This happened because he made a mistake. Not just one. He made many mistakes during the time they spent together. He knows he tried to be forgiving, but who can just shrug away a stab in the back? Such a mistake will change a relationship irreversibly, even if we have learned from the mistake and would never repeat it. Our world, with its rules of causality, has trained us to be miserly with forgiveness. By forgiving them too readily, we can be badly hurt. But if we've learned from a mistake and became better for it, shouldn't we be rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake? - Braid

"Goddamnit Jim, there are people dying down there!" McCoy glowered at Jim, not caring that the entire bridge was watching them with bated breath, drawn to the battle of wills between the two proud, volatile men. Jim puffed out his chest as he took in a deep breath and stared right back, matching the doctor's heated gaze with one of his own.

"I am well aware of that, Doctor but we have our orders from Starfleet not to go planetside and I intend to follow them until told otherwise."

"Screw the damn orders! It is medically unethical and immoral to just stand here with our thumbs up our collective asses while a plague ravages that planet!" The anger pouring off McCoy in waves was palpable to all who watched as he stood, back rigid and his hands clenched into fists, waiting for Jim's response. It was Spock however, who moved up behind Jim to address McCoy.

"Be that as it may, Doctor McCoy, this planet sets on the border of the neutral zone and to interfere would place this crew, along with Starfleet and perhaps the Federation, in danger of total war with the Romulans while negotiations are ongoing. There is also the Prime Directive to consider as well, doctor."

Jim had been delicately trying to avoid mention of the Prime Directive to Bones and inconspicuously stepped away from Spock and towards Bones, who leveled a fierce glare at the Vulcan that could have evaporated raw dilithium. Spock arched a brow at the intense scrutiny but appeared otherwise unfazed.

"Well, you all may be comfortable in hiding behind that damn directive but as a doctor, I have a moral obligation to try and save those people! The Romulans certainly aren't going to until they get their pound of flesh from the Federation, so that leaves us to help them!"

"As a ranked senior officer on this ship, Doctor McCoy, you are honor bound to lay down your life in order to uphold the Prime Directive, not fly in the face of it. If you are to make any attempt to help the peoples of Irnan, we will be forced to confine you to the brig."

"Come on Bones, you know as well as I do how these political things work. I don't like it any more than you do and if it were up to me and under different circumstances, we would already be down there. But until Starfleet is able to finalize negotiations, we're stuck up here. So let's just go down to the mess and get some coffee or something. I'm sure this will all blow over soon."

Jim moved closer to Bones in an attempt to guide him off the bridge but Bones threw his hands up disgust and almost clocked Jim square in the face. Jim's eyes grew wide as he outwardly flinched and faltered back into Spock, who quickly caught him and braced the captains' shoulders to steady him.

There was a collective startled pause on the bridge as Jim straightened himself out, Bones looking on in horror. Taking a deep breath, Jim imperceptibly motioned to his ready room with a tilt of his head. Nodding silently, Bones moved to follow him, the crew's eyes tracking their movements until the ready room door hissed shut behind them. They had all seen a few love spats between the two of them in the two years they'd been on the Enterprise but this had a different air about it entirely. They all shared a look as Spock stood stock still, staring down at his hands before he pulled himself together, casting one last look at the closed doors before sitting down in the captain's chair.

"As you were."

As soon as the door closed, Jim turned around and Bones immediately cupped Jim's face in hands, hazel eyes locking on to clear blue. Jim breathed in slowly, counting each exhale as they began one of their many trust exercises. As they maintained eye contact, Bones ran his thumb over faint stubble, waiting for Jim to start.

"I felt threatened by your actions, even though I know it was not your intention. I know you meant no harm."

"I was just upset about our orders and I wasn't thinking about where I was directing my anger and I'm sorry."

Jim closed his eyes and leaned his forehead on Bones' for a moment before stepping back to lean on the desk. Bones folded his arms against his chest and mirrored Jim's posture, watching closely as Jim scrubbed his face.

"Well… That was extremely awkward."

"Do you think we're going to have to run damage control with the crew? You know how fast the gossip mill runs around here. It's like we're back in high school." Jim said, shaking his head.

"Hopefully we can avoid that. Maybe they'll just think you dragged me in here to harangue me for dressing you down like that and that'll be that."

"Right, after I skillfully ducked your hand by jumping back like a little girl."

Bones snorted. "Which was graceful, by the way."

Jim didn't dignify the jab with a remark. "The point is, if they ask questions, what do we tell them? Talloc said it might eventually come up, being in such close quarters for so long and it was up to us whether or not we should disclose anything."

"I may be paraphrasing here but let's burn that bridge when we come to it. It's been two years and so far, we've been able to avoid anything like this." Bones paused as he watched Jim consider the options. "Do you think we should call Talloc before our next appointment or just bring this up when we talk to him next?"

"Unless this stalemate with the Romulans ends sometime soon, we'll just have to wait. Speaking of, we really should get back out there. I'm not expecting the admiralty to contact us for a while but the crew might get concerned if we stay in here too long. Do I have to worry about you absconding with half the medical supplies and hijacking your way to the surface or will you be able to wait until we get the go ahead from Starfleet?"

"I can keep my peace until then. Just don't expect me to be happy about it."

Jim pushed himself off the desk, Bones' hand catching his in a fleeting touch of fingers before Bones stood, kissing Jim tentatively.

"I truly am sorry."

With a nod of his head, Jim turned and opened the door to a sea of concerned eyes watching them. Bones quietly broke off to step into the turbolift, glancing at Jim as Spock turned the chair back over to him before the doors closed. He'd thought they had been doing well but he didn't have to be a Betazoid to know there was something new brewing under the surface of their relationship.

While Jim had been worried about people asking him what had occurred on the bridge, he had not been expecting it to come in the form of a Vulcan and his long legged sidekick. He had been sitting in the mess, debating on whether the meat on his plate could actually be considered food when Spock and Uhura set their own trays down and sat down across from him.

He looked around, noticing the mess was practically deserted and recognized an ambush when he saw one. "Mr. Spock, Lieutenant. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Uhura unwrapped her silverware and proceeded to cut her meat into sections, silently deferring the question to Spock.

"We are concerned as to what transpired on the bridge yesterday during your argument with Doctor McCoy."

Jim, being the master of deflection, took the opportunity to sidestep the issue and fit a smirk on his face. "You can't really expect him to happy with us being in orbit around Irnan while having to maintain the stance of non-interference while a plague decimates the population. He's a doctor and he takes it seriously when he has to ignore the oath he took in order to satisfy his oaths as an officer. It's just how he is and honestly, I wouldn't have assigned him to the position if he didn't care as much as he did."

He had expected the bullshit eyebrow to come up, just not on Uhura's features. He had to keep himself from laughing at how much the two people in front of him were made for each other.

"Cut the crap, Jim. You know damn good and well what we are talking about. Sir."

Knowing then that he wasn't getting around them, Jim sighed and set his fork down. "Fine, have it your way. What do you want to know?"

"Captain, when you backed into me, I gained a brief moment of insight into your mind." Jim held up a hand and tilted his head in confusion.

"Wait, I thought you had to be in a mind meld to see stuff in people's heads."

"While that is generally true, the prowess of the Vulcan mind is culminated of much more than just the meld. I was only subject to a momentary observation of your surface thoughts while we were in such close proximity and what I became privy to has troubled me greatly. When I conveyed my concerns to Nyota, along with what I had seen, she recalled an encounter that was similar in nature to what I had seen."

Jim began to panic. He could have bullshit them into believing whatever about him freaking out when he saw Bones' arms coming towards his face, but to have been given a front row seat into where his mind had gone in that instant was something else entirely. Spock had said he caught just a glimpse though, so there was still a chance he could play this one off.

"Well, what the hell did you see that has got you two so worked up?"

"An image of the doctor sitting on your chest while he repeatedly attacked you. Your emotional state conveyed it was in anger and not in simulated combat."

A litany of curses flew through Jim's mind as any chance of avoidance evaporated at the monotone summarization.

"When Spock told me that, I remembered seeing you one morning, talking to the head of the xenolinguistics club over a vidscreen. You were asking for someone to cover for you and you had these huge cuts and bruises on your face. At first, I thought you had just gotten into a fight and were licking your wounds. But even then, you never avoided classes or extracurriculars if you were out all night fighting. It always stuck me as a bit off character."

"This recollection, along with what I saw, has led me to question the true nature of your relationship with the doctor."

Jim's jaw dropped, both eyebrows shooting up in absolute shock.

"Excuse me? Just what the hell are you implying when you say 'true nature'?"

Uhura slid her hand across the table, placing it over Jim's as she looked him in the eye. "It's okay, Jim. We're all friends here and we just want to help you. We all see how you are with him. You avoid going to the sickbay, you habitually try to keep him away from alcohol and no one can deny that he doesn't exactly have the best of demeanors, even at the Academy. At first, we thought it was a few quirks, why you guys were so compatible but now… All you have to do is say the word and we can put a stop to this."

"You guys have no idea what you are talking about, so please just drop it."

It what to be the best timing ever, Bones chose that moment to walk into the mess. Spotting Jim, he came over to stand next to the table, looking down at the group, nodding to Uhura and Spock before turning to Jim.

"I managed to catch Talloc and he says that he can see us real quick, if you're not busy." Jim had never been gladder to have a session with the man in his life and grinned up at Bones in relief.

"Please, get me out of here." Abandoning his tray, Jim rose to his feet and quickly followed Bones out from the scrutiny of his would be Inquisitors. As the pair disappeared out of sight, Uhura turned a worried eye to Spock, who arched a brow in return.

Over the next few weeks, Jim and Bones both started noticing that they were never left alone together. Jim had told Bones what Spock and Uhura had questioned him about during their meeting with Talloc, who suggested that this would be the right time to come clean with the crew instead of trying to hide what had happened on the bridge. While Bones thought it wasn't any of Spock's business, he was now starting to get even more pissed every time the Vulcan appeared.

At first, they thought it was the crew looking out for what they assumed was the captain's best interest. When the stand-off with the Romulans came to an agreeable end and Bones and his team was allowed down to the surface of Irnan to aide the people, Spock suddenly spouted off why Jim should not be allowed to accompany the away team, lest he be stricken with the virulent strain of plague. He reluctantly agreed to stay behind after enduring twenty minutes of Spock quoting codes and regulations. Kirk then found himself once more cornered by Uhura while the landing party was gone, though he was able to sidestep anymore uncomfortable questions by secluding himself in his ready room.

Days later, while overseeing Scotty's upgrades to the warp core, Jim suffered a burn when the inertial dissipation module shot out a back draft of energy while the new couplings were being fitted. As the sickbay was overrun with injured engineers, Jim caught sight of Spock wading his way through the crowd. Thinking it was just to get the incident report, Jim rattled off the particulars while he was waiting to be seen. But when he resolutely stayed by Jim's side as Bones repaired the burned tissue to then quickly usher him out, he was starting to get annoyed.

It continued on like this, meals became a team sport with whoever had been tasked to watch them and any private moment was immediately interrupted. The medical staff was treating McCoy like a pariah and the crew would give Jim sympathetic glances when they passed him in the halls.

The final straw was when Bones and Jim finally got a moment to themselves after a hectic mission that got plenty of good men killed, that resulted hours of calling family members and grieving with them, and filing stacks of reports. Trying to wind down from the forty hour adrenaline rush, they holed up on the observation deck, slowly making out as the stars drifted by, just reveling in the fact that they'd made it out alive. As the kisses became more passionate, Bones threaded his fingers in Jim's hair, pulling his head back to gain better access to his neck. Jim let out a startled gasp as Bones tongue laved at the taut flesh. There was the sound of someone clearing their throat a few feet away from them that shattered the intimate moment.

Both heads turned to see Spock approaching the settee they were perched upon. "Captain, you've received a transmission from Starfleet detailing the objective of our next assignment. It is recommended that we go over the specifics before we reach Tarandi IV."

Jim groaned, fed up with the interruptions and stood up to take the padd from Spock, skimming over the data before handing it back.

"This can all wait until alpha shift, Mr. Spock. Right now, I'm too beat to deal with it."

"Captain, the parameters need to be discussed-"

"No goddamnit! I know what you are doing and I've had it up to here with this bullshit! I am going to my quarters now to have sex with my boyfriend and I do not want to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. Is that understood, Commander?"

Spock folded his hands behind his back. "Understood, Captain, my apologies."

Clasping Bones' hand in his own, Jim turned his head sharply upwards and dragged Bones out of the observation room, grumbling under his breath.

"Talloc said we should have just come clean with everyone and you wouldn't listen. Now look where we are."

Jim stopped short in the hall and turned around to look at Bones. "I didn't want to tell anyone because I didn't want the crew looking at us differently. At you differently. They trust their lives and their wellbeing in your hands and I don't want that to change because of something that happened years ago. We've worked hard to put it behind us and it's unfair to us have them dredging this back up because of some stupid misinterpretation."

"Well, apparently ignoring it didn't work! But since that's the tactic you take with everything else involving your private life, I can't say I'm too surprised."

"Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Since this all started, I've worked my ass off trying to make amends to you, going through the programs and watching every little thing I do for three years and not once since that first day have you ever said 'it's okay, Bones' or 'I forgive you, Bones'. It's like you've built this little invisible prison for me that I can never get work my way out of, no matter what I do or how hard I work. There has never been a relapse in all this time, and yet you're still treating me like I'm that screwed up cadet from years ago!"

"In case you forgot, the last time I tried forgiving you, it didn't exactly work, now did it? Can you really blame me for not wanting to go through that again?"

"So what, is our relationship forever going to be built on 'once burned, twice shy'? Why the hell are we even trying to get over our past if we're never going to get out of this cycle, huh? What the hell do I have to do? I've said I'm sorry so many times, it's become an involuntary mantra and yet you still won't say anything back!"

A reply died on Jim's lips when he spotted Uhura peeking around a corner. Bones turned to follow his gaze and inwardly groaned. Gripping Bones tighter, they continued the trek back to their quarters and Jim wondering how long it would take the lieutenant to report back to Spock about their conversation.

"We're going to have to finish this conversation somewhere less public."

"Face it, Jim, we're just going to have to tell them if we ever want to gain back any semblance of privacy."

When Spock entered his quarters after his shift the next day, he paused momentarily in the door at the pointed look Uhura was giving him as she sat across the room. Scooting a padd across the small table, she leaned back, placing her hands on her knees.

"We've received an invitation to dinner in the captain's mess tomorrow night."

Understanding the tense nature of her words, Spock crossed the few feet between them and picked up the padd, reviewing the message.

"Given my last encounter with Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy, the invitation suggests an ulterior motive on their behalf."

"McCoy probably wants to showcase Jim to us on a leash, thinking we'll leave them alone after their little charade. They caught me watching them argue in the hallway. McCoy was yelling at Jim as he just stood there, with this hurt look on his face. I wouldn't be shocked if this was all some cheap ploy into making us think its all roses with them. I just can't believe that no one saw this before now… What kind of friends does that make us?"

"Then we shall accept the invitation, discover what subterfuge they are planning and rectify the situation immediately, as real friends would be inclined to do."

At 1900 hours, Uhura and Spock arrived at the captain's mess and were ushered in by Bones. Jim smiled as he poured two glasses of wine, handing one off to Uhura as she sat down, before pouring water for Spock and Bones. They tucked into their meals, making small talk about the ships status and plans for the upcoming shore leave. The conversation was staccato but polite, prompting Bones to arch an eyebrow as Jim poured more wine after their plates had been cleared away.

"So, as I'm sure you've already guessed, there is another reason why we asked you to come for dinner tonight."

Neither of them was expecting Jim to come out and say it, and Uhura shot them a surprised look, then tried to cover it by drinking deeply from her glass. Spock just continued to watch them with an air of nonchalance, though he wasn't really fooling anyone. Bones chuckled at the pair.

"No reason to act shocked. Did you really think we wouldn't catch on to what you were doing? How stupid do you think we are?"

"I think what Bones is trying to say is that we need to clear up a few things and this was the best way we could think of that wouldn't be too public." Jim shifted in his chair and polished off the last of his wine in a single gulp before turning his head to Uhura. "The day you saw me at the Academy looking for someone to cover my club duties was because Bones attacked me in our dorm the night before. I was waiting for him to come to so we could talk and I didn't want to risk him waking up alone."

Bones reached a hand across the table and Jim grasped it tightly in his own.

"He had gotten some bad news from his ex-wife and decided to drown his sorrows in a lot of alcohol. I was coming home from a party and in his inebriated state, Bones jumped me. Which is what you caught a glimpse of, Spock. The next day, I found out what had set him off and figured we could just talk about it and it would be all right. We realized later that it wasn't working and we decided to see someone about.

"We still are, actually. When Bones came to get me that day in the mess, it was to see him after that incident on the bridge, not some effort to keep me from talking to you guys. So what we need you to realize is that I am not in some abusive relationship, mentally or physically. Everything you thought you were seeing after what happened is just how we are. I don't like to go to sickbay because I have an unreasonable fear of hyposprays and Bones will always be a cranky old fart."

Bones snorted and squeezed his fingers around Jim's. "We've been seeing Talloc for three years now. Because of him, I've worked through the base of my anger problems and have been enjoying sobriety, you know, when crazy natives aren't threatening to kill you unless you toast one to their pantheon of gods."

"Hell, that stuff tasted more like furniture shellac than alcohol, so I think you get a by on that one."

"I had it tested afterward and it was furniture shellac. Or damn close to it, which explains why the whole away team got sick." They both shared a laugh at that and Uhura chimed in as well, remembering the incident in question. "Either way, you two don't have to worry about us. We have this under control and it's been working for us for this long."

"When I came into contact with the captain, the brief sense of deep-seeded fear that I felt would suggest otherwise."

Bones and Jim traded a look. "That… Was a knee-jerk reaction, a form of post-traumatic stress and there is a good chance that I may always have it. It happens every now and again but we have a repertoire of exercises we use and Talloc is on call for us when it does occur. Right now, I'm not afraid of Bones but when I mistake something like that for a threat, that kind of regression takes over."

"But what about that argument I saw in the corridor? McCoy looked like he was ready to tear your head off and you just stood there and took it. And Spock said that he witnessed McCoy manhandling you on the observation deck. That's not what a healthy relationship needs."

"That was because every now and again, we enjoy getting a little rough in the bedroom. As for the fight, truth be told, it was actually just what we needed. It helped me realize that I was treating Bones unfairly."

"Don't misunderstand him, I have owned up to my actions time and again. It was entirely my fault and I will never forget that but what spurred us to seek help was Jim's fear that he had forgiven me prematurely without us really talking about it."

"But even with all the therapy and exercises, I hadn't noticed that when I had a reaction to an argument or an assumed threat, we'd go through the motions but I wasn't living up to my end of our relationship because I was afraid if I forgave him like I originally did, that we'd end up reliving the pretenses of those two weeks after the fight. We'd spent so long trying to make sure Bones wouldn't lose control again that we didn't focus on making sure that he knew I didn't blame him anymore."

"It was because he decided to outright ignore any fallout with you two or anyone else that got us squabbling in the first place and it dawned on me that in dealing with his own pain, he was ignoring my turmoil in always being seen as someone to be feared in his eyes, which wasn't helped at all by you two."

He pointed at Uhura with a sharp jab. "Don't think I don't know it was you who was whispering in my staffs' ears that I was some kind of abusive monster." Uhura had the good grace to appear ashamed for her actions, ducking her head in the face of Bones' ire.

"And that's going to be the next step in counseling. Bones has proven he is a man of greater worth and ambitions in overcoming his past and now we need to work on reaffirming my complete trust that he has changed. So in the end, I guess this whole debacle was a good thing."

"So you really are going to be all right? We don't have to worry about some major blowout between you two?"

"Let's face facts, we aren't always going to agree on everything."

"And he's still going to act like an arrogant little brat who's been given the keys to a candy store."

"Act like?"

"Point taken."

Upon seeing the looks they were getting from Uhura and Spock, they stopped the bantering. "No, you don't have to worry. Things are what they are, for better or worse. Though, it does speak volumes that you guys went to all those lengths because you thought you were protecting me. I guess it goes to show that's what friends are for."

"Shows that if I ever did relapse, I'd have the entire crew compliment out for my blood. Speaks to how these people love you, Jim, just like I do." Jim smiled and leaned in for a kiss

"Love you too, Bones."

The group spent the next few hours talking about love and relationships, furthering the rumor factory as they discussed who was shacking up with whom. Though Spock remained neutral on that topic, the conversation flowing much more easily than before. When the wine was finally gone, Jim and Bones stood, causing Uhura and Spock to follow suit.

"Thank you for dinner, gentlemen, it was lovely. It's a weight off my shoulders knowing you boys are all right. And sorry for jumping to such horrible conclusions and spreading it around to everyone. By tomorrow, it won't even be an issue anymore, I'll make sure of it." She kissed them both on the cheek and smiled brightly. Spock nodded to them both, still appearing somewhat apprehensive.

"Come on Spock, why still with the sourpuss? You'd know better than anyone if we were trying to snow you."

"This whole situation has left me pondering the human idiom 'every cloud has a silver lining'. It amazes me how you can take an unfortunate occurrence such as the one you two have described and molded it into a beneficial aspect of your partnership. It really is fascinating."

"Glad you think so, buddy. Now, if you will kindly excuse us, there is still make-up sex to be had and we don't fancy it a spectators sport." Waving goodbye, Spock and Uhura left, hand in hand, Uhura looking back to see the door closing on Jim and McCoy, Jim melting in McCoy's embrace as they passionately kissed.

She was left with not only a scorching hot mental image but with proof that the captain really was happy and safe in the arms of the cantankerous doctor.

The End.