mijan: (Kirk/McCoy: I've got you)
[personal profile] mijan
Title: “No Man’s Land
Authors: [profile] gone_ashore and [personal profile] mijan
Rating: R
Pairing: Kirk/McCoy
Word Count: 10,882 for part 5.
Warnings: Triggery. References to alien experimentation, graphic descriptions, mpreg.
Summary: A mission gone wrong puts Jim at the wrong end of alien observation, captive to a species that uses him as a lab rat. Helpless and defenseless for nearly a week, the Antosians break him down physically and mentally. After his rescue, he slowly starts to recover, until one unrealized part of the Antosians' handiwork turns his life upside down. and threatens to destroy him.

Notes: This might surprise you, but neither of the authors particularly like most mpreg. So, why are we writing it? Because we wanted to turn the trope on its head. This is a subtle, complex look at the physical and psychological ramifications of forced pregnancy on a male through biomedical experimentation. The characters are not throwing a baby shower.

This is cross-posted between my journal and [profile] gone_ashore’s journal. Feel free to read either here, or on [profile] gone_ashore’s journal, here.

To Part 1
To Part 2
To Part 3
To Part 4A
To Part 4B

*********


Part 5

Day 44


Leonard hasn't left Jim's bedside. It's the middle of gamma shift, he's exhausted, and sickbay is quiet except for the muffled sounds of Zhang restocking the surgical suite. With the clot successfully removed, the incisions closed, and Jim's condition stable, he could have gone back to his quarters and maybe gotten some sleep.

No, he couldn't have. Not really. Not until he sees those baby blues crack open... so he can give Jim a piece of his goddamned mind.

Maybe he should go easy on him. Jim knows just how badly he screwed this up. Leonard can't stop picturing the look of sheer terror on Jim's face as they rushed him towards sickbay, and the gut-wrenching look of remorse that had twisted his pale, pained expression until the sedatives had knocked him out. Hell, for Jim, just being in sickbay is punishment enough. But then again, he'd tried to go easy on Jim before, and the end result of that had been a violation of medical restrictions and emergency surgery for a potentially life-threatening complication.

Right now, Leonard is almost sick with worry -- not over the clot. That's been fixed. No, the real problem is what happens after Jim walks out of sickbay again. Leonard's furious, really... as much with himself as with Jim.

Jim can't keep going like this. The embryo -- almost a fetus now -- has got to go, and soon. But in the meantime, Jim's got to hang in there just a little bit longer. As if it's not enough that Leonard still isn't ready with the microcellular surgical techniques, he'd have to wait until Jim recovers from this fiasco anyway. It's a setback, and a dangerous warning sign, and it probably happened because the idiot was too much of a stubborn fool to listen to his orders for once.

Leonard rubs his eyes tiredly. God, he needs some sleep. This is taking a toll on him, too. He's been spending every spare minute during the day reviewing surgical techniques and running countless simulations. Then at night, when he's exhausted and could really use some company, Jim avoids him. He misses his best friend, and dammit, he needs some physical release. Not even necessarily sex, but at least some skin-to-skin contact and somebody to talk to.

Jim stirs, and almost automatically, Bones reaches for his hand, but he stops mid-movement and pulls his hand back. For the moment, he needs to distance himself, if he's going to have a chance of saying the things he has to say.

He watches Jim struggle towards wakefulness, wanting to soothe him but taking the time just to observe him instead. He's seen Jim come out of anesthesia enough times to know that it's not an easy process for him. Most people experience a fairly smooth rise in consciousness levels, feeling drowsy and relaxed as awareness returns. For Jim, it's like he fights the whole way, kicking and clawing his way upwards, even as the drugs still circulating in his bloodstream haven't fully relinquished their grip on him.

Jim's mouth starts moving, and finally forms a word. "Bones..." Eyes still closed, his hand gropes along the side of the biobed, as if he's reaching for something to anchor him.

"I'm here, Jim." He sighs, and takes Jim's hand. "It's over. Open your eyes."

Bleary eyes flicker open, and immediately begin to dart back and forth, as if he's trying to reassure himself that he's in sickbay, safe, and not... somewhere else. "Bones... is it... am I..."

"Your leg is fine fine, kid," Leonard answers. "We got the clot out in one piece. Easy, clean surgery. No permanent damage to your artery or leg tissues."

"The... embryo?"

"Stable."

There's both relief and disappointment reflected in Jim's gaze. He must have been hoping that the embryo would be gone as well. "Are there any..." He shivers suddenly, and his eyes close again. "'m cold."

Leonard pulls the blanket up higher and activates the biobed's warming function. The thermoregulatory drug he administered should have taken care of any post-operative shivering, but trust Jim to respond atypically. He increases the dose slightly through Jim's IV.

Jim's shivering gradually subsides, but he seems to have fallen back into a doze. "Are there any what, Jim?" Leonard prompts.

"Mmm..." His eyes flicker open for just a second. "There any... cuts?"

"I used microtools in the surgery, and the incisions are fully healed already."

"Good." He opens his eyes fully, finding Leonard's face this time. "I can... walk on it, 's okay now?"

"You'll need to take it easy for a few days, but yes. Walking's fine." He offers a small smile. "In fact, we'll want to get you up and out of bed to walk in a couple of hours. Not far. Just around sickbay. That will help with your circulation."

Jim nods, blinking a few times. His eyes turn downwards, as if he's taking stock of his own body. Really, there's nothing unusual to see. He's got a light blanket covering him from the chest down, but even so, there are no bandages, no bruises, the two tiny incisions are healed, and no significant support equipment. But then Jim's mouth twists into a frown, and he reaches for the IV in his hand.

Quickly, Leonard grabs Jim's hand and stops him. "Whoa, hands off the equipment!"

"Don't want that."

Leonard rolls his eyes. Jim's made it quite clear in the past how much he despises the IV, even more than hyposprays. "Well, you need it, and complaining isn't going to change that."

"Why?"

The question infuriates Leonard. Stubborn fool isn't even fully lucid from the anesthesia, but he's already uncooperative. "Because your risk for a second clot would be dangerously high without those meds, at least for now, and I'd really rather not have to yank another clot out of one of your arteries. Trust me, that would be a far less pleasant alternative."

Jim's expression is looking more and more anxious as his gaze flicks from the tube embedded in his hand to the monitor equipment above the biobed, and Leonard doesn't miss the way his heart rate spikes slightly. "Jim..."

"I don't like this."

"I know you don't, but that's what you get for locking yourself in the gym for a kamikaze workout. Which I expressly told you not to do." He can't keep the anger out of his voice, and he feels a small sense of vindication when Jim flinches.

"I'm sorry. I didn't expect this to happen. I just wanted some space... somewhere I could do some thinking, alone." His face looks a bit paler suddenly, and his breathing is getting shallow and rapid. "Come on, take out the IV, Bones, I'm awake now."

"Jim. Stop this and listen to me. You need to rest, and I don't need you fighting me." If Jim doesn't calm down on his own, they'll have to drug him. "Come on, Jim."

Jim's gaze finally finds his face, even though his eyes are still a bit unfocused. "You know I can't relax here. I'll just go rest in my quarters, okay?"

In an instant, a burning anger surges up in Leonard's chest. "What? Are you out of your ever-lovin' mind?" Jim's barely awake, just out of surgery, and already asking to get out of sickbay? Unbelievable.

Jim stares up at him owlishly. "You said it's fixed. No damage, right?"

Leonard feels his eyebrows working themselves into a scowl. "No damage," he says with a huff. "Yeah, kid, there's no damage... this time. Do you know how bad that could have been? You could have thrown a clot to your heart or your brain. You could have had irreversible brain damage. You're actually lucky that it just hurt like hell and stopped your workout. Do you get that?"

To Leonard's surprise, Jim nods. "I get it, Bones. I fucked up. I'm not going to do it again. I won't exercise, I swear. I'll come back here for whatever tests you want." He's not smiling; his expression is completely serious. "So... will you let me leave?"

For all of Jim's efforts to look determined and trustworthy, Leonard can't miss the underlying fear. Damn it. As much as the kid has never liked doctors, sickbay, or being a patient, this seems to be developing into a full-blown phobia, complete with irrational behavior, unmitigated panic, and uncontrolled emotional reactions. Not that Leonard can really blame him. Jim went through medical hell on Antos, and his personal nightmare isn't over yet.

A phobia can be treated, given time. But for now, Jim's just going to have to suck it up. He can't let his fear get the better of him -- again -- and put his recovery at risk.

"Snap out of it, Jim. No, stop. Look at me, and think about what you're asking."

"I know what I'm asking." Jim's face is a calm mask, but the biobed monitor lets out a soft ping. The scanners are registering what Jim's trying to hide: increased sympathetic nervous system activity. Stress reaction.

"And do you have any idea how crazy that sounds right now? You'll leave when I clear you, and not a moment sooner. The chance of a repeat clot isn't something I want to risk. I need to keep you monitored for at least another twenty-four hours while we lower the levels of anticoagulants."

"I'll come by sickbay as often as you want me to. I won't complain about the hypospray. Please, just --"

Leonard pulls his hand away from Jim and sits taller. "Jim, stop running your mouth and listen." He keeps his voice hard, trying to let the anger cover his worry, and hide how much Jim's pained desperation wrenches his own gut. "Regular anticoagulants could make the embryo and uterine sac unstable. The safest ones are short-acting compounds that need steady delivery, direct to your bloodstream, and even then, it's risky. Even without your unique situation, I wouldn't let anyone out of sickbay within twenty-four hours of an arterial embolus!"

Jim cringes. "Yeah, but --"

Leonard talks right over him. "Jim, you're in a volatile, dangerous, uncharted, medical no-man's-land. Your body isn't made for this, and I'm working my damned ass off, trying to get you through this alive. All I asked you to do was to follow a few simple, temporary restrictions!" He clenches his hands into fists in his lap. "And what did you do? You ignored them, because you obviously think that you know better! You couldn't handle those restrictions for just a few weeks."

"Bones, I..." Jim looks like he's going a bit pale again, but Leonard can't back down now.

"Are you trying to make this harder, Jim?" He doesn't even pause for an answer. It's rhetorical. "I was scared to death while you were on Antos, and if I were a praying man, I'd be on my knees thanking every God in the galaxy that we got you back alive. But then, you have to go and do something like this. What the hell am I supposed to think?"

Jim doesn't say a word, but the restless look on his face seems like a good enough summary of what he's thinking.

Leonard shakes his head to himself. "The restrictions are temporary, Jim. I only gave them to you because I'm worried about you dying on me. Do you get that?" He pinches the bridge of his nose briefly, trying to stifle the start of a headache. He's had too little sleep and too much stress lately. "Once this is over, you can go back to being your regular damned fool reckless self. At least when you come back in pieces from your usual shit, I know what the pieces are, and how to put them back together!"

"I know you were only looking out for me, Bones... I made a mistake." The almost-apology is shaky, and it only triggers another wave of anger from Leonard.

"A mistake? Jim, a mistake is putting your uniform shirt on inside out. You did this deliberately! You abused your captain's lockout code. In all the years I've known you, you might like to bend the rules, but you've never abused your rank. And why?" He lets out a cynical laugh. "Spock was right. The only reason you would've used that security level is because it's the only one that would keep me out." The thought of Jim keeping him out, personally, has been one of the things digging the deepest. "Jim... we've had each other's dorm codes since our first year at the Academy. You've never locked me out of anything."

Jim swallows tightly. "It wasn't you I was locking out."

"Explain that to me, Jim, because I don't understand the logic."

Jim looks up at him, and there's a resentful gleam in his eye. "This might not make sense, but I wasn't locking you out, Bones. I was locking out Doctor McCoy. There's a difference."

Leonard feels like he's been kicked in the gut. From Jim's point of view, it makes sense. It makes too much sense. For weeks now, he hasn't really been there for Jim. He's worked Jim up one side and down the other in the professional, cold, intimidating setting of sickbay. Scanned him, tested him, altered his biochemistry, and made him relive every trauma of Antos II, again and again. He's put the kid through what must feel like a perpetual hell. Jim looks like he's lost his best friend, and maybe he has.

"Jim..." His mouth has gone dry, and he tries to swallow against the sudden sensation of sandpaper in his throat. "You don't have to explain. I get it."

Jim presses his lips together tightly and gives him a doleful look. "I shouldn't have done it. I know this."

"No, you shouldn't have," Leonard growls. An image flashes through his mind of Jim writhing in pain on the floor of the fitness studio. "But just because I know what twisted rationale sent you to that dang fool running contraption of yours doesn't mean I can let it slide. You risked your life, Jim. All for a workout!"

"It wasn't just the workout." He heaves a tight breath. "I hate all of this. What's happening to my body. Being weak. Every day that I'm still... restricted, it's another day that the Antosians still have me captive." His eyes sweep around sickbay, and he holds up the hand with the IV like a challenge. "I don't like... being controlled."

Leonard feels a hot flicker of guilt, but he quickly pushes it back down as he reminds himself of the many occasions since Antos when Jim has pushed him away, asked to be left alone, put him off, made excuses. The only situation he's left open to him is when he's being the CMO, and that's only because Jim has no choice. Leonard's being held at arm's length, and doing his damned best not to completely lose his grip. One slippery finger at a time, he feels like he's losing that battle.

Leonard looks at Jim determinedly. "I don't like coming so close to losing you, Jim. And like it or not, I'm your doctor, and if I need to tie you to the biobed to make sure you get the treatment you need, so help me, I will."

Something in Jim's expression freezes, then cracks. His head sags back against the pillow and he closes his eyes.

Part of Leonard wants nothing more than to comfort Jim. This is ripping him apart, too. But right now, he can't. He's still too raw, too angry, and what Bones wants is in direct conflict with what the physician in him knows is best.

He sighs. "Listen, I haven't slept in almost twenty-four hours. You're stable, and alpha shift will be starting soon. Doctor M'Benga's taking the shift. Chapel's already here. Get some more sleep, don't mess with the IV, and listen to my staff."

"Sure." Jim's voice is flat.

"If you need anything, have Chapel comm me."

"Okay."

"Jim?"

His eyes crack open, looking at Leonard warily. "What?"

Leonard wants to say how much he misses Jim. But this isn't the time. "Spock will be coming in to speak with you in a little while."

"Fuck," Jim mutters, his lips tightening. "Did you have to tell him?"

"Yeah, Jim. I did. He's your goddamned first officer! Hell, you guys are friends. You two talk it out." He shakes his head. God, he can't take this anymore. "I'll check on you after I've had some sleep."

Jim says nothing.

With a heavy sigh, he pushes himself out of his chair, pulls the privacy curtain around Jim's bed, and hurries out of sickbay with little more than a nod to Nurse Chapel. She's already been briefed, and she can take care of Jim just fine. Right now, Leonard needs a double shot of bourbon and his pillow.


*********



When Spock enters sickbay, it's all Jim can do to keep from shrinking back against the pillows. Shit. Spock's expression looks as calm and composed as it always does, but Jim knows that this conversation is not going to be pleasant. And he hates getting visitors in sickbay. It's downright embarrassing. He's reclining on a bed, out of uniform, his vitals are displayed above his head for anyone to read, and he's got an IV stuck in his hand. Talk about being at a disadvantage.

"Captain," Spock says without preamble, coming to stand at the foot of his bed, "you are looking considerably better than you did earlier this morning."

Double shit. That means Spock must have looked in on him while he was still unconscious, probably drooling on the pillow and snoring. "Bones says I'm fully recovered," he says. "He's just keeping me here for observation."

Spock raises an admonishing eyebrow. "That is not precise. I understood from the doctor that you are being kept to allow him to monitor your reaction to the anticoagulants, as well as to ensure that you comply with his instructions for bed rest."

Jim's obviously going to have to clarify some things with Bones about medical confidentiality. "Is that what he told you? It's not really necessary. He tends to err on the side of--"

"He also," Spock breaks in, "fully appraised me of your medical condition."

Jim feels irrationally betrayed, although he can hear Bones' voice echoing in his mind. I'll tell Spock, he'd said ten days ago, back when he'd told Jim to stay off the treadmill in the first place. "My medical condition," he repeats bitterly. "My pregnancy, you should say. Courtesy of the Antosian House of Horrors. Their fucking parting gift."

Spock comes around the biobed, seating himself gracefully on the chair at the side of the bed. It puts them both at more or less the same height, which is a relief, and also gives Jim a few seconds to rein in his temper. Spock isn't to blame here, and neither is Bones. If his secret's out and he's stuck back in sickbay, it's his own stupid fault.

"Captain." Spock's tone is low, almost intimate, pitched so that only the two of them can hear. "It has become increasingly apparent to me over the past three weeks that you are ill, despite your denials. As your first officer, working with you closely, you must have realized that I would notice this, long before you began wearing a med sensor."

Jim laughs to cover his embarrassment. "Actually, I thought I was hiding it pretty well. Except for that day I nearly threw up on the Bridge."

"I believe that I am not the only member of your senior staff who has noticed." Obviously, he means Uhura. Jim knows that she's been watching him pretty closely ever since he came back from Antos. He's not sure whether to feel grateful or resentful.

"Fine, you both have awesome powers of observation. So now you know." He sighs. "I was going to tell you eventually."

"Captain," Spock says stiffly, "I believe that you had a responsibility to inform me immediately of something that is quite obviously relevant to your ability to function. As your second-in-command, I believe this is critical information."

Jim nods, feeling the heat rising in his cheeks. "You're right. I should have told you there was something wrong."

"Indeed."

Jim shifts uncomfortably on the thin mattress, wishing he could stand up and pace the length of the room. "Look, I honestly thought that I'd be rid of the... problem... weeks ago. And I didn't really want anyone to know about it. It's my business, Spock, and it'll be gone in a few days anyway, so there was no reason for you to know."

"Jim..." Spock seems uncharacteristically hesitant. "This is not a personal matter. You were captured as a member of a Starfleet survey mission. The embryo was bioengineered on Antos II from your genetic material, and the doctor's, taken without your knowledge or consent. The implantation was an additional assault committed during your captivity. These are crimes which must be reported to Starfleet."

"This isn't something I want Starfleet to know! I didn't -- I don't -- want this in the official logs. It's not the kind of information that needs to get out." He shakes his head emphatically. Nogura's always hated him and Archer's been holding a grudge since Jim released Scotty from exile on Delta Vega. They do not need to know this.

"I grant you that it is a unique circumstance. But perhaps I misunderstand. You seem to imply that you will be ridiculed."

"A pregnant starship captain? C'mon, Spock, I'll never live it down and you know it! Can you imagine what'll happen if this ever leaks to the tabloids?" Potential headlines scroll through his thoughts. Starfleet's Wonder Boy Becomes a Mother. Captain Kirk, Notorious Ladies' Man, Gets Knocked Up by Aliens. Oh, God.

"Classified logs are not made public. It is unthinkable that the Admiralty, or Starfleet Intelligence--"

"Politics," Jim says flatly. "Do I have to spell it out for you? Not everyone wants me to succeed out here."

Spock pauses, as if considering his words. Don't tell me I'm being illogical, Jim pleads silently. Don't fight me on this.

"We will continue to discuss this when you are released from sickbay," he says finally. "Reporting the particulars of your situation to Starfleet is not urgent. But there is another aspect which is more troubling."

"The surgery, I know. Bones has a new technique he's working on. It'll be fine."

"That is not the issue." He steeples his fingers, a gesture Jim has seen him use when they're arguing procedure or discussing some ethical dilemma. "In deep space, we often have little choice but to make our own decisions. We cannot always communicate with Starfleet Command, and while we have our orders and general directives, Starfleet must trust us to use our best judgment. An integral part of my job as first officer is to provide you with alternatives, or with options that you may not have considered, as you do for me. In fact, Jim, the most successful command teams," he says, stressing the word, "are made of officers whose points of view are often radically different."

"I know that," Jim says, trying not to show how uneasy this line of discussion is making him feel.

"But you have not asked for my input on this issue, nor, it seems, did you intend to do so. And while Doctor McCoy has made it clear that there are issues of medical confidentiality which imposed ethical constraints, he also has chosen to follow your lead."

"I asked him not to say anything." It's not an excuse, though, and he knows it.

"We cannot be an effective command team if you do not trust me to keep your confidence. You also cannot lead if you are physically compromised and your judgment is impaired."

"There's nothing wrong with my judgment!"

"Then allow me to say, Captain, that while I do understand that you would be uneasy making your condition known to the general public, I think that your responsibility to Starfleet outweighs personal interest. This information would certainly be relevant to any future contact with the Antosians. To any future landing parties."

Don't let this happen to anyone else, Spock is implying. Forewarned is forearmed.

Jim sighs. "Point taken." His ego can stand to be bruised a little if it means saving somebody else from winding up like this.

"I would further remind you that in my capacity as science officer, I may be able to aid the doctor in his research. We collected a variety of tissue samples from the local wildlife. The biochemical labs have been analyzing them, with particular emphasis on the enzymatic and molecular structures."

Jim's breath catches slightly. He hadn't considered that Spock would actually be able to help. Now he feels even more foolish, but he nods. "Send what you have to Doctor McCoy. That's a good idea."

"Also, I believe I may be able to provide a better understanding of the Antosians' actions."

Jim sits up straighter. "You think you know why they would try to impregnate me?" It's been gnawing at him -- the enigma, the unsolvable riddle. Why would the Antosians do it? What could they possible hope to achieve?

"I have a theory."

"Fire away."

Spock tilts his head. "Based on the reports from the early survey missions, the Antosian species appears to be gender-neutral," he explains evenly. "The early survey missions found no gender variation, although there seemed to be several subspecies of natives. We postulated that they reproduce using a form of agamogenesis."

"Single-parent reproduction," Jim translates. "But they're not plants, Spock."

"Asexual reporduction is common, or even beneficial, in circumstances in which rapid population growth is necessary. Antos is a sparcely-populated planet with unstable weather conditions. It may be that they have evolved in this direction to ensure their own survival."

"So why try to make me pregnant?"

"I can only speculate," Spock admits. "Perhaps they were intrigued by the presence of two sets of gametes. The concept of a cell with a half-genome would be an anomaly and a curiosity to them, as would the presence of two sets of sperm cells with clearly different genetic material. This, coupled with their obvious interest in your sexual organs--"

"I get the idea, Spock." This is definitely not a conversation he wants to be having with the other half of his command team. "So, you think they were, what, alien fertility specialists?"

"Or simply scientists, trying to understand how another species uses sexual reproduction. We have no way of knowing, short of returning for further observations, and that--"

"--Is not going to happen with my ship. Not if I have anything to say about it." He shudders. No, they are not going anywhere within ten parsecs of Antos.

"Rest assured, I was not going to suggest such a thing." Spock looks affronted at the idea. "Regardless of our scientific curiosity, it seems clear that this civilization is not ready for first contact. Starfleet may wish to continue observing this species, but I, for one, would certainly oppose using the Enterprise for such a task."

Jim nods. "Because we're not an equipped for long-term survey missions. Waste of resources." Logical, of course.

"You misunderstand me," Spock says, looking almost angry. "I would oppose sending down another team because our commanding officer has been assaulted and grievously injured by the Antosians. The entire crew is aware of this. I have no desire to encounter them again."

Surprised, Jim gives Spock an appraising look. He notices, for the first time, the subtle signs of tension around his mouth and in the way Spock is sitting ramrod straight in the chair. Remembering what Spock just told him, he feels a stab of shame. Spock's been watching him for weeks, absorbing his denials, worrying. And Jim's pushed him away, just like he's pushed away Bones.

It occurs to him that Spock may not be as unapproachable as he thought. And Jim's an asshole.

"So," Jim says, after another awkward minute, "I guess Bones told you that he's getting ready to operate."

"I will be prepared to take command temporarily during your recovery. I understand that the procedure carries some risk."

"Bones says it's my choice."

"Indeed, it is, Jim."

"What would you do, Spock?" he blurts. "I mean... is that what you think I should do? Remove it?"

It comes to him, with sudden insight, just why he's avoided telling Spock about the embryo. It's not that he doesn't trust him, and it's not even plain old embarrassment, although that's surely a part of it. It's the fact that Vulcans are an endangered species, and the few females left are all trying desperately to breed. Babies are suddenly the most precious, and rarest, Vulcan commodity. How could he tell Spock that he, of all people, was pregnant and wanted an abortion?

Spock's answer seems to show that he knows exactly what Jim is thinking. "On Vulcan, offspring have always been treasured," he says. "Unlike humans, Vulcans are not a particularly fertile species. Most females have two or three children at most during the course of their lifespan, both by choice and by design. Multiple births are uncommon."

Jim nods. He's read the reports on the fledgling Vulcan colony and is familiar with the tragically low numbers of females of child-bearing age. "I'm sorry, Spock. I shouldn't have brought it up. I know that you want as many babies as possible."

"On the new Vulcan colony," Spock continues, ignoring him, "every child is wanted. But that is not the case here, and I fail to see how the Vulcan experience is relevant to what has happened to you, Jim. This child is neither the product of a consensual union, nor a natural process, and it presents a very clear danger to your health. It is unlikely that you could carry it to term, even if you wanted to. I see no ethical dilemma here, if that is what you are asking."

Jim's not sure what he's asking, but Spock's answer is strangely comforting anyway. "Thanks, Spock. I appreciate it."

Spock stands. "I will return to the Bridge, then. Doctor McCoy was quite clear on limiting the time of this discussion."

Jim scowls. "I'm supposed to rest, I guess."

"Quite. And I would recommend that you use your time here to review the regulations surrounding the acceptable uses of the level one security restriction."

"Listen, Spock, about that level one lock," Jim laughs uncomfortably, "it's not that I didn't know the acceptable uses, exactly, it's just that..."

The look Spock gives him is distinctly unamused, and Jim subsides. "Fine, I'll review the regs."


*********



Sitting alone on a biobed, Jim has discovered, is an obnoxiously perfect opportunity to think. He's thought about what Bones said to him, about how he made things worse through his own foolhardiness. He's mused over the fact that his overly-logical, regulations-addicted First Officer seems to be a lot more understanding than he'd expected. He thinks about the stars racing by outside the ship, wishing he was sitting on the bridge to watch them. He feels fine right now, so it's been impossible to ignore the almost physical urge to get out of sickbay. Of course, that only serves to remind him of what Bones said, bringing him back full circle to the fact that he fucked up.

He hasn't been completely alone. M'Benga has come in periodically to readjust meds and take blood samples for testing. Chapel has pulled him out of bed to walk around sickbay and do some gentle stretching. She's also brought him breakfast and lunch, but he hasn't had much of an appetite. He managed to persuade M'Benga to bring him a PADD, but the mission plans for the planetary survey of Telos III only make him more frustrated, and the reports from around the ship remind him that he's confined to sickbay. Eventually he puts the PADD aside.

He feels isolated. The knowledge that Spock is being supportive helps, but the raw sensation of abandonment has been gnawing at him all morning. Every time M'Benga or one of the nurses pushes aside the curtain around his bed, it only emphasizes the fact that Bones isn't there with him.

Seeing Bones walk out of sickbay without a glance back... that hurt. Maybe he deserved it, though. Sure, he's always prided himself on his ability to walk the line between following the rules and writing his own rulebook. He can usually think things through, weigh the risks, and make decisions that are logical enough to keep Spock satisfied, but creative enough to keep everyone on their toes. But this time, he didn't really consider all the consequences. He should have just listened to Bones.

He completely disregarded his CMO's orders and then abused his lockout codes so that he wouldn't have to face the doctor's objections. If any crewmember had behaved like that, he'd chuck him in the brig for insubordination without waiting to hear his explanation. No wonder Bones is furious.

A timer on the small table next to the biobed beeps, and Jim glares at it with mild annoyance. Time for stretching. After the third iteration of Chapel walking him through the same stretching routine, he told her that he's got it figured out and just wants to do it himself. She'd smiled at him in a not quite patronizing way, set a timer to let him know when to stretch again, and reminded him not to get his IV line tangled. She'd refused to disconnect it, despite his best attempts at diplomatic negotiations.

I hope you're satisfied, Bones, he thinks to himself. You've got your whole staff trained to watch me like guard dogs.

With a sigh, he slides off the bed. He leans on it for balance as he slowly works through the routine. Calves. Quads. Bend down and stretch the hamstrings. He's straightening up to go into an abdominal stretch and sees Bones standing at the edge of the curtain on the far side of the biobed, looking at him with an odd expression on his face.

"Hey Bones. Uh... what gives?"

Bones' mouth quirks slightly. "I'm just happy to see ya taking care of yourself, Jim." He steps around the curtain and leans lightly against the biobed. "Have a good chat with Spock?"

"We talked. It's fine," Jim says shortly, as he clasps his hands over his head and leans back slightly, feeling the satisfying stretch in his abdomen. He doesn't want to get into it, and is grateful that Bones merely nods in acknowledgement, then gives him an appraising look with a slightly raised eyebrow.

"Been resting?"

"Not much else to do in here."

"Not harassing my staff, are you?"

He relaxes the stretch. "I assure you that your staff will give me a shining review, a gold star, and a cookie."

"I'm impressed."

"Don't be," Jim says ruefully. "It's just my ploy to get out of here faster." He grabs his left foot with his left hand, pulling his heel to his butt and stretching his quad again. "So, did you get any sleep?"

Bones shrugs. "Enough." He sighs and sits down on the chair next to the biobed, watching Jim's stretching technique like a hawk. "Believe it or not, Jim, I'm not keeping you here longer to punish you for misbehavior... even though you deserve it after your stunt last night. You're under observation while we adjust the anticoagulant levels, switch you over to something that doesn't need to be delivered constantly, and make sure you're not going to throw another clot. Nothing more sinister than that."

"I know." Jim tries to keep the resentment out of his voice.

"I also want to get some scans."

"Nurse Chapel has been taking scans all d-- oh, you mean that." He drops his foot and switches to the other leg. "Sure. Not like I've got any say in the matter."

Bones heaves out an exasperated breath. His head falls back against the chair, and Jim suddenly realizes that Bones probably didn't get much sleep at all. "Jim," he says, exhaustion obvious in his voice, "unless your life is in immediate danger, you always have a say. You're in here right now without a choice because if you throw another clot, it could be deadly. But most things? Yeah, you get a choice. And I'm going to give you the facts so you can make the best-informed choice." His head comes back up, and he makes eye contact. "We can take these scans, giving me some up-to-date information to work my final surgical sims and prepare for the real thing, which would give you the best chance possible, or you can refuse. We can do the surgery as soon as I'm ready, or you can elect to hold off as long as you're stable... although for the life of me, I can't see a reason to wait. Your best chance for a good outcome is to let me get these scans, and take care of this for you as soon as possible."

Jim releases his right foot and heaves himself back onto the bed, feet dangling over the side. He looks over his shoulder at Bones. "Well, when you put it that way, it would make me sound like an idiot if didn't agree."

A tired smile ghosts across Bones' face. "Now you're gettin' the idea, kid. So... how about we do those scans now?"

Jim tilts his head. "Not like I've got anything better to do."

It's not so bad this time. Just a scan. No injections or biopsy needles or anything else that makes Jim want to jump out of his skin while he's lying on the scanner... except for the simple matter of what Bones is scanning for and how it got there in the first place. Bones' face is impartial as he adjusts the scanner, taps buttons, and stares at the display screen which is infuriatingly out of Jim's visual field.

"Hey, uh... Bones?"

"Hold on a moment, Jim. I need to tighten the resolution on the placenta here." He doesn't look away from the screen. "I promise, just a couple more minutes."

Jim scowls. "That's not what I was going to say."

Bones finally looks away from the screen, sporting a slightly apologetic grimace. "Sorry, kid. What's wrong? Are you in any sort of pain?"

Jim shakes his head. "No, I was just wondering... could you turn the screen so I can see it?"

At this, Bones actually seems surprised. "Why?"

"I just... need to see it." He can't quite put into words why he suddenly wants to look at it again. He knows it's been changing and developing in the past weeks. Even as he's tried to ignore it as much as possible, and its very existence is an insult and assault to his body, he needs to know. Never mind that last time he saw it he puked. Now he wants to understand. To seek out new life forms, his brain supplies.

Leonard gives him a long look. "You know it's growing, Jim. I don't want you thinking about this the wrong way, or... getting confused."

"Don't patronize me," he snaps. "It's my choice to see it."

Bones reaches up reluctantly and turns the screen towards Jim.

Intellectually, Jim knows what to expect. After all, he did skim through the summarized information packet on fetal development that Bones had given him weeks ago, even though he really didn't want to. But there's something visceral about seeing the live image, obviously enlarged.

The beating heart. The flowing blood. The fact that -- shit -- it does look vaguely, oddly human now, more than before. It's got little buds for arms and legs. It's a stark reminder, once again, that there's actually something alive in him. It makes him queasy, and terrifies him just a bit, but as wrong as it is, it's... human. Not fully formed yet, but well on its way. It could be their child, his and Bones'.

His breath catches as he stares, feeling a little bit dizzy, even though he's lying down. A second later, there's a firm, steadying hand on his shoulder.

"I told you... you don't need to see it."

"Yeah, I do," Jim replies, a little bit breathless. He turns to look up at Bones' face. "As I've been recently reminded, I'm a Starfleet captain. What does it say about me if I stick my head in the sand and refuse to see things for what they are?"

"Fair enough," Bones says impartially.

Jim nods and looks back over at the screen. "So... how's it looking?"

Bones hesitates only a moment. "The tissue from the artificial blood vessels hasn't grown any further into your aorta, so it looks like that won't get any worse. The vasculature of the uterine sac is developing a little bit oddly, and the connective tissue looks a bit strange, but it's stable... what?"

"That's not what I meant."

He hears Bones sigh. "The embryo is in perfect health. Developing normally. No genetic anomalies. The anticoagulants haven't harmed it."

"How big is it?"

"The embryo? About two centimeters. The sac is just over seven centimeters in diameter."

A strange thought enters Jim's mind. "Bones, theoretically... would it be possible to take the fetus and have it finish developing normally in a woman? In a surrogate?"

Bones makes a brief, strangled sound. "No, Jim. Just... no, for a dozen reasons. First, the fetal circulatory system is completely tied into the placenta, which is attached to the uterine sac, and... even with our technology, it's impossible transfer a pregnancy from one woman to another once the embryo implants. Second, the hormonal and immunological balance between mother and fetus has to develop in sequence, from the start of the pregnancy. Third... goddammit, Jim, are you still thinking that it's viable?"

"You said it was healthy," Jim replies, but he feels detached from his own voice. "I'm just trying to understand."

"Jim, for the love of God!" He reaches out and taps the scanner controls, and the viewscreen goes blank. "I've already gone over all the risks with you. You know that just because something is theoretically possible doesn't mean it isn't completely insane. So please just put that out of your mind."

The strange, heady feeling that Jim felt just a moment ago evaporates. "Forget it, Bones. Back to normal, soon. We'll put it all behind us." He stares at the blank screen of the scanner, picturing the odd-looking features of the tiny thing. And then he shudders and feels the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

The Antosians put it there. They put him through hell. Forced this on him. Almost killed him. And damn it all, he's a man.

And yet... it's alive. Human. Theirs.

Fuck, he's so confused.

"We done here?" Jim asks as evenly as possible, glancing up sideways at Bones.

"Yeah." Bones offers him a hand and pulls him upright. "Come on, you should go lie down while I review the scans."

Jim can only nod and allow himself to be led back to the biobed. Bones helps pull the blanket up for him, checks his vitals, and makes a quick adjustment on the meds. But as he turns to leave, Jim feels a sudden flash of deja vu. It's an echo from the wee hours of the morning when he'd woken up with Bones at his bedside... and then Bones had left without a glance back. Sure, the guy had been dead tired, but shit, he should have said something. "Bones?"

Bones stops short and twists his shoulders around to look back at Jim, but his feet are still pointed towards his office. "Yes, Jim?" The clinical detachment is still drawn like a curtain across his face, but Jim can see through it, and behind that curtain, Bones has been suffering silently. And mostly it's Jim's fault.

They've been there for each other since the start. The worst and the best times. A mismatched pair of misfits, and it worked when they were just friends -- it's never been 'just friends' -- and it works now. Or it worked until Antos II. Something broke on that planet, and Jim isn't quite sure he can even find all the pieces, much less put them back together. But he's not going to make it if he keeps shutting Bones out. .

Finally, he takes a deep breath and says, "I miss you."

Leonard nods uneasily, but at least his feet turn towards Jim so that he's properly facing him. "You could've just told me that earlier, instead of going to all this trouble to spend a day in sickbay."

"I didn't do that part on purpose."

"I know."

"Maybe," Jim says slowly, "when you let me out of here... we could sit down and have dinner?"

Leonard's eyes to a bit wider, and for a moment, he looks absolutely vulnerable. "We could do that."

"But I have one condition."

"What's that?"

"I want to have dinner with you, not Doctor McCoy. I miss us, Bones." He swallows tightly and coughs to clear his throat. "I know you've got to be my doctor, but if you stop being my..." He hesitates, then presses forward. "My anchor... I'm not going to make it."

Bones stands there, frozen for a moment, then his shoulders droop. With a sigh, he takes a step closer. "You haven't exactly made it easy."

It would be easy to shrink back, but Jim can't let that happen. "I know. But it hasn't been easy to connect with anyone after Antos. Easier to avoid people when everything makes you feel exposed."

"I made you feel exposed," Bones says, a hint of regret in his tone, but not apology.

"Yeah. You always do. I used to like it."

Bones takes another step closer, close enough to brush the foot of the biobed with his hip. "Do you think you'll be able to like it again?"

The question wrenches something in Jim's chest, and all he can do is nod.

After a moment of hesitation, Bones finally steps up to Jim and slowly, tentatively, cups Jim's face in his hands. "We'll do dinner, Jim. I'll try to leave the doctor behind."

Jim nods again, cheeks flushing hot against Bones' hands, and he has to close his eyes as Bones leans in and brushes his lips against Jim's. It's not much of a kiss, and it's painfully reluctant, but it feels like the first crack in a solid tritanium wall that's been firmly in place for weeks. Finally, after a moment, Bones pulls away as Jim opens his eyes again. Bones' expression is unreadable, but he reaches down and gives Jim's knee a squeeze.

"Take a nap, kid. You're still recovering." He tilts his head towards the office. "I've got some work to do, but... if you get some sleep, and your blood test results look good, I'll let you out early in gamma shift, and we'll have a late dinner."

Jim offers a tentative smile. "I can work with that."

Bones returns the smile -- small and unsure though it might be -- and finally walks back to his office, drawing the privacy curtain around Jim's biobed as he leaves.


*********



"Come on, Bones. Seriously?" Jim glares at the small device that Bones is strapping around his upper arm. "Haven't you stuck me with enough stuff?"

Bones gives him a familiar look of annoyance as he adjusts the strap on the device. The thing is less than half the size of a deck of cards, and has a very slim tube coming out of it. "Yes, seriously, Jim. Or we'll keep you in sickbay for another day. I'm already letting you out earlier than I'd planned. Hold still." With a quick movement, Bones jabs the tiny needle attached to the end of the tube into his arm.

"Ow."

Bones only rolls his eyes as he pulls the needle itself out, leaving the almost-invisible plastic catheter embedded in his arm. "Don't be such a baby. It's small, it's just subcutaneous, and in ten seconds, you'll forget it's there." He tosses the needle into the biohazard bin, then reaches for the tape, "Besides, the pump is so small that nobody will see it under your uniform, so there's no need to worry about your captainly pride." He applies a piece of tape over the spot where the tube is embedded, and another halfway between the tube and the pump, fixing it to his arm.

"I thought you said you'd switch me to something that doesn't need continuous delivery. Pills or something," Jim complains in annoyance. It's hard not to reach over and rub his arm. Instead, he grabs his black undershirt and pulls it quickly over his head.

Bones has the good grace to look slightly apologetic. "I wanted to, but your clotting factor profiles aren't looking as good as I'd like. These short-acting drugs are safer, more effective than the pills, or even the things I'd use a hypospray for. And this way, you won't need to wake up to take doses, or worry about forgetting. Besides, I want something with a short half-life so that when we're ready to operate, it will only take a couple of hours for the drugs to clear your system."

"Why do I need to stop them before... you know... surgery?"

"So you don't bleed out on the table, idiot." There's a hint of affection in the last word, and that's what finally lets Jim relax.

Jim nods. "Oh. Right."

Bones nods. "Besides, I think we'll be ready in just a few more days, so you won't be stuck with any of this for much longer."

"Yeah." Jim slides off the biobed, and flexes his arm. Bones is right -- he can barely feel it. "So... can we leave sickbay stuff behind and go have dinner?"

"Sure, kid." Bones rests a warm hand on his shoulder, and Jim lets him steer them both towards the door. "Your place or mine?"

"Mine," Jim says. "I already contacted Yeoman Rand and had her send up dinner."

They walk together in silence to the turbolift, up two floors, and down the hall to Jim's quarters. It's companionable silence for the most part, but Jim still feels uncomfortable. After years of never having to think twice about what to say or do around Bones, he feels awkward this time. For weeks, Bones has watched him like a hawk, and he doesn't think they've had a single conversation that hasn't focused on his health in one way or another.

He's almost forgotten what their old conversations had been like before Antos II. Sure, Bones is always asking after his health, but it's almost like a joke between then, and then the conversation drifts to other things. Missions. Earth. Shore leave. The latest gossip from around the ship. Sex.

Jim feels his breath catch for a moment at the thought. They might have separate quarters, but ever since their... relationship developed, they always seem to end up together, in one room or the other. Or they did until Antos. After having shared a bed for months, then stopping so suddenly, Jim doesn't know where this is going. He's never been gun-shy about sex. In fact, if he's preoccupied with something, sex is usually the best distraction. Now, with violation after violation, the thought makes him uncomfortable. Maybe not tonight, but eventually, he and Bones will want to have sex again... won't they? What is Bones expecting? Hell, Jim isn't even sure what he wants himself right now.

"Jim?"

Jim blinks and realizes he's standing outside the door to his own quarters. "Oh... right." He presses his thumb to his access panel and the door slides open. They're barely inside when he feels Bones' hand on his shoulder. He turns around reluctantly.

"Are you okay? You're not feeling sick or light-headed, are you?"

"I'm fine, Bones. Come on, you said you'd leave the doctor stuff behind."

Something in Bones' expression falls. "I know you're tired of all this focus on your health. But you should know that I can't stop being a doctor. That's my profession, but it's also who I am. I can't stop the way I think, any more than you can separate Jim-the-idiot from Captain Kirk."

"Hey, watch it," Jim says with an insulted air. "You know damned well that I've got to be responsible for this ship."

"And you know full well that I've got to be responsible for the health of every person onboard -- especially you! I'm serious, Jim. That's who I am. Take it or leave it."

Mouth suddenly dry, Jim swallows thickly. "I need you, Bones."

"This is me," he says with a sigh. "But we don't have to talk about medical stuff tonight." He grins. "As long as you can manage not to cut yourself with the silverware."

Jim manages a wan smile. "I'll try my best. Let's eat, before dinner gets cold."

Bones pulls the cover off his plate and lets out a low whistle. "Real steaks from actual cows, Jim?" he asks, disbelief clear in his voice as he slides into the chair and grabs the knife and fork. "How long have you been hiding these in stasis? And do I even want to know how many credits you dropped?"

Jim can already feel his mouth watering at the aroma of real meat. It's the first time he's felt authentically hungry in weeks. "Since our last resupply at Starbase 72. And no, you probably don't want to know, but it was worth it."

Bones makes a show of looking around the room suspiciously. "I'm either expecting wine and violin music with a spread like this, or a prank."

"You wound me, Bones. Dig in. Yours should be cooked medium-well."

"I'm sure yours is still bleeding," Bones says, glancing at Jim's steak skeptically.

"Better be, unless the galley chief wants to hitchhike back to the Sol system." Jim actually feels better when Bones rolls his eyes. He waits and watches as Bones picks up his fork and knife, and slices into the steak with surgical precision.

Suddenly, the image calls to mind thoughts he'd really rather not have -- Bones cutting... muscles and tissues separating under the onslaught of a laser scalpel... blood and... Jim looks away, and forces the image out of his head. He's here to have dinner with his best friend. His partner. And there's a damned fine steak sitting in front of him.

"Mmm, Jim, don't fire the galley chief. This would be a fair match for my mama's grilling, and that's saying something."

Jim looks up again, painting a grin on his face. "I won't tell your mama you said that." He tucks into his own steak, the speaks around the succulent mouthful. "So... resupply at Space Station 67 in a few weeks. Scotty has been wanting to do a realignment of the warp core, and if we give him time to do that, I think we can fit some shore leave into the stop."

Bones raises an eyebrow. "I've heard Station 67 has some nice recreational facilities." Then a smile Jim hasn't seen in weeks pulls at his lips, and Bones' cheeks flush a bit pink. "What were you thinking?"

Jim shrugs with telegraphed nonchalance. "Oh, well, there are some cliffs outside of the outpost settlement on the planet it orbits, and I was thinking about doing some freeform climbing..." He trails off with a grin at the appalled look on Bones' face.

"Jim, I swear, the only reason you keep me around is to see how many ways you can bring me to the brink of a myocardial infarction."

"A what?"

"Heart attack, you idiot," he says, using the same sarcastic affection he'd used earlier. Damn, Jim missed that tone.

"Hey, I've got to have some goals in life." Jim winks and stuffs another bite of steak in his mouth.

"Juvenile delinquent."

To Jim's immense relief, the dinner conversation drifts gently, almost like it had been before Antos. He can almost forget his situation, or at least, he can ignore it. Bones is chuckling at his bad humor, cracking jokes in turn and then growling at Jim for ignoring the mixed vegetables adorning the plate alongside the steaks. They discuss the quarterly crew assessments and promotions, and it almost feels like they're flirting again. If Jim lets himself think too much, it makes his chest ache with some thick, hot emotion that he doesn't dare to name, so he doesn't think. It's painfully familiar and it's everything that he's missed.

When he finally pushes his empty plate away -- and yes, he ate the vegetables -- he leans his elbows heavily on the table. There's been something itching at the back of his mind, something he wants to ask Bones about... but he's not sure how to bring it up. "So, while we're at Station 67, we'll have access to the comm hub. Good opportunity for personal subspace communications. And if I remember correctly, it's right around Joanna's seventh birthday."

An intense look of affection crosses Bones' face. Affection, and the ever-present wistfulness that rears its head when he thinks about his daughter. "Yeah," he says slowly, the Georgia drawl coming through. "Joce sent pictures in last week's comm packet. My little girl is practically a lady, ain't she?"

"Are you going to comm her in real time?"

His grin broadens. "Of course. And you'll be right there with me this time."

Jim blinks dumbly a few times. "Me? No, I don't think that would be... I mean, you shouldn't waste your comm time, it's short enough as it is. She wouldn't want to talk to me, anyway."

Bones snorts. "Are you kidding me, Jim? Do you know how many of her messages ask if you're gonna say hi?" He leans over the table conspiratorially. "She asked how you were doing in her last comm. Wanted to know if I'd kissed you."

"She asked what?" Jim blinks again, feeling more than a little bit stunned.

Bones gives him an affectionate look, distinctly different from the one he reserves for Joanna. "That was after we sent her the comm from outpost Epsilon Four."

Jim frowns, trying to figure out what he'd said or done differently. "Why?"

Bones chuckles softly and leans back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. "Because, Jim, whether you realized it or not, you were clinging to me like a Denobulan leech that day, and Joanna may be young, but she's not blind. She could tell we were gettin' awful friendly."

Jim feels his jaw go a bit slack. "That was the day after we booked that room in outpost's retreat spa. We... uh... had a busy night."

Bones nods slowly, watching Jim through half-lidded eyes. "Oh yeah."

With the slightly feral look on Bones' face, Jim feels like his brain should be running on pure hormones right now, but instead, he's stuck on another track. "Well, wouldn't want to disappoint one of my biggest fans. I'd be happy to talk to her," he offers, although he's not all that sure what seven-year-olds like to talk about.

"She's a chatterbox," Bones says softly, getting a wistful look in his eyes. "Always going on about her friends and her cats and her latest art project."

Trying not to sound too heavy-handed, Jim asks casually, "You miss being there for her?"

Bones nods again. "You bet. She was just a baby when I left for the Academy, and I didn't really have a relationship with her. It's different now that she's older, especially after that summer I spent back in Atlanta second year. She's her own person now and she knows I'm her daddy. She understands that we can't spend much time together, but I still wish I could see her in person."

"You could have gotten yourself stationed on Earth, you know." They've discussed this before. "Hero of the Federation. Carte blanche to any assignment you wanted."

At that, Bones leans forward and shakes his head, then reaches across the table and with only a split second of hesitation, rests his hand lightly over Jim's. "I couldn't have settled for anything else, kid, and you know it."

Jim's attention is drawn to the hand lying over his, so familiar and warm. It's the first time Bones has touched him in this way since Antos. It's not unpleasant or intrusive, but it's unexpected, as if Jim has let his guard down for a moment and Bones has slipped through the crack in his defenses. For a minute he can't quite remember what he was so determined to talk about. Bones' thumb is rubbing the back of Jim's hand lightly, making small, soothing circles, as if he can sense the tension strumming through Jim.
With an effort, he brings himself back to the conversation. "But what about Joanna?"

Bones tilts his head to the side, giving Jim a searching look. "We all make our choices in life, Jim. Some men have families. Then there are people like us." His fingers squeeze Jim's hand slightly. "I'm good with this. More than good with it." There's an odd look in his eyes, almost desperate, needy.

Jim takes a deep breath, and then tentatively squeezes back. It's odd that such a simple, automatic gesture requires such an effort of conscious decision. "Even when I make it hard?"

"You're what I need, Jim. I love Joanna, but she's doing fine. I was the one who fell apart when I had to leave her. You kept me going." He lets out a dry laugh. "Would ya listen to me? Gettin' all sentimental. Look at what you do to me, kid."

"Myocardial infarction?"

Bones rolls his eyes, and Jim thinks it might be the best thing he's seen in weeks. "Brat."

"The finest."

Then Bones' expression sobers. "But I'm not kidding, Jim. Why do you think I get so... worked up when you're in danger?"

"Because nobody else would be that good in bed?"

Bones mouth quirks slightly, but the serious edge of his gaze doesn't soften. "Jim."

Jim sighs. "I know." He looks at their lightly clasped hands on the table. "Would you ever want to have a family again?"

It's impossible to miss the slight hitch in Bones' breathing. "Only if the stars bring us that way."

Jim's thoughts are spinning, but he puts a sly smile on his face to hide it. "You're right, Bones... you're getting too sentimental."

"Your fault." Then he leans back and glances over at the chronometer. "It's almost 0100 hours, Jim. I know you'll argue with me, but you really should get a full night's sleep. And I... do you want me to go?"

Something in Jim's chest catches. "I don't know. I miss you, Bones, but..." His voice trails off, and all he can do is look at the slightly pained expression on Bones' face, and wonder if his looks the same.

Finally, Bones nods. "One step at a time. Take all the time you need, kid. I'll be here." He stands, pushing his chair back with a faint scrape along the floor, and Jim quickly mirrors the motion.

"Can we do dinner tomorrow night?"

Bones smiles at him, stepping around the table. "If you promise to eat your vegetables."

"You sure know how to warm a man's heart." Jim takes a step closer.

"We southern boys know romance." He leans a bit closer.

"Really?" Jim can feel Bones' breath now.

"You betcha."

Jim isn't sure who moves first, but Bones hands are gripping his shoulder, and his fingers are twisting in Bones' hair as their mouths collide, and fuck, it's been much too long. There's a vague thought about heart rate and blood pressure and the damned med sensor on his wrist, but in truth, coherent thought has just disappeared and all that exists for the moment is Bones. His mouth is firm and demanding and Jim is more than willing to give in to any demand it wants to make. Pressed chest-to-chest, groin to groin, and it's all heat and pressure and roaming hands. There's no way to mistake the bulge pressing back against his own. By the time they pull back, they're both a little bit breathless. Bones' pupils are wide and dark, lips full and just a bit wet, and Jim imagines he looks about the same. "Bones..."

"I should get going, Jim."

"I know... I just..."

Bones' hand cups his cheek. "Until you're sure you're ready to share a bed again. When you can ask me to stay without hesitating. I miss you like crazy, Jim, but I don't want to rush you."

Jim's feet are frozen to the floor as Bones gives him a wistful smile, turns, and walks out of his quarters. This time, unlike the last time Bones walked away from him, he doesn't feel abandoned. He just feels lost.


(To Be Continued…)

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