Fandom & Pairing: Star Trek Reboot, Kirk/McCoy (breaking up), Pike/McCoy (getting together)
Rating: R-ish, for language. No smut.
Spoilers: Do plot points from the 2009 movie even count as spoilers anymore? In case the answer is yes, this fic goes AU after the Narada goes boom.
Word Count: Around 7700
Summary: Some things were never meant to last.
Disclaimer: Any resemblance to anything whatsoever is purely coincidental.
A/N : This is random00b's help_pakistan long (5k-10k word) fic. It turned out much more Jim-centric than I'd intended. Sorry about that, honey. Thanks to ennui_blue_lite for putting up with me and my constant fic rambling. All errors, of course, are mine.
Title, summary, lj-cut text and first line of this fic are taken/adapted from the song Take It Down, originally written and performed by John Hiatt, and covered stunningly by The Wailin' Jennys. The latter version can -ahem- be found here. Highly recommended, both as a soundtrack for this fic and on its own merits.
The battle was over. The Narada had been destroyed, and the Enterprise hadn't. And he had been the one to make it happen. Okay, yeah, he'd had help, but still. He'd been the motherfucking captain of the motherfucking U.S.S. Enterprise during some of the most crucial events in Federation history. He'd avenged his father and ensured that his own name would be remembered for something other than being the son of a dead hero.
All in all, not bad for a day's work.
He'd promised Bones that he'd come back and get checked out, after things had calmed down. Well, things had mostly calmed down, but he was still riding the biggest high of his life. It would be a downer to listen to Bones grumbling about his various bumps and bruises, but on the upside, he could probably pull Bones into an unused closet somewhere and get a quickie. He seriously needed to let off some pent-up energy.
So it was with a slight spring in his step that he headed off to sickbay, having given the conn to Spock. Spock, who only hours ago was standing in front of the assembly of cadets, trying to get him expelled. And now he had to follow Jim's orders. That was some poetic fucking justice, if you asked Jim.
When he got to sickbay, he sobered a bit. It was way over capacity with injured crewmembers and refugee Vulcans, and Bones was nowhere to be found. It looked like the blonde nurse had been left in charge -- Chapel, that was her name. He asked her where Bones was and she looked confused, until he said, "Bones -- you know, Dr. McCoy," and her face cleared. Huh, yeah, he'd forgotten that not everyone knew that nickname. Everyone at the Academy knew that's what Jim called McCoy, but Chapel had already been out of the Academy for a few years. Well, his new crew would pick it up soon enough. Anyway, she told him that Bones was finishing up Pike's surgery and would be out soon.
She asked if he had injuries that needed treating. He'd planned on having Bones do the honors, but Chapel was gorgeous and she was there and hey, getting felt up by a medical professional totally didn't count as cheating, even if he enjoyed it a bit more than he should. So he whipped off his shirt and told her where it hurt and gave her his best aw-shucks smile as she ran the regen unit over him and thanked him for saving all of their lives.
She'd repaired the cracked ribs and was just finishing up with the bruises around his throat, and could he help it if that meant that he had to lean back on his hands and tip his head back, coincidentally showing off his amazing chest and abs? Even though her touch was strictly professional, her eyes were appreciative, as she finished up and handed him back his shirt. He was about to make a flirtatious remark, just to keep the conversation going, when he saw Bones emerge from the surgery suite. So instead he thanked Nurse Chapel and headed over to Bones.
"Bones!" he said, clapping him on the shoulder. It was good to see a familiar face, especially that of his best-friend-turned-boyfriend. Okay, boyfriend was a stupid word, but still, the point stood.
Bones didn't seem to think it was particularly good to see him, though, and just said "Jim," flatly, his voice colored with exhaustion and... something else.
"I got checked out, just like I promised, Bones," he said, hoping to win a few brownie points. It was kind of embarrassing the way Bones' approval made him feel warm inside, but it did.
Bones just grunted, though. "Yeah, I saw." Hey, there was no call for that cynical tone. Well, Bones was tired and when he was tired he was liable to be grumpy, so Jim would give him a pass.
He grinned mischievously. "I could still use a more thorough once-over from the acting CMO, though. You know, in case the nurse missed anything."
"Jim, I just got out of a four-hour surgery, and we almost lost Captain Pike twice. I'm beat. I need to find a bed somewhere and collapse. And Nurse Chapel is extremely competent, so if she pronounced you fit then I have no doubt that you are."
Hmm, fair enough. Besides, if he found Bones a bed, he could climb into it too, and who knew what might happen from there?
"I happen to have access to the captain's quarters, seeing as how I'm now the captain. Care to join me?" he waggled his eyebrows a little for emphasis.
Bones' eyes shifted to the side. "Nah, you go on. I think I'm just going to crash on the cot in the CMO's office. In case I'm needed here."
Okay, something was definitely off here. "Bones, what's going on? We just saved the Federation" -- and he thought it was pretty gracious of him to use the word "we" since Bones hadn't actually been part of the Federation-saving -- "and I'd like to catch some sleep, and maybe some other activities. With you," he added pointedly.
"Not now, Jim."
"Why not?" he asked, and if he was pouting a little now, so be it. "Come on, Bones, I want some victory sex!"
Bones grabbed him by the elbow and started hustling him toward the CMO's office, muttering "Unbelievable," under his breath. All right, this was more like it.
The door slid shut and Bones locked it with his override code. Jim reached for the button of his pants. He wanted to be naked with Bones now.
Bones turned from the door and saw him, and his eyebrows flew upward like startled birds. "Jim, what the -- ? God damn it, put your clothes back on. That's not why I brought you in here."
Jim buttoned his pants back up and didn't try to hide his scowl. "What the fuck, Bones? Why'd you drag me in here, then?"
"Jim, you were shouting about wanting 'victory sex' in the middle of a medbay filled with injured people, people who have just lost friends, loved ones, or their whole damn planet."
"I wasn't shouting," he muttered, but he flushed a bit. He did tend to get... exuberant... when it came to sex. Nothing wrong with that, but maybe he should've chosen his setting a bit more carefully.
"Whatever," Bones said, weariness evident. "Look, I didn't want to do this here or now, but I guess it's better to get it over with." He looked straight into Jim's eyes, squared his shoulders. "We're through, Jim."
Wait, what? Jim could feel his overtaxed adrenal gland kicking into gear again, his heart beginning to pound. "That's a really spectacularly bad joke, right?"
Bones shook his head. "Trust me, I know the timing is shitty. But I'm not going to lie and pretend that everything's okay."
"What the fuck, Bones." Now he was pissed. "Are you even going to tell me why?"
Bones just stared at him. "You know why, Jim. You cheated on me. With Gaila. Just before all of this" -- he waved a hand vaguely around -- "started."
Jim was pretty sure his mouth was hanging open. "But -- what -- how -- when -- "
"How'd I find out? You think you're the only one around here with a working brain? You said you knew the Vulcan distress call was a trap because you'd heard Uhura talking about the transmission she intercepted -- the one about a Romulan attack on the Klingon prison planet. Uhura came down here to check on some friends and I asked her how you'd happened to overhear her talking about that. She didn't want to tell me -- I think she didn't want to hurt me -- but finally she admitted it was because you'd been in their room. With Gaila."
"But we didn't - "
"You didn't fuck? Yeah, because Uhura interrupted you. But you would've. Tell me I'm wrong here, Jim."
Bones gazed steadily at him. Jim opened his mouth, then closed it again. Bones was right. Of course he was. And he'd fucked up enough already. He wasn't going to make this worse by lying.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Bones said.
"Bones, come on, it wasn't like that. It didn't mean anything."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better? Just -- tell me one thing, Jim. Why?" His voice cracked on the last word. Jim could hear it now, all the hurt and confusion and bewilderment and grief Bones was trying to hide.
But he had no answer for Bones' question. There was no answer. He'd done what he wanted, just as he always did. He'd figured he'd either get away with it, or if Bones found out, he'd be able to weasel, charm, and cajole his way out of it. Well, with no other cards left in his hand, it was time to try that strategy now.
"Bones, come on, there were some pretty hefty mitigating circumstances, don't you think? After all, if I hadn't been there I wouldn't've known it was a trap and we'd all be dead."
Bones' jaw clenched. "Yeah, maybe we're all lucky that you were there, Jim, but it doesn't change the fact that you were there to cheat on me. And you knew, Jim -- you knew because I'd told you -- that that was the one thing I couldn't overlook, the one deal-breaker in this -- thing -- between us."
"Come on, Bones, give me another chance. I swear it won't happen again."
"No, Jim. If there's one thing I learned from my marriage, it's that it always happens again. One strike and you're out. I made that clear, and I've got to have enough self-respect to stick to it."
"I just saved the fucking universe and you're dumping me?"
"Yeah, Jim, I guess I am."
His face was burning now in rage and humiliation. This monogamy shit had been Bones' idea and look where it had gotten them. He didn't need this.
"Fine, Bones. Whatever. I'd rather have my freedom anyway. I don't even know why I decided to tie myself to a bitter, divorced alcoholic in the first place."
Bones flinched. "Yeah, I've never quite understood that one either."
He looked so resigned, so accepting, like a lamb being led to the slaughter. It should've made him feel like shit -- and it did, but it also pissed him off. How come Bones got to be the victim in this? Bones was the one leaving him. Just like everyone always did. He should've expected it, really.
He put on his best arrogant grin, the one that hid everything he was really feeling. "Well, c'est la vie. Still friends?" Hey, he could afford to be magnanimous. He was better off alone anyway.
Bones stared at him for long seconds, like he knew what was behind Jim's facade. Bones had always been too good at reading him. But Jim didn't falter, didn't let the cocky smile slip, and finally Bones shook his head. "I don't know, Jim. Maybe eventually. I hope so."
Jim shrugged. "That's up to you. You know where to find me. I'll catch you later." And with that, he turned away from Bones' haunted eyes and walked out the door, trying to ignore the sinking feeling that what had been one of the best days of his life was also turning out to be one of the worst.
He walked through sickbay with a devil-may-care strut, and threw a wink at Chapel on the way out. She blushed. That would be a fun little project to boost his ego, and it would have the bonus of being right under Bones' eyes. He whistled a little on his way to the captain's quarters, and if he was a bit off-key, well, there was no one there to bitch about it.
As it turned out, it was going to be three months before the Enterprise would get home, limping along at subwarp speeds. They'd re-established communications with Starfleet, at least, so they were able to inform HQ that Nero was no longer a threat. But the entire quadrant had been thrown into an uproar, with a three-way war looking to brew between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. The situation was too tense for Starfleet to send a rescue ship out to meet the Enterprise. They were on their own.
Jim was pretty busy with captainy things, since Pike was still in no shape to resume command. He and Spock had settled into a working relationship that was, if not exactly friendly, at least tenable. Most of the other command staff had clicked immediately and were already making an awesome team. Scotty, Chekov, Sulu -- they were all working together well, busting their asses to get the Enterprise home safely. Uhura was busting her ass too, but she always looked at Jim like she wanted to spit in his face. Her voice was well-controlled and beautifully modulated, of course, but somehow every sentence sounded like "Kirk, you are the biggest asshole the universe has ever seen."
Then, of course, there was Bones. McCoy, since Jim had decided to revoke his nickname. He didn't deserve it anymore. He was no one special, not to Jim. Just one of the crew. One who apparently didn't feel the need to come to senior staff meetings.
"All right, everyone, that's it for now. Go fix my girl!" He plastered on an encouraging smile for his bridge crew, winked at Uhura and received the expected eyeroll in return, and then watched as they filed out of his ready room. As soon as the room was empty, his smile dropped like a rock. He headed for the turbolift.
He strode into sickbay, looking for McCoy and immediately spotting him consulting with one of the med techs over a patient's biobed readings.
"Doctor McCoy," Jim said.
He looked up, startled. "Jim, I'm busy right now. Can't you -- "
Oh, hell no. "Lieutenant Commander. Were you aware that there was a senior staff meeting at 0900 in my ready room?" He knew damn well that McCoy was aware of it.
McCoy flushed. "Yes, Captain, I knew about the meeting, but as you can see, my time is better spent here, where I can actually be of some use, rather than in meetings that I can't contribute a damn thing to."
"Doctor, did I give you any indication that I was interested in your opinion of optimal personnel allocation?" He was using his crispest don't-fuck-with-me voice, and now the entire sickbay was silent, watching the scene unfold.
McCoy's face was now a mottled, unattractive red. He was obviously controlling himself with an effort. "No, sir."
"Good. Then next time you're ordered to report to a meeting, I expect you to be there. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir." Jim could practically hear McCoy's teeth grinding, and his eyes were murderous.
Jim stared at McCoy challengingly, daring him to say something more. He didn't take the bait, though, just kept his jaw clenched and fixed his eyes somewhere behind Jim's head.
Jim couldn't resist one last dig. "You're late with those inventory reports I asked for. Have them done by 1600, and have Nurse Chapel bring them by my ready room." He added just the barest hint of innuendo to his voice. Not enough for anyone to call him on, but enough for McCoy to notice.
Jim saw the flare of pain and jealousy in his eyes before it was extinguished. He gritted out a reply that Jim didn't need to hear. Jim made sure his smirk was plain as day, then turned to leave. As he did, he saw Pike, in a biobed in the corner, instead of in his private room. He'd obviously taken in the entire exchange. One eyebrow was raised in Jim's direction, though he made no attempt to speak. Jim's smirk faltered. How was it that with one look, Pike could make him feel like a misbehaving child?
He had more important things to do than taunt Bones anyway. He left sickbay, hearing Bones growl, "What are you all staring at? Get back to work!" It was somehow less satisfying than it should have been.
With one thing and another, it was several days before he happened to be in sickbay again. Not that he was avoiding McCoy or anything, but he didn't have any real reason to be there. And McCoy didn't have any reason to be on the bridge, so except for McCoy sitting stiff and silent through the required staff meetings, they didn't see each other much.
He wouldn't be here now except that Pike had asked to see him, and he couldn't exactly say no. Pike didn't use his private room in sickbay much during the day, preferring to be out among the living, as he put it. But for discussions about ship's business, he insisted on privacy, so here they were.
It started out much as he'd expected, with Pike requesting status updates on every department and every ship's system. Then it took a sudden swerve as Pike asked him, "Want to tell me what that was about with Doctor McCoy the other day?"
"Not really, no," said Jim.
"It wasn't actually a request, son." Damn it, now he was pulling out the paternal tone.
Jim sighed, and wished he didn't sound quite so much like a sulky teenager. "You heard what it was about. Bones -- Dr. McCoy -- didn't show up for a senior staff meeting, and I made sure he will from here on out. I was well within my rights as acting captain."
Pike was looking at him with those way-too-piercing eyes. He tried not to squirm. "You two have been inseparable ever since you met on the shuttle in Riverside. Every captain looking to recruit from this year's graduating class knew that you came as a matched set. Whatever happened between you two has to have been pretty drastic. You don't have to tell me what it is -- though I have a guess -- but son, let me give you some free advice. And that's not a request either. You will listen to me. What you do with it, well, that's up to you."
Jim folded his arms and stared straight ahead. Pike continued, undeterred. "You're the captain of a wounded ship, far from home, with a skeleton crew and thousands of traumatized refugees. Every single one of those souls is looking to you and your senior officers for leadership, certainty and calm in the face of this situation. When you tear down one of those senior officers publicly, you're undermining his authority, you're undermining the crew's confidence in your own leadership abilities, and you're bringing down the morale of a very frightened group of people who are your responsibility. You cannot afford to let personal grudges get in the way of your duty to get them home safely. Do you understand me?"
Jim held himself stiffly. "Yes, sir."
Pike nodded. "Good. And -- Jim, I know you already know this, but Doctor McCoy is a good man, and he cares for you very much. Whatever he did, I can't imagine that he deliberately set out to hurt you."
Jim said nothing. Eventually Pike sighed. "Fine. Come back tomorrow. From here on out, I'd like daily updates on the ship's status. As long as things are going well, I'll leave you in command, since Doctor McCoy feels that it would impede my recovery to resume duty. But if I have to, I'll take command, whatever the consequences for my health. Is that clear?"
It was as direct a "don't fuck this up" as Jim had ever heard. Well, that was fine. He wasn't intending to fuck this up.
"Good. Then get back out there and do your job. Oh, and Jim -- you're doing well. I'm proud of you, son."
It should have made him feel awesome, but it didn't. Instead it just made him feel like -- on top of losing his best friend -- he'd let down the man who was the closest thing he had to a father.
After that, he eased up on Bones. Not that he'd forgiven him, or that they were anywhere close to being friends again, but hell, much as he hated to admit it, Pike was right. It was stupid of him to go out of his way to antagonize his CMO. He was the captain now, and he would do right by those depending on him, even if it meant being civil to the man who'd betrayed him.
And maybe there was a little voice inside of him that whispered "Who betrayed who, exactly?" but he ruthlessly quashed it.
Luckily, there was too much to do over the next few weeks to think too closely about things he'd rather not think about. Well, at least when he was on duty. When he was alone in the captain's quarters, tossing and turning in the too-big, too-empty bed, half of his brain was always compiling his to do list for his next shift, and the other half invariably turned to Bones.
They'd been best friends for three years. Probably, if Jim were honest with himself, the best three years of his entire life. He'd never had anyone in his life like Bones before: someone he could trust, someone he could just be himself with, someone who didn't expect anything more -- or less -- than that.
They'd been more than friends for only about three months before the emergency distress call on the day that changed everything.
He'd been the one to initiate it, of course. He wasn't an idiot, and he wasn't naive. He'd seen the way Bones looked at him, when he thought Jim wasn't paying attention. Like he was dying of thirst and Jim was the last glass of water on earth. Like Jim was the only thing in the world worth looking at. Like he mattered.
It was strange, and unnerving, and honestly? Kind of insanely flattering. And hey, he certainly wasn't the type to withhold the James T. Kirk brand of loving from someone who so obviously wanted it. Only, when he tried to initiate a fun round of I'll-scratch-your-itch-if-you-scratch-mi
Of course, if there was one thing Jim couldn't resist, it was a challenge. He knew Bones didn't intend for it to be a challenge, but... well, he had to win anyway. And given his own tactical prowess and Bones' lack thereof, it was over before it really started. Within a few weeks of Jim deciding that he was going to give Bones the ride of his life, they were together, newly naked, pressed close in the bed in Bones' small single room.
Bones' breath was coming fast, and he was trembling, just a little, all over. Jim was enthusiastically exploring his surprisingly well-built body with mouth and hands when Bones stopped him.
"Jim, wait, shit."
Jim heaved a sigh. Not again. "Bones, what? I want this, you want this, what is the big fucking deal?"
"Jim -- I can't -- I'm not -- "
"Oh, I think you are. And I definitely know you can," he purred, rubbing up against the indisputable truth of the statement.
But Bones held him at arm's length, wouldn't yield, even though Jim could read in his eyes that he desperately wanted to.
"Jim -- I don't do casual. I know you do, and that's fine, but it's not who I am. Please, if you're not serious about this, don't start. I don't think I could bear to lose you."
Bones' voice was gravelly, and his confession sent a jolt of fierce pride through Jim. "Who said I'm not serious?" he asked teasingly.
"Jim, please, don't joke right now. If we're doing this, then I've got to know I'm the only one. If you -- if you can't give me that, I'd rather just be friends than risk it all and end up with nothing. I can't go through that again."
Jim knew he was referring to Jocelyn and he burned with anger for anyone who would do that to his friend -- to his Bones. He put one finger over Bones' lips. "Shh. I wouldn't do that to you. Trust me."
And -- Bones did. When Bones did something, when he gave himself, it was completely, and without any holding back. Jim had had plenty of sex in his life, but he'd never experienced anything remotely similar. That night with Bones -- and every night with Bones after that -- it was like seeing in color after spending his entire life in black and white. The way Bones touched him, like he was something delicate, something divine -- it was overwhelming. It was by far the best sex he'd ever had, and by far the scariest. Bones never tried to say the words. Most likely he knew that Jim didn't want to hear them. But they'd both known that it was there, in every touch and glance and kiss that Bones gave him.
Now that Bones had taken it away, Jim desperately wanted it back. He wasn't sure he'd ever get it. He was increasingly and uneasily sure that he didn't deserve to get it back.
It was a strange kind of masochism that led Jim to spend more and more time in sickbay over the next couple of weeks. He always had some excuse for being there, but he had no excuse for the way his eyes followed Bones' every move.
Things between them were strained at best. McCoy was freezing him out, hiding behind protocol, every "Sir" and "Captain" perfectly polished and hard as stone. He was getting the thousand-yard stare, too, the one where Bones looked in your direction but didn't see you at all. He'd seen it before. Whenever Jocelyn commed about Joanna, it was the look he wore when he spoke to her. Jim used to think that Bones did it on purpose, as a fuck-you to the woman who'd hurt him. Now he knew better. Bones didn't hurt people deliberately. Period, end of sentence. No, it was a defense mechanism, his only way of distancing himself from someone who'd held his vulnerable heart in the palm of their hand, and crushed it.
He tried to fix it, the only way he knew how. He pushed. He crowded into Bones' personal space, slapped him on the shoulder, called him "Bones" and told Bones to call him "Jim." But the harder he pushed, the more Bones retreated, without actually going anywhere at all. It was maddening.
And then -- then there was the day when he realized that someone else was moving in on his territory.
Bones had been spending a lot of time with Pike. For obvious reasons -- Pike was seriously injured, his long-term prognosis unclear, and Bones was his doctor. From what Jim could glean from reading the reports that crossed his desk, Bones had, on the fly, improvised several new surgical techniques that had saved Pike's life and his chance of eventually walking again. And he'd done it during a four-hour surgery following an eighteen-hour duty shift on a ship torn apart by battle, with most of its medical supplies destroyed and most of its support staff either dead or needed elsewhere. He'd known, intellectually, that Bones was a brilliant doctor. But this brought home just how amazing he was. How, in his milieu, he excelled every bit as much as Jim did in his.
So it wasn't a surprise that Bones was doing a lot of follow-up monitoring of Pike's condition. What was a surprise was the way that Pike looked at Bones. The gentle, almost teasing rumble in his voice when he spoke with Bones. The way he'd reach out to touch Bones' hand when he needed to get his attention.
Bones appeared oblivious, but Jim couldn't tell whether he genuinely was or not. Either way, Pike certainly wasn't. He knew damn well what he was doing. He was making a move on Bones. Jim's Bones.
He was doing it now, touching Bones' wrist as he answered a question, quietly enough that Bones had to lean in to hear him. There was just the slightest hint of a flush, high on Bones' cheeks.
Jim cleared his throat. Bones straightened -- not hastily, not guiltily, not like someone who'd been caught doing something he didn't want seen -- and came to attention. "Captain." His tone was perfectly correct, and there was that fucking thousand-yard stare again.
For a moment, he ignored Bones and looked straight at Pike. Challengingly. Pike looked back, calm, without a hint of chagrin, and without the slightest sign of backing down. Jim shifted his attention to Bones. "I need a word with Captain Pike. Privately."
Bones nodded shortly and turned away. Jim's eyes followed him as he walked across sickbay, pausing to check on his other patients as he went. When he was all the way across the room, Jim turned back to the biobed.
"What the fuck, Pike?" he said.
"Kirk, I suggest you reconsider your tone." Pike's voice was suddenly steely.
Jim fumed and his hands clenched into fists, but he made himself pause and take a deep breath. "Captain Pike, what is going on between you and Dr. McCoy?"
"I fail to see how that's any of your concern, Kirk."
"You are his commanding officer, sir. I'm pretty sure that any fraternizing is against regulations."
"Actually, no. Starfleet personnel within two ranks of each other are permitted to form romantic or sexual relationships. I'm surprised you didn't know that. In any case, I'm not his commanding officer, since I'm currently relieved of duty. You are."
"You're his patient, though, and I know there are regs about that."
"Yes. There are regulations designed to protect a patient from abuse by a doctor, since a doctor is in a position of power relative to a patient. In this particular case, I don't believe that I've been subject to any abuse. Of course, if you'd like to bring Doctor McCoy up on charges for violating his ethical duties as my physician, that's your prerogative."
Jim flushed. Of course he wasn't going to do that. He wanted to strangle Pike, but he didn't want to do anything that would hurt Bones any more than he already had. Not to mention the fact that Bones would never abuse his position as a doctor in order to get someone into bed. It was pretty damn obvious that Pike was the aggressor here.
"He's mine," he said, and he wasn't sure where it had come from.
"Now we're getting down to it," said Pike. "In point of fact, I don't believe he is. Should we call him back over and ask him?"
Jim glared at Pike but said nothing. What was there to say?
Pike sighed, and his voice gentled. "Jim, look. I'm sorry that things between the two of you didn't work out. I have a feeling you're much sorrier than I am. But you no longer have any claim on him. I stood aside, I watched him fall for you, and I gave you your chance, even though it about killed me. You had your shot, son, and you blew it. I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure I don't blow mine."
Jim boggled. "Wait -- how long have you -- "
"I noticed Doctor McCoy right away. He's -- extraordinary. As a doctor, and as a person. Well, you already know that. Believe it or not, throughout your time at the Academy I was keeping an eye on you, pulling for you behind the scenes. I saw quite a bit of him since he was always with you. I was impressed with him. By a lot of things about him, but most of all, by his absolute loyalty to you. I've been around a long time, and I can tell you that kind of steadfastness is rare, Jim.
I was interested. More than interested, if I'm honest. But he was obviously in love with you, and I wasn't going to interfere with that. But now... Jim, whatever happens, my days as a captain are finished. I'm ready to hand over that responsibility to the next generation. But my life isn't over. And I want the things I've never had before. I want stability. I want peace. And most of all, I want someone to share my life with. No -- that isn't accurate, or not fully accurate. I want to share my life with him, if he'll have me. I'll be good to him. I'll put him first, and I'll never leave him, or do anything to deliberately hurt him. I'll give him a life on Earth, with solid ground under his feet and a blue sky overhead, and I'll use all of my not-inconsiderable influence to get him back a place in his daughter's life. Tell me he doesn't deserve that. Tell me that you'd give him that much."
Jim blinked hard and looked away.
"In the end, it's up to him," Pike said. "You do what you have to do. But I'm not going to back off out of some misguided notion that you have an inviolable entitlement where he's concerned."
When Jim didn't respond, Pike continued. "I care about you, son. You may not believe that, but I do. And -- he does too, even if he can't show it right now. If I can make a suggestion, maybe you should set aside what you want, and think about him instead." It was said so gently that Jim couldn't take offense, couldn't lash out the way he wanted to.
"I've -- got to go," he finally managed to get out in a strangled voice. Pike nodded and Jim turned and walked away, refusing to look at anyone until he was safely back in his quarters.
He didn't sleep that night. Instead, he stayed up thinking. He thought about what it meant to make a commitment -- not just to say you were making one and break it later if you felt like it, but to actually mean it, and follow through on it, no matter what. He couldn't think of a single unbroken promise he'd ever made. Well, he hadn't broken his commitment to Starfleet yet, but that wasn't because he felt duty-bound or anything, it was just because he kicked ass at it and they were going to give him a starship one day. He'd agreed to commit to Bones, but he hadn't had any intention, really, of doing it. He hadn't had any specific intention of breaking it, either -- he just hadn't thought about it one way or another that much before saying the words that would get him what he wanted at that moment.
And -- what did it mean, to love someone? Was this what it was, bitter regret and remorse, feeling like he'd give anything to go back and make a different choice? The way he missed Bones was a physical ache, like a broken phantom limb that he couldn't set because there wasn't actually anything there. Worse than the pain he felt was the knowledge that he'd caused Bones to feel that way too, or even worse.
He'd lost something priceless. And no matter what the rest of his life held, it would never again hold Bones' soft hazel eyes, looking into his with boundless trust and devotion, or the sight of the dimple that appeared in Bones' cheek when he graced Jim with one of his rare smiles, or the strong sure hands that had traced over every inch of his skin like he wanted to memorize Jim through touch alone.
For the first time in his twenty-six years of life, he understood, a little, what had happened to his mother on the day he was born, when she'd lost her husband. Why she'd led a half-existence, unable to be truly present for Jim or Sam. Part of her heart had died on that day, just as part of Jim's heart had died now. The difference was, he had only himself to blame.
When morning came, he'd reached a decision. He'd hurt Bones enough. There was no way he could fix the damage he'd caused, but at least he could try not to cause any more.
So he stayed away. He didn't avoid Bones completely -- that would've been impossible, given their situation, and really fucking obvious as well. But he gave him space. Didn't try to push him to resume their friendship, didn't try to bait him or make him jealous or any of the other petty games he'd played before.
He wasn't doing much, really, except for refraining from being a gigantic asshole, and yet somehow it was the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life.
Jim didn't mean to listen in. It just happened. He was in sickbay, checking up on Lt. Yang, who'd been standing too close to a faulty power coupling when it blew. He'd seen Pike and Bones talking when he came in, but didn't interrupt them, just ducking into the curtained area next to them that Chapel pointed to when he asked about Yang.
As it turned out, Yang wasn't very good company, since she was sleeping the sleep of the heavily sedated. He was about to go find Chapel, ask about Yang's injuries, when he heard Bones' voice, louder than it had been, and with an undertone of anguish that made Jim's gut clench.
"Chris -- I can't. I'm not ready. I don't know if I ever will be."
"Leonard. It's okay. I know you've been hurt. I'm not asking you to trust me. I'm just asking you to leave yourself open to the possibility that one day, you might be able to trust me."
"Yeah, and how long are you going to wait around on my sorry ass?"
Pike ignored the obvious opening, and Jim was reluctantly impressed. "As long as it takes," was all he said.
"I don't know, Chris," Bones said, and Jim could hear the heartache -- heartache that he'd caused.
"Shh, it's all right. If you really don't want this, don't even want to try, then I won't push. But Leonard, tell me honestly -- do you really not feel anything for me? Do you really want me to give up?"
There was no answer. After a moment, Pike blew out a long, relieved breath.
"There's no hurry. I'm not going anywhere. We'll take it slow, whatever pace you want. The last thing I'd ever want to do is pressure you, or make you feel bad for not giving more than you're comfortable with. I'm not asking you to believe me. I'm going to prove it to you, whatever it takes. All right?"
A pause. Then -- "Yeah. All right."
The voices subsided into murmurs but Jim was already backing away, as quietly as he could, his eyes burning and his heart twisted in bittersweet pain.
They were two weeks out from earth. Pike was up and about now, using an autochair that Scotty had managed to put together from spare bits and pieces. Jim met with him nearly every day about ship's business. They'd managed to find their way to a mentor-protégé relationship that was surprisingly comfortable. Jim was even learning some things -- when Pike offered suggestions or advice, Jim listened rather than rolling his eyes inwardly and counting the seconds until he could leave.
They never mentioned Bones outside of the context of his duties as CMO. But if the subject of Pike's relationship with Bones never came up between Pike and Jim, it was certainly one of the most-discussed items on the ship's grapevine. Bones and Pike frequently took meals together in the mess, and were often seen walking the corridors, or sharing a drink in the officer's lounge, and of course there were the hours they spent together on Pike's grueling rehab regimen.
The crew seemed to find their courtship absolutely charming, as well as a fascinating subject for gossip and speculation. There was so little happy news right now that Jim couldn't even find it within himself to begrudge his crew their vicarious enjoyment.
He was sitting in the mess now, picking at his dinner. Bones and Pike were eating together at a table across the room, a familiar look of irritated caring on Bones' face as he transferred half of his own vegetables to Pike's plate. Pike threw his head back and laughed at something Bones was saying, and just for a moment, Jim caught sight of that elusive dimple as Bones smiled back fleetingly.
He hadn't realized that he was staring until he heard a familiar murmur of "Captain," from across the table. He looked up and met Uhura's eyes. There was compassion in her gaze, something she'd never directed at him before.
"Wow, am I that pathetic?" he asked.
She smiled, but it owed more to understanding than mirth. "You looked like you could use some company. Maybe a friend."
"Watch out, someone might accidentally think you were offering." His flippant tone wasn't its usual sparkling best, but it would have to do.
She shrugged with faint amusement. "I do actually have friends, Kirk. People who aren't assholes."
"Lieutenant, are you including me in the category of non-assholes? I'm not sure my system can stand the shock."
"Well, the jury's still out. For now, we'll call you a recovering asshole."
"Fair enough. So tell me, Uhura, what can this recovering asshole do for you, aside from the obvious pleasure of my company?"
"Hikaru, Scotty and I are going to play poker tonight in the observation lounge on deck nine. We thought maybe you'd like to join us, so we can relieve you of a few credits."
He laughed, for what felt like the first time in weeks. Hell, it probably was the first time he'd laughed in weeks. "Oh, now those are fighting words. I'll be happy to accept your invitation, but I'm warning you, you're going to regret it. I'm going to kick all of your asses."
"You can certainly try," she said, and there was a wicked glint in her eye that had him reconsidering his assumptions about her skill as a poker player.
They ate, and talked, and halfway through the meal Spock and Chekov got off-shift and joined them. Before he realized it, an hour had passed. An entire hour during which he hadn't needed to remind himself to breathe in and out.
He looked back over at Chris and Bones' table. Bones happened to look up at the same moment and their eyes caught and held. Bones froze like a deer in the headlights. Jim cautiously nodded, and after an endless moment of suspended time, Bones nodded back, before turning back to his conversation with Pike.
This was it. The last day of his captaincy, and all he could feel about it was relief. Well, okay, and some pride. In himself, a little, but mostly in his crew. The things they'd accomplished, despite all the crap that had been thrown at them -- it was fucking awesome.
They'd made it home. The Enterprise was being towed to spacedock now, and in a few short hours, her halls would be empty. The shuttles were already ferrying people down to earth, and Jim was in the shuttle bay, giving each one of them a personal thank you and farewell.
Suddenly Bones was there, directing the med techs who were getting Pike's autochair into place on the shuttle. If by "directing" one meant shouting, cursing, and threatening hyposprays in extremely sensitive areas. Pike watched with obvious amusement, and then, just when Bones was about to lose his temper completely, he reached out and took Bones' hand, tugging him close and whispering something in his ear. Bones flushed to the roots of his hair and shut his mouth with an audible snap.
Pike winked in Jim's direction. This was it, then. He walked over to the two of them and smiled the best he could. He had a feeling it was a pretty shitty effort, but they were polite enough not to mention it. He shook Pike's hand, and tried to say goodbye, but Pike waved him off. "You'll be sick of my face inside of two weeks, Jim, since we'll have to go through the debriefing process together. I'll see you tomorrow, or Monday at the latest."
Jim nodded. Then he turned to face Bones. For maybe the first time since they'd first met, he couldn't read the look on Bones' face. He offered his hand, and tried not to shudder too visibly when Bones took it in a warm, firm grasp.
"Bones," he said. It was goodbye, it was I love you and I probably always will, it was I'm so sorry, it was all the things he couldn't articulate, even to himself, but that he needed Bones to know.
Bones nodded, and in his solemn hazel gaze Jim saw that he'd been understood. So he let go, and stepped back. Sometimes, that was the only thing you could do, and the only gift left to give to someone you loved.