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Down the Savage Mountain

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The relentless, hot Nebraska noon sun bears down on Jim for the fifth day in a row. It’s an unusual heat wave, reaching record temperatures, but not unbearable. Difficult, maybe. But never impossible.

Besides, he’s an archaeologist. He’s practically immune to extremes like this.

Not much stops him. Ever. It can't. The clock is always ticking. He simply doesn't have time to waste complaining about a sweltering day in the sun, in the middle of a pit.

The dirt walls surrounding him provide some protection and respite from the heat, but the sweat pouring down his forehead is an inconvenience that irritates the hell out of him. It constantly interferes with his work. Case in point as his vision blurs and his hand slips on the slick trowel he’s using and he stubs his fingers on the ground like some damn amateur.

Grimacing, he sets down the trowel and adjusts the bandana wrapped around his hand, pulling the knotted ends tighter.

He should've thought twice before tightening the bandana. It rubs like sandpaper across a fresh cut.

He winces. “Dammit."

He immediately loosens the bandana, peeling the fabric back. A streak of blood staining it already, he rues the destruction of yet another bandana. He can never keep enough of these things around. Gloves, either. He'd ruined his newest pair fixing a hiccup in his truck's engine earlier this morning, as soon as he'd arrived back at the site after a coffee run at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. His spare pair of gloves had gotten stuck in the 3D printer when he’d taken it apart to improve one of its features. The bandana had once been around his forehead, keeping the sweat from his eyes. Now, it’s filthy. Like always, he’d found a better use for it.

Most days he ends up giving things like his gloves or bandanas to someone on his team, deciding he could make do without. Maybe he shouldn't be surprised when they always gave him things like new gloves and bandanas and spare parts in return whenever his birthday comes around.

Eyes stinging, he squints past the short wall that separated him from Spock. His partner shovels dirt from another area within the plot, preparing for more soil tests. He'd been at it for the past thirty minutes, never losing form. Spock doesn't look as miserable as Jim feels. Not even close. Had he even broken a sweat?

Jim wipes his brow. "Lucky bastard," he mutters under his breath.

One thing is for certain, as much as he has to prove it to the media, he isn't into this archaeology business for kicks.

Spock pauses and looks at him in question. Jim shoots him a grin.

"Do you need something, Captain?" Spock asks politely.

He keeps grinning, the endearment Spock used always making him happy, and tastes salt on his lips. "A shower and a hot date."

Spock arches a brow, probably scandalized by what he'd just said. "I cannot provide you with either of those, Captain, however I am amenable to trimming your hair."

Jim snorts. Truthfully, he appreciates his best friend's tact when commenting about his hairstyle these past eight months. "And by trim, you mean whacking it all off, am I right?"

Spock inclines his head, lifting his shovel again. “After which, we will properly take care of your wound.”

So he had seen Jim slip on his knees, hand grazing a few sharper rocks. "A mere flesh wound," he says easily.

Spock straightens, leans on the shovel, and stares at him. "Would you allow any one of us to continue in such a manner?"

He has him there. "You know I wouldn't, but, I can't stop."

Licking more salty liquid off his lips, he ignores Spock's frown and the sweat pouring off the back of his neck, making his shirt stick like a second skin. He pats down the fedora his father had given him six years ago as a graduation present. It protects him from the brunt of the sun while he works. Rain or shine, it doesn't matter. He withstands the harshest of elements. He'd built up his stamina and tolerance over time to survive extreme working conditions, and Spock could—and had—survived worse.

And Jim is considered to be an extremist. In the early part of his career, he'd been more stupid than brave or honorable. Pulling stunts, risking more than he should.

Still, he’s one of the few archaeologists who will suffer severe sunburn or risk losing a toe to frostbite, all for the sake of pottery shards and frail bone. No matter how small the artifact was or how insignificant the feature appeared to the average eye, it’s part of history, and that makes all of it important to him.

"Hence, why I must continue, as well," Spock says, nodding.

"I appreciate that, Spock," he says with a grunt, manipulating a stubborn rock that had no bearing on the feature he'd uncovered. "But, you're only human. Sit out for a change."

"A human not only obligated by your father, I am obligated by our friendship." Spock wipes his brow, an elegant movement as all of his were.

Jim wishes he had moves half as smooth. He always describes himself as clumsy. He feels like he'd always be the scrawny, awkward pre-teen Christopher Pike had rescued, though his habits had been exacerbated by an accident two years ago. At the very least, he was accident prone. The cut on his hand, the bandanas, the gloves...all in one morning...that is plenty of evidence, in his opinion.

"Our days have been intertwined since the day you decided to become an archaeologist. I do not wish for this connection to disintegrate because I am ‘sitting out’ when I am perfectly capable of handling more than my team leader," Spock continues.

"Spock, you're not superhuman," Jim says, exasperated.

"Nearly," Spock quips, as close to joking as he'd ever come. "Neither are you."

"I'm driven," he counters.

"You do not see for yourself that you must stop and take a brief respite. By the time you do initiate time for yourself to rest, it may be too late," Spock says softly. "I will be here when that time comes."

"Alright," he sighs.

He knows a scolding when he hears one. Spock is right. He won't be doing anyone any favors if he passes out or has to go to the hospital for heat stroke. But what Jim had told him was also the truth. He can't stop.

"We might have only one day here at most before we're discovered," he mutters, defending his choices.

More than likely a few "loyal" reporters will find them first.

"You speak of Janice Rand," Spock comments, eyes narrowing.

It amazes him how that name seems to elicit the same response from everyone. Spock's jaw clenches like it'd break.

"Aww, come on, Spock," Jim says lightly, attempting to ease the tension. "She's not all bad."

"She is your most formidable enemy, Jim," Spock says, voice like steel. "She is brilliant, ruthless, and she will not hesitate to slander your name a thousand times more than she has already."

Jim sighs, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand, no doubt smearing more dirt on himself. "I know you and dad don't like her, but she is a reporter."

And a damn good one, for the most part. She habitually asks him tough questions, which he is always capable of answering, thanks to Chris's constant drilling and instruction and Spock’s guidance, too. It impresses Jim that she knows so much about archaeology when she has hundreds of other topics she writes about, too.

"She has a penchant for twisting your words, Captain, thereby convincing the public you are the archenemy of all your peers." Spock picks up his shovel. "Yet you are far from the rebellious, greedy young man the headlines make you out to be."

"Not all the headlines," he points out in her defense.

Why he feels like he needs to defend her is a conundrum, because again, Spock is correct. She is pretty ruthless, not caring for anything but 'a good story.'

The last headline had been a doozy.

Famed Archaeologist Kirk Cannot Cheat the Past.

She'd dredged up Jim's family's history, the past accusation that his great-grandfather had actually committed first degree murder. It isn’t like no one knows about it. On the contrary. It’s an accusation which literally wreaked havoc on his family tree for four generations.

Her article had angered him. At least, it had at first. In the process, he'd researched harder than ever and found something to question, thanks to an entry in an old diary handed down in the family. His great-grandmother had mentioned a family secret contained in a box that would've cleared her lover, James Ogaleesha Davis, had they been unashamed about their relationship, thus marrying earlier than they’d actually done.

The entry was too vague to deduce anything else from the context. However, it was enough to come up with one important insight. He'd essentially discovered that he was right to question his great-grandfather's apparent lack of alibi, which had put him in prison.

And for this, he is actually grateful to Rand. She'd done him a favor.

He’d made sure to keep this opinion to himself at all times. Both his father and Spock didn't see it quite the same way as he did. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint them.

The press also prefers to dwell on his shitty childhood. His father’s death as a small town hero, the broken home that followed, and then Jim's abusive step-father. But instead of focusing on his dad's sacrifice, it’s Jim. Always Jim.

And not the good things about him. They reference his demons, his time in juvie, the bad decisions he'd made as a teenager, the chance that those things possibly affected his choices now. Even after Pike had come into his life and adopted him, he'd continued to be a loose cannon right through and after high school. Not for long, but it’s enough to keep the public a little apprehensive about him. Especially with Rand around.

Because of her example, the rest of the press touts that Chris's rival is the wiser, more capable archaeologist and historian. The one people could and should trust and hire.

"Harrison," he mutters in disgust, tightening his hold on the trowel.

"'If Janice Rand is an angel,'" Spock suddenly says, his eyes on the ground.

"'...then John Harrison is the devil,'" he finishes for him dramatically, rolling his eyes.

"Your father has a curious way of describing people, Jim," Spock says, lifting a small pile of dirt.

"Harrison did destroy two of our sites," he says with a shrug. That thought promptly makes him want to punch something.

Spock discards the dirt in a pile. "As I recall, he also stole artifacts which appeared in a museum three weeks later, credited to him although they were yours, so to speak. Part of your own American Indian heritage.”

"Son of a bitch," Jim says, with a shake of his head, bitterly recalling stepping into that particular museum to see for himself.

He feels the utter disappointment like it was yesterday. The Oglala Sioux pipe pouch, painted skin, and a single pair of beaded moccasins perfectly displayed under thick glass. The history of the discovery written clearly on a sign next to it. Harrison's name included, of course.

Jim has simply never been able to reconcile the fact that those artifacts were part of his own ancestry—and he'd never gotten to examine them up close for himself.

Chris sponsors the majority of his team's digs, those two included. Unsurprisingly, Harrison's actions enrage him. But similar incidences between Harrison and his father have occurred for over twenty years, their rivalry or feud one for the books.

And there'd been nothing, absolutely nothing that anyone could do to change the outcome of that theft. Nothing that would rebury those artifacts for Jim and his team to unearth.

He had walked away from the display in tears, not caring that Spock had had to hand him a tissue on their way out and lend an arm as they made their way to the truck. He might not have had a pleasant childhood, but the stories of his ancestors always pushes him forward through the dark times. It has made this disappointment that much worse.

As upset as everyone had been, there'd been nothing left at the site to point to Harrison and his team of criminals. Instead, officials decided, without sufficient evidence to the contrary, that random raiders were to blame.

But, Jim and his team know better. Harrison's smirk and offhanded comment, when they'd crossed paths at a conference the very next day, had been all the evidence they needed.

One officer had the gall to suggest Jim had done it all himself. For attention. Rand, of course, had found out. Distraught, it'd been all Chris had focused on for weeks until Rand had reluctantly but expertly written another article to refute the other. Jim didn't know what his father had done to convince her, but it had worked.

He scoffs. Like he even wants to draw more attention onto himself.

He prefers to live out the rest of his life quietly. A hermit archaeologist. He is already fairly wealthy. He could retire at thirty-five if he keeps this same pace, not that he wants to work himself to the bone that young. But it is a possibility.

Still, if Harrison gets wind of what they were up to today, it would all be all over. And Jim doesn't want him to know a single thing about this excavation simply because of one stark truth.

James Ogaleesha Davis had gone to prison, accused of murdering Abner Harrison, John Harrison's great-grandfather.

If Harrison knew anything about this dig, he'd destroy any evidence he found right down to the last speck of dirt. The man is as efficient and ruthless as Rand. Chris is right—Harrison takes those traits to new heights.

Jim could never forgive himself if the excavation was compromised. It’s a closed case in the court of law. No one would help him. However, if the evidence was there, just knowing about it would take an enormous weight off of his family.

"No one will impede our progress," Spock says, voice firm. "We have all taken the necessary precautions."

"Mind reader," Jim smiles in spite of himself.

Who would've guessed that, once high school rivals, he and Spock were now as thick as thieves. Had been for six years. They'd misjudged each other, tried to out-do one another in hopes of understanding the other. All that stopped when Jim had written a paper for an advanced English class that would have gotten an ‘A’ from any college professor. Spock read it, came up to Jim to discuss his opinions, and the rest was history. A crazy way to form a friendship, but Jim wouldn't have it any other way.

"I regret that your private life is as unveiled to the world as is your professional life," Spock adds.

Jim shrugs. "Nothing you can do about that, except press on, Spock." Jim pauses and narrows his eyes on his friend. "You've been affected too, you can't deny that."

"I will not deny that my life has changed because of you."

Neck heating, he doesn't know what to say. Spock's faithfulness to him blew his mind.

He’s just a normal guy. Not a hero. He doesn't have Spock's elegance, or Chekov's brilliance, or Chris's authoritative air.

He has a dark past, the darkest of which the media has never unearthed. But just like Spock, he regrets that his private and public life has been spoiled by the press.

As a world-famous archaeologist, working privately is getting harder and harder to pull off. His team has his back, and he has theirs. Their secrecy is never the issue. The investigative nature of his father's rivals, however, is.

Like Harrison, who would do everything he could to stop Jim if he knew what was really going on at this site. That's why Sulu had driven separately in an identical vehicle, provided by Chris, from their hotel, carefully zig-zagging to get them off their trail.

Maybe he is naive, but why someone would ever want to cripple his team is beyond him. They were all working for the same thing. Truth, history, and the betterment of the future. Lessons learned from dust, bone, and human remains.

Spock quietly resumes shoveling. Jim bends his knees, squatting. He angles his trowel around the feature, scraping away dirt from rock, the remains mere inches away from the chimney. Chekov had already confirmed it with soil testing. This plot is smack dab in the area his maternal great-grandmother had supposedly lived with her parents. It had been a humble home. Only four hundred square feet for six people. They'd been poor, living on part of the land closest to the reservation. Someone had tried to cover up all traces of this place long ago, burying it under hundreds of pounds of dirt and debris.

In other words. Garbage.

Nature had then done its work, creating a camouflaged mound. This wasn't the first bit of property he'd excavated that was connected to generations of his mother's family. His father's, too. But it is the first one to give him this much hope that he'd discover the truth. A truth that would change many things, and not just for Jim.

Remembering this, he crouches lower, resting his arms over his knees, letting them dangle. His eyes don't leave the earthy plot in front him. He lifts his free hand, blurred vision impeding his progress again. He drags his bare arm across his forehead several times, smearing dirt on himself in the process, not that it’s the first time. He’s covered in so much filth now that a little more won't matter.

Even his hair, which he'd pulled back into a ponytail, looks a dirty brown instead of the golden blonde he’s used to. No wonder Spock wants to cut it. Jim would, except when he’s this involved in a project, he never cuts it until it is done. It’s a trademark. At the very least, the one good thing the press notices.

He licks the salt off his cracked lips again and looks longingly at the canteen on the ground beside him. He'd emptied it just minutes ago. It hasn't quenched his thirst but he can't make himself stop working to get more. The sun has been beating down on Jim and his team for days now, trying to stall their efforts. It’s a good thing they'd complete the harder, backbreaking work before the heat wave had even begun. Working in this type of heat isn't new to them, but they should have stopped an hour ago to take a break.

At least, he should've.

Sighing wearily in spite of himself, Jim glances over at the tent about a hundred feet to his right. Four forms rest in the shade, just as they should be. Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty. If he'd learned anything from Chris, it is to take care of his team. They come first, even before the history they searched for. So, he'd forced them to stop

But, Jim himself can’t quit. He feels it in his blood. The presence of history. Treasures, and most of them weren't gold or worth enough to be put in a museum. He senses heart. He senses life. It moves through his body, like it had generations before him and he can't wait to find out more.

When he feels this way, the only way to quench his intense determination is to simply work until he accomplishes what he set out to do.

They are too close to quit now, his instincts telling him that their time was coming to an end here. They always cover their tracks when it comes to a personal dig like this one, dropping names to convince officials to hide records of the excavation as long as possible. He usually holds to the highest levels of integrity, the things his father had taught him.

But, one man in particular is forcing him to dip his feet into the more shady areas of business.

If Janice Rand is an angel, John Harrison is the devil.

Jim shakes his head, wondering why he has to have these enemies in the first place. Couldn't they all just get along? What had transpired between Harrison's great-grandfather and Jim’s great-grandfather happened years ago. Chris influences so many aspects of the archaeological world today in order to help him learn truth. It isn't for fame, something that Harrison doesn't understand or agree with.

It took some legwork, but thanks to Chris’s connections, and the people who respected him, this dig has lasted significantly longer without the press sticking their noses into Jim's business.

An utter and complete relief, even if five days have been in extreme heat.

"Captain."

He glances up and sees his single female team member. He’d handpicked his team over the past years, with Chris’s help, but each of them had taken a thorough physical and mental exam.

Nyota Uhura's performance had surpassed nearly all the men's, a fact of which she’s proud. To be honest, Jim is, too. He counts her as one of his dearest friends, and he’s always hardest on friends whenever he gives team tests.

Uhura extends her arm, holding out a canteen.

He takes it. “Thank you.”

"Just think, you'll be with your dad, setting up camp in snow in two days," Sulu says, the second of his team to saunter over. More or less ignoring Jim's orders to stay under the tent.

"Maybe," Jim says, scratching his chin. He’s looking forward to the father-son trip with Chris, but if they don't find what he was looking for soon, he might postpone that trip. He peers at them. "Listen..."

"We can handle it," she clips before he could continue.

"This hasn't been an easy one," Jim reminds her.

He'd pushed all of them this week, often working past sundown.

"But we've had an hour break, liquids and shade," she says, smile too sweet. "It's your turn now."

"Guys," Jim heaves a sigh, knowing where this was headed.

"Shall I call Christopher Pike and tell him that you have exceeded your limits?" Spock asks primly.

Wordlessly, Chekov hands Spock a cellphone.

"Now, that's not fair," Jim frowns.

"Aye, it isn't fair," Scotty exclaims, sidling up beside Uhura. "You and Mr. Spock, slaving away, while you force the rest of us to just stand by, letting you get all the glory?"

"I'd say it was our turn for a change to get our pictures in the paper. Maybe even an exclusive headline. It's high time someone else becomes Rand's pet," Sulu says calmly. "I'm up for the challenge."

Jim snorts at the image. "Fine. You can have all the glory, believe me."

He isn't even sure how it happens, but before he knows it, he’s sitting under a smaller tent watching them. Feet up, cream on his face to ease the beginning of a sunburn.

It is hard to be on the sidelines, but it makes him proud to see them so efficient. And careful.

Because this isn't just any dig; it was personal.

He drifts off to sleep.

A shout awakens him.

"Keptin," Chekov exclaims.

Jim lurches in his seat, caught off guard when he realized that he hadn't 'just drifted.' The sun now dips, barely brushing the horizon. He'd slept way longer than he'd wanted.

After he clears his mind of the last vestiges of sleep, he pull himself up and races to the top of the pit. He leans over the edge, not sure what to expect and finds every single one of his team staring back at him wide-eyed. Except for Spock, who is as calm as could be, as usual.

"You found something," Jim breathes out. Heart pounding he scrambles down the ladder to the semi-circle they'd made by the wall opposite the chimney, the section Spock had been working on earlier.

The line parts, and Jim steps forward. Spock's shovel scrapes against something beneath the dirt. He glances up and meets Jim's gaze.

"Careful," Jim murmurs, squatting down to watch their progress.

Sulu moves the last of the rocks out of the way by hand, Spock meticulously brushing the dirt concealing what appeared to be a smooth wood piece.

Wood, he thinks, chest tightening in anticipation.

"Captain," Spock says and moves one step back, allowing Jim space to see for himself.

Uhura hands him a brush. Jim kneels, moistening his lips, and brushes the last bit of loose dirt from the wooden box with a small tool. His breath catches, recognizing the initial carved into the top, the distinct swirl he'd seen countless of times on wooden pieces passed down in his family.

An exquisite, calligraphic 'D'.

This is his great-grandmother's box. The box that had been mentioned in the diary entry, the one that contained evidence to clear his great-grandfather's name. It has to be.

"You did it," Jim says, voice cracking, emotion thick in his throat.

"No," Spock shakes his head. "It was you, Jim."

"I wouldn't have gotten this far, so quickly without you all," Jim says, swallowing the lump. "Thank you."

His hand shakes, reverently brushing across the cleared wood. He gently blows across it, noting the fragile edges of the engraving. The way the lid is slightly crooked, buried into the ground.

"Dad won't believe it," he whispers, hands itching to remove it from the earth around it. He takes a deep breath, calming himself. He chuckles. "Wait until I tell him."

"Jim, don't you have to meet him this afternoon?" Uhura asks, crouching beside him. "Before the event tonight, the benefit for the boys' home?"

Confused, he glances up at her. She stares at him, brow furrowed. "You talked about it earlier. He wanted you to give your first impression of Leonard McCoy, the new doctor and counselor he hired for the boys."

Jim’s eyes widen. "Oh, shit. Shit, shit. SHIT," he scrambles to his feet, removing his hat and slapping it on his thigh. His messy ponytail blows in the wind, hair tumbling over his shoulders. He'd promised Chris he wouldn't be late for another meeting. "The bar. I'm supposed to meet him at the bar downtown, the one Harrison wouldn't be caught dead in," Jim rambles. "It's close to the boys' home. So I could go there to shower and change. I don't think I'll have time to do that. Dad's going to kill me."

"You have most likely discovered the missing piece to your family's puzzle. It would be illogical to repay you with murder now that you are close to clearing your ancestor's name from the very same deed." Spock pauses. "Illogical but not improbable."

Jim groans, climbing back up to the top. "Not funny, Spock."

"If you are agre able to the idea, I can drive you to town as I am attending the event, as well."

"No, no I need you here for a little while longer," Jim asserts. "Just in case..." His voice trails off, not wanting to reveal his greatest fear. The rest of the team files onto higher ground.

"I will make a three-dimensional copy of the artifact as soon as we've successfully extracted it," Spock says, falling beside him.

"Good," he says, shoulders dropping. That'd give him peace of mind. "I'm late as it is."

"We'll be fine," Uhura assures him, gently squeezing his hand. "Now, go. You don't have much time."

"You guys are the best," he says, walking backwards. "Don't stay here too long tonight, Spock and Uhura. Dad wants you there tonight, too, since your parents can't make it tonight, Spock. And be careful leaving—"

"All will be well," Spock interjects. "We will take the precautions. I will message you once we know what is inside."

Jim adjusts his hat, looking at each and every one of them, thankful for their strengths that had gotten them to this place. Even if the box held nothing, the sacrifices they make for this personal endeavor meant the world to him.

"You should go, Jim," Spock prods gently.

Jim can't. The expressions on their faces stop him in his tracks. He sees a devotion he doesn't deserve. They'd been through thick and thin together. They'd all been hurt by the events surrounding his past, even Chris's. But they'd all stayed, finding that they worked better together than apart. And Spock was their leader when he was absent.

He can't ask for anything more.

At least, not that much more. Maybe more gloves. He'd also like to have less accidents, which took his team's time away from their own responsibilities, adding stress. He'd like to make life easier on his father, who continued to support him in everything, giving up his own happiness. He'd like to give them all a break, because if he thinks about it enough, he realizes he pushes them too hard, too often.

And maybe, he thinks, stomach flipping when he realizes he'd be attending the fundraiser event for the boys' home without a date, again...he is still alone.

He'd like to fix that, too. Someday.

"Thank you," Jim says quietly, and turns away.

As he heads for town in his truck, he can't help but glance back once. Their silhouettes are still in the distance, motionless.

 

oOo

 

"532 Charles Street," McCoy mutters under his breath, glancing up and down the street in hopes that this is the wrong place. "You've gotta be kidding me."

He grumbles to himself, spinning on his heel as he inspects the buildings flanking #532.

The old man had said 532 Charles Street, perpendicular to the Main Street in this small town, the bar just around the corner. Hard to miss, according to the old man.

He peers at the other numbered buildings, though it is as clear as day. The dilapidated building that is all wrong, is right.

He rubs the back of his head, glancing back at the chipped paint covering the bar front, the broken, rusted handle, and the unsavory pair stepping out of the hellhole and the stench coming from somewhere within the doorway. He'd sat at the tables and drunk his fill in places like this far too many times than he cared to admit, especially in the past five years. He'd moved to Nebraska to get away from all of that.

He exhales a strangled sigh, dropping his hand. The joke is on him. Damn right it’s hard to miss.

Slouching, hands in his pockets, he stares at Green's Brewery in disgust. The old man probably has the same taste in alcohol that he'd had a decade ago. It isn't that he is offended meeting Pike here, just that it brings back too many bad memories.

Deciding he'd just pretend he was meeting a blind date at a refined restaurant, he pushes open the door. Pretending to have a date was sillier than a peach growing on an apple tree but it'd be worse to be caught lingering like a fool outside the bar once Chris Pike arrives.

He makes his way to the bar and takes the stool at the far end where he could see who was coming in, like his blind date. Not that Chris is blind date material. At least, he isn't for McCoy. For one, he knows him. And he'd been a friend of his late father's. Logically speaking, Chris can never be his blind date. Two, he isn't his type. End of story. Three, he is too old, at least for him. He considers himself to be 'older’ thanks to all the damn tragedy in his life, but he’s only thirty-three. So no, not Chris.

But, he has never met Chris's son. The famous archaeologist who seems to always be getting into trouble whenever he went on those excavations of his.

The kind of kid that would probably annoy the heck out of him.

But there is another, more important reason. He just can't bear falling in love again.

It hurts just too damn much at the end.

Though he looks out of place with his styled hair and his dark, pressed jeans and pristine black t-shirt, he doesn't attract the attention he thought he would. Not that he minds, but it makes him antsy. He stands and makes use of his time, drinking a beer and observing the strangers around him. He hasn't worked for two weeks and social interaction, while not completely welcome, would do him some good.

Working solely with a bunch of young kids again is going to be different. He'd always had a soft spot for them, hanging on to being a family practitioner for as long as he could, until he'd been offered the job as a surgeon at the hospital. In accepting that position, he'd left his days as a counselor far behind.

But Chris, the bastard, he'd remembered his dual degree in medicine and psychology, as well as his passion for helping young kids. Calling him out of the blue to inform him about the opening, he'd played the pity card. Saying he didn't trust anyone but him to work with these boys. Saying things were harder for them these days than ever before. That he has a feeling that McCoy’s right for the job.

Despite his grumbling nature and darker moods, he could never turn away a hurting, orphaned child. And that Chris had always been a good friend to his father also had something to do it.

He sighs, glancing down at his watch, one of the pieces of his family's estate that he'd actually kept. He has about five minutes to spare until Chris's arrival. And he is not nervously tapping his foot. No, not at all.

He crosses his arms, leaning on the bar and hanging his head. A lot had happened since he'd last seen Chris. Most of it, not good. Unmentionable things, if Chris has any tact. One reason he abandoned his old life. Made this move. Almost everyone was a busybody where he came from. Working has been his only respite, and even that has had its moments.

"The first time I found you was in a dive like this."

McCoy turns his head as Chris eases into a seat beside him.

"I remember," he say back without inflection, taking in the older man's appearance in mild interest.

He looks like he hadn't aged a day, waving the bartender over with a youthful enthusiasm. Making himself comfortable.

He can only think he was going to overstay his welcome very quickly. If only he had a reason to skedaddle out of this meeting a little earlier. He doesn't. Not to mention that it would be rude and unprofessional to do that to his new boss. He also can't forget that after his father's death, Chris's calls to see how he was doing had steered him out of a dark place.

"Take a look around yet?" Chris asks, after ordering his drink.

"Looks all the same to me," McCoy says, taking a seat.

Chris smiles. "I mean the orphanage."

"Dropped a few things off at my new office this afternoon," he affirms quickly. "Met your secretary. Carol."

Chris's smile broadens. "Did she show you around?"

"I showed myself around," he says, recalling the kind, blonde woman with an English accent gently reprimanding a boy about twelve. "She had her hands full with one of the boys."

"Ah, yes. She fills in at times for one of our caretakers," Chris explains, taking a drink. "Today we happened to be low on staff." He pauses and takes out his cell phone, frowning. "Speaking of which, my son should be here by now. I wanted him to meet you today."

"It's not a problem," McCoy says, shrugging. "I'm sure he has a good reason for being late, like he usually does."

The air between them thickens, and he winces as soon as the words left his mouth. He'd tried saying that without being flippant, but it hadn't quite come out that way. How many stories has he read about Jim Kirk being an irresponsible young man? Not that he necessarily believes all of that nonsense. He's seen far too much in his own life to be that gullible.

"He's a hard worker. Puts more time in than most men I know. More heart, too," Chris says, voice tight, showing just how much McCoy's words had hurt. "In fact, the past several weeks he hasn't taken a single day off, even in this heat the past few days."

"I apologize," he murmurs, stealing a glance at him. Chris's expression is hard. "This current project must be important?"

"You have no idea," Chris says under his breath, sighing. "That's why I can't be too hard on him for being late."

When he didn't elaborate, McCoy decides he'd just flat out ask why they were meeting here. "So why Green's Brewery?"

"Time constraints," Chris says, hesitating. "And...Jim has a few friends here he likes to check up on but he's been so driven, he hasn't taken time even for himself. He hasn't been in for awhile, so I thought this would be a good chance for him to do that."

That piques his interest, having never heard anything regarding this in the paper or on television about the young archaeologist.

Chris inclines his head to a man with a bushy gray beard and head of hair to match. "Like Penn over there in the corner. About Jim's age, but you wouldn't know it with all that gray hair and his grating, aged voice. He's lonely. Jim may be his only friend. The only person Penn actually wants as his friend. And Mutt, the guy covered in plaid that just came in through the back door?" He pauses, waiting as McCoy cranes his neck to see a hunched form wearing a heavy plaid coat ambling into the bar. "He's a little slow at times, but Jim got him his job at the post office, as a custodian. Took some convincing, but they couldn't resist Jim's charm. They agreed to give him a chance."

"I didn't know," he says, frowning.

"No, I don't suppose you did," Chris says slowly. "Most people don't have a clue, don't see beyond the cocky smile or sensationalized headlines. Jim doesn't care for the glory that comes with his job. In regards to his private life, he's the same way. Takes after his dad. Doesn't care what other people believe about him, just the ones who count."

McCoy isn't sure who Jim Kirk's dad is, but he'd take Chris's word for it. "That sort of person is too good to be true."

Strangely enough, also someone he would like to know.

"Almost." Chris's mouth twitches. "So, tell me, what is it about this place that bothers you. I see your hesitance. You forget that I knew your father—and you. You're no stranger to drink, McCoy."

"This place conjures my ghosts,” he admits.

"I see," Chris's eyes soften. "I guess I should've thought about that. I'm sorry."

"No, no. It's fine,” he says. "I'm moving on. Moved here."

Chris regards him thoughtfully. "Did you leave a special someone behind in Atlanta this time?"

"No," McCoy says curtly, then takes a large swallow of alcohol that burned the entire way down. He knew it. Here comes the questions. It's too tempting, even for a guy like Chris.

"I'd hoped you tried making another life," Chris comments softly.

McCoy scowls, spying a slow leak above their heads and more drunks than he could count. He is too familiar to all of this. On his bad days, this sort of life beckons to him more than reality.

"A man in a hellhole like this should have someone to share it with," he mutters, the hustle of activity irritating him even more. "But I'm not a man. I'm a doctor. There's no one."

"That's a little different tune than I heard from you a decade ago." Chris's eyes flit over his face.

He doesn't like the concern he sees. People who care too much are bound to get hurt sooner than later.

"I'd been planning my honeymoon," he says, willing his voice not to crack.

The older man's expression morphs into pity, everything that he hates.

"I'm sorry,” Chris says.

"It's been five years," he shrugs, looking away to blink once.

"Five years is a long time to be alone, especially when you're as young as you are."

"Why don't you rub salt over my wounds," McCoy snorts.

"Maybe it's time to stop licking your wounds. I think helping these boys work through their hurts is a good start," Chris says quietly. "I know you're the right man for the job. You built up quite the reputation not only as a doctor, but as a counselor."

McCoy lifts his brows indifferently.

Unphased, Chris stands to his feet. "Tonight. A benefit for the boys' home. Grayson Hall, 9 pm. I'd like you to be there."

That is in an hour. "That's a little last minute, don't ya think?"

"You have something better to do?" Chris asks, a smirk to his lips. McCoy’s frown deepens. "I thought not."

He gives an irritated roll of his eyes.

"One more thing." Chris slaps him across the back. "Suit up."

McCoy straightens, blinking at him. "You gotta be kidding me."

"Black tie," Chris smirks. "If you don't have one, I have a spare."

"No, I’ve got one," he scowls back.

He'd packed one as an afterthought before moving to this hick town.

"You should see your face, McCoy," Chris chuckles. "Can't wait to see you and my son each in a suit, turning over new leaves. Jim doesn't like them too much either, but for the cause he wears them."

"Right. Responsible guy that he is," he retorts.

"You'll see who he is tonight," Chris says, eyes narrow-eyed.

McCoy coughs, holding back the rest of his sarcasm. He’s lowered himself enough, insulting the older man's son for a second time.

"I'm sure he'll make you proud," he says after a brief awkward pause, tipping his glass.

"He already does. And he's safe and healthy. I couldn't ask for anything more." Chris smiles right before he turns away. "It was good to see you, McCoy."

"Likewise," he says, surprising himself with an amiable reply.

Not thirty seconds after Chris leaves, McCoy catches the bartender's eye. "So, Jim Kirk?" he finds himself asking.

"Everyone's friend around here.” The bartender shrugs and tosses a towel over his shoulder. "The boys think Kirk hung the moon. He hangs out at the orphanage when he's not on the job."

McCoy purses his lips. An energetic, reckless famous treasure hunter around impressionable, hurting children? He better get to know the kid.

"You're the new doc in town." Bartender narrowly peers at him.

"Yes," he answers.

Bartender says nothing as he wipes down the counter, stealing occasional looks. A few minutes later, McCoy manages another sip of beer before deciding he better quit. Drink unfinished, he reluctantly turns to go. He’s stalled long enough. It is a five minute drive back to his new apartment next to Grayson's Home for Boys. Not only that, but his suit needs pressing if he wants to make a good impression tonight.

"Thanks for the drink," he offers and sets his half-empty glass down with a thump.

He wouldn't mind a little more alcohol to get his mind off of wearing a damn suit. He has a feeling this wouldn't be the last of Pike's strange requests. But, he doesn’t drink as much as he used to on his off days, in his old life in Atlanta. This is Broken Cloud, Nebraska.

"Maybe Pike didn't tell you, but Kirk has a big heart.”

McCoy halts in his tracks and glances back at Bartender. Do the damn reporters habitually turn a blind eye to the "real" Jim Kirk? Less than two days in this town and he knows more than they did about the kid.

"He never said,” he replies.

Bartender throws down his cloth and leans forward. "The person who broke it last had hell to pay."

The guy feels the need to tell him about Kirk's relationship status? Going as far as to give him some type of warning? He doesn't know what to think about that.

"I'm sure his father didn't like seeing his son hurt," he says.

"Wasn't Pike." Bartender shakes his head, grinning to himself as if he'd just told a damn good joke.

"Who?" McCoy frowns at the way his heart begins to race.

"You'll see." The man averts his gaze. He picks up the cloth and resumes polishing the counter. "You'll see," he repeats in a perplexing mutter.

McCoy must've been thinking too hard about that mystery on the way out the damn door. As soon as he steps out, a force rams him into the wall. He barely catches himself before he falls, hand clinging to rough brick, his phone clattering to the pavement.

"Oh, shit. I'm sorry, man. I'm always doing things like this. Dammit, your phone," another man says, sounding panicked. "But, here, never...never mind your phone. Let me help you. Shit. I'm so sorry.”

He can only see a pair of grubby hands touching him. He forces himself to relax and not flinch away, knowing the precarious position he was in. Close to falling on his ass.

The man grunts, heaving him up to his feet, then hisses a breath. He pulls away his hands like McCoy is something boiling hot, burning him.

Still dazed, McCoy has to take a few seconds to catch his breath. Without looking at the idiot who'd run him over, he smooths down his shirt and pants. When he is done he sees part of the phone. His phone. Destroyed.

"Dammit.” He scowls. He looked up at the asshole and—blinks.

Startling blue eyes stare widely at him, eyes too mesmerizing to look away from, despite the messy strands of hair hanging over them. Their color one that McCoy has never seen before in his life except maybe on television. But he can’t quite place when. Or to whom they belonged. Or why he can’t stop staring in the first place.

"It’s broken," the blue-eyed man whispers. "I'm so sorry."

McCoy slowly pulls his gaze from the eyes down to a bandaged, trembling hand. Or, rather, a dirty, filthy rag wrapped around a hand, which palms part of his phone. A vision of a little girl with eyes like her mother flashes through his mind. She holds up her finger for him to see, a tiny Bandaid wrapped around her knuckle.

"I'll give you my number, pay for it to be replaced," the man is saying.

His voice catches at the end, pulling McCoy out of his own head. He blinks his eyes just in time to see the other man flinch, holding his arm closer to his chest. An angry red jagged edge peeks out from under the rag. It catches him off guard once more. These past few years, he's had a difficult time letting anything that needed treated slip past him. No matter how small the injury, he always fixed it. Or tried. Once, he'd even helped a damn neighborhood kitten that he'd found limping through his backyard.

He is furious about the phone, but he could help this man. "You need to get that looked at. You need stitches.”

Without waiting for a reply, he takes the other man’s hand in his own. He doesn’t care that the other part to his phone falls to the ground. He only cares that this cut could become even more infected if it wasn't cleaned and properly stitched. It looks like it's never been cleaned in the first place. At least, that’s what he tells himself. He ignores the voices at the back of his mind telling him he’s become OCD about any injury he sees.

"Don't have time," the man mumbles.

McCoy's eyes snap up. "If you don't make time, you'll have a serious infection of your hand that's even worse than this one."

"It's infected?" The blue eyes widen.

"Yes. Did you even think to clean it?" McCoy fights to keep the exasperation from his voice.

"I...no." The man winces. "Just...my hand's always dirty."

"What do you do that keeps your hands always..." He shakes his head, holding the man's hand. More important than this man's occupation is the fact that he has to convince him he isn’t in a damn hurry and can get it checked out. He begins unwrapping the rag, surprised to see that it is actually a bandana. "Never mind. Just wait here, I have—"

"Garbage man," the man retorts.

"What?" he asks with a grimace, to his chagrin.

"You basically just asked what my job was. I'm a garbage man."

McCoy stills and gives the man a closer examination. He does sort of look...like he has some occupation involving dirt and dust. And sweat.

Without thinking, his nose wrinkles.

"I'm a garbage man. My hands are in it all day," the injured man says again. This time he smiles and shrugs.

McCoy inwardly seethes, not sure if he cares for this guy's negligence. Or nonchalance in the matter.

"Wait. Here," he grits, letting go of the man's hand.

"Wait. What?" Blue-eyes asks, taking a step back. "I can't do that."

He sends him a hard look, pinning him to his spot. "I have a first aid kit in my car."

"Hell, no. I'm not going over to your damn car."

Those eyes could not possibly get any wider.

"Hey, now, you can relax." McCoy frowns, slightly apprehensive that the man’s panic was growing by the second. "I'm not asking you to. I'll go to my car and come back."

"My dad told me never to talk to strangers."

"Your dad told you...." McCoy briefly closes his eyes in frustration. Was this kid fooling with him? "Are ya two?"

Those eyes fill with hurt. "Twenty-four."

Twenty-four. Dear God in heaven.

He had been engaged at twenty-four. His fiancé, three months pregnant.

They stare at each other for a moment.

McCoy swallows, the first to cave. "Listen. Just...sit on the bench out here. My car's by the curb. I'll be right back over with what we need to take care of this." He pauses, watching Blue-eyes carefully. "Until you see a doctor tomorrow."

"Fine." Blue-eyes swallows and sinks down on the bench he indicated.

Grumbling to himself, he makes his way to his vehicle, never taking his eyes off the other man.

"Never talk to strangers," he mutters, pulling a few things from his kit.

There is no question that Blue-eyes had been walking into a damn bar. That sort of place is chock full of strangers. Strangers giving you your drinks. Strangers hitting on you. Strangers sitting beside you.

It is almost humorous.

But when he returns to the bench, Blue-eyes continues to warily stare at him. Blue eyes not as clear as they had been.

He takes a second look, putting two and two together.

He'd said he was late. A 'garbage man.' Then there was the sweat. The dirt. The smile. The hesitance. The remarkable eye color. The just as remarkable long hair, swept mostly in a ponytail.

Blue-eyes is clumsy, funny, personable, all rolled into one. Probably a guy young kids would love to talk to and hang out with.

He’s Christopher's son. The adventure-seeking son. The one McCoy heard more about this very night. The one he's misjudged, apparently.

Again.

And if he doesn’t treat this young man right—his Jim Kirk—someone would find out about it. He can just picture it. Chris would be in his office, confronting him the very next morning.

Jim looks away nervously. "I changed my mind. I—I have somewhere to be." He begins to rise out of his seat.

McCoy gently forces him back to his seat, a hand on his shoulder. "I'm a doctor. New in this town as of yesterday, and you could very well be my very first patient in Broken Cloud,” he says, pausing when Jim's eyes flicker with doubt.

“I know how to treat this cut of yours before you go wherever it is that you need to be," he continues calmly, as if he were talking to a child. "Will you let me do that?"

Jim chews on his lip. He nods.

"Good,” McCoy says matter-of-factly. “Now, this will sting a little as I clean the wound, and then I’ll stitch it. Try not to fidget."

To his credit, Jim doesn’t move a muscle. He does exactly what he'd asked of him with hardly a peep. He works efficiently. When it is done, Jim stares at his newly bandaged hand.

"That's it?" he whispers.

McCoy mentally scratches his head. Jim is confusing, yet he isn’t. He is smart, but has this...this naivety about him. The strange thing is, it’s almost familiar to him, as if he knows this about him already.

"Yes," he says as if it was a perfectly normal thing to ask. “That's it.”

Jim looks relieved.

Dammit, McCoy is relieved. What if Jim hadn't allowed him to tend to his hand?

"What—what do I need to pay you?" Jim asks quietly, stumbling over his words.

"You can pay me by going home and taking a shower, and taking your damn time gettin' to the next place," McCoy reprimands. “And letting me see how it's doing tomorrow.”

"That's all?" Jim breathes. He blinks once. "But I have to..." He stops and glances down at his watch, face paling. “Dammit, I don't have time. I can't disappoint him again. And I left my phone at the site so I can't—I can't call him to tell him I'm running late.”

“I'll take care of it,” he says quickly, knowing Jim was referring to Chris. "I have his number."

But Jim stares off into space, nodding vaguely as if he isn’t hearing him at all. “And I should check up on a few friends while I’m here, I guess. It's really convenient, and—“

“Jim,” he says firmly.

“Yes." Jim blinks at him.

He holds his gaze. “Like I just said, I'll call your dad and let him know where you are.” His cell phone might be broken but the landline is in perfect working order at his apartment. “But promise me one thing."

Jim's eyes narrow.

"Promise me that you will not rush."

"That's all?" Jim asks.

"Yes," McCoy says, nodding. "Now, tell me. What do you have to do?”

“What do I have to do?” Jim repeats, a perplexed look on his face.

“Yes. Give me the list.”

“Oh. Well, okay. Talk to Penn. Maybe another friend, if he's here. Shower. Put on a suit.” Jim pauses, shoulders tensing. “Get to Grayson's Hall. Damn, that's too much—"

“That's five things,” McCoy interjects. “Do those five things, one at a time and very carefully. You’ll get there late, but in one piece,” he asserts. He takes a quick breath, adding, “And your dad will be proud.”

Jim’s smile is blinding. “Thank you,” he says.

"You're welcome."

Jim stands and promptly turns the broken handle, entering the bar without another word.

McCoy doesn’t realize until he’s in his apartment and buttoning his dress shirt that they'd never once exchanged formalities.

Considering the entire meeting as a whole, he decides he shouldn't be too damn surprised.

Chapter Text

oOo

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter 2

oOo

 

Jim opens the front door to Grayson's Home for Boys and steps across the threshold, his encounter with McCoy finally resonating. He closes the door behind him, slumping against it. He usually looks forward to the sound of activity but this time, he’s relieved he hears nothing. All is silent, indicating that the boys are occupied elsewhere in the home and not waiting for his arrival like they normally do, clamoring for his attention. They are smart boys who easily pick up on his cues, always asking him perceptive questions, Sarek and Amanda Grayson’s influence strong in their lives.

Tonight, he isn’t up to answering those questions. He has some self-loathing to do.

My dad told me never to talk to strangers?

Groaning, his head hit the back of the door with a thud. “He’s going to think I’m an idiot.”

He’d been so busy at the bar, talking to his friends and determining who needed help, that he hadn't had time to dwell on the single oddest conversation he'd ever had in his life. Now that he could think in the quietness of the foyer, the memory of meeting the new doctor came crashing down.

The nonsensical thing that he said already haunts him.

My dad told me never to talk to strangers?

Talk about the world’s worst pick up line.

Jim groans again, hands tangled in his hair as he clutched at its roots in frustration. He'd meant that as a joke. But like all the other jokes he’s made recently, it had fallen flat. Flat as in hard, smack dab on the pavement, splattering everywhere, like when he’d dropped his banana split last week in front of a few of the boys.

The words had sounded juvenile even to him, but he'd been so uptight about getting to the benefit that he hadn't been able to think straight.

He'd completely ruined the new doctor's first impression of him. The first impression that is important to Jim because it is important to his dad. Of all the times to fuck up, Jim just had to do it now. Hopefully, the man wouldn't turn in his resignation before he even started, now that he’d met Jim, his employer’s very absent-minded, clumsy adult son who lacks even the simplest social graces. He is naturally all those things, but more so the past twenty-four months.

He has Gary Mitchell to thank for that.

If Jim had not broken up with him—if Gary had not pushed him against the wall in anger outside his apartment, the subsequent force causing him to fall and knock himself unconscious, irrevocably damaging his mind—he could have perhaps held his tongue. His resulting head injury had altered his balance. His thought processes. His ability to speak with others. His control. He depends upon Spock more than he cares to admit during interviews and seminars. Anytime, really, except for when he’s in the middle of a site and in his element. But, for the most part, if Spock isn’t by his side, he looks like an utter fool.

But McCoy doesn’t know this. The press doesn’t even know, which has been a hassle to pull off, but worth every bit of it to keep his secret. Chris takes care of it all, especially the ones they have to bribe to keep quiet.

Clearly this McCoy isn't Spock, who'd quip back with a dry but intelligent reply. Or Chekov, who'd laugh like he'd told the best joke of the decade. No, McCoy is his own man. A doctor with a grumpy disposition, who doesn’t suffer fools.

A fool like Jim. A fact touted by the media. If McCoy didn’t look deeper into Jim’s actions and look for a reasonable explanation, he wouldn’t be surprised if the doctor let that incident slip in conversation. No one ever misses an opportunity to make a jab at him. No one. His popularity and famous father make him an easy target.

Jim will never forget McCoy's look of pure disbelief when he'd thrown out his lame excuse, hoping that the doctor would ignore his painful cut. The look had bordered on appalled. McCoy most likely doubts that he’s an adult. In fact, didn’t the doctor ask him if he was two?

He snorts. Now that he thinks about it, it is humorous. He can imagine exactly what the new doctor had been thinking—that his employer's son was a ridiculous, selfish treasure hunter who had no common sense.

His dad understands when his focus narrows so completely it causes his peculiarities to shine. He forgets to eat or take a shower. Hell, he can hardly remember to tie his own shoes when he’s so close to wrapping up one of his so-called "treasure hunts."

"Who’s going to think you're an idiot?" A sweet voice chimes from down the hall.

Sighing, Jim pulls his eyes from the floor. It was Carol, of course, a woman with a bright smile but not bright enough to dispel the gloomy cloud hanging over his head. She approaches him, expression full of concern, as if he were one of the boys. He believes the woman missed her calling. She’s an excellent secretary with a strong sense of compassion for everyone she meets.

"The new doctor," Jim admits, running his hands through his matted hair.

He pulls his hands away, grimacing at the grime and sweat coating his skin. As if that isn't disgusting enough, the rest of his body looks the same way

"Oh, I'm sure it's not as awful as you think," her accented, soft voice assures him. "No one thinks you're an idiot."

Was she joking?

He throws her a look. “I can name at least ten people who do. Hundreds, actually…” He pauses, wincing. “If I could only remember their names.”

He needs Chris to drill names into his head, not just archaeological facts.

She sighs. "The people who count don't think you're an idiot, Jim."

"You do remember what happens when I'm working on an important project?" he asks her. "I lose things. I forget appointments. I can hardly remember to eat enough to get me through the hard work of a dig."

"I remember," she says with a short nod. "And I'm still sure this Dr. McCoy is intelligent enough to have seen your positive traits, which are many. There had to have been some sign, or something that he'd said, to show he's as intuitive as his reputation paints him to be."

Jim thinks quickly, because more often than not, Carol was right.

"The list," Jim murmurs.

"List?" she echoes.

"He had me stop and list what I had to do before I went to Grayson's Hall." Jim frowns. "Then, he told me to do those things one at a time and carefully. Like I was a kid.”

Carol’s lips twitch.

Jim sighs. “It was a disaster.”

"It sounds like he wanted to slow you—"

"—slow me down," Jim says, practically in unison with her.

Wasn't that what everyone around here always told him to do? He laughs ruefully to himself. He should've known that Chris had hired a smarter doctor to replace the last one, who'd hadn't understood Jim at all.

"Sounds like he understood you very well, after all," she says.

"Or," Jim says, grinning and starting toward the stairs, "he was afraid of what Dad would do if I didn't make it to the benefit in one piece." He smacks his forehead with his hand. "Dammit. My suit. It’s wrinkled. I don't have time to iron it."

He can just imagine the look on his dad’s face if he shows up late, suit mussed like he’d just rolled out of bed.

Carol's eyes twinkled. "I pressed both of your suits, Jim, so you could choose either one. Though, I prefer the black.”

He sighs with relief. "Thank you," he says, looking at her fondly, grateful she enjoys doing sisterly things like that for him.

He never minds. Not too much. Her intentions are pure and, apparently, he reminds her of her baby brother, who lives in England with her mother. They don't see each other often, the job here demanding. Jim has no problem letting her help him because it helps her homesickness. Helps her to feel at home.

He understands the feeling. Life as an archaeologist is unpredictable. It keeps him drifting, and this place grounds him.

“In fact, let me get them out for you while you shower,” she said, wrinkling her nose a little.

Jim steps away from her, chuckling. “I can take a hint.”

He turns for the stairs, but hesitates as the front door opens. He looks back.

“Where are all the boys?” he asks her as the Uhura enters and smooths down her ponytail.

Carol smiles. “Jim, it’s their bedtime.”

Bedtime?

“I’m such an idiot.” He smacks himself on the forehead. “Right. It is dark outside.”

“But bedtime only for the younger ones. The older ones are working on—”

He looks approvingly at Uhura, who has already cleaned up from the dig and is dressed in a short, chic black dress for the benefit. She merely quirks a brow at him, waiting for Carol’s reply.

“—Chris’s birthday gift,” Carol finishes. “We thought it was perfect timing.”

“While he’s busy with this fundraiser,” he muses aloud. “Whose idea was that?”

“Not mine,” Carol says and turns to Uhura.

“It was mine,” Uhura says, cocking her head. “I was talking to Carol yesterday about it. Since you’re leaving in just a few short days for that hiking trip to celebrate Chris’s birthday we thought the boys needed a little nudge. That trip, by the way, is making Spock twitch every time I mention it. I swear he’s going to follow you up that mountain just to make sure you’re both alright.” She stops and wrinkles her nose. “God, Kirk, you need a bath. How did I not notice it at the dig?”

“Trust me.” He sighs. “I know.”

Nonetheless, she slides her arm around his waist, anyway, urging him towards the stairs. “Here, I’ll help you get ready and even drive you to the fundraiser.”

“How late am I?” he asks, chagrined.

“Over an hour, Jim,” she says patiently. “They’re already eating, but you won’t miss dessert if you stay focused.”

“I’ll bring the suits back upstairs in a few minutes,” Carol calls after them.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” he asks Uhura as they climb the stairs together.

“I did, before the dig today,” she says softly.

He shakes his head. “Dammit,” he whispers.

“Hey, it’s not your fault,” she murmurs.

“It is,” he says, scowling as if his life depended upon it.

Maybe if he gets mad at himself enough, he’ll stop this bullshit.

“You know better than that, Jim,” she chides, shaking her head. Her ponytail hits his shoulder. “It’s Mitch—”

His scowl deepens. He can think the bastard’s name, but he can’t handle someone else saying it.

She winces. “—it’s the accident,” she finishes simply.

They reach the top and Jim tucks her arm under his elbow, as if escorting her. “Thank you,” he murmurs, his head down. “For coming to help me.”

She reaches over with her free arm and pats him affectionately on the arm. “It’s what we do. Stick together. Like family. Spock wanted to come, but I wanted him to stay and keep talking with Doctor McCoy.”

Something about the way she said ‘Doctor McCoy’ alerted him that she might be impressed with the new doctor.

Or thought he was as good-looking as Jim thought him to be.

Or thought that Jim thought he was good-looking.

His heart skipped a beat. “You don’t say.”

“Mmhmm,” she hums.

He doesn’t dare look at her. Stiffening slightly, he walks them to his bedroom, trying not to trip over his own feet. Like he had before he’d run into the doctor.

“So,” she says slowly, grabbing a towel out of the closet for him, among other items. “How was the meeting?”

“Fine.” He takes the towel, and then the washcloth she added to the pile. He frowns at the heart-shaped pink soap at the top. Where had this come from? It wasn’t his, was it?

“I knew it,” she says, smirking.

“Knew what?” he asks nonchalantly, his voice nearly rising to a pitiful squeak.

Her smile is victorious. “Even he isn’t talking about his meeting with you. And you know how your dad is. He can make anyone talk.”

“Yep, that’s my dad,” he deflects, hoping Uhura doesn’t see that he’d stopped for a split second. Walking briskly, he heads for his bathroom. “What’s up with the pink soap?”

“Trust me. You need it.”

It’s his turn to wrinkle his nose. “It’s hideous.” He lifts it up to sniff. He makes a face and lowers his hands. “Really?”

She nods. “Oh, yes, Jim. Really. It works for hopeless cases like yours.”

“Hopeless?” Jim’s eyes widen.

She rolls her eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic. Even Spock uses it when I tell him to.”

He sighs, resigned to using the soap. If Uhura is being this pushy, he won’t win.

“What did Dad get him to say?” he calls back over his shoulder once he’s in his bathroom, the door still open.

He puts the pile on the counter and scratches his head. He was missing something.

“Nothing about his wife’s accident, or his own breakdown two years ago,” she said.

Jim freezes and looks up in the mirror, catching sight of Uhura sitting calmly on the edge of his bed.

“Accident? Breakdown?” he echoes.

“You know his wife and child died awhile ago. A crash. Five years, I think,” Uhura said, expression solemn. “Right?”

Wide-eyed, Jim shook his head.

“And two years ago, he left his practice without a word, finding his way to Las Vegas. No one could find him for several weeks.” Uhura shook her head. “He’d disappeared on purpose.”

Jim swallows, recalling he’d been in Las Vegas two years ago.

At a bar near the University.

He’d met a doctor, who was there for a conference, too.

A doctor whose wife and child had died.

A doctor who’d wanted to forget again, for just one….

Light-headed, Jim looks down at the counter. His knuckles are white as he grips the edge of the sink to catch himself, but he couldn’t stop the rare, vivid memory from surfacing. Vivid, save for the murky features of the doctor.

Jim lay willingly on his back, the doctor running his hands up and down Jim’s body with a gleam in his eye. Things were heating up fast between them, and he bucked his hips toward the well-toned body above him, desperate. Needy. He desired all the friction he could get. He caught the doctor's smirk in the dimly lit room, when he realized that Jim was eating out of his hand.

Jim groaned, panting heavily. When Gary had smirked at him, it had been condescending in nature and usually meant he was done with Jim before pleasuring him. But when the doctor smirked, it was a promise for more. A damn caress. He knew with one look that the older man was far from being done with him. He’d already said he was going to make Jim fall apart before his eyes.

He believed him. He was already writhing beneath him, wrecked, wasn’t he? Succumbing to his advances?

“Darlin’,” the doctor whispered, “You don’t have to try so hard. I’ll make it worth your while.”

Breathless, Jim couldn't tell him that he wasn't trying that hard. Just that he’d never been treated so fairly before in bed.

Fire swept through Jim’s body, the man’s lips on his neck, breath hot and heavy. His hands clutched Jim’s hips before tugging at his pants and pulling them off with more ease, with more skill, than Gary ever had.

“What do...I call you?” Jim managed, knowing what was next.

He wanted a nickname. Something to call him before they had sex—and during. He was usually quite verbal.

The doctor’s eyes darkened and his hand gripped Jim’s leaking cock.

“Right,” Jim rasped, eyes rolling back in his head as he touched him. “B-Bones,” he decided once he let up a little. “I'll call you Bones.”

“That’ll do,” Bones said silkily. “Now, shut up, Kid.”

Kid? Jim laughed. Bones was older. But not ancient. And Jim, at age twenty-two, felt older, well beyond his years. Maybe for those reasons alone, they'd clicked.

Silent and almost broodingly, Bones lifted Jim’s legs, hooking his arms underneath them, and—

“Jim?” Uhura says, coming up behind him.

He startles. “I'm, uh, yeah,” he rasps.

“You alright?” She peers at him far too curiously.

“Fine, I'm fine,” he says quickly. “You say he...” He swallows. “He went to Vegas?”

“Yes,” she nods. “Spock found out.”

That surprises him when it shouldn’t. Spock likes to check on everything and everyone, usually to protect Jim.

“Didn’t I...I go to Vegas two years ago?” he asks, just to make sure.

Uhura’s eyes grow thoughtful. “I think you did,” she says.

Jim offers her a small smile at the tactful way she’d answered him, obviously not wanting him to feel badly for forgetting.

“I remember when you got home, you needed a week to recover from the night life,” she continued.

He’d needed a week to recover from the single best night he’d ever had in his life.

Only one thing on his mind, Jim races to his bed. He kneels at the foot and reaches underneath until he can feel the corner of a box. He grasps it, grunting when he had to lower his shoulder to the floor and reach even further to get a good hold of the box.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

He grimaces, dust tickling his nose. He hasn’t touched it in months, or cleaned underneath, and sneezes.

A dust bunny rolls out from under the bed.

“Guess I should clean more often,” he jokes to deflect her interest, though he's glad someone is there to witness this, just in case he falls over in a faint.

“Jim?” Uhura asks confusedly.

“Shit,” he whispers. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

“What’s wrong?”

She kneels beside him, anxiously watching him pull the box out from under the bed and open it. He rifles through, chest heaving. Because of Gary, he’d never thought he’d be with someone again. He’d never thought he’d see that man ever again.

And that was why he’d given him all he’d had.

“Hey,” she says, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Talk to me.

“I...I had...a...one night…” He can’t finish and swallows uncomfortably, taking a few piles out of the box.

He recalls someone thinking they’d been newly married.

That person had taken a photo, a Polaroid, and given it to the doctor, who’d given it to Jim along with a passionate kiss on the lips. There might have been another photo taken, but Jim isn’t sure.

“A one night stand?” she asks, amazement in her voice. “You?”

Jim nods absently, still looking.

“God, Jim, I mean...after Gary?” She hesitates. “I knew you’d been so upset, rightly so. It was tough on you, all the changes. I guess...I shouldn’t be surprised you coped that way.”

That had been coping?

Maybe he should’ve listened to his dad and pursued more therapy.

He sighs with chagrin. It is too late now. Way too late. He grabs a pile of photos at the bottom of the box and brings them into the light. Does he dare even check? He could be wrong.

Couldn’t he?

“Does Spock know?” she asks softly.

He shakes his head. “No,” he says hoarsely.

It had been the one time he’d been able to dash out of sight, leaving Spock, Scotty, and Sulu thinking he was going back to his room. He’d had one thing on his mind, and so had that doctor. After talking to each other at the bar, having a few drinks, they’d just...clicked. Even without telling each other their names or where they were from. Only a brief statement revealing they both had ghosts.

They’d been drunk, the doctor more so. Though when he’d fucked Jim in bed in another hotel room altogether, when he'd whispered in his ear, he’d had all his wits about him.

It had been dark, even in the bar. He’d tried to show his intelligence, and control his clumsiness, but inevitably, his recently damaged mind refused to cooperate. He'd fallen off the bed once. Tripped over clothes in the dark another time. Lost his shoes. To this day, he still doesn't even know how that had even happened. Despite these things, the doctor had been gentle. Patient, even. His kisses tender along his back. Yet he can’t even recall now if the doctor had had that same charming drawl as he does now. He might have, but he can’t rely on his brain for anything anymore.

It had also been incredibly stupid.

What were the odds…

He feels that he’s already dug his grave and now very slowly sifts through the photographs, one by one, until he gets to the fourteenth photograph.

It’s the only one that’s different in the entire damn box.

A Polaroid.

At least there isn’t a negative or digital copy of it like there is of every other photo of his life.

Hands shaking, he lifts it up so Uhura could see. Her eyes widen.

It’s hard to make out their faces unless one squints, but that’s what Jim does. His hair is chopped in the photograph, the shortest it’d had ever been. He looks different. More different than he remembered he’d looked. His eyes aren’t blue, so he assumes he’d worn contacts that weekend to blend in with brown eyes, disguising his naturally electric blue ones. He was also fifteen pounds lighter in the photograph, thanks to the accident and the emotional fallout.

But he can hardly think straight as his gaze falls on those hazel eyes, the reluctant grin, the handsome face of the man standing beside him in the photo. Even though the picture is dark, no one could possibly deny that it was, indeed, Leonard McCoy standing next to him with his arm slung low around Jim’s waist, the hand cupping his hip bone to pull him close, just hours after their tryst.

“Fuck,” he whispers, remembering that hand well.

He’d had a one night stand with the man who was now working for his father.

A one night stand with a man who’d wanted to forget.

He is so screwed.

Chapter Text

oOo

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter Three

oOo

 

One thing is quite clear. McCoy’s dinner companion is nothing like Jim Kirk.

He’d first asked Spock about the weather in Broken Cloud. Next, he'd asked him his opinion of the state of the art chainsaw he saw advertised in the window of the only store. Finally, he’d requested directions to get to the pharmacy from his apartment, a distance which spanned only five blocks.

The man never answered a single question.

Annoyed that he’d even troubled himself to make small talk with a man who obviously thought himself above him, McCoy bids on the first silent auction of the night, which was receiving multiple hits. Still annoyed, he bids a ridiculous amount on the “secret” auction of the evening because he can afford it and he believes in Chris's work with the orphanage. After which, he takes another cursory look around the room before returning to his table and Charlie Chaplin, to then wait for Chris's return to the table.

He had stepped into Grayson Hall, expecting to be underwhelmed like he was with the rest of the town. Instead, he’d been ushered into a room with extravagant pillars one identified with the Ancient Greeks, miniature white lights strung so intricately he couldn't make heads or tails of where they began or ended, and strains of music from a string ensemble.

He'd decides that Sarek and Amanda Grayson, Spock's parents, have impeccable taste. Even though they were not able to attend tonight, their flight having been delayed in San Francisco, it appears that everything is going on without a hitch.

The dinner he'd just finished had been exceptional, and he now waits for Chris to return to his seat before he digs into his gourmet cheesecake with a double serving of chocolate syrup. He’d thought it the polite thing to do since he's a guest, although his table companion has already begun eating his. Another point against him, in his book.

But there is one question he hasn’t asked yet, and, therefore, being the amicable human being that he was, he tries again.

“So, this place is your mother’s? Father’s?” McCoy asks, genuinely curious.

Spock narrows his eyes at McCoy then looks down at his dessert, the same cheesecake, this time topped with a drizzle of berries. He slices off another delicate bite with his fork and put it in his mouth.

“Have you always been the silent type?” McCoy asks point blank.

Spock’s brow raises.

He wonders how one manages being silent when friends with Jim Kirk, whose nervous energy clearly makes him talk. When Spock ignores him and continues eating, he decides he’s tried long enough.

“Note to self. A raised brow is the only way to communicate around here,” he mutters to himself and stabs his fork into his cheesecake.

Not that he has room to talk. His mother usually threatened to shave his brows off if he didn’t start to smile. He takes a large mouthful and chews as loudly as possible to break the silence between them, staring at Spock.

“You're not one for small talk,” he mumbles through his bite. “Are you?”

“I would advise you not to place such a large quantity of food in your mouth, doctor,’ Spock says primly. “The likelihood that you will choke is sixty-five percent.”

Unbelievable. He swallows hard. “Gee, only?” he mutters, taking another bite.

He might choke if he has to put up with this for another minute.

“You don’t like talking at all, do you?” he asks, rephrasing his previous question.

Spock quickly sets down his fork and looks beyond McCoy’s head.

He knows Chris stands behind him even before a hand claps him on the back but has enough self-respect to refrain from asking.

“Spock? Not one for talking?” the older man says, smiling at Spock and then down at McCoy. “You don't yet know Spock like I do. He can talk for the two of us all night if we'd let him.”

He walks to his chair and sits down, glancing between the two men.

“I imagine you two have gotten along just fine in my absence?” Chris asks.

McCoy tries to ignore the way his eyes sparkle with mischief as he looks from Spock to McCoy and back to Spock, as if he’d set them up for this quiet time alone at the table.

“Indeed,” Spock says evenly.

Chris leans back in his chair, still smiling. “You’re trying to hide it, but I can see it in your eyes, Spock,” he says. “He found something today, didn’t he?”

His voice brims with pride, an emotion that McCoy noticed always accompanied even the mere mention of his son.

Spock inclines his head. “As I said earlier, I cannot speak of anything in regards to our excavation without Jim present.”

McCoy shifts in his seat, wondering who this kid is that Spock speaks his name so reverently.

Chris quirks a brow. “That so?”

Spock silently nods.

“I see,” Chris murmurs, leaning forward and clasping his hands in front of him on the table. “I need more than that, Spock.”

“I will be doing you both a disservice if I...overshare.”

Chris chuckles.

McCoy doesn't. He may have just met the guy, this Spock, but he's not too sure he likes him yet. For one, his humor bordered on sass or condescending—or maybe both. Two, he had given him a slow look over before greeting him. Three, he had not stopped giving him the cynical, arched brow.

He has a feeling Bartender had been talking about Spock all along. He seems the protective, overbearing type. But who had broken Kirk’s heart? That was another question. One that he wasn’t interested in. He’d sworn off love, which meant he’d also sworn off getting tangled up in other’s people’s business.

“He’ll have to be careful,” Chris murmurs, eyes traveling the length of the floor. “She’s here.”

“She?” McCoy asks, curious. He tries to tell himself he asks because ‘careful’ and ‘Jim Kirk’ didn’t seem to mix.

“Rand,” Chris mutters.

The name means nothing to him but he nods.

“I gave Uhura instructions to remind him that reporters would be present here,” Spock elaborates.

After hearing the word ‘reporter’ he eyes the exit, and not for the first time. The fundraiser isn't over, but his tolerance for these things is. He isn’t fond of reporters. They’d put his wife and child’s faces on the front page of a newspaper. Gave that story and some damn reporter “Story of the Year.” Using his loved one’s faces, their moment of death, to do it. Just to increase readership and their financial gain.

No. It’s not that he isn’t fond of them.

He just fucking hates them.

He eyes the exit again, debating when he can make his move to leave. He’s sequestered between an anxious father and even more anxious best friend, who can’t stop talking about the object of their affection. The dancing will be starting soon, an activity he could hardly stand, but he can’t bear the thought of wearing the suit another second even more. He’s made an appearance, pleased his new employer, and that’s what counts.

He coughs, purposefully drawing their attention. “I’m not as young as I used to be. This traveling…” He hesitates, voice fading into nothing when a familiar looking figure walks through the entrance.

He blinks several times, not believing his eyes.

This Jim Kirk is not a ‘garbage man.’ He fucking can’t be. He’s a living, breathing blonde god who’d turned everyone’s eyes, including his own, as soon as he’d stepped into the room.

“He’s here, isn’t he?” Chris says softly.

He blinks again instead of nodding, wondering how he’d managed to pull off the hair cut, the cleanliness, and the pressed suit. After their clumsy meeting in front of the bar, he’d imagined a train wreck tonight and this gorgeous looking man is far from it. He’s even gliding across the floor to their table like a model. Sauntering over with a lazy grin, his eyes warm as he focuses in on his father.

Chris turns slightly in his chair and sees Jim for himself. But he looks back at McCoy. “Close your mouth, McCoy,” he says, a warning look in his eye. “He is my son.”

Heart pounding, McCoy immediately clamps his mouth shut that he didn’t even know had been open in the first place, flabbergasted that he’d reacted this way to a mere stranger. And in front of his employer. If that isn't bad enough, in front of the stranger's father.

It is not the impression he wants to make to anyone in this place. Especially since Charlie Chaplin across the way is now giving him angry looks. Remembering Bartender’s warning about the man who’d broken Kirk’s heart, one who deserved retribution, he decides he better hightail it out of here before this unprecedented, pubescent reaction gets the best of him. He needs a few moments of solitude to face the fact that Jim Kirk is as striking a figure as the public makes him to be.

“Excuse...me,” he says, swallowing before he really chokes. “I should...go.”

“No,” Chris says, eyes now softening. “Stay. It sounds like you two didn’t have a good first meeting, and this is the perfect opportunity to amend that.”

He’s fixed to his seat, anyway, thanks to Blue Eyes, incapable of finding his voice once the man is standing in front of him, quietly assessing him. He has a strangely guarded look on his face a stark contrast to the openness he'd witnessed after their run-in.

He doesn’t quite understand it, except this puts them on equal footing.

“You two met, I heard,” Chris says, standing up. He doesn’t wait for an answer, but embraces his son. Jim wraps his arms around the older man just as tightly, squeezing his eyes shut. “Your ponytail,” McCoy hears Chris whisper. “It's gone. You found something at the site today?”

Jim swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “I found something, alright.”

McCoy’s brows furrow, unsure if he should look away when Jim’s eyes glisten. Whatever it was that he’d found, it meant a lot to Jim.

“Your dad would be so proud,” Pike says in a thick voice.

Jim pulls away from Chris and shakes his head. “No, my dad is standing right in front of me,” he says quietly.

The two exchange a look, a deep, familial love expressed between the two men that McCoy has rarely seen in his life, if ever. He looks away, feeling like an intruder.

“You look tired, Jim,” Chris says, patting him on the shoulder. “Sit down and I'll find a waiter and ask for them to bring you a plate.”

Jim smiles, his eyes full of relief. “Thanks, I'm starving.”

He sits down beside Spock, clasping his hands in front of him on the table.

“Doctor McCoy,” he says, without making eye contact as he cleared his throat. “You made it.”

He's about to reply when a woman wearing an expression of authority sidles up to Jim.

“You've cut your hair,” she states loudly, drawing a few eyes to the table.

Jim exchanges a quiet look with Chris.

“Rand, leave him alone tonight,” Chris says sternly. “You can stop by for an interview tomorrow evening. They’re about to announce the winner of tonight’s grand prize before the dance.”

She doesn’t blink. “Are you sure you don't wish to say your piece before we publish a photograph with Kirk’s long hair...gone?” she asks sweetly.

Chris opens his mouth to speak, but Jim shoots him a look.

“It's fine,” Jim says quickly. “Just...give me a minute?”

Her smug smile widens. “I'll be waiting by the entrance.”

She walks away, Jim turning back to Chris. “I think we can prove his innocence,” he murmurs. “And pin it on Harrison’s descendants.”

McCoy keeps his expression neutral, but if that didn't sound like a cover story, he’d try to get Chaplin to talk again.

“You can't say a word about it, Jim,” Chris cautions.

Jim grimaces, his face still beautiful.

McCoy chokes on his water.

Chris’s eyes snap to him. “Are you alright?” he asks.

Beautiful? Where the hell had that thought come from?

“Fine,” he says hoarsely, reaching up to his neck and loosening his collar. “I’m fine.”

He needs air. “I think—”

“And the highest bidder of the Mystery Silent Auction, an exclusive look at an archaeological dig with Jim Kirk, world-renown archaeologist, is…” states a woman from the front platform, glancing up from the ticket in her hand to the audience, “Doctor Leonard McCoy.”

McCoy goes slack jawed. That was the secret auction?

As she begins clapping, the rest of the crowd follows, Pike standing up to whistle. Wishing he could retract his agreement to work in Broken Cloud, McCoy ears burn. His neck heats. He wants to hide, wants to erase this entire evening from his memory just like he does everything else—but he can’t. Not when Jim Kirk is looking at him the way he is. Like he’s just as nervous as he is—and something else he can’t quite pinpoint.

“Well, McCoy,” Chris said after the noise died down, fighting a smile as he slips out of his seat. “Guess you’re going with Jim out to the site tomorrow, after all.”

“What time do you leave?” McCoy thinks to ask, as the guests file to the floor for dancing. He watches as Chris approaches a woman and bows, appearing to asking her to dance.

“After a big night like tonight,” Jim says quietly. McCoy glances back right as Jim stares down at his hands. “Not too early.”

He rubs his bandaged hand, and McCoy instantly recalls his order for him to see a doctor tomorrow. He decides that he’ll be the doctor seeing Jim Kirk. No one else.

“Before we go, come to my office so I can take care of your hand,” he orders without thinking.

Jim’s eyes widen.

“If you don't,” he says, eyes narrowing when he senses that Jim wants to protest, “I won't come to your dig.”

Jim grows just as serious. “You drive a hard bargain. This is for the orphanage, remember. I'd hate for you to miss out,” he says, nodding at his best friend. “So would Spock.”

Spock frowns. “Captain, I must disagree.”

McCoy scowls. Why is he not surprised.

“Of course you do,” he says flatly.

Jim’s laughter rings with clarity, and McCoy decides he wants to hear it again.

“You two,” Jim says lightly. “It will be worth it just to see you both having to sit next to each other.”

McCoy looks at him in question—and fear.

“I'll pick up Spock, after I pick you up. In my truck,” Jim says, grinning. “You get the middle.”

oOo

Jim can’t believe his nerves haven’t gotten the best of him. He’d just told McCoy he would pick him up tomorrow. McCoy clearly doesn’t recognize him. After a ride in a truck where they’ll be packed in like sardines, thighs and shoulders touching, he’s certain the doctor will put two-and-two together.

But he’d do his best not to remind him of anything about that night. So far, he hasn’t, except for the phone incident earlier in the evening. He hasn’t tripped, knocked a person over, spilled his food, or forgotten what he was going to say mid-sentence.

Uhura stands nearby, conversing with a friend while sipping her wine, ready to provide a distraction if he needs a clean getaway.

“It’ll be warm, but wear long pants, long sleeves, and boots,” Jim advises McCoy. “And a hat, if you’ve got one.”

“I do own sunscreen,” McCoy says in monotone.

Jim lifts his brows. “You’ll burn, plus...snakes, you know.”

McCoy purses his lips.

“Just as a precaution,” he adds hastily, recalling the man’s darker mood in bed. “Even I’ve gotten bitten once.”

Spock stiffens beside him. “I prefer—”

“‘—that incident to remain buried in my past,’” Jim interrupts, quoting Spock.

McCoy glances quizzically at them, as if finishing each other’s sentences was a phenomenon. Jim supposes it is, but out of habit since Jim’s accident, they constantly are completing each other’s thoughts. It helps Jim not feel like a fool. Or, in this case, gives him the mental exercise he needs.

“Indeed,” Spock murmurs. “And if you could recall that incident, you would remember that it was me who endangered you in the first place.”

Guilt pricks Jim. He’s forgotten something, though he doesn’t know what.

“Sorry, Spock,” Jim says, wincing.

“You don’t remember that happening?” McCoy asked, feeling unusually curious.

“No,” Jim says, jamming another bite of food in his mouth before he has to answer another question.

McCoy quietly returns to his dessert, eyeing him while they both finished their food. Jim can’t tell if he’s starting to recall, to put the pieces together, beginning with this familiarity they already have with each other. He squirms in his seat and as McCoy’s eyes continue to bore into him, he bumps his glass of water.

It joggles but doesn’t fall, only a little liquid splashing from the glass. It shakes him to the core, and he freezes.

Until McCoy hands him a clean napkin, eyes calculating. “To dry your hands.”

Jim clenches his jaw and nods his thanks, taking his time to dry his hands and sit back as relaxed as he possibly can.

The three eat in silence, and it would be humorous how they continued to evaluate one another, except for the gnawing feeling in Jim’s gut which continues to grow.

He can’t finish his meal for the knot in his stomach, and just as he pushes his plate away, the mood continues its downward spiral. The room is suddenly thick with tension. Those who attended this benefit are privy to the rivalry between Chris Pike and John Harrison, so when the devil himself walks in, a path is made as guests back away.

Chris is directly in Harrison’s path in a flash, positioning himself so he cannot get to Jim for the crowd and tables.

“This event is by invitation only,” Chris says in an authoritative tone. “If you don’t leave, I'll have security escort you off the premises.”

Jim sucks in a breath, wondering how the hell he’d been allowed to enter in the first place. Hopefully, they hadn't been betrayed by one of their own.

“Even if I have a donation to make?” Harrison’s eyes flash, but he doesn’t speak in anger. As always, his words are controlled, his voice cultured.

“Even then,” Chris replies. He nods to his left, and in seconds, three security guards make their way towards them.

“This is not necessary. I come in peace,” Harrison says, making a circle around Chris, his words nudging the people aside.

“Peace, my ass,” Jim mutters under his breath.

Harrison only wants to shake them up, prove he isn't giving in to them by attending this very event.

“And to give my regards to your son,” he continues, his eyes now darkening as he tries to look past Chris and others - to Jim.

Spock inches to the edge of his seat, ready to protect. Jim knows he’s in good hands and refuses to give in to the ominous nature of Harrison’s very presence.

“I can pass the word,” Chris says tightly. “You have overstayed your welcome, John. This is a private event.”

“Then I shall leave my donation,” he says, “and at your insistence, depart quietly.”

Chris holds out his hand, and Jim knows how much that costs his father. He can’t refuse it in front of guests, but by accepting the check, it complicates matters. Harrison doesn’t let go of the check after all but turns on his heel, swiftly finding an opening in the barrier Chris has made and strides towards Jim.

The unease gathering in his gut is almost unbearable as Harrison looms over him, Spock not quick enough to completely block him.

“Step aside,” Spock demands, his presence alone forcing Harrison back one step.

“Captain,” Harrison says mockingly, cocking his head to peer past him at Jim. “You cut your hair.”

Jim says nothing, only watches as he slowly sets the check on the table in front of Jim.

“I have a proposition,” he says, eyes piercing.

“I won't accept,” Jim says immediately.

Harrison smiles. “You know we would make a good team, Kirk,” he suggests, eyes trailing over his body.

A chill sweeps over him from head to toe.  

"No," he manages through clenched teeth.

“There are things I could teach you,” Harrison adds deftly. “A different way of doing things, of finding those items of your past that are obviously so dear to you.”

The things dear to him? He finds them the honest, hard-working way and gives them to whom they rightfully belong. He doesn't want to do it another way. It would disrespect his heritage. The people who depended upon him to keep pieces of their history in the right hands.

His heart thudding in his ears like a herd of horses, he hears himself as if he’s in a tunnel.

“No,” he grits, not giving into the bait.

“Very well,” Harrison says easily, giving in as security takes a hold of his arms. “I will be seeing you, Kirk.”

The statement is loaded with smooth menace. Jim doesn’t breathe as he’s led away, and it takes Spock’s hands on his shoulders, his best friend gripping them painfully, before he comes back to himself.

“What the hell was that?” McCoy whispers.

Chris rushes over, eyes frantic as he stares down at Jim. “You alright, Son?” he asks.

Chris knows he’s not, that Harrison reminds him too much of Mitchell. But he stands a step away, giving Jim the space he needs with so many eyes upon them who’ve just witnessed the scene.

He can’t speak, sees movement from the corner of his eye as someone joins them. His vision is shrinking and he stares blankly at a spot in front of him.

“How did he even get in here?” he hears Uhura demand.

“I’m not sure, but I will find out,” Chris vows softly. ”But, first, Jim...can you look to me, Son?”

Chris’s voice is fading.

“I’d…” Jim closes his eyes, trying to picture his life in the field, with the friends who love him surrounding him. “I’d...like to l-leave,” he finishes hoarsely.

“Okay,” Chris says quietly.

He can’t force himself to get up. He’s frozen. He can’t see anything except Mitchell shoving him into the wall.

“Spock,” he hears his father say.

Someone guides him out of his chair, his legs leaden, his limbs not cooperating.

“Breathe, Captain,” Spock murmurs in his ear. “We will take the back exit.”

“Does he need…a sedative? Anything? Something to calm him? I haven’t unpacked but everything is at my office,” McCoy says in the distance. “Is this a recurring condition with him?”

He thinks he’s close to passing out, the words from Chris sealing the deal. 

His heart is slowly and heavily beating out of his chest.

“Yes, and yes,” his dad says without hesitation, his hand stroking Jim’s face.

He yearns for the comfort to never stop.

He wants to say it, but his mouth won’t work.

“He does and it’s happened before,” Chris says calmly, ever the leader, the one they all looked to for strength. "We’ll take my car, and head for the home. You can treat him there.”

Jim knows the ruse is up, his plan not to remind McCoy of the man he’d slept with failing miserably. It’s over, simply because he’s weak. Weak. Constantly putting on as strong a front as he can, but unable to function normally like others in life, his past stunting his ability to move forward.

If someone has to lift him in their arms and carry him to his father’s car, Jim is completely unaware.

Darkness had taken over.

Chapter Text

 

oOo

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter 4

oOo

 


By all appearances, McCoy calmly exits Grayson Hall beside Spock and Chris.

He’d selfishly used Spock’s best friend—Chris’s son—for a single night of pleasure. Granted, it had been consensual, but he’d used him just the same. Him. His employer's son. The son Chris loves. The son who is in obvious need of regular medical care.

He is far, far from being calm.

He’d come to Broken Cloud to escape. Turns out, it isn't an escape after all. He’s back where he’d started, the hand of fate mocking him. Unlike that night two years ago, when Jim helped him forget, the younger man now reminds him who he really is underneath, who he is beyond this pitiful effort he’s made to move on. He's a miserable man. Grieving the loss of his family. Guilt-ridden that he’d never truly loved his wife; only his daughter.

And now, to add salt to his wounds, he discovers that he'd taken the wrong father’s son to bed with him.

He’d be the first to admit that it’d perhaps been selfish, choosing the handsomest man at the bar, but they had hit it off. Not only that, but Jim had put off a strong vibe that he desired attention. A vibe so strong, it had been like a spotlight, shining down on Jim’s naivety and vulnerability. If he'd seen it from the other side of the room, surely others had, too. Before someone else could take advantage of him, perhaps hurting the young man in the process, McCoy had slipped into the empty seat beside him and bought him his second shot.

Jim had been nearly twenty pounds lighter at that time. He’d had green eyes, not cerulean blue. But the charming smile is still the same. Still, he’s chagrined. How had he not recognized him at Green's Brewery, where he’d been as naive and clumsy as the day he’d met him?

Why had it taken him so long at the benefit to figure it out for himself? At least he’d finally put two-and two-together before it was too late and he found himself in a worse situation, Chris finding out before him.

The forgetfulness. The near spill. The PTSD episode. This is, indeed, the Jim Kirk who’d lost his shoes, who’d sheepishly agreed to use an extra pair of his when he’d offered them to Jim. Who’d fallen off the bed in the dark, needing his assistance to get him back on.

McCoy bites back a sigh. Consensual sex? Check. With his employer’s vulnerable son? Check. Scum of the earth? Check? Dig his own grave? Check.

Just how many ways, exactly, could Chris and Spock torture him if they found out the truth? At least a dozen. Both were archaeologists. They had to know of sacred customs of torture from long ago. Spock looked like the kind of guy who would just know these kinds of things.

“Breathe, Jim,” Chris murmurs in Jim’s ear, the younger man cradled protectively in Spock’s arms.

McCoy takes the breath that Kirk doesn't. Just how is he going to treat this man he isn't supposed to know?

“Please, Son,” Chris whispers.

As genuine as the father’s plea is, it won’t work on someone who is catatonic. He’s relieved that Chris’s car is not far, only twenty feet from the exit. Jim’s unresponsive state is a concern.

Chris unlocks his vehicle, opening the door to the backseat. Spock carefully places Jim in the backseat, moving his arms and legs so they aren’t uncomfortably bent. It's an effortless procedure, causing McCoy to wonder if Spock has done this before.

Once Spock makes sure Jim is secure, he straightens and looks at McCoy.

“After you, Doctor,” he says.

“Wait, Spock,” Chris says, glancing back at the hall with a sigh. “I’d rather you remain here in my stead. The benefit isn't over, and I can’t leave Jim.”

Spock’s eyes first peruse McCoy, gaze as calculating as it had been at dinner. He can’t possibly know what he and Jim had done. Maybe he has a sixth sense, instead, and doesn’t know anything specific. Only that he is hiding something. Which isn’t much better.

“I will keep my phone close,” Spock says.

“Thank you, Spock,” Chris says softly.

“He is my friend,” Spock says quietly. “Gratitude is unnecessary.”

Giving McCoy one last look, Spock turns to reenter the hall. Chris walks around the car and towards the driver’s side, peering anxiously through the window at Jim.

“He had an accident two years ago, Leonard. Now, he suffers from PTSD and the lingering effects of his concussion. He has one of these episodes nearly every week, though he’ll deny it,” he says quietly. “With each one, he forgets to breathe.”

McCoy recalls the brief explanation Jim had provided about his accident, the reason for his clumsiness and imbalance in the hotel room and in bed. His ex-boyfriend had pushed him. He’d hit a wall, fallen down, sustaining a concussion.

This is yet another occasion that the time he spent in acquiring a second degree, one in psychiatry, has proven invaluable. The PTSD episode Jim is experiencing had been triggered by Harrison, a man who oozes power, no doubt reminding Jim of his ex, who'd had the dominating character and physical power to push him into a wall hard enough to injure him.

He suspects Jim’s concussion is only a small part of that story. Additionally, and more worrisome, the concussion may have caused permanent damage to Jim’s brain. He could still be suffering from Post-Concussive Syndrome, more than two years after his accident, explaining his daily symptoms like imbalance and forgetfulness. And PCS could even mimic PTSD.

McCoy can’t see them getting home in one piece with an anxious father at the wheel.

“I’ll drive,” he suddenly asserts.

Relief crosses over Chris’s face.

“You give him the comfort he needs,” he continues, having the fleeting thought that he’d rather be the one in the back comforting Jim. “I’ll mind the road. I can’t do a thing for him until we get to the orphanage, though I am concerned about his breathing. If you drive, you’ll be looking back at Jim, wondering how he is.”

Chris gives him the keys without hesitation. “Let’s go.”

It’s a selfish choice that gives McCoy more time to consider his own options. Jim obviously knows who he is. The younger man had been on edge during dinner, guarded in his responses and mannerisms. Though he prides himself on being professional at all times, could this realization make it more difficult for him to treat him? Or would their ‘familiarity’ with one another help them in this situation?

He looks back at Jim. Motionless. Wordless. Catatonic and barely breathing, he is as helpless as a babe. His stomach fills with knots over a man he hardly knows yet knows more intimately than anyone. Save for the ex-boyfriend who’d caused Jim’s problems in the first place.

“We could take him to the hospital,” he offers when they’re less than a minute from the orphanage.

He half-hopes that Chris agrees.

He doesn’t like the way his heart is showing signs of life again. He hasn’t unpacked yet. He could slip away unnoticed after they arrive at the hospital.

There’s an unsettling pause. As if Chris hasn’t heard him or is too worried about his son to answer.

He taps his fingers on the wheel, indecisive. This job guarantees he’d rub shoulders with Jim on a regular basis, but did he want to run away from his problems—again? He was tired of running, wasn't he?

Jim’s louder, long-suffering wheeze startles him. McCoy’s eyes snap to the mirror, unable to tamp down the anxiety that comes out of nowhere. He tells himself he looks to check on his new patient, nothing more, nothing less. Chris’s arms are wrapped around his son’s torso. He holds him close as if Jim is four-years-old and enduring a nightmare, not twenty-four and suffering from PTSD.

“That’s it, son,” Chris murmurs in Jim’s ear. Jim’s eyes are fixed ahead, his head resting heavily on Chris’s shoulder. “Breathe for me.”

“The hospital is close,” McCoy prods.

“Hospital?” Chris repeats, repeatedly stroking Jim’s cheek like he had at the benefit. The touch seems to prod Jim into taking another dragged-out breath. “No. The risk of word getting out of this, the tabloids, headlines, the inevitable intrusion into his personal life even more if it does...no. It would only aggravate his condition.”

McCoy’s mouth tightens at the corners, the thought of placing Jim at risk for any reason unsettling. He looks back for a third time. Jim’s face is visibly pale even in the darkness.

Chris catches his eye and hesitates. “Or, do you recommend it?”

“Does his personal physician work there?” he asks.

Chris shakes his head. “No, he flies—”

“Flies?”

“Yes, flies. At least every other week to see Jim. He was just here a few days ago and isn't due for five more days. Doctor Geoffrey M’Benga. Jim met him when he was in Arizona and spent a week in one of the hospitals there after a roof caved in on an excavation. He’s a good doctor, though not a psychiatrist. He’s very gentle with Jim and trustworthy. For those reasons alone, it's worth flying him here on my personal jet.”

The name sounds familiar, but he can’t pinpoint where he’s heard of him. “I need a medical history before I administer anything to Jim, including a list of allergies,” he states.

“Allergies,” Chris chuckles dryly. “He has those, and not just to medication.”

“He’s allergic to meds?” McCoy asks resignedly. That was going to complicate things.

Chris sighs. “Yes, most muscle relaxers except for two that Dr. M’Benga has prescribed to him. He’s also highly sensitive to a few other drugs.”

“And then I’ll need Dr. M’Benga’s number.”

“Certainly. He’ll be happy there is someone else willing to watch over Jim while he’s away,” Chris says swiftly. When McCoy doesn’t answer, he glances hesitantly at him. “Are you willing, Leonard?”

He thinks of the man sitting across from him at the table, the lift of his chin when Harrison arrived, the strength he showed when he was being threatened.

“Yes,” he says simply, jumping in feet first.

“Good,” Chris breathes, kissing the top of Jim’s head. “I believe you are our miracle, Leonard.”

Miracle? He's a flawed doctor.

He bites back the sarcasm that he used to use to make himself feel better, but that only made him even more cynical. He’s a physician at an orphanage, where young boys depend upon him. He has no more use for bitter words. This is a new life, a new way of things.

At least, that is what he keeps telling himself.

“I’m equipped to give him oxygen,” he says, pulling into the parking lot of the home. “It might be best for him to stay here where I can keep him comfortable.”

“Good,” Chris murmurs again.

McCoy eyes the building once they’re parked. It’s mostly dark, the entrance the only part of the home that was lit, as if someone were expecting them.

“I’ll get the wheelchair,” Chris says, unbuckling his seat belt.

McCoy keeps his face neutral. “This really is as recurring as you say it is.”

Chris pauses, looking distraught. “Yes,” he says.

The thought is just too painful. How does Jim even function as an archaeologist? This bright, beautiful young man?

He knows the answer before he can find the wherewithal to even ask.

Spock. Chris. The rest of his team. Jim’s own determination and spirit.

“And as I said before, Jim shoves it to the back of his mind. It’s the only way he can move forward.” Emotion stirs in Chris’s eyes as he slips out from behind Jim, easing his son to rest on the back of the seat and adjusting his head so it doesn’t sag. “The chair’s in the trunk,” he finishes quietly. “I’ll bring it out.”

It’s no small task getting Jim out of the vehicle without Spock’s nearly superhuman strength. But he doesn’t follow his own strict weight training regime for nothing. It’s given him another outlet besides being a doctor or grieving widower and parent.

With a grunt, McCoy gathers Jim in his arms and lifts him out of the car. Jim’s head settles on his shoulder, his hair brushing his jaw like an angel’s wing. The touch makes him pause, his heart to skip a beat, and he breathes in the man’s scent. A mixture of earth, pine, and sweat. A scent that washes over him like all beautiful memories do. And Jim Kirk, most certainly, was a beautiful memory.

His scent is exactly as he remembers. So is the way he fits perfectly in his arms.

Chris steadies the wheelchair, waiting.

He stands there holding Jim for a second too long.

“McCoy?” Chris says, frowning.

“I’ll carry him,” McCoy says quickly, his heart pounding at his own absurd behavior. What the hell was he doing? “Keep him close. I can see that Jim is very tactile…”

He knows that Jim is tactile so it's not a poor excuse. On the contrary, he’s proud he'd thought so fast on his feet. He’d spent hours with this man, his hands on his body to please him, Jim keening underneath them. Then spent hours yearning to do it again after they'd parted ways.

How could he not understand this one, peculiar quality about him?

He begins walking without waiting for Chris’s answer.

“Yes, he is,” Chris says, falling in place beside him. “You're as perceptive as I recall.”

He’s loses himself in his thoughts, hoping Chris really can’t read him that well. Once they enter the quiet, dimmed entryway, the woman he’d met before, Carol, is there with a warm cloth in her hand.

Her eyes soft, she smiles sadly at Jim.

“Nyota told me you were coming,” she whispered, wiping Jim’s sweaty brow. “Our Jim did not need this tonight. Not when he had so much to celebrate.”

“I need to treat him immediately,” McCoy says, thinking how desperately Jim really does need that oxygen mask, his breathing becoming more labored.

Her eyes widen but she pats Jim’s cheeks once more. “Yes, I am sorry. I don’t mean to cause trouble,” she says. “If there’s any way I can help, please let me know.”

He inclines his head. “Thank you, and I will remember that.” He has second thoughts before heading for his office and stops mid-stride. “I do need a nurse in a short time, so if you’re willing…”

“Of course,” she says quickly. “Let me tie up a few things here and I’ll be right along.”

He heads for his office, which is conveniently located on the first floor, the adjoining examination room spacious and warmly decorated, appropriate for the boys’ ages six through seventeen who live here. Chris opens the door and steps aside, allowing McCoy to enter first. The examination table is far too hard and impersonal for anyone within the throes of an episode like this. He eases Jim’s body onto the soft mattress of the bed in the room, instead.

The blonde’s breath catches as McCoy’s arms slip out from underneath him.

McCoy stills. “Jim?” he asks, searching his face. He places his hand on Jim’s forehead, stroking it gently. “Can you hear me?”

Staring blankly in front of him, Jim doesn’t blink. He's trapped in his own world, a devastating condition for a loved one to witness.

McCoy’s hand falls away as Chris comes to stand beside him. “Here’s his medical file,” Chris says, handing him a thick Manila folder. “But I will advise you, I beg of you, please do not read more than what you need for now. We need to talk, Leonard. About the accident itself...and what happened after Gary shoved him into the wall.”

McCoy meets his eyes, willing him to slow down. Chris is suddenly talking too fast, his eyes darting to Jim and not McCoy, even though it is him with whom he is speaking.

“Alright,” McCoy says slowly, warning bells going off in his mind. Whatever it was that happened afterwards, it had most likely caused Jim additional trauma. “I won’t intrude into this file more than I have to.”

Chris nods. “Thank you. His medication is in the cabinet. I'll open it for you with the key,” he says. “We keep the file here in the same filing cabinet we use for the boys, though the former doctor for the boys...had nothing to do with Jim.”

McCoy frowns at him quizzically, but takes the file. He opens to the first page and reads while Chris goes on.

“He didn’t like Jim,” Chris says under his breath. “Didn’t understand him. Didn't like...this.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that with me. Your son is a fine young man,” he says truthfully, flipping one more page to find the list of allergies. “After you open that medicine cabinet, find the box that is marked blankets.”

He turns on his heel, going directly to the boxes in which he’d packed the various oxygen masks, all of which were new. Being a physician who demanded organization in his work setting does have its advantages.

“Blankets?” Chris frowns.

“Yes,” he says firmly. “Pull one out that you think he’ll like and cover him.”

Soon, he hears Chris open the box, the shuffling that accompanies setting down the lid on the floor and pulling out one or two of the items.

“These are not regular blankets,” Chris says quietly

“No, they aren’t. They’re weighted,” he explains without looking back. He goes to the cabinet in the corner and checks several medicine labels and chooses two bottles M’Benga had already prescribed for Jim. He finds a sterile syringe, grabbing that, as well. “It will give him the sense that he is fully protected.”

He turns around at the same time Chris is staring down at the blanket in his hands. “It’s heavy,” he says. “Are you sure…with his breathing?”

He gives a brisk nod. “Completely. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d guess Jim never shies away from an embrace? A hug? Your arms when he is upset?”

He prays Chris doesn’t ask him how he’d just correctly assessed his son.

Chris swallows, as if he’s debating McCoy’s sanity. “No, he doesn’t.”

“Right,” McCoy says. “It’s like a cocoon to some, a protective feeling that will help calm him.” He pauses, Chris still hesitant. “It doesn’t hurt to try.”

McCoy turns on the valve to the oxygen tank and fits the mask on Jim’s face. The younger man immediately twitches. McCoy throws a look over his shoulder at Chris, who hasn’t budged an inch.

“The blanket, Chris,” he gently reminds him

Jim coughs into the mask, the sound muffled by the silicone. McCoy stays where he is, at Jim’s shoulders, deftly administering the medication that would calm him into his arm. Hopefully, calming him straight out of this state. Jim coughs again, head tossing side to side as if he wanting to rid himself of the contraption on his face.

McCoy swiftly reaches up and holds the mask in place. “Breathe, Jim,” he murmurs. “Let go and let the mask do its job.”

Chris drapes the blanket over his son, fixing it when it falls lopsided on his body. Chris’s hand trembles when he’s done.

“Take a seat,” McCoy says.

Chris shoots a look at the chair by the bed, but McCoy shakes his head.

“Not there,” he says. “In another room.”

Chris looks horrified. “I can’t….leave him.”

“Chris, I can tell that you're upset. Jim might be able to sense that, as well,” he says pointedly. “You need to step away for now.”

“I’m always strong for Jim,” Chris replies, voice quaking. “But this time…”

“It’s not unusual for the caregiver to have moments like the one you’re having,” he assures him. “You’re human, Chris.”

“For him, I have to be more,” Chris whispers.

“You're human, and you need a break. I’m right here beside him, Chris. I won't let any more harm come to him,” he says. “Carol will be here any minute. You need a moment to—”

“Pull myself together?” Chris gives a self-deprecating laugh.

“Not my choice of words,” he replies gently. “But, yes...he needs you in one piece, not worried that he’s going to remain like this the rest of his life.”

There’s a moment’s pause, as if Chris is taking his words to heart.

“Leonard, thank you. I’ll be in the next room,” he says softly.

McCoy stands vigilantly at Jim’ s side, going over what he’d learned about Jim from the file as he checks his blood pressure. M’Benga’s diagnosis would cripple most people, but not Jim. He’d found a way to rise above it, just as long as he has his family and friends by his side to help him when he’s in the midst of an episode like this.

Finding that Jim’s blood pressure is far too low, McCoy gives him another medication. After two minutes, Jim’s eyes finally begin to clear, as much as the medications he’d given him allow. McCoy makes note of the time, relieved when those baby blues stray to his face. All things considered, this hadn’t been a long episode. Dr. M’Benga had recorded one which had lasted for ten hours, also following a run-in with Harrison.

“There ya are,” he says warmly. “You’re going to be okay, Jim.”

There is no recognition in those eyes, not yet, but Jim inhales a full, healthy breath of air.

“That’s music to my ears,” he soothes. “Keep breathing.”

Jim’s eyes drift beyond his shoulder and then on the other side of McCoy, like he’s looking for someone. Someone who is always there for him during these episodes. Someone like—his father.

“Your father is here, but in the other room,” he assures him. “I'll get him in a few minutes.”

Jim blinks slowly several times, his lethargy a little less than it'd just been a few seconds ago.

Thankfully, the room is empty, except for the two of them. If he wants to know if Jim remembers him at all, he has to ask now.

“Do you know me?” he asks under his breath, hoping to draw him out. “We talked, Jim. At the bar in Vegas.”

The expression in Jim’s eyes doesn’t change, though his breathing grows louder under the mask.

“That’s okay. We’ll wait it out and I’ll ask you again. That’s it, Jim,” he murmurs, stroking his forehead. “Let the—”

He stops abruptly when Jim slowly reaches up and weakly grabs at the mask.

“No,” he says firmly, grasping his hand.

Jim flinches.

McCoy softens his face and guides Jim’s hand back down by his side, keeping his expression neutral. “I won’t hurt you, Jim,” he says gently. “I’m a doctor, do you remember that?”

Still no response, at least not the one he is hoping for. Instead, Jim reaches up and grips McCoy’s hand instead of the mask, tugging at it.

“You are persistent,” McCoy says, fighting a smile. “But I can’t do that, kid. You need this on for a little while longer.”

Jim’s hand falls to the bed, his breath fogging the mask in regular intervals. He blinks heavily, his expression clearing, but his eyes are still hazy from the medication.

“Doctor McCoy?” Carol calls from the doorway.

“You're just in time. I want to check his file for one more thing. Hold this on his face. Remind him to breathe,” he says, jerking his head towards Jim. “He’s still resisting, and in this state, I wouldn't be surprised if he yanks it off his face if we’re not careful.”

“Certainly,” she says, taking his place by Jim’s side.

Jim coughs, spraying his saliva onto the mask. “It’s alright, Jim,” she croons. “Just keep breathing like the good-looking doctor ordered.”

McCoy makes a small noise in his throat. Where the hell had that come from?

Carol glances over her shoulder, smiling sweetly. “As if you didn’t know that about yourself. Uhura and I are betting Jim noticed, too.”

He feels the blush rising to his cheeks like bread rises in Georgia on a hot summer day.

He dares a peek at Jim, who is now tugging at Carol’s hand, his eyes as uncannily bright as when he’d made his entrance at the benefit.

“What is it, Jim?” Carol asks.

McCoy comes back over and lifts the mask so Jim can speak.

“Bones?” Jim croaks, the first word since he’d turned inward at the benefit.

He has to resist the urge to flee. “Yeah,” he admits, pleased that he remembered while coming out of his episode. He’d expected more confusion. “It’s Bones.”

“Bones,” Jim repeats in a whisper, his impossibly blue eyes fixated on McCoy. “Bones.”

He has to mentally kick himself in the ass as a reminder not to stare into those blue eyes like he would if they were alone.

Carol looks at him quizzically.

He thinks he’s had to make too many excuses for himself in one night.

He draws a breath. “Like a sawbones, Jim?” he asks, crossing his fingers that Jim will understand and help make the new nickname ‘believable.’

Carol smiles. “It’s an odd name, but it fits. Especially since Jim gave it to you.”

Jim stares at him, then Carol, and back at him. The blonde nods once with great effort, his reply cut off by more coughing. McCoy places the mask over his face, but not before he sees the face Jim makes.

“Breathe, kid,” he urges softly. Jim’s eyes slightly widen as they stare at him. “You might be feeling as weak as a little kitten for some time, Jim. Probably through the next morning,” he explains. “I gave you a muscle relaxer as well as an anti-depressant, what your doctor had already prescribed.”

Jim’s brow creases. His head lolls to the side, his eyes heavy as he searches the room. Sensing that he wanted to ask another question, McCoy removes the mask again.

“Dad?” he rasps.

“I’ll send him in,” he promises, placing the mask back on his face.

The mask fogs as Jim closes his eyes and sighs.

“Will you take over again while I talk to Chris?” McCoy asks Carol.

“Certainly,” she whispers.

McCoy discovers he doesn’t like walking away from him, even for a minute, but he turns away and leaves to locate Jim’s father. He enters the adjoining room. Chris is at the edge of his seat, his gaze locked on the doorway.

For Jim’s sake, he’s relieved that Chris is a devoted father. It will make the difference as to whether Jim can overcome this.

“He’s awake,” McCoy says quietly after he closes the door behind him to give them privacy.

Chris jumps to his feet, but McCoy holds out his hand to stop him. “Now that I’ve had a chance to review his file, I don’t recommend pushing his activity tomorrow.”

“The dig?” Chris asks, eyes wary.

“I don’t recommend it,” he reiterates.

“He always pushes,” Chris says, shaking his head. “It’s how he’s come this far, Leonard.”

“He has limits,” he says.

“He’ll be heartbroken.”

He nods. “I realize that. Let me watch him through the night. His blood pressure is still too low and I’m concerned he’ll have another episode.” He hesitates, running a hand through his hair. “This...Harrison. Does he remind Jim of...someone else?”

McCoy’s heart races as Chris stares at him as if he’s realizing he knows a little bit more about Jim than he should. He blinks, and Chris is pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Yes,” Chris says in a weary, defeated voice. “He does. His ex-boyfriend, who’d caused the accident.”

“I see. It seemed reasonable to believe that Harrison was the trigger,” McCoy explains. “That’s why I am concerned this can happen again, and want to make sure it doesn’t.”

“I trust you, Leonard,” Chris says. “I wouldn’t have contacted you if I didn’t.”

I trust you…

Would Chris continue to trust him if he knew about Vegas?

If he were in Chris’s shoes, he would not.

He swallows harshly. “I don’t want to step on Doctor M’Benga’s toes…”

“He’ll be glad you’re here. What matters is Jim’s well-being,” Chris says, lifting his chin. “Even if that means postponing tomorrow.”

If he sleeps fine and is up to it in the morning, I’ll be there, anyway.”

“He won’t go back on his word to you, no matter how awful he feels,” Chris says quietly. “You’d—we’d—have to tie him to the bed.”

If it comes to that, McCoy won’t hesitate.

“Then he needs as much time as possible to rest,” he says instead. “I’ll give you a moment alone with him.”

Chris walks away, turning as he reaches the doorway. “Leonard?”

“Yes?”

Chris’s eyes fill with an emotion that reminds McCoy too much of his own pain—relief. Because he’d never felt that relief before as a parent, not like Chris. He’d been too late, too flawed, too human.

“Thank you,” the older man whispers. “Thank you.”

When alone, McCoy sinks heavily into a chair and places his elbows on his knees. He drops his head into his hands, exhaling as slowly as possible to relieve the tension he now felt riding along his shoulders.

This evening had not gone as planned.

He can see himself doing all that he can for Jim, his condition another distraction to keep his mind off his own reality. That he, too, had limits, and is merely a man.

That he can't—and will never be able to—save everyone.

 

Chapter Text

oOo

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter 5

oOo

 

Carol bites her bottom lip, watching along with Jim as Bones exits the room.

“I think he likes you,” she whispers when they’re alone in the examination room and the door is closed. “He can’t stop staring into your eyes, Jim. You’re charming him—without even talking.”

Jim looks at her in panic. He isn’t sure he wants to charm him. He can’t believe the predicament he’s in. His one-night stand is the new doctor here, the very physician his father had apparently entrusted to treat him.

Chris had every right to do so. Jim had signed over his medical rights to Chris after he’d learned he’d sustained a severe head injury, giving him Medical Power of Attorney. Maybe he’d always known, deep down inside, that despite his best efforts to push his condition to the back of his mind the PTSD and neurological decay caused by the brain injury would remain a regular part of his life or worsen someday. That Chris, as his guardian, was not a temporary fix. Rather, it was a permanent one, because eventually he’d succumb to the complications of his injuries. He doesn’t trust himself to make the best decision when it comes to his own health. In fact, he’s incapable of making decision for himself quite often, and depends upon Spock to help him each day.

But it is a fact he battles. A part of his life he tries to ignore. Case in point—Vegas.

He’d had no business traipsing around the city that night, just two months after his accident, finding a different bar after Spock had retired for the evening. It had been an incredible lack in judgement, a poor choice, something he’d always struggled with through the years without a head injury that had resulted in brain damage. Yet, that lack of judgement had given him the night of his life. It had given him dreams about Bones, even two years later. He’d been incredibly lucky that Bones had picked him up—and not another domineering man like Gary.

Because it is in Chris’s very nature to protect Jim, he can never tell him that he’s met Bones before, that he’d allowed the doctor to befriend him, flirt with him, take him to his bed. That he’d befriended the doctor in turn, flirted with him, and followed him to his bed. Nor can he expect that his father would ever be comfortable with the thought of Jim dating Bones, simply because Jim is dependent on his father and vulnerable in life—and Bones is his employee. But the thought of dating Bones is, ironically, the very one racing through his mind over and over, like a broken record.

And a thrilling idea in and of itself.

Now that he’s seen the doctor again, he doubts he’ll never date anyone else, at least not while Bones works for his father. It would feel like a betrayal of the night of his dreams and the beautiful individual who’d given that to him.

But if Carol keeps saying things like this, it will draw attention on them, make everything worse. Won’t it?

She rests her hand on his shoulder, eyes teeming with sisterly concern. “You don’t want him to like you?”

Jim blinks, unsure how to answer that. He hates to lie, but he can’t force himself to shake his head ‘no.’

She smiles. “I see. It’s okay to like someone new, Jim,” she says. “If you’re ready. And if you’re not, if this feels too soon, then there’s no harm in that, either.”

Ready? He’d had a one-night stand shortly after being assaulted, despite the nightmares that still plagued him. Maybe it just proves how much sense had been knocked out of him, that he was brain damaged. Yet, he had experienced a glimmer of true fear as Bones entered him, a racing heart when they had been in bed together. Now, two years later, it isn’t too soon to consider liking someone else, but neither does it seem soon enough. As long as that someone else is Bones.

He’d do it again in a heartbeat, and if that didn’t describe the spell Bones had put him under, he didn’t know what would.

He sighs into his mask, his body completely giving in to the medication and feeling quite weak, just like Bones said he would. He can barely lift a finger now, and stares at Carol, hoping she doesn't decide to dash out of the room, too. He hates feeling helpless, which is exactly what he is now as he craves and breathes in the oxygen the mask is providing for him. When he’s in a helpless state, he hates to be alone. It reminds him of being a small, scrawny kid before Chris had found him.

Carol frowns and squeezes his hand. “Jim, you’re going pale again. You have nothing to worry about,” she says. “I am sorry to tease you so much.”

He blinks in acknowledgement and is relieved when his father enters the examination room. He’s tired, not sure he’ll be able to stay awake much longer. Carol squeezes his hand once more and moves to a chair at the foot of the bed.

Chris’s eyes settle warmly on him. “You’re in good hands, Jim,” he says, standing beside him.

Bones’s drugs are strong. Jim feels as if he’s out of his body as he stares up at Chris or, at least, floating on air. He wants to say he’s sorry for causing this trouble on the night that they usually receive the majority of their donations for the orphanage, but he can’t find the energy to try to speak. He stares sadly at his father, regretting that he can’t even tell him what he’d found at the excavation site.

He’s no genius, not now anyway, even if he’d once been intelligent, but senses that his condition is serious enough tonight to prevent the dig tomorrow. Unless he miraculously bounces back. He’s never had so much trouble breathing before, at least that he can remember. He has a distinct feeling crawling up his spine that Bones won’t allow Jim to do anything that could possibly set him back again.

“You’ll be staying here tonight, son,” Chris says, taking his hand. “I’ll bring the book you like from your room. At least, if you can’t read it, it can sit beside you.”

Jim barely nods.

“I am worried, son,” Chris says slowly. “If Leonard hadn’t been here, we would have had to have taken you to the hospital.”

Jim closes his eyes to deal with the image that the mere mention of ‘hospital’ gives him. An image of harsh doctors, cold tables, loneliness, ugliness, pain and suffering. He hates hospitals. Having spent copious amounts of time in them when he was much younger, after juvie, he’d developed a dislike that contributes to his avoidance now as an adult simply because he wants to avoid any drama, any word leaking to the press about his health.

“But he’s here, and...” His father stops.

Jim opens his eyes, concerned when he hears the crack in his voice. Chris’s face is turned away and he's wiping his eyes.

Not knowing what to do, he coughs into his mask.

Chris inhales sharply, his attention back on Jim. “Jim?”

“Here,” Carol says quietly, removing the mask. “I think he just wants to talk.”

“S--sorrr…”Jim can’t finish, his tongue too heavy, his eyes sliding shut.

He wheezes, feeling like a twenty-pound weight is crushing his chest. The mask is quickly fitted back on his face. He gulps a breath, but this time it’s painful. Tears spring at the corners of his eyes.

“I’ll get Doctor McCoy,” Carol whispers, wiping the wetness away for him.

The door creaks as she opens it.

“He’s a good doctor, Jim. You don’t have to worry. I know for a fact he’ll take care of you.” Chris strokes his cheek with the back of his hand.

It’s the single act of comfort that he senses whenever he’s going under, succumbing to the panic attacks. Chris has done that ever since Jim was thirteen-years-old. The touch is so familiar to him it had calmed him out of several, weaker episodes in the past.

“I’m proud of you, Jim, and all your work up to this point. We’ll keep taking it a day at a time,” he says.

Eyes still closed, Jim somehow finds the strength to nod. Anything to ease the burden for his father.

He hears Bones stride through the door, his steps light but purposeful. “Carol told me what happened. It would be best to let him sleep,” Bones says.

“I’ll be back tomorrow morning, Jim,” Chris promises. “With your breakfast, maybe French toast with strawberries on the side this time. And your favorite coffee.”

It sounds so good to him now that Jim hums in his throat.

“First thing, I promise.” Chris chuckles and squeezes Jim’s hand in goodbye.

“Goodnight, Jim,” Carol whispers, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

Bones places his hand on Jim’s arm after they leave. “I’m going to take your blood pressure again, Jim, and then give you something to drink,” he says softly. “After which, I’ll let you get your beauty sleep.”

The words wash over him like a playful butterfly flitting from one place to the next. He thinks it was a light-hearted remark to make him smile, but he can’t even do that. He exhales a longer breath, the touch of Bones’s hands on his body soothing to him. There’s nothing sexual about the touch like there had been in Vegas, but it's just as warm and comforting. He relaxes, his arm limp as Bones prepares to take his vitals. A small device is fixed to his index finger, a cuff quickly wrapped around his bicep.

Just when he believes that his situation couldn't get any stranger, it does. This man he’d made love to is standing over him and caring for his needs—and he can’t open his eyes or even his mouth.

The doctor makes a pleasing sound in his throat after a moment. “It’s better,” he murmurs. “That’s good.”

He moves around Jim and, in a moment, says, “I imagine you're thirsty. You can sip on this.”

A hand snakes under his neck, gently guiding his head up. Bones removes the mask from his face, and soon, a straw brushes up against his lips.

“Take slow, short sips, if you can,” Bones urges.

Jim struggles to keep the straw in his mouth, Bones’s hand also brushing up against his mouth when he holds it in place for him. He manages several sips, the cool water sliding refreshingly down his throat. He feels greedy and takes one long sip that is just as refreshing, if not more, until he begins coughing at the end.

Bones rubs circles on his back as he struggles. “I know you’re thirsty, but take it slower next time.”

Jim exhales, forcing his eyes open. He can only open them into slits, and he peers up at Bones just in time to see what he’s sure is a rare smile.

“I know you like to do things your own way,” Bones says, quirking a brow. “And I’ll work with ya. But I can’t have you aspirating.” He holds the straw up to his lips a second time. “Try again.”

Jim makes every effort to sip as instructed, but he barely manages another. He can’t even turn his head to indicate he’s finished, before his eyes flutter shut of their own accord once more.

“Okay, that’s alright. At least you got a little water,” Bones says softly, lowering Jim’s head back on the pillow. He replaces the mask and rests his hand on his arm. “I have a sedative. Tomorrow morning, Jim, I will be right here in this room. So if you see me sleeping on a cot just a few feet away, don’t panic.”

He nods, or thinks he does. He thinks he doesn't need a sedative, that he’ll fall asleep on his own, but he feels the pinch in his arm, anyway.

Bones’s hand stroking along his forehead is the last thing he feels before he falls asleep.

 

oOo

 

He wakes up with a weakness in his muscles, but he’s not as incapacitated as he’d been the night before. He shifts his body, finding a more comfortable position on his side. He smiles to himself at what he sees. Bones is exactly where he said he’d be. On a cot, just an arm’s length or two away from Jim. He’s conveniently on his side and facing him.

He takes advantage of the opportunity and stares unapologetically at the doctor’s face. It’s as gorgeous as he remembers.

He’d watched Bones sleep in Vegas. The doctor had taken a short snooze after they’d had sex, before they’d parted ways. Jim, on the other hand, had had enough caution to stay awake since he’d been in the same room as a stranger. He reconsiders his stupidity that night, deciding that Chris had at least raised him right, but it was his own decisions that had potentially endangered his life. But, at least he hadn’t been completely idiotic in his actions. At least he hadn’t fallen asleep, too.

He sighs, only then noticing that the oxygen mask had been removed from his face sometime during the night. He breathes deeply on his own, thankful that the contraption was put away for now. Looking beside him, he sees the book his father promised him laying right beside him on the bed. He reaches for it, but instead of cracking it open, he places it reverently on his chest. He hugs it to himself, running his fingers along the rough edges of the pages, the smooth binding. He considers the path that had brought him to this place, the one he’d just had to take. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been his. All his.

Yet, he wonders if this episode is a sign that he should cut his losses and retire early. Really early. It would cut his chances that he’d run into Harrison by half, at least. And that would lighten Chris’s load. But it’d cut his true passion almost completely out of his life.

This book had started it all. A journal of his great-grandfather that included pictures and notes of the things he’d found over the years, many of those items Native American artifacts. It contains snapshots of his life, even a photo of him holding Jim when Jim was just a baby.

“How are you feeling?”

The husky drawl startles Jim. He looks over at Bones, doubly surprised when he sees Bones staring straight at him.

How long had he been watching Jim?

Bone’s mouth twitches at the corners. “Didn't mean to frighten ya.”

“You didn’t,” he says hoarsely. “And I’m fine.”

“Your coloring is much better,” Bones murmurs, peering at him. “Are you hungry? I know I am.”

“Very,” he says.

He prays his stomach doesn’t rumble embarrassingly in front of this man he barely knows while wishing his face was on a cereal box so he could stare at it for hours on end.

“Your father will be here soon with your breakfast,” Bones says. He heaves a sigh and maneuvers to a seated position on his cot, clasping his hands together on his knees. “But, I figured if you were well enough, we should have a talk.”

Cereal boxes and good-looking doctors on his mind, he feels unable to form an intelligent reply and merely nods.

“What are we going to do about this?” Bones asks softly, staring down at him.

Jim hates that he’s lying down while the doctor is sitting up. It's an unfair advantage. He grunts, lifting his head in order to pull himself up. But Bones is quicker. He’s beside him in seconds, tucking an arm underneath him and grasping Jim’s hand to pull him forward, instead.

Once seated, Jim involuntarily leans into him as he gets his bearings.

“Feeling a little woozy?” Bones asks.

“A little,” Jim mumbles.

Bones steps away cautiously once he’s ready, staring at Jim like he’s going to break.

“I’m fine,” Jim says. “Really.”

The doctor frowns. “I can’t be in the same room with you without thinking….”

Jim’s heart lurches in his throat. “Yeah? Sounds like something I’d do…”

Bones blinks at him.

“Not...think?” Jim says slowly, smiling a little.

Bones snorts. “Don’t sell yourself short,” he says, brow creasing. “Though, I don’t think you should’ve left the shelter known as ‘Spock’ that night…”

Jim’s brows shot up. “I never said he was there.”

“No, you didn’t,” Bones replied just as slowly as Jim had before. “But can you go anywhere without him?”

Jim sighs, hanging his head. “No.”

“So, somehow, you managed to trick him into believing you were in for the night?”

Jim nods silently.

“Then, you hooked up with a stranger—me—in your condition.”

Jim winces. “That...sounds about right.”

“And I was a fool not to think that I should be more careful with you,” Bones says, expression falling. He rubs both of his hands over his face. “If your father ever finds out, he’ll skin me alive, Jim. I took advantage of you—”

“No, you didn’t. I consented,” Jim argues. “Maybe it’s the other way around, and I took advantage of you. Letting you believe I was something I wasn’t.”

“Jim, I knew you were looking for...for something. You were very vulnerable sitting there, just months after your accident, and you probably don’t remember much of that night, do you?” Bones asks, expression stricken. “You weren’t thinking, because you’d recently been traumatized. Anyone else would have been traumatized, but for you...it went beyond all of that, Jim. You couldn’t make the right decisions about anything at that time, could you?”

Jim had to admit that all he said was true. He’d lied, been deceitful, to get out from under Spock’s protection. He’d made poor choices because of the few drinks he had. Coupled with his brain damage, he’d been incapable of making the right ones.

It was his own damn fault. Beginning with his initial infatuation with Mitchell.

“You’re right. I don’t remember much,” he admits. “And though I was over the legal age to be there, I couldn’t make decisions properly.”

Bones’s eyes flash. “As a physician— a surgeon—I should’ve realized it, but I was intoxicated as well. For that, I am very sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Bones,” Jim says, clutching the book in his hands. “I’ll take the blame for it, if it comes to that. But I don’t plan on telling him.”

“Neither do I. Nor do I plan to lie and say I am not attracted to you.”

Jim’s eyes widen. “You’re...st-still attracted...to me?” He hugs the book even tighter to his chest, his heart quickening with the thought of Bones actually liking him, just like Carol had said. “Even though...I’m not...normal?”

Bones’s eyes soften. “Yes, Jim. I am. And I want you to know this, so we can figure out a way…”

“...to hide it from my father,” Jim finishes breathlessly.

“Exactly,” Bones says, wincing.

He debates telling Bones the same thing, admitting his own continuing attraction towards him. But he stops himself. He’d jumped in feet first last time. Maybe he shouldn't this time.

But he would tell him what that night had meant to him. At least, with that off his chest, Bones might understand why he’d put himself in that position in the first place.

Feeling courageous—and maybe also stupid—he pulls his shoulders back and blurts out exactly what he’s thinking. “I won’t lie, either,” he says. “That night was the best night of my life, and I don’t regret it. You paid more attention to my needs than Gary ever did in the two years we were together. No one has ever shown me so much care in bed. No one, Bones. And I haven’t forgotten it.”

Bones’s mouth drops open but he quickly closes it. “I don’t know what to say,” he says quietly.

“Say nothing about it,” he says, laughing nervously. He sets down his book and stands...holding onto the side of the bed to steady himself.

Bones warily watches him. “But I have to,” he says. “You deserve that, Jim. Be...careful next time, okay?”

Jim shakes his head.

Bones stands and steps forward, earnestly pointing his finger at him. “Jim, I’m not joking about this. Be. Careful.”

He shakes his head again. “You don’t understand. There won’t be a next time.”

Bones sucks in a breath. “You’re young, Jim. Smart. Good-looking. Successful. You can have anyone—”

“You think I want just anyone?” he nearly shouts back.

Bones’s eyes widen.

“Dammit,” Jim breathes out.

He closes his eyes and runs a hand through his hair. He’d been that close to saying that he wanted Bones. A stranger. That fucking close. He breathes through his nose and exhales slowly.

“I don’t want just anyone,” he whispers, dropping his hands to his sides. “My condition...will probably only worsen. It already has. Did my dad tell you that?”

“I looked at your file, Jim.”

“All of it?” he asks tightly.

“Most.”

Jim opens his eyes and steps up to Bones until they were just inches away. “Let me inform you then, of the rest. The rest they don’t think I know or remember. There is no reasonably safe surgery to reverse what’s happened, the neurological decay caused by the brain injury. Therapy isn’t helping me. I’m lucky they let me drive, and I think they’ll take that away from me soon enough. I’ll be retiring from archaeology early. I’d initially thought I could retire in ten years, but I won’t be well enough to last that long. I’ll be lucky if I can continue my work for another year. The hourglass is ticking, my mind breaking down, whether I want it to or not.”

Bones’s eyes teem with emotion. “Jim...you don’t have to explain...”

“But I do,” he whispers. “So you understand. Bones, there isn’t anything you can do to help me, other than keep me comfortable when things...happen.”

“You’re giving yourself a life sentence,” Bones says.

Jim swallows hard. “I’m being honest with you. I don’t want you to get so close that you end up getting hurt.”

“Or is it the other way around?” Bones asks evenly. “Are you pushing me away, another opportunity for happiness, because you don’t want to get hurt?”

His words strike a chord in his heart, and his legs fail to hold him.

“Shit,” Bones breathes, catching him before he falls.

He gasps, the air stolen from him.

“I gotcha,” Bones says, gathering him in his arms.

Jim stares up at him in shock. He’d nearly passed out. All because of words. Stupid, insignificant words.

“I’m sorry,” Bones murmurs into his ear as he guides him to the bed. “Jim, I shouldn’t have said any of that, not when you’re not well.”

He hangs limply in Bones’s arms, unable to pull himself up to his feet. “Fucking balance is off,” he laughs shakily. “That’s all.”

Bones wisely doesn’t say a word in reply, but helps him up on the bed and turns him on his side, adjusting his feet so they’re comfortably bent at the knees. Wordlessly, he takes Jim’s temperature and blood pressure, also giving him medication.

When he’s done, he helps Jim sit up and quietly hands him a glass of water with a straw. After which he pulls up a chair and sits directly beside him.

It’s too close for comfort.

“You can tell me that every day, but it won’t matter,” Bones finally says, drawing a blanket up to Jim’s shoulders.

The same, weighted one as before. A warm feeling curls into his belly as the blanket surrounds him. He doesn’t think he’ll ever use a blanket like this without thinking of Bones and the fact that he does care. Maybe even as much as Chris.

“It doesn't scare me, Jim,” Bones says. “It takes a lot more than that to scare me off.”

“I want to go to the site today,” he states stubbornly. “I’ll get myself there, one way or another.”

Bones leans back in his chair, his eyes still warm and tender, as if he hadn’t heard a word Jim had just told him.

Maybe Bones is just as stubborn as he is.

“You’re not having the best morning,” Bones says gently.

“I have to go to the site today,” Jim repeats.

“Jim…”

He doesn’t want to beg, but he decides he has to. It’s a gut feeling that his time as an archeologist, as captain of a team, is short.

“Please,” he whispers, the tears that leak at the corners of his eyes completely raw and real, another sign that he is weak, unable to reverse the damage of that fateful afternoon.

Bones clenches his jaw, but doesn’t look away. “You can’t work, you can’t stay more than half an hour, and you’ll come straight back to bed,” he stresses, “so I can monitor you again.”

Jim bites his tongue. He has no time for this. He has to get ready for the camping trip tomorrow, the one he’s been looking forward to all year, ever since the one they took last year at this same time of year, in honor of his father’s birthday.

“Okay,” he easily agrees.

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Bones mutters under his breath.. “I can see it in your eyes, Jim. What are you hiding?”

A knock at the door saves him from answering.

“Come in,” Bone says, his face devoid of his previous emotion.

Jim manages to do the same, admittedly becoming more and more skilled at this acting business around his father.

Chris enters, a smile on his face. “I brought breakfast,” he says, holding a tray. “For both of you.”

Jim clears his throat. “Thanks,” he says.

Whistling softly, Chris sets the tray over Jim, and removes one of the plates, handing it to Bones.

“Thank you, Chris,” Bones says.

He returns to his chair, moving it backwards. Jim catches his eye as Chris turns around and pulls up a chair for himself.

The glint in Bones’s eyes tells Jim that this is a doctor who is going to call him on his crap. Always. Secrecy included.

“So, Dad,” Jim says, genuinely smiling at his father. “Are you ready for tomorrow?”

Bones had just picked up his fork, but brings it slowly back down to his plate.

“What's tomorrow?” Bones asks slowly, his gaze alternating between Chris and Jim.

“His birthday,” Jim says, shrugging.

“Our yearly camping trip, part way up the mountain,” Chris says at the same time.

Jim busies himself with his strawberries.

It’s better than glancing over and witnessing the heated glare Bones is sending his way.

Chapter Text

oOo

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter 6

oOo

 

McCoy eats his breakfast, biting his tongue at the same time. He listens to Jim and Chris while they discuss matters regarding the excavation, allowing the father and son to monopolize the conversation, speaking only when spoken to.

It isn’t too far off from how he usually socializes. He’s an observer—a doctor—not a social butterfly. In his loveless marriage, Jocelyn had participated in enough nightlife and parties for the both of them, leaving him at home, with the task of caring for their daughter. He’d been the “babysitter,” while she’d spent her nights finding someone else to fill the void that McCoy couldn’t possibly fill. Not even for a million dollars.

His greatest crime, other than the ones he won’t let himself think of related to his father, is not loving his wife. In his defense, he had for years. Up until the birth of their daughter. One hour before his first and only child came into the world, Jocelyn had confessed that she wasn’t even sure the unborn child was his daughter.

He’d stayed with her through the birth despite that, holding her hand when she pushed. He’d loved Joanna the second he’d laid eyes on her, and a test confirmed his parentage. He was, indeed, the newborn’s father, but it was too late for his heart. He’d sworn off women—loving—after that. He’d stayed in the marriage because Jocelyn didn’t want a divorce and he’d wanted a “family” for his daughter. He’d decided he’d owed his child at least that, because he wouldn’t be finding another family to replace the hole that Jocelyn's affair had made.

Turns out, he hadn’t been meant to have a family at all, anyway. The lives of his wife and daughter, snuffed out by some fool kid not minding the road. His life, left darker than it had ever been before.

McCoy drags his mind away from the morose thoughts, and shifts his focus to the beautiful young man sitting across from him. He didn’t know what had gotten into him, accusing Jim of being too scared to try for happiness when that was exactly what he was. Fucking scared. Except when he was in the presence of this...enigma...called Jim Kirk. He felt more alive than he had for a long, long time. Courageous, even.

Neither Chris nor Jim spoke again of the camping trip. He wonders if it’s because of him. He has nothing but questions and doubts about the idea, and he thinks he's a little too easy to read because he's so concerned about Jim. On one hand, he’s relieved. On the other hand, he wishes to say his peace and demand that Jim stay behind.

Chris can’t possibly be serious about allowing Jim to go. Yet, he’d spoken of it casually, just as Jim had. Is Chris oblivious to how serious his son’s condition really is? Knowingly risking his health in the process? Is he humoring Jim? Too wrapped up in this dig to think straight? A trait he shares with Jim, though they are not related by blood?

After they finished breakfast, McCoy decides he has to take matters into his own hands.

He rises to his feet and takes Jim’s plate away, turning to his desk when a young boy about nine or ten barges into the room without knocking.

“Jimmy!” the boy exclaims.

His brow raises at the rude behavior, and he opens his mouth to reprimand him when Jim beats him to it.

“Kevin, you know better than to barge in when a door is closed, especially when the room isn’t yours,” Jim admonishes, causing the boy to stop in his tracks. “Do you even remember what we talked about the other day?”

Kevin’s cheeks burn. “I...uh…” He glances sideways at McCoy, then reverts back to Jim. “Yeah,” he mutters under his breath.

“And what was that?” Jim prods.

“Respectin’ other people,” he mumbles. “Adults.”

“Right,” Jim says, nodding. “And what should you do if you disrespect an adult like Doctor McCoy?”

“You’re the new doc?” Kevin asks, eyes wide.

“Yes, young man,” McCoy says. “I am.”

“Oh,” Kevin says and scuffs his shoes.

“Kevin,” Jim says dryly.

The boy shoves his hands in his pockets and looks up with an even redder face. “I’m sorry I didn’t knock. It won’t happen again.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he says gently, not wanting to start this job on the wrong foot with this young man who obviously looks up to Jim Kirk.

Kevin’s eyes fill with relief. He exhales a rush of air and practically molds himself to Jim’s side and begins chattering away at him.

McCoy sees his chance and catches Jim’s eye before he gets too involved with the conversation.

“...and since I did extra chores,” Kevin says in a rush, “and my homework for summer school I was wonderin’ if—”

“Hold on, Kev,” Jim interrupts gently. “I think Doctor McCoy needs to tell me something.”

Kevin politely stops, but frustrated expression crosses his face.

McCoy fights a smile. “Jim, I’ll give you five minutes to visit, but then I should examine you again, now that you’ve gotten something to eat.”

Kevin looks at Jim confusedly. “Thought he was our doc.”

Jim smiles, standing and moving his neck to the side as if to stretch it. “He’s mine now, too. I had an incident last night and Doctor McCoy was there at the right time.”

Kevin blinks at him, his eyes filling with far too much worry for his youth. “An incident? Like before? In the car?”

Jim frowns, glancing furtively at McCoy. “Kev, let’s talk about this later.”

“No, I’d like to hear about this,” McCoy says slowly, unable to stave off his curiosity. “In the car? You were driving?”

“I wasn't driving, Bones,” Jim said, looking down at his hands. “But it was in the car.”

Kevin nods. “Mister Spock was driving.”

“What triggered it?” McCoy asked.

“The radio,” Jim says. “The news...the...news....”

He falters.

“Jim?” McCoy steps closer, reaching out for Jim even before he loses his balance.

They both startle at the contact, but he feels a distinct jolt rush through him. A phenomenon he can’t explain other than to say both of them are undeniably aware of each other, now that they’ve had their talk. He grips both of the younger man’s arms, Jim so close that he could lean forward, spanning the few inches of separation, and kiss him.

McCoy’s neck heats just thinking about it. He prays Chris doesn’t see.

“Thanks,” Jim whispers unsteadily, looking into his eyes in warning.

McCoy swallows and lets go very slowly as he realizes Jim knows exactly where his mind had gone—and his eyes. Ironically, it appears that Jim is also quite serious about helping him hide the fact that they know each other already from his own father, and that he is attracted to him.

“Sit,” he orders gruffly, not looking at him as he guides him into the chair.

He doesn’t know whether or not he should be worried when Jim doesn’t protest. Or, that he puts his head down on knees, his arms crossed over his head, signaling that it isn’t uncommon and he knows what to do.

“I have no doubt your blood pressure is still low.” McCoy mutters, reaching for his chart. He flips through it, unsatisfied with the lack of progress his vitals have made. “Not to mention the fact we’re discussing a subject which causes you distress. No more, Jim.”

“McCoy’s right, Jim. I know what you're going to ask me, Jim,” Chris says quietly. “And the answer is no.”

“No, she didn’t write it?” Jim asks without looking up. His words are muffled and tight, indicating he isn’t too happy with father’s reply. “Or, no, you’re not going to let me even check if she did?”

McCoy glances between the two men, the sudden silence awkward. “Did I miss something?”

Chris sighs and runs his hands over his face. “Kevin?” He gives the boy a genuine smile. “Why don’t you see if you, Brady and Cole can help Miss Carol? I know she wanted a few things moved in her office.”

Kevin’s shoulders drop but he goes without a fuss. “Yes, Mister Pike.”

Chris waits until Kevin leaves before continuing. “Rand was still at the benefit last night when Harrison arrived,” he explains. “The show Harrison put on did not go unnoticed.”

Jim groans. “Shit.”

Chris pulls up a chair in front of Jim and takes a seat, leaning forward to place his hand on his shoulders. “Jim?” he says softly. “This story she published—”

“You read it?”

“Yes,” Chris says after a pause. “But it doesn’t matter in the long run. We can talk to my contact in New York, convince them to run a piece to counter it, like he’s been wanting to do. Now that we have the evidence that likely clears your great-grandfather, Jim, it would be the perfect time to make your claim. Make it public, once and for all.”

“The hell it doesn’t matter,” he whispers heatedly. “You think he won’t use the fact that I panicked at your fundraiser against me, even if the paper in New York ran my story?”

Chris immediately glances up at McCoy. “What does he need to do in order to go to the site today?”

“Besides resting in this very room until he’s ready to go? And drinking more fluids? Not speak another word about Rand or the media or Harrison. No reading the paper,” he says decisively. “No matter how curious he is. Or how bad he thinks the consequences of last night’s encounter will be.”

“Can you do that, Jim?” Chris asks.

Jim waits a few beats, then nods.

“Okay,” Chris says. He smiles tenderly at Jim, who slowly lifts his head. “Now, I believe Kevin was about to ask you if he can come along on the dig.”

“My truck has the extra seat,” Jim says. “He can come along. If he doesn’t mind the bickering that’s sure to go on between Bones and Spock.”

“Bickering?” McCoy guffaws.

“Bones?” Chris echoes at the same time.

Jim coughs into his hand, eyes darting between his father and McCoy. “Uh, yeah,” he says sheepishly. “Bones just seemed like the best nickname for a doctor. And you know you’re going to bicker, Bones,” he said, turning to him. “You can’t get along with him. Not yet, anyway.”

He narrows his eyes. “I resent that. I can get along with him.”

Jim snickers. “Whatever you say.”

Chris chuckles. “Why do you think I made you two sit at the same table?”

“Am I that predictable?” he mutters under his breath.

“You’ve surprised me several times, thus far, Leonard. So I can’t say you’re completely predictable.” Chris stands and clasps McCoy on the shoulder. “I’ll leave you two alone, so McCoy can examine you and you can get your rest, Jim.”

“I do need to speak with you for a moment, Chris.” McCoy says hastily.

“Oh?” Chris says, brow arched.

Jim frowns at them. “You can stay here if you’d like.”

“It’s confidential, Jim,” he says apologetically. “Maybe Kevin can come back, keep you company for a few minutes?” he suggests.

Jim stares at him, eyes calculating, as if seeing him through his bullshit. “You can either find him with Carol—or right outside the door. I wouldn't be surprised if he just hung around, waiting to talk with me again.”

Now that he mentioned it, he wouldn’t be surprised either. He opens the door and looks to his right.

Kevin is leaning against the wall, ankles crossed and twirling a yo-yo.

He sighs. “This isn’t going to be a problem in the future is it?” he says, looking at the kid in reproach.

“I just wanted to ask him if I could go with him today,” Kevin says in a small voice.

“Hey, Kev,” Jim calls from the room. “We’ll leave in three hours, if the doc agrees.”

Kevin straightens, his eye lighting up like fireworks. “You mean it?” he asks eagerly, peering around the door at Jim.

“Wear long sleeves and a hat,” Jim says firmly. “But not a word to Cooker or Thomas that you’re going, alright?”

Cooker? Thomas?

“Two older and much bigger boys who…” Jim hesitates, looking at Kevin, whose gaze is on the floor. “Don’t always treat Kevin...nicely.”

“Bullies, you mean,” McCoy says, scowling.

Jim’s eyes soften on Kevin. “Yes.”

“I won’t tell,” Kevin says in a small voice. “I don’t want to get pushed around today because they’re jealous again.”

“It’ll be our secret, and I’m looking forward to it,” Jim says. “Now, go, Kev. I think Mr. Pike told you to do something? Help Miss Carol?”

“Right,” Kevin says, backing away. “See ya!”

“Don't get up,” McCoy says to Jim after Kevin darts down the hallway. “Stay put. I don’t want you falling over again when you’re alone in the room, okay?”

The younger man sinks back into his chair, grimacing. “Got it.”

Chris closes the door behind them. “What’s this about?” he asks, eyes drawn. “Jim?”

“Yes, it is about him,” McCoy says, choosing his words carefully. “Chris, do you really think he can go on this camping trip without needing to stop every thirty minutes? Or losing his balance because he’s dizzy? Or go an hour without panicking at the thought of this article?

“I know the challenges, Leonard,” Chris says softly. “But Jim’s determination gets him through.”

“I can’t allow this, not if it risks his health,” McCoy says, shaking his head. “If his condition is deteriorating—”

Chris’s eyes flicker with emotion. “You read the entire file, then?”

“Jim,” McCoy says simply.

“He told you,” Chris murmurs. After a pause, he sighs. “Then you know this could be his very last camping trip. The last, Leonard, if his physical and emotional health continue to degrade as expected. If I can’t give this to him, it will devastate him.”

“Let me go with you,” McCoy says without thinking. “And Spock.”

“Geoffrey has stayed at the base of the mountain in a cabin before,” Chris says calmly. “In case there is an emergency. This year, he won’t be able to make it. You could come in his stead.”

“I’m not staying at the base of the mountain in a cabin,” McCoy asserts.

Chris quirks his brow. “Come again? I thought you wanted to go with us.”

“I’m coming with you up the mountain. It’s the only way I will give my approval for this trip at all.”

Silence thickens between them.

Chris frowns. “McCoy, is this about Jim’s health—or something else?”

His heart lodges in his throat. Had Chris figured it out? His illogical affection for his son?

“What do you mean?” he asks, voice nearly a rasp.

“You know what I mean,” Chris says gently. “Someday, you’re going to have to let go, Leonard.”

He can’t speak. He can’t see what’s in front of him because his daughter’s beautiful smile flashes in his mind, like lightning striking his heart, slicing it in two.

He breathes in shallowly, the pain in his chest so great he can hardly speak. “How dare you,” he strangles out.

“I apologize for crossing the line, but not for watching out for my son,” Chris says softly. “I’m prepared to give Jim this camping trip, but I will not have you breathing down his neck. This isn’t about you, Leonard. It’s about Jim. I’ve had to learn to step back, despite my own fears about him. He needs his wings. He needs to use them as long as he can. He won’t survive if you clip them.”

He swallows, giving himself a few extra seconds to think. “Will you allow me to come with you?” he asks, hoping Chris doesn’t hear the begging he thinks he’s doing. “I promise to give him space, but I don’t promise to stop worrying about his health. This trip is dangerous for him, even if you take my obsessiveness about healing out of the picture.”

Chris’s face softens. “I can see he has you already tied around his finger, which isn’t uncommon after you meet him.”

If that’s what this is, he has no objections to it. To be that close to him again…

“Things have been slow around here lately, and the boys work well with our nurse. I think it would be fine to delay your work here for a few days. I also think Jim would like for you to come,” Chris says, lips lifting at the corners “I can tell you two are becoming friends already, and that’s good. Good for both of you. He could use a another friend with a good head on his shoulders. We’re leaving at eight in the morning tomorrow. Pack light, but enough clothing for four days. We’ll take care of everything else. Because of Jim’s condition, Carol and Nyota are helping us pack this year.”

“I’ll be ready.”

“If you survive the drive to the site, that is,” Chris says dryly. “Spock is quite protective of Jim.”

“Yes,” McCoy says, envisioning the dark looks he’d given him the night before. “That he is.”

“Don’t worry too much about it. He sees in you what I see,” Chris explains, clapping him on the shoulder. “A man who will work well with Jim. But he makes it his duty to be sure friends of Jim are all that they appear to be. “And you, McCoy, are a good man. A man who won’t use my son like others have used him in the past.”

He can’t stomach the irony of the condemning words.

“What was in the news article?” he asks, forcing all emotion from his face.

He wills himself to get through this conversation one way or another. He should know what is in that article for his patient’s sake. It isn’t that unusual of him to steer the conversation towards the topic.

“It was an interview with Harrison,” Chris says with a humorless laugh.

McCoy’s eyes widen. “Harrison? So she dropped Jim, using Harrison, instead?”

Chris’s jaw clenches. “Yes. Of course, she asked him about Jim’s health, this ‘issue’ he had at the banquet. He stated he has no comment, that he’d left before it occurred.”

McCoy blinks several times. This means…nothing good. “So he knows.”

“That Jim was possibly affected by his presence? That he had a panic attack after he left?” Chris’s eyes reflect all the worry of a loving father. “Yes.”

“You can’t tell him,” he whispers. “Not yet, anyway. He needs a few good days.”

“Spock already knows,” Chris says. “Since we’re leaving tomorrow, he won’t hear a thing about Harrison and the article. I’ll make sure of it.”

 

 

oOo

 

Three hours later, Jim slips into the driver’s seat of his truck. He breathes a sigh of relief that his body had finally worked with him for once. His blood pressure had improved. He’d also napped. But only because Bones had asked him nicely.

He hates taking naps so early in the day. He usually feels like a sloth when he does. It only wastes the day away. Today, however, he discovered that he doesn't mind feeling like a sloth. The nap had been worth it. He’d been given another day at the excavation, hadn't he?

He sips from his water bottle, waiting as Kevin and Bones pile into the car. Kevin climbs into the back like a young boy would, all arms and legs, clamboring gracelessly over the seat. He leans forward as soon as his seat belt is on, arms draped over the seat in front of him.

“Let’s go,” he says excitedly, fingers anxiously tapping on the vinyl. “We’re not having fun until we’re in the dirt with the hot sun at our backs and snakes at our feet.”

“Couldn’t have said it better, myself,” Jim says, chuckling. He turns the key in the ignition, the rumble of the truck taking Bones by surprise.

As the truck begins to vibrate, especially the seats, Bones throws them both a wary look.

The kid grins at Bones, as if enjoying his shock.

“Does this thing actually work?” Bones grumbles.

“Louise?” Jim asks, not at all offended by the question. “Of course she does.”

Bones snorts. “Louise?”

“Yep. Louise," he says fondly. "She's a good truck, Bones.”

“Ya sure?” Bones asks, eyeing him even more doubtfully. “Sounds like Louise needs to go back in the garage—or maybe the dump.”

Jim chuckles. “Come on, Bones. It’ll be fun.”

“I like your hat, Doc,” Kevin says, cocking his head.

“Doctor McCoy,” Jim admonishes him, glancing at Bones and admiring the fedora he wore.

Or, rather, the way it flatters his face. Who was he kidding? He’s flat out admiring Bones.

He stares a little longer after making sure Kevin’s eyes were on Bones and his hat.

“Doctor McCoy,” Kevin says pertly.

Bones scowls at both of them, tugging once on his fedora to hide his eyes in the shadows.

Jim pulls his eyes away from the man so he can drive. “Spock lives close, but I imagine since it’s a beautiful day, he’s out walking. Probably at the park. We’ll try there first. It’s just down the road.”

Bones doesn’t comment. Not even when they stop at a park bench one minute later and Spock appears at the end of a trail.

When Spock opens the door to slip inside, Bones is still far too quiet, and doesn’t move over.

Concerned, Jim glances sideways at Bones. “You alright?”

Bones moves to the middle seat, his thigh brushing against Jim’s as he got comfortable sitting in the middle.

“Never better,” he drawls, quirking a brow at Jim. “I'm sandwiched between two garbage men who get their thrill by digging in the dirt near rattlers.”

Jim smirks, especially when the man relaxes and their bodies are comfortably pressing into one another. “It’s not that bad, Bones.”

Spock narrows his eyes at Jim, thankfully missing the way Bones’s lips adorably quirk at the corners. Jim wants to stare at that but gives Spock a look, instead, and shakes his head, warning his friend not to ask about “Bones.”

He doesn’t, but neither does he say a word for quite some time while Jim drives.

Jim is concerned over his friend’s silence, but it isn’t all that unusual. Spock usually doesn’t speak unless he has something he wants to say or believes is worth saying in the first place. He could be noticing the familiarity that he has with Bones—or simply worried about Jim’s health, as he usually is.

Kevin chatters enough for all of them, telling Bones many things about the boys and their schedules, and even the boys he should expect most likely to wind up in the exam room, injured or sick. According to Kevin, he isn’t one of them, though Jim knows differently. He’s a lot like Jim had been at that age. Slight of frame. More intelligent than his peers. A little awkward. Not always thinking of himself but of others, which often ended in disastrous results, Kevin getting sick because he’s too helpful or hurt, or because he’s not paying attention to his own limits.

The boy reminds him of himself, and for that reason, Jim had decided to take him under his wing the first day they’d met four years ago. He wants Kevin to find a home with loving parents, but no one has chosen him. He isn’t happy that the boy’s still living at the orphanage, but he is glad that they can still be friends and he, the boy’s mentor.

He’d do anything to see Kevin have a good home in the near future. He deserves that, at least.

As Kevin grows silent—a miracle, in Jim’s opinion—Bones speaks up.

“You’re going in the same direction you just did, Jim,” he mutters. “You’ve done that several times.”

“I know,” Jim says, eyeing the cars in the rearview mirror. “Doubling back and changing the route is the best way to throw off Harrison’s cronies.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Bones asks, brows shooting to the sky in disbelief. “He doesn’t….go that far, does he?”

“Harrison would love to get his hands on every artifact we find, deplete our resources, scare us off...and makes every effort to do so,” Jim says, hating how his heart begins to race from merely explaining the situation to someone. “He fights dirty, wanting to place doubt on me and my team in the public eye. On Chris, who usurped his position in their professional circle years ago, and also took his place as president of the Southwest Archaeological Society. And since Dad funds my more private projects, he tries to get to me first, instead.”

He’s spoken to Spock about his concerns, but he’s certain Harrison has a good ide as to what he’s been searching for all those years. The truth to set his family free.

“To hurt your dad?”

“Pretty much,” he says bitterly.

“Sounds like a nutcase,” Bones mutters.

A nutcase who is smart and calculating.

“I don’t think Harrison cares about his work anymore,” Jim says harshly, turning onto the bumpy, dirt road leading to the excavation site. “I don’t think he cares about the history, the artifacts, the worth behind them. He lost it—”

“—eschewing truth for fame and power,” Spock says softly, the first words he’d said in fifteen minutes. “And revenge.”

Both Jim and Bones glance at Spock, but the other man’s gaze is focused on the expanse of prairie surrounding them.

He isn't kidding when he tells people Spock is a man of few words. Or that he finishes his sentences.

“Well, we’re here,” Jim murmurs, turning into the makeshift, grass lot where Sulu's truck is already parked.

“I see Chekov,” Kevin says happily. “He said I could help him the next time I’m out here.”

Kevin bounds out of the vehicle as soon as Spock opens the door.

Jim chuckles to himself, turning the truck off. He pauses, lifting a brow at Bones who is staring with an awed expression out the window.

It’s not their biggest excavation, but it is impressively clean and picturesque. Uhura had already taken photographs, texting Jim one, of the sunset over the hills this morning.

“What did you find in there, Jim?” Bones asks. “That made you want to come back here today?”

Jim can’t help but grin. “I can do better than that. Follow me. I’ll show you.”

He drops his hand from the wheel, the back of his hand accidentally brushing into Bones’s as they rest on the seat.

Neither men moves for a moment, save for their thumbs rubbing, an electric thread pulling them together. Jim is looking down at their hands when the attraction he has for Bones gets to his head. He places his hand over Bones’s, squeezing it.

Startled, Bones looks up.

“Thank you,” Jim says simply.

Bones’s hand under his is warm and comforting, much like that blanket he’d given him to use last night.

As much as he wants to give Bones a chance to hold his hand back, as much as he wants them to share the intimacy they had in Vegas—he lets go.

 

oOo

 

Twenty-three minutes later, McCoy is sure Jim has forgotten his half-hour rule.

The heat won’t do the younger man any favors, nor will the exertion. Not if he wants to save up for the next day and the grueling days climbing up a mountain.

McCoy halts his jaunt around the perimeter of the excavated site and wipes the sweat off his brow. He locates Jim in the tent, his head bowed as he speaks with Sulu, looking over their charts. He’d met the rest of Jim’s team, and frankly, they’re the best damn group of people that Jim could ever have found to work with. McCoy had discovered after only ten minutes that they’re as loyal to Jim as he is to them. And that’s saying something. Jim’s loyalty—once you had it—is as thick as the slices of bread his Mama cut at the table, the kind that you slather jam on for a delicious snack.

He’d seen evidence of Jim’s loyalty at the bar, at the orphanage, even in the truck as Jim listened patiently to Kevin, giving him his undivided attention.

Jim made it his life’s work to find rare pieces of the past, when it is he who is the rare prize on this earth. If Harrison is jealous of anything, it has to be of the charm and goodness that oozes from his person.

He makes his way over to the tent, surprised when he realizes that he’s actually enjoying himself here, though he’s of no use to anyone. Not that he wanted to leave. He didn’t. Were it not for the concern he has for Jim, he’d suggest that they stay.

Neither men looks up when he steps into the tent, nor when he stands next to Jim.

He clears his throat.

They’re talking to each other in low murmurs and pointing at the corner of the map. They’re doing their job, but he has one, too. And he’d be damned before he doesn't watch out for Chris Pike’s son.

“Jim, you do realize—”

“Oh no,” Jim interrupts, without glancing up from his work. He circles an area on the map, one hand on his chin as he peers down at it. “I haven’t shown you the artifact yet.”

McCoy rolls his eyes. “You had plenty of time to do that, you know.”

Jim’s eyes dance when they do focus on him. “I’ve been busy.”

“You're not working today,” he reminds him softly as Jim looks back down.

Sulu glances from Jim to McCoy. “Sorry,” he winces. “My fault. I know better than to even ask him about this map.”

Jim grins easily, setting his pencil on the table. “I do have a habit of losing myself in these things.”

“So I’ve noticed,” McCoy drawls, walking around and inspecting the table of various pottery shards.

“Come with me,” Jim says, either nod towards the opposite side of the tent.

McCoy follows and tries to see around Jim as he stops at a chest and unlocks it. “After we found this, Spock took it home and put it in the safe. But we needed the real thing here today, to we finish our testing.”

He quickly dons his gloves before he pulls it out.

McCoy takes a breath. He’s not into old things or artifacts or even day old bread. But, he’s interested in what captivates Jim Kirk.

He does his best to see what is beyond this wooden box. And he does.

An ornately carved box rests reverently in Jim’s hands.

“The engraving is breathtaking,” he murmurs, following the swirl of the ‘D.’

“Isn't it?” Jim says proudly. “This was my great-grandmother’s.”

“What does the ‘D’ stand for,” he asks.

“Davis,” Jim says. “My great-grandfather’s name was James Ogaleesha Davis.”

Ogaleesha? “You’re of American Indian descent?” he asks, genuinely surprised.

“I am,” Jim says, smiling easily.

That explains...a lot. His drive. His determination at the site here. Everything he knows about him so far. He blinks at Jim, wanting to back up and start over. Wishing that someone had told him, because he thinks he now has a better handle on understanding what being an archaeologist actually means to him.

“And look,” Jim continued, not even noticing that McCoy is staring at him, never seeing the wheels turning in his head. He opens the box and pulls out a rolled sheet of paper, gently uncurling its edges. “I’ll give you a chance to see the real thing before we have to put it away.”

McCoy looks over Jim’s shoulder. “It’s a marriage certificate.”

“Signed by the preacher and two witnesses. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were married secretly the same night that Abner Harrison died,” Jim whispered. “He wasn’t even near him.”

McCoy holds his breath. “It’s his alibi.”

Jim looks back at McCoy, his eyes watery. “He couldn’t have killed Harrison’s great-grandfather. He was miles away, and this proves it.”

“So why did she hide the evidence?”

Jim carefully puts the paper inside the box. “For one, their marriage would have caused a fuss. They didn’t ‘officially’ get married until one year after this. And two, I believe Harrison’s family threatened them, threatened to harm either my grandmother or another family member.”

McCoy nods, having watched far too many crime shows to deny the possibility of that happening. “That makes sense.”

“Dad wants me to give the go-ahead to the editor who wants to run this piece,” Jim says, holding the box to his chest. “But I’m still not sure if we should. This feud could get even worse than it is already if we do.”

“But if it’s the truth, Jim,” he presses.

Jim’s shoulders roll back. “I know the truth,” he says quietly. “Sometimes, that just has to be enough.”

“Cap’an! We got company!” Scotty’s urgent call startles them both.

McCoy stiffens, looking over his shoulder at the other man. Jim spins around on his heel, his eyes darting past the site to where the Scotsman stood, following the line of sight and the finger pointing to the southeast.

A cloud of dust billows in the air, not even a mile away by McCoy’s estimation.

Jim’s mouth tightens, his eyes growing harder with each second.

McCoy’s heart skips a beat, reading between the lines. “You don’t think…”

Jim’s eyes shift, darkening like a storm cloud over the prairie. He quickly types on the computer sitting on the table beside them, pulling up what looks to be live feed of those coming up the road. McCoy can barely make out the features of those in the vehicle, but it is enough to assume Harrison is the passenger.

“I don’t know how he found us, but I sure as hell do think it is Harrison,” Jim bites out, his voice teeming with anger. “Spock!”

“Yes, Captain,” Spock calls back, walking briskly towards them.

“Hide all our records. Replace them with the fake ones,” Jim says swiftly. “Pavel, take Kevin to the cave and stay there until Spock comes to get you.”

“Yes, Keptin,” Chekov says.

The other team members move swiftly to perform other duties, as if preparing for the worst.

But Jim never makes a move to hide.

“Jim, you’re not really thinking he’ll cause a scene, do you?” McCoy asks, clutching his arm.

“Bones,” Jim says, his jaw set determinedly. “He’s coming here to threaten my team. What do you think I’m going to do? Play innocent son of Chris Pike? Play brain damaged Jim Kirk?”

“You don't ‘play’ those things, Jim,” McCoy pleads. Has Jim lost all sense? “You did sustain brain damage. You have to take that into consideration, as well as your PTSD. Your body reacts the way it is going react. You can't control it.”

Jim gives a short, dry laugh. “No, I guess I can't control a thing about my life, now can I? But he’s here and we can’t stop him even if I disappear out of sight and let Spock face him alone.”

“You can't be seriously considering facing him!” McCoy protests, nearly shouting.

Jim inhales sharply, his eyes narrowing on him before darting back to the cloud of dust and dirt. “Face him, Bones?” he repeats, voice low and threatening. ”That's exactly what I’m going to do.”

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Down the Savage Mountain


Chapter 7

 

oOo

 

 

McCoy thinks he misheard Jim—surely he hadn’t said he was going to face Harrison—but the stony expression on Jim’s face tells him otherwise.

And he’s absolutely serious about it.

He doesn’t want to make light of Jim’s condition, or potential conditions, but he can’t help but wonder if the archaeologist has gone mad.

“Jim, you can’t,” he insists, floundering for the right words to convince him that he’s wrong.

“It’s not up to you,” Jim says flatly. “This is my project—my turf—and he’s invading it.”

McCoy strongly suspects that no matter what he says, he will flat out oppose him. Unfortunately, Jim can’t see himself through the lens in which he sees him. The correct lens. The medical one.

“And if you succumb to another attack?” he counters quietly.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” Jim says, frowning down at his arm. “Now, let go of me. I have a job to do.”

He doesn’t let go. He can’t even think of relinquishing his hold on Jim and allowing him to face Harrison. The attack last night wasn’t enough evidence for him to understand? That what he thinks he can do and what he wants to do is impossible?

“Bones,” Jim grits out. “Let. Go.”

“No,” he retorts.

He tightens his grip on Jim’s arm and quickly glances around for the one man who could talk sense into Jim. He locates Spock about fifty feet away, carrying out the task that had been requested of him, switching out their records to throw off Harrison, hiding anything of value to the excavation.

Spock’s name is on the tip of his tongue when he realizes that he can’t ask this of him. Jim needs Spock to take care of those things; Jim is in no condition to do so. The stress is enough to provoke a panic attack. No, he can’t distract Spock from the safekeeping of Jim’s life work. He has to take care of this himself.

He hates himself for being so blunt with him, going as far as being controlling, but this is about far more than Harrison trespassing. It’s about Jim’s life.

Jim tries to twist out of his hold, but he hangs on, waiting until he has his attention.

“I’m not letting go of you,” he explains when Jim looks at him with frustration. “This situation is going to be beyond anything you’ve experienced. Please, let Spock handle it. If you can't listen to me, remember M’Benga’s diagnosis. Your medical condition. You can’t make a decision like this. Things have changed for you, Jim, whether you like it or not.”

“Let me make this clear, Doctor McCoy,” Jim says through clenched teeth. “I am an adult who will make his own way. Now. Let. Go.”

He’s known Jim for a total of two days but he’s never seen him look or watched him act like this. Never imagined him so fierce, a soldier primed for battle and determined to face his enemy.

He releases him, Spock quickly approaching Jim from behind.

Jim’s expression softens, giving him a glimpse of the man he’s grown to care for. “Stay out of sight, Bones. You do that and it’s one less thing I have to worry about,” he murmurs, setting the box down. He reaches under the table and pulls out a rifle and ammo. “Know how to use this?”

McCoy blinks twice. “A gun? Are you serious?”

“I sure am,” Jim says, dropping his voice lower. “You don’t know him, Bones. I do. I want you to have this in case they kill us all and Pavel and Kevin are in danger. You’re the only one I’ll give this to, because I think you’ll use it only as a last resort. I won’t confront him with weapons, but knowing that you have one—and know how to shoot it—that will give me some sense of relief.”

McCoy takes the rifle, but his hands tremble, as if he’s the one with PTSD. “I’ve used one.” He pauses. “Hunting,” he adds, holding Jim’s attention.

Spock stops behind Jim, arms folded.

Jim’s eyes fill with a little relief. “You’ll be okay, Bones,” he says, giving him a small smile. “We all will be. I won’t fight him, not if I can help it. This is an archaeological dig, not a war zone.”

He spins on his heel and plows straight into the strong body behind him.

“Oomph,” Jim groans.

Spock grabs his arms, stopping him from losing his balance.

“Spock,” Jim says breathlessly, wincing. “I didn’t see you. Are you ready?”

Spock’s eyes are grave and just as determined as Jim’s, pinning the younger man to his spot. McCoy holds his tongue, praying he hadn’t misinterpreted the way he’d strode towards them and invaded Jim’s personal space just now.

“No, I am not ready,” Spock states. “There is one final task I have not seen to.”

Jim frowns.

Spock rolls his shoulders. “You.”

Jim huffs, irritation flashing across his face. “I know you’re worried about me, Spock, but it’s too late. They’re parking their damn cars,” he mutters.

McCoy steps beside Jim to get a better view and see for himself. He stares ahead, refusing to look at Jim when he feels the blonde’s eyes upon him, as if he’s questioning why he isn't hanging back.

Like hell he’d stay hidden at a time like this. Pike’s rivals had come in two vehicles, the truck and a car, both full of passengers. He mentally counts all the heads he can see, holding his breath when he comes up with eight men.

Eight men too many.

He has no doubt Sulu, Scott, and Uhura are strong and capable, but they are archaeologists. That Spock is incredibly strong, with reflexes quicker than he’s ever seen in his life and an intelligence that rivals anyone he's known professionally. And that he can hold his own in a fight. Yet he can’t help but picture Jim’s team roughed up and fighting for their lives. This one rifle won’t be able to stop Harrison. A call to law enforcement will only prove to be just as useless. The site is too far from town. No one would get here in time.

Eight men too many.

“You will remain behind me,” Spock decides. “You must, James.”

McCoy’s brows raise. James? Use of his given name shows Spock means business. A fact for which he is grateful. Only someone with just as much stubbornness could stand up to Jim and win.

Jim locks eyes with his best friend, Spock’s stare unsurprisingly overpowering Jim’s in intensity. An unspoken battle ensues between them as Harrison slowly walks towards the site. The unwelcome guest watches them impassively, the tails of his trench coat flapping in the wind like a ghost moving through the prairie. Five burly and somber men trail him, leaving the two drivers in their respective vehicles.

“Dammit, Jim. There is no time left to argue,” McCoy whispers harshly. “Listen to us!”

Jim’s jaw ticks in the brief silence. “Fine,” he relents through clenched teeth. “I'll stay back.”

“Doctor McCoy, please remain with Jim at all costs,” Spock says, looking directly at him. “Hold him back by whatever means possible.”

He nods before Spock turns away, heading for the main opening of the tent. “You read my mind,” he drawls, though his insides feel like they’ve been scrambled like the eggs he’d had for breakfast.

Jim glares at him, but McCoy pays no heed to his dissatisfaction. He holds the rifle at his side with one hand while gripping Jim’s bicep with the other hand.

“Don’t even try, Jim,” he warns in a steely voice.

Jim’s expression morphs into one of hurt. “Bones, please let me go.”

“You honestly think I’d allow this?” he says, a short dry laugh escaping. “It looks like a nice time and all, chatting with these fellows about things you find under rock or in the dirt, but hell, Jim. You’re short several pieces of armor and not as invincible as you think you are. And if Harrison hurts you, your team will be distracted by you, and then they will get hurt.”

Jim stiffens. “I’m not going to get hurt. Besides, holding me back will make him even more suspicious of me.”

“Stop arguing and wise up,” he hisses as Harrison stops and stands in front of Spock. “Stick with me or I’ll tell your father—everything. If that happens, you know that he’ll give me the boot faster than you can say ‘it was my fault,’ or give him any other excuse to try and save my sorry hide. You’ll never see me again,” he hastily adds, wondering if it is too soon to think that Jim would be upset if he disappears from his life.

When he hears the faint but distressed hum in Jim’s throat, he knows he won. And that it isn’t too soon for Jim to hope he sticks around. He loosens his hold just enough to give Jim some slack to move but shifts his body so he’s slightly ahead of him. He doesn’t care if he’s irritated with him. He doesn’t even care if the man doesn’t speak to him after this. Jim Kirk is not capable of making clear-headed decisions in this situation due to the brain-damage he's sustained. Not only that, but as his physician, he has a duty and oath to uphold. Last but not least, Jim had already begun to thaw his heart.

Spock and Harrison silently assess one another, their unwelcome guest obviously taking advantage of that time to cast a cursory glance around him. In particular, beyond Spock, to where McCoy and Jim are standing. Harrison’s eyes linger on Jim longer than necessary, the rest of his men positioning themselves around Sulu, Uhura, and Scott.

Heart thudding in his ears, McCoy pulls Jim closer to his side. This isn’t looking good.

“To what do we owe this honor?” Spock asks suddenly, breaking Harrison’s focus. “I was not aware that the Captain had invited you to come.”

“I’m here of my own accord, to offer my condolences, of course,” Harrison smoothly answers, returning his focus to Spock. “I was informed, rather abruptly, mind you, that my presence might have...caused a problem for Mister Kirk. If that is true, I must apologize.”

“As you can see, the captain is fine,” Spock says, his brows moving as he speaks. “An apology isn’t necessary.”

Harrison clears his throat. “Is that why he doesn’t speak for himself? Because he’s fine? I’m sorry to say this, but it’s obvious your ‘captain’ is not fi—”

“Please state your business,” Spock interrupts. “After which, you and your men may leave.”

Harrison faintly smiles. “You’re protecting him. You have to know I mean him no physical harm. Nonetheless, I’ll play along, if it helps, Mister Spock.” He quirks a brow, running a hand across the table that held the locked chest of artifacts. “I have the utmost respect for your young leader and his work. Especially this, what he’s doing now. This is Davis land,” he murmurs, blatantly ignoring his request. “Is it not?”

“We do not discuss our work with outsiders,” Spock asserts. “A guideline I assume you yourself must follow in order to maintain the quality and integrity of your own projects.”

Harrison inclines his head towards McCoy. “And who is he, might I ask?”

“As I said before, we do not discuss our work with outsiders,” Spock repeats.

“Your silence is of little matter to me. I know without a doubt that this is Davis land,” Harrison says bitterly, stepping closer to the chest. “I also know...that man standing beside Kirk is his new physician. And a man who takes his job quite seriously, considering that he’s not about to let Kirk even speak with me.”

Jim’s breath hitches. Sensing his shock and concerned that his PTSD will cause him to collapse or panic, McCoy holds him as steady as ever. Harrison obviously has connections, maybe an inside link. Still, he isn’t convinced Harrison actually knows anything of value that could blackmail Jim into sharing his recent discovery. Anyone with half a brain could come up with that same theory, taking Rand’s article in consideration as well as their maintained distance from him within the tent.

“Who he is and what he is doing here is not your business, Mister Harrison,” Spock says quietly.

“Oh, but it is. You are afraid, Mister Spock. You are all afraid,” Harrison continues, his expression distant. “You fear your captain will experience another episode like he had at the benefit last night.”

He tsks and turns his back to them all as he inspects the maps and files Spock had scattered along the tables.

“I may be your enemy, but I would never kick a wounded puppy just to get what I want,” he casually adds.

Jim tenses and takes a single step forward.

McCoy clutches at both his arms. “Stay back, you idiot,” he hisses in his ear. “He's only trying to provoke you.”

Harrison shakes his head. “There are better ways for me to stop Kirk from finding any evidence to refute his great-grandfather's sentence and guilt than resorting to, let’s say, violence.” He pauses, pointing at the chest. “Take this for example.”

He pauses again and inclines his head towards two of his men. They come and pick up the heavy, cumbersome chest.

“It’s valuable to Kirk. To you,” he says slowly, turning around to face Spock. “I’m not naive to think that you’ll give me a key. However, that leaves me with no other choice but to take it.”

“The chest is not yours,” Spock states. “To take it without the Captain’s permission is stealing and, therefore, a criminal offense.”

Harrison’s eyes fill with unquestionable rage. “The peace my family has had for years should not be snatched away by the lies of Pike,” he hisses. “The lies Kirk has believed for years.”

He doesn’t imagine it. Jim wavers on his feet.

“Steady, Jim,” McCoy whispers in his ear, his heart sinking when he hears the sudden raggedness of Jim’s breathing.

“If your quarrel is with Christopher, then why are you here?” Spock asks evenly.

“To warn Christopher’s son, of course,” Harrison says with less vehemence, looking straight at Jim.

Spock glances back, exchanging a look with Jim, who nods. “Of what?” Spock asks.

“I will not leave until I have told him myself,” Harrison says darkly. “Contrary to your belief, I don’t think Kirk should be coddled, no matter what condition he may be suffering from. I believe he deserves more respect than what any of you are giving him, Mister Spock. That is why I decided to seek out Kirk today, rather than delaying this any longer.”

“Bastard,” McCoy says under his breath.

Jim leans into him, as if agreeing.

“I gotcha,” he whispers to Jim. “No matter what he says, no matter what he does, I have your back, Jim.”

“You know nothing,” Spock says tightly.

“I know that he’s capable of listening,” Harrison murmurs, cocking his head. “Just as he’s doing now. And, of course, he’s certainly capable of answering for himself, given that he is here and fully immersed in his project.”

“We were just leaving, actually,” McCoy says in disgust, unable to remain silent any longer. “Until you showed up.”

“Like I said,” Harrison says softly, quirking a brow at them. “Coddled.”

“Coddled?” McCoy repeats. He has to bite his own tongue to stop himself from revealing anything about Jim’s true mental condition. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Spock is right. You know nothing.”

“Indeed,” Harrison murmurs, peering at him. “You are protecting him.

“Protecting and coddling—and acting in the best interest of a patient—are far from being the same damn thing,” McCoy snaps.

Jim’s breath hitches. “Bones—”

“I must ask you to leave,” Spock interjects harshly. “You say you don't wish to provoke another attack, but in confronting Jim as you are now, you are doing ju—”

Jim huffs. “Spock, it’s—”

“Shut up, Jim,” McCoy growls, stepping in front of him. “I know what you’re doing, Harrison, and I don’t like it.”

“What is it that I am doing, Doctor McCoy?” Harrison asks mockingly.

He doesn’t know how the hell Harrison knows his name, but instinct tells him there’s a traitor amongst them. Someone who has just the right amount of knowledge to throw them off balance. It can't be someone on Jim’s team—and that leaves someone at the orphanage, which doesn't set well with him at all.

Is it Carol? The woman who's like a sister to Jim? His stomach turns just thinking of how betrayed Jim would feel if it were. Could it be one of the children? That makes him feel even worse.

“Baiting us—all of us—but especially Jim,” McCoy accuses.

Harrison has the nerve to laugh. “And what purpose would that serve me?”

“I don’t know,” McCoy says sarcastically. “You seem to have all the answers here. Why don’t you tell me?”

“I will only speak to Kirk,” Harrison says.

“Over my dead body,” he grits out.

“I insist that you leave,” Spock says coldly.

“I will not,” Harrison says, lifting his chin.

“Then I will physically remove you,” Spock asserts.

Harrison chuckles, glancing over to the men surrounding the rest of Jim’s team. “I don’t think you have taken notice of the situation here, Mister Spock.”

“My vision is twenty-twenty. I see perfectly fine,” Spock says evenly. “Police are on their way. You cannot hurt us.”

“Even if you called them the second you laid eyes on us coming up the road, they won’t be here for at least…” Harrison pauses, squinting into the distance, at the way at which they’d come. “Ten minutes. Besides, Mister Spock, threats do not scare me. I will not depart a coward.”

Jim expels a strangled, half-groan.

They all look at him in shock.

He actually snorts. “Please. I’m almost amused by all this drama. Almost,” he mutters to their surprise. “John, just say what you came here to tell me—and get this over with.”

That Jim had relented so easily isn’t a good sign—neither is his cavalier attitude about the situation. Spock’s eyes flicker with worry as they meet McCoy’s. Somehow, he maintains a neutral expression. He won’t give Harrison any more reason to question Jim’s condition. And now? He's worrying like never before.

“I commend you for your bravery, Jim. But I believe that to be unwise, Captain,” Spock says tightly.

“Jim,” McCoy breathes. “I don’t advise this.”

Jim shakes his head. “I've made worse decisions. Let him speak so we can go home, Bones. John, say what you came to say to me—then go.”

McCoy steels himself against the triumph in Harrison’s expression, but he knows by the way Jim is leaning heavily into him that he isn’t well, his condition taking over as they’d feared. Jim wants this confrontation over as soon as possible and is willing to risk himself to make it happen.

Harrison approaches, eyes never straying from Jim’s face—but his first words once he’s standing in front of them are to McCoy.

“Forgive me, Doctor McCoy, if what I say provokes your patient,” Harrison taunts.

McCoy scowls. “Get on with it.”

“Fine.” Harrison narrows his eyes on Jim. “You are just Pike’s pawn, James. He’s using you to gain fame and fortune for himself, even if it’s at the expense of others.”

Jim stares hard at him. “My father is not who you claim him to be. He is a kind, generous man.”

“Oh, but he is who I am accusing him to be,” Harrison says, lifting an elegant brow. “My great-grandfather was murdered and nothing you find will prove otherwise.”

“Maybe that is not what I’m trying to prove,” Jim answers softly.

Confusion flashes across Harrison’s face before it’s replaced with the anger of before.

“I thought that perhaps you were different than your father. I was wrong,” he says through clenched teeth. “You are a liar just like he is.”

Jim’s brows meet at the middle. “I’m not lying to you. It’s the truth,” he says earnestly.

“Can you prove this...truth?” Harrison asks sarcastically.

Jim blinks, as if he doesn’t know how to take the question. Truth be told, McCoy doesn't even understand what the hell Harrison is getting at now. Is he here to threaten—or attempt to forge a truce between them?

“Well, yes, I can prove it,” Jim says cautiously.

Harrison’s eyes gleam predatorily, reminding McCoy that his instincts about the man weren't wrong. “Will you show me? Is that what’s in the chest? Or did you leave it in your safe?”

Jim inhales sharply. “I...I can’t...” He falters. “I don’t know what...what I’m going to do with it yet. If...I’ll show anyone.”

“You showed Pike,” Harrison assumes correctly. “And Doctor McCoy, no doubt.”

“You are the last person on this earth I should have to explain myself to.” Jim pauses and takes a breath. “But as a courtesy, I will. Pike is my father, and McCoy is my doctor,” he says, defending his actions. “You’re someone I can’t trust, John. You’ve never given me a reason to trust you.” He laughs mirthlessly. “You’ve always done the opposite, if you think about it.”

“This isn’t just about your great-grandfather,” Harrison argues, expression enraged. “It’s also about my great-grandfather. Or have you selfishly and conveniently forgotten that one important fact, James? Just like Christopher has ever so conveniently forgotten?”

Jim shakes his head. “I’ve never forgotten, and I’m sorry if it seems like that’s what I’ve been doing. Or that Dad has been doing. It's not.”

“Then explain to me, Kirk,” he says through clenched teeth

“I don't trust you, John,” Jim repeats softly. “All you've ever done...is try to steal or destroy what I've worked so hard for.”

Harrison’s face flushes with rage. “You accuse me of destruction but then deny me the opportunity to change. So be it. You, like Mister Spock, leave me no choice. Destroy it,” he barks to his men, never looking away from Jim. “Destroy the site. Every last speck of dust.”

“What?” Jim asks, his eyes widening.

What little hope McCoy had mustered up for a peaceful end to this confrontation disappears in a blink of an eye. No matter what Harrison’s claim is, he sees it in his expression and hears it in his voice. Revenge, pure and simple. Harrison had come with every intention of sabotaging Jim’s work here, whether or not he cooperated with him. He'd had every intention of making Jim feel sorry for him, only to turn it around and stab him in the heart.

“You bastard!” McCoy says hoarsely, his cry lost amongst the other protests from Jim’s team. “Don't twist this around on Jim!”

“Do it,” Harrison orders again. Four of his men race back to the vehicles.

“The police will hunt you.” Spock says, expression murderous. “You will be forced to give yourself up—or run.”

“I am quite aware of that fact, Mister Spock,” Harrison says. “I am also quite prepared to lead the life of a criminal. They will never find me.”

Jim sucks in a sharp breath. “Please. Don’t do this…”

“Or what? You’ll give me what I want?” Harrison asks, his lips curling into a snarl.

“You know I can’t,” Jim says, eyes pained. “Not...not like this.”

“It’s now, James—or never,” Harrison hisses.

Jim swallows. “No,” he says hoarsely.

Harrison narrows his eyes and takes a step backwards. “Then you’ve dug your grave. So has your father.”

He spins on his heel, coat tails dancing behind him. His men pass him on the way back, carrying small tanks of what McCoy assumes to be gasoline.

He fingers the rifle, grateful Harrison made no mention of it. If he wields it now, he's sure there'd be a bloodbath to accompany the inevitable fire.

“Burn it all,” Harrison commands. “Just like we planned. If any of them try saving anything but themselves as they head for cover—shoot them.”

He never looks back, leaving a deathly silence behind, save for the foreboding sound of gasoline being tossed onto the site.

Jim immediately slips into a trance-like state, McCoy and Spock forced to haul him out of the tent and as far away from the destruction as possible. Harrison’s men walk away, leaving them all unharmed but with utter destruction in their wake.

He can't see Chris receiving the news of this well at all. In fact, he fears how the older man will retaliate.

At the first sound of flames crackling, tears leak from the corners of Jim’s eyes.

“Bones,” he gasps brokenly as the smoke creeps higher into the sky.

It blocks out the sun and any light they'd once had.

“I gotcha, Kid,” McCoy whispers, enveloping him in a protective embrace. “I gotcha.”

Before they make it to their vehicles, Jim collapses.

It’s a small mercy that the devil never sees.

He is traveling down the dusty road from whence he came—from what McCoy fiercely believes are the burning halls of hell.

Chapter Text

oOo

 

 

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter Eight

 

 

oOo

 

Before McCoy can gather Jim in his arms, Spock tucks an arm under the unresponsive archaeologist’s knees and another under his neck. He lifts him up with the ease of an experienced soldier. Instead of continuing their journey away from the flames and destruction, however, he hesitates.

“Find his keys,” Spock orders, his eyes as fierce as the flames behind them.

His voice is like steel. Firm and unyielding, as if he’s blaming him for Jim’s panic, for Harrison’s attack. Everything.

He isn’t offended, but it still takes him a moment to recover.

“They’re in his pocket,” he remarks, remembering when they’d first arrived and Jim had slipped them into one, hiding them there. “The front.”

Spock stands stiff as a board while he fishes for the keys in Jim’s clothing. He feels the heat of the man’s glare as he fumbles, the situation growing awkward as he puts his hand between Jim's body and also Spock’s chest. He holds his breath, gaining a sense that Spock has issues with anyone touching him unless it’s of his own choice. Case in point, the way the other archaeologist is carrying Jim.

His breath rushes out in relief as soon as he finds the keys. After pulling them out, he darts ahead and unlocks the passenger’s side of the truck. He scans the front seat. In particular, the empty driver's seat, where Jim should be sitting. Happy. Eager to return to his father. Anticipating the hike with his father. Enjoying life like a young man should.

His heart begins to thump in a distracting, erratic beat, Jim’s blank eyes and pale face all he can see. He’s seen pale. He’s seen blank, unfocused eyes. Even on Jim. But this time, it’s different. It’s on a man he’s seen, even if only a few times, in his dreams and his future. And, despite his control, despite his past, a man he’s beginning to care about.

The signs he sees are red flags. Love brings regret, at the very least. It brings...loss. Great loss, the kind he doesn’t want to experience again.

His eyes burn. Losing his daughter had nearly killed him. The memory doesn't get any easier, reminding him of his own vulnerability.

He should run the other way before it’s too late, but he’s made a promise. A promise he’s made to both Jim and his father. Maybe even to himself.

He’d stay, in her honor. Make his life something better than it had been. If he could help Jim, it would be worth it.

Wouldn’t it?

“Doctor.”

The icy voice behind him snaps him out of it. He opens the vehicle door and steps out of the way. Spock moves past him, his countenance instantly changing as he gingerly deposits Jim onto the backseat.

He hands Spock the keys and slides in beside Jim. He places Jim’s head on his lap, arranges his arms and the rest of his body in what he hopes is a more comfortable position. He’s already alarmed by his labored breathing, the smoke no doubt the culprit. Just as he’s closing the door, a breathless voice calls after them.

“Wait!”

He takes the oxygen mask out of his bag and fits it over Jim’s face, first, before glancing out the back window.

Kevin is scrambling over the prairie. “I can help!” he exclaims, stumbling over his feet.

He exchanges a look with Spock. “I’m guessin’ he wants to go with us again. He is a friend to Jim—they’re important to one another.”

He could tell by the way Jim had handled the kid in his office.

Spock puts the keys into the ignition. “Very well.”

He sweeps his hand over Jim’s forehead, his fingers guiding a few strands of hair off of Jim’s face as they wait.

Seconds later, Kevin ungracefully pulls himself onto the passenger seat. He gulps as he looks at Jim. “His dad…” he whispers.

Spock starts the truck. Not even the rumbling of the engine stirs Jim.

“His dad what?” McCoy asks, preparing to take Jim’s pulse.

“He’ll involve the Feds on this one, though they’ll probably be the ones to take over the case, anyway. He has a friend, a close friend, who wants Harrison behind bars for other...things. You know, stuff that we assume he did all these years without having solid evidence,” Kevin says with another gulp. “Then before you know it, Jim’s cousins will be in the line of fire.”

“What do you mean?” McCoy asks.

“I mean his distant relatives on the Rez,” Kevin says. “That’s who. All of this involves them, too. And Jim promised them he wouldn’t—”

A groan escapes from Jim’s lips, stopping him. His pulse is weak beneath McCoy’s fingers. They need to be at the orphanage—in his office—and away from anything that can remind Jim of Harrison.

“He wouldn’t—” Kevin begins again.

“Please cease,” Spock says sharply, cutting him off. “For Jim’s sake.”

“Sorry,” Kevin says, wincing. “I...I...sometimes say too much.”

McCoy doesn’t break a sweat over the harsh reprimand, but it shuts Kevin up for most of the ride. He considers the boy’s self-proclaimed ‘big mouth.’ He’s left to wonder if Kevin had unwittingly revealed information regarding this site to someone working for Harrison. Or, if one of the other children had. The orphanage was certainly large enough to accommodate many personalities—but small enough that a man like Harrison could employ others to dig until they found what they needed. Or, rather, who.

He has too much experience, seen too many things in his life, to not believe that the possibility of an even worse scenario exists. Someone could have gotten to one of the kids early on, convinced them to look for information in one of the files in the former doctor’s office—

“So you knew him from before,” Kevin interrupts in a loud whisper, craning his head back to McCoy. “Didn’t you?’

A denial lodges in his throat. Spock peers up at the rear view mirror at him.

He stares back at Kevin, instead, fighting back a glare. His jaw ticks. How would this kid even know…

“Jimmy’s never this comfortable with other people,” Kevin continues. “I mean, sure he’s the friendliest guy around, but he’s familiar with you, Doc. I haven’t seen him act that way before with a stranger.”

The hint of curiosity in Spock’s eyes solidifies his decision to lie for now. It wouldn't do for anything to get back to Chris. It would be the worst possible time for this to come out. The last thing Jim needs on top of the destruction of his priceless artifact—this artifact that would clear his family’s name—is stress.

“No,” he says quietly. “The only other time I’ve seen Jim—is in the paper. And that was only rarely.”

Kevin blinks back at him and nods. “Right,” he says unconvincingly.

“We just hit it off,” he says, looking back down at Jim.

He takes Jim’s pulse periodically, never glancing up again until they arrive at the orphanage. A feeling of deja Vu washes over him, especially when Chris is already waiting in the examination room, white-faced.

“Sulu called me. I had a feeling even before I heard the ring,” the older man says, his voice filled with anguish as his eyes pass over Jim in close inspection. “I knew…”

McCoy keeps his mouth shut. He knows without checking anything else that not only is Jim having another attack—he is also in shock, the two conditions combining, making the cause of his symptoms difficult to determine. He can’t say anything yet, lest he puts fear into his father before it’s warranted.

“As we all did,” Spock says, placing Jim on the bed, the younger man’s body trembling from head to toe. “The excavation was a precarious operation. I should have stopped it.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Spock,” Chris says.

“He’s shivering,” Spock murmurs, glancing up at McCoy.

McCoy’s mouth flattens. “He’s in shock.”

“Do you have a weigh—”

“The weighted blanket?” McCoy interjects, already moving for the cabinet. “Yes, but it’d be best if you clear the room while I examine Jim,” he asserts, glancing back to look both of them in the eye.

Another body moves in the doorway. Kevin stands stiffly, his hands clenched at his sides. He doesn't move, even when Carol comes up behind him and places her hands on his shoulders.

“The chief of police will be here, soon,” Carol says softly, kneading the boy’s muscles. “Kevin, let’s go.”

In fact, none of them move, even after her announcement. McCoy positions himself in front of the bed, partially hiding his patient, more for Jim’s loved ones’ sake than for Jim.

“You must leave,” he demands gently. “I have a job to do, Chris, the very one you hired me for. I’ll do this job best if the people he loves and cares about are outside of this room.”

Chris’s wounded expression is almost too painful to watch.

Now,” he stresses.

Chris sighs. “I understand,” he says, backing away. “I know better than to crowd you, Leonard. Let us know if you need anything. Spock, Kevin,” he says, with a short jerk of his head towards the door. “We can wait in my study.”

Ashen-faced, Kevin nods. “Yes, sir,” he says hoarsely.

“Do you need assistance?” Carol asks as the others leave the room.

“Watch his breathing,” McCoy orders. “I have a few things to…”

He momentarily stops, leafing through Jim’s file.

“Dammit,” he says softly, settling on a particular page. And a particular name.

Boyce.

Philip Boyce.

He’d thought he’d recognized the name listed in Jim’s file, but it'd taken him until now to connect the dots. He was an old colleague, a man he never knew personally, only through the medical journals in which his research was published, research known throughout the nation, even the world.

He skims over the first few paragraphs of the detailed report about his examination of Jim. He’s read it before, but he reads it again because this is Jim’s file and he’ll be damned before he misreads or forgets anything.

The surgeon’s official medical opinion, as stated in the file, indicated that, given Jim’s medical history, he didn’t recommend the surgery. Nonetheless, this surgery could possibly fix at least a small percentage of Jim’s problems. Boyce believed that there was a great possibility that it would render Jim a vegetable. On the other hand, he claimed that Jim’s balance, even his memory and other mental lapses, could all improve remarkably. It appears as if Chris had been the most hesitant about the procedure and its side effects; and Jim, who is still in no condition to make this decision on his own, the most receptive.

McCoy can understand both sides, even Jim’s which would put him at risk, but he leans towards Chris’s thinking. Maybe it was because he had been a father, himself. Or, that he cares for Jim. A world without Jim Kirk? He could only imagine the utter darkness it would bring his father, the boys at the orphanage. To Kevin.

To him.

No, he wouldn’t recommend the procedure, either. Even if he did, there was one problem. One very important problem. Boyce, the only physician who could perform the surgery, had since died in a plane crash.

He shivers. God, no, that can’t be the horrid coincidence he thinks it is.

“Doctor McCoy?”

“Leonard,” he says absently, grateful for the interruption before the thought had properly formed.

“Pardon?”

He looks up at her. “Call me Leonard,” he says roughly. “I have a feeling we’ll be working together a lot over the next few days.”

The moment of silence between them swells.

“Leonard, surely it can’t all be that bad?”

He has to give her credit for her optimism.

“Well, it is,” he says curtly, catching himself before he slams the file down on the table in the room.

He doesn’t offer more, but chooses another sedative he has on hand, just in case Jim doesn't respond well to larger doses of his muscle-relaxer and anti-anxiety medication. He wants to see the clarity in Jim’s baby blues before administering anything else, to give him a little time to come back to himself so he won’t wake up in a panic, but he won’t tax the younger man’s body to do so.

He’s standing, administering the mediation to Jim when the questions comes at him again.

“You know him, don’t you?” Carol asks. “Jim. You know him.”

He finishes his work, his hands as steady as ever though his heart is not.

“No,” he clips.

She dabs Jim’s sweaty brow with a cloth, also wiping away a smudge of dirt on his cheek. “Our Jim has secrets he thinks no one knows,” she said softly. “Those shoes in his room that are far too big for him. That do not belong to him. Or to Gary Mitchell, for that matter.”

He can’t help but twitch at that name. “Mitchell?” he grunts. “What happened to him, anyway? He was locked up, I’m sure,” he mutters under his breath.

“You don’t know?” she asks, looking genuinely surprised.

He’s relieved she took the bait, redirecting their conversation all on her own. He knows exactly what shoes she was talking about. And if she knew they weren’t Jim’s, who else knew?

“No,” he says after he discards the needles. “No one’s cared to mention it.”

Now that he thinks about it, he hasn’t cared to ask, his usually observant behavior taking a back seat to his feelings for Jim.

He pulls up a chair beside his patient, telling himself it was for Jim’s sake that he holds his hand under the blanket. He squeezes it, waiting for a subtle reaction from him. There is none. Jim is locked in this state, a world he can’t penetrate, for all of his medical knowledge.

He sighs. “Come on, Kid,” he whispers.

“Well, I’m not sure if I should be the one to say…”

He frowns. “Is it confidential?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

“Then it might be good to tell me, so I know what to say if Jim brings it up.”

“After...he assaulted Jim, causing him to fall and black out,” she begins, whispering.

Her tone, though as gentle as a breeze, is too alarming to ignore.

He narrows his eyes at her.

“And...and hurt…” Her expression filled with a certain pain he saw all too often when it comes to Jim. He saw it in Chris’s eyes. In Kevin’s. Even Spock’s. “Hurt Jim...more.”

Carol’s words come to him as if in a tunnel. He was almost certain that Jim didn’t even know about that part of the attack himself, but he did. And, apparently, Carol knew to some degree.

Chris had sent him Jim’s complete medical file last night. He'd read it earlier this morning, managing to compartmentalize the horror of it while he visited the site with Jim. That is, until now.

Mitchell had ejaculated over Jim’s unconscious, naked body. There'd been no sign of rape, but bite marks along Jim’s back along with the semen indicated what the sick bastard had done.

Mitchell hadn't needed to rape Jim to gain a sense of power. He'd done less, but in doing so, he'd done more. This was the power he'd attained over Jim, rubbing it in his face that while he'd been unconscious, he'd declothed him and reached orgasm while using Jim’s body.

He'd track Mitchell down tonight if he could, strangle him with his own two hands.

“He was seen running down the streets, without his pants, without...shoes,” Carol continued.

“He went nuts,” McCoy said flatly.

It explains a lot, really.

She nodded, her hair swishing at the movement. “He had been a friend at one time...but that changed once…once Jim had begun to care for him in a different way.”

Jim’s eyes flutter, his sigh almost inaudible.

“Go on,” he says swiftly. “Before he wakes up.”

She swallows. “He ran in front of...”

“A car?” he surmises logically.

“Not exactly.” She hesitates. “A truck hit him. Killed him.”

McCoy’s eyes widen in surprise. “He’s dead?”

“Died in the ambulance, before he even arrived at the hospital.”

Mitchell. Dead? He’s not sure he’s heard right.

“He’s dead? A truck hit him?” he asks, still wary that it was even the truth. “What kind of truck? Semi?”

Carol glances sideways at him, her brow quirked. “His obituary was in the paper. And it was a garbage truck, if you must know.”

Garbage truck?

The irony of it shocks him speechless. The words Jim had curtly said to him outside the bar come to mind at light speed.

“I'm a garbage man.”

McCoy can’t help it. A chuckle rumbles from his chest. He’s been accused of having dark humor before, and this time is no exception. He doesn’t wish anyone dead, nor does he delight in someone’s demise. But this one takes the cake.

He can’t help but feel a great satisfaction that the bastard was six-feet under as a result of being hit by a damn garbage truck.

“I’ll be a son of a gun,” he says to himself, chuckling more.

“Leonard?” Carol asks, her eyes widening.

No doubt it did look strange. Laughing, right beside his patient.

“Garbage truck,” he says. “I wouldn’t believe it, except this is Jim we’re talking about. Our very own garbage man.”

“Karma,” Carol says simply, a knowing gleam in her eye.

Justice had been served, but in a way that could possibly give Jim more closure than if Mitchell had gone to prison. Not only that, but there would have been no trial. Or, perhaps Jim had dropped charges in light of Mitchell’s death. It makes sense, now, given that they’d been able to keep Jim’s condition hush-hush for so long.

“Garbage truck,” he mutters again.

They exchange glances and silently tend to Jim.

 

oOo

 

Jim’s eyelids are as heavy as rocks as he comes out of his haze, the stones he toils and labor to remove from the site. It’s futile to try to open them so he doesn’t, his body sinking to the floor as his eyelids close again. He hears the voices around him, warbling and shadowy.

Karma,” she whispers.

He breathes in and out into the mask that he can feel fitted to his face. He knows a lot about karma, but he isn’t interested in it now. Karma wouldn’t fix this. Not in a million years. Someone had destroyed...destroyed...

He can’t remember. Why can’t he remember?

Is he stupid? Stupid like the media sometimes taunted him to be for no reason? Was this it? The end to his career? Would he never again sift his hands in the dirt? Experience the thrill of success? Search for the past, to enlighten the future? To fill this craving he had inside? See his father smile and shake his head at Jim when he tracks mud onto the floor?

His thoughts are dashed away as his chest implodes, the pain paralyzing him. Darkness swallowing him whole like the fire swallowed everything he’s worked for.

When he awakens, when the darkness slips away, allowing a small flicker of light in his mind, when he realizes someone is holding his hand—his heart is empty and lifeless. He doesn’t feel it beating, doesn’t feel the rise and fall of his chest. Has Harrison destroyed his soul already?

“Breathe, Jim.”

He latches on to Bones’s voice like a lifeline. It’s warm and confident and strong and everything he isn’t. His body trembles under the blanket like he’s been out in the snow for hours. He’s not sure he can even feel his toes, or his fingers, which is strange. They’d walked through fire. How could that be? How could one more piece of his family’s heritage be taken away? How could all that he’s worked for vanish in an instant? How could he be so weak? How could Harrison be so strong that he’d overpowered him so easily, just like Mitchell?

He’d wrecked the only other home he’d known. Every site was like that to him. Every single damn one.

He hears something close to a whimper, grows mortified when he realizes it’s him. The whimper quickly becomes a guttural cry that he can’t stop.

Someone crushes him in a hold that he’s too weak to overcome, too needy to escape.

“Gone,” he says, the word coming out brokenly in a series of gasps. “All...gone.”

“Let it out,” Bones breathes in his ear. “No one is in here but us now. It’s safe, Jim.”

He hardly hears the words as he allows the doctor to comfort him. Time passes, but as before, he cannot judge how long he’s been in this state, whatever state one would call it. It seems like forever. It seems like an hour. It seems eternal yet it passes in the blink of an eye.

He wonders how disappointed his father is that he screwed up their camping trip. That Jim, his only son, can’t even function like a normal man. That he’s dependent on others to carry him when he’s incapable of doing anything for himself. That it’s a horrible, sordid way of life, a life he wouldn’t wish on his father. There are better things to do than spend all of one’s time and energy helping the hopeless. There was no happy ending, as much as he tried to make everyone around him believe that there was.

He wonders how long before his failures consume his relationships, stealing everything that is good in his life. It had already begun with Mitchell, continuing with Harrison. Even continuing with McCoy. Because he sees now that he isn’t enough for this man whose heart is so big, he has to hide it with his sarcasm and fierce scowls. He’d hold him back from a brighter future. He’d hold him back and that’s the last thing he wants to do.

The mask is gone but he thinks he needs it, especially when he’s lying on his back again, looking up at the ceiling and his breath is gone, too.

His throat aches with the need for air. He’s desperate to claw at it, but his arms are trapped. It takes him a moment to realize he’s under the the blanket again, the one that gives him comfort yet at the same time hinders him. It’s ironic, to him, at least, that the blanket is stronger than he is.

He envisions freedom, here, on the prairie, in every part of his life. Being free. What would it take for him to taste that freedom, give the ones he loved a break from dealing with his weaknesses each and every day?

His burgeoning dream shatters. Darkness encroaches his vision, darkening like night. Now desperate to just escape, he allows it.

“Jim, you’re gonna be fine.”

Bones’s face swims over him. He can’t focus on it, even when the mask is fitted to his face.

It feels like a prison.

He glares at Bones, helpless to do anything else for himself but show contempt for the state he is in.

“Off,” he sputters.

“Hear that wheezing?” Bones asks gently.

Jim blinks. Of course he does. It’s a sound he hates.

He doesn’t care.

“No,” he growls.

His growl sounds pathetic in his own ears.

“I can't Jim,” answers Bones.

“Happened?” he asks roughly. “Crew?”

“Your crew is safe, Jim,” Bones says, eyes drawing in concern. “Kevin, Chekov...everyone. They are all worried about you.”

He’s surprised that Bones even understands his muffled words.

“And no one will be questioning you at this time, so you don't have to worry. All we need you to do is get better.” Bones takes a deep breath. “The Feds are handling things. They’ve already started looking for leads the past few hours.”

Few hours? Feds? Better?

He can’t process this quickly enough, the cloud continuing to hang over his head. He snarls in frustration, something snapping inside of him that he can’t control.

“Harrison is on the run,” Bones says, looking straight at Jim.

He’s gratified that Bones is up front with him. Something other people are not. At least, not after an episode like this.

“Bastard,” Jim rasps after a pause.

“Yeah, he is that,” Bones says quietly. “But I can’t have you worrying about him.”

Jim’s gaze flits back to the ceiling. He isn’t worrying. He’s seething.

The passiveness he had before concerning Harrison’s actions, the desire to keep a level head is ebbing. He doesn’t like this feeling and grits his teeth. Revenge would get him nowhere. He was a historian as well as an archaeologist. Revenge was a path of destruction itself.

Besides, though his site may be completely destroyed, his hope isn’t.

It may not hold up in a court of law, but he has it. A copy of everything that he needs to show his family name is innocent.

“Do you want to see your father?”

“He’s here?” Jim says, his throat burning like it was also on fire as he pushed out the words.

It's a stupid question. Of course he would be here.

But he feels stupid, like he can’t...he can’t put the pieces of his day, of his life, together.

He almost wishes that he could pretend, just for once, that this day had never happened.

“He’s here. Need something for the pain?” Bones asks softly. “We all inhaled a little more smoke than we should, so I’m not surprised your throat hurts.”

He doesn’t know how Bones even knows that his throat hurts.

“Cloud my judgment?” Jim sputters into the mask.

Bones looks down at him with a critical eye. “What are you thinkin’, Jim?”

Bones knows him too well, already. Jim briefly closes his eyes. He wants to make sure the artifact is in his safe, not that it was actually safe there. Harrison is steps ahead of him.

But now is not the time. He can hardly lift his damn head, let alone hold a copy of the wooden box and letter.

At least, not yet.

He has less than a day to get back on his feet and, somehow, he’d convince his father that they should continue with their plans and hike up Eagle’s Peak. If not Eagle’s Peak, than South Crow’s Landing, where the snow and ice has more than likely melted, at least partially, and where four-wheel drive would take them right up to the camping spot. The ground wouldn’t break easily with a shovel, but neither was it frozen enough to stop him. He’s dug into more solid ground before.

“Thinking...too much,” he whispers, confessing to nothing.

“I thought so,” Bones says, his soothing voice eliciting an image he hadn’t thought of in years.

The eagle stories his grandmother Davis had regaled him with, the ones during her young childhood and her husband’s, were his favorite ones as a child. As a teenager. As a young adult. They never grew old. He never tired of the stories, of any story of their shared ancestry. These weren’t the raptors in the legends of the Northwest coast, the birds so large that they carried off whales to feed their young. No, these sacred birds represent happiness, endurance, and bravery to the Lakotas, their feathers coveted for rituals because they believed the eagle carried their prayers and messages to the Great Spirit.

His grandmother believed that those great creatures which spread their wings were warriors of their own kind. And so did he. Fierce and loyal, swift and wise. Admirable traits, according to her, because they described his grandfather so well.

He envisions the shadows chasing one another across the terrain now, despite knowing at the back of his mind that Bones was still talking to him. He recognizes an urgency in his voice, a plea for him to answer the doctor’s questions, but the scene in his mind was far too tempting. It’s beautiful, and he falls into it like a dream coming alive at his fingertips. These eagles soar over the one place that he feels the most safe. A place protected by his ancestors, or so he liked to believe.

He wonders if he thinks hard enough, if he could be like the eagles said to build their nests and live at the peak. A protector. Strong and free. Not...not a man cut down by fire.

But a hunter of his own kind. Dodging arrows, incapable of getting hurt as the wind carried him.

“Jim?”

A hunter...not the hunted. Not the prey.

“Jim?”

And, someday, when he’s well, he'll witness their circling at that very peak. Of all his grandmother’s stories, he liked the one about her great-great-grandfather, a heyoka, the best. He’d taught of the circling eagle bringing the unanimous blessing from the four direction Thunderbir—

“Hey, Buddy,” a voice interrupts softly. “Answer me, Jim.”

The voice is tender yet oddly demanding. He feels himself slipping away from his memory, but also away from the voice altogether.

“Try to look at me, alright?” the voice says.

He fights darkness, feeling as if he’s coming out of a great sleep.

“Jim,” someone says, gently patting his cheek.

He peers wearily up at the voice, dazed.

Bones’s eyes are warm as they stare down at him. He sees an eagle in their depths, flying across the irises.

“I can see it on your face,” Bones murmurs.

Jim doesn't know what Bones means. But he nods.

“Let the police handle this, Jim.”

He nods again, because he will let them handle this. He doesn’t want anything to do with the case, which was, in essence, an extension of Harrison’s ever-growing hatred for his father, for his native ancestry, for anything that threatened his own prosperity.

His mind is on something else altogether.

 

oOo

 

McCoy adjusts the blanket around Jim’s arms, making note of every twitch, every breath. Several hours had passed and Jim had not come out of his closed, mental state, though he'd seen a glimpse of him for a brief time. During the past three hours, he’d taken advantage of the time and had met a few of the boys, Spock or Chris taking over his shift. The boys had been shy at first, also worried about Jim. But he is certain the first introductions went better than he’d expected.

“I'm going to talk with your father, Jim,” he says as if he wasn’t conversing with himself. Who knew if Jim actually could hear him. “Also grab myself a cup of coffee.”

He places his hand on Jim’s forehead, testing his reaction to physical touch. Jim’s eyes shift slightly to the left and back again, but there is no other reaction, save for his sigh-like, slow breaths.

“Spock will be here with you,” he says gently.

The man on the bed says nothing.

He slips his hand under the blanket, closing his hand around Jim’s warm one. He squeezes it. Jim’s hand is limp, as before.

“Alright,” he says lightly, with a touch of unprecedented hoarseness to his voice. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Spock, standing by the wall, watches him with a cool expression as McCoy passes him in order to get to the door.

“Don’t bore him to death,” McCoy says gruffly. “He likes jokes. Good ones.”

“I fail to see—”

“Yeah, this is serious, but this is Jim,” McCoy explains. “He needs us to be as normal as possible. That includes, well, talking to him like he really is listening, alright?”

“Affirmative.”

“Good,” McCoy mutters. He inclines his head towards Jim. “I won’t be long. Let me know, though, if something changes.”

“Of course.”

He makes his way down the hall and to the stairs. Chris was in his office, making calls and diverting the media's attention away from Jim as much as possible. The local news wanted to report on the vandalism, but they wanted to report on Jim, as well. Chris wasn’t falling for any of their meager threats. He was, however, planning on making some statement in a few hours to ward off the vultures.

When was someone going to give this kid a break?

Even Rand, who’d seen Jim unravel that night at the benefit was hounding Chris, calling the orphanage.

“He isn’t snapping out of it, Chris,” McCoy says as he comes into Chris’s private kitchen.

The older man is standing by the coffee maker, his appearance now ragged.

There was nothing like seeing your own son cracking before your very eyes.

Chris lifts the pitcher and begins pouring coffee into several mugs, but quietly nods. “Made another pot of coffee. Poured you some.”

“Thanks.” McCoy grabs the extra mug and sips his coffee, feeling its warmth as it runs down his throat and courses through his body.

“The police chief, Madison Kloskey, suggests we admit Jim into a facility where he can be safe.”

The idea had its merits, in particular because it meant protecting Jim, but he could not see the overall benefit. Jim would not get better there—or anywhere. Only worse. He needed to be surrounded by his friends and loved ones.

Chris’s hand shakes as he lifts his cup to his mouth. “I told him no. I said we are equipped to care for him here.”

McCoy regards him carefully. He can tell, already, that these past few days were catching up with the older man. “I’ll do all that I can for him, Chris.”

Chris drags his gaze to McCoy. The worry he sees in their depths is staggering. “There’s a detail outside. And I refuse to sleep, anyway. I’ll be up soon.”

“Take a nap, instead” McCoy counters. “Spock is with him now, and will remain there while I continue to monitor his vitals. It will be better if we continue working in shifts.”

“No, I can’t—”

“Yes, you will,” McCoy says adamantly. “It will be better for Jim if his dad isn't staring back at him with dark circles under his eyes.”

“I think you’re as stubborn as Jim. Thank you,” Chris says, sighing. “If you hadn’t been here…”

“Someone would have helped,” he says, firmly believing it to be so.

“No,” Chris says, shaking his head sadly. “You’re an angel in disguise, Leonard. I’m grateful. If...if Jim gets out of this, I know you two will be great friends.”

He agrees, only wishing that they could be more.

“With a crusty old man like me?” McCoy says, gruffly. “Hardly”

“You are far from old,” Chris says slowly. “And I can see already that he is a friend.”

He leaves before Chris can say anything else about his lonely life.

Or anything else about his relationship with Jim.

 

oOo

 

Eight hours later, Jim still in a vulnerable, precarious physical and mental state, McCoy ends his phone call and stands silently in his office. M’Benga’s words echo in his ears.

He’s weakening, Leonard,” Geoffrey says, after McCoy explained to him Jim’s off and on listlessness in the examination room. “It’s the natural progression in a case like Jim’s, and as much as we’ve tried to stop it, each subsequent attack will be worse than before. We can’t let it happen again, but we both know Jim. He won’t stop, using his sheer determination to accomplish his goals. But this time, we must be firm. Under no circumstances can he be put in another stressful situation. Especially so soon, with Harrison who knows where.”

“The police do have leads. They are on his trail.”

He says that to spare them both from total despair. He knows nothing.

“Nonetheless, Leonard, the camping trip is off.”

It meant clipping Jim’s wings, all too soon, just as they’d feared.

Would Jim hate him for it?

He’d hate him for it.

“And if it does happen again?” he dares to ask. “Despite all precautions?”

“I’ll take the next available flight,” M’Benga says “I’d hate for you to face this alone, Leonard. I can hear in your voice that there's something you’re not telling me.”

Is he that transparent?

“I know this man,” he says resignedly.

“Know?”

“Yes,” he says. “It’s...this is becoming personal.”

M’Benga is quiet over the phone. “I’ll see what I can do on my end. Between you and me, however, that will not be enough to pull you from Jim’s case.”

He isn’t comforted, as comforting as the other doctor tried to be. “No—”

“Don’t argue with me, Leonard. Please. If you care that much, it will only be better for Jim.”

He sighs. “Let me know when you are arriving at the airport,” he says. “Someone will pick you up.”

“It is over,” Spock says behind him.

Startled, McCoy spins on his heels. He hadn’t heard him come in. “Jim’s episode? Not quite.”

Shock had settled in, despite the lift of Jim’s chin. Not that the shock had left Jim, but he’d been in a fairly lucid state for about five minutes. Five minutes—out of hours.

“No,” Spock says slowly. “This. His...work.”

Feeling as strongly as Spock does, he has to nod. “It is.”

“I will continue his work on his behalf,” Spock says quietly.

“You’ve known Jim for a long time, haven’t you?” McCoy asks.

Spock tilts his head. “Years.”

“Has he ever been...moody?”

Spock clasps his hands behind his back. “It is not in his nature.”

McCoy ignores his piercing stare, as it hounds him for more information. He glances down at the phone again with great interest, though he has no additional notifications. He wouldn’t divulge anything more about his patient, not even to Jim’s best friend.

“Has he shown signs of...anger?” Spock asks. “Distress?

He’s impressed by Spock’s even tone in spite of the course of their conversation. A change in personality is, indeed, one of the symptoms that he is concerned about. Common with patients with Alzheimer's and brain injuries, it has the ability to render loved ones confused and hurt over the altered state of the patient. His grandmother who had had Alzheimer’s had lost herself to the disease, losing memory of her husband, children, and grandchildren. He remembers the grief. The isolation. The despair that your loved one was someone altogether different. He also remembers the great love his family had had for her, the few good memories they still had made before her death.

Jim could experience multiple changes in personality and loss of behavior control as his state of mind regresses. But as Jim’s physician, his greatest concern is that, one day, Jim will no longer be able to communicate with the world itself, this symptom already manifesting itself based on what he’s seen today.

“I can’t say,” McCoy says.

Spock’s chest puffs out. “You have lied. You met Jim prior to your employment here.”

Anger stirs in his chest. He'd put M'Benga on speaker phone while he worked at his desk. “You’ve eavesdropped. How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough.”

Their eyes lock in a battle of wills.

“Please,” McCoy finally pleads. “Whatever you may think of me, don’t tell Chris. Not until you’ve first spoken with Jim. For Jim’s sake.”

Spock looks at him quizzically. “You are worried that this will upset Mr. Pike.”

Hell, yes.

“Only if you misunderstand how we met,” McCoy says cautiously, already wondering what other lie he can concoct to protect both himself and Jim. “Spock, you’ll have to speak with Jim. And he’s not to be disturbed.”

“He cannot be agitated for any reason,” Spock says with a narrowing of his eyes.

“No, not for a long time.” He folds his arms and refuses to back down.

Spock’s chin dips in a deliberate nod. “Then we are, as they say, at a stalemate.”

“Guess so.”

“It works to your advantage, does it not?”

“Hold it right there, mister,” McCoy bites out. “I’d rather that you talk to Jim now if you could. I’d rather everything be out in the open if he just could be well. Dammit, Spock—”

“I was not accusing you—”

“Yes, you—”

“Not in the least—”

“—were, you hard-headed—”

“Please refrain from name—”

“Bones? Spock?”

Their mouths snap shut.

McCoy looks at the doorway to Jim’s room. It is open as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Shit.

“You left the door open?” he hisses at Spock.

“In error,” Spock says stiffly.

“Are you two fighting?” Jim calls from the other room.

They look at each other guilty.

Spock’s back instantly straightens. “No—

McCoy sucks in a breath. “—not at all.”

Jim’s sigh was long-suffering. “Bullshit. Get in here, you two.”

They both try going through the doorway at the same time, like infants.

McCoy steps back and rolls his eyes. “After you,” he says dramatically, bowing for effect.

“No, I insist, Doctor, after you.”

He wants to see Jim’s gorgeous blue eyes, wide and alert, so he goes first.

He’s not disappointed.

Jim stares only at him. “I’m out for a little while and you two can’t get along. And over...this. Us.”

McCoy pinches the bridge of his nose. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough to deduce that he found out we know each other.”

Spock lifts his chin. “It is true. You have previously met.”

Jim glances sharply at Spock. “Yes.”

“No.” McCoy winces.

Jim throws him a look. “I’m not lying to him about this. My dad...yes. For now. But not Spock.”

McCoy groans, hiding his face with a hand.

“Shut the door,” Jim orders.

Spock shuts it quietly, then turns to Jim. “When?”

Jim rubs his eyes. “It’s a long story, Spock, and I’m kinda tired. Where is Har—”

“Nothing about Harrison. I wish to understand your relationship with the doctor.”

“There is no relationship. Not...not really,” Jim whispers, relaxing under the cover. He stares up at the ceiling, clasping his hands on his chest.

“Jim…” Spock presses.

“Promise me that you won’t speak a word of this to my father,” Jim asserts.

“I...promise,” Spock says, but not without a furtive glance at McCoy..

Jim sighs. “There is no relationship, unless...you count our one-night stand in Vegas.”

Spock shoots daggers at McCoy that penetrate through his weak cover.

McCoy groans again, dropping his hand. If he makes it out of this room alive, he promises to visit his mother in Georgia, a visit he’s put off since his child’s death. “Jim…really...you didn’t have to explain it that way.”

“Bones, be quiet,” Jim retorts. “I was an adult, even two years ago, Spock. I also initiated everything,” Jim continues hotly. “So, before you start throwing judgment around, understand that we were both consenting adults.”

“You were...d-damaged,” Spock says quietly, his stammer a tale-tell sign that Jim’s condition hurts him. “If I recall, that had been shortly after—”

“Yeah,” Jim interrupts, wincing. “I get it. I do. It was after that time, Spock, but it doesn’t make this something I had done on a whim. I enjoyed our time together, in and out of the bedroom. If I could go back, I’d do it all over again.”

McCoy sits in the chair furthest from Spock, inching it backwards with his feet even more. He doubts the man wants to hear details like this. God, he doesn’t want to relive it either, not with it all bubbling precariously at the surface, ready to boil over.

But hearing the words from Jim’s lips...he can’t ignore him. He looks up, more vulnerable than he has been in a very long time.

He’d do it all over again? He would bottle up those words if he could. He’d stamp them on his arm. Carve them into his ceiling, so they were the first words he saw with every sunrise.

If I could go back, I’d do it all over again.”

Jim stares back and gives him a smile he wants to remember forever. “It’ll be okay, Bones. I promise.”

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Down the Savage Mountain

Chapter Nine

 

oOo

 

Charlie Good Lance enters the cafe at exactly five forty-five on the button, the spurs on his cowboy boots jingling, the hat he’s wearing bearing proof that it is, once again, hot as hot can be in Nebraska.

Chris smiles to himself. Timeliness is a nebulous concept in Charlie’s world. Charlie is never early, or God forbid, on time. Neither is he fashionably late. He functions on his own time schedule, proven by his arrival forty-five minutes past their standing meeting time here on the Rez every year, the morning of Chris’s birthday.

He holds his coffee cup in his hands, patiently waiting as his longtime friend—and one of Jim’s distant relatives—walks up the narrow aisle towards the booth with the energy and stature of a much younger man. At least twenty or thirty years younger, to be more exact.

Once Charlie reaches the booth, Chris slips out of his seat and offers his hand. “Charlie.”

Wordlessly, Charlie shakes it, then takes the seat across from him. Charlie folds his hands on the tabletop and stares at him while he returns to his own seat in the booth.

Chris smiles, undeterred by his silence or by his impassive expression. Indeed, he would be in danger of not recognizing Charlie if he brought neither to the table. Charlie Good Lance had earned his reputation over the years for good reason. “It’s good to see you, Charlie. It’s been a long time.”

Charlie’s gaze falls on Chris’s fingers, which have been unconsciously drumming on the table. “It’s been six months,” he says slowly, pulling his eyes upward.

He nods once, his fingers stilling when he realizes Charlie has seen his nervous habit in action before he did. “Your granddaughter's wedding. Like I said, too long.”

“How is Jim?”

Chris’s smile falters. He doesn’t know how to answer this question, when all he could do before he left for the Rez this morning was stand at the doorway and stare at his sleeping son and the peaceful expression on his face. At least there, in the examination room, Jim is safe. At least there, Jim is in good hands, though he is beginning to suspect that they are familiar hands to Jim.

He has a nagging suspicion that Jim and McCoy have met before, though he can’t actually prove it. Even more, neither one has ever said they know one another from a previous meeting. He’s never known Jim to be deceitful, but he can’t ignore the sense that something is off. That he's not telling him something.

He's been tempted more than once to ask Spock. At least with him, he'd get some of the truth. But he’s tried to give his son some semblance of privacy during this difficult time. For now, he decides to leave it be.

“He is unwell,” Charlie states when he doesn't reply quickly enough.

“You could say that,” Chris decides to say.

He’s cautious. This meeting is not about Jim or even his birthday, but his friend, Charlie, and the others on the Rez that Jim cares about. Starting with the attack on the site, Harrison has made it clear that he intends to try to destroy the lives of others, not just Jim’s alone, in order to get under his skin. Destroying the site caused an unfortunate ripple effect, which he was the first to feel.

Charlie’s eyes grow cold. “The papers are true?”

He sighs. “Don’t go by what they tell you about Jim. They are...filled with half-truths.”

“Charlie Good Lance never believes them.” Charlie pauses. “Neither does his family.”

Chris meets Charlie’s eye. “I’m grateful to you that you don’t put any credence into these rumors.”

“My son wishes to speak with Jim.”

He smiles again. Charlie’s son, John, was Jim’s unofficial research partner, but they haven’t spent any time together in the last six months. “I’m sure Jim would love to, just as soon as he gets back on his feet again.”

Charlie lifts his chin. His eyes flash dangerously. “He will soon. He is strong, like his father, his grandfather, and his father before him. He is Oglala.”

Chris nods, easily agreeing with him. It’s hard not to, with Charlie. “I’m pretty sure that his Indian blood is what keeps him fighting.”

“It is.” Charlie narrows his eyes. “You shall tell him. Remind him of this.”

“I will,” he promises.

“He forgets.”

“Not on purpose.” Chris pretends he’s as strong as Charlie and Jim and ignores the emotion burning at the backs of his eyes. “He cannot help what has happened to him.”

“This Mitchell had no honor.”

“No,” Chris says quietly, surprised that Charlie brought up the deceased by name. “He didn’t.”

“Jim’s condition...has worsened?”

“Yes. Jim’s episodes are more frequent now.”

“Bring him to us,” Charlie says, his expression losing its habitual hardness.

Chris pauses. “I might do just that, when he’s well.”

“No,” Charlie says urgently. “Not when he is well. Now, Ohanzee.”

He holds his breath. “I haven’t heard that name in years.”

“So you have not forgotten.”

“Almost,” he says truthfully.

The twitch of Charlie’s lips is all the indication he gets that his long-suffering old friend does not find him too estranged to tease. “Have you never told your son how you snuck out at night to cross over the reservation line and seek out my youngest sister? Never to be caught? Like a shadow, Ohanzee?”

He chuckles. “Never.” He takes a sip of his coffee, nearly choking on it when he discovers it has grown cold and bitter. “I’d never live it down.”

“Bring him to us, and I shall tell him that story.”

He slaps his hand across his chest. “At my expense? I’m wounded.”

“You shall live,” Charlie says. “As will James, despite this...Harrison.”

Chris looks down at his coffee. The police were still looking for Harrison, who seemed to have vanished in thin air. “You know.”

“Charlie Good Lance never loses sight of his cousin’s children.”

“Does he lose sight of his own?” Chris asks slowly.

Charlie’s eyes flicker with emotion. “You have heard.”

“Of the strange occurrences across the Rez? The animals that have disappeared? The anonymous calls?” he asks quietly. “I have. Be careful.”

“You think it’s this Harrison.”

“At this point, yes. I have a friend looking into it, a federal prosecutor, and contacts within the Oglala Sioux Department of Public Safety.” He rubs a finger along the rim of his mug. “Harrison started small, in Jim’s case, and now he’s damaging his health and his sites. It makes sense to me that he'll eventually assert his power here, where he can hurt Jim the most.”

“We will be careful, Ohanzee.” Charlie’s face breaks into a rare smile, showing teeth. “With you on our side, we have nothing to fear.”

Chris leans back in the booth. “Don’t put that much confidence in me. I seem to remember I was always on the losing team in school.”

“As do I.” Charlie grows solemn. “You are wise to tell me. My children’s children have grown uneasy in their own schools, rumors flying from one mouth to the next like bees, of girls their age taken from their homes on the Rez in recent weeks.”

Chris has already looked into that. “They are rumors. No one has been taken again, at least no more teenaged girls in this area. Not since...last month.”

Charlie shows no response to the heartbreaking reminder that sex-trafficking is on the rise on the Rez, except to harden his jaw. “Have they been threatened?”

He won’t answer certain questions, and that is one of them. He pushes his cup away from him.

“Ah, the answer is in your silence.” Charlie’s eyes soften. “Have you told Jim?”

“I’ve tried to spare him from reservation news, as much as possible. Anything can be a trigger, and I fear another kidnapping or threat of one might be the worst kind. I will not tell him of the investigation here.”

Charlie nods. “I do not judge you, my friend. We must all do what we must, for the sake of our family, during these times.”

“You have been through more than one person should,” Chris acknowledges.

Charlie’s eyes harden. Not unkindly, but with a strength filling them that Chris envies. “Our reservation endures because our people stand united in our hearts.” He pauses, leaning forward, and says, “As do yours, my friend. Together, you will not fall, even when outside forces threaten your way of life like they have threatened ours.”

Emotion clogs his throat. “I don’t have much time,” he says hoarsely. “I need to get back to Jim, be there when he awakens. We should order.”

Charlie hunches his shoulders and scowls. “I have looked forward to my runny pancakes, greasy sausage and cold coffee in honor of your birthday all year long.”

Chris chuckles in spite of himself, and picks up one of the menus their waitress had left behind. They meet here on the outskirts of the Rez to support another mutual friend, Rachel Brave Bird, and the homeless she brings in off the streets. Charlie always complains, however, because Rachel had turned his proposal down flat decades ago. “Well, then, what are we waiting for? Let’s eat.”

 

oOo

 

Jim stands, dazedly, in the midst of an obscure cloud.

How strange is this place.

He doesn’t remember getting here. He can’t even see what here is. Smoke thickens around him until he can no longer see his own hands as he holds them up to his face.

Fear rises in his chest, a fear similar to the panic he feels when he...when…

He can’t bring himself to finish his sentence, and he senses the answer is better left alone.

He hugs himself, lost in bleak thoughts, nonetheless. He doesn’t remember when he’d felt this fear before. In fact, he doesn’t know where he is. Or where he needs to go.

Or where he can go.

The smoke has to come from somewhere. Where there was smoke, there was fire. Was he in a building?

He has to be.

If he's in a building, then there also has to be a door.

A door means escape.

He can help himself this time. He can leave, all on his own, without relying on anyone. If he can just...just...find it.

He tries to move, but his feet won’t budge. He’s stuck. Whether it’s his fear, or something else preventing his mobility, he doesn’t know. His heart hammers in his chest, endlessly, until the silence around him is shut out.

He doesn't like the panic in his chest or the sense of chaos in his mind.

He has never felt so helpless in his life, even when in the midst of one of his attacks. At least, then, he has someone with him, Always. And he knows where he is. Eventually.

He doesn’t know where he is now.

He’s alone.

Alone.

The word makes him angry. Furious, even. He detests nothing more than that feeling, when it creeps up and latches on to him. When he’s sick and his father looks at him in despair, he feels it clear to his core.

Deep down, he knows that one day he’ll have to leave his father alone. His condition will worsen, his future certain. Someday, his father will place him in a facility.

And then, his father will know the same loneliness that plagues his son.

A marrow-deep, hungering ache begins to spread, one that feeds on self-pity and uncertainty and unworthiness. All the things that plague his heart and mind every day.

He hugs himself again. Tightly.

The smoke swells around him, a sickening smell that makes his knees shake, his mind losing even more of its grip on coherency.

He’s not going to get out of this place alone. A bout of coughing threatens to steal his breath and, desperate, he rasps out the first name that comes to his mind. The one person who could help him the most. He can think of no one better, a man, who at one time, gave him what no one else could.

“Bones,” he chokes out harshly, the wretched air around him burning his lungs.

Silence.

More smoke billows up enveloping him completely. He coughs into his sleeve, overwhelmed by the gagging scent.

Maybe it’s good that Bones hasn’t answered. It will be best if Bones leaves now, before Jim succumbs to his condition.

At least then, one of them will survive unscathed.

But, selfishly, he wants him to stay. Just his mere presence makes him want to live, wake up to another sunrise.

Besides, he sees the longing reflected in Bones’s eyes every time he looks at him. It’s foolish to think that he alone will survive unscathed, when by knowing Jim, being here as he struggles, has impacted the doctor.

No, Bones will not come out of this without pain. He’s lost before. A second time would break him.

He wants to weep. If only he’d stayed holed up in his hotel room, Bones would be free of this attachment to him.

But he can’t help but cling to the hope that he’ll hear and come running. A selfish hope. “Bo—”

A hand grabs him before he can finish saying the name, but the hand isn't gentle like the doctor’s would be. Fingers dig into his arm like claws and pull him backward. He can’t see the stranger’s face, but it doesn’t matter. He’s a Kirk. He never goes down without a fight.

He launches a right hook.

Surprisingly, his fist meets flesh, and a growl breaks the silence.

“Bones!” he yells, yanking his arm away. He finds that he can move again, his feet no longer leaden, and blindly rushes forward.

The man behind him has no trouble grabbing him again. His breath heats his neck, like a flame.

It burns.

“You will never find what you are looking for, Kirk,” the man hisses, his sharp fangs nipping at the nape of his neck.

It stings uncomfortably, like no other bite has before. Not even Mitchell’s.

He strains for breath and forces the name from his memory, as well as the nausea rolling in his stomach.

The man wraps an arm around his waist, locking him to his body.

He sees his future with Bones fade away, like he had already known it would, but struggles with all he has anyway to pull it back. His struggle against losing Bones is all he has left, and he’ll fight with everything to succeed, even if it’s the last thing he does.

Desperate, he bites the man back, teeth sinking into the hand that is covering his mouth.

With a growl, the faceless attacker lets go but pushes him to the ground. And not just any ground. He knows this place as his cheek slams into the dirt and his attacker shoves his face into the fine soil mixed with sharp bits.

He can barely breathe. He tastes blood. His blood.

His attacker grinds a knee into the small of his back. “Watch it burn, Kirk.”

He chokes on the soil that is his livelihood. The hope for so many. The treasures that slip through history unassumingly, that he finds worthy of the story they may tell.

The stranger laughs, a dark, menacing sound that sends a shiver straight down his spine. “This is how I’ll destroy both you and your father.”

He’s choking on smoke and loosened soil, his hard work destroyed before his eyes, by a man with a brutal promise to break him and Christopher. Who took the box—

The box.

Harrison cannot get to it.

He remembers now.

He’d tricked him.

Did he know?

Harriso—

Jim awakens with a start, a cry escaping his lips. “No!”

He breathes heavily, jackknifing to a sitting position on his bed. Harrison’s face relentlessly clings to his mind, tormenting him. He rubs his eyes, choking on a sob.

He won’t let Harrison take it from him.

He won’t.

He hid it for that very reason.

“No,” he cries, his voice becoming a hoarse whisper. “No. I won’t.

With his heart in his throat, the nightmare slowly separates from reality. He grips the weighted blanket with trembling hands and looks around. He’s embarrassed how relieved he is to see that he’s not in his own bed, in his room, but McCoy’s examination room, and that he’s not alone, after all.

His eyes fall on the light streaming in through a window, the sleeping forms of his two protectors, Spock and Bones, and the closed door.

At least no one had heard him shout.

He breathes out a sigh of relief and lies back. His breath catches, though, just as his head hits the pillow.

He’s warm and wet between his legs. Heart now sinking, he pulls the blanket away and looks down at himself.

His face scrunches in dismay and shame. The smell of urine is unmistakable, and the soaking fabric of his pants confirms his suspicion.

“Dammit,” he rasps.

He wriggles out from under the weighted blanket. It takes forever, thanks to his weak muscles. A tear of frustration slips down his cheek when he sees the blanket is wet, too. He stifles a sob, feeling like a child, like the boy he used to be, never getting anything right.

He knows what this means. His PTSD, his brain damage, is most likely getting worse. If it’s getting worse, then his dad will want to take more precautions with him. His life, as abnormal as it already is, will change even more until he no longer is the man he’s tried so hard to become.

Someone honorable and strong. Someone independent. Someone who can help others.

His condition is stripping away his independence before his very eyes.

He clenches his jaw, balls up the sheet underneath him and the blanket in his hands. He can’t let that happen.

He eases himself to the edge of his bed, swinging his legs over it. No one has stirred. If he can just take care of this before they wake up, then no one will know.

He tiptoes across the room without making a sound. His bedroom isn’t far, and he has an attached bathroom. If he can just make it there…

Someone sighs heavily behind him.

He freezes, his hand just inches from the doorknob. With an apprehensive glance behind him, he sees that it is McCoy, turning in his sleep so his back is now towards the door.

The doctor mumbles incoherently. Jim takes advantage of the opportunity, and opens the door. It creaks as he opens it but the sound is covered up by the doctor’s continued muttering. He hears the words “fish” and “damn merman” and “blasted tail on my chest.”

He finds it humorous that Bones is having underwater fantasies, but he can’t afford to laugh.

He slips into the hallway. It must be earlier than he thought, for he is relieved to see no one is around. He passes his father’s office door, which is closed. He steps into another hallway, and peers over the banister. He hears someone humming. Probably Carol, who always prefers to get up before anyone else, and help the cook with breakfast.

He hugs his wet bedding to his chest and pads towards his room. He prays that he’s not leaving a trail. He should have taken off his clothes before leaving the room, changing into the dry set of clothes he knows is stored there.

It’s too late now to go back. Someone is coming up the hall. He opens his bedroom door and slips inside quickly, shutting it firmly without a glance back to see who was there.

He stands inside his room, wondering if he should lock his door. If he does, and they come looking for him, the others will worry. But if he doesn’t, his secret won’t be a secret anymore.

He locks it, huffs away his annoyance that he always has to be watched.

The bundle’s scent sickens him and he turns for his bathroom, the sense of the independence thrilling. Even if it is only for a little while.

He hums as he deposits the soiled blanket and sheet in his hamper, promising himself he’ll take it down to the laundry as soon as he cleans himself up. Or, he’ll have Kevin do it.

Kevin does strange things, occasionally. Carrying Jim’s laundry wouldn’t be the first time he'd busied himself with an odd task. Therefore, it won’t attract undue attention.

He wrinkles his nose as he stares down at himself. He holds onto the hem of his shirt, about to strip in the middle of his bedroom, when movement outside his window distracts him.

He moves closer, looks out, and is too caught up in the scene on the sidewalk to look away. A teenaged boy is arguing with a policeman, the kid waving his hands in what seemed to be a heated protest. The cop’s hands are on his hips and he’s shaking his head.

The boy points urgently towards a window.

His window.

His breath catches at the same time the cop throws a look his way. He flinches back, into the shadow of his dimly lit room. He can still see the two, but now he’s hidden. He hopes.

He watches, but gets a sinking feeling when he realizes they must be arguing about him. Why else would they look up at his window?

The boy’s face is red and determined. He glances up at Jim’s window and says something to the cop.

It looks like he’s shouting.

The cop shakes his head and points his finger down the street.

The boy’s shoulders stiffen but, suddenly, he turns around, giving up.

Jim blinks several times as he watches the kid slowly walk away. He mulls the mystery in his mind. Why had the teenager come here? Why had he stared up at Jim’s window? Did he want to speak with him?

He’d never seen him before in his life.

Why had he turned away?

His pants press against his skin, reminding him that he’d come in here to take care of his mess. He starts to move, but the boy is jogging back towards the cop.

The boy stuffs his hand in his backpack. After rummaging, he pulls his hand out of his backpack. He lifts it into the air.

He’s holding something.

Jim squints until he can identify what he’s holding. It’s a rock. A large rock, but small enough to be held.

The boy breaks into a sprint.

The cop is alerted of his advance by another cop in the vehicle parked by the curb. He spins around and shouts.

The boy keeps coming, gripping the rock like it’s a weapon.

Heat rushes to James’s face. He suddenly begins to sweat, the implications clear to him. There is only one reason why someone would be holding a rock and staring up at a window.

To throw it.

He knows the inevitable, but he can’t force himself to move. He doesn't want to believe the kid’s malicious intentions. No kid would willingly throw a rock right in front of police.

Would they?

He knows, deep down, that they would. He's seen it before in kids. He's seen it before in himself. Rash decisions or…

He swallows harshly, his mind overcome with a haze of possibilities.

A kid would throw a damn rock—if they were desperate.

He watches in dawning horror as the kid’s eyes dart towards him and, in slow motion, he bends his arm back behind his head.

The kid’s face morphs into Harrison’s, his smirk wider and more sinister.

The rock becomes his family’s small chest.

Jim wonders if today he will die, after all. His family’s hope for innocence, gone. Just like that.

The cop reaches for his taser. Another cop steps out of his vehicle.

They’re too late.

The men his dad had asked to protect him are too damn late.

The rock soars through the air.

Jim shields his face just before glass shatters around him.

 

oOo

 

Commotion awakens him.

McCoy leaps out of bed, hearing a cacophony of noise, but too groggy to know which noise came first—the sound of glass shattering, warning shouts, or the strident ring of his phone.

He grabs the phone with dread, already noticing that Jim’s bed is empty.

Jim is gone.

“Shit,” he breathes.

The phone rings again, but before he answers it, his gaze locks with that of Spock, who has also awakened.

“Where’s Jim?” he demands to know.

Spock’s face tightens and he gets to his feet. “You do not know?”

“No,” he says curtly. He lifts the phone to his ear and speaks into it. “McCoy.”

“Is Jim with you?” Chris’s voice is laced with panic, a far cry from his usual even manner.

He hates to be the bearer of bad news. “No. He’s not with you? What happened?”

“Find him,” Chris barks out. “I’m not at the orphanage, but I’m on my way back. I left early this morning to meet with Charlie Good Lance.”

“Good Lance?” he repeats.

“One of Jim’s relatives on the Rez. The police are probably in the orphanage now. They called me as soon as the kid broke the window and they detained him. I thought the kid had broken your window.”

Spock darts out the door, McCoy quickly following. “No,” he says, his anxiety quickly rising. “It wasn’t ours.”

“His room, then,” Chris says, his rasping shout grabbing Spock’s attention through the phone.

Spock glances back and nods, then starts for Jim’s bedroom.

“God, I’ll kill him,” Chris whispers.

He silently confirms that truth. If Jim is hurt, Harrison doesn’t stand a chance against Pike.

Nor him.

Because he's next in line.

They reach Jim’s room, but the door is locked. Spock slams his shoulder into Jim’s door. McCoy is amazed when the door gives way on the second try, leaving it broken on its hinges.

“We'll call you back,” he answers hoarsely, stopping short, in Jim’s doorway.

Spock stands with him, his expression shocked.

Wind blows through the broken glass of the window, the draft bringing a sickening smell to his nostrils along with the cool breeze. But that isn’t what chills him from head to toe.

Jim’s name is on his lips, but he just looks in dismay at the younger man, instead.

“McCoy?” Chris asks.

He can’t find the words to explain to Pike the scene before them. Jim has the appearance of a wounded but rabid animal. “H-he’s...I think he’ll be okay.”

It’s a lie. He knows he won’t be okay.

Not this time.

But he wants Chris to drive safely. He imagines he’s speeding as they speak.

“McCoy?” Chris demands.

He approaches Jim carefully, his heart leaping as he notice the coin-sized drops of blood spattering the floor at Jim’s feet. He's hurt. He gives Jim a rapid head-to-toes look, seeing the myriad of bloody cuts on his face and hands. The telltale cling of damp pajamas bottoms. But it is the gash on his head that is the most concerning. It is bleeding freely, soaking his pajama top and dripping on the floor. Jim makes no effort to staunch the flow of blood. Instead, he is crouched in the floor by his bookshelf, near the broken window, muttering to himself.

But that’s not what worries him the most.

Footsteps coming rapidly down the hall break his silence. “He has a minor injury. He’s...he’s looking for something.”

“What?”

“Find it,” Jim says, a vocalization that sounds more like a panicked whine than a simple order. He rocks back and forth as he grabs books and throws them, with bloody hands, on the floor. He pays no attention to him or Spock, but is intent on his task alone. “I need to find it. Find it. Find it.”

“I’ll call back soon,” he adds swiftly.

“He’s looking for something? Wait, Mc—”

He ends the call, cutting off Pike’s protest. It isn’t polite not might it be the best decision, but he has to give all of his attention to Jim now.

He cautiously kneels beside Jim just as two cops he recalls seeing with the police chief, a man and a woman, enter the room. “I need an ambulance,” he says to them.

The woman nods. “I’ll call one in right away.”

He’s grateful they pay attention only to the broken glass and finding the source of it, leaving him alone to tend to his patient. But they’d been informed of Jim’s condition early on and told to proceed cautiously with him in any given situation, providing McCoy the space he needs to approach Jim.

He’s deliberate with his movements, sensing that the younger man could be more skittish and aware of his surroundings than he appears to be. “Spock, I need my medical bag,” he says quietly.

“Find it,” Jim whispers, his voice shaking, as are his hands. He wraps his arms around his chest and rubs his hands up and down his arms as if he were trying to warm himself, leaving bloody smudges on the sleeves. “It’s not here.” He shakes his head vehemently, flinging droplets of blood, his voice becoming hysterical. “It’s not here. Not here. No, no no! I need to find it!”

When Spock doesn’t answer, he glances back at him. Spock’s eyes are fixed on Jim, his expression crestfallen.

“Now!” he commands.

Spock stiffens, his gaze flickering from Jim to McCoy.

“He’s hurt,” he says in a gentler tone. “I need what’s in my bag to help him.”

The head wound needed immediate attention, and Jim might have suffered a concussion from the blow he’d received. He can’t do a single thing about any of it until Spock returns except to get Jim, somehow, to listen to him and be still. Jim’s frantic movements, while he resumes throwing books off the shelves, causes more blood to well from the injury above his brow, soaking his shirt and the carpet, as well.

Spock nods and silently backs away, looking shaken as he leaves the room. McCoy can't blame him for the reaction. From all appearances, Jim is lost in his own world, but it is a world far different than any he has previously observed. The shattering glass, he’s certain, caused this unfamiliar PTSD episode.

It’s difficult to separate his job from his affections, but necessary. He steels himself as much as he can from his own misery to think logically about the situation. His medical expertise is needed, not this growing love he has for him that he can't act upon.

His stomach knots as soon as he has that thought.

Jim, he fears, needs both.

Jim shifts his position, now coming to his knees. He shoves more books out of his way as he clears the shelf, creating another haphazard pile on the floor. McCoy slowly reaches out and is relieved when Jim doesn’t startle and flinch away like he is prepared for him to do. He takes the welcome opportunity to assess the wound. He places his hands on both sides of Jim’s face and checks his head, brushing the hair with gentle fingers from the younger man’s face first. The gash is wider than he’d initially thought, which is consistent with the profuse amount of blood loss. There are numerous other cuts, and another gash on his arm.

The smell of waste fills his nostrils. He looks lower, past Jim’s waistline, to the wet cloth covering his crotch. Grim faced, he realizes that the PTSD episode affected Jim so much that he has had not one but two accidents.

A wave of compassion overwhelms him. Jim will be mortified when he realizes what has happened.

He’ll simply do all that he can to show him it's okay, and normal at a time like this, that no one will give it a second thought.

Jim’s eyes frantically rove up and down the length of the bookshelf. “I can't find it. Can’t find. Can’t find it. He-he’ll find it. Can’t let him. I have...t-to find it. Find it.”

He gently touches Jim’s arm. “Jim?”

“Can’t find it. Can’t. Need to.” Jim stares straight up at the last shelf. He grips the edge of one of the shelves and tries to stand. His body sways before he can even get to his feet, the movement bringing him down, hard, on his behind. “I need to,” he gasps.

McCoy catches him before he falls backwards and hits his head on the bed or floor, his hand slipping around Jim’s back. The atrocious smell coming from Jim’s clothes is stronger than before, but he ignores it and pulls him halfway onto his lap.

He has not forgotten Jim’s tactile nature, and prays that this physical contact will help bring him back to reality.

“I gotcha, Jim,” he murmurs, cradling his head against his chest. He strokes his cheek repeatedly, ignoring the blood that stains his fingers. “Can you hear me? Do you know who I am?”

Jim merely blinks up at him, his blue eyes glazed over.

It’s a start. “Jim,” he says softly with a prick of hope. He holds him close, and Jim’s body starts to relax against him. “That’s it. No need to worry. I got you.”

Spock hurries into the room and sets the bag beside him. Keeping an arm around Jim, McCoy grabs what he needs from the bag one-handed, but looks straight into Jim’s eyes before he proceeds. “You’re going to have to be still while I treat you, alright?”

Jim blinks back once, before he stares up at Spock.

It’s long enough for him to see a flicker of recognition in his expression.

“Good,” he breathes with relief, easing Jim out of his embrace, to rest against the nearly empty bookshelf.

“Dr. McCoy, Mr. Spock,” the female cop says quietly at his elbow, startling him, her conversation with her partner now apparently finished. “I’m Detective King, and that’s Detective Morris.”

So they aren’t cops. He nods, but doesn’t look up while he applies a pressure baggage to the wound. Jim is looking up at him again, watching his movements with quiet attention. The bleeding is contained for the moment but it had transformed his face into a red and white Harlequin mask.

“We found the object that was thrown through the window,” the detective continues.

His curiosity gets the best of him. He spares a quick glance up to see Morris holding a massive rock with her gloved hands.

“Jesus Christ,” McCoy swears raspily.

He has no doubt that it probably hit Jim as it crashed through the glass.

Jim will hate the attraction that automatically comes with an ambulance, but it is a good thing he asked for one. He won’t take any chances with possible additional head trauma.

“There was a note attached to it,” King continues.

“Do you know what this means?” the other detective, Morris, asks. He holds out a piece of paper in a clear bag for him to read, angling it so Jim cannot see it.

The words are hastily scrawled.

Give it up, or your family on the Rez will suffer.

He sucks in a sharp breath. Your family on the Rez? Good god. If Jim finds out the stakes have just been raised…

“Does he?” Morris asks again.

He has the answer, if he could push it past the lump in his throat. Even then, he doesn’t trust himself to stay calm for Jim’s sake.

Harrison.

He nods.

“I, too, know,” Spock affirms quietly. “But let’s not speak of it here.”

King and Morris exchange a glance. “Follow me,” King says. “We’ll find somewhere else to talk while Dr. McCoy treats Mr. Kirk. The ambulance should be here soon.”

“Wait,” McCoy says as they turn to leave.

The detectives pause. “Yes?”

“Do you think he read it?”

The detectives exchange another glance. “I can’t be sure, not until we check for prints, but I think he might have,” Morris says. “There are bloody fingerprints on it.”

It isn’t what he wants to hear, but it makes sense, explains why Jim was muttering to himself when they had found him. There was no question in his mind that the note and whatever he was looking for are tied together, no question.

“We won't be long,” King says, before she leaves with Morris and Spock.

Alone with Jim, he bandages his head and arm, wishing he could clean off the blood from his face but afraid of driving any glass shards deeper into his skin. Without a properly equipped exam room, with appropriate lighting and magnification, it's too big a risk. When he finishes, he shifts Jim carefully into his arms, keeping his head upright and cushioning his body against his shoulder and chest. Filling the time until the ambulance arrives by talking softly to him the entire time, he's concerned that Jim’s eyes don’t seek his own again. His overall lethargy is worrying. He’s either not responding like he should, due to the blow to his head and resulting PTSD episode, or he’s exhausted, the stress to his body, combined with the blood loss, more than he can physically handle. He'd like to believe Jim is comfortable enough with him to relax, recognizing that he is in safe and competent hands. Loving hands. The latter is a foolish wish he hangs on to.

Chris Pike comes through the door not five seconds later, before the medics even arrive.

Chris crouches beside them, looking worriedly at his son. “How is he?”

“Not responsive,” he says.

Chris presses his mouth thin. “I can see that.”

“I had them call in an ambulance, Chris,” he explains. “He took a strong blow to the head and was in the middle of an episode when we came in.”

“An ambulance,” Chris repeats, sighing in acceptance. “I would’ve done the same. Jim won’t like it, but I don’t want to take any chances. He was saying something when I called. What was he looking for?”

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “But he was in front of the book shelf.”

Chris stands and inspects the shelf and the books that are scattered on the floor. He pushes more books aside and reaches far into the back of the shelf. He takes a sharp breath. “The safe.”

“Safe?”

Chris drums his finger on the shelf and nods. “There’s one here, behind the books on the wall. He keeps copies of everything, including 3D copies of important artifacts.”

“So he was looking for something in the safe. An artifact.”

Chris looks over at Jim with worried eyes, a small smile rising on his face. McCoy doesn’t know how in the world Chris can actually smile right now, even if it’s for Jim’s sake. “I think so. It’s the one thing that means the most to him right now. It's probably the first thing that comes to his mind that he needs to find and keep safe, especially if something like this—” Chris indicates the broken window by nodding his head, “—happens.”

He knows immediately to what he refers. “The box with the letter?”

Chris turns from the shelf. “Yes.”

“You should find the detectives,” he says quietly. “There was a note.”

Chris’s expression sinks. “A threat?”

“Seems that way.” He’s purposefully vague.

“Can’t find it,” Jim whispers. “Can’t.”

McCoy glances back down at Jim and strokes his cheek. “Hey, there.”

Jim scrunches his face up and looks at him—really looks at him. It’s a beautiful sight.

“Bones?” Jim whispers.

If Chris weren’t here, he’d kiss Jim. “The one and only,” he says.

“You gave us quite a scare,” Chris scolds, but his voice is warm.

“Dad?” Jim looks ups slowly at his father. “I can’t find it.”

Something in Chris’s expression shifts. “I know, son.”

Jim’s head sinks heavily against McCoy’s chest. “Harrison took the chest, but I never put the box back in it.”

His expression guarded, Chris crouches near Jim. “It burned with everything else.”

Jim flinches.

McCoy gives Chris an apprehensive look. “Maybe we shouldn’t discuss this right now.”

“But I can’t find it, Bones,” Jim insists, trying to sit up. He tries to push himself away from McCoy’s chest, but falls back with a groan, his hand on his temple. “Ugh, I don’t feel well. What happened?”

“Easy there.” McCoy adjusts his hold on him, easing him up slowly so as he reclines slightly with his back against him. “Someone tossed a rock through your window. It hit your head. We’ll get it checked out at the hospital as soon as the ambulance arrive.”

“Hospital?” Jim tenses. “I can’t go to the hospital. I need to find it.”

McCoy kicks himself for not approaching the subject a bit more cautiously.

Chris’s expression grows wary. “Son—”

“I need to find it,” Jim says, his voice rising. “It’s not in the safe.”

“I know, son.” Chris sighs, dropping his eyes briefly. “It hasn’t been there since the fundraiser the other night.”

“What?” Jim asks hoarsely.

Chris lifts his eyes. “I took it and put it my safe.”

Jim swallows, his eyes widening as he stares at his dad. “You took it?”

“I did.”

Jim’s face turns red. “You had no right!” he suddenly shouts.

McCoy’s brows raise in shock. He’s never heard Jim so angry. He glances up at Chris in concern.

Worry floods Chris’s face. “Ji—”

Jim’s fists clench. “How dare you take it!”

Chris startles. “Jim, we discussed this already. I told you I was afraid it wouldn't be safe in your room, and you agreed. I put it in my own sa—”

“You promised me independence!” Jim continues to accuse him. “You limit my work, then take my artifact, take it without asking, and don’t even a...a…apol...apolo.” Jim suddenly stops, scrunching his face in confusion.

McCoy exchanges a glance with Chris. “Apologize?” McCoy asks softly.

Jim nods, eyes filling with troubling tears.

Chris looks Jim squarely in his eyes. “I know you’re upset, Jim, but you're not thinking clearly. I will do all that can to show you that I only want what’s best for you,” he says quietly. “You know that, though it might be a little hard to remember right now. But we also have to realize that this is the first room Harrison would look in for it.”

“You don't know that!” Jim snaps.

Chris exhales slowly. “Jim, that boy came here with a purpose, one that I’m certain Harrison is behind. He had a big rock and threw it into your room,” he counters. “Yours, son.”

Jim’s breaths come out short and quick, his shoulders coiled with tension. “He could've...could've seen me in here. Maybe by the...the...wind…” He licks his lips, eyes narrowed in concentration but he doesn’t finish the word. “Th-that’s all!”

“And he knows by now that there’s nothing in that chest that will exonerate your family,” Chris says, standing. “Harrison is looking for it, even though he doesn’t know what ‘it’ is.”

“You shouldn’t have t...ta...taken it,” Jim interrupts through clenched teeth.

“The copy?” McCoy asks for clarification.

“Yes,” Jim and Chris say at the same time.

“Jim,” Chris says, exhaling softly. “Harrison will look here next. He won’t be stopped. I placed it in my own safe, which is not here at the orphanage where the boys are. It's safer, Jim, for you and them.”

Jim glares stubbornly at his father.

“Chris is right, Jim. Harrison must know by now that there’s nothing in that chest that he needed to destroy,” McCoy agrees slowly, squeezing Jim’s shoulder.

Jim’s eyes suddenly water. “You’re on his s-side?”

A wave of guilt washes over him but he vows to be truthful. “I’m on your side, and if that means protecting you and keeping you safe, then so be it.”

“You’re on hi—” Jim’s face completely falls as an EMT enters the room, followed by another with a gurney. “No. No.”

The look of betrayal on Jim’s face crushes him.

He envelops him in a tight embrace. Jim, momentarily, clings back. “It’ll be okay,” he whispers in his ear. “You need stitches, and other tests I can't give to you here.”

He strokes his head, his relief only momentary.

Jim pushes his hand away as soon as he’d reflexively relaxed in his arms.

“Don't t-touch me!” Jim heaves himself forward with an anguished cry, but does not completely break free of McCoy’s hold. “I should have never trusted you! Not then, not two years ago, and not now!”

He curses silently. He can’t afford to meet Chris’s eyes and see any of the confusion that is sure to come as a result of Jim’s comment. And Jim is in no shape to answer any of Chris’s questions.

“Jim, please,” he pleads one more time. “For all our sakes, let them take a look at you, at least.”

The medics stand a foot away, their posture indicating they are ready. “Dr. McCoy, we need to look him over and get him loaded right away.”

“No—” Jim twists around with more strength than he anticipates.

He’s taken off guard again, when Jim’s right arm swings around.

Jim’s fist connects with his face, a blast of pain coming out of nowhere.

He is on the ground, holding both hands over his aching nose, before he can blink.

“McCoy, are you alright?”

He groans, prying his eyes open with all of the willpower he can muster. Jim needs him, the doctor, not him, a glass-jawed sissy.

He’s been knocked down before, only to stand up with fists a minute later, ready to fight the world.

He can do it again.

“Sir!”

“Dr. McCoy,” another medic says.

He blinks several times to clear the stars above him.

“Sir,” the medic presses.

He pulls his hands from his face. They’re coated with new blood, his this time. “I’m fine,” he mutters, taking a deep breath through his mouth, grimacing at the taste of blood on his tongue.

“I can see that,” the man says dryly.

He’s too shaken to pull himself up and allows the man to help him. “I’ll be fine,” he manages awkwardly, waving him away. “Jim. See to...Jim. He’s sus-sustained a possible concussion, suffers from severe...PTSD...previous brain damage...the only sedative you should use, when it's safe to do so, is in my bag.”

“Dr. McCoy, Mr. Pike called the hospital yesterday and explained Jim’s condition, as a precaution. He told us to first discuss with you any treatment we should pursue.” The medic presses a cloth to his nose. “Hold this, to stop the bleeding.”

“Yeah,” he says, breathless. “I got it.”

“Move slowly. Looks like you got the wind knocked out of you, too.”

“B-Bones,” Jim cries.

He breathes shallowly through his mouth and looks over at him. “‘Skay, Jim. S’kay. A bloody nose never hurt anybody. Least of all me. I gotta hard head.”

Jim wheezes and slumps against the bookshelf like a broken doll. He stares at him with a tormented expression on his face that he would do anything to make disappear. “I’m s-sorry B-bones. I didn’t mean it. Didn’t mean it.”

“Not your fault,” he rasps out, tilting his head forward, and pinching his nose tightly. Nothing moved, so it wasn't broken, thank heavens.

“Bones,” Jim chokes out.

“It's all good, kid,” McCoy says nasally, cursing the fact that he can’t think straight long enough to help him, although what he could do one-handed is anyone’s guess. His reassurance sounds feeble. “We’re good.”

“Mr. Kirk, we are here to help you,” a medic tells Jim softly. “Let's get you settled on the stretcher. You'll be more comfortable and we can give you some oxygen to help you breathe easier.”

“No,” Jim protests, raising his hands as if to fend them off. “I’m f-fine. Fine. Just need to find it.”

“Sir, we’ll take good care of you—and Dr. McCoy, too.”

“No.” Jim claps his hands over his ears, rocking himself back and forth as before. He continues to rock as both medics maneuver him onto the gurney, stopping only when they strap him down and secure his head.

“Be careful with him,” Chris says, his voice wavering with emotion.

“We will, sir.”

Jim pants, eyes wide and scared as he stares up at the ceiling. “I need to find it,” he wails, tears streaking his cheeks, leaving trails in the dried blood.

McCoy stares at Jim with disbelieving eyes. He stumbles to his feet, his chest filling with a kind of hurt he’d sworn he’d never risk feeling again.

How much of this was his fault? He should’ve agreed with the police chief about sending Jim to a facility, where he’d be the safest. He should’ve argued the hell out of any opposition he would’ve met, even Pike’s.

But he hadn’t known that Harrison would strike again, least of all that Jim’s condition would get progressively worse so quickly. No one had known.

Just like no one had known a car would cross the center line and crash into his wife’s car, head-on, shattering his future.

Yet he still blames himself for somehow not preventing it.

If anything more happens to Jim, it won’t be hard to blame himself. Again.

“Find it. Have to find it. Can’t find it,” Jim continues to babble between his cries of pain and shock.

The medics deftly slip an oxygen mask over Jim’s face. Jim pays no attention, but his voice soon fades beneath the mask.

“Oh, Jim,” Chris whispers. He steps forward and grasps Jim’s hand. “I’ll be right behind you, son.”

“Find it.” Jim says, hardly audible. “H-he can’t.”

“I’ll keep it safe, Jim,” Chris murmurs. “When you’re better, you’ll see it again. I promise.”

Jim nods, his unfocused eyes drooping heavily until, finally, they close.

McCoy holds his breath, afraid to believe that Jim had finally stopped his frantic litany.

“Sirs,” the medic says into the silence. “We need to go.”

“Of course.” Chris lets go of Jim’s hand. Tears shimmer in his eyes as he steps back from Jim.

“Both of you can ride with us, if you want,” the medic says, looking at them as they begin to roll Jim out of the room. “Especially you, Dr. McCoy.”

“Thank you,” he says swiftly, before Chris can answer for him. He won't take the chance that Chris will offer to give him a ride to the hospital, providing him with the opportunity to question him about his precious relationship with Jim. “I’ll grab his file. He has allergies, other diagnoses of which you and the hospital should be made aware.”

“Grab a change of clothing for yourself, too.” Chris gives him a look, one that he tries not to interpret, and walks out with the medics.

McCoy leans on the wall, briefly, before gathering the courage to follow them out of the room.

 

oOo

 

After ending his call to Carol outside the hospital, Chris begins the long walk back to Jim. He’s relieved that things are running smoothly at the orphanage without him and that Carol has agreed to ask someone to pick up Dr. M’Benga from the airport. He needs to be here at the hospital, as does McCoy, who had needed a dose of pain medication, himself.

They have been at the hospital long enough to learn that the blow to Jim’s head has caused the damage they feared. The neurosurgeon had explained in somber detail, that he has sustained a severe concussion and linear fracture of the skull, but, fortunately, with minimal bleeding on the brain as a result. There is no need, at the moment, for any surgical intervention, but they will be monitoring Jim closely for any additional bleeding. The next forty-eight hours will be the most critical, as they wait to see if Jim’s condition remains stable.

He picks up his pace, anxious to see Jim before they decide to sedate him. He’d hated to admit it, but he’d had to step out and get some air. He’s seen his son in a vulnerable state before, but seeing him this confused and helpless and in pain—the time apart gave him a moment to gather the strength that Jim needed to see in him.

He’s stopped by the neurosurgeon, Dr. DeMoss, before he can reach Jim’s bed. Two police officers stand guard outside the privacy curtain.

“Mr. Pike,” Dr. Demoss says.

“Yes, Dr. DeMoss. How’s Jim?”

“His blood pressure is still too high and his respiration abnormally low, and he has developed a low-grade temperature,” the doctor explains. “We will continue to monitor him here, in the ICU.” The doctor pauses. “I am particularly worried about his mental state and erratic behavior. He understands that something happened to him and that he hurt Dr. McCoy, but he can’t recall the specifics. Only that he’s sorry. He is easily irritated, particularly whenever we divert the conversation to something other than his apology. He cannot be upset by anything at this point. I’ve warned the detectives of this, as well, and they agree. His health is much too fragile for him to be questioned at this time. His speech has been impaired, as has his ability to understand what is going on around him. His ability to form sentences has degraded since his arrival at the hospital. He needs time to recuperate from this. I believe some of these new symptoms that he's experiencing as a result of the concussion will improve, Mr. Pike, with therapy.”

Chris’s heart cracks into a million pieces, but is relieved to hear that the detectives are not pursuing what this artifact exactly is and what it means to Jim. At least, not yet. Spock had only given them a simple yet vague explanation for it, and so had he. When had Harrison not wanted something that Jim had discovered on a dig?

If this evidence to clear Jim’s ancestor becomes public knowledge, who knows what damage it could cause, with Harrison on the loose. For now, they’ve decided to keep it close to the vest, even if the detectives are frustrated with their statements. Once Jim is released the hospital, Chris will consider revealing the artifact, but not the history behind it, in order that the police can photograph it for their records.

He gives an abbreviated nod. “I understand. May I see him?”

Dr. Demoss nods. “I will allow you to see your son, but only for a moment. Dr. McCoy is with him now. Jim kept asking for you both while you were taking a call, and we thought it would calm him a bit if he could talk with him. It has, for now. “

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“McCoy has the patience of a saint,” Dr. DeMoss adds quietly. “He has told Jim numerous times that all is forgiven, and that he will be taken care of well here.”

He glances over the doctor’s shoulders to see McCoy, sitting beside Jim, through the space left opened by the privacy curtain.

Their hands are entangled and a slight smile lights Jim’s fatigued face. Both of which he is, quite frankly, surprised to see.

“Jim is lucky to have such a fine physician at his disposal,” the doctor continues.

He nods, not trusting himself to speak without his words sounding resentful or mistrusting. He takes a few deep breaths, instead, trying to tamp down his rising anxiety that his son, his brain damaged son, had formed a romantic attachment to his physician.

All he sees are red flags, a situation that won't end well for Jim, especially.

“I’ll return in five minutes,” the doctor murmurs before leaving. “I've already given him medication for pain, so he should be more relaxed than the last time you saw him.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Chris takes another deep breath before walking up to the curtained area. He stands apart, watching the scene before him like a stranger would as he they stumble upon two lovers.

McCoy leans forward, his smile soft and meant solely for Jim.

He can't explain it, can't reason it away with all the logic at his command, but in this very moment he feels betrayed.

Simply betrayed.

“Think nothing of it, Jim,” McCoy whispers, his hand sweeping over Jim’s lock of hair that stubbornly falls on his forehead. “I had a bloody nose for a short time, but that's all. Nothing was broken.”

It’s an intimate gesture that, by now, with all the clues coming his way, shouldn’t surprise him. It also leaves him unsettled, because Dr. McCoy is a man wholly alive and Jim a man with one foot in the grave.

He sighs and turns his back. McCoy will see him soon enough. They’ll discuss it later, far from Jim’s room here at the hospital. Maybe he's wrong and what he is seeing is a connection between friends.

But...McCoy and his son?

He’d suspected this development, if that is what it is. Deep down, he’d suspected it. Jim had never been so friendly with a doctor, let alone a man who was both a stranger and a doctor, before. And then there had been the moment, after the rock had been thrown. Jim had allowed McCoy to hold him close, like it had been the most natural thing in the world.

He can’t say he likes it, but neither can he completely dislike the connection that is forming.

Maybe he’s just numb to the fact that he’s losing his son, slowly but surely.

Maybe he’s just numb to the fact that Mitchell had seemed so right for Jim, at first, and ended up being so terribly wrong. That McCoy seems so wrong for Jim, and…

He abruptly stops his train of thought and shakes his head at himself, questioning his own motives for trying to judge the situation before he speaks to McCoy first. Yet he can’t seem to find it within himself to feel the happiness that Jim has found someone to care about again that he should.

“Your dad’s here, Jim,” McCoy says quietly. “I’ll get him for you, alright?”

“No,” Jim says, the word voiced slower than he’s ever heard it spoken before. “Stay.”

“I’ll be back, I promise, but I think you need a little privacy with your father.” There is a slight pause, then McCoy adds, “Good.”

As he listens to the shuffling of a chair and the pull of a curtain, he prepares himself to come face-to-face with McCoy.

“You're back sooner than we’d thought you be,” McCoy says once he’s standing beside him.

Chris arches a brow. “Carol is a very efficient secretary.”

“I...I see,” McCoy murmurs, looking back at Jim. “He’s ready for you.”

“I’m grateful for the chance to speak with him before he rests.”

“He'll be glad to see you.” McCoy turns to leave.

“Oh, Dr. McCoy,” he says.

McCoy turns slowly on his heel. “Yes?”

“Carol will find someone to pick up M’Benga from the airport.”

Relief fills McCoy’s eyes. “I was wondering how he would find a ride here. I’m sure Jim will be happy to see him.”

“You've been doing a fine job,” he says, watching him carefully. “Jim has taken a liking to you, it appears.”

McCoy flushes from his cheeks to the tops of his ears. “Yes, well, we do get along.” He rubs the back of his neck, hesitating when Chris does not respond. “Please excuse me. I have a few things I need to discuss with the doctor.”

McCoy departs, striding away at light speed.

He lifts a brow at McCoy’s hasty retreat. It isn't like him.

He hopes that taking advantage of a brain-damaged young man’s vulnerabilities isn't like him, either.

He takes the chair that McCoy had vacated beside Jim. “Son, how are you feeling?”

Jim stares at him without recognition for a moment.

He reaches for his hand, gently squeezing it. “I hear you'll be able to sleep soon, for a short time.”

Jim’s expression relaxes. “Dad?”

“That's right, Jim.”

Jim blinks and nods. “B...bu…”

“Bones?” he asks softly.

“Wh-where is h-he?” Jim asks. His eyes drop heavily, and he appears as if he's going right to sleep.

“Talking to the doctor. But he'll be right back.”

Jim’s brow furrows and he peers at Chris through narrow slits. “Note.”

“You want me to write Bones a note? Spock?”

Jim scowls and drags his head from side to side. “N-not note. Cop...py.”

He smiles and tenderly strokes Jim’s cheek, careful of the numerous cuts he had acquired. His cheek is warm to the touch. “We can discuss that when you're well, Jim.”

“M-mountain.” Jim moistens his lips with his tongue. “Take it...there. Ba..birth...day.”

“Jim, all I want for my birthday is for you to be happy and comfortable. Nothing else.”

Jim frowns. “No!”

He tells himself that this isn't Jim, this irritable, angry man that slips out at the slightest provocation. “Please, Jim.”

Determination grows on Jim’s face. “Take copy to mount...tain.” He huffs. “Hide copy there, Dad.”

He straightens and stares at his son as realization washes over him. Jim doesn’t want to give the artifact up to Harrison, but neither does he want to keep it. He wants it safely hidden and doesn’t trust anyone but himself to take care of it. “You want to hide the copy up in the mountain?”

Jim smiles crookedly, a charming smile that disarms him. “Yes.”

He almost can't say no.

He shakes his head. “You can't hike up that mountain, Jim.”

“We can...d-drive.”

He grows quiet, actually considering the idea. What Jim is asking to do isn't the same as going camping. It's a simple trip up the mountain, to take care of the issue at hand. The artifact that Harrison desperately wants. The priceless family treasure that Jim desperately wants to protect.

There is no way that Harrison will expect Jim to hide a treasured artifact on a damn mountain. It's the perfect solution, as long as Jim is well enough to endure a short ride to a spot where the ground is soft.

But before they do anything with it, he’ll make a phone call—to Charlie. He knows what his old friend will say once he learns of Harrison’s threat. He can already hear his chiding, in as few words as possible or with silence, that they had allowed Harrison to get under their skin and intimidate them. And his adamant opinion that Jim stands firm despite the threats.

“Okay,” he says gruffly. “We’ll do it. I know how much this means to you. We’ll do it.”

Jim’s mouth falls open in shock.

He has to admit he's surprised at himself, too. It's the most daring thing he's done, at least when it comes to his son, in a long, long time. Most likely they’ll have to evade the police to pull it off. With Spock’s help—and possibly McCoy’s—they’ll succeed.

Jim’s peace of mind comes first, and if burying this piece of history does the job, then so be it.

He presses a kiss to his forehead off to the side, to avoid his head wound. “Close your mouth, kiddo. You have a few days of recovery ahead of you first.”

Maybe more, but now is not the time to explain.

Jim squeezes his hand. “Thank...you.”

“For you, Jim,” he murmurs, giving him a wide smile of assurance to comfort him.

He'd do absolutely anything for Jim.

Even go up a mountain.

Chapter Text

oOo

 

 

Down the Savage Mountain

 

Chapter 10

 

oOo

 

Jackson Standing Bear knows he’s in trouble when the Big Guy’s right-hand man, Vic, opens the van door. The two-hundred fifty pound man scowls like he’s sure Jackson’s forgotten to bring the large, scalding cup of black coffee he’s fabled for emptying in just two gulps.

Vic’s mouth tightens, the blue and purple splotches on his face highlighted with each deepening line, his cheeks shaking like an overheated engine until Jackson fears the thug is going to explode. Wanting to avoid the inevitable, angry explosion of words, Jackson takes a prudent step back in his worn-out combat boots, even before Vic speaks.

Vic slams the van door with a violent curse, the vehicle shaking from the force. “Where’re the rest?” he thunders at Jackson. Snowflakes fall gently onto his shaven head in an ironic christening, dissolving immediately as the heat of his rage evaporates them. “You broke the deal. He won’t be happy.”

A lead weight of apprehension crashes into his chest, and Jackson takes a strangled breath before he can stop himself. He has two younger brothers at home to protect because of a mother who is hardly there in their one-bedroom, excuse of an apartment.

The Rez hasn’t been kind to their family. Not in recent years. Nor half a century ago.

He has to say something now, to save face. He shrugs, plasters a confident smile on his face. “I’ll make up for it next time.”

“He’s expecting ten, not four,” Vic says, pointing his finger at Jackson. “I’ll need proof that I took care of it.”

Jackson valiantly represses the urge to gulp and almost fails. Everyone knows, at least members of the criminal world, that Vic dishes out more violence than the Big Guy. No one has actually seen the Big Guy harm anyone, let alone kill them. But the entire world has to know that Vic the Snake, every bit as dangerous as his slithering namesake, leaves permanent damages in his wake, his scales deceptively smooth until they are rubbed the wrong way.

And Vic takes every wrong done to Harrison to heart. Makes it his own. Leaves no deceptive mouth or back-stabbing critics untouched.

If Jackson hadn’t gotten the hint eight years ago when his own nemesis had been found, the nineteen-year-old’s neck broken and eyes gouged out, his body dumped on his parents’ front doorstep like trash, he’d understood the very moment he’d laid eyes on Harrison’s second.

The elegantly composed but self-serving Harrison might haunt Jim Kirk and ruffle Christopher Pike’s feathers with surprising ease, but Vic’s cold menace strikes fear into the hearts of men like nothing he’s ever seen in his twenty-eight years.

Yet, Vic’s pristine, black leather jacket seems wrong, too flashy for this operation when it rubs up against Jackson’s thick, practical parka, the man’s furious breath rising in clouds between them in the frigid air. Jackson can’t help but wonder what, exactly, had happened in Vic’s past to make him a willing part of this mess.

How could a former lawyer, born and raised on the Rez, change so much and fall so low, willingly murdering for a man whose crimes include a dozen kidnappings and millions of dollars in theft?

Not that Jackson has any right to judge him—or even Harrison.

There is no remorse in Vic’s eyes as they skewer Jackson’s, pinning his feet to the cold ground. And there is no remorse in his, either, because he has something that Harrison wants more than anything, next to Jim Kirk. “Might want to double-check the cargo first before you kill me,” Jackson says easily, grateful for the acting lessons he’d taken at the community college on a whim.

There’s not a trace of the shy and awkward freshman he’d once been facing a man that could crush his throat with one hand and in less than five seconds.

“Just in case, you know,” Jackson continues, confidence building, “the Big Guy wants to make one last point to Pike before the grand finale.”

Vic’s sudden stillness is telling. Maybe he’d made an impact on the Big Guy after all with that last drop-off.

With a growl, Vic turns, his thick neck and broad shoulders flexing visibly beneath the black leather coat, and heads back to the van. Jackson follows but doesn’t look in the back. He doesn’t have to, because he won’t ever forget what’s back there. He’ll see them again in his nightmares, forever.

“Look under the tarp,” Jackson cues him.

When the tarp lifts and Vic’s eyes finally fall on the package in the corner, the thug’s lips curve into a mocking smile. “You think that is going make up for the loss?”

Jackson snorts. “You know as well as I do that he doesn’t really care about them, one way or another.”

They serve Harrison’s purpose, no more and no less.

“This does put him ahead of schedule even more than he already is,” Vic murmurs, his smile vanishing as he closes the door.

Jackson slaps on a surprised expression, raising both brows and praying he’s not overdoing it. He’d already figured out Harrison’s real plan less than twenty-four hours ago. Under these circumstances, he won’t have sufficient time to complete his mission, since he has other deliveries to make. But considering that he always has a backup plan up his sleeve, just in case, and he’s been making adjustments for weeks, he’ll make do. “Ahead?”

“This operation has become more efficient than you could ever believe,” Vic boasts.

Jackson listens smugly. He has an idea of what Harrison is up to, not that he’ll ever tell.

“Come on,” Vic barks, jerking his head towards his own vehicle, leaving one of Harrison’s other men to slip into the driver’s seat of the van. “I have the goods.”

Following him, Jackson bites his bottom lip to keep himself from grinning ear-to-ear in victory. His pulse races with anticipation, his anxiety long-gone. This is what he’s worked so hard for since leaving the Rez, only returning when Harrison’s actions fueled Pike’s fierce instinct to protect his adopted son, sparking, once again, the rivalry between the archaeologists.

And as Vic opens the case, revealing what once had graced his ancestors’ cabin and would remain in his hands, even if it’s the last thing he does, he tells himself that everything he’s sacrificed has been worth it.

Especially when Vic invites him to a meeting with the Big Guy himself before he leaves.

 

oOo

 

“I don’t like it,” McCoy offers quietly. He shifts his eyes from the rear view mirror of the rented car to the road, unaware that he’s repeated the action countless times.

“It’s a little late to protest, don’t you think?” Chris says, his words muffled as he hugs Jim to his chest and places the younger man’s head under his chin.

It’s all McCoy can do not to stop the car, unbuckle his seatbelt, and press his own cheek against Jim’s pale one. The younger man is awake but silent, taking in the conversation with a frightening lag in response time.

“Dr. M’Benga will be looking for Jim,” McCoy points out.

“And we’ll be back in a few hours.” Chris tightens his hold around Jim, who relaxes in his arms, McCoy notes thankfully.

“That’s not what we’re paying him for,” McCoy argues, knowing if he brings Jim’s health up, it’ll only anger Chris more. “He has his own practice. He’s doing us a favor, not the other way around. He’ll leave.”

“I doubt that,” Chris says dryly. “He’s committed to Jim. Always has been. And this isn’t the first time we’ve disappeared for a short time.”

McCoy’s heavy sigh fills the car. “Why am I not surprised? You’re both idiots,” he adds, grumbling without thinking.

“I admit, Jim gets that from me,” Chris says, sounding amused. “Although George would give us all a run for our money, if he were still alive.”

McCoy doesn’t look back at them again, instead turning his focus to the forty-minute drive into the wilderness, instead. As buildings disappear and the rolling land extends, unbroken, for miles, he almost can’t believe what he’s doing, what Chris has talked him into. Jim has only been home for two, short days, the week-long stay at the hospital still fresh in their minds. The younger man should be laying low, regaining his strength and mental capabilities, not pulling ridiculous stunts like this, something that Spock or Chris or even McCoy could do on their own, if Chris would only allow it.

It isn’t the first time he’s thought it, but he believes that Chris indulges Jim more than he should. He holds his tongue, unwilling to let one more thing aggravate the tension that already exists between them.

He doesn’t have to check the mirror to know if Chris is watching him with distrust in his eyes. Chris has so, ever since McCoy had foolishly held Jim’s hand at the hospital, openly showing his beloved son affection without any explanation.

But if he puts himself in Pike’s shoes, McCoy is certain he’d be upset at himself, too. With that in mind, he tamps down the hundred sarcastic retorts he’s been tempted to use in order to break the silence in the vehicle. He’d never learned to tame his tongue, not even as a doctor, especially not as a doctor. His mother had warned him he was too hot headed for his own good, even before his family’s death. Being alone should have tamed him, but he’d discovered, quickly, that his soured impression of the world had morphed into something utterly dismal. His only way to relieve that stress manifested itself in his speech, a fact he isn’t entirely proud of. It’s a wonder he’d kept his practice, been hired here. He imagines M’Benga had never mentioned his penchant for sarcasm to Pike, although he can’t imagine why.

“Dad told m-me he got blamed f-for a few of your...stunts,” Jim says in a slight rasp.

McCoy’s glances quickly into the mirror, catching Jim’s perfect blue eyes in the mirror. Their gazes lock, a familiar smirk rising on Jim’s face. There was the Jim he’d grown to care for. He wants to smile back, but Chris’s confused expression stops him.

“What do you mean?” Chris asks, the hand carding through Jim’s hair, slowing.

“Like when...you flooded the b-bathrooms at...at school,” Jim states. “Riding th-through Mrs. Takei’s, um, garden. Throwing eggs—”

“That’s not true,” Chris breaks in, his hand stilling.

“So, my dad was a-a liar?” Jim asks, laughs, stuttering only a little.

McCoy’s eyes sting. He’s never heard anything as beautiful.

“You weren’t there,” Chris says defensively.

“So you admit it,” Jim challenges with a fresh sparkle in his eye.

“I—” Chris’s mouth snaps shut.

“Yes?” Jim asks, eyes wide with faux innocence.

“It was me,” Chris admits. “All me.” He pauses. “Most of it.”

McCoy looks in the mirror right as Jim rolls his eyes.

“Da—ad,” Jim huffs.

Chris chuckles, then kisses the top of Jim’s head. “You’d be surprised what he managed to pull off.”

“I’m guessing he taught you everything he knew?” McCoy asks, laying on the drawl.

Jim scowls at him, but his irritation is well-worth the grateful look Chris gives him. “Bones, you’re supposed to side with me.”

McCoy shakes his head, eyes falling on the time. He’s pleased that they’ll reach the north entrance of the trail of Savage Mountain, which is really an elevated pasture of land, not a mountain, just before dusk. They’d made good time. “Not this time, kid. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree. It’s in your blood.”

They lock gazes and, out of nowhere, Jim beams.

A warmth spreads in McCoy’s heart that he hasn’t felt since the day Joanna was born. He lets himself feel it, because despite Jim’s failing health, he wants to share these moments with him, these challenging but wonderful days, as many as he can have.

He’s experienced loss before. Unimaginable loss. Loss he’s tried hard to forget and nearly succeeded.

But Jim has changed things. Irrevocably.

McCoy is changing, whether he wants to or not.

He’s beginning to think that the pain in the end is worth the journey together, after all.

 

oOo

 

Harrison’s four-storied home—or mansion, by the looks of it—is swarming with police as they approach.

“Dammit,” Vic says under his breath. “Why are they still here?”

Jackson will never be able to understand the Big Guy’s willingness to risk his entire life to win this so-called feud with Pike, but he won’t underestimate it, either. Evidence had long pointed to something more significant at stake, which is why Jackson had learned all that he could about James T. Kirk. The younger man is easy on the eyes. Jackson won’t argue with that, but Jim’s intelligence and wit, at least in the past, is what he finds even more attractive.

Harrison can’t be immune to Kirk’s charm, either. He isn’t, by the looks of things.

Jackson leans in from the back, looking at both Vic and the woman in the passenger seat. “What’s going on?” he asks. “I know the Big Guys isn’t here, since he’s been on the run.”

“Thought they’d have left by now,” the woman murmurs, not answering him.

Vic snarls at her. “Yeah, well, maybe they got a new lead.”

She shoots Vic a glare that could melt glass. “What did you do? Forget to cover your tracks—again?”

“Cal, don’t say it,” Vic warns with a growl.

Jackson frowns. “Callie? As in, Callie Longtree?”

She turns her head and watches him warily. “In the flesh.”

“Wow! I never thought...I mean I’d...It’s you,” Jackson babbles, allowing his mouth to drop open like a fanboy’s. “I’ve seen your work. I love it, I really do.”

“Do you mean the stealing or the painting?” she deadpans.

“I, uh, I mean both,” Jackson says, jumping in the seat. He drapes his arms over the leather, taking in account that she wore two guns at her hip and ignoring the disgusted look Vic sends him. “Can I commission somethin’?”

She gives him the once-over, her brown eyes smoldering with distaste. It shouldn’t turn him on, but it does. He runs with it and leers at her.

“You can’t afford me,” she scoffs.

He shrugs. “Try me.”

“You can’t afford me,” she repeats.

“You’d be surprised. I have an account set up for a rainy day. Well, in this case, a snowy day.”

She stares at him like he’d grown another head. “I never work for less than fifty grand.”

He blinks, genuinely shocked. “It’s just a portrait of my dog. I was thinking an 8x10.”

“Your dog.” She snorts derisively, and jerks her head forward, her long black hair striking his face. “Stealing, painting, what’s the difference,” she says dismissively, crossing her ankles. “Fifty grand. Same bargain.”

“That’s no bargain,” he says loudly, mostly to annoy Vic since his mouth is inches away from his ear.

It works.

Vic flinches away from him. “Shut it, Jacks.”

“Can’t.” He smiles, shifts forward even more. “So where we goin’ now?”

Jackson isn’t prepared for the full smile that graces Vic’s lips as they make it to the next stop sign—without catching the attention of the police.

“No questions,” Vic says smoothly, his hands loose on the wheel.

Callie cranes her neck and smiles back at Jackson, her teeth white and flashing like the Cheshire Cat’s. “Oh, you’ll see.”

His heart stops. He’s played this game for so long that he’s either become too paranoid—or misstepped, somehow, along the way.

Either way, he can’t stop the enormous amount of dread from stealing into his chest and displacing a portion of his youthful confidence.

 

oOo

 

Carol has always loved working in the kitchen. The aroma of her own creations filling her senses. Displaying the fine food that she’d prepared herself, placed strategically on a decorative plate. Watching others enjoy the mouth-watering taste of a good meal. Once she’d arrived at the orphanage, however, cooking and baking had grown into a passion overnight.

The boys are growing, often wolfing down the food before they’d all sat down. They need to eat, and eat often, to keep them happy and their minds attentive in school. She’d been more than willing to search for the most nutritious recipes she could find and stay up into the wee hours of the night perfecting her skills. Although she would love to take cooking lessons, she’d dragged her computer down to the island in the kitchen and watched every free video online of her favorite chefs at work that she could find, saving her hard-earned money for a trip to Europe.

Someday she’ll visit Paris and the other places that fuel her imaginations. One day the world will open up to her like it had for Sabrina Fairchild.

Smiling to herself, she grabs the egg carton from the refrigerator. She’s never felt as awkward as Sabrina had in the classic film, but she will admit that she’s been sheltered almost her entire life. She’s had the itch to travel since last year, but Jim’s health prevented her from asking for an extended period of time off. Her loyalty to the Kirk family, and to Chris Pike, came first. She likes feeling useful at the orphanage. She’s accomplished more than she ever would have had she remained in California to work alongside her father in the family business, always in her dad’s shadow, wanting his guidance and approval but never getting it.

Jim Kirk, for all of his hardships, is the luckiest man alive. He has friends. A crew. A man interested in him. And, last but not least, a father who treasures and loves him, one who openly displays these emotions.

That’s more than she can say for herself, but she harbors no envy for the young man. He’s endured more than most in one lifetime, and he’s not yet twenty-five.

Her family isn’t in San Francisco, where her father makes headlines with his work in genetics and adds a zero every year onto the amount of his bank account, because her father isn’t her family. Her family is here, in western Nebraska, where she may never be seen outside the orphanage, grocery store, or a handful of small businesses for weeks at a time, her own checkbook balance dismal because she gives nearly everything she makes back to the boys.

She’s established roots here, just like Nyota has.

Carol cracks two eggs into a bowl, her heart light. Breaking into quiet song, she whisks the eggs, slowly realizing that her own contentedness in life directly correlates with Jim’s. And, more specifically, with Dr. McCoy’s arrival.

She’s never seen two people fall in love at first sight, let alone experience it herself. Yet she’s confident that falling in love at first sight is exactly what had happened to Leonard and Jim.

Love has always seemed like an anomaly to her, light years away, unattainable and unreachable. She’s mostly like her mother, following in her footsteps as a caretaker, but she fears her most hidden thoughts mimic the coldness her father emanates to this day. Not that she’s inherently cold-mannered. She’s learned to temper her off-putting moods, finding herself more suited for this lifestyle.

She keeps to herself, devoting her life to the orphans and to her friend, Jim. She’s never known anyone quite like him. Sweet and vulnerable, yet determined to make his own way in this world. He has an innocence about him that she envies, the way he takes things in stride, or used to, anyway, drawing people to him like a magnet drew iron fillings.

It’s just a shame that his injuries have been changing him, although she dare not speak of it to anyone, not even her employer, Chris Pike.

Her heart aches for them both, and now for Leonard, who clearly fancies Jim.

Someone clears their throat behind her. Startled, she drops the whisk into the bowl of eggs, causing them to splatter. A blush rises to her cheeks at her clumsiness, and she spins around to see the figure looming in the doorway.

It takes her a minute to recognize him. His hair is mussed, shirt untucked on the left side.

“Oh,” she breathes out, pressing a hand to her heart. “You startled me.”

Spock isn’t looking at her but the kitchen, his face tightening into that fierce mask he dons when Jim is in trouble.

“Is it...Jim?” She steps forward, hesitant.

“What do you know about him?” Spock says, pulling his shoulders back as if just realizing that his worry had pressed them forward in defeat. “Where is he?”

She frowns, not following. “The last time I saw him, he was in his room.”

“He is not there,” Spock says, his voice ringing hollowly in her ears. “No one is upstairs except for the boys. Three of the five police officers...are gone.”

Disconcerted with his answer, she rocks back on her feet. “But that can’t be.”

“It is,” he says and begins to pace while pulling out his phone. “Christopher is gone, as is Dr. McCoy. Dr. M’Benga has not heard from either of them.”

“Surely, they haven’t left the building?” She can’t picture Jim leaving without Spock. He’d never do that, would he? Chris and Dr. McCoy leaving without telling anyone seemed...out of character. They cared too much about Jim to endanger his health in any way.

“Kevin is missing, as well,” Spock says, words hoarse with worry.

She reaches out a hand, stopping him by the arm. “Now, Spock,” she says softly. “No one is missing. If they’re gone, they must have left together. I doubt that anyone, even John, could steal them away like that.”

“Do not speak his name,” he hisses.

“Okay,” she says. “I won’t. But, Spock, no one is missing.”

He won’t look at her. “Yet there has been another girl taken from the Rez.” He shifts his broken gaze, now meeting her eyes. “Someone is indeed missing.”

Not those poor girls.

Her hand begins to shake. She swallows, bothered by more than the news of what is happening on the Rez.

It’s always been her fear that Harrison will go too far. She’s beginning to think that John Harrison’s obsession with destroying Christopher Pike is not what it appears to be. That it’s a smokescreen for another obsession.

Jim.

But she has to reassure him, for until Nyota returns from the grocery store, there is no one else there to keep a level head if Spock fails to maintain his. “They’ve probably gone for a ride. Jim must feel cooped up. I know I would,” she says honestly.

“Escaping the house unnoticed?” Spock says.

Unintentionally, her fingers dig into his bicep. She hadn’t thought of that. She takes a breath, grateful for his silence as she prepares a reply. Spock’s concern is palpable, oddly so. It’s unnerving to hear the normally resolute man giving into his anxiety. “We shouldn’t let our imaginations run away from us.”

He stiffens. “It is logical to believe, given the facts, that they have either intentionally left the premises or have been taken.”

She can’t think of any destination worth going to all this trouble for, leaving Spock behind and evading the police, but Jim has had stranger ideas than this in the past.

Several pairs of feet tromp noisily down the stairs next to the kitchen. Carol drops her hand from his arm, offering him a small smile. “We mustn’t alarm the boys, Mr. Spock. Please, let’s take this conversation elsewhere.”

“I will meet you in the sitting room.”

She nods. “I’ll be right there. Let me clean up and put this in the refrigerator until later.”

His lips compress into a deep, worrying line. “Please do not take any longer than necessary,” he says and exits the room.

Carol sighs, pressing a hand to her forehead. The casserole dish will have to wait, putting dinner behind.

Expecting the boys to walk in, she schools her features. But when the noise of the teenagers simply fades away, she shakes her head a little and cleans up.

After she wipes down the counter, she spies a trail of cookie crumbs in the corner of the floor that one of the younger boys must have accidentally left behind as evidence of their raid. She pulls off her apron with a sigh, crumpling it in her hand.

“I guess I’ll have to find another hiding spot,” she says aloud.

She hastily grabs the broom, wondering if Spock will wait for her, after all. As she sweeps cookie crumbs into the dustpan, she hears the rustle of clothing at the doorway behind her.

“I’m almost done, Mr. Spock,” she says, breaking into a smile. “These boys and their sweet tooths.” Floor clean, she stands to her full-height of five-two and turns around. “They always find...”

Her voice trails off, her eyes widening at the tall man in the doorway. He’s dressed mostly in black now, without his signature long coat, his lean muscles coiling. But his eyes are darker and more sinister than anything she’s ever seen.

He takes one—then two, then three—steps towards her.

A wire dangles from his fingers, like a lasso.

Jim has one. A lasso. He’d once loved to help round up the cattle, before Gary had assaulted him.

The apron falls from her hand and to the ground.

“No,” she moans.

He looks at her in silent, cruel affirmation.

Her spare apron is wrinkled, hanging on the door by the ironing table.

She’ll never wear it again to cook for the boys.

“No,” she whimpers, pressing backwards into the counter, the edge digging into her back with a vengeance, like one of Jim’s spades.

He tilts his head, saying nothing, saying everything.

She wants to claw at her ears, block the threats he’s making.

He’ll destroy her family.

He’ll destroy them all.

“Oh, God, no,” she shrieks, kicking him in the knee.

Her phone is in the other room, the knives too far away, in a drawer. She’s alone. How is she alone?

She’s grateful she’s alone.

She’s grateful.

Grateful.

It’s the way it should be.

He grabs her like she’d never struck him, like he doesn’t care. She knows for a fact that he doesn’t.

All thoughts of fighting leave her when he whispers the name in her ear.

It’s a warning. She slumps in his arms, and she hates herself for it.

She hates him.

Jim,” he hisses again, his heated breath scorching her flesh.

She’ll never be able to rid herself of his brand on her cheek.

Her eyes flood with tears. She can’t breathe. Can’t see her future anymore. Or Jim’s. Or— oh, God, the precious boys. “Please, leave them—”

His chilling, triumphant eyes fill her vision, the body to which they belong trapping her.

Carol opens her mouth to scream.

It dies in her throat, along with her heart.

 

 

Chapter Text

oOo

 

 

Down the Savage Mountain

 

Chapter 11

 

 

oOo

 

 

 

Given Jim’s resolve regarding his heritage, Chris isn’t surprised when it happens—like clockwork—in the thick of Indian country.

 

The closer they get to the Eagle’s Landing, the more Jim acts like Jim. The old Jim. The son he’d known before Gary’s assault.

 

The light in his soul, untainted.

 

His shining North Star, unbroken.

 

George Kirk’s legacy, ever resilient.

 

Chris can’t tell if the doctor who accompanies him notices the change in Jim’s demeanor, or if he’s even looking for it, like Chris has ever since Mitchell attacked his son. Leonard McCoy may think he knows Jim, this passionate man who beats the odds, but he doesn’t take into account the whole picture. As disturbing as it is to watch Leonard apparently forget how vulnerable a brain-damaged young man can be, he has to remember the good doctor hasn’t known Jim as long as he has. He hasn’t had the time to fully acclimate himself with the unique case called Jim Kirk.

 

Leonard had waltzed into their lives mere weeks ago. Chris has spent every spare minute of the past two years in and out of hospitals with Jim—a lifetime—hoping. Hoping that Jim will beat the odds and retain more of himself than the professionals expect as his condition progresses. Praying for a miracle to prove them all wrong. Years, not days like Leonard. Years. Waiting for the axe to drop on all of them.

 

When the doctor looks in the rear view mirror periodically to check on Jim, it’s obvious he’s captivated by his brilliant face, not his heart, just like every other young man who has crossed paths with him.

 

Chris barely holds his tongue the rest of the trip, yet the decision to avoid an argument and raising the tension in the air is instinctive. Unable to tear his eyes away from his son—and refusing to believe he’s overreacting about Leonard’s previous involvement with Jim—he observes rather than interferes. He takes notes. Assesses every little nuance between Jim and Leonard. Files away the information until he can shift through the facts later alone, space between him and his son’s one-time-lover.

 

He has a right to be concerned about his own son. It’s a parent’s prerogative, his duty as Jim’s guardian, and he’ll be damned if he lets Leonard’s arrival shake things up even more than it already has.

 

Even if Leonard is nothing like Gary, there’s no guarantee that Jim won’t get hurt in the end, when the doctor leaves for good. And Leonard will leave. Not now, but someday.

 

Chris hasn’t been this certain about anything in a long time. One day, McCoy will break, and Jim will be left to deal with the pieces.

 

Broken Cloud is nothing but a dead end for most people. And while Jim Kirk is handy with a trowel in the field, and one of the few people who yearn for this rugged country, he’s also a man who most likely will die before his thirtieth birthday.

 

Although he believes Leonard is a good man, Chris can’t find it within himself to trust him enough to be this close to Jim without it leading to disaster. Not when he doesn’t trust his own judgment of character. He can’t, not if he wants to protect Jim from anything that could set him back. He’s been wrong about people in the past. He could very likely be wrong again.

 

Chris loathes how the possibility of an attachment between them threatens his mood, which Jim will most likely detect. Telling himself that he’s considering Jim’s emotional health, Chris blocks out everything, including Leonard, in order to freely bask in Jim’s presence. Jim’s focus, his laughter, his anticipation—are gifts Chris refuses to miss.

 

One day they will be gone. He knows this better than anyone.

 

Showing more physical strength, Jim leaves Chris’s arms and rests in his own seat beside him. His son sprawls, for lack of a better word. His eyes first fixate on the back of McCoy’s head, before they watch the blur of wildflowers and tall grass along the highway.

 

Here on the Rez, where Jim glows like the sun, it’s impossible to look anywhere but at him.

 

“Where’s Spock?” Jim asks.

 

“He was working,” Chris reminds him.

 

He leaves out the fact that they hadn’t even approached Spock about their excursion to Eagle’s Landing. Chris hadn’t brought it up, assuming it didn’t matter since Spock would be in his office, preparing for another dig at one of Jim’s sites tomorrow.

 

Jim turns his head and meets his eyes, speaking slowly and with more difficulty than he’d had earlier—if that was even possible, Chris thinks. “Yeah...but when...have we ever...made this…” The younger man pauses, face twisted in concentration.

 

“Trip?” Chris prods.

 

Jim nods. “...without him?”

 

“He knows we come here alone on occasion.” Chris says.

 

He doesn’t say that they’ve climbed the mountain only twice without him in the past decade, both trips agonizingly miserable without the extra muscle. He swears Spock spends more time at the gym than the rest of the crew combined. He’d regret not asking Spock, if he could have guaranteed his cooperation. But he has a feeling he’d get nothing but cynicism and doubt, two things he doesn’t want to deal with at the moment.

 

“This really isn’t the right time to cry over spilt milk,” Leonard mutters.

 

“No one’s crying,” Chris mutters, catching Jim’s eye again. “Right, son?”

 

Jim hesitates. “I hate it.”

 

“It’s not lying,” Chris asserts.

 

Leonard snorts. “No, not lying. Just a little omission of the truth.”

 

“Logic Spock uses when it serves his purpose.”

 

Leonard gazes at him through the mirror. “Oh, I’m sure he does. Doesn’t make it right, though.”

 

“And you know the difference, don’t you? How to walk the straight and narrow? Ever since you gave up drinking.”

 

The thing is—he knows for certain McCoy hasn’t. Not completely.

 

“That’s a low blow, Chris.” The doctor’s hands clench the wheel.

 

“It’s true, isn’t it? Took a life-changing—”

 

“Don’t bring my past into this.”

 

“I’m not bringing your family into anything, Leonard. You did the moment you stepped foot in Nebraska. What do you expect me to do? Let an alcoholic treat my son?”

 

Leonard grits his teeth. “Did you forget I’m driving?”

 

“At least you’re not a drunk, now, like the man who killed your daughter.”

 

Stony silence hits the car.

 

Leonard’s hardened expression breaks. He looks away—from both of them—and straight into the curved, moonlit road.

 

“Jesus, Dad,” Jim whispers into the aching quiet.

 

Chris gaze flickers across his face guiltily.

 

“Not now,” Jim says. “Please.”

 

He won’t take back what he said—he hopes that Leonard caught the implications—but he will apologize. Doing this now, with Jim along for the ride, isn’t appropriate. “Sorry, doctor.”

 

Leonard’s jaw works. “I bet you are,” he mutters. “For the record—you twisted everything you’ve heard or read about me and my wife. Just like Rand does to Jim. Think about that, Chris.”

 

Chris allows the comment to slide off his back. Soon, the car rolls to a stop. They have just enough light to make the climb.

 

And if he feels a prick of unease about this, going up a mountain with a sick young man to placate his own conscience, he ignores it.

 

“We’re here?” Jim breathes, lifting his head. “Already?”

 

Leonard looks back. “Want me to keep driving up this hill? It looks steep, but it will be a rougher climb by foot.”

 

“I can walk.”

 

Chris shakes his head. “No, you can’t. Not until we reach the ridge. Keep driving, McCoy. We’ll stop again in half a mile.”

 

oOo

 

He is tired. Sore. Warm. Anxious. The room still buzzes with activity, although a crowd of officials had escorted a shrouded figure on a gurney into the night. He cannot recall when that had been. Time has surfaced, only to unexpectedly plunge back into unknown depths of space. And Spock, who does not confuse morning with night, or lose track of where he is, has forgotten the essentials.

 

Is this what Jim feels when he is having a difficult day? It is unfair. Unfair, he thinks, that someone so young and vibrant lives confused. Perhaps even in unspoken terror.

 

Harrison is to blame. He knows John has done this, even if he’d never laid a hand on their innocent friend, himself. It had been his doing. It is the only thing to make sense.

 

Dr. M’Benga removes his hands from Spock’s head and stares at him, mouth tight. “You have a concussion. A severe one, I should say.”

 

Spock sits stiffly, allowing time to slip through his fingers. His parents hover, his mother especially, and his father because of his mother. Although he’s an adult, he has no choice other than to comply with the exam, to try and ease their concerns for his safety. Nyota has not arrived, and he will remain here until she comes.

 

Despite the urgency he feels in the pit of his stomach, he’d permitted Dr. M’Benga to continue the examination. He permitted his family to be concerned. And he will control his emotions, lest he disrupt their lives again.

 

“It’ll bruise come morning.” The doctor winces, as if feeling a phantom pain, and slides his hand over his arm. “Your shoulder?”

 

It had taken the brunt of the fall. “Tolerable.”

 

“How bad is it?” Amanda asks, clasping Spock’s hand.

 

Dr. M’Benga adjusts his glasses on his nose. “I’d like to have him checked out at the hospital as a precaution.”

 

Spock will not go in the opposite direction from Jim. He has realized, albeit belatedly, their destination. The mountain is only logical. “That is unnecessary.”

 

He can drive with an injured shoulder—or one-handed if required.

 

Dr. M’Benga exhales a long breath and spares a glance at the detectives milling about the room. “This is a criminal investigation, Spock,” he murmurs. “Documentation is—”

 

“—is unnecessary,” Spock interjects. “I am fine.”

 

“If Spock says he is adequate, then we must let him attend to other matters,” Sarek says.

 

Amanda’s gaze falls on her husband, brows twitching to meet in the middle, receding only after several seconds. A tic that began after Jim’s assault. A nervous tic that Sarek—and Spock—have since become concerned about. “He should go to the hospital. He took a nasty fall—was hit on the head, in fact.”

 

“Jim is missing. That is fact.” Spock stands with caution, hoping to delay the onset of any dizziness he may have. “And a woman, murdered. That is another fact. These take precedence.”

 

She clasps her hands in her lap, looking down. “I don’t think it’s wise.”

 

Dr. M’Benga shakes his head. “I don’t agree, either.”

 

“Spock?” Nyota hovers in the doorway.

 

He’s grateful for the distraction. “We must leave immediately.”

 

She nods, stepping out of the way as a policeman enters the room after her. “Did they take your statement?”

 

“They have, but wish to question me further.”

 

She blinks back tears, swallowing hard. “Okay. Okay. I’ll...we can go, then. Once they do.”

 

He remembers Carol had been her friend, too. “I grieve with thee, Nyota,” he says, moving towards her.

 

The doctor grabs his arm, stopping him. “Don’t do anything foolish to endanger your health, Spock. Let the authorities handle it.”

 

Spock pulls away, but Geoffrey does not relent.

 

Spock sighs. “I will do nothing beyond their scope of expertise, let me assure you.”

 

Geoffrey’s eyes flash. “Carol is not the only victim today. I cannot, for Jim’s sake, allow you to be the next.”

 

He does not understand. “Explain.”

 

Geoffrey exchanges a look with his parents. “He should go to the hospital.”

 

Amanda nods. “Maybe now’s not the time to explain, Spock.”

 

“No,” Sarek interjects. “He must be informed.”

 

“Has something happened to Jim?” Spock asks, although he cannot fathom it.

 

“No, not Jim,” Geoffrey says quickly. “He’s with Leonard and Chris on some crazy fool errand.”

 

Spock absorbs this information more slowly than desired. He does not ask how he’s confirmed their endeavor when he, himself, has not. “Then there is nothing else?”

 

“Son,” Sarek says.

 

It is all he says.

 

He continues to watch his father, who never speaks unless it is vital to the conversation. And never says “son.” It is always “Spock.” Never an endearment.

 

His stomach sinks. “What has happened?”

 

They are silent. Immovable in the face of his distress.

 

He glances at each of them. “Can no one tell me?”

 

“It’s Kevin, Spock.” Amanda’s voice cracks. Sarek squeezes her shoulder, a comforting gesture Spock is unused to seeing between them.

 

Thus, he cannot help but fall prey to the anguish in her eyes, the concern in his father’s. “Kevin?”

 

Her smile wobbles.

 

“He is here, at the orphanage,” Spock says.

 

And so young. Jim’s favorite. Jim’s friend. As they all are.

 

“He’s here,” Spock repeats, his gaze lifting involuntarily, as if he could see him standing there on the floor above him.

 

His mother’s eyes are gentle, reminding him of the days when he was a child, taught words and sums on her lap. “No, Spock. One of the boys finally told us. He’d thought he should keep it to himself, like Kevin had asked him to. But the truth is—Kevin hasn’t returned to the orphanage all afternoon.”

 

“What are you saying?”

 

One of the detectives standing nearby, talking to police turns. Spock swallows, recognizing her as Detective King. Perhaps, he wonders in an unprecedented panic, she has been there all along, waiting to speak to him. Listening. Watching.

 

He can hardly consider it, but it must be true. He is the only one who can answer their questions in this investigation.

 

King comes to stand beside Amanda. “He’s missing, that’s what she’s saying,” she says curtly. “And we have reason to believe Harrison is behind this.”

 

There is no other perpetrator, no one else who would twist the lives of Jim’s loved ones. “And Jim?”

 

Her iron gaze meets his. “Jim? Do you know where he is? I think you do, Mr. Spock.”

 

He does not know whom to trust explicitly when he suspects someone in the department has assisted Harrison in his devious actions. “I have no information as to where—”

 

“Save it, Mr. Spock,” she interrupts. “Your silence is telling and quite disappointing, I must admit. I expected more from you and will fight my way into your head myself if I have to.”

 

He rears back, and if she’d investigated his past history, and now knows how much he detests touching—and especially his head—and did so to manipulate him—he does not care. “You will not. My mind is my own. I will tell you what I know”

 

She smiles grimly at him. “That’s more like it.”

 

oOo

 

“Come on, Old Man!” Jim calls out gaily.

 

“Old Man?” Chris bellows from behind them. “You’re the one who stole my boot before I put it on. Only crotchety, old man-children do that.”

 

McCoy grins, looking at Jim’s back as they hike up the hill. “He has a point.”

 

Jim stops, out of breath. He adjusts his headlight and looks down to where Chris climbs with both hands, taking a shortcut to get to them. “I just wanted to get up here first,” he whispers. “You still have the cake?”

 

McCoy pats the side of his backpack. “Right here.”

 

“Good thing it’s boxed up, huh?”

 

His gaze sweeps over Jim and the rocky terrain ahead. “Jim, listen.”

 

Jim acts like he hasn’t heard, eyes dancing across the horizon, making note of every lone tree. “Let’s just save our strength and keep going.” He begins to climb, more quickly than McCoy anticipates.

 

He opens his mouth to urge caution, but closes it, swallowing a well-meaning protest. A warning bell goes off in his head, but they are almost there. If they maintain this momentum, they’ll make it before Jim collapses. And as much as he wants to stand alongside him, he knows what Jim desires most of all. To lead with independence. For now, he humors him, just like Chris did with this fool trip.

 

The irony does not escape him.

 

“We’ll rest up top a bit,” McCoy says.

 

Jim shakes his head, breathing too heavily to speak.

 

Disturbed, McCoy reaches Jim immediately, no longer worried if Jim thinks he’s being overprotective. “Remember, once we get there, I have to check your vitals.” He’s most concerned about his blood pressure. This climb—the stress—he can’t believe he’s hasn’t passed out.

 

Jim gulps a breath. “Again?”

 

“Considering we’ve just made one helluva climb, ‘again’ isn’t unreasonable,” McCoy mumbles.

 

Jim nods, leaning over to clutch at a root. He grips it, holding his stomach with his other hand as he bends low to the ground, face paler than a ghost.

 

Leonard stands beside him, scowling. “We should stop. You can stay here—I’ll take care of the rest.”

 

Jim shakes his head, his headlight dancing wildly as it tosses light everywhere along the ridge.

 

He tightens his jaw. “Dammit, Jim, if you weren’t so stubborn, I’d be in my office, having a cigar while you massage knots from my feet.”

 

Jim snorts, lifting his head, shooting him a disbelieving look. “Really? Massaging your feet?”

 

McCoy takes his elbow and helps him stand. “Thought you’d be good at that, since you’re handy with a shovel and all.”

 

Jim laughs—a beautiful sound. “And here I thought you were the one with the talented hands.”

 

McCoy smirks. “Is that right?”

 

“Uh-huh. Then you can massage your own…” His voice drifts off. McCoy doesn’t think it’s anything unusual, since he often is sidetracked, but the panicked expression on Jim’s face takes him aback.

 

“What’s wrong,” he asks.

 

Jim’s eyes flick back and forth, peering past McCoy to the night behind them. “Where’s Chris?”

 

“Probably right where we left him—on that shortcut of his.”

 

“No. Really.” He cups his mouth and calls out, “Dad?”

 

They both wait, looking around, hearing nothing.

 

McCoy shrugs. “Maybe he went back to the car?”

 

Jim frowns. “For what? We have everything.”

 

“Chris,” McCoy calls out.

 

Silence.

 

“Pike!”

 

Jim’s face screws up like he’s about to cry. “Something’s wrong,” he whispers. “I—I feel it.”

 

He jerks his arm from McCoy’s grip and starts to go back down the trail

 

“Wait,” McCoy protests. “You can’t go back right now.”

 

Jim shakes his head. “Something’s wrong, Bones.”

 

McCoy halts beside him. “He was taking a shortcut. Maybe it went further east than he thought.”

 

“Then why didn’t he answer? You can hear everything—it echoes.”

 

“I don’t know why, but let’s not get our panties in a bunch just yet.”

 

“I’m wearing boxers,” Jim mumbles.

 

McCoy chortles. “With Pac-Man printed on them?”

 

“It’s better than your lame Mickey Mouse design.”

 

“Touché.”

 

Jim halts in his tracks, McCoy nearly running into him.

 

“What?”

 

Jim dims his headlight. “Shhh.”

 

McCoy tunes into the sounds, as well. There are many, the encroaching darkness inviting critters and insects alike out into the dusk, a wind swishing the brush and spindly trees.

 

But nothing can convince him it’s human. “Jim, I don’t think—”

 

Jim presses his hand against McCoy’s chest, stopping him.

 

“There,” Jim whispers, dimming his headlight once more and pointing it to a grove of trees.

 

The rustling continues until a form stumbles out. It stops abruptly, standing tall and straight, shoulders back.

 

McCoy’s heart hammers in his chest. Is that—could it be—

 

Jim tenses. McCoy watches him from the corner of his eye, recognizing even after such a short time the fight-or-flight expression on the younger man’s face.

 

McCoy barely breathes and reaches for the knife he’d stored in his boot.

 

The figure turns, and McCoy blinks as he sees the man’s hair—disheveled and messy as hell—his pack falling off one shoulder.

 

Jim expels a rush of air. “Dad!” he exclaims, running towards him.

 

Chris embraces Jim, his sharp cry muffled by his son’s hair. “Jim, my Jim,” he crushes him in a tight embrace. “You’re okay. Thank God, you’re okay.”

 

“Pike?” McCoy asks, a tight knot forming in the pit of his stomach. He’s not a stranger to death—and it’s written all over Chris’s face. “Why would you say that?”

 

Chris’s hand trembles around Jim’s head as he presses it to his chest. Tears fall down his cheek as the older man looks up at McCoy. “I got a text and had a hell of a time finding a place to make a call.” He pauses, squeezing his eyes shut. “You’re here. You’re safe, Jim. I-I can’t believe it,” he says hoarsely.

 

“Dad?” Jim asks breathlessly, clinging to him. “You’re worrying me.”

 

Chris brushes Jim’s cheek with his thumb. “Before I tell you, know this. She loved you, Jim,” he whispers, his voice wrecked by emotion. “She always loved you—her brother in heart—most and best.”

 

 

oOo

 

She looks at Jackson when he goes to the back of the trunk. He stands there, deciding which one of them he should show Harrison first. He thinks it will be her, Merry, one of the most important young women on the Rez. He’d bound her wrists behind her with thick rope, gagged her mouth with a fraying, black cloth, spoke reassurances in her ear that she should trust him.

 

Her hair is mussed, and stringy, unlike the recent photos in the paper, when her father had received an honor from the Council for his humanitarian work. Her eyes are flecked with equal fright and fatigue. And something else—accusation.

 

“I had to do it,” he murmurs, double-checking her bounds. He’d forgotten that her feet had been tied, too, and loosens those ropes. He winces, seeing that in her struggle to get free, she’d only made things worse for herself. “If you’d been in my shoes, you would’ve done the same.”

 

She makes urgent noises in the back of her throat, glaring at him in the evening light. They’re meeting Harrison on a dirt road. Vic had cut the lights awhile back. They couldn't take any chances.

 

She flinches away from him when he grabs her by the arm. But he’s used to the resistance. She’s not the first he’s taken and surely won’t be the last.

 

It sickens him, just thinking about what he’s done, but he’s too far gone to go back now. What’s done is done. He’s doing this for a higher purpose, he reminds himself.

 

He glances at the other prizes in the delivery truck and says the same thing, silently, like a prayer, although he’d long since put any spiritual nonsense aside. It has never been of any use to him, and he won’t start making excuses or creating false hopes now.

 

“Come on,” he mutters angrily.

 

He hardens his face when she tries to scoot back into the vehicle, holding her firmly until she nearly blacks out from the pain of his grip.

 

He’s not as bulky as Vic, but he isn’t a bean pole. He has muscle. He has to be one of the strongest in this line of work.

 

But he’d be stupid if he didn’t realize he’s already one step behind a group of intelligent men and their multi-million dollar investments. No amount of muscle will be enough if he wants to help take down Harrison and free both the artifacts and the innocents he steals. He has to keep his wits most of all—and that means he must ignore the girl who’d once been his high school sweetheart.

 

This has to work. He thinks he’s doomed, either way. He’s taken Charlie’s oldest granddaughter, Marigold, kidnapping her in order to carve a place for himself in the trafficking ring, with the hopes that he’ll be trusted and given information that will someday help the authorities.

 

The irony of what he’s done is not lost on him.

 

He could tell her it’d been a split-second decision. That he’d be there to help her escape. Eventually. That she was strong. Smart. And resilient. And that if anyone could survive, it would be her.

 

But it wouldn’t matter, would it? If he fucked up the transaction—if he showed Harrison anything but courage—they were both dead.

 

Callie saunters over to him, eyeing Merry with a practiced eye. “We need to give her more drugs.”

 

He fights back the nausea swelling in his throat. “Before the Big Guy gets her?”

 

“The most important thing is to keep her compliant.”

 

“Weak,” he agrees, nodding.

 

“We’ll do it later,” Vic calls out. “He’s here.”

 

Jackson forces Merry to walk with him. Harrison had always wanted Merry, but Charlie’s descendants watched her like she was their own daughter. It had been extremely challenging to get her alone, even at the small community college between classes, but he’d managed, finally, and without any eyes on him in the process.

 

The SUV comes to a stop, and three men step out, two going to the passenger side and opening the door.

 

Jackson swallows. He’s waited for this day, watched Harrison in the news, read every article, every journal, every truth, and every lie he could get his hands on as he prepared each careful step to this very day.

 

But as the door opens, and a tall figure steps out, Jackson’s breath hitches.

 

The shoulders are the same. Hell, even the way the hair sweeps gracefully over his forehead is the same. The eyes glitter dark and dangerous. The walk is perfected, too. Everything matches the Harrison the news touted as evil.

 

But not the nose that points a fraction to the left, that no one less observant than Jackson would notice—or the slightly thinner mouth.

 

“What is this?” he asks out loud, his anger stirring like bees in a honeycomb, now disturbed. He turns to Vic, whose eyes widen in what appears to be genuine shock. “What are you trying to pull?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Nothing? That man is not him,” he protests, pointing at the figure walking towards them.

 

Vic shrugs. “Well, he is.”

 

“He’s not,” Jackson seethes. “I risked everything to get her here—and you pull this?”

 

But Vic ignores him. “Cal,” he says softly, watching his partner.

 

She slowly smiles and twirls an inch of her hair around her finger. “Well, I’ll be damned. You passed the first test, Jacks. You’re one of us now.”

 

Vic chuckles. “Congratulations. I really didn’t think you’d catch on so soon.”

 

Jackson blinks as the larger male claps him on the back.

 

They begin to talk with this imposter, who he learns had been at the orphanage earlier today. They don’t say why.

 

After depositing Merry in the other vehicle, and giving her a sedative he’d argued would be better than any of the other shitty drugs they had on hand to maintain her compliance, Jackson hangs back, triumphant to be trusted enough in the circle, yet cautious.

 

This Harrison is not the Big Guy, after all.

 

It begs the question now, that if he isn’t, where is the real John Harrison? And what they hell is he up to?

 

oOo

 

They don’t stay long after burying the treasure. They pack the dirt overtop the covered box, replacing the heavy boulder they’d moved in order to dig a square foot hole, and leave.

 

McCoy had expected more ceremony, but Jim’s heart isn’t in it, and Chris can’t—or won’t—let Jim out of sight, or touch.

 

McCoy feels like the third wheel as they silently plod downhill, until Jim grabs his hand.

 

“Stay with me,” Jim whispers, peering at him with his impossibly-bright, blue eyes.

 

He doesn’t know how it’s possible they’ve connected on this level—he, knowing that Jim is stronger, emotionally, at least, than he looks—and Jim, knowing McCoy’s unease around his father.

 

I’ll never leave you, he silently vows, feeling Chris’s eyes drill holes in his back.

 

“Police are own their way,” Chris says, as if to break up their silent exchange.

 

Taking Jim by the arm, McCoy leads him down the path, slowly. It’s laden with a continuous stream of uneven rocks, and Jim is too distracted in his sadness to give it the attention their hike deserves. “I’d expected as much. Geoff?”

 

Chris frowns at the mention of the other doctor. “I’m not sure.”

 

“Well, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t come along.” McCoy is relieved to see the outline of the rental.

 

At least they’re done with this crazy errand and can go home. He doesn’t want to spend one more damn minute on this blasted mountain, caught between Chris’s anger and frustration, which seems to be misdirected at him and watching over Jim. Always.

 

“I don’t know.” Chris starts for the driver’s side. “Spock got a pretty hard bump.”

 

“That bastard,” Jim whispers, catching his breath.

 

McCoy looks him over, concerned when Jim’s face turns as white as a sheet. “Hey, feeling okay?”

 

Jim swallows, laughing shakily. “I think I need to sit down.” He grabs his head, viciously rubbing at his temple. “Maybe we came down the path too fast.”

 

McCoy slips an arm around his shoulders. “Come on,” he says. “Once you get into the car, you can rest. I’ll get you something for the headache, too.”

 

Jim’s shoulders drop under his touch. “I just can’t believe it.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Kid.” McCoy’s throat thickens with emotion.

 

“What a sick...bastard,” Jim says. He looks up at McCoy, eyes full of tears. “They have to catch him. I don’t know if I can stand it if they don’t.”

 

He nods. “They will. Justice will be served.”

 

Jim blinks several times, clearing his eyes. “She was my sister, Bones. She—she made me laugh. She was loving. I’ll miss that so much. The boys will miss that, and that hurts more than I can even describe.”

 

“I know.” He didn’t know Carol that well, but he can hardly stay composed in the face of Jim’s—and even Chris’s—heartbreak.

 

“It’s not...not fair. Why her? Why not me?” Jim cries.

 

“Come here, Jim,” he whispers, stopping them.

 

Chris is probably in the car waiting for them to catch up, but McCoy doesn’t care. He wraps Jim in an embrace and holds him, giving the young man time to cry his heart out.

 

“I know this hurts,” he whispers into his hair. God, did he know.

 

Jim goes quiet, clutching him. “I forgot. I’m so….sorry…”

 

McCoy squeezes his eyes shut. “It was a long time ago.”

 

Still, it never gets any easier. He can’t say that to Jim, and says nothing else.

 

“Jim.”

 

It was Chris.

 

McCoy huffs out a frustrated breath. Can’t Chris just give them one more damn minute alone?

 

“Jim,” Chris says loudly.

 

Jim sighs, and McCoy lets go of the younger man, but not before he wipes his eyes for him. He looks at Jim, thumb lingering at his cheek, and smiles. “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me, Jim.” He softens his voice, despite not caring if the entire world hears his romantic nonsense. “Don’t forget that.”

 

Jim cracks a smile. “You’re damn right I won’t forget—”

 

“JIM,” Chris demands.

 

Jim rolls his eyes, but even McCoy can tell something is off about Chris’s voice. “Dad, can’t you see we’re having a—” Jim turns, his voice breaking off, his face leeching of color. “D-dad?”

 

McCoy looks past him. “Oh, God.”

 

His heart lodges in his throat. Chris stands by the car with his arms up, tears pooling in his eyes.

 

John Harrison stands behind him, pointing a gun at Pike’s back. “Well, isn’t this a welcome reunion,” he says, tone mocking.

 

“You,” McCoy snarls.

 

He steps forward but John tsks at him and shakes his head. He stops, heart pounding wildly in his chest as a thick foreboding falls over their small group.

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” John Harrison motions with the gun. “Step away from Jim.”

 

“Not on my life.”

 

“Not yours, no,” Harrison says, smiling. “But perhaps...someone else’s. And not Carol’s. I’m afraid she’s already been taken care of.”

 

It’s then that McCoy—and Jim—see the figure behind the wheel of the rental. The figure is hard to make out but then Jim adjusts his headlight on the dimly seen body.

 

It’s Kevin. Bound—and scared.

 

“What did you do to him, you fucker?” Jim rages.

 

McCoy grabs him before he can take another step closer to the madman and provoke Harrison into shooting him, any of them.

 

“I warned you and your father,” Harrison says.

 

“What’s wrong with you? Why did you have to kill her?” Jim asks.

 

“I didn’t kill her,” Harrison says, arching one perfect brow. “I wouldn’t start making false accusations right now.”

 

“You did.” Chris says quietly. “I don’t know how—but you did. I know you were the bastard behind it.”

 

“I’d love to stay and talk, Chris,” Harrison says, “I really do, but we need to go.”

 

Chris swallows, eyes flicking to the left, as if he could see Harrison and the gun, behind him. “We?”

 

“No,” Harrison says softly. “Not you.’

 

McCoy’s heart plummets. “You can’t take him.”

 

“I can, and I will. Jim, take ten good steps away from your lover.”

 

Another man drifts out from the darkness, pointing a gun at Jim.

 

McCoy blinks. “Do as he says, Jim.”

 

Jim looks at him, eyes wide. “But—”

 

A shot rings out. McCoy startles, looking frantically at Jim.

 

He’s relieved to see that Jim looks unharmed, and shakily exhales. He looks back to reassure Chris that Jim is fine.

 

He’s stunned to see Chris on the ground, face contorted in pain, clutching his leg with both of his hands, blood flowing between his clenched fingers.

 

“Fuck,” McCoy shouts.

 

Harrison points the gun at Chris’s other leg. “Shall I shoot him again or will you finally listen to me?”

 

McCoy clenches his jaw and looks at Jim. “Move, Jim. Now!”

 

Jim steps away, shakily at first, his eyes fixated on his father. “Pl—please don’t hurt him.”

 

“I won’t if you cooperate,” Harrison says, taking a few steps around Pike but ignoring him otherwise. “McCoy.”

 

McCoy hesitates, swallowing hard. “Someone will find you.”

 

“Pike will bleed to death if you don’t get over there.”

 

He can’t leave Jim. How the hell can he even think of listening to this bastard?

 

“I’d make haste if I were you,” Harrison continues.

 

Harrison has reached Jim now, and takes him by the elbow, pulling him close. He reaches with his other hand, wrapping it around Jim’s neck, and holds him still, tightly.

 

Jim’s chin lifts as he gasps for breath.

 

McCoy works his jaw. “Let go of him.”

 

Harrison smiles, stroking Jim’s pale neck with a gloved finger. “Oh, but I won’t be. Not for a very. Long. Time.” He leans into Jim’s hair and breathes. “No wonder you’re lovers. I’d like a taste of this, myself, once my business is done.”

 

“You’re disgusting,” McCoy spits out.

 

“Again, I suggest you do no harm as your oath requires—and save Kirk’s father.”

 

He comes to himself. Chris is losing consciousness, and blood, fast.

 

“Bones,” Jim says in a rasp. “Please.”

 

McCoy forces himself to approach Chris and kneels beside him. Another of Harrison’s men throws a thin piece of rope on the ground next to them. Cursing the shake in his hands, McCoy does what he can to apply the makeshift tourniquet and stanch the flow of blood, then lifts Chris’s leg onto his thigh to elevate it.

 

Chris lifts his head, sweat pouring off his gray face. “I will kill you, Harrison,” he hisses.

 

“I’d like to see you try.” Harrison smiles, strengthening his hold on Jim’s neck. Jim grabs onto Harrison’s wrists, but it’s impossible for him to hang onto them for long. Jim’s too weak, too exhausted to fight back.

 

And there’s not a damn thing that he—McCoy—can do to help him.

 

Jim’s eyes find his. McCoy stares, pleadingly, at Jim. I’m sorry, he wants to say. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you in this.

 

“So sweet,” Harrison purrs. “You will never find us. In fact, Pike will give us a blessing—or I will kill him. Right now.”

 

“You wouldn’t,” Chris whispers, fighting to stay awake. “I can tell you think too much of him to kill him right now. Maybe this is really what everything’s been about. Not the artifact. Jim.”

 

The thought of Harrison touching Jim like that sickens McCoy.

 

“Oh, but I would dispose of him, very quickly.” Harrison’s eyes flicker to the rental. “In fact, I’d like to point out that in about eight minutes, one of the orphanage boys will die in that car of yours, if you don’t do what I ask.”

 

Chris’s head falls back, hitting the earth with a thud. His eyes dart around, trying to find Kevin in the darkness. “What?”

 

McCoy looks back at the car, and can see only a portion of Kevin’s face from his vantage point. The boy’s eyes are wide with fright, tears staining his cheeks. McCoy starts to get to his feet, but Harrison pins him to the ground with a hateful look. “No,” he snaps. “You will not move, not until Chris orders us to leave.”

 

“Please,” Chris says, his hand up as if in peace. “Take me, not Jim.”

 

“But this is the best part, seeing you fall apart,” Harrison murmurs, walking backwards with Jim one slow step. “I want you to remember this moment for the rest of your life.”

 

Chris‘s expression breaks. “No, I beg of you.”

 

“For God’s sakes,” McCoy pleads, thinking of any possibility to keep Jim here, out of Harrison’s grasps. “Jim is dying, Harrison. Let him live his last days with his family.”

 

Harrison’s face goes blank. “Then you will have the courtesy of not watching a loved one die. I can’t think of anything more appropriate. But time is wasting, for all of you, but especially for Jim.”

 

Jim starts to struggle, but the exhaustion etched in his expression is telling. If this shit doesn’t stop, it will have a detrimental effect on his physical state.

 

“I’m waiting,” Harrison announces patiently. “I’m his greatest chance of survival.”

 

Chris goes quiet, his breaths heavy and labored in the silence. “Then, take him.”

 

McCoy snaps his head around to look at Chris. “What?”

 

Jim’s shocked expression meets his father’s. “Dad,” he pleads hoarsely before Harrison silences him with a sharp thrust upward into his neck.

 

Jim gurgles out a breath.

 

“Jesus Christ, just take Jim and get out of here,” Chris shouts.

 

Harrison narrows his eyes. “What did you say?”

 

Chris is sobbing. “Go,” he gasps. “Go.”

 

Harrison’s mouth thins. “Tell him you don’t love him. Tell him you never want to see him again.”

 

Jim starts to shake.

 

McCoy covers his mouth in horror, an deep-seated ache blossoming in his chest. “Oh, God.”

 

Chris stares at him bleakly.

 

Harrison cocks his head, tightening his arm even more around Jim’s throat. “Tell him—or I’ll squeeze even harder this time.”

 

Chris locks eyes with Jim, and takes a breath. “Go,” he says in a reserved voice, suddenly and strangely quiet. “Go with Harrison, Jim. I don’t…” he draw a tremulous breath. “I don’t love you. I don’t want to ever…” He swallows. “Ever. See you again.”

 

Chris lifts his chin as Jim’s tears course freely down his cheeks.

 

“Wonderful.” Harrison injects Jim with a syringe. Jim’s eyes startle open, but within seconds, he passes out into Harrison’s arms.

 

McCoy’s mouth drops open. “What the hell are you doing?”

 

“It’s no longer your concern.” Harrison smiles. “My men will train their guns on you for,” he pauses, looking at his watch, “five minutes. By then, it’ll be too late to rescue Kevin as well as Jim. Good luck, Gentlemen.” He smirks at Chris. “And a special thank you, Chris, for the parting gift.”

 

“No,” Chris whispers. “No—dammit—Harrison—!

 

It’s too late. All of it—too late.

 

McCoy’s heart shatters for a second time in his young life. He’s helpless to watch as Harrison slips away holding Jim, helpless as Chris fades into a troubled unconsciousness.

 

He can’t see Harrison’s other men, who’ve moved beyond any visible perimeter. But he doesn’t doubt that they’re there.

 

The next few minutes take an eternity to pass. He doesn’t know if they’ll live or die. If this is truly it for them, or it he’ll make it out with Chris for a fighting chance. When his heart somehow stops thudding in his ears, he hears it. The steady, slow ticking of a bomb. It’s his signal to leave. He gets to his feet and peers through the window at Kevin. The boy’s shoulders curve inward, not from fear, or with the burden of death, but with explosives.

 

“Goddammit,” he whispers. “Fuck.”

 

He sees only one outcome if they want to find Jim, to see justice served.

 

He wants these things, badly.

 

And so does Kevin.

 

So does Kevin.

 

The boy nods, his eyes godlike in their confidence. Go, he mouths.

 

Tears escape McCoy’s eyes, more tears than he ever knew he could shed for someone that was just an acquaintance. But his sorrow isn’t just for Kevin. But Chris, too. And Carol. For the boys at the orphanage. Even Spock.

 

And for Jim.

 

He tries to smile at Kevin, but it’s the boy who flashes him a cocky grin, just like Jim’s. It looks much like his idol’s that McCoy tears flood anew.

 

He looks away, chest heaving with guilt, disappointment, and fear. He has to do it now.

 

Damnit, but he’ll hunt for Jim if it’s the last thing he can do. If it’s the only thing he accomplishes in the rest of his sorry life.

 

He hefts Chris onto his shoulders with a tormented groan, and charges away from the impending explosion—and into darkness.