Notes/Warnings: The title comes from a quote from a Russian poet, Yevtushenko, whose works get forced on McCoy in this story: 'Be equal to your talent, not your age. At times let the gap between them be embarrassing.'

Herein you will find no dialogue in dialect, nor will Chekov speak in mangled 'Please to be sorry, English is second language, I do best I can' speech. He doesn't talk a lot in the movie, but when he does it's proper English.

Warnings for slash, some mention of non-con situations (all off-screen). I make no money from this, I own nothing, etc. Other pairings that pop up here include: McCoy/OC (briefly), Spock/Uhura, Kirk/everyone with a pulse.

Len McCoy never claimed to be particularly worldly. He knew medicine, he knew Georgia, he knew the Enterprise. Despite what he was sometimes accused of he wasn't xenophobic: there was just a hell of a lot he didn't understand and didn't try to understand.

He accepted that most of the cultures and aliens and what-all the ship ran into were gonna be strange. The backwards societies, the zealots from different worlds, the cultures, the histories. It wasn't his job to understand them. He was a doctor, he wasn't a diplomat. He didn't have to understand to heal.

Of course, when he got down to it he didn't understand a lot of things about earth itself. Georgia, sure. Macon, absolutely. The south...mostly. America, a lot. Outside of that, his knowledge and his desire for knowledge were infinitely lessened.

Hell, he didn't understand Spock, and that pointy-eared bastard was one of his closest friends. He didn't understand an entire race subverting all traces of emotion in the interest of raising their eyebrows and lecturing about logic and being all around annoying as hell. But he didn't have to know why Vulcans developed how they did. Spock was his friend either way.

Jim Kirk had been McCoy's closest pal at Starfleet, and was a good friend even now that the cocky young shit was also McCoy's boss. McCoy understood Kirk, even the things he didn't agree with at all. The guy was Midwest through and through, with his bar fights and hellraising and the way he didn't care what the odds were, he just did whatever it was that needed doing. He was an idiot, sure, and a reckless cocky shit who was lucky to have any friends at all and luckier not to be rotting from a thousand alien STDs, but he was a hell of a lot of fun. He was a drinker and a carouser, and McCoy liked that.

Hikaru Sulu, with his easy smiles and he casual way he always seemed to belong exactly where he was...he was California all the way. There was a center of calm about him, something McCoy admired because he didn't have it himself. Mellow, relaxed, interested in trying everything once. He had a thousand hobbies and a million weird talents, from fencing to botany to Andorian Yoga.

Nyota Uhura, she was a lady. A real lady, urban and urbane, New York City. Classy down to her toenails, with a hundred languages and a thousand cultures underneath her skin. McCoy understood her, and appreciated the things about her, and Sulu, and Scott, that he didn't have himself. He liked the hell out of them, and he knew what made them tick.

Then again, he didn't understand little Pavel Chekov in the slightest.

McCoy knew the kid was some kind of genius. He had to be – Starfleet at fourteen, an ensign on the flagship of the Federation three years later. Chekov was younger now than anyone on the ship had been when they went into the academy. He was smart enough to hold his own in long, brow-furrowed talks with Spock, and personable enough to keep up with Sulu and Uhura after they adopted him as their third amigo.

He gave Chekov credit, but he didn't give him a lot of thought. Chekov, along with being one of a million distant things that he didn't really get, wasn't the kind of guy McCoy'd ever bother with. Jim was McCoy's kind of guy. Sulu, and Scotty.

Hell, he only liked Spock as much as he did because behind that cool expression and raised eyebrow was a hell of a sharp-tongued bitch. McCoy got a kick out of Spock.

Chekov? Well, McCoy patched Chekov's bruises and scrapes, Chekov steered the tin can McCoy lived in without running them broadside into any planets, and everybody was happy. He was content not to understand the kid, like a million other strange things. He didn't not like him, he was just happy to keep him on the peripherals.

He liked medicine. He liked sutures and medkits and antidotes. He liked grits and bourbon and earth. He liked being the sawbones, saving lives, and being the only voice of reason on the entire damned ship more often than not.

He didn't like constantly thinking about everything in the universe that he didn't understand.

So when something happened that did make him pay attention to Chekov, it was disconcerting. Even from the start McCoy was off his game.

He was in sickbay late one night, minding his own damned business, finishing up a report on the side effects of this nice and nasty virus an away team had brought on board with them a few weeks back. The virus was gone, of course, McCoy'd be old and infirm before it took him more than a few weeks to find a cure for some alien virus.

He was just wrapping up his report, already hours later than his shift called for, when there was a disturbance from the front of the bay. Unsteady thumps of heavy footsteps, and a voice calling for a nurse.

McCoy was out of his office in a flash: he was a bitter boozing earthhound, yeah, but his sense of duty was just as strong as any officer on that ship.

Coming through the door was Russia's best and brightest, blood staining a line down his chin as he lurched into the bay. The kid was supporting another ensign, a guy that had to have at least a foot and a good sixty pounds on the kid.

The ensign wasn't part of Jim's hand-picked main bridge crew, so McCoy didn't know him all that well. Bauer, he thought the guy's name was. Hans Bauer, maybe. Or Fritz, or some damned thing. Something Aryan that fit his blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Another navigator. Or pilot. He'd been on the bridge once or twice, but McCoy couldn't remember if it was in Chekov's or Sulu's seat.

And speaking of Sulu, the pilot was on Bauer's other side, helping Chekov drag him into the sickbay. Sulu wasn't a heavyweight himself, and the sight of the bulky blond being supported between the two smaller figures brought a quick smirk to McCoy's face.

He gave the threesome a once-over – Bauer white with pain and unable to stay on his feet without help, Chekov with blood on his mouth, Sulu looking unhurt but grim – and grabbed a tricorder from a supply shelf as he approached.

He waved off the approaching night nurse, Latune, amused enough by the sight of the trio to feel magnanimous.

"It's kind of late for a brawl, isn't it?" He kept his words light but his eyes were sharp on the three men. "What happened?"

They lurched awkwardly up to him, and McCoy nodded at the cot nearest where he stood.

To his amusement Chekov all but pushed Bauer away, ducking under the arm Bauer had slung around his neck and simply letting him go. It was a stumbling kind of dance for poor Sulu, crumpling under the larger form's weight but strong enough to get him to the cot before he let him go.

Bauer hit the cot with an oomph of breath and immediately curled up, going fetal as he whimpered in pain.

McCoy approached the bed, looking at Chekov and Sulu more sharply. He didn't fail to notice that no one had answered his question.


Sulu's gaze went to Chekov. He stayed pointedly silent.

Chekov stood where he was, his hands fisted at his sides as he stared at the blond on the bed. "There was a disagreement," he said finally, accent even thicker than normal.

"Uh huh." McCoy waited for him to go on, hesitating between Chekov's bloody face and the pained whimpers from the bed. "Over what?" He quickly decided the prone figure was his first concern, despite knowing that Jim would bitch him out later for letting one of his main bridge crew bleed for a second longer than he had to.

"You didn't insult vodka or something, did you, ace?" He nudged Bauer onto his back, looking him over for signs of injuries. The tricorder would've been faster with a diagnosis, but McCoy hated the idea of consulting a machine before his own senses.

The silence was pretty damn loud behind him, and McCoy sighed and looked back. "Anytime, boys."

"I can't answer, doc. I wasn't there." Sulu's low voice was dark.

Dark enough to draw McCoy's focus. He looked from the helmsman to the navigator. Grim worry in Sulu's eyes, and Chekov avoiding that look.

Bauer moaned behind him.

McCoy ignored him, flipping the diagnostic bed's sensors into life. The guy wasn't dying, and there were interesting things happening there.

He let the bed run its scan, his full attention going to Chekov. "Okay, kid. Talk."

Chekov's throat worked, but he stood as straight and stolid as any Vulcan. "There is nothing to talk about. We had a disagreement."

McCoy rolled his eyes, but approached Chekov with the tricorder. "What did you do, kick him in the balls? Dirty way to fight, kid."

"But it is a way to fight." Chekov's shoulders were back, almost at attention. His steady gaze landed on McCoy. As wide and green and young as they were, the look behind those eyes was fierce. "I'm young, and smaller than some, but I do fight back."

McCoy understood then.

Hell, he should have expected it. Bullies were everywhere, even on the top crew of the top ship in Starfleet. It was inevitable – wherever there was strength there was domination. The weak were preyed on in some form in every society on every damned planet McCoy'd ever read about.

Humans were some of the worst for domineering assholes, and someone young and innocent and brilliant like Chekov would draw them like flies.

Almost amused, McCoy raised the tricorder to scan the kid.

"I am not here as a patient, doctor," Chekov said, stiff. "It is not my blood." He rubbed at his chin with the back of a pale hand, and sure enough the blood swiped off without any trace of a wound underneath.

But his hand was shaking, and McCoy wasn't an idiot. He swept the tricorder over Chekov anyway.

"Look, kid, you brought him in for medical attention. That means he goes on a report, and if you think Kirk's not going to read that report and want to know a few details, you're wrong."

Chekov's eyes went behind McCoy, to the bed. He drew in a shaking breath and wiped his hand on his uniform pants to rub the traces of blood away. He didn't speak.

McCoy glanced over at Sulu, shared a brief moment of empathy. Sulu was a pretty mellow guy, in McCoy's experience, but he was loyal. He was fierce with it, as bad as Jim Kirk himself. The frustration in his dark eyes was acute.

"Look, Chekov." McCoy regarded the boy again once the tricorder readings confirmed that he wasn't hurt. Too-fast heart rate, some stress, not much else. "I hate to say it, but this kind of thing happens. Must've happened to you before now, right? It'll probably happen again. It stinks, but you keep on fighting back and you got nothing to be embarrassed about."

Something flickered in Chekov's face. Surprise, maybe, followed by...something. Something dark. A quick but disturbingly intense moment of despair.

Like the light in his eyes sputtered and went out entirely, if only for a few moments.

But it came and went in a blink, and Chekov straightened his already stuff spine. "He is your patient, doctor. Get your report from him." He didn't wait for an argument, just turned and made for the door.

Sulu swore under his breath and headed after the kid

"Hey." McCoy frowned, sensing in that moment of despair on Chekov's face that he was missing some part of this puzzle. "What the hell's going on, Sulu?"

Sulu slowed but didn't stop. "You know as much as I do, doc. He called my quarters for help getting this asshole to sickbay. He won't say anything else." He was at the door by the end of his words, and he kept moving through and out without letting McCoy ask him anything else.

"Huh." McCoy frowned after them for a moment before he turned back to his remaining patient.

Bauer curled there, breathing too hard, and Jesus. If Chekov really had kicked him in the crotch it must've been a good shot to keep him down so long.

McCoy was almost amused by the thought as he approached the bed to check out the readings. Chekov was right – fighting dirty was still fighting, and maybe word would spread that the infant of the Enterprise was a scrapper. Maybe it'd keep any other would-be attackers off the kid.

God, Kirk would kick this guy's ass for playing schoolyard bully on his ship. For all his grinning irreverence Jim was a mother bear about his crew, the main A shift crew more than the rest. If Bauer had gone after Chekov hard enough that Chekov had to physically fight him off, then Bauer was screwed.

"Made the wrong move here, pal," he informed his patient.

Bauer groaned.

"If you're lucky you'll just be demot..." He trailed off as he called up the full display on the bed's diagnostic console.

The readings flashed up, clear and clinical. Damage was assessed, and the burly ensign's injuries were painted in crisp medical language.

McCoy's smile faded.

For a moment he was confused. Then he remembered Chekov wiping that dried red trail off his chin and saying it wasn't his blood.

His eyes shot from the display to the pale face of Ensign Bauer, and everything casual and amused inside of his mind dried up and blew away like tumbleweeds.

Anger sizzled up inside him in its place.

His hand shot out, pounding into the communicator on the console. "McCoy to Security."

Jim Kirk was too young and too new a captain to come through the door with any kind of real gravity. He wasn't outright grinning, no, but he strolled in and surveyed sickbay like his presence there was what set them all into motion.

"Bones, what the hell's going on in here?"

McCoy stood where he was, where he'd been standing since he made the call to security. His arms stayed folded over his chest, and he didn't turn his eyes from the now-quiet ensign on the cot.

"Don't know why they called you," he groused, flashing a brief glare at the two waiting security officers. "This bastard belongs in a brig, and I sure as hell don't need a second opinion to confirm it."

Kirk hesitated, surprise stirring under the normal confident swagger. He was a young captain, but he was a damn good captain, and it only took those words from McCoy to get him serious.

"I'm listening."

McCoy nodded at Bauer. "Chekov brought him in. Wouldn't say what happened. Had this guy's blood on his mouth." He couldn't stop his words from going sharp.

Bauer had stopped moaning a few minutes ago, but he wasn't any happier than he had been when he was dragged in. For good reason – his career was over, whatever McCoy had to do to see to it. Pale blue eyes looked away from the doctor and captain, and Bauer slumped there in sullen silence.

Jim waited, picking up more tension in his shoulders with every passing second. "Do I have to beg for the rest?"

McCoy reached over and flipped the diagnostic panel to life. The charts came up. Normally he'd small-word any medical language for Jim, but this wasn't a complicated diagnosis.

Trauma to the guy's dick in the form of a small series of lacerations. Two sets. It was the image of the lacerations that brought it all home: the unmistakable pattern of bite marks.

Chekov hadn't kicked the guy in the dick, he'd bitten down. Hard enough to lacerate, hard enough that the guy's blood ended up running down his face.

He gave Kirk a few seconds to look over the image, the blunt diagnosis. "Chekov said just because he was small didn't mean he couldn't fight back."

Kirk's eyes shot up as the clues clicked together and told the story.

His gaze swiveled to McCoy, and then to the man in the bed. "Ensign Bauer." When the ensign didn't instantly respond, Kirk stepped up to the bed. "Bauer!"

McCoy felt a moment's grim satisfaction at the snap of authority in his younger friend's voice.

Bauer responded to it, stiffening and looking at Kirk. "Sir."

"You have one minute to explain yourself."

Bauer flinched. He pushed himself to sit up. "Sir, this isn''s not what you think."

"Then tell me what it is." Jim spoke through a clenched jaw.

"It was...he kept...Pavel's been hanging around, Captain. We've been talking. This wasn't..." Bauer looked past Kirk at McCoy, resentment flashing over his face. "It's nothing the kid didn't want."

"Brig," Jim answered instantly. When no one reacted to him fast enough, his eyes shot over to the waiting security officers. "I said brig! Now!"

They snapped to attention. Both men moved to the cot.

"And you," Kirk said to Bauer grimly, "had better think long and hard and come up with a better story than that if you ever want to get out again."

McCoy stayed silent, watching as the guards picked up on Jim's tone and hauled Bauer none-too-gently off the cot and to the door.

When they were out the door McCoy let go of his tension. He looked back at the diagnostic display with a sudden tiredness that reminded him of how late it was and how long he'd been in the damn sickbay.

"Son of a bitch."

He looked over, catching Jim's eyes. "Yeah. Sums it up."

"Where's Chekov?"

McCoy shrugged. "He took off before I figured out what happened."

Jim drew in a deep breath, and for a moment he looked like a shell-shocked kid. Same look he always got when he was handed some captain duty that he never anticipated having to do.

McCoy regarded him, but didn't say anything. He felt bad for Jim sometimes. He was young. He didn't have the kind of experience a man should have before becoming responsible for hundreds of lives. But Jim didn't want sympathy. He'd asked for it, he'd be the first to point out. He practically demanded his position, bullied his way into it. If he didn't know how to handle some aspects of it...well, he'd learn as he went.

He wasn't scared to tackle any problem, however unfamiliar. That was no doubt one of the top reasons why he happened to be Stafleet's best captain.

"Shit. Okay." Jim scowled suddenly, straightening and pushing his shoulders back. "I'll track him down and get him in here. I want you to give him a look-over, even if..." He glanced at the bed's display and managed a faint smirk. "Even if he seems to have won the round."

McCoy nodded. Chekov wasn't hurt, not physically, and McCoy was no psychiatrist if he was hurt in other ways. But McCoy was what these kids had for a healer, and he wasn't scared to tackle a new ailment.

Something he and Jim had in common.

"Kind of funny, isn't it?"

Since McCoy couldn't see much humor in the situation, he just raised his eyebrows and waited.

Jim flashed him a grim look. "We're so damned advanced in our pretty little starships, building federations with distant worlds...but we're still fucking cavemen."

McCoy gave a twist of a smirk in reply. "Some of us. Evolution's a fickle little bitch."

Jim's smile went the slightest bit sincere, but he turned and strode out the door without answering.

McCoy sighed as the door slid shut behind Jim. He rubbed the tiredness off his face, turning back to the bed Bauer had taken up. He smirked at the display.

Evolution may have been a bitch, but karma was a bigger one.

The smirk faded as he remembered Chekov wiping that drying blood off his chin with a shaking hand.

He reached out and flipped off the display, turning to head back to his office to pack up for the night. He'd worked so damned late he wasn't going to get much more than a nap before his morning shift was scheduled to start again.

He left word with the nurse who'd hold the place together while he slept to give him a call if Jim or Chekov showed up, and left sickbay behind for the too-bright corridors beyond.