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Even after all the deliberations that had brought McCoy to this point, the act itself left him cold with anticlimactic shock.

He sagged back in his desk chair with a rough exhale, staring at the activation of his orders through a surreal distance, like a consequence detached from the confirmation he had entered only seconds earlier.

Chief Medical Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

How the fuck had that happened?

The words on his screen were nearly incomprehensible; he was a dumb weight in his desk chair, struggling to understand what he had done when the door to his temporary quarters flew open. McCoy swiveled around in alarm, breath catching as Jim charged across the anonymous room, eyes bright and face flushed.

‘Jim...’ he started, half-rising from his seat but Jim was already dragging him the rest of the way up and into a hungered kiss that snatched away the question trapped at the back of his throat. Helplessly confused, he clung hard to Jim’s shoulders and let the rest of him fall open to the needy shove of Jim’s tongue, the urgent drag of hands down his body hot enough to burn through his clothes.

‘Thank you,’ Jim hushed, raw and earnest against his lips as he drew back for air. ‘I just got the confirmation... I was so worried…’ He broke off with an inarticulate noise, another fierce kiss. ‘Thank you… thank you,’ he repeated, a low and feverish mantra. ‘I don’t know what I would’ve done... if you hadn’t...’

‘How could I not?’ he murmured, as if there had been nothing to his choice, as if the knife of it wasn’t already slicing him in two. He reached upward, cradling Jim’s face in an intimate moment that broke abruptly as his wrists were seized in a telling grip.

‘You’re mine,’ he said, breathing hot against McCoy’s gasping lips. ‘I’m gonna have you all over that ship…’

McCoy let loose a brittle thread of nervous laughter. ‘Didn’t think that was part of the exploratory mission,’ he huffed evasively. There was thunder in Jim’s sky-filled eyes, a fervent edge to his voice that McCoy scarcely recognized.

‘It’s my mission.’ He walked McCoy backward with the driving force of his hips, his hands tight around his wrists. ‘Want you right now,’ he muttered, an unnecessary statement given the explicit writhing of Jim’s body. The bed struck the back of McCoy’s legs, nearly tripping him over if not for Jim’s hands tugging at his clothes. His shirt was whisked over his head almost too fast for McCoy to lift his arms, baring him to the shock of teeth scraping hard over his shoulder. ‘Want inside you...’

McCoy choked on a moan as Jim yanked ruthlessly at his trousers and took his cock in a possessive hand that burned the complicated churning of his mind down to a single spark of need. This was easier, more empowering than any reluctance or guilt. ‘Yes,’ he agreed, a rough whisper of permission that Jim probably didn’t need to hear. His pants, already tangled around his thighs, were tugged away altogether once Jim threw him down on the bed with a hasty shove.

Unlike McCoy, Jim was in full command uniform, which involved more layers than he seemingly cared to address before crawling upon him, suckling open-mouthed kisses up McCoy’s arching chest as he fumbled one-handed at his flies. ‘Turn over for me,’ he purred between wet smudges to his collarbone, his bicep, anywhere within reach of Jim’s lips. ‘On your knees...’

The tone of Jim’s voice, so low and commanding, urged McCoy to obey as quick as his limbs could carry his body over, even as he cast an anxious eye to the drawer of his bedside table. ‘You better not... oh...’ His head dropped down on his forearm with a surprised groan as a slick finger neatly breached him.

Somewhere above him, Jim laughed softly. ‘Don’t worry, Bones,’ he murmured, quickly adding a second finger that pressed insistently at his insides. ‘I know how to take care of my toys...’

‘I am not… oh, fuck…’ His angered growl turned into a stifled cry as Jim replaced his fingers with his cock, pushing hard and blunt into him. Despite Jim’s coy words, there was little care in this swift penetration; he felt very much like his plaything as Jim seized his hips and rolled into him, so long and deep. ‘Oh, god, Jim…’

‘Captain,’ he corrected tightly, fingers gouging bruises into his flesh.

Yes…’ McCoy’s hands curled into fists in the bedspread, his back arching into every thrust. ‘Yes, Captain…’

Jim moaned loudly, hands relaxing to roam freely over his back, his thighs. He pressed in closer, the synthetic weave of his uniform scraping at his sweating skin. The gravity of his body pushed the limits of McCoy’s trembling legs, sent him sprawling flat across the bed at Jim’s next thrust and driving his neglected cock into the disheveled bed. He squeezed his eyes shut, lost in the restless friction outside and in, Jim’s breath hot against the back of his neck.

The sound of the door hushing open was so subtle, McCoy was amazed he heard it at all. Even hearing wasn’t quite right; it was a different sort of shivering sense riding a whisper of aftershave that kicked his heart against his ribs and pricked the nerves beneath the slick slide of Jim’s lips.

‘Jim…’ he muttered, face turning free of the bed. His line of sight was painfully limited, allowing little more than a glimpse of lean legs in uniform, the cane a sleek silver line at his side.

‘Don’t stop on my account.’

Despite the thick note of arousal in Pike’s voice, McCoy twitched in alarm at the flat inflection of his words, utterly stripped of the playfulness that often sweetened his dominant edge. He tried to move, grasping for a reply but Jim thrust into him again, stealing his breath, unaware of the danger he was courting.

‘No need to go easy on him either,’ Pike added softly. ‘He likes it a lot harder than that, son.’

McCoy shivered, caught between the cold distance of Pike’s hushed command and Jim’s answering moan pouring deep into his ear. He caught a hint of movement from the corner of his eye, lifted his head to follow before Jim’s hand at the back of his neck shoved his face down against the mattress.

‘Shhh,’ he breathed. McCoy heard his breath catch, felt the overeager acceleration of his hips. ‘You heard the Admiral… he wants to see me fuck you hard and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.’

McCoy muffled a sharp whine into the bedding. As much as he ached to see his Chris, Jim had him trapped: unable to look, helpless to answer the faster, vicious punch of his cock. The worrying sense of something going wrong was meaningless to the hot rush of arousal riding his bloodstream, tugging hard at a primal nerve hidden deep at his core that made his dick throb thick and wet between his twisting belly and the sheets.

‘Yeah… he likes to watch,’ Jim growled, panting hard into McCoy’s tensed shoulder. ‘You know that, don’t you? How much he likes watching you taking my cock…’

His teeth sank into the nape of McCoy’s neck as he came, claiming him as surely as the orgasm flooding him from the inside. The slick heat of come stained his open thighs as Jim pulled out of him, messy and quick as a vivisection that left his own arousal frustratingly unfulfilled. Hands lingered over his ass, kneading him roughly and encouraging the greedy roll of his groin into the mattress as Jim spoke, low and harsh.

‘It’s your turn.’

The words sliced clean through his windpipe, robbing McCoy of breath as Jim shoved away from his used body, leaving him paralyzed and waiting like a sacrifice. He lifted his wary head but Pike was already on the move, stalking out of his field of vision towards the foot of the bed. Racing blood trembled his stunned limbs and drove his cock feverishly into the ruined sheets, desperate for relief that was snatched away by familiar fingers seizing his hip.

Pike flipped him onto his back, strong hands shoving his useless limbs and leaving him splayed open, arms flung above his head and hard cock jutting into the air. Sharp blue eyes raked him over, coolly assessed his erection with a hint of cruelty that plucked hard at the taut strings of his lust, even as some deeper shame heated his face.

‘Please…’ That ruined scrap of sound could have been a plea for mercy or an invitation but it pulled the trigger on whatever held Pike back. He tore open his trousers, just enough to release his cock, bent his thighs back towards his chest and shoved into him without so much as a word or unnecessary touch. Jim had left him gaping and wet, more than ready for the swift thrust of a second cock claiming its place, tearing him open all over again.

‘Fuck…’ Pike growled as he drew back and snapped his hips hard, plunging deep. ‘You’re soaking wet… dripping like a bitch in heat…’

McCoy sucked in a startled gasp, vision blurring behind a cloud of lust. ‘Chris…’ His tentative hands reached for contact that was swiftly denied him as Pike caught his wrists, pinned them to the bed. ‘Oh, fuck, yes…’ His eyes drifted closed on a fresh surge of lust, head rolling aside in easy surrender.

Don’t.’ The sharply barked command slapped him to full alertness, flew his gaze back to his Chris’ feral eyes. ‘Don’t you dare close your eyes,’ he snarled. ‘You watch me when I’m fucking you…’

Mouth dry, lungs tight, McCoy nodded mutely, held his gaze even through the next harsh punch to his prostate. Pike took him like it was punishment rather than pleasure he sought, like a man determined to fuck away every trace of Jim’s use with his own cock. McCoy’s libido couldn’t forget the number of times he had furtively brought himself off by thinking of scenes like this but his imagination was nowhere near equal to the intense reality of it all: the helpless exhaustion of his body, the note of fear crawling like a penitent beneath the cloak of his arousal.

‘Chris… oh, fuck… I’m gonna…’ He bit down hard on his lower lip, nearly splitting the fragile flesh. Pleas for release crowded his tongue but the merciless spark in Pike’s eye held him in check, too proud to beg anything of the hard, knowing smirk curling those gorgeous lips.

‘Oh, I know, my dirty slut…’ He leaned downward; close enough to press brow to brow, eyes still holding him captive. ‘You’re going to come for me, aren’t you?’ He purred at McCoy’s answering whimper. ‘That’s right… you’re going to make a filthy mess of yourself, and I’m not even going to touch you, not going to let you touch yourself… you’re going to come apart on my cock, stuffed full of it, riding it like a whore…’

His back arched off the bed with the riptide of his orgasm, every part of him not held down by Pike’s hands and cock bucking upward as he burst hot and wet between their bodies. Still, somehow, he obediently held Pike’s gaze, watched the cruelty melt from his stare as something more heartbreaking slipped into place.

‘Yes… there’s my beautiful boy…’ His eyes slipped shut at last as he stole McCoy’s last panting gasps with a desperate kiss. The wrenching groan of his own orgasm vibrated through his mouth as Pike stiffened and froze against him, trapped in a rictus of pleasure as his cock wrung itself dry deep inside him.

Pike released his lips with a raw, awful sound: not quite a sob, more the last wrenching groan of a drowning man that flayed McCoy’s heart open. He ached to reach for his lover but Pike’s hands tightened rather than loosened their hold on his wrists as his head sank into the shadowed recess of McCoy’s shoulder and shuddered an uneven breath across his clavicle. The dense fabric of his uniform chafed his naked flesh with every restless squirm for closeness, as though Pike were shredding away his skin in order to burrow deeper inside and McCoy welcomed it all, reconciling himself to this raw possession as the mattress shifted beneath their combined weight.

Jim curled alongside them, pressing in close and drawing an arm over their entangled bodies. ‘Chris…’ he hushed, so bleak and low. A protesting noise escaped McCoy’s lips – he didn’t deserve any reprieve from this but Pike relented at Jim’s touch, fingers loosening on his wrists as he slipped sideways and out with a low groan that buried itself in McCoy’s tensed shoulder. Jim nestled protectively against Pike’s back, murmuring into his ear too soft for McCoy to make out individual words, so private that he scarcely dared to stay in their company.

He shifted experimentally but Pike’s hand tightened around his shoulder, fingers gouging hard enough to bruise. That was all the reason he needed to let himself be locked into the steel vice of Pike’s arms where he brushed his lips over every furrow of his brow, indulged his fingers in tracing the sharpness of Pike’s hipbone just beneath his unfastened trousers.

His eye flicked beyond the tousled mess of Pike’s hair, caught Jim’s bottomless blue gaze in an electric charge of understanding, too sharp to withstand. McCoy closed his eyes, focused instead on his lover’s scent, the finest shivers of his body pressing into him for warmth.

This uneasy silence, this mute refusal to untangle from their mess, said more than enough.

+ + +

A sour twist of bile tickled the back of his throat, swelling through the quake of entering Earth’s atmosphere for the last time in a long time to come.

McCoy straightened stoically in his seat, head pressed hard to its back as he breathed carefully through the nausea of re-entry. His body was rebelling more than usual; enough to know it wasn’t space sickness alone destroying his calm, nor wistfulness for the blue ocean expanding beyond the shuttle window.

He could barely glimpse the breathtaking view beyond his preoccupation with two men who couldn’t possibly be thinking of him as intently as he was upon them. Starfleet’s mad decision to pass their flagship into Jim’s untested hands had thrown a new dynamic into their fledgling relationship, leaving McCoy on the outskirts of a more urgent rapport infused by Pike’s fierce conviction to implant his many years of command experience into Jim’s twenty-five year old brain.

The harsh landing of the shuttle snapped McCoy out of his cringing mood. With a firm shake of his head, he hastily unsnapped his safety harness and shoved his way out to steadier ground before his fellow passengers could bother to move. His wasn’t the only shuttle running last-minute convoys to spacedock but he navigated the throng of inconvenient bodies as swiftly as he could in his dogged pursuit of the nearest exit.

‘Excuse me,’ he murmured, ducking his head apologetically as he nudged past an elderly Vulcan standing inexplicably still at the edge of the milling crowd.


Brow furrowed, he turned back for a closer look at the man’s weathered features. McCoy didn’t recognize him as one of the many Vulcans he had tended on the Enterprise but he couldn’t imagine how else this stranger would know him well enough to call him by his first name. Not that any of the Vulcans under his care had been so familiar, so informal.

There was only one other possibility, something he had scathingly dismissed as the frostbitten figment of Jim’s imagination but there was that undeniable hint of humanity lurking in the eyes, an ironic turn to his mouth that was so damn uncanny that it rose his hackles right along with the gooseflesh on his arms.

How had that smug hobgoblin put it? Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? Only this was so bizarre that it left improbability in the dust.

‘Well, shit,’ he sighed. ‘Guess Jim wasn’t out of his mind after all.’

A twinkle of amusement animated this Spock’s eyes, his reaction restrained but far more effusive than anything McCoy would have expected from his younger counterpart. ‘No more so than usual,’ he confirmed, the wink in his voice offering enough humanity to draw him nearer. He could read Spock’s age at a glance, knew his years far exceeded those of any natural human life with a depth of experience that kept him cautiously on edge.

‘You know,’ he said amiably, through his arms crossed instinctively across his chest, ‘I reckon the amount of crazy I’ve put up with from Jim these last three years is nothing to what you’ve seen.’

‘It was nearly too much to bear,’ Spock agreed dryly. ‘And yet, nowhere near enough. All the more reason,’ he added, ignoring McCoy’s reflexive flinch of discomfort, ‘why I had hoped we might meet before we go our separate ways once more.’

‘Why?’ He bit his lip as soon as he blurted the question out, but it was already too late to rein in his rude curiosity. ‘I mean… well, you make it sound like you know… er, knew…?’

An upswept eyebrow twitched at his struggle with temporality. ‘I did,’ he acknowledged. ‘Very well. Closer, perhaps, than you could ever comprehend.’

‘Just you saying that is closer than I would’ve comprehended,’ he muttered, frown deepening as Spock’s mouth quirked into something like a smirk.

‘We were quite literally inseparable for a time,’ he added enigmatically. ‘And I can truthfully say that I could not have chosen a more… complementary friend.’

Strangely, the statement appeared to discomfit Spock just as much as it had himself. The amiable warmth visibly withdrew before his eyes, his angular features returning to stoic solemnity. ‘These have been difficult times for us all, of course,’ he murmured. ‘If you will excuse me, Doctor.’

A broad shoulder turned to leave him, too dismissive for the weight of the unanswered questions littered in his wake, piling uncertainty upon uncertainty. ‘In that universe of yours,’ he threw out desperately, ‘that other Leonard McCoy… did he have a father?’

Spock glanced back, and somehow there was amusement and sorrow alike beneath that carefully guarded expression. ‘I fail to see how you could exist otherwise.’

‘That’s not what I mean, you smart-ass,’ he snapped, immediately regretting his words even as a hint of a smile twitched the corner of Spock’s mouth. ‘Where you come from,’ he tried cautiously, already dreading the answer, ‘did his father die so soon? Jim said, where you come from, he had a family… his daddy saw him graduate from the Academy…’

He knew the question wasn’t fair, but ever since Jim had confided some of what this other Spock had lived to see he had wondered about the possibilities. Surely if Jim could have known another life within the shelter of a loving family, he might have had another where his father lived to a crotchety old age, old enough to be a grandfather to Jo, to see his son be the father he should have been… but the light was vanishing from Spock’s eye, the sadness still in place.

‘You never told us until much later in life,’ he said. ‘We never knew the manner of your father’s death until we were all much older men than you are now.’ Those striking eyebrows swept downward in something too much like sympathy for McCoy’s pride. ‘I did not realize that it happened when you were so young as this.’

He recoiled as though punched with the horror of it all over again. The weight of Spock’s empathy was as damning as any direct answer, heavy with inevitability across time and space. He drew his arms tighter across his chest, exhaled slowly.

‘You said us,’ he noted numbly. ‘Who else did I tell?’

‘Jim, of course.’

‘Of course.’ The thinnest thread of comfort twisted its way around his heart. ‘And Chris… I mean, Christopher Pike, did you…’

If anything, Spock’s features softened further. ‘He was a dear friend to me,’ he admitted. ‘Though, by my understanding, not one close in your acquaintance…’

McCoy bristled at the unasked question. ‘Not in your universe, maybe,’ he snapped grudgingly. ‘Hate to break it to you, but you ain’t in Kansas anymore.’

The elder Vulcan nodded sagely, almost as if he understood the reference. ‘Indeed I am not,’ he agreed mildly. ‘Fascinating. I would not have anticipated, although...’

He hesitated, dark eyes searching him before he extended aged, sensitively poised fingers that, much to McCoy’s confusion, alighted upon his temple. The unexpected touch was oddly electric, made McCoy flinch slightly but not withdraw from the faint rush of sound and sticky sense prickling deep within his head, like a restless hive of bees stirring honey from his cerebellum.

‘Yes,’ Spock murmured as he lowered his fingers, taking that odd noise with him. ‘Your katra, there is a synchronicity, something...’

He trailed off with an enigmatic smile, too private to offer any comfort to McCoy’s dry-mouthed confusion. ‘Don’t recall seeing no damned katra on any human anatomy charts I’ve ever seen,’ he muttered warily.

Spock arched a challenging eyebrow. ‘And you always said I was too scientific for my own good,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you are better versed in logic than the Leonard McCoy I knew?’

He frowned skeptically, briefly alarmed at being caught on the receiving end of whatever passed for Vulcan humour before allowing himself a wry huff of a laugh. ‘I wouldn’t count on it.’

‘Then I am relieved to know that some things remain constant.’ Spock drew back with a subtle nod. ‘Please, send my regards to Captain Pike. It has been far too long.’

‘Admiral,’ he corrected, dull without conviction. That far too long had triggered something unnamable in his chest, a sinking cold that numbed his tongue.

‘Of course.’ Spock raised his hand, fingers poised in a familiar farewell that McCoy imitated without thought, foreign as it felt on his fingers as the Vulcan disappeared into the crowd. He lingered long after he had vanished, hungering for better answers before he recalled the day, the occasion of his journey. There wasn’t time for this strange bullshit.

Even so, the cryptic discomfort kept his mind in strange company as he escaped headquarters for his refuge in Richmond. The dizzy ascent of the tower’s lift barely disturbed his consciousness, was already forgotten as he let himself into Pike’s apartment.

Perhaps that preoccupied mind held him back from the tableau that greeted him, of Jim and Chris at the kitchen island instead of their usual places at Pike’s desk or in the paired wingback chairs. There were no signs of work, only fresh peppers that Jim eyed skeptically beneath the chef’s knife hanging awkwardly in his hand while Pike looked on with a smile.

‘Come on, son, they’re vegetables, not Klingons,’ Pike was saying, even as his eye flicked aside at McCoy’s entrance. ‘Leo,’ he welcomed warmly. ‘How’d it go on our ship?’

He blinked, faltering as he always did whenever Pike referred to the Enterprise as theirs, even now. ‘Fine,’ he said shortly. ‘Medical bay is as ready as she’s ever gonna be.’ That was a huge understatement, given how thoroughly he had checked his stores and equipment, wildly anticipating every ridiculous injury a kid like Jim could encounter. He stared gloomily as Jim took a wild chop at the peppers, making a mental note to load in more bandages before they disembarked.

‘I’m trying to teach him how to cook,’ Pike explained needlessly as he circled the counter, misreading the cause of McCoy’s frown. ‘I thought we could get dinner going before you got back if he pitched in but…’ Pike shrugged. ‘He might be slowing us down more than anything. Hope you don’t mind eating later.’

‘I can hear you, you know,’ Jim threw out sharply.

‘That was the point,’ he snapped back. ‘Get chopping already.’ Pike looked back to him with a long-suffering smile that faded as he met McCoy’s pained stare. ‘Leo…?’

McCoy closed the narrow distance between them without thought, had Pike swept up in his arms before he could restrain the impulse. Pressing that lean and somewhat tensed body into his own didn’t ease the anxiety behind his breastbone in the way he had hoped; he squeezed him harder, burying his face in the scent of aftershave hidden at his throat.

‘Leo…’ Pike repeated it quieter, almost a sigh. Steady hands ran warm up his spine, kneaded at his shoulders. ‘Oh, beautiful… come on…’

He shook his head mutely into Pike’s shoulder. The fear seizing his voice had no name, nothing he could define or defend in words but it made him hold Pike that much harder, horrified to let him go.

‘Think of James,’ he added, a warm hush against his ear that stirred something other than abject refusal into his limbs. His brow furrowed, eyes daring to squint open as he heard the knife clatter to the chopping block.

‘Bones?’ That hesitant sound forced life into his lungs, drove one unsteady breath after another as he made himself relax his hold on his Chris. Beyond his shoulder, Jim looked so uncertain, hanging back as though reluctant to intrude any further than the reach of his voice. The guilt that lanced him at that sight was little better than the misery seizing his heart but McCoy made himself move with it all the same: arms dropping dead to his sides as he forced his shoulders straight and stable.

‘Hey, Jim.’ A nudge of Pike’s hand, private at the small of his back, propelled him into a bear hug that lingered in its own wistful way. ‘I see Chris has you working hard as usual,’ he teased as they drew apart, deflecting the shadow of concern in Jim’s stare.

‘No, I volunteered,’ Jim insisted. ‘I wanted to learn. Someone’s gotta keep cooking for you when we’re…’

He trailed into stilted silence, heavy as the lump in McCoy’s throat that he forcibly swallowed down to make way for a tight smile.

‘Think I’d be safer taking my chances with the replicator. Or at least your fingers would be,’ he added as he got a better look at the mangled peppers on the chopping block. ‘You wanna make yourself useful, kid,’ he drawled as he slid past Jim with an affectionate sweep of his hand down his spine, ‘go get me a beer.’

He met Pike’s measuring gaze as he took up the knife in his ever-steady hand, offering a reassuring nod before attempting to salvage the peppers. It was the very least he could do.


McCoy stirred groggily towards a confused half-waking state: the darkness of the room pillowing his squinting eyes, the drone of Jim’s soft snores pouring into his ear. His chest rose and fell steadily beneath the lazy drape of McCoy’s arm, soothing the nameless anxiety beneath his skin until the absence of a second body snapped him into full wakefulness.

Slowly, warily for fear of waking Jim, he groped his other arm across the mattress before daring to look at the empty impression where Pike’s body had fallen to rest beside them. The dent in the pillow was a haunting hollow that tugged him reluctantly from Jim’s side and out of the bed.

He dragged a stray pair of sleep pants from a nearby chair, tugging them over his hips as he padded barefoot out of the bedroom. The rest of the apartment was inscrutably dark but his anxious eye caught a flicker of movement on the balcony. He squinted; not even movement, but a point of light that burned, faded, curled into smoke that made McCoy release a mournful sigh as he drew nearer.

The acrid burn of smoke met his nose as he stepped outside, dancing a blue-grey trail from the tip of the cigarette poised between Pike’s long fingers. He sat curled into one of the low armchairs, his strongly toned shoulders thrown into contrast from the shadows by the ambient glow of San Francisco. The same light illuminated the pages of the paper book balanced on his upraised knee, just barely bright enough for reading.

‘What’re you doing out here?’

Pike didn’t quite meet his eye, gaze shifting between the expansive city view and the aged pages beneath his fingers. ‘Had another one of those dreams,’ he murmured, pausing to draw a lungful of fragrant smoke. ‘Couldn’t get back to sleep.’

With reluctant steps, McCoy drew up behind his chair and slid his fingers into fine waves of sleep-tousled hair. Pike hummed softly beneath his hand, eyes falling closed with an easy acceptance that twisted the note of alarm in McCoy’s chest and drew his lips to Pike’s temple for a gentle, guilt-laced kiss.

His eye fell upon the open book and recognized it immediately: an old hardcover volume of poetry that Jim had given to Pike two days ago in a shyly vulnerable moment that McCoy had tried his best to ignore. Something about the gift had seemed too intimate, too private for witnesses but now, with Pike’s tired eyes slipped shut, he allowed himself to scan the words inscribed in old black ink on the ivory page.

And turning over I embrace like a lover

the trunk of a tree, one of those 

for whom the lightning was too much

and grew a brilliant

hunchback with a crown of leaves.

The ailments escaped from the labels

of medicine bottles and all fled to the wind

He looked away from the book with an uneasy shiver. ‘And I suppose this grim shit is cheering you up?’ he muttered. Pike laughed softly, his eyes breaking open to meet his gaze.

‘It’s soothing, in a way,’ he admitted. ‘There’s something to be said for finding a kindred spirit some three hundred years before your time.’

‘What, you don’t think anyone understands you in the here and now?’

Pike stared knowingly into him. ‘I know you do,’ he said gently. He caught McCoy’s free hand, pressed a kiss to his wrist. ‘But once you’re gone…’ His gaze dropped back to the book, precious and rare and nowhere near enough to fill the void he was carving out of Pike’s life with his departure.

‘I’m so sorry,’ McCoy murmured bleakly, not for the first time. ‘It’s not right, Jim and I going out there and you by yourself down here…’

‘No helping that, is there?’ Pike said mildly, reaching aside to grind out the light of his cigarette in his ashtray.

‘Isn’t there?’

‘Of course not,’ he threw back stiffly, still staring into his ancient words. ‘So don’t you start…’

‘You could find someone else…’ McCoy insisted slowly but the sharp shake of Pike’s head aborted his words and threw away the comfort of his touch.

‘No.’ The protest dropped flatly from his lips, cold eyes rising as far as the horizon of the city beyond the balcony. ‘That’s not happening.’

‘Jim happened,’ he pointed out reluctantly, staring down at his hands hanging useless between his knees.

‘That’s not remotely the same thing as what you’re suggesting, and you know it.’ Pike snapped his book shut. ‘Leo…’

‘I don’t want to be the reason why you’re unhappy and alone,’ he protested, lancing the wound with one painful truth. ‘I never set out to hurt you like this, I…’

‘If I’m happy at all,’ Pike interrupted firmly, ‘it’s all down to you. So don’t mess it up now.’

Stunned silent, McCoy reluctantly searched his shadowed face for signs of mockery that never materialized. ‘Chris…’

‘Three years of trying and I can’t believe I never managed to convince you…’ Pike sighed as he set the book aside. ‘Right from the start, you meant more to me than you were ever willing to accept. And I don’t suppose,’ he added as he bowed his head, ‘it would help you believe me if I admitted how much I need to feel you right now.’

He gathered Pike into his arms, heart lurching at the easy way his hard body melted into him. ‘It does help, darling,’ he murmured softly. ‘I’ll hold you as long as you like, just you try to stop me.’

‘I could do with more than holding,’ Pike said in a grudging mumble, breath gusting warm over his bare stomach. A hand slipped up between his legs, intimate fingers massaging his nascent cock through the thin cloth of his pants. McCoy instinctively parted his thighs, compelled by a slow simmer of arousal even as the rest of his body hesitated.

‘You can’t be ready to go again so soon,’ he chided breathlessly. The three of them had passed out from their earlier tryst mere hours ago, and the various stabilizing compounds coursing through Pike’s bloodstream had not improved his refractory period in the slightest.

‘You’re probably right,’ Pike admitted, a wry note undercutting his solemn hush. ‘But I still want you inside me.’

The request was delivered so quietly, so casually that McCoy’s dick responded several beats ahead of his brain, jumping eagerly in Pike’s hand before comprehension slammed into place. ‘What, here?’ he sputtered. ‘Now?’

‘Don’t know when or where else you had in mind,’ Pike replied flatly, eyes fixed on the growing shape of his arousal straining his sleep pants. McCoy wasn’t even sure that they were his, not with the detritus of three busy men strewn all over this apartment. ‘You disembark tomorrow.’

He bowed his head guiltily, fingers tightening around Pike’s shoulder. Still, he hesitated, casting an anxious glance back into the dark apartment, out upon the open sky. ‘Here?’ he repeated cautiously. ‘I don’t think there’s any…’

‘Check under the bench,’ Pike suggested with an angling of his head. Reluctantly, McCoy drew away, leaning downward to look and releasing a weak huff of laughter.

‘Figures we’ve been leaving these all over the place,’ he said as he bent to retrieve the nearly depleted bottle of lube from under the neighbouring bench. As he rose, he recalled with a creeping flush of heat the use to which both lube and bench had been put, but the lurid images in his mind’s eye were nothing to his Chris slung low in the armchair, his body taut with muscle tone restored by weeks of intense physiotherapy, the teasing edge of his sleep pants clinging tantalizingly low at his hips.

He drew a shaky breath as he straightened to his full height and sauntered back to the chair. ‘Right here, then,’ he agreed softly, staring greedily over his Chris as he slid a hand over his own cock, lightly rubbing the erection coaxed from his once-tired body. ‘You want this, right in that chair?’

Yes.’ Pike sat upright, closing his hands around McCoy’s hips to draw him nearer. He nosed his way past McCoy’s hand, scenting over the straining shape of his cock, the damp heat of his tongue provoking him through thin cotton. McCoy curled his fingers through Pike’s fine hair, encouraging the tease of his lips for an indulgent spell before he used that same gentle grip to nudge him back.

‘Not yet, darling,’ he murmured as he followed Pike deeper into the chair and straddled his lap, pressing close enough to feel the fullness of his lover with his entire body. ‘Wanna take you slow,’ he added in a low hush before claiming a tender kiss that swiftly turned hungry as they drowned beneath each other’s hands. Pike mapped the rapid rise and fall of his ribs in greedy sweeps of his palms, trailing down to grope his ass beneath his sleep pants and tugging the thin cloth down to his thighs. He stifled a whine into Pike’s mouth as his hard cock skipped over firm abdominal muscle, marking his skin with wet traces of his arousal.

He broke off with a gasp, fingers clenching hard at Pike’s shoulders as he shook off the urge to keep kissing and touching until they both came messily all over each other like teenagers. The idea wasn’t without its appeal, but it wasn’t what his Chris has asked for on this last night. ‘Turn around for me,’ he whispered instead, shifting his own stance slightly so Pike could move beneath him, rising up on his knees and turning about face until he was draped over the back of his chair. Pike aimed a pointed look over his shoulder as he settled into place and canted his hips tellingly backward.

‘Whenever you’re ready,’ he said, rough with impatience that McCoy smudged away with an open-mouthed kiss to his bare shoulder.

‘I said slow,’ he murmured, curling his fingers inside the waist of Pike’s sleep pants to ease the fabric down his firm thighs. ‘So shut up so I can savour you, darling.’

He slipped his lips blindly over Pike’s back and shoulders as he slicked his fingers and eased his way inside. Both the tight heat of Pike’s body and his loitering heart made him take his time teasing and testing the limits of his Chris’ flesh and patience, drawing needy growls from his first restrained noises of pleasure and lingering inside while his other hand crept around to weigh the first stirrings of Pike’s shaft, still softer than not but warming encouragingly beneath his fondling fingers.

McCoy kept cradling him as he gradually, almost regretfully replaced his slowly thrusting fingers with his eager cock, muffling a groan into Pike’s shoulder as tight heat consumed him completely. The decadence of possessing all this beautifully honed strength overwhelmed him as it always did when his Chris’ body responded on instincts built through decades of experience, with a sinuous roll of his hips to take him deeper, a rough guttural groan escaping his throat as they slid impossibly close into each other.

‘Leo…’ The sound of his name, the name his Chris had chosen for him, escaped as a choked moan, thick with desperation. A hand scrambled backward, caught McCoy by his hip as though to drive him onward but he gently stopped the attempt, fingers interlacing in a loving yet uncompromising grip. He drew their joined hands to his lips, brushing a kiss along fine skin drawn thin over embattled knuckles.

‘Easy, now…’ He planted the joined weight of their hands over his Chris’ beating heart, holding him secure as he moved his hips in slow undulations that scarcely moved at all, reluctant as he was to withdraw by anything more than the scantest measures. Captivated by raw need, he worshipped instead with the silken slide of his fingers and the mindless murmurs he buried in the secret place at the nape of Pike’s neck, vainly hoping that his breath would brand his devotion deeper than skin.

More than anything, he wanted to take this slow – slow enough to make a moment of every touch, to patiently draw his lover to the same raw precipice where they could succumb to each other in the end. Pike was throbbing thick beneath his touch now, flushed and growling softly beneath each rough exhale but nowhere near as desperate as the noises McCoy was stifling into his shoulder. His teeth worried at taut flesh for fear of falling, eyes squeezed near as tight as his grip on Pike’s hand and the thundering heart beneath.

‘Don’t hold back,’ Pike murmured roughly. His head craned back to slip a kiss along his tensed jaw. ‘I know you’re close…’

‘I don’t…’ He trailed off with a sharp groan, a stubborn shake of his delirious head.

‘Don’t wait for me,’ he demanded, voice edged with an unintentional harshness that nearly broke McCoy in half. ‘I want you to come for me,’ Pike added with a tight flexing of his insides, a low groan. ‘Come on… I want you to fill me… mark me…’

The invitation destroyed the last of his self-control; McCoy surrendered his pleasure with a wrenching cry that he fought and failed to stifle in the strength of Pike’s shoulder as he spent himself deep within his body. He clung close to ease the cold shiver that overtook him in the wake of his orgasm; no doubt the fresh air of the balcony was preying on his sweating skin.

‘Can I…’ He nudged hopefully at the erection still filling his hand but Pike shook his head with a low hum.

‘Just… stay, like this,’ he murmured softly, fingers squeezing where their hands remained joined over his heart. ‘I’m fine, really, it’s–’

Pike’s sudden silence tensed through his entire body, head turning with wary watchfulness. Confused, McCoy followed the direction of his stare and flinched at the sight of Jim gazing back through the glass pane of the door.

He drew a ragged breath as Jim slid the door aside and stepped onto the balcony. His boxer briefs were unable to conceal a bulge that made McCoy wonder just how long he had stood at the other side of the glass.

‘I… woke up,’ Jim said softly, unnecessarily as he hovered in the doorway. ‘You were both gone, and I…’

Guilt paralyzed McCoy against the sweat of Pike’s body; he stared bleakly back, unable to react while Pike offered the hand he had held braced against the chair. ‘Come here.’

Jim obeyed the hoarse request silently and tentatively, padding forward on bare feet and letting Pike draw him nearer as their fingers entwined, close enough for his lips to grace Jim’s wrist with a lingering kiss.

‘My brave, brilliant boy,’ Pike hushed, so sincere that it made McCoy’s heart ache. ‘You need to take care of him for me, you need to promise…’

‘You know I will,’ Jim vowed, answering before McCoy could voice the protest gathering at the tip of his tongue. He knew what Jim must have been seeing through his unbreakable perception of Pike’s strength, his too-intimate knowledge of McCoy’s own frailties. Sure enough, Jim’s hand combing into his hair was heavy with misplaced concern, the kiss on his brow a comfort that would have been better bestowed elsewhere.

‘I’m fine,’ he muttered gruffly. Even to his own ear it didn’t sound right, and the stirring of Pike’s body made him cling closer for fear of losing his heat, his touch.

‘You don’t need to pretend with us,’ Pike said soothingly, though it only made McCoy shut his eyes with a shudder of regret. This, he recognized with a sinking worry, was Pike’s best defense against what was coming. He could so easily turn his attentions to nurturing the needs of his lovers, but never his own.

Pike might not dare to confront his own loss until there was no one left to comfort, no one left to return the favour. The very idea made him sick with remorse.

‘You’re cold,’ Jim noted gently, his hand trailing down to test his shivering skin. ‘Let’s get you back to bed, alright, Bones? We’ll have you warmed up in no time,’ he added in a flirty undertone that provided enough of an excuse to move, even if each minute withdrawal from Pike’s body was a hard-won battle of sheer willpower.

He let himself be drawn back to bed, where he was pressed close to both sides: Jim clinging in a chaos of sleepy limbs, his hand still caught in the relentless grip of Chris’ fingers. McCoy could sense the protective urge of their drowsy bodies but comfort was slow to come from this warm weight that nearly suffocated him.

How much easier that would be: if he could only make his heart stop.

+ + +

‘Morning, beautiful.’

That hoarse murmur, the gentle passage of fingers through his hair, split open the dark of McCoy’s sleep; he hummed deeply, brow furrowing as he mustered the will to squint his eyes open. Pike’s warm smile was a welcome sight as his face came into focus, at least until full awareness sharpened along with his vision.

The horrible knowledge of it slammed his eyes shut again with a groan. He clutched the sheets tighter to his chest, buried his tired frown in the pillow.

‘None of that,’ Pike chided softly. ‘Time to get up.’

McCoy grumbled a wordless protest.

‘There’s coffee made,’ he added enticingly.

‘Don’t care.’ He could smell it too, a seductive aroma drifting from the adjoining kitchen but he wasn’t anywhere near ready for coffee, for any of it. Somewhere above him, Pike sighed quietly.

‘Staying in bed won’t make today not happen, you know.’

‘Maybe not,’ he admitted grudgingly. ‘But it’s worth a shot.’

‘And you’re almost stubborn enough to make it happen. Almost.’ A warm hand settled on his bare shoulder, thumb soothing over his skin. Reluctantly, McCoy opened his eyes again, gazing mournfully at the faint flicker of sadness at the corner of his Chris’ mouth.

‘I hate this,’ he confessed, barely a whisper.

‘I know.’ Pike gently thumbed the downward turn of his mouth. ‘I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but today’s not going to change who we are. Don’t forget that.’

McCoy stretched out the crick in his neck as he considered that thin whisper of hope, enticing enough to lure one of his clenched fists from under the covers, fingers unfurling to stroke Pike’s strong thigh. ‘You sure?’

‘Absolutely,’ he said, firm with confidence that refused any dissent. ‘Tomorrow, the day after… I’ll still be yours.’

He pressed his lips tight together, looked away to compose himself before pushing on.

‘And maybe it won’t be a good day for us,’ he acknowledged, ‘but it will be for James. We’re going to make sure of it.’

The mention of Jim loosened something deep in McCoy’s chest, slipped another knot that held him together. This should be one of the proudest moments of Jim’s life, a day that called for the better example of Pike’s courageous composure – a far finer thing than his own selfish misery. ‘Of course we will,’ he agreed softly.

‘Good. Plus,’ he added with a rueful grin, ‘he’s trying to make us breakfast right now.’

‘Oh, dear god.’

‘Mmn,’ Pike agreed. ‘I think he’s trying to make up for last night’s dinner. It’s like the Kobayashi Maru in there, only with blueberries.’

McCoy winced. ‘Pancakes?’

‘Yeah.’ A roll of Pike’s eyes echoed McCoy’s fears. ‘He was determined to prepare them naked too, but I made him put on an apron.’

McCoy raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re not making a great case for getting out of bed.’

‘You’d prefer him naked, I suppose?’

‘I’d prefer him nowhere near the stove, jackass.’

‘You’d…’ Pike trailed off, head turning on an alert frown, a wary sniff. ‘Shit,’ he growled under his breath. ‘Is that burning?’

McCoy inhaled deeply as well, cringing at the hint of smoke on the air. ‘Shit,’ he echoed as he threw back the sheets. At least he was out of bed now.

+ + +

‘Wish you were going up with us.’

McCoy winced at the disappointment in Jim’s voice, keeping his gaze deliberately fixed on the busting spaceport on the other side of the privacy glass, a frown hidden behind the fingers pressed to his mouth. This tiny room was typically reserved for confidential command briefings: an entirely different form of hushed conversation between captains and admirals than was happening now. At the edge of his hearing, he heard the admiral release a regretful sigh.

‘Komack’s called me to a briefing for 0945 hours,’ Pike explained. ‘And even if that wasn’t the case, my going up with you would just delay your departure for no good reason.’

‘Good enough reason for me,’ Jim protested sullenly.

‘Come here, son.’ McCoy looked around to see Pike’s arms close solid and secure around Jim’s body as he mutely obeyed the soft command. ‘Whether we say goodbye here or up there doesn’t make any difference,’ he reasoned gently. ‘And trust me, once you’re on board you’ll be so busy you’d forget I was even there.’

Jim made a scoffing noise against Pike’s shoulder. ‘Like hell I would.’ One of his hands tightened in a fist at Pike’s lower back, twisting creases into his pristine uniform. McCoy looked away again, fighting off the urge to invade their privacy and smooth those uncharacteristic wrinkles away. Their distant fragments of parting words faded below his hearing, Pike’s smoky voice murmuring more sound than sense until an ugly crackle broke the quiet of the room.

Engineering requesting Captain for cross-check.

McCoy startled, head snapping around as they parted slightly at the interruption from the meeting room’s comm panel: Jim looking strangely off balance, his Chris wistful.

‘They mean you,’ he prodded dryly, smiling fondly as Jim gave his head a shake, drew a long breath that strengthened the line of his shoulders.

‘Yeah,’ he agreed roughly. ‘Right, I just… I mean…’

Pike took pity on the kid, cradling Jim’s face in both hands as he took that vulnerable mouth in a slow, deep kiss. McCoy exhaled shakily, licked subconsciously at his own dry lips as the intimacy lingered before his eyes.

‘So proud of you,’ Pike murmured with a last benediction of lips to his brow. ‘Go show them how it’s done.’

‘Aye, Captain,’ Jim whispered back, somehow managing to sound both frail and flirty in a single breath. Pike released a soft laugh as they drew apart.

‘That’s Admiral now, son.’ But Jim shook his head.

‘You’ll always be her captain. And mine.’ He left Pike to his stunned silence as he glanced towards McCoy. ‘I’ll save you a seat on the shuttle, alright Bones?’

That was a surprise too, one for which he was immeasurably grateful. He mustered a smile, a reassuring nod. ‘Sure thing, Jim.’ Even so, he waited until Jim had rounded the privacy corridor and the double hiss of the doors had confirmed his departure before daring to say anything more.

‘You don’t actually have a meeting with Komack today, do you?’

Pike visibly deflated before his eyes – shoulders sagging, eyes fading with the drain of too many sleepless nights. ‘Was it that obvious?’

‘To Jim?’ McCoy shook his head as he slipped nearer. ‘I doubt it. But I’m not Jim.’

‘I know that,’ he protested, so sharply defensive that the moment deflated immediately; Pike sighed, crossed his arms tight across his chest. ‘I can’t go up there,’ he admitted, thin and reluctant. ‘This is hard enough as it is, without…’

‘Shhh… I know, darling.’ He rested his hands carefully on Pike’s shoulders, testing the willingness of his body before daring to take his hands, to open his arms. They slid around him at the slightest suggestion of his touch, pulling him close but holding him lightly, gingerly, like something borrowed.

‘Is that the best goodbye hug I’m gonna get?’ McCoy scraped up his best attempt at a teasing tone and regretted it immediately as a pained wince crossed Pike’s face.

‘I don’t want to give you one at all,’ he said tightly.

‘Chris…’ No comforts or wisdom were materializing on his tongue: only his name. ‘Chris… I…’

‘Kiss me,’ Pike demanded roughly.


Please,’ he added, voice wavering strangely, ‘before I say something stupid…’

That much at least was easily done; he curled a hand around the back of Pike’s head, tilted him at the perfect angle to gently worship the shape of his lips before taking his mouth in a desperate, hungry kiss that swept up all the secret tastes of his lover and lingered on longer than breath or sense, heavy with heat and thick with regret.

It ended far too soon.

That kiss hadn’t been long enough to justify the ache of his lungs screaming for air. A sound clawed his throat, threatened to twist into a sob but Pike tightened their embrace, pulling him firmly against his chest. McCoy shivered as long fingers closed around the back of his neck, drawing an uneven mouthful of breath that drank in the addictive scent of aftershave at Pike’s throat.

‘Say it,’ he whispered, frowning as Pike firmly shook his head.


‘Say it,’ he insisted, boldness growing as Pike moaned into his shoulder. ‘Go on… tell me to stay.’

‘I can’t,’ Pike protested, raw and broken. ‘I won’t. You can do this, Leo.’ His hushed words were stronger now, conviction firm against his ear. ‘Think of James, think of how much he needs you...’

‘Damn it, I’m thinking of you,’ he growled, choked with bitterness. ‘I’d stay for you,’ he added roughly, drawing back just far enough to promise it to Pike’s face. ‘If you told me to…’

Even with reluctance crumpling every contour of Pike’s face, he shook his head. ‘I won’t,’ he vowed stiffly. ‘And don’t you dare ask me again, I don’t think I could hold back a third time.’

‘I…’ McCoy paused, eyes searching before he relented. ‘Okay,’ he decided softly. ‘Okay, I… damn it…’

Pike took his mouth before he could fall apart, tasted him with all the sweet slowness of a farewell. ‘Go,’ he hushed. ‘Before I change my mind.’

The dare lay suspended between them, but McCoy let the destructive impulse lie untouched. ‘Yeah,’ he sighed. ‘Walk me out?’ he asked hopefully but Pike rapidly shook his head.

‘I’m not spending my last moments with you performing a lie for Starfleet’s benefit,’ he said firmly.

McCoy attempted a nod, the muscles of his neck almost too tight for movement. ‘Yeah,’ he repeated roughly, fighting down his itch for something better, his wild urge to end the lie and claim the full measure of his farewell. He knew it was impossible, knew it was too late to ask.

There just wasn’t enough time.

The sweep of Pike’s thumb over his cheekbone startled him back to reality. McCoy blinked rapidly, felt his eyelashes cling wetly together and ducked his head to hide the embarrassment warming his face.

‘Don’t,’ Pike hushed, fingers slipping beneath his jaw to force his gaze again. His eyes were so close, so painfully clear. ‘Don’t hide from me now. I know,’ he added, even more quietly. ‘I know, I… I wish I could…’

McCoy swept in, buried their regrets in one last kiss – no, not the last, he wouldn’t let it be the last. Not this kiss, nor the next, taken with a raw whine of protest in his throat as his Chris broke away for breath. And not this one either, not when each tender tug of their lips could hold the words at bay, could keep him anchored in this moment as long as he damn well liked, could kill time and shove it in stasis forever…

‘Stop.’ Pike’s hands were firm yet trembling against McCoy’s shoulders, his breath a ragged ripsaw against his slack mouth. ‘I’ll walk away,’ he added, soft and even more reluctant. ‘I’ll leave, if you can’t…’

That would be asking too much, and at the same time would devastate him even more to watch him go. ‘No,’ he decided. ‘No, I… I’m ready…’

He would be brave for his Chris, though nowhere near strong enough to resist the theft of one more kiss, of an embrace tight enough to shatter ribs to splinters. The raw and secret words he dropped in Pike’s ear were poor repayment for all he stole away as he left the room, crossed the hangar deck and dropped the dead husk of his body into the empty seat at Jim’s side.

Jim watched as he struggled with his safety harness, mouth open as though to speak but McCoy cut him off with a stiff shake of his head that preserved the awful silence as the shuttle came unhinged from the earth and began its irrevocable climb into the atmosphere. McCoy pressed his lips tight, repressing the first lurches of space sickness and something worse, stomach twisting as the sky grew deeper, darker out his nearest viewport.

The flight from San Francisco to Starbase One was mercifully short, passing quickly enough to almost forgive the silence hanging thick between them. McCoy might have survived the journey just like that, but Jim had other ideas.

‘You’ll be on the bridge when we disembark, won’t you?’ Jim asked as the shuttle bay slipped around their shuttle, replacing the infinite black of space with the close glow of artificial light. ‘I know it’s not regulation or anything, but I’d like it if you’d…’

‘Sure, Jim,’ he agreed, pushing past the worst of his mood to place a discreet hand on Jim’s thigh, giving him a reassuring squeeze that he barely felt. ‘Wouldn’t miss it.’

+ + +

There was a large bottle of especially fine bourbon waiting in McCoy’s quarters at the end of alpha shift. A too long, almost obsessive search for a card or a note turned up nothing, but his second drink reassured him that it didn’t matter who had arranged the gift. Not really.

He was partway into his third generous measure, smoky heat smothering the perfect weight of numb over his nerve endings, when the door chime pierced the low thrum of engines pressing him from all around. If anything, McCoy let loose another minute knot of tension at the sound – long anticipated, finally here.

‘Yeah,’ he called out hoarsely, not bothering to move from his wide-legged slouch on the regulation sofa as his visitor came to him with a sterile whoosh of doors sliding open and shut. Everything about this ship was so damn loud.


‘Jim.’ He glanced up from his drink long enough to register the gold shirt that had made his heart ache at its first appearance on the bridge, the pinched wariness of blue eyes that sent him back into his bourbon.

‘Was wondering where you were.’

‘Where else would I be?’ he shot back, lazy and toothless.

‘I… well, I thought you might’ve come to my quarters at the end of shift.’

McCoy bit his lip. Of course Jim would shoot straight to the point but there was no good way to explain why he couldn’t be with Jim in those quarters yet, that the bed was still dented by the ghost of his Chris’ healing body. ‘You come to collect me, then?’

‘Not if you don’t want to,’ Jim said, slow and fragile. There was an invitation there all the same but shame and bourbon kept McCoy’s slack body pinned in place. He dared a closer look at Jim’s face, saw him studying the bottle on the coffee table with a complete lack of recognition that made McCoy’s heart lurch. If it hadn’t been Jim…

He stared into his drink, sick with regret. He shouldn’t have wasted so much of this precious gift already.

‘Bones…’ That voice reached for him, even as Jim remained fixed at a safe distance. ‘Is this… are we gonna be okay?’

‘What?’ McCoy lifted his head, and the pain written across Jim’s face nearly made him wish he hadn’t looked at all. ‘Jim… shit, I’m sorry, I…’ He stared into his drink again to hide a self-conscious frown. ‘Not tonight,’ he murmured, heat scratching up the back of his neck. ‘It’s fine, I swear, it’s just… it’s too soon…’

‘Right… yeah.’ Jim’s voice was a thin thread stretching and plucking its way towards false self-assurance. ‘Yeah, okay. However long you need, alright?’

The words did nothing to convince either of them, and the slow retreat of footsteps stripped any last hope from the room. McCoy closed his eyes, gave his head a sharp shake.


He heard Jim stop, felt the breath he pulled from the room’s scant supply of oxygen.

‘You sure?’

‘Wouldn’t have asked otherwise, now would I?’ He lifted his head, held Jim’s gaze until a hint of relief brightened his face. ‘Fetch another glass and sit your ass down,’ he said, waving at the tiny kitchenette where he vaguely recalled seeing at least a couple more basic tumblers. He would need to lay in some better glassware along the way, something to make this more like a home.

‘Too drunk to get it for me?’ Jim teased as he opened the cabinet.

McCoy sniffed dismissively. ‘Like hell.’ Though he was almost relaxed now, tension easing at the splash of bourbon into Jim’s glass, the slightest sagging of the ridiculously firm sofa as his body sank down at his side.

‘I’m not sure I’m ready for it either,’ Jim confessed quietly after a first sip of his drink. Frowning, McCoy rolled his head against the back of the sofa to study Jim’s downturned face.

‘Ready for what?’

An anxious twitch of a shrug answered him. ‘Sitting in his chair,’ he said, glancing aside to return McCoy’s stare. ‘Sleeping in his bed,’ he added with a quieter significance.

‘Your chair now, kid,’ he pointed out, though he probably lacked the conviction Jim needed. ‘Your bed, too.’

‘Think I’d prefer your bed for now,’ Jim murmured with a quiet delicacy that avoided asking the question outright, even if it pressed forcefully against McCoy’s every craving for solitude. With a carefully drawn breath, he leaned forward to set his drink down on the coffee table before turning to properly consider Jim.

He laid his hand on a gold-clad shoulder, sternly reminding himself that the Chris who had worn this colour was the one he had known the least; he didn’t have memories enough of Pike in this uniform to make them his foremost thought here and now, not when Jim’s need was palpable beneath his touch. Tension, exhaustion maybe, thrummed through his skin as McCoy dragged the pad of his thumb along a tight tendon in his throat, played at the cropped ends of his hair.

‘That’s your bed, too,’ he decided carefully. ‘Not that I can promise to be much fun tonight,’ he warned in a low, self-conscious grumble, ‘but I reckon I’m good to share this damn fine bourbon and put up with your snoring once you pass out.’

‘I don’t snore,’ Jim protested with a half-hearted frown.

‘Bullshit.’ He mussed up Jim’s hair until it came out looking like the result of rougher play. ‘Just count yourself lucky I’m willing to put up with the snoring,’ he added as he reached for his drink again.

‘I do,’ Jim said softly, so sincere that it stilled McCoy’s hand as he raised his bourbon to his lips. ‘Thanks for letting me stay,’ he added as McCoy glanced back with a worried frown. ‘And for staying.’

He offered his best attempt at a smile as he settled back onto the uncomfortable sofa, slung an arm across Jim’s tensed shoulders. ‘As if I could’ve done anything else.’