapter Text

' Troubadour to Starfleet Command- evacuation order has been given.'

' Most of the crew are dead, the remaining crew are evacuating the ship. Please send help'

Leonard forgot how good it feels to directly save a life in the middle of an emergency. All the adrenaline pushing him through the chaos as his instincts take over and he pulls a poor soul back from the brink of death; he didn't have that in the classroom. He'd never wish for his skills to be needed by anyone ever, but the feeling of knowing they're going to live to see tomorrow is euphoric. Despite the small explosion in science lab eight, which brought four people- one critical, to sickbay, today was a good day; they managed to save Ensign Brooks's life.

Leonard's three hours late because of surgery and his famished stomach isn't inclined to let him forget it. He can't wait to get back to his quarters and see Jim. He's still energized so maybe he can persuade Jim into doing something tonight.

"Honey, I'm home," enthuses Leonard as he walks in the door only to be greeted by silence. He isn't concerned; sometimes Jim gets so focused on something the rest of the world ceases to exist. He'll just work on dinner and maybe Jim will surface.

Their quarters fills with the delicious aroma of lasagna and garlic bread but still no sign of life from Jim. Leonard sets the table then heads to the living room to track down his husband.

Jim's blanket fort which has become a permanent fixture in front of the viewing window is empty. Jim doesn't leave their quarters during alpha shift at all and he isn't willing to go out during beta shift unless necessary and only then if Leonard agrees to come with him, so he has to be in their quarters somewhere. He must be in the bedroom. Hopefully he decided to get some sleep in an actual bed and not his blanket fort which he's taken to doing lately.

Leonard makes it to the other side of the couch when he realizes his good mood is going to come crashing down. Tatters of his uniform shirts create a trail from the living room to the bedroom.

The door to the bedroom slides open. Each second it takes is a painful shard of dread piercing Leonard's heart. His brain envisions every horrible soul crushing scenario that could await him just beyond those doors and none of them are anything he wants to experience again.

The relief of seeing Jim in one piece almost brings Leonard to his knees.

They can weather whatever this is, what's important is that they're together to do it.

Jim's barricaded himself in the corner of the room; the mattress flopped on the floor between the dressers and the wall to deter anyone trying to approach him. He doesn't acknowledge Leonard, just sits in the corner muttering to himself as he continues to rip apart Leonard's uniform shirts.


Leonard slowly climbs over Jim's obstacle course, careful not to spook him should he realize he isn't alone anymore. He sits on the floor, cross legged about a foot and a half away from Jim; close, but not close enough to make Jim feel cornered.

He can finally make out Jim's quiet litany. "Can't show rank. That's what he looks for. They'll take the highest ranking officer. You can't have Bones."

Leonard feels like he's been used as a punching bag by a Klingon. His heart starts to speed up as he's assaulted by the bone seeping cold and stale rotting smell of Nero's ship. It kills him that this is where Jim goes. The words of warning make Leonard want to throw up.

Jim's not trying to destroy his uniform shirts in a fit of rage or in protest. He isn't trying to destroy the shirts at all, rather he's trying to remove the rank insignia on the sleeves that prove Leonard holds the rank of Lieutenant Commander. A rank that comes with protocol, seniority and classified information that the enemies of the Federation would be after- the rank held by the first officer of the USS Troubadour when Nero took him and tortured him to death.

"Jim?" he tries again, gently placing his hand on top of Jim's.

Jim stops pulling the silver stripe off the sleeve. He stills but doesn't look up from his work.

Leonard tugs the shirt from Jim's grip. Jim holds tight for a second but then lets it go without much of a fight. He tosses the ruined shirt over his shoulder. "You're not on Nero's ship. He's dead and nobody is going to take me from you. You survived Jim. We survived."

Jim still doesn't look up. He's weaving his thumbs through his fingers now that he doesn't have a shirt to modify. His shoulders droop at the sound of Leonard's voice and his tension begins to fade along with the memories.

"Can you tell me where we are?" asks Leonard.

Jim nods his head, his long bangs bouncing along his scar.

Leonard sits silently. He'll sit as long as it takes. Rushing things will only lead to a bigger and messier break down.

"USS Enterprise," says Jim, brokenly.

"And I'm right here," adds Leonard, softly.

"And you're right here," Jim repeats dutifully. He finally looks up meeting Leonard's gaze; bright blue eyes glossed over with tears that pool down his face. "Bones?"

"I'm right here," whispers Leonard, scrambling to sit right next to Jim. He pulls Jim close, wrapping his arms tightly around his husband.

"You were late. You were late and there are spying programs on my PADD they thought I wouldn't notice and... I thought..."

"I know what you thought." Leonard places a kiss on the top of Jim's head. That's not going to happen, Jim."

They sit like that for hours, drinking each other in.

"You shouldn't display your rank like that. It makes you a high value target," informs Jim, like his point is still valid even if his methods are not.

"I'm a doctor, Jim. I don't have any information of any value in that field. Nobody is coming for an old county doctor. They'll just be disappointed if they take me."

"I've never been disappointed with you."

"Captain, I have your secure channel to Admiral Pike," breaks the contemplative silence of Spock's ready room.

"Put him through," orders Spock. The comm. chirps as the communication officer complies from the bridge. The view screen on his desk comes to life with a barrage of bright florescent colors and what appears to be a party at a tropical resort unfolding in the background.

"This better be good," says Pike, turning the camera angle to frame him better as he removes his sunglasses.

"I apologise for interrupting your vacation, sir," starts Spock.

"Be less sorry and get to the point quickly. I have an activity scheduled in five minutes," informs Pike sternly. There's a fondness in his gaze that softens his tone.

"I have concerns about the crew," Spock states.

Pike leans back in his longue chair. The contemplative look he wears seems out of place against his tan skin and flower print shirt. "You've been in the chair for ten minutes. You've got to give them and you time," he says sagely. He remembers his first time a ship was all his; questioning every decision he made and fretting he was dropping the ball somewhere.

"I am concerned time will not fix this particular issue."

Pike smiles. "McCoy will warm up to you. The blistering bear act never goes away but it's how he shows he cares. You have to give it as good as you get it, Spock. Let the kids in the candy store but don't let them run it."

Spoke arches an eyebrow at the mention of McCoy's name. A compliment of over four hundred crew and Pike zeroed in on one. He's not sure he understands the metaphor either or the human need to use them but he has more pressing concerns to address in Pike's time limit. "It is not Dr McCoy, I'm calling about."

"What did Jim do?" asks Pike with a haunted shadow of a smile.

There are few humans that manage to pleasantly surprise Spock, Christopher Pike has the tendency to do it often. "You know about his companion?"

"How else do you think you managed to pull all the strings for McCoy to come aboard? It will do you and them both a world of good to be on the Enterprise."

Spock clearly hasn't given Pike's chess game the respect and consideration it deserves. "His limited interactions with the crew have not yielded the best results. I am worried about his erratic behaviour."

Pike's silent for a long time. Even the luxurious and vibrant island getaway isn't enough to temper the melancholy that takes hold. "The thing you have to understand about Jim, is he was on track to be one of the best and youngest captains Starfleet has ever produced. It was his bravery that saved Starfleet from Nero's attack and as a result, he was dealt a bad hand. What Nero did to him... the kid's never going to see a captain's chair or command of any kind, but I assure you he has the best interest of the ship at heart. He helped save Vulcan. At the very least you owe him a fair shake at adjusting to life aboard a ship again. "

Spock wishes he shared Pike's confidence but he has over four hundred other crewmen to consider not just one soul that Starfleet didn't see fit to keep within its ranks. "How do you know he will not become a danger to the crew? The other day he seemed to not know where he was and when I spoke to him, he became hostile."

"If you want to know the nuances of Jim's... personality, talk to McCoy. And read this." Pike taps at his PADD and a file from Starfleet appears on Spock's computer. Re: medical termination of James McCoy. "I can't tell you Jim's situation and general personality won't make him a pain in your ass, but I assure you, I wouldn't have put him there if I didn't think it would be beneficial for both of you."

Leonard should really be paying more attention to what he's doing, but he's more focused on watching Jim fiddle with the pictures on the wall. Jim's looking for bugs and other surveillance equipment. It's the middle ground between' losing his shit Jim' who's stuck on Nero's ship and 'here and present Jim.' Leonard's happy to ride out the middle ground, though it's a slippery slope to fall right back into full blown episode territory.

"Ouch!" cries Leonard, yanking his hand back and giving it a gentle shake.

"What happened?" asks Jim, looking concerned. There's a heightened sense of energy rolling off of him, like he's ready to spring into action against anything that would dare harm the man he loves.

"I poked my damn finger." Leonard holds it up to take a look at the damage. It's not really bleeding much, but damn it smarts. He can understand why man was compelled to advance beyond using a needle and thread.

Jim comes over and settles on the couch next to Leonard's recliner. "Doing what?"

Leonard rolls his eyes. "Sewing my stripes back on my shirt," he says like he doesn't know who to blame for this inconvenience.

Jim looks kind of guilty but one of his coping mechanisms is to not apologise for things he can't consciously remember deciding to do. This time it's deciding the rank on Leonard's uniform shirt is going to identify him as a high value target for interrogation. It's not the healthiest play to pretend it didn't happen but Leonard's willing to work with whatever helps get Jim back on even ground.

It's probably easier to request new ones but trying to explain why he needs all new uniform shirts invites more questions than he wants to answer. Besides it's better to save his requisitions for when the shirts are completely unsalvageable. Just in case Jim gets this idea again.

"Shouldn't you be good at that? You are a surgeon," accuses Jim.

Leonard tries not to be insulted. His hands are a key skill in his profession. Then again, he isn't splitting his attention between Jim and his patient during surgery. "Most of us don't use a needle and thread any more. It's become somewhat of a lost art. Good thing grandma insisted us kids have the basic skills."

Jim slides off the couch on to his knees and crawls over to kneel before Leonard. Taking Leonard's hand he turns it over to look at the tiny dot of blood Leonard managed to draw. "Shouldn't you use a kiss?"

"It's called a thimble. What you're talkin' 'bout is a metaphor from Peter Pan," says Leonard.

Jim shrugs. "Then I'll just kiss it better." He places a feather light kiss on the tip of Leonard's finger and then another on the back of his large, steady hand, as a form of apology for all the things Jim's unwilling to voice.

"That's also a misconception. If anything, a kiss is going to expose a wound to germs and then next thing ya know, my hand falls off," grumbles Leonard.

"Then we better put it to good use before that happens," says Jim suggestively, depositing Leonard's shirt and sewing kit on the floor and pulling Leonard out of the recliner and towards the bedroom.

"How come you don't invite any of your co workers over for dinner?" asks Jim. He's sprawled out like a starfish across the bed with his head pressed against Leonard's side. Leonard's on his back staring at the ceiling, lost in the rhythmic stroking of Jim's hair, yet he knows the kid's staring out the window watching the stars lazily pass by.

It's not the post-coital glow question he was expecting. It's not even a question he'd expect any other moment either. Jim's never really been keen on fraternizing with Leonard's colleagues and damn right unwilling to make any friends of his own. "Do you want me to invite people over for dinner?"

Jim rolls on to his side and props himself up on his elbow so he can look Leonard in the eye. "It would be nice to know you're making friends," he says with mock concern, trying to emulate the apprehension a parent has as they send their child away to school for the first time.

Leonard snorts, reaching up and pulling the pillow out from under his head and smacking Jim with it. "Don't need friends. I got you."

Jim throws the pillow back at Leonard. "Seriously Leonard, you need some diversity."

Jim rarely calls him Leonard. It's a dead giveaway that they're either headed for a fight, or something is really bugging Jim. "I get diversity when I'm on shift. But if you're serious, I could see if Geoff and Christine are free," he offers.

Jim scrunches his face in distaste. "You're medical colleagues? Nah."


"Sitting around listening to you geeks get your medical science on, isn't the stimulating dinner conversation I had in mind."

Clearly Jim has an agenda he's trying to work. Leonard should probably be a little terrified there's a scheme in the works but it's hard to deny Jim anything. "And just what colleagues did you have in mind?" he asks, leery of the answer

There's silence for a moment, like Jim's not sure if he should take his shot right now. "I saw Uhara's name on the crew manifest." Jim's taken the time to become familiar with every name on the manifest. If he's going to live with these people, he should know the basics. It doesn't hurt to check for any red flags for crewmen that might pose a threat later on. "Still haven't gotten that first name."

Leonard chuckles, soft and low. Those two have been locked in this game since day one. It's nice to know some things don't change, even when everything else seems to. "She hates you," reminds Leonard. Hate's probably a little strong but there's definitely hissing and spitting.

"I know," says Jim with a self satisfied, wicked grin. "It'll be great."

Chapter Text

"Got a sec, Uhura?" calls Leonard as he jogs to catch up to her in the corridor. He was hoping to catch her on her way to lunch.

Uhura stops walking, turning as Leonard catches up to her. "What can I help you with?"she asks. The hostility from their first meeting has completely disappeared.

Leonard gestures her forward and they continue to walk down the corridor. No use taking up her personal time and making her cranky right off the bat. "Jim's got this fool idea in his head," he starts. It really is a stupid idea.

Uhura rolls her eyes. "That sounds familiar," she mutters. She was very familiar with Kirk's schemes and conquests back at the academy.

"He thinks I don't socialize enough," he continues, shaking his head like he can't see how Jim came to that conclusion.

"You don't." Leonard was never the social butterfly type, but she's glad she put in the effort to breach his solitude and get to know him all those years ago. She's always been surprised someone like Jim would take the effort to glob on to someone as reserved as Leonard.

Leonard frowns at her. His social life isn't the actual concern here, nor did he realize it was a consideration by the other crewmen. "He wants you to come to dinner."

Uhura stops dead in her tracks. "Me?" She must have misheard. She and Jim are volatile; like oil and water.

"He asked me to ask you specifically," he replies with a shrug like he doesn't get the joke either.

Uhura can think of a million things she'd rather do than socialize with Jim Kirk but Leonard looks like he's waiting to hear if his puppy is going to live or not. She's wanted to strangle Jim more times than she can count. Leonard however was always a faithful friend, helpful study partner and good listener back at the academy so there's no way she can say no and feel good about herself. She wouldn't mind getting to know Leonard again anyways.

She tilts her head up and silently asks the universe for infinite patience. "Alright. But if he doesn't behave himself, I can't be held responsible for my actions."

Leonard raises his right hand. "Best behaviour," he swears.

Captain Pike looks over Spock's report for the third time like it will somehow change the contents to a more favourable outcome. Medical is at a loss and the science department isn't able to offer any solutions either. It's not looking good.

If the Fenarri delegate dies before the peace treaty can be signed the whole Patellan solar system will be at war. No amount of negotiation or diplomacy on Pike's part is going to negate the ingrained belief in these cultures' superstitions. If this delegate dies it will be seen as a bad omen, and bad negotiations resulting in all parties believing it's a divine message to go to war. He needs a medical miracle.

There's one name that comes to mind. It's the name that's been on the top of his list since he experienced firsthand the skill this doctor possesses. Leonard McCoy. While it normally would seem like an impossible option, Pike's heard rumours that McCoy's back in service and holding a position on Starbase Four.

He checks the personnel records and sure enough, Dr McCoy is listed as part of the medical staff. He doesn't hesitate one second before contacting the starbase.

"What can I do for you, Captain?" asks McCoy, appearing on the monitor.

"I thought you retired from the fleet?" asks Pike because he's short on time and needs to get all the information about McCoy's situation as fast as possible. Last time he saw McCoy, the doctor was dead set on giving up his commission and walking away for good.

McCoy looks pained. "Circumstance change," he says bitterly.

Pike's had his fair share of ex's to know that look. He feels like a vulture about to feed on the still living carcass of a dying animal. "I'll cut to the chase. I have a medical emergency and so far my people are coming up short on a solution. It's some sort of parasite and if we don't find away to kill it soon, I'm going to have a war on my hands. The Enterprise has all the latest lab tech and resources it just needs a fresh set of eyes. I can put in a transfer request and have a shuttle ready for you by tomorrow if..."

"I can be ready to go in an hour," injects McCoy. He needs the busy work, anything to get his mind off of Jim.

"Yes?" checks Pike.

"Yes. You just recruited yourself a medical officer."

Captain Macklyn to Starfleet Command

RE Troubadour rescue

The ship has been destroyed. No souls on board. The evacuation shuttles are nowhere to be found but no evidence they have been destroyed. It is believed that any survivors have been taken captive. Will begin recovery effort.

Leonard supposes as far as meetings with the Captain go, it could have been worse. For a Vulcan, Spock almost seemed understanding. Still, while he's used to Jim's quirks and runaway mouth, others are not. If they're going to live here on this ship, with these people, Leonard has to work at forming some middle ground.

Apparently Jim has been making an impression on the crew even though he goes out of his way to avoid interaction with them. He has a list of crewmen who have expressed concern about run ins with Jim. First on the list is Engineer Scott.

Leonard hasn't gone out of his way to endear himself to the crew either. Jim's all the family he needs and after a long shift in medbay, with Jim is the only place he wants to be. It doesn't leave a lot of time to go out, be social and get to know the crew on a personal level. Fortunately, he has a few tricks and hypos up his sleeve to convince the junior engineers that end up in sickbay to share the information they have on the Scotsman.

He presses the buzzer at Scotty's door.

The door slides open and Scotty's a little surprised to find the doctor standing there. "Evening Doc. Have something else you need me to take a look at?" he asks.

Leonard holds up a bottle. "I heard Jim might not have been the friendliest when you returned his PADD. He doesn't do well with unexpected visitors and change and sometimes it comes out in unpleasant ways. I wanted to apologise and give you a peace offering," says Leonard. It's one of the reasons he stressed not dropping the PADD off in the first place but what's done is done.

Scotty looks nonplussed. "Ya don't need to apologize; you're not the one with attitude and foul mouth. Is that scotch?" he asks, pointing to the bottle.

"Bourbon," replies Leonard, turning the label out.

"Come on," says Scotty stepping back from the door so Leonard can enter. "It's not going to drink itself."

Leonard rubs his hands over his face to try and regain focus. He's bone tired and weary in a way no amount of sleep is going to cure. He flops into the chair at his desk and begins typing his report for the day. It's the first time he's sat down all day and there's a good chance he won't be able to stand up when the time comes. At least it's a good report today.

It's been a month according to the stardate. It's passed in both a blink of an eye and the slow crawl of eternity. He hit the ground running the second the shuttle docked with the Enterprise and he hasn't stopped since. Long days with few hours for sleep, buried under endless research and hypothesises, left room for nothing else. In the end he can say he won the battle. The delegate is cured and as a bonus they've managed a vaccination for the rest of the inhabitants in this solar system.

It feels good to finally win something.

Leonard slowly looks up from his computer as the knock at his door penetrates his thoughts. He immediately goes to stand up, pain and muscle ache written all over his face. "Captain Pike."

Pike holds his hand out to abort Leonard's clearly painful effort to stand at attention. "Please stay seated. You look like you need the break."

Leonard can't even summon the energy to agree. In fact if someone dimmed the lights he could probably fall asleep sitting up.

"I thought we could celebrate finding a cure," says Pike, placing a bottle of well aged bourbon on the desk. There's pride in his eyes, like that of a father watching his child take a victory lap.

Leonard's eyes widen. It's not sleep but it'll do. He reaches down and pulls two glasses out of his bottom desk drawer. "You can never be too prepared," offers Leonard, when Pike eyes the glasses with an evil grin.

Pike pours two glasses and slides one over to Leonard. They raise them in toast.

"To intergalactic peace," says Leonard.

"To a job well done," insists Pike before clinking his glass.

Leonard takes a long drink savouring the flavour and burn that hits in just the right way. It feels so damn good to not have to worry about anything- no lives hanging in the balance, no one to take care of, no tedious edge to preciously balance on, no Romulans.

"There's a permanent position here, if you want it," offers Pike. "The Enterprise could use someone like you. That is if there's nothing keeping you on Earth."

It's a hell of an offer; the dream of any officer. And there's nothing stopping McCoy from perusing it. He took the position on Starbase Four to get off the planet and put distance between him and everything he can't have. You can't get any further than a moving starship.

McCoy's computer flashes with an emergency message and his heart practically stops. Every nightmare scenario passes through his head of all the things that could have happened to his little girl that would prompt an emergency call. He stabs at the play button like he can will it away with force.

The words sear themselves into his very soul, a tattoo that will never come off.

Pike watches as all the color drains from Leonard. "What's wrong?" he asks, going to red alert.

"I have to go back to Earth right now," stammers Leonard in a panic. His world is threatening to blink out like a dying star. "It's Jim."

"Dinner's ready, Jim," calls Leonard as he pulls the last dish from the replicator. It isn't fancy but he's just too damn tired to really put an effort into dinner tonight. In fact, putting together a meal was the last thing on his mind when he came home today. He would have skipped eating altogether but it's pretty clear Jim hasn't eaten anything and even if Leonard doesn't have the energy to practice good habits, he's obligated to make sure Jim does.

Leonard sits down, grabbing his napkin and setting it across his lap. "Jim! Food." He has no idea what Jim's up to. He was in the bathroom when Leonard got home and hasn't surfaced from the bedroom at all. Getting Jim to do things can be a lot like herding cats and Leonard doesn't have the energy for it tonight, especially over something like coming out and eating.

He gets through about three bites before he tries again. "Jim?"


Leonard throws his napkin on the dining room table. Apparently he's the parent of two children today. God does he hates being anything other than a husband to Jim.

The bedroom is just how Leonard left it after he got changed and the bathroom door is still locked. "Jim?" He bangs gently on the door with his fist. "Are you feeling okay?" It's been twenty minutes since Leonard came home and Jim was already in the bathroom then.


The silence doesn't sooth Leonard's restless nerves. He analyzes the last time he was with Jim. Was he warm with fever? Was his color normal? Did he seem to be aching anywhere unusual?

"Jim I'm going to need you to talk to me here."

He bangs a little harder on the door. The silence is getting louder and there's a sharp pain in his gut that keeps taking him back to a place he never wants to be again.

'This is Haven medical facility. There's been an incident involving a James Kirk. You should get here right away.'

Leonard's not doing that again. "Jim if you don't say something, I'm going to break the door down," he threatens. His hands start to shake as his mind spins out of control. He doesn't have time for games and temper tantrums or whatever Jim thinks he's doing because Jim promised that wasn't going to happen again. "I warned you Jim!"

"Computer, override the lock on door B two, medical authorization McCoy seven nine three six delta beta zulu."

The computer chirps its compliance and the lock to the bathroom door clicks open. Leonard stands there frozen, staring at the closed door, terrified about what he might find on the other side of that door. If Jim...


He reaches over and taps the open button. The door slides open but the lights don't come on. It's entirely dark in the bathroom as Leonard takes his first step across the threshold. Something crunches under his foot. "What the hell? Computer lights," he demands all fiery spite.

Jim's sitting on the floor in the shower, his back against the corner and his eyes glued to the floor. He doesn't say a word or even look like he knows Leonard's forced himself into the room.

He looks whole and unharmed and something in Leonard relaxes like a knot pulling loose. Jim's breathing and in one piece; he can work with that.

Leonard lifts his foot. He's crushed one of thousands of computer pieces that formerly comprised the PADD Scotty just fixed scattered across the bathroom floor. The pieces are all intact except for the one Leonard stepped on so the PADD was dismantles not destroyed.

"They're spying on us," says Jim, quiet and resigned without lifting his head.

Leonard closes his eyes. If he thought he was tired before, he feels broken now. He leaves his fear and anger at the door and sits beside Jim on the cold shower floor.

"The bug was in the PADD?" asks Leonard. He knows Starfleet isn't spying on them and Jim knows that too. But right now, it's not Starfleet Jim's worried about. In fact, Jim's probably not here at all.

"Thought I wouldn't figure it out but I did," says Jim like he's more irritated that Nero and his men don't think Jim's smart enough for that.

A tear comes to Leonard's eye. "You always were clever like that." He turns his hand palm up and rests it on his knee. It's there if Jim wants it but out of Jim's personal space if he doesn't.

Jim looks up a little. Not enough to look Leonard in the eye but enough to securitize his hand. Holding hands is dangerous. Any kind of affection towards Leonard could be used against them. Jim has no intention of giving Nero anything useful but if he threatened Leonard's life, Jim would find away to give Nero anything he asked.

"Is that why you took the PADD apart?"

"Had to find the bug."

"Naturally," agrees Leonard. "Can you fix it?"

Jim snorts, affronted. "Of course."

"Good. Because we're running out of those."

"I have to keep you safe, Bones," replies Jim dutifully like it's his primary function in life.

"You did," assures Leonard softly. He corrects, "You do."

Jim starts to bit his lip. "If I did then they wouldn't put hands on you," snarls Jim. The self-incrimination is palpable. "He wouldn't have taken you today."

Leonard says a silent prayer that Jim hasn't been in the throes of this paranoid delusion since he left for shift this morning. "Jim, look at me, I'm fine. Nobody laid a hand on me," he insists.

Reluctantly Jim looks up.

Leonard tries to stay relaxed as Jim catalogues every inch of him despite wanting to resurrect every Romulan that was on the Narada and inflicting them all with a few diseases. Except Nero- he'd take that son of a bitch apart with his bare hands and a dull spoon. Nero is the only person that has ever made Leonard want to break every point of his medical oath.

Jim's fingers ghost over Leonard's body like he's afraid he'll hurt Leonard if his touch is too hard. He checks everywhere looking for any sign that someone has marred his lover's body. Leonard shifts, moving slowly to give Jim room to search.

With Jim concentrating on his search, Leonard uses the distraction to subtly grab his spare med kit that sits on the shelf next to the shower.

Jim's particularly thorough around Leonard's right eye, like the lack of a bruise is some sort of deception and hiding Leonard's injuries is a new form of torture for them both.

Leonard remembers the black eye Jim's looking for. His head throbs at the thought as his stomach rolls and threatens to reject the few bites of dinner he had. Ayel had hit him so hard that after the stars dancing around his head disappeared and the world stopped spinning, his eye swelled shut for over a week. Leonard thought for sure he'd have permanent damage. As it was, his depth perception was horribly off for two weeks which made attempting to operate on Ensign Cavert damn near impossible. If Leonard's being honest, it's probably why he couldn't stop the arterial bleed in time. "Are we safe again?"

"For now," grumbles Jim.

Leonard wonders why that pisses Jim off so much. Most people find relief in being safe but Jim treats it like the eye of a hurricane; storm raging on all sides, it's just a matter of time before it hits again.

Leonard scoots closer to Jim's side, placing his open hand on his knee once more. "Ok."

Jim reaches over and rests his hand in Leonard's. He lets his head fall against Leonard's shoulder and they sit there in silence.

Leonard uses his free hand to work free one of his hypos and load the charge. It's cumbersome and difficult but he's had practice with exactly this scenario. Slowly he reaches over his head and gently places the loaded hypo against Jim's neck. Jim doesn't even feel the injection. Leonard focuses on the rhythm of Jim's breathing while he waits for Jim to come out of this.

Chapter Text

Chekov punches the bag until his wrist feels like it's going to fall off. He's never been one of those guys who goes looking for a fight, opting instead to solve things with reason. Still, he took all the required hand to hand combat courses at the academy, passing with sufficient marks. It's what makes his Captain having to save him from hostile natives on the latest planet they've visited all the more embarrassing. He already has to prove himself by virtue of being the youngest, now he looks even more like a child to those he serves with.

Every morning now before most other people get up, Chekov has decided to hit the gym and work on his combat skills until he's sure next time fists fly, he won't have to hide behind anyone. So far, he's failing miserably. A basic computer program is beating him.

"You wanna know what you're doing wrong?"

Chekov jumps about foot. He thought he was the only here in the dimly lit gym at a zero four hundred hours. Worse, he doesn't recognize the voice of who ever snuck up on him. He turns slowly, clamping down on the idea that some species has invaded the ship and he's going to have to put his nonexistent combat skill to use already.

McCoy's mystery companion Jim is leaning against the door frame eating a piece of fruit they brought back, from before mentioned hostile planet, that kind of resembles an apple. Jim looks like he already lost his fight badly, but clearly Chekov needs all the help he can get and even cautionary tale points are better than nothing. Hesitantly he nods.

Jim pushes off the wall taking one final bite of the apple before tossing the core in the towel bin. He walks over and begins adjusting Chekov's stance. "Don't drop your shoulder so much." Jim turns the program on again and stands back as Chekov runs through it again.

To Chekov's surprise, he does better with Jim's adjustments. "Thank you. That was great," says Chekov, earnestly.

"Don't be too thrilled, kid, it's just a training program. The real thing is much different." Jim would know. His life's been a series of fights- some good, some bad. Some he was never meant to win and some he couldn't afford to lose.

Jim's about to leave when Chekov asks, "Could you teach me?" He hesitates at the door. He should say no and be on his way. Nothing good will come in accepting this request. Still, he can't make himself walk away.

What could one lesson hurt?

"On the mat," says Jim, propping his cane against the wall.

Chekov is too impressed with how well a man who hobbled on board with a cane can move so quickly in the ring, to give much thought to the fact that it only took three moves to slam his ass to the ground. He clearly picked the right teacher.

Leonard's finishing up with a patient before he's even finished his first coffee of the day. He's starting to think these kids won't survive one day without the talented team in sickbay. They're not slammed since the ship hasn't encountered or experienced anything of note in days but it's far busier than Leonard wants to be at this hour.

"Safety procedures are not helpful suggestions, Ensign," berates McCoy. "Someone needs to baby-proof engineering," he adds under his breath.

Nurse Chapel comes over to update the patient file and to give the ensign a reprieve from McCoy's tender mercies.

Leonard turns around at the sound of sickbay's doors opening and his heart plummets to his feet. He's already scanning every inch of the man before him with his eyes for any sign injury before he can even utter, "Jim, what's wrong?"

Jim just doesn't wander around the ship during alpha shift; in fact he goes to great pains to avoid such a populated time on the ship. He should be in their quarters sleeping, not standing in sickbay. Leonard grabs his scanner and begins checking everything with Jim standing at the door. There might not be time to sit down.

Jim slaps Leonard's hand away as he runs the scanner over him for the second time. "Bones, relax! I'm not dying," assures Jim.

Leonard looks skeptical, like his tricorder chose this moment to stop working properly. The readings supports Jim's claim but doesn't make him feel better.

"Seriously, Bones, you're going to have a coronary if you don't relax a little." Jim heads towards a biobed, his limp severely hindering his stride. It does the opposite of reassure Leonard he needs to relax.

Leonard's at his side immediately, putting Jim's arm over his shoulder and wrapping his arm around Jim's waist to take as much weight as he can off Jim's leg. They get to an empty bed and Leonard has to do most of the work to get Jim on it.

"It hurts pretty bad today. I took some meds for it but it hasn't done a damn thing," confesses Jim.

Leonard frowns as he begins intently scanning Jim's leg. It has to be murder if Jim bothered to come all the way to sickbay to see Leonard. His in depth scan proves what he suspected is the issue. "Nurse, I need you to prepare a hypo."

Nurse Chapel is quick to fill the request, with a bright smile as she brings the loaded hypo. "Good morning, Jim," she greets, handing off the hypo.

"Morning, Christine," replies Jim with his lady killer smile.

Leonard jabs the hypo in Jim's thigh a little harder than necessary with his own evil grin. He doesn't need Jim flirting with his staff.

"Ouch!" says Jim, rubbing his thigh. "You sure you should be a doctor? You're bedside manner could use a little work. What was that anyway?"

"Anti-inflammatory and an extra strength pain killer. It should help take the edge off. And my bedside manner is just fine. Stop flirting with my nurses."

"Yep," agrees Jim, happily. He feels a little drunk, not out of control but kind of unnecessarily happy kind of drunk.

"You know what else takes the edge off?" asks Leonard, like they're about to discuss a universal secret out loud.

"Not over working your leg by not using your cane," scolds Leonard. He gives Jim a gentle slap on the side of the head. "Idiot."

Jim just rolls his eyes. It's not worth another round of this particular fight. And he's planning on riding this subtle buzz all the way to bed.

"Let's get you home," says Leonard, helping Jim to his feet. They assume the same position, Leonard a solid and comforting presence beside him as he takes most of Jim's weight.

"Christine, tell Geoff I'm going to be out making a house call for the next thirty minutes or so."

"Bye Christine," bubbles Jim, giving her a tiny wave and a wink as they leave sickbay.

Uhura's not sure what she was expecting exactly. She's met Jim before, much to her everlasting annoyance, so she knows the wild tales of the midnight pirate the crew are spinning are absurd. (Leonard would have mentioned a parrot by now.) She's seen Jim's last Starfleet photo so the scar and the cane aren't unexpected either. Still there's something about him that takes her off guard when he answers the door. Behind the bright smile and warm greeting, there's something haunted and brittle, like a bird that's had its wings clipped but still remembers how it feels to soar.

She'd never thought she'd feel sorry for Jim Kirk until this moment.

"Uhura?" asks Jim, like she's missed her queue.

"What?" she says, coming back to herself.

Jim tips his head lower causing his bangs to slip further forward hiding his scar even more. He's long figured out when someone is trying to determine if looking is more or less offensive than not looking. "Are you going to stand at the door all night or are you going to come in?"

"Yes, sorry," she says, stepping into the McCoys' quarters. She hands Jim a bottle of wine. "I wasn't sure what we were having so I brought white.

Uhura takes a good look at the place as Jim leads her to the dining room. It's like getting to see behind the curtain in oz; there's been so much speculation about them, Jim in particular, it's hard not to check for the fantastical theories crewmen have come up with even though she knows most of them are ridiculous before she even stepped foot over the threshold. It's all homey and comfortable; a well earned balance between Jim's chaos and Leonard's order. It's nowhere near the clear line of messy versus neat freak of their shared dorm room.

"That Uhura?" calls Leonard from the kitchen, over the clang of dishes. It smells heavenly, significantly better than the sandwich and salad she probably would have replicated for herself tonight.

"Yeah and she brought a bottle of wine," replies Jim, handing the bottle off to Leonard as he pokes his head out of the kitchen.

"Dinner will be just a moment, if you want to have a seat," says Leonard, setting out a plate of garlic bread.

She sits across from Jim, leaving Leonard the spot beside both of them. Having Leonard between her and Jim has been the only way she could ever tolerate Jim's juvenile antics.

"It's been awhile," says Jim, "you remember that first name yet?" There's a coy smile on his face that's so reminiscent of the old days. Uhura didn't realize she even missed that infuriating smile.

"Uhura or Lieutenant will work just fine," she counters with her all too familiar smile.

"It's a big ship. I'm sure someone on it knows your name," challenges Jim.

Uhura stares him down. For his first volley in years, it's not a bad one. "You don't talk to any of them."

"Touché. Claire."


Jim shrugs. "I told you if you didn't tell me your name, I'd have to make one up for you."

"And that's what you came up with? Claire?"

"Naomi?" says Jim, trying it on for size. Uhura frowns, as she unfolds her napkin and lays it on her lap. "Roxanne? Beth? T'chel?" continues Jim.

"What are you two going on about?" asks Leonard, as he sets down two huge bowls, one with rice and the other with chicken and mushrooms in a cream sauce and sits down at the table with them.

"Uhura needs a first name," replies Jim, grabbing the bowl of rice to starting to spoon heaps of rice on his plate.

Leonard shakes his head. "Not this again."

They both know Leonard knows her first name. Even if he didn't know it as her friend, he has access to every crewmen's personnel records, first names included, as CMO. Uhura's never once asked him to keep it a secret, and yet he keeps it, even though the sole purpose of withholding it is to annoy the hell out of Jim, the same way Jim's never once asked Leonard to betray Uhura's confidence to win their little game.

Dinner is actually quite pleasant. Uhura and Leonard both have horror stories about admirals throwing their weight around in fields they have no business in and cadets that make them secretly question the future of the universe. Jim seeks out any opportunity to tease Uhura about anything he thinks might ruffle her feathers but not enough to sour the night.

All Jim's stories are amusing anecdotes about farm animals or Leonard or both. Never anything personal and certainly never about Starfleet or Nero.

It's only her and Leonard working on the bottle of wine and they're doing a good job. So much so, that she shares her own amusing tale of past love. Loose lips sink ship, or in this case, torpedo starships.

"You're sleeping with the Captain?" exclaims Jim, thrilled like a dog that's gotten into the trash.

Uhura silently curses bringing a bottle of wine and Jim's choice to abstain tonight of all nights. "Not anymore," she corrects. "We broke up not long after Vulcan."

Leonard looks sympathetic and maybe a little sad before tossing back the last few swallows in his glass and pouring himself another.

"Oh my god, what was that even like?" presses Jim with unrelenting enthusiasm.

"Jim!" manages Leonard, practically choking on his wine.

"What? Can you imagine that, Bones?"

"I'm trying not to."

If Scotty was surprised when the doctor showed up at his door, he's even more floored when a few days later Jim himself shows up looking awkward and forced to be there in turn. They stare at each other for a few moments; Jim scuffing his foot and fiddling with the hem of his shirt.

Jim looks infatuated with the floor. "I'm not good at apologizing," he mumbles before raising his head to look Scotty directly in the eye. "So un-fuck you, or whatever."

It takes Scotty's brain a moment to compute exactly what's happening. "Okay," he says, not sure if Jim's just going to leave it there. Jim just stares at him blankly, like he's waiting on Scotty to dismiss him or something. "That was a shit apology. It wasn't even me that you told to go fuck myself, you just shut a door in my face. Do you make it a habit of telling crewmen where to go and how to get there? Cause this isn't the lot you want to pick a fight with."

"It would be a good fight." A smile over takes Jim. There's a spark of life that takes hold that Scotty hasn't seen in the limited encounters he's had with the young man. It's like Scotty's finally speaking his language. "Haven't had one of those since the one that got me into Starfleet."

"Got you in?" Fights are usually a sure fire way to get out of Starfleet not in. "So you do serve?"

That light and life seems to disappear right before Scotty's eyes. "No. I'm not Starfleet," snaps Jim, like it's an absurd notion.

Scotty's lost. "But you just said..."

"I didn't say anything," says Jim abruptly and with finality, like he's daring Scotty to say otherwise.

"Alright," agrees Scotty for lack of any better response. "You wanna drink?" he asks. There's no better way to bond than over something with a kick. He still has about half a bottle of bourbon that McCoy brought over.

"Yes," say Jim. He aborts his step forward in a jerky manner. "No. I shouldn't. It mixes with my meds."

"What meds are those?" says Scotty without thinking. Everything is so back and forth his brain can't keep up enough to sensor the things coming out. He realizes what he's said too late as Jim pales considerably. "Are we not supposed to talk about that either?"

Foot firmly in mouth. Scotty wants to bang his head against the nearest bulk head. The crew should probably stop talking about this guy behind his back. Scotty can't keep conjecture separate from the few facts they do know about Jim McCoy.

Jim's hands clench into fists at his side. There's a finely controlled anger dancing like fire behind his eyes. "I'm going to..." he says before turning abruptly and leaving. It's not the fastest storming off Scotty's seen due to the obvious hitch in Jim's gait but the point is made none the less.

Leonard tries to look like he's paying attention but weekly staff meetings aren't that interesting to start with, let alone when they're filled with endless reports of the latest scientific findings. The science department is on cloud nine with the discovery of a star that's about to go through a rare phase. Leonard's excitement begins and ends with 'cool light show.' The rest of it is just a long string of scientific words that have little impact on his day. He's sure the others feel the same way when he's giving a rundown of medical stats but Leonard tries to keep his simple and straight to the point.

Roberts finally finishes up and Spock dismisses the senior staff. It's like getting out of school on a Friday; that sweet taste of freedom rejuvenating you after a long tiring week. Leonard's looking forward to sleeping in, curled around Jim and breakfast so late it technically counts as lunch after spending the night watching the star put on a light show to rival the fireworks on Federation day. Leonard's almost there now.

"Dr McCoy, could I speak with you a moment," calls Spock, before Leonard can even clear the conference room table.

Maybe he didn't do such a good job as faking interest in the meeting as he thought. He lets out a long sigh and braces himself for what could be a tedious conversation. "Yes, Captain?"

Spock waits until everyone else has left the room before retrieving the PADD from the bottom of his pile. He brings up a few star charts and hands the display over to Leonard. "I did not know you had an interest in navigation and star charts."

Leonard looks confused. "I don't," he says but then looks at the PADD and suddenly it makes sense. He's looking at the course Jim had been mapping out.

"I am curious as to how you knew the location of this phenomenon?"

Sure enough, Jim plotted out the ship detouring to this exact location. Leonard looks at the star date the plan was submitted- three weeks ago. A report submitted by one Dr Leonard McCoy, CMO.

Leonard closes his eyes. Damn it, Jim.

"I'm a doctor not a navigator, Spock. This report may have been submitted with my credentials but it's not mine," he confesses, preparing himself for a lecture about security breaches. "Jim likes to mess around with star charts and courses. It keeps him busy and makes him feel like he's still capable of being a part of all this. I'll tell him to quit forging my name on stuff and botherin' you with it."

"I must express concern of his ability gain access to your computer accounts and the ships encoded star charts, but am intrigued at how he could file a course to this star two weeks before the science department gathered enough evidence to deem investigating this solar system worthy of the detour?" states Spock.

Leonard shrugs. "Jim's good. Eighty percent genius, fifteen percent luck and five percent steadfast belief that that luck won't run out. Jim was damn near the top of his class at the academy, on track to being the youngest Captain ever. Then Nero happened and that dream died along with a lot of other people. He won't ever see that captain's chair, but that wildly intelligent and natural born explorer is still in there."

"Perhaps he should consider a career in astrophysics charting and research," suggests Spock. He knows good work when he sees it and it would be a shame to waste such talent when there are avenues to put it to use outside of Starfleet.

The fond glint in Leonard's eye that appeared when talking about Jim's skill disappears, leaving the doctor sullen and deflated. "You've only seen Jim on his better days."

That gives Spock pause. His encounters with Jim so far have not demonstrated an individual who is a stellar representation of humanity. Insubordination and a clear impulse control issue are only the first things that come to mind in which the brass would have concerns and a lengthy discipline record over. It's a little easier to see how Starfleet could allow someone as obviously skilled as Jim McCoy be discharged from service so completely and abruptly.

He also knows what it's like to be underestimated because someone else saw him as less. The Vulcan science academy thought his mother would make him incapable of meeting their standard. He had proved them wrong and then chose Starfleet instead, where his mother's influence was seen as an asset not a handicap.

'I assure you I wouldn't have put him there if I didn't think it would be beneficial for both of you.'

Spock decides to take one of those leaps Admiral Pike always spoke of. "I am prepared to give Mr McCoy his own clearance to allow him to continue to make star charts and plot courses." He can see Leonard start to perk up. "It is by no means a guarantee that I will implement any course set out by Mr McCoy. I will simply take it under advisement."

"I'll let him know." Leonard extends his hand to shake Spock's. "Thank you." Spock nods accepting his thanks and dismissing him.

Leonard leaves and makes it about thirty steps before he has to stop and lean against the bulkhead so he doesn't fall over. He's a war zone of excitement and apprehension. He wants nothing but the best for Jim, to see him shine and be graced by every happiness this universe can offer. He's also seen this play out before and the end result is heartbreakingly disastrous. He's not sure he can go through that again let alone Jim.

The line between protective and supportive is so blurry he's terrified he'll trip and fall down the slippery slope of good intentions gone awry. Deciding his fear is more his own, he opts to relay Spock's offer. There will be ground rules. By the time Leonard gets back to their quarters he's already come up with eight of them.

Chapter Text

If Scotty believed in omens, he'd have never crawled out of bed today. The ship's been victim to random power surges compliments of the special anomaly they're observing which puts out bursts energy that overload random ship systems. It's nothing they can't stay on top of but priorities being what they are, things like personal alarms and functioning sonic showers are at the bottom of the list. Scotty knows, because his alarm failed to wake him on time, and insult to injury, his shower isn't working.

Neither is the replicator in his quarters apparently. He lets out a dejected sigh as he stares at the empty coffee mug. Engineering is hopping and now he's so behind, he can't stop at the cafeteria to grab a coffee and maybe a piece of toast.

He's in such a hurry he trips over his own feet trying to not step on something someone has carelessly left in front of his door. It's not the most graceful landing; he sticks it though.

"What the ...?" shouts Scotty. Someone's about to have as bad a day as he is.

He bends down and picks up the slightly familiar item. It's a sonic driver, though not standard issue. Someone's been messing with it. He examines the device as he heads to engineering. The modifications are well done, a little homemade in execution, but an ingenuity he'd love to see in some of his first year engineers.

Scotty asks around the department but no one knows anything about the sonic driver. Whoever was tinkering with it increased the precision by thirty-seven percent and the power and range by fifty-eight percent.

It definitely comes in handy with all the repairs today. He wishes he knew who to thank.

' Cadet Kirk to Starfleet. Held captive aboard Romulan ship under Nero. They stranded someone on Delta Vega. Nero has a weapon and he plans to lure the fleet into a trap at Vulcan. Of forty-eight survivors of the Troubadour, twenty-two are left.'

It's after midnight, so whoever's at Uhura's door better be three seconds away from death or they will be when she gets through with them. She throws her robe on and stumbles towards the door. The lights are up just enough to make out shadows of furniture because she's not committing to being up unless she absolutely has to.

The doors part and Leonard is standing there awkwardly with a pillow clutched tightly in his hand. "Normally I'd grab a hotel but..." He shrugs shoulders. One downside of being on a starship besides everyone knowing your business is there aren't a lot of places to go when you're in the dog house with your partner.

Uhura feels for Leonard. She had her fair share of fights with Spock when they were together that had them sleeping in separate locations. The plus side of keeping their relationship a secret was they both had their own quarters, even if normally they stayed in his. Leonard has no place to go, confined on a ship. She steps to the side to allow him entry. "Does he do this often?"

Any fight that escalates to this point feel like one too often. "It's not a regular occurrence but this isn't the first time. Sometimes Jim just needs some space."

Leonard sits on the couch while Uhura makes them some tea. He feels bad just showing up at her door in the middle of the night but there really isn't anywhere else to go. He hasn't exactly prioritised making friends on this ship and it would be kind of weird and slightly unprofessional to have your boss show up at your door so that leaves exactly Uhura.

The other option would be to have Jim storm out in a dramatic huff and that never ends well.

"Want to talk about it?" she asks, the china cups clinking as they're set on the table.

"Not much to talk about. It's the same record we seem to play. He'll cool off by tomorrow morning and I'll be out of your hair." This fight is as predictable as the seasons. It's part of Jim's emotional rollercoaster ride. Leonard's long since stopped taking it personally. He'd be just as frustrated as Jim if he were in Jim's shoes. Leonard's just the safest metaphorical punching bag that Jim can unleash on and still feel safe and certain Leonard won't give up on him.

"With all that you do for him, he doesn't have the right to treat you like this," says Uhura. "He's lucky you put up with any of it." It's no secret she isn't Jim's biggest fan. Frankly, she always thought Leonard could do better than Jim for a friend. Now that she knows they're married, she fears Jim doesn't appreciate the clear devotion Leonard has for him. Leonard is loyal and caring; kind, in his own way. She can't fathom what Leonard sees in Jim but she can see the hurt broken look in his eyes as he's sitting on her couch at two in the morning instead of being in bed with his husband.

"It's not like that," says Leonard. "Jim doesn't want pity and I don't need any. Jim took the brunt of things with Nero because he was protecting me. Hell, he's the only reason I made it out of there alive. It's something I can never pay him back for even if I spend the rest of my days trying. But I don't stay because I owe him. I stay because I want to. Because any day without him is a million times worse than any fight or bad day we have."

"That doesn't mean this relationship is healthy, Leonard. You've given up everything for him," says Uhura. She's not trying to be cruel. Who is she to give advice on love when hers walked away out of duty to his species. As much as it hurts her to know she wasn't enough for Spock to choose her, she also knows if he had, the relationship would still have been doomed under a mountain of resentment and inadequacy.

Leonard rests his hand on to top of Uhura's. Neither or their lives turned out the way they imagined they would. Hope is a cruel mistress.

"I left him once," says Leonard, low like he's exposing a shameful dirty secret.

That gives Uhura pause. She hadn't heard that from anyone she talked to when she was trying to figure out who Leonard had brought onboard with him. The revelation is actually kind of surprising.

"It was about two years after Nero and a year after Starfleet had come to the conclusion that Jim was never really fit for duty let alone command. They wished him well and showed him the door. Hell of a thank you for saving their collective asses. Jim was miserable and it was makin' me miserable. It just seemed like everything I tried to do to make him happy just made things worse. I turned down commissions and he'd get mad that I was ruining my career. I'd go to medical conferences on other planets and he'd be bitter that I still had a career. He kept telling me to leave over and over again. He even filed separation papers. So one day I did." Leonard's head drops like he revealed his greatest shame.

"I thought that if I did what he asked, that if having me around was too painful for him, then maybe he'd be better off if I left. It could be a fresh start for him, without the constant reminder that he sacrificed his whole life for me. I was wrong. So very wrong."

Leonard stares at the wall, looking so far way. "Maybe we were both right, maybe we were both wrong. Somewhere in the middle of all those good intentions we found hell. I can handle being thrown out from time to time. It's better than the alternative."

Leonard's heart feels like it's going to rip through his chest. The pounding of his feet against the tacky linoleum flooring is the only thing that reminds him this isn't some horrible nightmare, as he races down the only wing of a hospital in bumfuck Iowa. Even Starfleet had to double check the coordinates for this nonexistent blip on the map. Trust Jim to be able to find some backwoods one horse town to get into trouble. At least they have some kind of medical facility, even if it's something out of the prehistoric age.

A pair of nurses stop his panicked dash to get to Jim. He can barely hear them over his racing heart and the words that are making it through don't make any sense. What they're describing doesn't sound like Jim at all. Jim wouldn't do that- not that. He's reckless and self sacrificing but not...

"You've got it wrong," chokes out Leonard.

There's nothing but pity on their faces and an incessant insistence that that is exactly what happened.

It doesn't sink in, really sink in, until he's staring at Jim asleep on a hospital bed hooked up to IVs with his left arm wrapped up in stark white bandages that scream 'yes he did' louder than anything Leonard's ever heard.

Leonard doesn't move, he's frozen in place standing in the door way to Jim's room watching the rise and fall of his chest. Each breath which was a gift before is even more precious now in the shadow of death. The room slowly begins to brighten from night to morning, spilling all the colors of sunrise against the dull beige walls. It doesn't change what he sees lying in that bed.

He thought Jim was doing better, that maybe his constant presence was just a reminder when Jim needed a fresh start. He thought leaving like Jim asked was the correct thing to do. It was a mistake.

Jim starts to stir, his face pinching and twitching in minute movements. Slowly his eyes start to flutter until they open sleepily and land on Leonard. "Oh hey," he hums with a casualness that makes Leonard want to scream. If Jim thinks he can just sweep this aside like it was all some sort of misunderstanding, he's got another think coming.

"What did you do, Jim?" asks Leonard, strict, direct and almost cold. This is the manifestation of everything he's feared since surviving Nero.

"It's not a big deal," sighs Jim, pulling his bandaged arm under the blanket. The morning innocence that Leonard loved waking up next to disappears under a mask of sorrow and dejection.

"What did you do, Jim?" repeats Leonard. He wants to be mad- at Jim- Nero- the universe. Mostly he just wants to know why, so he can warp Jim in bubble wrap and make sure that whatever it is that pushed Jim to this point, never hurts him again.

"I was taking care of a problem," confesses Jim, his voice breaking on the last word. "This isn't going to get better and I can't... People around me... I couldn't live with myself if that curse hurt you worse than it already has. I can't do that to you and I can't live without you."

Leonard feels like he's been gut punched. "But I'm supposed to live without you?"

"At least then you'd be living," snaps Jim, agitation setting in. "You're just in limbo now, babysitting someone and forfeiting your dreams to do it." Last night was a revelation. He finally saw the world clearly and all the little details that he'd been missing, like the slow withering of Leonard's soul.

"There's no dream without you in it." The distance between the door and Jim's bed could be the Grand Canyon, it wouldn't matter, he's propelled to Jim's side with a desperate ache to just hold him. He wraps Jim up in his arms and makes silent promises to never let go again as he frantically kisses every inch of the kids head.

He can smell the lingering traces of alcohol on Jim's breath and it make him want to scream. Jim's a fighter and this was an alcohol fuelled decision complicated with the volatile mix of prescribed medication and a sharp object.

"You're the only reason I ever wanted to be on a damn starship. I don't want that kind of life without you. I don't want any life without you in it. If that means living in some rehab facility and sharing a medical cot or living in a yurt on some swamp planet because you like the shade of the water, then I'm there. Because I want to be, not because I feel I have to be. You don't need to protect me anymore, Jim. And I'm sorry you ever felt like this was the only answer."

"It's not your fault, Bones. It's just sometimes... this isn't how I pictured things turning out. I finally had something with Starfleet and now that's all gone. Nero's taken damn near everything from me. I don't want to be the one to take everything from you," sobs Jim, his face buried in Leonard's shoulder.

"You're not taking anything. In fact you gave me everything. I was an empty shell after my divorce, drowning in a sea of misery and then this smartass kid saw fit to pull me up from the depths and make this world shine again. You saved me, Jim and you keep doing it every day just by being you," assures Leonard, because god damn it, it's true. Jim's his wings not his ball and chain.

Jim grabs on tighter to the back of Leonard's shirt, the tears seeming endless. "And I ruined that too," he whispers. He thought filing an official notice of separation might be the thing that severed the tether between them that's been holding Leonard next to him. Being selfless and freeing Leonard from the dark hole that Jim now permanently resides was supposed to make him feel better, be the one good thing that he could do since he's no longer fit to do anything else. It didn't. It felt like removing one of the base blocks in a jenga tower and watching it go tumbling down.

"Paper or not, you're not getting rid of me that easily Jim Kirk."

It takes three days to piece together Jim's alcohol fuelled trek across three states, culminating in a speck of a town no one's heard of in a dirty motel room that charges by the hour. The thought of Jim meeting his end beside some anonymous blood stain and a discarded pair of a previous prostitute's fishnet stockings makes Leonard's stomach turn.

Jim's tight lipped about most of the details. The toxicity report and the bright pink line of skin held together with good ole fashioned stitches says more than Jim needs to. He's sullen, combative and just plain uncooperative with everything going on around him to the point that Leonard's sure the hospital staff (more like a clinic in Leonard's opinion) are happy to send him out the door. The relieved to be alive bliss wore off with Jim's pain meds. Now he's back to hating the world.

Jim's even thinner than he was when Leonard left. The baggy sweatshirt he's thrown on doesn't improve the look of his stature. His glower grows deeper as Leonard pushes the wheelchair into Jim's room.

"Check out time," says Leonard, as he physically puts Jim in the chair. Jim could probably walk and given the choice would opt to crawl out if he had to but policy says if he's wheeled in, he's wheeled out. He's not talking to Leonard today but at least he isn't actively working against him the way he did the nurses this morning. Small miracles. Leonard will take them where he can get them.

Jim's sleeves get pushed up during the transfer from his bed to the wheel chair. Leonard notices first. The arm's been butchered, first by Jim and then by the man claiming to be the town surgeon. Stitches were put to rest in favor of dermal regenerators and nano sutures decades ago but facilities with little funding have to resort to old methods sometimes.

Leonard tires to look at it with clinical detachment, assessing what's been done and what he can do now to try and remove the blemish of that night that now mars Jim's skin like a coiling snake. It doesn't work. Every detail brings him back to the fact that it's Jim's skin on his arm covering his veins. Leonard's kind of relieved the kid didn't pay that much attention in biology class or Leonard could be here to claim a corpse. Jim's sheer dumb luck worked over time this week to see him through this mess despite the kid's rather thorough attempt otherwise.

It's one more scar on a body riddled with dozens of others and even more invisible ones.

Jim's quick to push his sleeve down.

"I can run a regenerator of that, try and lessen it for you, but a cosmetic surgeon is the only one that can erase it completely now," offers Leonard, trying to tread lightly.

"No," is all Jim says.

Leonard's not sure what Jim's angle is in regards to the scar. It's not something they have to address right this moment anyways. "I've booked a hotel in Sioux City for a couple of days, then we can catch a shuttle back home to San Francisco." There about two hours away, trapped in the confined space of a rental car before extracting themselves to the gilded cage of a hotel room.

Chapter Text

Scotty does his best work at night and in the wee hours of morning; it's quiet and there's no one pestering him with stupid questions. It's just him, the gentle purr of his engines and Keenser lurking about somewhere. He can accomplish a lot, especially much needed repairs and upkeep that often gets neglected in the hustle and bustle of the day. It's why he doesn't mind taking his turn at beta and gamma shift.

That and there's fewer junior engineers to try and manage. He loves being Chief engineer- of the Enterprise no less, but he could do with less of the people management part; especially the young ones that can't tell one end of a sonic screw driver from the other. It's what makes this time alone with the engines so nice. He can do twice the amount of work by himself when left alone then he can with the 'kids' underfoot.

Chekov might be the one bright star in the bunch and technically he's not part of engineering. Having shown an interest in the department, Spock agreed to let him shadow Scotty. It's the best decision the captain's made so far, in Scotty's opinion. Unfortunately, Scotty has to share Chekov with the bridge.

It also means he has to redo the circuitry on the regulating panel by himself tonight. It's not difficult, just tedious. He's sprawled out on this back with his head buried in the consol when he blindly reaches for his hypospanner. His hand hits nothing but deck, and then slightly to the left a decoupler. He tries again towards the right of his pile of tools and hits a trident scanner. He knows the hypospanner's there, he laid it out himself. With an irritated huff he tries again.


The Hypospanner hits Scotty in the arm, taking him by surprise. "What the..." he yells in surprise before his head collides with the console- hard as he tries to sit up to see who's intruding upon his solitude.

Jim winces at the thud and takes a step back as Scotty comes flying out from under the consol. Jim raises his hands in surrender while Scotty sits up wielding the spanner like a weapon like he's the only one standing between the Enterprise and full on Klingon invasion.

"What the hell?" shouts Scotty looking at the consol with betrayal before looking at Jim. "Where did you come from? What are you even doing here? Ouch!" The engineer does look like he's going to have a fairly good goose egg on his head tomorrow.

Jim just shrugs. "Thought I'd take a look at the engine room. The Enterprise is supposed to be one of the fastest ships in the fleet. I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about."

Scotty looks skeptical. Warp drive and manifolds might get his pulse racing but it rarely does it for anyone else. "You've got an interest in engine rooms?"

Jim shrugs nonchalant. "I've got a thing for ships. And it beats staring at the walls tonight."

Scotty can work with that. "Well, ye come to the right place," says Scotty starting to slide out from the consol. He'll gladly talk about his lovely lady Enterprise.

"Please, don't let me stop you from finishing," says Jim, holding his hands up to stop Scotty's efforts. He isn't here to drag anyone away from their work. He's also not looking for the ambassador tour either. The things that make a ship special are the small often overlooked details that fail to impress the casual spectator.

Scotty sticks his back in the consol, hypospanner in hand. He prattles on about all the engine specks and non text book solutions he's had to implement over the years to keep the ship functioning. He never once has to ask for the tool he needs next; Jim already has it in hand waiting for Scotty to take it as Jim sits idly on the consol. Even more impressive, they're all calibrated precisely to the task. Scotty can't even get the junior engineers to be that on the ball or intuitive. The job gets done in half the time it should.

"Where'd you learn your stuff?" asks Scotty as he finally gets to extricate himself from the consol.

"It's good to know the basics of everything on a ship. You never know when you may need it."

"So you were in Starfleet," surmises Scotty. Only someone who's served on a ship knows the value of being a jack of all trades because if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

Jim looks a little pained, going quiet and shrinking in on himself. "A long time ago," he whispers, like saying it too loudly will summon all the pain and agony he experienced when he lost it.

"Engineering track?" asks Scotty, not because he wants to pick at such an obvious wound but because he knows almost nothing about the man before him and this is the longest, most productive conversation they've ever had and he kind of wants to keep it going.

"No," says Jim with a snort. "I had a lot of free time as a kid and very little supervision. I got into the habit of taking things apart and putting them back together; especially my dad's old bikes. Working as a mechanic was an easy way to earn credits on the side or anywhere I ended up and needed temporary employment."

Self taught, Scotty can get behind that. "Anytime you want to come down here and be a glorified assistant, you're more than welcome," offers Scotty, his mouth moving faster than his brain. It's the kind of offer he should run by the Captain but what transpires in engineering during gamma shift couldn't really hurt anything.

"I'm not that board," says Jim with a laugh. He slides off the consol and ambles out of engineering.

Scotty's pretty sure that's the end of the whole thing, except two weeks later Jim's back again, wordlessly handing Scotty tools as he's hanging out of a Jefferies tube.

Leonard's dead on his feet. Not only are beta shifts a giant pain in the ass but they eat up the whole day. Rank has its privilege so Leonard doesn't have to pull any gamma shifts but he still has to take a turn at beta shift. He'll be glad when the week is over.

It's after midnight so he's not surprised that the lights in their quarters are dimed. He tip toes inside. Hopefully Jim's fast asleep and if Leonard's quiet, maybe he can slip into bed and enjoy a few hours of cuddling before Jim slips off to poke around in the astrometrics lab.

"Surprise!" yells Jim, jumping up from behind the couch.

Leonard flinches hard backing up and almost falling over the side table. His heart's beating like a jack hammer. He lets out a long breath as the lights come up. Realizing his life's not in immediate danger, he snarls, "What the hell, Jim?" If he wasn't awake before he is now.

Jim just stands there in his party hat and blows into a paper horn that unrolls with a squeal until it taps Leonard in the face. Leonard doesn't look all that impressed, but Jim doesn't care, he can get Leonard into a celebratory mood. "You thought I forgot, didn't you?"

Leonard has to wrack his brain. Clearly he's the only one that's forgotten something here.

"Happy Birthday," declares Jim, giving Leonard a peck on the cheek.

"Oh. Oh." Leonard does the math in his head. It checks out.

Jim takes Leonard by the hand and leads him to the dining room like a kid dragging their parents to come see what Santa left. "I know you've already had dinner but how about dessert?" he asks, making a sweeping gesture over the table to emphasise the goodies he has laid out. Jim pulls out a chair for Leonard.

Leonard's still eyeing the spread as he sits down. Jim's managed to layout most of his favourites: peach cobbler, macadamia cookies, crème brulee, Andorian ice tarts and Ogarian jellies. They'll be able to eat for a week. "Someone's been busy."

"I replicated it myself," says Jim with pride as he turns on the candles and dims the lights. "Open your present!"

Leonard looks to the left of his plate and sure enough there's a neatly wrapped little box. He gently tugs the ribbon loose letting the wrapping paper fall away. Leonard looks at Jim in confusion. "It's your PADD?" He's not sure if he's missing something or Jim just didn't have time to actually get Leonard something or maybe Jim got confused in all his scheming and wrapped it by mistake.

"Turn it on," instructs Jim, with the infinite patience of someone explaining technology to the elderly.

Leonard thumbs it on with a little trepidation. He keeps his eyes glued to Jim for any clue as to what's going to happen, because with Jim, it could be anything. He can only take so many surprises tonight. Jim just smiles and shoves a large mouthful of cobbler in his mouth.

"Happy birthday, daddy," cheers Joanna from the PADD.

"Hey baby girl," says Leonard fondly, running his hand over the screen like it will somehow lessen the distance between them. A tear runs down his cheek as he watches her move boxes around her new dorm room. If he can't be there in person, this is the next best thing. He's not sure how or if Jim got authorization for this vid chat. He's not even going to ask. "How's the move going?"

"Oh you know. Lots to do before classes start on Wednesday. Skylar's been an immense help," she says angling the camera to get her boyfriend in the shot.

"Happy birthday, sir," says Skylar with a little wave as he deposits a large box on Joanna's bed.

"You're going to do great, sweetheart," assures Leonard. He's probably as nervous as she is. It's the first time his little girl is going to be on her own, really on her own.

"I've got my first recital next week," she says as she gives her father a tour of the dorm. "I'll send you a copy of it."

"You better," says Jim loud enough to be heard.

Joanna lets out a little laugh, the one that melts Leonard's heart. "Hey, Uncle Jim," she greets with a sly smile, one that she somehow managed to inherit from Jim. "How's life on a floating tin can? Is dad doing okay?" she asks like Leonard's not the one holding the PADD.

"As grumpy as ever," enthuses Jim.

"Those poor junior officers," jokes Joanna."

Leonard rolls his eyes. He's not sure exactly when Jim and Joanna became thick as thieves but he's grateful. He'd rather see Jim rub off on her a little than see her with her mother's arrogant disposition or his cantankerous one. "Yeah, yeah you two."

"You'll keep him safe?" she asks, suddenly serious.

"Always," promises Jim, solemnly.

She lights up with that. "Skylar's made dinner reservations for us, so I have to go. Happy birthday, daddy."

"Have fun baby. We'll talk to you later," bids Leonard, kissing his fingertips and pressing them against the screen before the signal ends.

"He's a nice boy," says Jim, looking infatuated at his dessert. He knows Leonard's not thrilled that his little girl has a boyfriend or the fact that she isn't so little anymore.

"We'll see," grumbles Leonard. It's not even that he doesn't like Skylar; had they met under different circumstances he would be a delightful young man. However, the delightful young man has set eyes on his daughter and Leonard's not so sure there's anyone good enough.

"I can see them getting married."

"She's too young," lectures Leonard, pointing his fork at Jim to emphasise the point. She's barely eighteen with school and life ahead of her. There's no need to settle down yet.

"I don't know, how old were you when you got married?" points out Jim.

"And look how that turned out," protests Leonard. He was young and dumb and thought he had it all figured out. It was he and Jocelyn against the world and in the end it turned out to just be him against Jocelyn.

"You got a pretty good kid out of that deal. And that train wreck put you in my path," says Jim as he gets out of his chair and walks over to Leonard. He slides into Leonard's lap, swiping his finger through the bowl of whipped cream. "So I guess the wicked witch wasn't all bad," he says as he slips his finger between Leonard's lips.

Leonard laps the cream off Jim's finger. He places a gentle kiss on the back of Jim's hand before turning it over and placing another one over the palm. "You need to work on your game if you think talking about my ex-wife is good foreplay."

Jim cringes. "Such lack of faith, and on your birthday no less," he chides. "My game is on point, Dr McCoy."

"Prove it," challenges Leonard, wrapping his arms around Jim's lower back.

Jim leans in so close Leonard can just feel Jim's jaw brush his skin as Jim whispers, "See this whipped cream here?" Leonard nods as Jim takes another swipe and licks it off his own finger. "There's more in the living room where I'm going to lick it off of you as we lie on the blankets I've set up on the living room floor in front of the window. And then I'm going to make love to you under the stars."

Leonard goes pliant as Jim's deft fingers work their way under the hem of his uniform shirt and slowly peel it up and over Leonard's head. He watches appreciatively as Jim slides off his lap, with his shirt in hand and saunters towards the living room bidding Leonard to follow.

Leonard has to concede, Jim's game might be pretty on point.

Jim's not sure how it becomes a regular thing but it does. He doesn't tell Leonard that every week he meets Chekov in the gym before most of the crew has even thought about getting up for alpha shift and teaches him how to perfect all the moves someone in self-defence class had once rushed the kid through. Leonard would just insist on being there to make sure Jim doesn't hurt himself and have a series of mini strokes every time he thought Jim took a hit. Assuming he would let Jim do it at all. He knows his husband's already quietly fretting how well Jim can manage his expectations over the whole course plotting charts the Captain has agreed to look at. Telling him he's wrestling would put Leonard over the edge.

It's a lie of omission that's all; hardly the worst thing Jim has ever done. If Leonard asked him point blank if he was teaching combat to Chekov, Jim would tell him. Leonard never asks that particular question.

Jim likes Chekov. The kid never asks any questions that don't pertain to what they're doing and he doesn't look at Jim like some former shadow of himself. Not to mention the kid's held a navigation position on the bridge of the flag ship since seventeen and is something of a child genius. Jim can relate to that.

They started with Jim just showing Chekov some moves and how to correct his form and slowly moved into actual practice matches. Jim can even go for ten minutes straight now without needing to sit down. And if his leg or shoulder prove to be too much of an issue he can butter Christine up for some extra pain killers when he knows Leonard's stepped out of sickbay for lunch.

"Let's see what you remember from last time," says Jim, wrapping his hands in protective wrap and stepping onto the mat.

Chekov eagerly joins in the center and waits for the Jim to say start. It's not a gladiator fight so most things are done at half speed but he still has to be on his toes. He doubts Jim's shown him a tenth of the moves and counter moves the man knows.

They're working on escapes, what to do when the enemy has you in a hold. Chekov's small and wiry, which works to his advantage. He manages to free himself from Jim's choke hold, knocking Jim on his ass in the process. There's a mat on the floor but the fall stuns him for a moment.

"Sorry! Are you alright?" asks Chekov, looking apologetic and terrified in turn. He extends his hand to help Jim back up. The last thing he wants to do is make any of Jim's injuries worse.

Jim shakes his head. "I'm fine," he says. "Let's see if you can counter that move when someone tries it on you." Something feels off. His skin is crawling and his focus is wavering. Jim takes Chekov's former position and the kid wraps his arm around Jim's neck.

Jim reaches up to pull on Chekov's arm but it's not Chekov, it's Ayel. Jim can feel the arm squeezing tighter, cutting off the flow of air his starving lungs are desperately craving.

Hot acidic breath slithers down his jaw line as Ayel whispers in his ear, "When I'm finished with you, I'm going to put your doctor on a leash and beat him like the disobedient dog he is until he licks your blood off my boots."

Their captors have already killed most of the crew for the sheer pleasure of it. He's not going to let this monster hurt Bones any more than he already has. Jim rams his elbow hard into Ayel's stomach causing him to double over. With the arm no longer around his neck, Jim turns quickly driving a hard blow to the Romulan's head. Over and over again, he punches at any opening he can find driving them both back until Ayel is pressed against the wall. There's a certain satisfaction that comes from wrapping his own hands around Ayel's neck and squeezing the life out of him.

"Please, stop," chokes out Ayel as he frantically claws at Jim's hands and arms.

It's too late to beg. It didn't do the crew any good. It didn't do Leonard any good when he begged for them to spare the First Officer's life.

"Jim, please."

The second Jim realizes it's not Ayel, rather Chekov he's trying to kill, is the same second a large hand comes down hard on Jim's shoulder, yanking him back violently to allow enough room for a tight fist to soar in and clock him square in the nose. He folds to the ground with a sickening crack as blood sprays down his face.

"Chekov, can you hear me?" calls Commander Roberts frantically as the kid collapses to the ground wheezing hard and still not getting enough air despite Jim no longer choking him.

Roberts whips out his communicator. "This is Roberts, I need security to gymnasium four on the double and tell sickbay I'm coming in with an emergency." Roberts throws Chekov over his shoulder and runs out the door just as two large enforcers from security enter the gym.

Jim rolls over onto his back. Warm blood pours out of his probably broken nose, running down his face and pooling on the mat. He hurt Chekov and worse he's going to have to explain this one to Leonard and then beg Chekov's forgiveness.

Normally Leonard wouldn't be in sickbay this early but since Jim's usually off in astrometrics well into late morning on this day he agreed to let Donnavon off early. Serves him right for being nice. Now he has an emergency call to deal with. Leonard grabs his scanner just as Roberts comes running through the door.

"What happened?" demands Leonard, taking a look at Chekov.

"I don't know. I walked into the gym and he was being attacked," states Roberts, laying the ensign down on the nearest biobed.

Leonard starts running scans and injecting hypos. "His throat's swelling shut. I can counter act that. Just take slow deep breaths Chekov." Leonard breathes with him, demonstrating a slow and steady breathing pattern for Chekov to follow. The medication takes a few seconds before he's breathing better with only a slight wheezing sound.

"What idiot attacks someone on a starship?" asks Leonard. Judging by Roberts's look, he's not going to like the answer.

' Captain Pike of the USS Enterprise to Starfleet Command. We found the castaway on Delta Vega. You're not going to believe this.'

Chekov fidgets as he sits on the biobed enduring one last scan by McCoy. He's still not sure what happened but it all feels like a big fuss when he's going to be fine. Worse McCoy looks like someone kicked him and Chekov can't help but feel like maybe it's his fault.

"He shouldn't have done this," says Leonard, like it's his fault the day all went to hell. "He shouldn't have been training you to start with. You're completely in your right to file a complaint," insists McCoy because even if Chekov doesn't know better, god damn it, Jim does.

Chekov shakes his head frantically. "No. It's fine." He's nervous because now probably isn't the best time to ask, but he has to know. "Could Jim please meet me again next week for practice?" They have a great thing going on, it would be a shame to lose it over one mistake.

McCoy gives him an assessing gaze. "We're obviously going to have to do a brain scan."

"Please?" Jim's the first person to really give him any attention in regard to teaching. Most people just assume that Chekov will figure things out because he's smart. Sometimes he still needs guidance.

"We'll see," grumbles Leonard. He's pissed that this happened, that Jim was ever in a position that this could happen and worse someone like Chekov was along for the ride. Then there's the little fact that Jim's been lying to him once a week for who knows how long? If Spock doesn't kill Jim or lock him up and throw away the key, Leonard just might. Still he can't help feel that this dangerous, idiotic, fight club has been doing Jim some good.

Jim's stuck using the sleeve of his shirt to try and stem the bleeding as he waits in the brig for someone from sickbay to show up. He prays to god it's not Leonard. Security seems un-inclined to tell him if Chekov is alright or not. So he sits and waits, enjoying the throbbing pain taking over his face in some morose punishment for letting his grip on reality slip.

It's Leonard who walks into the brig, medkit in hand, because Jim's day couldn't possibly get worse. He looks pissed and Jim wonders if maybe the force-field locking him in here is for his protection not his confinement.

Leonard nods to the security guard who immediately drops the force-field. Jim sits up straighter on the hard metal bench leaving room for Leonard to sit down if he doesn't plan on murdering Jim first.

"Just tell me Chekov is going to be okay," pleads Jim, like the dying wish of a man on death row.

Leonard runs his scanner over Jim. "He's going to be fine," he snaps. The scanner beeps and he looks at the readings. "Your nose is broken," he reports reaching into his kit and grabbing a hypo to stab in Jim's neck.

Jim breathes a sigh of relief as the hypo takes the edge off. Leonard always has the best drugs.

"This is going to hurt," warns Leonard as he puts Jim's nose back in place before running an osteo-regenerator over his nose.

"Ow! You enjoyed that," says Jim, aiming for some kind of levity.

"What the hell were you thinking?" snaps Leonard. "You could have killed him!"

"I wasn't thinking. That's the problem. One minute we were sparring and then next... All I could see was Ayel. I couldn't let him hurt anyone else."

"Yeah, see that part I get. That's not what I'm talking about, Jim. What were you doing sparring in the first place? Not only could something like this happen but you could seriously hurt yourself."

"I know you'd feel better if I lived in a bubble but I need to live some kind of life, Bones," complains Jim.

"This isn't about living in a bubble. This is about incurring needless risks." Jim might think this is what rock bottom looks like but Leonard is cursed with the medical knowledge of all the ways Jim's life could get worse.

"What's going to happen? I'm going to get a bum leg? A shoulder that likes to dislocate with the minimalist of pressure? The worst has happened, I've already lost everything I was working for. Might as well have a little fun before I die," protests Jim even if Leonard's probably his only ally.

It's not that Leonard doesn't want Jim to do the things that make him happy or that he thinks Jim can't do them. He knows beyond a doubt Jim can do anything he puts his mind to. It's watching hope die in Jim's eyes time and time again when he inevitably believes he can get everything he had back and finds out once again that no, there are certain limitations he can't overcome. Leonard's good but there will eventually come a time when even he can't put Jim's pieces back together again. "Jim."

"I know. It's just... He wasn't asking me to help him because he felt sorry for me. He wasn't trying to make Jim Kirk feel useful. For one hour I was just Jim, a guy that was able to help. And it meant something. Until it all went to hell like usual." Jim crosses his arms, looking sullen and defeated. Sometimes his worst enemy isn't the messed up leg, or the emotional and mental instability that are equal parts PTSD and a parting gift from Nero's little torture slug, it's his need to see himself as he was.

Leonard contemplates the wisdom in what he's about to say. Maybe it's time to stop worrying about the fallout and just enjoy the ride. He gently bumps his shoulder against Jim's. "Despite everything, the kid still wants to meet you in the gym next week for another session. Obviously he's not as bright as everyone makes him out to be."

"Bones?" There's a hesitant smile threatening to make an appearance.

God damn it, doesn't Leonard just feel like he's the parent standing in the way of a kid getting a puppy. "Ground rules, Jim," warns Leonard.

"Absolutely, anything you want," assures Jim, raising his hand in solemn promise.

"No more than twenty minutes and you come to medical right after for a scan of your leg. I want to be on top of any damage you might be enduring. You two are never alone. I don't care who you get as a third but someone will be there to keep things like this from happening again."

"You got it."

Leonard has no idea how he's going to sell any of this to the Captain or smooth things over with the First Officer.

Chapter Text

McCoy's not in the mood for this. Every last one of his patience died a horrible slow agonizing death before breakfast and anything other than simply minding the store today is insult to injury. "I'm pretty sure we have some junior medics that would love this sort of thing," complains McCoy as he falls in line between Spock and Uhura. He does a quick self pat down to make sure he grabbed everything he'll need. It's a day that reeks of doom on the horizon.

"We are the first members of the Federation to survey the planet. There will be many specimens to collect and catalogue," replies Spock with carefully concealed Vulcan enthusiasm.

McCoy throws his hands in the air. "Exactly! Busy work."

"It will be nice to get off the ship," says Uhura, looking forward to a little sunshine.

"Until the foliage tries to eat you or you find out the hard way the rocks are poisonous or the wildlife secretes a fluid that melts your face off," huffs McCoy. He's not going out that way, he's simply not.

A few heads turn as the trio passes through the corridor towards the transporter room. 'Loud' conversations happen all the time between the doctor and crew but it never fails to draw a few concealed glances and pique curiosity.

"And barring all that, we might find a nice quiet planet for some shore leave," continues Uhura dreamily. "Think about how nice it might be to lie around in the sun and have a picnic."

"And just what do you think the statistical probability is that we'd find a pleasure planet and not a death trap waiting to spring? asks McCoy, irritably.

"Approximately..." starts Spock.

"Don't say it!" warns McCoy cutting off his captain. "It was rhetorical, Spock."

The doors to the transporter room open. Two security guards prepped for the away mission are waiting patiently with the transporter technician.

"Hopefully the fresh air will make you less cranky," giggles Uhura, stepping onto the pad.

McCoy hangs back slightly as the security guards step on the pad. He hates today and he certainly hates this.

"Come along doctor. Our initial scans have found no glaring cause for concern," informs Spock.

McCoy side eyes the transporter. "Unnatural way to travel. Having your atoms spread all over the universe," he mutters, relenting and joining the away team on the pad.

Spock tilts his head. The doctor is being especially stubborn today and there's a danger it might disrupt Spock's inner calm. "Is there anything you do approve of?"

"I'll make a list and get back to you," sneers McCoy.

"It'll be a short list," snorts Uhura.

"I was perfectly happy where I was," defends McCoy.

"It is your rotation for the away team," reminds Spock. "Energize," he orders.

"Just don't come crying to me when something melts your face off," warns McCoy as the transporter hums to life.

"Ensign Remmi to Enterprise." The panicked call fills the bridge. "We need emergency transport. Alert medical, we have a critical patient."

The transporter has barely powered down and Spock is already three large strides away from the pad, clutching the limp body in his hands. There isn't time to wait for medical to meet them at the transporter room, every second counts. The medical team can meet him on the way or Spock will carry his dying crewman all the way to sickbay if he has to.

Uhura stumbles after them leaving the two security guards standing dumbfounded on the pad. There's so much blood. It's everywhere. There's a huge splatter pattern around the spot Spock was beamed back. It's dripping down the stairs that lead up to the pad in slow lazy drops; a red trail of terror that starts on a deceivingly peaceful planet and is quickly spiraling towards death's icy touch.

Uhura follows, unable to keep up with Spock's speed. She's numb, the world around her distant and grey as she makes her way to sickbay on nothing more than muscle memory and the trail of blood Leonard's leaving on the floor as Spock races to get him to sickbay.

This is all her fault. Leonard had been trying to save her. They had been down by the water on the dark brown sandy shore of a lazy river. She should have been paying more attention, not day dreaming about of spending a day off lounging in the lavender waters. Maybe then she would have noticed the large lizard/bear looking creature that unburied itself from the sand at the promise of an easy meal.

Leonard had noticed.

He pushed her out of the way of its massive jaws but failed to get himself out of the way of its immense claws. Uhura gets a little nauseous at the thought of those claws ripping through Leonard's chest and abdomen like modeling clay. She's not a doctor but even she knows it's bad- really bad.

The doors to sickbay slide open unleashing a fury of medics and machines. Uhura hangs by the door while M'Benga and his team set to work. Spock answers all their questions as he stands next to the biobed. It takes Uhura a moment to get past the bright red blood staining his blue uniform shirt to realize he hasn't moved because Leonard has a fist full of Spock's shirt still tightly gripped in his fist.

Leonard's still hanging on to consciousness as the medical team buzzes around him taking readings and trying to access the damage. He locks eyes with Uhura and the floor practically disappears from under her. She's too far away to hear the words he's mouthing but the naked fear in his eyes is unmistakable.

Everyone is too busy trying to save Leonard's life to take notice of the soft strained words. Uhura knows. She wants to turn away and shut out the horror but she owes it to him to hear what might be his dying declaration. It takes everything she has to slowly inch forward, careful to not get in the way of anyone engaged in the fight for Leonard's life.

Leonard releases Spock's shirt and grabs a hold of Uhura's hand with his blood stained one the second she's within reach. His grip surprises her; like holding on to her will keep the reaper from pulling him under.

" c-t ... out," Leoanrd chokes out, eyes pleading with Uhura to understand.

"What? I... I can't..." mumbles Uhura, words failing to make themselves available to either her brain or her mouth. More blood stains Leonard's teeth each time he coughs. It's the same color red that's all over her hands from when she tried to stem the bleeding after the attack, before Spock came rushing over to kill the beast and scoop the doctor up while shouting orders to the security team. The tears start to fall, fast and continuous. "I don't know what you're trying to say."

Leonard seems to rally for a moment, the chaos around them fading into the background. "Please," he begs, and Uhura wants to promise him with her whole being that he'll be alright, that this isn't the end. "Jim can't see me like this, he can't find out this way. It will break him. Promise me you won't let him see me like this. He can't have some stranger tell him it's over."

"We need to get him into surgery," says M'Benga, forcibly, all business and without remorse as he rips Leonard's hand from Uhura's.

Spock trails behind them helplessly until they pass through the doors to the surgical area while Uhura stays rooted by the biobed. There's blood on the bed and on the floor. There's so much of it. Leonard can't have that much left in him. All this because Leonard saved her life.

"Tell me he's going to be okay?" she says coldly to the nurses still putting away things and trying to clean up any sign that an emergency disrupted sickbay. They keep their heads down, focused on their tasks like no one can bring themselves to say it out loud. There's no way some who lost that much blood is going to survive.

"Christine!" she yells, angry at the circumstances, angry at the world. Jim can't find out like this. It will break him. Promise me you won't let him see me like this. How could Leonard let himself be taken out by a giant lizard when he has obligations and people who care about and need him? "Tell me he's going to be alright," she demands. She will not be the one to tell Jim, Leonard died for her.

Christine looks back at Uhura sympathetically but doesn't say a word as she walks in to assist in the surgery.

Uhura wants to cry or collapse somewhere or both. She wants to scream and rage and scratch off every inch of her skin just to make all her feelings go away. She wants to curl her hands into fists but her fingers are stiff and seem to stick together. She looks down at her shaking hands. Blood. They're covered in drying blood.

Leonard's blood.

Uhura doesn't remember walking to a bathroom or how long she's been standing at the sink furiously scrubbing her hands and face; somewhere during this whole mess she managed to smear some blood across her cheek.

Spock appears behind her, his stoic and silent reflection in the mirror above the sink. He doesn't say a word just watches Uhura scrub away. He takes in every inch to make sure that Uhura is in fact safe. There was a split second after her scream that he had thought he lost her and a wave of regret picking away at every decision he's made since Vulcan was destroyed. There's a certain sense of relief to know that she is unharmed despite the tremendous concern he has for the doctor who is clinging to life in sickbay.

Uhura locks eyes with Spock in the mirror. "He shouldn't have to see Leonard's blood on me," she says.

"I can tell, Jim," offers Spock. It is his duty as captain to deliver horrible news to families. Even if it wasn't, he would do it to spare Uhura from having to be the one to do it.

Uhura wants to jump at the opportunity for anyone else to tell Jim that he might lose everything he holds dear because of her. But Leonard begged her not to let a stranger dump cold hard truth onto him. This is the least she can do for her friend; protect his husband when he is unable to. "It should come from me. Leonard asked me to do it."

The door chime rouses Jim from a peaceful sleep. He's not completely awake but enough to know return to his welcome slumber is in danger or ending. "Computer, relay do not disturb to the door," he mumbles, rolling over to snuggle back into the warm embrace of the blankets.

The door chimes again. "Go away!" yells Jim, like whoever is at the door might be able to hear him from the bedroom. He grabs the pillow and pulls it down over his face, covering his ears. The door chime persists.

"Alright I'm coming," snaps Jim throwing the pillow across the room. It's the middle of alpha shift, not exactly prime social hours and no one comes to see Jim anyways. He begrudgingly gets out of bed, every muscle pulling uncomfortably and protesting loudly at being ripped out of bed before earning any real rest. He grabs his cane from next to the bed and hobbles to the door.

"Uhura," he says, somewhat surprised. It's a pleasant surprise and not unwelcome if it is slightly odd. Uhura stops by about once a week, but never when Leonard isn't there. Jim's not delusional enough to think that she's invested in anything but Leonard's company.

His warm smile starts to melt as she just stands there looking broken and not saying a word. "Leonard's not here, he got tapped for an away mission," he says, the sinking feeling in his gut growing more, "but you know that."

Jim goes a shade lighter than white, turning and silently walking back to the living room. He falls boneless just before making it to the couch. Uhura follows and sits down across from him. The silence hangs heavy in the air, pressing down.

"Jim," starts Uhura. Despite her soft gentle tone her voice sounds like a screeching siren in the night. She tries to hold his hand, to offer some tether of comfort but he refuses to even look at her let alone hold her hand.

"No," says Jim. His shoulders start to shake and his eyes burn. Dread coils in his guts threatening to break through his skin and shatter him into a million pieces.

"There was an incident on the away mission." Uhura has to work hard to keep her voice from cracking. The anguish she managed to stomp down on her way to Jim's quarters is thrashing and tearing at its cage.

"No," says Jim a little louder, like he can stop the approaching freight train speeding towards him with his voice.

"Leonard... Leonard saved my life."

Jim's cane falls to the floor as he presses his hands against his ears. "No!" Because it's not true. Leonard's fine. He said so himself this morning when he told Jim he was going to be part of the away team. Everything is fine.

"Spock got him to sickbay as soon as possible. M'Benga and the team are some of the best but they don't..." She can't shake Nurse Chapel's look from her mind.

Jim struggles to get up off the floor. "I said NO!" He begins to frantically pace back and forth across the living room; denial driving every step. This can't be happening. It's not how their story is supposed to end. Not after everything they've been through. They're supposed to retire on that damn farm with Leonard constantly bitching about how unsanitary it is for Jim to bring the baby animals in the house and cupboards bursting with canned vegetables from the garden because Leonard won't let them go to waste.

Uhura's mouth clicks shut with an audible snap. She sits there awkward and out of place in Jim's quarters, like the one pristine vase that didn't fall and shatter on the floor during an earthquake with all the others. Failure is piling up around her today and it's costing people their souls.

Jim stops sharply during his latest pass, turning to look at Uhura. "He promised!" accuses Jim switching from sorrow to fiery rage. He picks up the PADDs and a picture frame sitting on the coffee table and throws them against the wall. They hit with a tremendous bang before falling onto the floor and breaking into pieces.

Uhura flinches at the noise.

Jim storms into the bedroom babbling in half broken sentences and heated words. "Not our agreement," and "we had a deal."

She wipes at her tears that never seem to end and moves towards the mess left on the floor. She kneels down, careful of the broken glass and sharp edges. The PADDs are ruined and the frame is in too many pieces to count. The picture's torn and tattered along the edges, not enough to obscure the image of Leonard and Jim laughing while sitting on a stack of hay bales trying to hold a handful of baby chicks still for the photo.

She tucks the photo away in her dress. If the worst happens today, she'd rather remember Leonard this way than drenched in his own blood.

Jim comes out with an arm full of uniform shirts and begins tearing at the sleeves. "They can't have him. He promised me forever. Can't marry me if we don't make it out of here," he repeats like a broken recording. He's laser focused on ripping the treacherous silver rank stripes from Leonard's shirts. They won't take Leonard if they think he's a nobody.

"Jim," pleads Uhura moving to stand next to him. "You have to stop." Whatever he's trying to do, it's not going to end well and it's certainly not going to help the situation.

"You can't have him!" snarls Jim, shoving Uhura hard. She topples off balance and falls firmly on her ass, Jim throwing one of the shirts at her. He storms off out of his quarters leaving Uhura sitting there alone.

Chapter Text

Jim walks numbly down the corridor. He has no idea where he's going, he just knows he can't stay in a place he shared with Leonard. There are enough ghosts haunting him, he doesn't need his husband to be another one. There's no attention paid to the looks of confusion or pity the crewmen wear as he wanders on autopilot, but he knows they're there. He can feel the sympathy pouring off of them in never ending waves that threaten to drown Jim. They all want something from him- to ease his pain, to offer comfort in bid to obtain it for themselves. Jim has nothing left to give them, to give anyone.

He's angry. How dare Leonard see fit to leave him in this world alone? What is there every morning, if not Leonard? Jim's a ship without a course and no stars to navigate by now. The anger turns to shame which explodes in him with enough power to replace the warp core. Leonard's dead and all he can think about is how it effects him, how his world has just blinked out of existence. All the regrets he's spent his life ignoring because there was still time to make it right pile up around him.

What's he going to say to Joanna? Jim made her promises too. Who's going to walk her down the aisle one day? The anger's back because god damn it, that should be Leonard. Something so simple and universally trivial yet it carves out a deep cavernous ache within Jim. He can picture the moment so clearly. Joanna will look radiant in her dress, simple but flattering as it defines and highlights every curve that reminds them all she is a woman now. She'll be calm, cool and poised with that steely McCoy determination that this is the exact path she should be on. Leonard will be- he would have been, nervous; constantly fiddling with his cufflinks to hide the fact that the surgeon's steady hands were shaking. He'd be proud and happy for her but inside he'd be worrying that now someone else will be responsible for protecting his little girl and would they make her happy the rest of her days.

Joanna wouldn't notice it, but Jim would. He would have had to place his hands on Leonard's tense shoulders and remind him to breathe and enjoy the moment. He'd kiss the back of Leonard's neck and whisper, "It will all work out." Because it has to work out for someone. Jim would straighten Leonard's tie and give him a gentle shove in the back when the music started to play and he didn't immediately take his first step forward to walk her down the aisle. Then Jim would stand there at the back of the venue as Leonard gave Joanna a kiss on the cheek before letting her future spouse take her hand. He'd probably shed a single tear as the happy couple recited their heartfelt vows and when it was all over and everyone had moved outside for pictures, he'd walk over to Leonard still sitting at the front of the church and sit next to him. They'd hold hands and take a moment to picture themselves having a proper and formal wedding. Jim would mutter, "It would have been beautiful," because while he never pictured a traditional wedding, he'd be swept up in all the love and happiness of the day and Leonard looks damn good in a tux. Leonard would sigh and agree, "It would have," before Joanna walks back in to drag them out for a family picture.

Jim hadn't realized how much he was counting on this moment until now when he realizes can't have it anymore. All the simple dreams like playing with future grandchild that one assumes will come to fruition are all wiped away. Reality is a cold bitch.

He should go to sickbay. His body knows the way, it's practically ingrained in his being, but there's a body there he can't bring himself to identify; a firm prescribed dose of non-ignorable reality. He's seen Leonard righteously pissed off, overjoyed, beaten, broken and desperate. He's even seen that blissful unguarded smile that appears in the few precious moments between sleep and awake when it's just the two of them curled in bed and Leonard's forgotten the universe and its problems exist. Lifeless and free from this mortal coil can't be on that list too. Not after all the hurdles they've managed to clear thus far.

This is Jim's fault. He might not hold the rank of captain anymore but Leonard still lets him call the shots like he's in charge. Case in point, being on the Enterprise at all. If Jim hadn't pushed, Leonard would have held fast to his refusal and they'd be on the farm right now arguing about why Jim felt the need to bring ducks home or how many times Leonard has to wash the floors because Jim keeps traipsing through the house with his shoes on after rummaging around the barn and tracked mud in. Safe.

Instead Jim made the call to come, to try and reclaim something that's so clearly lost. Starfleet said he wasn't fit to make command decisions. Doctors, psychologists and even friends said his reasoning skills are impaired and clouded. And still, Leonard lets him get his way whenever possible. Jim's mistakes seem to cost more than he's willing to pay.

His arm starts to itch and ache. He promised. No giving up or easy ways out, no leaving Leonard to pick up the pieces. Leonard's not here and there's nobody else interested in Jim's pieces. Jim's bound to nothing now and free to reengage the train wreck that is his life. It's poetic, to be here on the starship where it all began and will now so tragically end. His body must sense it's its natural narrative because after wandering aimlessly for two hours, he's put himself directly in front of the lounge.

Leonard made promises too; forever, to never leave Jim alone and no matter what they will always have each other, so obviously neither one of them is very good at keeping their word. Jim doesn't even feel guilty when he finishes off his first glass of Rye and orders another one.

It's synthohol so the bartender isn't going to cut him off. And that's Jim's secret weapon. Jim's aiming to make a lot of bad decisions tonight before his curse spills out on to the crew of the Enterprise.

Federation news update: The planet Vulcan was destroyed today during an attack by a war criminal called Nero. The rescue fleet was saved along with thousands of Vulcan survivors thanks to a distress signal sent from the officers taken captive from the USS Troubadour. Heavy casualties were still encored. Ships are currently in pursuit of the attacking vessel to rescue the captives of the USS Troubadour and bring Nero to justice.

M'Benga pulls out a miracle and Leonard rallies through surgery. He's by no means out of the woods but the medical staff and ship crew can breathe a fraction easier.

"Honestly, a lot can still go wrong but if he makes it through the night I believe he can make it the rest of the way up the mountain," reports M'Benga.

"What kind of recovery is he looking at?" asks Uhura. She's been sitting in sickbay with Spock all afternoon, or perhaps Spock has been sitting with her. Jim hasn't tried to come see Leonard which is good because Leonard's been in surgery and she doubts sitting here staring at a set of doors separating Leonard from them would be beneficial to Jim. Selfishly she doesn't want to have to enforce Leonard's wish of not letting Jim see him in this state either. She also has no idea where Jim stormed off to, which is troubling, but one thing at a time. Uhura needed to be here, both for Leonard and so she has something to tell Jim.

M'Benga looks remorseful. "It's a big mountain. We should probably take it one day at a time. He was lucky. We've all been really lucky so far."

Uhura nods. She doesn't feel particularly lucky but they're not planning a funeral yet so she guesses that's something. "Can he have visitors?"

"I don't think it would be in Leonard or Jim's best interest to bring Jim in today," says M'Benga with a sad smile. Uhura frowns a little. "Leonard's said a few things and since he technically can't be the active physician for family or dependants, I have Jim's medical files. I think we should wait until there are fewer devices hooked up to Leonard and he's awake before Jim sees him. A panic attack or episode right now would be harmful to both of them," explains M'Benga. Leonard's said more than a few things, he actually laid out a series of scenarios and how they should be handled. "Has his daughter been informed?"

"I will make arrangements to contact his family on Earth," says Spock. The mood sinks a little more. Somewhere there's a young woman who's about to have her world come to a screeching halt as well.

"I should go tell Jim... something," says Uhura. She didn't get a chance to say much beyond there was an accident before Jim stormed off. She's not sure how to handle any of this. Technically as his husband Jim has a right to know what's going on and have a say. But if the incident in his quarters is a sneak peak of how things are going to go, M'Benga's right about it not helping Leonard at all. Jim's not even Leonard's medical proxy. He assigned that duty to the ship's captain before he even really met Spock. "Computer, locate Jim McCoy."

"Jim McCoy is currently in the observation deck lounge," chirps the computer, dutifully.

She heads there, her stomach in knots.

The lounge doesn't serve alcohol, rather synthahol given that all the patrons are officers who could be called back to duty at a moment's notice. There's still something satisfying about the idea of drinking and the suggestive effects the drinks offer. She's rather surprised to see Jim looking actually drunk on a bar stool between Scotty and Sulu.

"It's uhu- uh- Uhura!" slurs Jim as he catches sight of her. He raises his glass high in the air, the contents spilling over the brim as he waves the glass around. He'd fall off the stool completely if not for Scotty holding him up.

It pisses Uhura off. Spock and her have been waiting in sickbay making themselves sick with worry and Jim's in a bar being an annoying happy drunk- a drunk she really doesn't want to have to babysit. This is the selfish arrogant ass she remembers from the academy.

"Uh-oh she looks mad," sings Jim in a drunken whisper. Sulu give him a sad smile. "Wanna join us?" he asks as Uhura marches over to their section of the bar.

"No and I think you've had enough. How are you even drunk?" she demands. The benefit of synthohol is feeling drunk without being drunk and being able to shake that feeling at a moment's notice. A moment like a pissed off Lieutenant looking like she wants to murder you. Jim's drunk drunk which means either he has his own personal stash of alcohol somewhere or Sulu or most likely Scotty is plying him with the real stuff.

"He was like this when we got here," says Sulu, sensing they're about to be in trouble.

"It's the drugs," enthuses Jim with a gorpy smile.

Uhura wants to bang her head against the table. She's tired, wrecked and on edge herself, she doesn't need these kinds of complications. "What drugs?" she demands, exasperated. It's only been a couple of hours and already she might have to drag Jim to medical for a drug detox.

"The ones that keep me from being a complete basket case," explains Jim slamming back the last few swallows in his glass. "Side effects may include, adverse reaction to synthohol," he says like he's reciting a warning label from memory.

Uhura looks at Scotty and Sulu. "Can you guys give us a minute?" They look at each other, a silent conversation between. Sulu nods and he and Scotty grab their glasses and move a couple of stools down. Enough to give them space but close enough in case they're needed. Jim slumps over the bar counter running his finger through a puddle of condensation that formed around his glass, looking morose and dejected now that his friends have gone. Uhura sits down next to him waving the bartender away as he approaches to take her order.

"He's dead, isn't he?" asks Jim, hollow and broken. The words burn like acid; seeping into every molecule of his being and carving him from the inside out. This is the confirmation he knew was coming since Uhura knocked on his door earlier today; the hard conversation where she tries to drill that fact into his addled and damaged brain. He always hated the Kobayashi Maru and Leonard's death is his own personal version.

Uhura kind of wants to get drunk now too but someone has to be in their right mind. She wishes she had better news for him. "He made it through surgery, but we'll have to see if he makes it through the night."

Jim closes his eyes to try and hold the tears back. He's not sure if hovering near death is better news. On one hand there's hope but on the other it just feels like prolonging the inevitable. The universe is infinitely cruel as far as Leonard is concerned.

Jim should have been there. He promised Leonard he'd have his back. And he didn't because he can't keep his shit together which got him disbarred from Starfleet. Now Leonard's paying the price. The scar curling up his arm starts to burn.

The silence stretches on leaving both to stew in their own impotence.

"I fucked up," confesses Jim, sniffling.

"You weren't even there, Jim," counters Uhura. Leonard could die because he saved her. If anyone gets to wear the blame crown, it starts with her.

Jim shakes his head. "No. The first time in a long time Leonard needs me and I go out and get drunk. He hates it when I drink. I promised I would never have more than half a glass and even then it has to be synthohol and under his supervision. "

"I'm sure he'll understand given the circumstances."

Jim rolls his eyes and rolls up his sleeve exposing the pink scar running down his arm. "I make bad decisions when I'm drunk." He knows Leonard will forgive him because Leonard always forgives him. Even when he doesn't deserve it; especially when he doesn't deserve it. Assuming Leonard makes it at all.

"I'm classified as unstable, with notes of PSTD, emotional instability and paranoid delusions to give it that full body flavour," says Jim. Uhura gives him her undivided attention but he can't bring himself to look her in the eye. "It's mostly the result of brain damage from this parasite slug thing Nero used to torture us with. They all tell me it's not my fault I can't function like normal." Jim squints his eye like he's working out a long mathematical problem in his head. "It's like eighty percent brain damage and twenty percent my own shit that I need to work through."

Uhura's not sure she's in a place to hear the details of something that so clearly broke someone as stubborn and thick headed as James Kirk. The moron attempted the Kobayashi Maru twice and planned on going back for a third time had he and Leonard not taken the field positions on the Troubadour that spring. Whatever happened, it was bad. If Jim needs to speak about it though, she'll listen tonight.

"I didn't do the work, you know? All the councillors and physical therapists, I dropped them the first chance I could, before they even finished the sentence explaining that I wouldn't be the same as before. I just felt that, if I can't get back to one hundred percent then why bother?" laments Jim, looking pained. "See the leg and the shoulder didn't bother Starfleet that much. There were ways to work around them and still keep me on a starship. It was the random mental instability that had them concerned. And given some of the incidents that happened they were probably right to be concerned. They don't happen all the time, obviously. I can even regulate them a little more with a couple extra medications. But what if that twenty percent was the difference between me getting kicked out and staying? What if that twenty percent that I refuse to work on is the difference between me sitting here wondering if Leonard's going to live or me still having a commission on a ship that would have put me on that planet with him today?"

Uhura signals the bartender to pour her a drink. "And what if I had just looked to my left?"

M'Benga comes to personally explain Leonard's status. Jim gets lost in all the technical terms looking to his left for Leonard to explain them, only he's not there. Jim just nods along like it makes sense because in the end none of it matters as long as Leonard's alright.

The doctor gives Jim a supply of sedatives to get him through the week. Jim accepts them with a sad smile because it was Leonard who put in the order for them should anything like this happen to him. Leonard's gravely injured and he's still finding ways to take of Jim.

"Leonard was fairly adamant that it would be best to not come to sickbay," says M'Benga in that typical physician voice meant to keep the situation calm. "But if you insist, I can make arrangements for you to come in and sit with him."

Jim wants to argue; if a crazed Romulan and near death couldn't separate them before, M'Benga has little chance of being successful now. But Jim knows deep down M'Benga's probably right; that Leonard's foresight is almost certainly correct. The last thing he needs is for the medical team to be dealing with his shit instead of taking care of Leonard.

God Jim wishes he had his shit together, that he was able to just be normal for awhile. Whoever thought the ability to walk into sickbay and sit beside a dying lover was something people took for granted? Even Jim knows walking into sickbay is going to ignite all of the triggers he barely manages to keep a handle on never mind the ones he doesn't even know exist yet. It kills that the best thing for Leonard is to stay away.

"No," says Jim bitterly. Leonard's always brave for both of them, Jim can give it a shot for a couple days. "Who's making the medical decisions?" He really hopes it's not Joanna. She's too young to have to pick up Jim's slack, especially when it's her father's life on the line.

"The captain," replies M'Benga, "as per Leonard's request."

Jim just nods. He'd like to say the sting of betrayal is warranted at his husband for making someone else his caretaker but Jim can't say it's not unjustified. Nor can he deny a certain sense of relief of knowing he'll never have to be the one to say when enough is enough. There's Leonard again, making sure his family's protected. Leonard has the foresight for all of it and all Jim has to do is try and keep it together. He can't help but feel he has the harder job.

So Jim stays away. He cancels his appointment in the gym with Chekov and opens his reserved time slot in astrometrics. He spends his time pacing the confines of their quarters because he doesn't trust himself enough to stay away should he leave or to maintain the tenuous grip he has on reality. He's white knuckling every moment.

Chekov drops off a PADD every morning outside his door with M'Benga's daily evaluation and vid message from Joanna. She knows Jim won't take the transmission in person but leaves a positive message for him to view when he feels he's ready.

She talks about school and the orchestra, about how she's adjusting to life at school and being on her own for the first time. It's a nice distraction; a moment to forget that the largest piece of their puzzle is missing.

Sulu leaves dinner for Jim outside the door too. Uhura brings it in when she stops by after shift to make sure that Jim's alive and not jello on the floor. She spends most of the time tidying the place as she waters down Leonard's condition. It's fine because Jim's not up to talking much anyways. He just has to keep it together- for Leonard.

It's after shift and Spock's on his way back from sickbay when he sees Jim wandering the corridor. He's glaring at the crewmen which are giving him a wide birth as they pass. Spock can't make out the litany that's pouring from Jim's lips but his rigid stance suggests he's rather agitated.

"Is there something I can help you with Mr McCoy?" asks Spock in the most accommodating tone a Vulcan can implement.

"Where is he?" demands Jim, hanging onto the wall the best he can since his leg doesn't seem to be interested in supporting his weight.


"You know damn well who!" Jim snarls. His hands clench at his sides.

"I assure, I do not." Spock wracks his brain and comes up with the most logical answer. "Are you looking to see Dr McCoy in sickbay?"

Something wild flashes in Jim's eyes and Spock has mere seconds to move out of the way before a fist comes flying at his head. The second fist connects. It's not hard enough to do any damage despite Jim's best effort. The intent to cause serious harm is evident even if he doubts Jim has the strength to go toe to toe with a Vulcan and win.

"Don't say his name. You don't get to say his name!" screams Jim as he tackles Spock to the ground. "Just give him back you Romulan bastard!"

Crewmen gather around to see what the commotion is all about and try to help their captain. Jim just starts throwing punches at whoever is within arm's length.

Someone is going to get seriously hurt and Spock must do something to protect everyone involved. He reaches up while Jim is busy taking a swing at Ensign Waller and implements the Vulcan nerve pinch.

Jim crumples to the ground.

Chapter Text

"What the hell happened?" shouts Leonard, going wide eyes as Spock walks into sickbay with Jim limply slung over his shoulder. He knows he shouldn't try and get out of bed but damn it, it's Jim.

M'Benga holds his hand up halting any effort on Leonard's part to sit up. It doesn't take much. He quickly goes over to the biobed the captain deposits Jim on and starts running his tricorder over the patient.

"He was quite agitated and was becoming violent. I had to subdue him before he caused any real harm to himself or the crew," states Spock. "I utilized the Vulcan nerve pinch. He should be fine in a few hours."

"You nerve pinched my husband?" says Leonard, rather affronted. He's been unconscious for three days and the captain is already assaulting his husband- warranted or not.

Spock stands by his decision. "It seemed the least intrusive method to subdue him."

"And just why did he need subduing at all?" accuses Leonard. Jim, now more than ever, needs to be handled with kid gloves, gloves which most people don't even know they need to put on.

"I believe he was looking for you. He also accused me of being Romulan." Spock raises an eyebrow like he can't believe someone could mistake the two species.

Leonard lets out a long breath. He can't blame anyone for their reaction, even if he finds rendering Jim unconscious to be a little extreme; Jim doesn't exactly come with a user manual. "Yeah, that'll do it."

Spock looks at Leonard sceptically.

"We were part of the crew compliment that managed to make it to the shuttles on the Troubadour when Nero attacked. They took everyone on those shuttles prisoner," says Leonard. For all he worries about Jim's triggers and hang ups, retelling their story is one of his. Even if he skims over the painful parts he hates the way people look at him- look at Jim afterwards. Still, he's going to be laid up in sickbay for awhile and he needs them to understand what they're dealing with, if for nothing more than to keep Jim out of sickbay or the brig.

"I have seen the files," says Spock moving closer to Leonard's biobed.

Leonard's sure he has. The whole incident is a required case study at the academy and every command officer in service was brought up to speed on events even if the names of the survivors have since been sealed. The basic information's present in Leonard's file since he's an active member of Starfleet. Jim's file is still sealed with a very altered abridged version available. He knows Pike only gave Spock the 'Jim McCoy' abridged version. "What they don't tell you is Jim's the one that got the distress call out. Jim's the one that kept us alive. So when he's stressed and under pressure like when he thinks his husband is going to die he starts to forget where he is. And then someone with pointed ears comes along and it's very easy for him to end up back on that ship where they used to torture us for information or to punish the others," explains Leonard. He clenches his hand into a fist under the blanket to stop it from shaking.

"He's James Kirk," states Spock. The name is infamous for many reasons but it's mostly synonymous with the Nero incident. That warning not only saved Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise but the lives of every Vulcan that managed to flee the planet before it was destroyed. Spock never had the honour of meeting the Troubadour survivors, being recalled by Starfleet before the Enterprise was sent on the rescue mission. It never occurred to him that he was in the presence of Jim Kirk, whom had essentially disappeared a couple of years after the rescue.

Leonard nods. His mouth goes dry and he struggles to swallow. He lives his life by not thinking about it; once was more than enough. Jim on the other hand has no choice but to relieve it- often. "I understand if you want to terminate our agreement and find yourself a new CMO. I can't promise this won't happen again."

Spock's not sure if he'll regret it or not but he decides to take a leap of faith Captain Pike so often spoke. "You may stay."

"Spock, what is it this time?" asks Pike with fake irritation. He'd much rather deal with ship's business than deciding what beach activity to wander through but Spock doesn't need to know that. Retirement loses its lustre once you realize the vacation is permanent and not just a vacation.

"You knew Jim McCoy was actually James Kirk," accuses Spock.

A small smile plays at Pike's lips. "I was beginning to think you were slipping."

"Why the deception?" Spock can't make the best decisions if he doesn't have all the available facts.

"Starfleet command thought it was in the best interest of the survivors to keep their names and faces out the press. Give them some privacy after. And there was no guarantee they were going to stay in service. In fact, I think McCoy and one other are the only ones serving. Kirk's name got out because he was already the son of a hero, and people wanted a hero after all that death. They gave him command of the USS Michigan to perpetuate the fairy tale of the golden boy and sent him on his way. We should have been paying more attention," says Pike sadly.

Spock followed the careers of those involved with as much interest as any officer. Captain Kirk held command of the Michigan for a year and then officially retired. Rumour and ship talk indicated he was court-martialled and dismissed by Starfleet. Seeing the pattern now, he can see how the service file of one James McCoy matches that of James T Kirk.

"After the incident on the Michigan, Starfleet decided it couldn't look the other way anymore even if he was the Federation's trophy. To save face they said he retired. His files were sealed and an alternate file using Jim McCoy was created. It was a mess but it was a mess we all created." There's something remorseful in Pike's voice, like he bears a portion of the responsibility mentioned. "If Jim is ever going to get the fresh start he deserves, he needs to be free of his own shadow."

"You believe I will make different decisions because I know it is him?"

"You're already re-calculating," accuses Pike.

"I told them they could stay," counters Spock, as though he's still capable of countering Pike's game.

"And what brought you to that conclusion?" asks Pike, sitting up a little straighter and looking more interested. Jim is messy human emotion incarnate, it would be easier to simply cut it out of the equation.

Spock thinks back to all the things he's heard from his senior staff and especially Uhura. Spock would be more than justified to revoke his deal with Dr McCoy but there's a strange element present that wasn't there before. He has seen improvement in his senior staff and it seems to start when they begin to interact with Leonard and Jim. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one."

Gamma shift is by its very nature, slow and quiet. There's minimal staff and the environmental setting are set to simulate evening. It's a good time for rookies to gain solo experience and season professionals like Christine to catch up on paper work. With only one patient in sickbay, there's just Nurse Chapel, Nurse Philips and Dr Zeal on staff this shift. Philips is on lunch and Zeal's holding up in his office all night except for his scheduled check in on the patient, so Chapel is very alone as she putters around restocking for alpha shift.

She heads to bay five to do a vitals check on McCoy and nearly drops her PADD in shock. McCoy isn't alone. She doesn't know when Jim managed to sneak into sickbay but he's sitting next to McCoy's biobed holding his hand and carrying a quiet one side conversation while McCoy sleeps.

Chapel stands there quietly.

"Sorry I haven't been to see you until now. But you know how well I deal with this," says Jim, gently stroking his thumb across McCoy's knuckles. "You'll be happy to know, your pain in the ass friends are looking after me. Sulu's feeding and watering me and I'm sure he'd take me for a walk if he could. Scotty thinks he's pretty clever, like I didn't find his subroutine to monitor my vitals in quarters. And Uhura's a real pain. She keeps stopping by and giving me updates even though I locked her out. So you don't have to worry about me, just worry about you."

Jim lowers his head to rest it on Leonard's shoulder, careful of all the bandages and sensors. It's not comfortable but the steady reassuring beat of Leonard's heart lulls him into a light sleep for the first time in five days; enforced nap from a certain Vulcan notwithstanding.

Standing in front of McCoy's door waiting, is becoming an undesired habit. Spock is just about to leave when the door finally opens. Jim stands there leaning against the door frame, looking rather unkempt in clothes that are so loose on him. Spock suspects they don't belong to him.

"You're not Scotty," accuses Jim.

"I am not," agrees Spock. He stands there under Jim's intense glare.

"Are you here in an official capacity?" hedges Jim, crossing his arms.

"No. I am here of my own volition."

Jim stands up a little straighter, emphasising the tense lines of his body. "Are you looking for some kind of apology? Because you nerve pinched me."

The already defensive nature of the conversation is making Spock reconsider his visit. "Apologies are a human sentiment. Should events have required one, I assure I would not find it necessary."

"You wouldn't find it necessary to give one, or to receive one?" asks Jim, to be especially annoying. The guy nerve pinched him after all. It was hardly a fair move. Spock raises an eyebrow. "What's in the case?" asks Jim.

"I thought we could play chess this evening if you were amendable to the idea. If you are not instructed in the game, I could teach you."

Jim chews on his bottom lip as he considers the offer. "Drew the short straw on babysitting duty?"

"I assure you, there were no straws drawn."

Jim uncrosses his arms, shaking his head. "Can't say no to a captain." He heads to the living room leaving Spock to follow after.

Spock follows. Jim stands protectively in the middle of the living room which is decorated in a manner Spock is unaccustomed to. The human home he's most familiar with is Uhura's. During the course of their relationship, they would often have meals with her human friends not affiliated with Starfleet. None of those dwellings chose to have a tent like structure made of blankets at their center. It seems an odd choice since the quarters do have a bedroom.

"You can set up in the dining room," instructs Jim, waiting until Spock has left the living room before following.

Spock begins unpacking the board and assembling the pieces. Jim waits at the opposite end of the table until Spock has finished and sat down. It doesn't go unnoticed that Jim seems both tense and strategically placing himself to sit where he has the most available exit options.

"Do you require..." starts Spock as Jim reaches over and moves his knight in a bold and aggressive opening gambit.

"Your move," replies Jim.

Spock tips his head. Clearly no instruction will be necessary.

The game goes on for two hours, which is almost twice as long as most humans Spock plays. There's a recklessness to Jim's game that makes Spock work twice as hard to find the logic to. While they do not speak of anything other than the game when what few words they exchange are uttered, the evening doesn't seem unpleasant. For his part, Jim doesn't exactly relax through the evening but as Spock goes to leave for the night asks, "When are we playing again?"

Spock will take that as a win and an invitation to play again next week.

It's late and Uhura's plagued with a tiredness she hasn't been able to shake since the away mission. Normally she doesn't take to wandering the ship at night but she's desperate for a change of scenery. It's the shadow sitting in front of the observation deck window that catches her eye. It's a pretty distinct shadow, what with the cane and all. Jim's probably awake for the same reason. Misery loves company, so she ventures over and sits down beside him.

He gives her a small smile, nothing more. They sit there, silently watching the universe fly by. It's oddly comforting- being alone together. The silence and darkness of existence, somehow manageable with her knee bumping someone else's.

"We couldn't see the stars on Nero's ship," whispers Jim.

Uhura looks over at Jim, but he keeps his eyes on the window. He looks small and fragile. She's never given it much thought, what it must have been like. Technically it could happen to any of them at any time but it probably won't and that seems to be all the comfort she needs to continue to do her job.

"It's funny how something so trivial can be so important. It's hard to mark the passage of time without some sign that the world exists. It's even harder to tell if you're still alive. That's how I first knew we were rescued. My room in medical on Starbase Nine had a window. I looked out and I knew it was over. I can remember as a kid lying out in the fields at night just looking up at the stars and feeling like my dad was up there, looking out for me. The stars make me feel like I'm not alone. And I know if I'm going to die, I die alone," explains Jim. "There are no stars in hell."

Jim looks down when he feels Uhura's hand settle on his knee. She's on his bad side, which would normally make him skittish but somehow feels okay.

"They broke my leg when I sent that first distress call. Not because they knew I was the one that sent it, but just on principle. Someone had sent a message and they were going to find out who one way or another. It broke in two spots when Ayel stomped on it. The worse part, they wouldn't let Bones do anything for it other than splint it. He tried his best but the damn thing healed wrong, hence the cane." Jim hefts the afore mentioned object in his hand. "The surgeries to try and fix it properly were going to be too extensive and I wasn't that keen on something completely artificial."

"I'm sorry."

"I had to break out of our cell to send the message and hopefully get back before they noticed or they would have punished everyone else. On my way back, there was this second ship left unguarded I could have escaped on. Could have just got the hell out of there. And who knows, maybe things would have turned out better for everyone. I just couldn't leave him there. What if I lose him now?"

"He's going to make it," assures Uhura. Leonard's not totally in the clear but every day is step in the right direction.

"This time. What about next time?"

Uhura doesn't have an answer for that. None of them know what's coming or when their bill will come due.

"I filed for separation," reveals Jim, like a dirty secret. "After the whole Michigan thing and getting court-martialled. Did he tell you that?"

She shakes her head. Leonard never mentioned anything other than him leaving Jim briefly.

"Bones put everything on hold while I was recovering. He made his career decisions based on what I wanted and then he gave it all up when they took it away from me. His whole life became about accommodating me and taking nothing for himself. I was an excuse so I thought if I removed that excuse, maybe he could have his life back because he deserves to be here. Just telling a wild animal it's free doesn't work so I drove him to the middle of the woods and left him there in the form of a legal separation."

Suddenly things make a little more sense. "That's why you're listed as a dependant and not his spouse."

"Medically looking out for me, but blocked from legally being recognized as my husband. I thought it was a big enough push. I was right. He finally left. And then this," says Jim, rolling up his sleeve to reveal his long jagged scar, "undid all that work and Bones came running right back. If he died now he wouldn't be my legal husband and I would give anything to change that fact."

"There's always time to fix that," she assures.

"I can't put Bones through that again. And there's no guarantee he wants it undone."

For the very first time, Uhura catches a glimpse of just what Leonard's become so infatuated with. "Nyota. My first name is Nyota."

"I know," says Jim with a soft laugh. "Found out years ago."

"Then why?"

"I like the game. I like that you still treat me like I'm me."

Chapter Text

"You do good work, Leonard," praises the head of Starfleet Medical Research. "Just say the word and I can get you on board any team in the galaxy. They're doing some fascinating work on Capri Seven that you would be perfect for."

"Thank you, sir," replies Leonard with a tight smile. "I'm happy where I am. I'm just glad I could help."

Dr Philt looks doubtful. A simple surgical residency out of Vancouver is hardly the fulfilling position someone with Leonard's skill needs. "Can I at least talk you into speaking at the medical conference on Ramda Three next month? You can bring your husband if you like."

Leonard lets out a long breath before fiddling with the things on his desk. Jim will barely leave the apartment these days for any place other than a seedy bar. He can't picture Jim boarding a ship to go to a medical conference with him. "I don't think Jim would be up for such a long trip," apologises Leonard. It's become an all too familiar song and he knows the words by heart.

Not to be deterred, Philt continues, "You'd be a key note speaker. I can have you in and out within a day. If necessary, you can take the day and we can do it via video conference."

"I'll think about it," promises Leonard and he almost believes the lie himself this time. Philt must believe it because he signs off of the video conference. Leonard can barely make it into the office any more. Spending a whole day lecturing is simply an impossibility.

"Why don't you go to the conference?" demands Jim, darkly from Leonard's office door.

Leonard glances up from his desk. He doesn't know how long Jim's been standing there; he thought Jim was still taking a nap. "I have work at the hospital to catch up on," he says, grabbing a report out of his desk drawer. He's not in the mood for this today; he's tired, worn and frustrated. A frayed rope can't hold the weight of this relationship forever. He can smell the alcohol on Jim's breath from across the room.

"Maybe you wouldn't have to catch up all the time if you went to work," seethes Jim.

Leonard's shoulders drop. He's tired of the tight rope walk. If he goes to work, he barely gets in the door before Jim is calling with a meltdown. If he stays, he ends up the source of Jim's frustration. He can't win and he doesn't know how many more rounds he has in himself before he takes a knockout. "Did you take your meds?"

Jim snorts. He ambles in and grabs the PADD off Leonard's desk with the conference details. This isn't about him, it's about Leonard wasting his life babysitting a lost cause.

Leonard feels a headache coming. "You have to take your meds, Jim."

"Maybe I don't want to."

"We've talked about this. You know the rules." Leonard feels like a parrot that only knows a handful of words.

Jim slams the PADD down on the desk so hard, it cracks. "I'm not your god damn child!" he yells, because he's so sick of being told what he can and can't do all the time. He's never going to be a captain again so why endure all the damn side effects of drugs that help him try and cope when he has nothing to cope for. He certainly doesn't need Leonard to play nurse- it's a god damn waste of his talent and time.

"Then stop acting like it!" counters Leonard. He can't be the only one trying to keep things together here.

"Go to the conference, Leonard," says Jim, tight and quiet. "Take the research job. Hell, take any of these jobs." Jim knocks the pile of PADDs so they fall across Leonard's desk. It's an impressive amount of offers over the last few months, since the medical community found out Leonard was a free agent. Instead of a symbol of opportunity created by great skill, it's a monument to a life not being lived.

"I can't," growls Leonard.

"Why?" presses Jim. He wants to hear Leonard say it.

"You know why." Leonard really doesn't want to say it. "What more do you want?" demands Leonard, because he's not the one that spends all night at the bar only to come staggering home after sunrise to sleep all day. Every move or lack thereof, Leonard has made, has been for Jim and what's going to work for him. He doesn't regret it but he can't take being resented for it either.

"I need something different. Someone different." The words feel dirty in Jim's mouth.

"Oh, is that what this is? You have some wild oats you feel the need to sow? An itch you need to scratch? Well don't let me stand in the way of the might James T Kirk." Trust Jim to resort to whoring around to avoid dealing with his emotions.

"Maybe I do want to scratch. Maybe I already have." The words go down like razors. He hasn't cheated, yet, but it's been close. Jim's long learned his self respect is rather waning, but he couldn't do that to Leonard. Still, his alcohol clouded decisions are coming pretty close to waking up next to someone who's name is decidedly not his husbands. Leonard needs to leave before Jim burns his life down around himself; Jim's not looking for other casualties. "How long did you think this was going to last anyways?"

Honestly, Leonard feared it would never get off the Enterprise. He spent the whole first year of their marriage waking up every morning wondering if today was the day Jim would tell him it was all a joke, some ploy to make sure they didn't give up; that the cold light of day exposes too much of why Jim could never be his. He thought Jim might walk right out of that hospital and leave him standing there with nothing but the memories and a cold realization that he's not worth hanging on to.

Leonard suddenly feels very small. "I meant it when I said till death."

"That's not me. I can't save you anymore, Leonard. I have nothing more to give." He's broken, beyond more than just a bum leg, shoulder and brain. What Leonard needs, Jim's never going to be able to give him. Jim's just tired of being a disappointment- to himself, to the Federation, to Leonard. He can't bear to have Leonard look at him with resentment, and he will; it's just a matter of time.

"I don't need you to save me."

"I can see why Jocelyn left you. Not only are you good at getting stagnant, but you're neediness is suffocating," says Jim, because he knows just where to stick the knives for maximum effect. He's fucking surgical at breaking hearts.

Leonard stands up with enough force that it sends the office chair rolling back into the wall with a thud. He's not interested in arguing with a drunk. "You can be a real asshole, you know that, Jim?" he huffs, storming out of the office.

Jim follows, hot on his heels. He's committed now. Leonard's a smart guy, maybe if he can just get Leonard to say it, something will snap in his head and he'll realize they don't have a future that's worth anything. "I need more, Leonard." And he does. He needs his life back. More importantly he needs Leonard to have more than this hollowed out existence Jim's created.

The room fills with a thick rotting silence. The whole fight is becoming too familiar, like muscle memory, all lines rehearsed to near perfection. It goes nowhere and gains nothing; just like them. Jim nods his head. Someone has to pull the chord on the parachute before they go splat on the ground. "I want a divorce." The words suck all the oxygen out of the room.

"Jim," protests Leonard. He can't be the only one that wants to fight for this. It can't have only meant something to him.

"I'm tired of being your excuse for not living. You hide behind me so you don't have to go back out there. I can't be the albatross around someone's neck, I won't. And I'm in no position to hold your hand anymore. I can't save you, Leonard. So I think it's time we stop kidding ourselves that this was anything more than some desperate near death cry for help." Really, the writing has always been on the walls. Kirks suck at family. They either burn out before their inevitable conclusion like their mother with Jim and Sam or they spontaneously combust like his father and mother.

"You don't mean that," says Leonard. His throat burns as he tries to utter the words calmly. They have something together, they always have.

"I do. We thought we were going to die. I just checked off a box. Now we need to move on and start our lives. I need to start my life. I can't do that with you around." Jim impresses himself with how convincing the lie is; he practically believes it. This is the final stand of Jim Kirk, the last act of a disgraced captain- to stand there and watch his lover's heart break in more pieces than can every be found.

Leonard wants to puke. He's watched his whole life unravel before; watched Jocelyn take their daughter and leave like Leonard was nothing more than a speed bump in their lives. Jim has that same look in his eyes Jocelyn did when she decided Leonard wasn't worth the trouble anymore. "We can talk about this."

"You should spend the night at a hotel. You can come get your things in the morning."

Jim turns to leave but Leonard reaches out and grabs his wrist. He just needs to hold on to Jim. As long as they're together they can work this out, they can survive anything. Jim just yanks his hand free, storming off to the bedroom.

Leonard sits there numbly in the ruins of his life. Long after the room's gone dark, he grabs a change of clothes and leaves the apartment. He doesn't sleep. Just sits on the balcony of his hotel room and watches the stars until they fade away and the sun burns away what was left of Leonard's life.

He waits until ten am, before heads home. Maybe Jim will be more amendable to talking if he hasn't already come to the same conclusion Leonard has- they belong together.

The apartment is empty. In the living room is a suitcase packed full of Leonard's belongings and a copy of a petition for legal separation for Leonard to sign. Jim's already signed it. Leonard wishes it was that easy for him. Clearly Jim's been thinking about this for a long time if he already has the paper work filled out.

Because Leonard can deny Jim nothing, he signs it. Maybe Jim will be able to move on with his life if Leonard isn't the living embodiment of the worst experience of their lives.

Another notch on Kirk's head board. He takes his wedding ring off, turning it over between his fingers. The thing is, Leonard can't bring himself to regret saying yes. Even knowing it ends up here. He places the ring on his last finger because even if Jim won't have him anymore, Leonard will always be Jim's. Leonard grabs his bag filled with a few sentimental belongings. He's getting really good at picking up the pieces of his shattered life.

Spock studiously ponders his next move. He can achieve checkmate in three moves but that's not the point to this game. There's also the element of undefined chaos that Jim brings to the game that makes inevitable victory uncertain. It keeps the game fresh and unpredictable when Spock's carefully crafted and thought out plays can be so easily derailed by one unexpected, illogical and random move by Jim. He's not certain if there's a hidden genius in Jim's game or if he's simply so allergic to logic, that he's bound to "luck out" in his madness.

Either way, they've only been playing for fifteen minutes today and Jim already seems fidgety and agitated. Spock moves his knight to the second level.

Jim frowns, biting his lip before hastily moving his bishop down to the third level, and then changing his mind.

"Have you been to see Dr McCoy today?" asks Spock.

"No. Leonard says I can only visit when Christine is on shift." It may or may not have something to do with an incident involving medical not having enough time to supervise Jim, an open cabinet full of gauze wraps and a mummy impersonation. It's hard to tell with these things. "She's off today."

Jim doesn't really do all that great with seeing Leonard being helpless. It wears on him and explodes in messy burnouts. Leonard's gotten pretty proficient in making sure Jim doesn't see his injuries. Looks like Jim wasn't the only one that learned a thing or two during their captivity.

"Bones said he'd be out tomorrow anyways. I can wait until then," says Jim but the constant bouncing of his knee precludes otherwise. "There, deal with that," he declares, moving his queen.

It's a bold move, setting Spock's inevitable win back by three moves. "You're sacrificing your queen instead?"

Jim shrugs his shoulders. "I can make another one later."

"Does Dr M'Benga agree with Dr McCoy's assessment?" queries Spock. He knows full well the latest medical report fails to support such a claim.

"That's for them to fight out. My money's on Bones though. Doctors make the worst patients. I can use the rest of today to tidy up the place."

Spock glances around the room. It seems like an insurmountable task. "Do you require assistance?"

Jim looks put out, like Spock just offered him Gagh. "I'm sure the captain has more important things to do than clean quarters." The thought of someone touching his stuff makes Jim's skin crawl and his stomach turn. It's one thing to have Leonard obsessively move and clean things, half of it's his stuff anyways, but it's another to have a stranger rummage through and fondle his belongings. He barely tolerated Uhura touching their stuff. Ayel used to go through their meagre belongings searching for weapons, communication devices and food. Jim won't submit to that kind of violation again.

"I have nothing that cannot wait until later," assures Spock. The chess games started as a well meaning attempt to distract and help pass the time and keep Jim from spiralling but Spock has to admit, he's rather enjoying them. Jim is the most challenging opponent he's had in awhile, and the conversations are interesting to say the least.

"No!" blurts Jim, "I've got it under control." He doesn't. The place looks like a bomb went off; the victim of his constant and unending episodes of fear, frustration and rage. If he can't get the place organized and back in order, how the hell is he going to look after Leonard when he comes home? Calmer, he adds, "It's fine. I'm all over it."

Jim's next move isn't very productive and Spock is two moves from checkmate. It's clear his focus has wavered from the game.

"So, you and Uhura used to have sex," says Jim, keeping his eyes on the chessboard like they're talking about the weather. Spock chokes, turning an interesting shade of green. Jim takes the game in seven moves. Jim's not the only one that can be distracted apparently.

"Okay, easy does it," sooths Jim as he holds tight to the arm Leonard has slung over his shoulder. They make quite the pair, moving at a snail's pace with Jim's hobbled leg and Leonard's sore aching side, but they manage to get Leonard to the bedroom and deposited in bed.

Leonard rolls his eyes as Jim fusses with the pillows and blankets in the most unhelpful but clearly caring manner. He's out of sickbay and on bed rest for two days, all this tending in unnecessary. He's going to be fine.

"I loaded a copy of the latest novel by that author you like; the one that writes all those medical mysteries. And I got you a glass of iced tea and cookies on the nightstand," says Jim. "If you need something else I can get it for you."

There's only one thing he needs to feel like he's whole again. Leonard takes Jim's hand and pulls him into bed. "Come here."

Jim falls into bed, burrowing into Leonard's side but careful not to jostle his husband. He lays his head gently on Leonard's chest, letting Leonard run his fingers through his hair and as Jim listens to the steady and reassuring beating of Leonard's heart.

"I just need you," assures Leonard. Jim's the only thing he needs to get through anything.

Jim's hand slips up Leonard's abdomen, sliding easily underneath Leonard's shirt to stroke at the still bright pink skin that now covers what were impressive trenches.

"They'll be gone in a couple days too," promises Leonard as Jim's fingers tickle the disappearing scars. All traces of the incident will fade from his body faster than the memories will.

Jim continues to stroke the skin there chasing away the dull ache that's been constant in Leonard's chest. "I'll always feel them there."

Leonard shoots up gasping for breath. His chest feels like it's on fire and for a moment the darkness makes him believe he's face down in that dark brown sand. He's not. Jim's soft snores as he hogs the blankets beside him are a dead giveaway that he's safe on the Enterprise. It was just a nightmare. Mercifully, he managed not to wake Jim up. The last thing he needs is to do is frighten Jim.

Leonard lies there, staring at the ceiling as his heart slows back to a normal rate. The nightmare was some horrible mash up; that monster lurking in the sand except when it attacked it wasn't a starving creature but Nero. Nero's always the monster haunting Leonard's dreams; it's been awhile though.

It used to be constant, every single damn time Leonard closed his eyes. Then it faded to month long stretches with a week respite between them. By the time they left San Francisco, Leonard was down to having one nightmare every six weeks. Stress makes them more frequent and he was pretty much back to square one after Jim handled their divorce his own way. Before they left the farm, Leonard was down to two nightmares a year.

He lies there, trying to forget last week. He survived. That's all he needs to focus on. That and Jim's still in one piece despite everything. They got lucky. He just needs to remember that before he closes his eyes and the nightmares sweep in.

He really can't afford to start them again. Going to teach class exhausted is one thing, trying to run medical on no sleep is another. He's not sure he has the energy to try and pretend things are alright in front of Jim right now. And he needs to keep it together, because he has a feeling the glue holding Jim together is about to dissolve. They can only afford for one of them can be a mess at a time and Leonard used his turn in a gory and bloody show on that planet. He needs to get this nightmare thing back under control.

Chapter Text

Spock has just settled into his cabin when he gets the rather confused call from the head of the science department requesting his immediate presence in corridor seven, junction nine on E deck. Spock's never been summoned to a hallway before, so his interest is piqued along with his concern. He received no information beyond his presence being required but as he draws closer, he can hear the commotion.

There are several officers standing around keeping a wide distance from McCoy who keeps gesturing them all back. Security is standing at the ready but look as lost and helpless as everyone else. Pacing like a caged animal in the center of the semi circle of spectators is Jim, yelling and cursing up a storm.

"Bones, this is our chance. If we set an explosive in the engine room we can distract them long enough to escape," declares Jim waving a hypospanner around.

"We can't do that, Jim," placates Leonard, keeping his voice steady and calm as he tries to stand between the looky-loos, security and Jim. "People would get hurt and we don't want anyone to get hurt."

"That doesn't stop them," snarls Jim taking a swing at one of the bystanders. The Ensign gasps and takes a couple of steps back.

God why can't people find something else to gawk at? The crowd is just making it harder to calm Jim. It certainly doesn't help that Jim's managed to arm himself. Jim waving around that tool means Leonard can't get close enough to stick Jim with a hypo. Ideally, Leonard would like to talk it out until Jim comes back to himself but this episode is escalating too quickly and now there are innocent bystanders. "Jim, look at me and only me," pleads Leonard, trying to keep Jim's attention.

"They're going to kill us if we don't," says Jim brokenly.

Leonard takes a cautious step forward. "Nobody is going to kill us. I promise. We are safe here."

One of the security officers gets ideas of being some kind of hero and moves in to try and subdue Jim. Jim catches the movement out of the corner of his eye. "Stay back," he orders, taking another swing.

The security officer raises his hands as he jumps back but the other one raises his phaser. Leonard's quick to step in front, smacking the officer's arm down and away so the weapon is no longer pointed at Jim. "Keep your weapons down!" he snarls. He can't hide his wince as his side protests the quick movements.

Jim lowers the spanner slightly, concern carving its way across his face. "They've already hurt you," he says with dejected failure.

"No!" denies Leonard. He knows the treacherous winding road this is going to go down if he tells the truth and he can't let it get that bad. Jim's not with it enough to remind him that Leonard lost a fight with a wild animal a week ago. "I just pulled a muscle the other day. I'm fine. I promise."

Jim doesn't look overly convinced.

The guard looks towards Spock for how he should proceed. The phaser is still clutched tightly in his hand. "That's an order, Lieutenant!" adds Leonard, in a rare demonstration of rank.

"Doctor McCoy?" asks Spock. He needs to know if the doctor can handle this situation or he's going to have to step in and resolve it. The doctor may not like how the resolution is achieved but Spock has a whole crew to think about.

Jim follows the guard's gaze until his eyes land on Spock. "I knew it! I knew the Romulans were here," he declares.

Leonard wants to bang his head against the wall. Two steps forward and nineteen back.

"We have established I am not Romulan," supplies Spock. It is a subject he has had to remind Jim of more than once. It is curious as to why that fact seems to elude him.

It's like everyone is working against Leonard tonight. He just wants to face palm; if only Spock knew just how unhelpful that statement was right now.

Jim's too far gone, only seeing the enemy at every turn. Spock's pointed ears are like a red flag to a bull. He charges towards Spock, spanner raised high.

Leonard throws himself at Jim, tackling him at waist level and sending both of them into the wall. Jim's still struggling desperately in Leonard's arms to get at the Romulan threat.

"Let go of me, Bones." Why can't Leonard understand the danger they're in? Leonard knows what they did to the crew, how can he be protecting them?

"Enough Jim," soothes Leonard, holding on tighter and gritting through the pain in his side every time Jim elbows him to get free. He tries to wrestle the hypo with a sedative out of his pocket without releasing his hold on Jim.

"Why are you siding with them?" demands Jim. Leonard can just imagine the look of betrayal on his husband's face. Jim refocuses his attention on Spock. "What did you do to him? You brainwashed him!" he shouts, trying even harder to slip from Leonard's hold.

Spock can see the pained look on Leonard's face and takes a step forward. This has to end before the doctor undoes all the work the medical team did to put him back together. Before he can get close enough to try and nerve pinch Jim, Leonard hits Jim with the hypo. It takes effect almost immediately, Jim's efforts ceasing as they both slide to the floor in a heap. Leonard never lets go.

"All crewmen back to their quarters," orders Spock, the crowds dispersing quickly and quietly. "You as well," he adds when the security team hesitates to leave. He is more than capable of helping McCoy move Jim and judging by the protective look on the doctor, he is loath to accept much help.

"You are quite proficient with that hypo," commends Spock. He will have to remember the doctor can wield it with ninja like reflexes next time he is in sickbay.

"Lots of practice," says Leonard bitterly.

"Is this going to be a problem?" asks Spock, pointing to himself.

Leonard lets out a long sigh. How's he supposed to answer that? "Most of the time probably not." Leonard looks sad. "He just gets confused sometimes time. I'm usually more on top of it. At least long before he picks up something that can be used as a weapon." Because Jim can turn anything in his hands into a weapon; not that it gets to that point often. "I'll readjust his meds in the morning."

Spock holds onto Jim as Leonard gets to his feet. Between the two of them they carry Jim towards the McCoys' quarters. "We need to have a plan in place to implement should this happen again," states Spock.

Leonard can't argue that. If he slips up again and Jim has an episode that could put someone in danger, security should know how to handle it in a way that doesn't involve phasers. "This was my fault. If I hadn't taken those painkillers before bed, I would have woken up before he left our quarters," confesses Leonard with a bone weary tiredness. He needed the painkillers to stop his nightmares more than ease the pain because he just needs one good night sleep.

They make it back to Leonard's cabin and deposit Jim in bed. Spock waits in the living room while Leonard tucks him in.

"Are you injured?" quires Spock, noticing the slight hitch in the doctor's gait.

Leonard's hand rests over his side. "I'll be fine." He's still very tender, the new skin still bright pink over his injuries. He'll be a kaleidoscope of purples and blacks tomorrow- none of which Jim can see. So much for sharing breakfast in bed tomorrow morning. "I'll have those protocols drafted and submitted to you by tomorrow afternoon."

"Perhaps you would be willing to demonstrate some calming techniques to the senior staff after we discuss the new protocols?" asks Spock, trying to illicit a sense of comradely.

"Sure," says Leonard as he bids Spock good night.

Jim tosses another drink back, signalling the bartender for another despite her disapproving gaze. He's aiming to beat last night's record, to find that sweet spot where things no longer matter and the world just melts away. He likes it here. The bar isn't supper high class nor is it the usual dive he likes to haunt when he needs to let his fists work out his issues. It's average with a constantly changing clientele thanks to its proximity to a public transport station. Every hour brings in new faces and new opportunities.

Opportunities like the blond sitting next to him with the bright green eyes and a smile that sparkles brighter than the night sky. She hangs off of every cheesy pickup line he can lob at her, her hand constantly rubbing his arm. He doesn't even know her name, nor she his, but every line of her body is screaming sure thing if Jim's willing to put action to his flirtatious promises. It's been a long time since he had anonymous sex in a bathroom stall.

He aches for the anonymity, the simplicity of filling a basic need with someone who has no preconceived notation of who he should be or who he was. They'd both have their fun and then part ways never to meet again, no expectations or looks of disappointment in the day light. Love them and leave- it was his guiding principle until he met a disgruntled doctor who saw all of Jim's cracks and broken pieces and stuck around anyways. Except Jim can't get over these new jagged broken pieces, how can he ask Leonard to?

The bombshell sitting next to him starts to rub circles against his leg with her foot. She doesn't know what a train wreck she's dealing with and doesn't care because for in this moment they're prefect for each other. No expectations. No entanglements. No judgement. No demands.

Leonard wants things from Jim. He wants Jim to be happy. He wants to have this wonderful life with Jim. He wants good things for Jim. Jim isn't sure how to get any of those things and the pressure is killing him. The answer is sitting next to him.

Leonard won't tolerate cheating. Jim's infidelity would be a sharp enough sword to finally sever the ties that bind, to turn Leonard off so much, he finally tosses Jim away. It will be quick like ripping off a bandage instead of the long journey of letting the wound fester to the point of amputation. Jim knows it would crush Leonard, hollow him out and leave him broken. But Leonard would put those pieces back together and rebuild his life again, eventually. Wouldn't that be better than holding on to Leonard and watching him bleed out as he cuts himself on Jim's broken edges?

Or maybe Leonard never finds out about drunken and hasty bathroom sex and Jim gets a couple of carefree moments. If Jim finds release from his burdens maybe he can fake it for a few more months, even years perhaps? He and Leonard can go on pretending that they'll work out.

The blond leans in and Jim gets lost in the smell of her perfume and warmth of her soft skin. "There's a quiet corner in the back, if you care to join me," she purrs, her painted nails brushing down his arm as she gets up from her stool to sashay to the back of the bar.

Jim watches her go, longingly. It all sounds so simple when she says it. He turns back to the bar and slams back his next shot for some added courage. Despite what people think, Jim's always known he's rather weak. He grips the edge of the bar tightly, bracing himself to get off the stool and head to the back. Just as he starts to turn away from the counter to get off his chair the blond sits back down next to him.

"That was quick," starts Jim with a big goofy smile that vanishes as he realizes it's not the blond returning for Jim, rather Pike sitting next to him, glaring. Jim can't help but feel like he's been caught by the principal hustling fellow third graders out of their lunch credits through secret games of poker in the back of the art supply closet again.

"You're an idiot," states Pike.

Jim raises his glass. "That's the general consensus." God he doesn't need a lecture right now.

"Your husband know you're here and what you're doing?" demands Pike. He doesn't condone the behaviour in any circumstances but at least if Jim was stupid enough to not know better it might make things a little easier to swallow. Pike's never met someone so eager to piss their life away like this before. It doesn't help that he rather likes McCoy and thinks the doctor is probably one of the best things to happen to Jim.

Jim turns and looks serious. "Aren't you a little far from home?" They left San Francisco to get away from the people they know.

"Don't forget who's Vancouver apartment you're renting."

Jim rolls his eyes. "If I knew it came with a morals clause, we wouldn't have moved here." Jim screws face up in confusion. He can't figure out why everyone is so personally invested in his life. Don't they have their own problems to deal with? "Why do you even care?" he asks bitterly before hissing, "Uncle Chris."

Pike looks pensive for a few moments; like that particular wound is still raw and unclosed. "I thought you were too young to remember that." The irritation is gone from his voice, replaced with what almost sounds like remorse."

"Sam and I are pretty well versed in all mom's boyfriends." There was a revolving door of long lost friends and distant relatives that accompanied Winona when she returned home from space. They never visited again nor was there any mention of them after they disappeared from their lives. It became the game they played, pretending they believed their mother's cover stories for the men she brought around- most of whose name and faces have long since been forgotten.

Jim might have been very young but he remembers Pike. Pike was different from any of the other men Winona dated. He lasted the longest and actually put a genuine smile on Winona's face. He actually bothered to learn Jim and Sam's names and get them right. In fact, Pike was the one to teach Jim how to ride a bike. It was the first time Jim felt like they had a family.

Jim's long suspected Winona ended that relationship when it got too real; when the notion that they could be a happy family without George was painted on her children's faces. He always had a sense that Winona missed Chris and judging by the concealed heartbreak in Pike's eyes, he never got over losing her either. More importantly, Sam and Jim never got over losing the one guy besides their father that gave a damn about them.

Jim's starting to think he's more like his mother than he realized.

"I was your father's friend long before anything happened with your mother," corrects Pike. He's always had a vested interest in the Kirk kids that stems far beyond his surprising feelings for their mother. Regardless of his relationship with Winona, he can't sit idly by and watch George's children self destruct in his face.

"Bet dad would be really glad to know that," says Jim. Pike just stepped in and shot down his sure thing, bringing morality and judgement with him. Jim's in the mood to throw a few knives of his own.

"I loved your mother when we were together. I still love her even now. But your mom needed something I couldn't give her. And trying to pretend was just going to create a lot of collateral damage." Pike was willing to pretend, to pretend that when Winona looked at him she wasn't wishing he was George. But he wasn't willing to put two young boys through that.

"Yeah, well maybe that's what's happening here."

Pike looks a little sad. "McCoy doesn't want anything you can't give him."

Jim snorts. "I beg to differ."

"You just have to want to give it to him," says Pike. McCoy's sun rises and sets with Jim. All Jim has to do is not give up.

Jim watched his mother chase away anyone whoever mattered because her grief controlled her life. She had everything to live for but chose not to because she couldn't see past the hole George left in her. His mother was the walking dead. So is Jim and Leonard's just dumb enough to stay and let Jim eat him alive. "He'd be better off moving on to someone who's alive."

"I don't believe that and I don't think you do either. I know McCoy would disagree."

Jim wants to be good for Leonard, be everything he needs or could ever want. That's not how this fairy tale ends. This isn't one of the stories where they live happily ever after, it's one of the ones where the wolf eats the hero. And Jim... he's burdened with the intellect to know that. He wishes every day that Nero destroyed that part of his brain, that he could just be dumb enough to be happy and selfish enough to hold onto the one good thing in his life. "Leonard doesn't always know what's good for him. Trust me on that." Leonard's been sticking his neck out for Jim almost from the minute they met.

"I'm heading out again." Pike has a bad feeling, like he's leaving a teenager home alone with a copy of the liquor cabinet key and an unlimited credit account. He's long since learned he can't control the actions of others, even the self-destructive ones, but he doesn't want the story to conclude without him. Not if he can help write it in a different direction.

Jim raises his glass. "Duty calls." It's like salt in the wound; everyone carrying on with their lives unencumbered by what Nero did. Jim's frozen in time and the rest of the universe is moving on without him.

"Try not to do anything stupid until I get back," cautions Pike, looking pointedly at the girl Jim was flirting with.

Jim glances back at her too. She offers a little wave and coy smile, beckoning Jim to give into carnal temptation. He downs his drink. "No promises."

Pike stands up and straightens his uniform jacket. He looks at the bar tender, making a cut him off gesture. "He needs a ride home," he says, leaving without another word.

It only takes a couple of days for Leonard to get back on his feet. It's nice to have a week of half days and a husband to pamper him before he gets back to normal. Leonard would love to milk it for an extra day or two before finally getting back into the regular rhythm of things. Jim gets into a regular rhythm too.

"What's all this?" asks Leonard sitting down at a perfectly prepared dinner table after his first full day back to work.

"I cooked," says Jim with flourish. He's kind of proud of himself- nothing ended up on fire.

"I see that." Leonard looks hesitantly at the table. Bless Jim, but the kid and the kitchen are natural enemies. If it wasn't for the invention of the replicator, Jim would have starved to death a long time ago. The whole place smells heavenly so Jim made it from scratch. They're on the edge of Federation space so it's not like Jim ordered in. This not only looks edible, it looks delicious.

Jim watches intently as Leonard goes to take his first bite of cashew chicken.

"It's not poisoned, is it?" asks Leonard, feeling slight self-conscious of Jim's unrelenting gaze.

Jim snorts. "If I was going to kill you, I wouldn't poison your dinner," he says, affronted. "I'd use that powder from Telexia Prime. The one that's absorbed through the skin and causes total paralysis of the lungs and diaphragm."

"I remember," says Leonard leery. Trust the only time Jim would listen to Leonard talk about an article in the latest science journal, it's about an untraceable killing powder. "You thinkin' 'bout offing me?"

Jim shakes his head. "If I was though, I'd mix it into a cream. Ply you up with a bottle of bourbon and a nice massage. You'd go out in your sleep sometime in the middle of the night," says Jim with a shrug.

"Good thing you haven't thought about it," grumbles Leonard before finally taking a bit. His face goes from tightly controlled terror to slightly orgasmic. The food is amazing.

"I know, right?" cheers Jim, loading up his plate. He even managed to impress himself. It's only his second cooking lesson with Sulu but so far it's clearly a success. Assuming Leonard comes up for air.

They do the lessons in Sulu's quarters on the sly. It's nothing fancy or extravagant but it's food made with love and Jim plans on winning Leonard over every Saturday night. It's a nice touch of home he knows Leonard misses.

The McCoy's were traditionalists that had big home cooked family dinners all the time. As a result, Leonard can work magic in the kitchen. Jim grew up being able to perform miracles with a replicator. While the food is pretty much the same on a molecular level, you still can't replicate the taste of homemade. Now with Sulu's help, Jim doesn't have to try. Their lives have become almost domestic.

Scotty and Leonard have the same rotation schedule so when Leonard is on Beta shift so is Scotty. Jim would rather bash his head in than hang around sickbay if he doesn't have to so instead he's taken to wandering down to engineering to pass the time.

Beta shift is usually pretty slow so Scotty has the time to listen to Jim's ideas and theories and pitch some of his own. The perfect storm is when Chekov pulls an engineering shift during those weeks and the three of them can draft plans and reports to implement and test some of their ideas.

"If you increase the energy input here the engine output could increase by fifteen percent," says Jim, pointing to the schematic laid out over the control panel. He has a lot of time on his hands to think about these things since he technically doesn't have a job. And now he has someone who's willing to entertain his ideas and build upon them.

"Mmmm, aye, that could work," agrees Chekov, doing the calculations in his head. He passes a scanner down to Scotty.

"The relays would never handle it. She'd over heat and fry the controls," protests Scotty as he performs the scheduled maintenance on the coolant control system. Someone has to get some real work done today.

"Unless," prompts Jim with uncontained enthusiasm, prompting Chekov down the same train of thought.

"We build two additional relays systems in each nacelle," proposes Chekov. He's already working out the logistics in his head.

"We cannae just build two engine relays out in the middle of space!" sputters Scotty, crawling out of the maintenance shaft with lightening speed. He won't let anyone mangle his ship by trying to do something inconceivable.

"Scotty," presses Jim. It's a good idea and while Scotty is right, it would never be attempted under normal circumstances, it's not like the Enterprise is burdened with ordinary people.

Scotty stands steadfast in his assessment. He crosses his arms. "No! It cannae be done." No matter how promising the idea, it's not something that can be done by waving a magic wand.

"If anyone can do it, it's you," continues Jim, buttering the engineer up. They'll never come up with a workable proposal and plan if Scotty won't get on board. He and Chekov stand there looking like they're begging to keep a stray.

"Oh alright," snaps Scotty, taking a serious look at the blue prints Chekov is drafting. So much for getting the control panel sorted today.

Engineering's become even more productive and innovative in the last few months than it has on any other voyage.

They host chess night with Spock three nights a week. Leonard's not really one for the game. Jim suspects Leonard's better at it then he lets on, but he enjoys watching Leonard play dumb when Jim cajoles him into a game. More often than not, Leonard goes to a book club with Uhura during chess night or out drinking with Scotty. It leaves Jim and Spock alone but being in his own quarters lessens some of the unease about hosting a set of pointed ears.

"You and Spock playing again tonight?" asks Leonard as he emerges from the bedroom.

"It's Sunday night," Jim replies as he places the chess pieces in their designated starting points. "Book club or wine club," jokes Jim.

Leonard screws up his face. He and Scotty don't drink wine. "Book club," he says hefting his PADD with the latest required reading. "Who would drink wine just because?" asks Leonard with a shudder. Wine has a few limited places, mostly food adjacent.

"Savages," says Jim, absently. He's never been a connoisseur of alcohol; he consumed it for its function not its taste. He never discriminated based on type and made most selections based on availability only. Leonard on the other hand has a long and dedicated appreciation for particular spirits. Not to mention a bit of snobbery toward drinks that aren't his preference. Wine anywhere but with dinner would be one of those faux pas.

"I might be late tonight," says Leonard, placing a kiss on the top of Jim's head as he walks past the couch.

"I'll make sure the Vulcan doesn't get out of hand," promises Jim.

"Why do I feel like it's not Spock, I have to worry about?"

Jim doesn't answers, just shoots Leonard a large evil grin as the doctor heads out the door.

Thank god it's not Chekov with the challenging chess game. Leonard's not sure he'd have the patients to pick the kid up off the ground after a night under Jim's influence and the ship certainly isn't ready for a full blown Kirk escapade.

"I know it's none of my business," Jim starts after he and Spock have been playing for an hour, "what happened between you and Uhura."

"You are correct. It is not," replies Spock wanting no part in the discussion. He moves his queen to the second tire. His private life is not for discussion.

Jim tilts his head to the side, moving his knight back down to the first tire after a few moments of deliberation. "But," continues Jim undeterred by the Vulcan's steely gaze, "I see the way she looks when she talks about you. Whatever was so important... believe me, it's not. You belong together."

"My feelings for Nyota have never been in question," insists Spock, moving his rook. Love was never their problem.

Jim's quick to take it with his bishop. "Yet you're not together," he points out.

"I have an obligation," says Spock, equally as quick to remove Jim's bishop off the board with his queen. "Vulcan's numbers were decimated during the attack of which you should be aware."

"Oh, I am aware. Believe me." They had a front row seat for the planet's destruction on board the Narada.

Different circumstances would have yielded different results. This is not the future Spock would have picked for himself before Nero but it is the one he is obligated to now. "Then you should understand my duty to my people."

Jim rubs his forehead. "Please tell me you don't approach sex as a mathematical problem."

"That subject is not open for discussion," says Spock sternly.

"Alright. Duty be damned. You love her and that's as equally as important if not more so to you than the logical practice of perpetuating the species."

"It is not," denies Spock moving his king out of the way of Jim's potential next move.

"It must be," assures Jim, "otherwise you wouldn't have let me win just now." Jim slides his queen into position. "Checkmate."

Spock stares at the board in disbelief. Jim's managed to beat him before. Jim rarely subscribes to practical and logical strategies opting for random chaos that Spock cannot always out manoeuvre but this was a very clear and obvious trap he walked into.

"Think about it," says Jim as he gets up to fix himself a snack.

Spock sits and stares at the board trying to piece together exactly where his game went to hell.

"Don't be mad," says Jim, lying in bed next to Leonard. "But I kind of did something."

Leonard lets out a long tired sigh. He's too tired to hide a body tonight or fall on bended knee before the captain to beg for forgiveness for something. Really, if Jim's going to spring shit on him, he could have the decency to do it before Leonard's all loose, pliable and content from the mind blowing sex.

"Is it going to get us kicked off the ship?" asks Leonard, sleepily.

"We're going to get off voluntarily."

Okay, Leonard's awake now. Jim's prone to the seven year itch at a much more accelerated rate than most people but what they have right now is good and it's only been four months. He stares wide eyed at the ceiling. "Why would we do that?" He can feel Jim fidgeting next to him. The silence is starting to become irritating and worrisome. "Spill."

"I was talking with Chekov. We're going to be staying around Myatol for another couple of weeks to work on trade negotiations and give the crew some shore leave time."

"Um-hum." Leonard does attend all the senior staff meetings. He knows exactly what the ship's doing and why they're here. What he doesn't know is why Jim cares or what it has to do with Jim. First contact isn't exactly in his purview anymore.

"So then I was talking with Uhura who helped me run it by the captain."

Oh god. There's far too many people involved in whatever this is for it to not cause Leonard a small coronary. The last time Jim did 'something' that he ran by someone else, Leonard had eight baby goats running around the house that needed to be bottle fed after Jim helped birth them in their bed. They were cute but Leonard has better uses for their bed than a nursery.

"Do I need to start lookin' for a new job?"

"No. But you do need to find someone to cover your shifts for a few days," says Jim with a smile.

"I'm slightly afraid."

"That's the spirit, Bones." Jim props himself up on his elbow. He runs his hand down Leonard's chest, tapping each time he reveals part of his plan. "I secured for us, three nights shore leave on the planet. I booked us a nice cozy looking yurt, which we are totally going to christen for all mankind. And I got us a reservation at what's supposed to be their version of a five star restaurant. It'll be a romantic weekend of good food and very little clothing," promises Jim, practically salivating at the idea.

Color Leonard impressed. Wait... ran it past the captain? "Tell me you didn't sell Spock on the idea with the promise of no clothing?" He'll never be able to look that green hobgoblin in the eye again.

Jim just laughs. "You're virtue is safe with me."

"My virtue has never been safe with you," growls Leonard as he throws the sheets to the side and rolls on top of Jim.