After Khan, they’re all a mess for a while. Spock and Uhura break up and get back together twice. Chekov tenders his resignation, but rescinds it the next day. No one ever really sees Scotty, because he’s holed up in the hangar somewhere with his precious, broken girl. And Sulu briefly considers leaving the ‘Fleet to work in botany, but Chekov asks him not to and, well. That’s the end of that.
And then there’s Jim and Bones.
At first it’s not so bad, because Jim is kept under surveillance in Starfleet Medical and that gives Bones an excuse to be there, too. But once he’s released, they start to feel the effects of being involved in the very public debacle that Starfleet is now attempting to handle. The Vengeance destroyed almost twenty square blocks, resulting in a massive loss of life. It’s being called the worst terrorist attack on the States since the 21st century.
There are reporters everywhere.
When they first leave the hospital, Bones thinks that maybe it’s just because this is the first time they’ve been able to access Jim. Surely after he gives an official statement at his hearing, it’ll die down.
Any time they step foot outside their dorm (McCoy requested they be housed together, so as to monitor Jim’s progress. Or watch him sleep. Depends who you ask), they’re faced with a veritable wall of press. No one is supposed to come within ten feet of them, but the ‘Fleet has better things to do than monitor their personal safety 24/7 (or so was Leo’s interpretation of the email they received after asking for extra security). After a while, they stop going out altogether. The Admiralty conducts any business they have via video feed, and their food is delivered by an armored guard. (And if Bones starts slipping him an extra few dollars every now and then for real hooch, well. What the higher-ups don’t know can’t hurt him).
The crew comes to visit them, of course. But never more than once. It’s not worth the trauma of climbing through the writhing mass of reporters that never leaves, not worth the painful questions they’re asking. Jim understands, he does. But it leaves him and Bones alone, with all that’s happened stretched out between them.
Jim’s death hangs heavy in the air, regardless of McCoy’s apparent success in keeping it from sticking.
They’re on day 12 of their unofficial house-arrest when Jim has finally had enough. He flips the television off, turning to look at his erstwhile cellmate.
“Listen, we’ve gotta talk about this.”
“No, we don’t.”
“Would you just shut up for a second?”
“You were dead!” It’s more snarl than actual speech. “You were dead in a bag, Jim. I had to put you on ice so that your fucking internal organs wouldn’t start decomposing. So don’t you dare tell me what to do. Don’t you dare.”
For a few seconds Jim can only stare at him, dumbstruck. It’s the first time Bones has said anything about it since the morning Jim woke up, and suddenly he understands why.
“Bones, I- ”
“I’m sorry,” Jim persists. “When I made the decision to go in there, I couldn’t think about- There was the whole crew to think of, Bones. Fourteen hundred people. I couldn’t let them die.”
“No, you just saved that honor for yourself.”
“I was dead anyway, Bones! But the rest of you didn’t have to be. You’d have done the same damn thing and you know it.” The older man pinches the bridge of his nose, but doesn’t deny it.
“Jim, if you’d- ”
“But I didn’t, Bones. That’s what matters. You saved me.”
He has nothing to say to that, so he swallows thickly and nods. If his eyes look somewhat glassy in the dim light, Jim’s not saying anything about it.
They fall asleep together on the couch, Jim’s head pillowed on Leo’s shoulder.
Three days later, Leo has developed a plan to get them out. He tells Jim to put on something nice, and calls in a favor at Medical. Ten minutes later an ambulance pulls up at the dormitory building three down from theirs, and the reporters flock to the flashing lights like moths to a flame. It’s the brief respite they need to slip out, and they’re well clear of the campus before anyone’s returned to keep vigil outside their building.
They take back roads to the seediest bar they know, somewhere no one would think to look for the Injured Hero of Starfleet. There they enjoy the simple pleasures of cold beer and air that hasn’t been recycling through their dorm AC for most of recorded time. Eventually, Jim chides Leo into a round of pool, and they saunter to the empty table in relatively good spirits.
Their sixth round has just been been ordered when Jim makes the obvious mistake of winking at a shapely blonde who’s stopped to watch their game. Her boyfriend is burly bruiser of a man, and he swipes Jim off his feet with one arm. The rest of the patrons, who have been helpfully ignoring them up to this point, are suddenly crowded into a tight circle around them. And before Leo’s brain has finished registering ABORT ABORT Jim’s taken a swing at the man-bear, earning a ham-sized fist to the gut for his trouble. He crumples down against the table, his body tucked inward to deflect another blow.
And Leo sees red.
He’s worked way too hard to preserve that body, to preserve Jim, to let this go on any longer. The next attempted blow finds his shoulder, glancing, and he uses the man’s momentary confusion to get in one of his own. He lands several more before his memory of the exact events starts to blur, except for the hot wet sting of his right eye and the flash of police lights.
They’re sitting in the campus medical clinic, having been returned with an escort to where they can be Not-SFPD’s-Problem. Bones is the proud owner of a shiny new drunk & disorderly citation, and as he’s pulling a piece of splintered pool cue from his thigh he notices Jim fixing him with a strange, searching gaze.
“What?” The word rings between them, too loud.
“Why?” Jim would answer with a question. McCoy heaves a sigh.
“Because I already brou- ”
“No, that’s not it.” Leo flinches, looking down. He knows it’s about more than the sound beating he just took. Jim watches something break up and float apart in his expression.
“Because I love you.”
Jim balks, knee-jerk reaction demanding retreat. “I meant why- ”
“Doesn’t matter,” Leo sighs. “Answer’s the same.”
They’re both quiet after that.
Later, when they’ve been cleared by Medical, they’re escorted back to their dormitory with express orders not to leave. Leo cracks a joke about how well it worked out this time, which amuses no one. He heaves a sigh, following Jim inside.
“Jim, listen- ” He’s cut off by Jim’s mouth on his own, Jim’s body pressing into his space and pinning him against the closed door. Momentarily stunned, he stands frozen for long seconds before remembering that he’s an animate organism and kissing him back.
Jim licks into his mouth, hand a gentle pressure at the side of his neck. It’s so goddamn tender that he could almost die of it. Which is why he pulls away.
“I can’t do this if- ”
“Bones,” he interrupts. Rude bastard. “Shut up. I get it.” When Leo remains impassive, he sighs. “The monogamy thing. I get it, and I’m on board. Now, can you please mfwmfm- ”
The rest of his sentence is lost against Leo’s lips.