"Hey Bones," Jim staggers into the road. "Boooooooooooooooooones."

"Jesus, Jim, what?" Bones grabs Jim's elbow and hauls him back up onto the sidewalk as a car speeds by, horn blaring. Jim collapses against him, forcing him back a step. Cursing, he shoves forward, trying to balance Jim on his feet. "C'mon kid, just a little further. Let's get you back to my room before you pass out."

Jim wobbles, and Bones has a sickening vision of himself explaining to the Admiralty how he let James T. Kirk drunkenly stumble into the path of an oncoming hovercar. Just as he reaches out to steady him, Jim finds his balance, smiling blearily. "Okay."

Bones can't help smiling back a little. "There ya go. Come on." He turns and starts walking towards the medical dorms, slowly at first, until he Jim falls into step next to him.

"What does that mean?" Jim yells, like they've been talking about whatever's on his mind for the past hour.

"What does what mean?" Bones shivers. Spring in San Francisco still feels like winter to him, dammit, especially on rainy nights like these. Jim notices, shrugging out of his jacket and handing it over without a word. Bones pulls it on; Jim won't take it back no matter how he argues, and one of them ought to be warm. It smells like leather, booze, and dirt, and the combination strikes him as so utterly Jim that he smiles again.

"There!" Jim stops in his tracks to point at him. "That! That!"

Bones grabs Jim's extended wrist and pulls forward, gently coaxing him into a brisk pace. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You're always smiling like that. It's like you have a secret." Jim frowns, narrowing his eyes like he's trying to figure Bones out.

"You know all my secrets, kid." Because anything they haven't shared in three years of friendship, Jim has undoubtedly filled in with that genius brain of his.

"I thought I did." Jim pouts. "But you smile like that sometimes, and I don't know what it means."

"Since when does a smile have to mean anything?"

"It just does." Jim sighs, looking exasperated. Then his mood shifts; he runs ahead a few feet and turns, walking backwards and grinning at Bones. "I've got a secret."

"Oh yeah?" That surprises him. Jim isn't the type to keep secrets, he doesn't have the shame for it.

"Can't tell you though," Jim whispers, as if someone might be trying to eavesdrop.

"If it's about your latest escapade in some alien's bed, I assure you I am not interested."

Jim giggles, something he only does when he's not only extremely drunk but also alone with Bones. "Not about some alien."

"Some human, then?" Bones asks, against his better judgement.

"Some human. Maaaaaaaybe." Jim sways on his feet but keeps his balance.

Bones jogs a few steps, catches up enough to grab Jim if he falls again. "Any human I know?"

Jim smirks. "Oh, you know him."

Bones raises an eyebrow. "Him, huh?"

Jim nods. Then his eyes go wide. "I've said too much!"

Bones can't help being amused, in spite of an uncomfortable feeling in his chest that he can't place and isn't going to think about. "I won't tell."

Jim visibly relaxes, throwing an arm over Bones' shoulders. "Awwww, Bones, I love you, man."

"Enough of your drunk talk," Bones says, elbowing him in the side and trying to smother a grin.

Jim tightens his arm. "S'not drunk talk! Well, I'm drunk. And talking. But I'm serious!"

"Okay, kid, okay. You don't have to smother me to death," Bones says, but he doesn't shrug Jim loose.

"You love me back, right?" Jim says, seriously.

"I'll love you if you can get back to the room without passing out. Deal?"

"Deal!" Jim smiles. They walk together in silence for a few minutes, until Bones sees the outline of the Academy buildings in the distance. Then Jim leans into him, whispering. "Bones? Hey, Bones?"

"What is it, Jim?" Bones asks, walking a bit faster and propelling Jim forward; Jim only uses that quiet tone when he's getting close to the passing out stage of his drunken antics.

"You still gonna love me if I don't make it?"

"You'll make it," Bones says, picking up the pace. "I've seen you drunker than this. Just keep walking."

"But what if I don't?" Jim asks, wide-eyed and earnest.

Bones rolls his eyes. "I'll love you anyway."

That seems to perk Jim up. "Yeah?"

"Promise." And Jim looks so pleased Bones can't help smiling.

"'M gonna figure that out someday." Jim warns him, before leaning over and planting a sloppy kiss on his cheek.

And there's that strange feeling again. He tells himself it has nothing to do with the fact that Jim is probably the only person in the world who considers Leonard McCoy a part of his future.

"Take your time, kid," he says, softly. "No rush."

"Well, it's been fun, Bones, but I've gotta go. Captain-y stuff to do and all that," Jim smirks, rolling out from under Bones' arms and towards the edge of the mattress.

"Oh no you don't," Bones growls, hauling him back onto the bed before Jim can tumble to the floor.

Jim laughs, settling back amidst the rumpled sheets and making a half-hearted attempt to tug his wrists free of Bones' iron grip.

"Nope." Bones presses Jim's arms down into the mattress, straddling his waist and leaning over to press wet kisses against the junction of Jim's neck and shoulder. Jim struggles a little, mostly for show, managing to free one hand before Bones snatches it out of the air and pins it above his head.

"I don't think so," he mutters, trailing kisses down Jim's collarbone, towards his chest.

Jim struggles for self-control; if he opens his mouth to speak, all that's going to tumble out at the moment is a burst of delighted laughter. There's no room for anything inside him but the blinding glow of jubilation.

Bones looks up at him, one eye obscured by a fringe of dark hair, and flicks his tongue over Jim's nipple. Jim chokes back a gasp - the sensation is electric, but the playful expression on Bones' face really undoes him, really winds him up. And Bones seems to like it, seeing him wound, and that just makes it worse, or really, better.

Happy to give Bones what he wants, anything he wants, Jim reigns in the joy currently making him useless and forces out words. "You're killing me, Bones." And it may be a little bit for him, too; he likes to say Bones' name like this, half-sobbing and half-laughing and tinged with desire, likes to remind himself who's with him in this bed, and if the muffled groan or sharp press of Bones' cock into his leg is any indication, Bones likes it even more.

"God, wanted this for so long," Jim sighs, reveling in the thrill of Bones' gasp and the frantic rut against his thigh, and oh yes, that's what he really wants, to talk his way past Bones' trap-like self control; he wants to see Bones lose it.

"You feel so good, Bones." He watches Bones' face, watches him close his eyes and shudder. When he opens them again they're bright and narrow - he's on to Jim's game now, and victory won't come easy.

He slides down the length of Jim's body, trailing kisses over his abdomen and sucking hard at the soft area below his belly button. "Gonna make you come so hard, Darlin.'" Jim's skin flushes red under the murmured endearment. Bones knows all his weaknesses - Jim Kirk is an old hand at every bedroom trick but tenderness.

The sight of Bones hovering over his cock is almost enough to make Jim give up the game, just moan and shatter and let Bones take him, but he pulls it together. "I know you will," he whispers. "I know you'll take good care of me."

And there, that flash of possessiveness in Bones' eyes lets Jim know how close he is to winning. "Damn right I will. Gonna take care of you like I always do, gonna make you feel so good you forget your own name as you're screamin' mine. Isn't that right, Darlin'?"

When he takes Jim in his mouth, Jim knows the game is over and lost, but his chest swells with the rush of victory. It's good, so good that he can't focus on anything but wet heat and whatever it is that Bones is doing with his tongue. "Please don't stop, Bones," he chokes out the whisper between moans. "Please, I need you. Always need you."

Jim can feel Bones' shudder all the way down to his balls, and it nearly finishes him. Like he can sense it, Bones pulls off with a wet smack, sliding up Jim's body so fast Jim hazily wonders if he's been there all along.

And then Bones wraps his palm around Jim's already-slick erection, and he stops wondering anything.

"That's right, Darlin'. That's right," Bones croons into his ear, planting tiny kisses and bites on the soft skin of his neck. "Let me take care of you. Doesn't it feel good? C'mon and come for me. Let me see you come."

Resistance is futile; Jim comes all over his stomach with a shaking groan that may or may not be a name. Bones' blinding smile, however, assures him it is taken as such.

"So beautiful, Jim," Bones breathes into his neck, and Jim shivers, blinking back to the world. Bones rocks his hips against him, making little keening noises that are amazing but not enough, not nearly. He tries to sit up, to shove Bones over onto his back, but Bones is having none of it, growling wordlessly and shifting to rub his cock through the slick mess on Jim's stomach.

"Don't you move," Bones mutters, "not a damn inch, you just lay there where I can see you. Never get to watch you as much as I want." And if that's what Bones wants, Jim is happy to oblige. He stares up at Bones, eyes wide and lips parted, not trying to disguise the need and desire he always feels when he looks at this man.

Bones reads him loud and clear, like always, and his rhythm falters as he comes, eyes open and drinking Jim in like he's water in the desert.

Jim would understand if Bones collapsed on him, god knows he couldn't stand right now to save his life, but trust Bones to have some hidden reserves of strength, because he lowers himself gently to the mattress.

"Hey," he whispers, kissing the shell of Jim's ear softly, chastely. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself," Jim grins at him, turning to face Bones and brushing the hair out of his eyes.

Bones leans into his shoulder, mouthing his way down Jim's neck. "Not done with you," he murmurs into warm skin.

Jim stretches lazily towards the bedside table, aware of Bones' lingering gaze. "I hope not." He grabs a tissue; a quick wipe across his stomach takes care of the worst of the mess.

Bones sighs appreciatively, reaching out to run his hands over Jim's chest. "You are too pretty to be allowed."

"That why you love me? Because I'm pretty?" Jim asks, and Bones answers by replacing his hands on Jim's chest with his mouth.

"Mhm," he hums, moving lower to suck lightly against Jim's abs.

Jim shivers. "But what about when I'm old and wrinkled? And my hair's all grey and I've gained forty pounds? You still gonna love me then?"

"Yep." Bones responds without hesitation, shifting downwards to bite down on Jim's thigh.

"Ow!" Jim hisses, and Bones makes a soothing noise, caressing the wound with his tongue. "You sure about that? Forty pounds?"

Bones pauses his exploration of Jim's body to look up at him and grin. "I'm sure." Then it's back to business, licking his way up the crease between Jim's leg and stomach.

He does sound sure. Jim squints, trying to picture Bones with grey hair and sagging skin. For a moment, he can see it clearly - Bones has tiny laugh lines already, though it would probably be more accurate to call them scowl lines. But then he catches Bones' eye, and all he can focus on is that clear, bright hazel, and Bones looks up again, smiling that little smile that Jim still can't place.

"Well?" Bones asks playfully, as if he's waiting for Jim to make a joke. "Still gonna love me when I'm old and grey?"

"Yeah," Jim whispers, like he just found out a secret. "I will."

Bones turns away, but not before Jim sees his cheeks flush pink, or his surprised grin. He reaches down to grab Bones by the arm, pulling him up and over him, tilting his chin up so they're nose to nose. Bones gazes down at him serenely, as if he'd be content to lay there watching Jim all night.

"I will," Jim repeats. It's all he can think to say.

"Good," Bones says, leaning to kiss him.

The thing he hates most about space, Bones thinks, is the absolute silence of it. It's cold and still, the opposite of home, where you can wear short sleeves almost through winter, and the busy sounds of nature lull you to sleep through the window.

He can usually tolerate the Enterprise; the ship is bright and crowded, buzzing with a constant undercurrent of activity. Today is the exception. The halls are almost preternaturally quiet, each overheard voice hushed in whisper. Even the steady beep of the monitors in sickbay seem subdued.

"Wake up, Jim," Bones says to the still form on the bio-bed. He keeps his voice down, as if the silence is a spell even he's afraid to break.

He leans onto the bed, the top of his head brushing against Jim's thigh, and laces their fingers. "Come on, Jim. Wake up. You're keeping everybody waiting."

The steady beep that represents Jim's heartbeat is his only answer.

"They're scared," he whispers, like he's letting Jim in on something he shouldn't. "Worried you might not come back. Not me though. I know you too well for that."

He closes his eyes and squeezes Jim's hand a little harder. "I need you to wake up, Jim, please."

No response, just the shallow rhythm of Jim's uneasy breathing.

Bones buries his face in the sheets, feeling helpless in a way he never has, because he shouldn't have to ask Jim to open his eyes - he's a doctor, dammit. But he's done everything he knows to do, tried every drug and every procedure and even made up a few he'd been keeping in mind for just such an emergency and it's all useless. Jim just goes on laying there, a painful mockery of sleep.

And Bones spends every hour interrogating himself, wondering if another doctor could do what he can't, would know something he doesn't.

But that's foolish, he realizes as he lays there counting Jim's breaths. Other doctors may know more, may have studied some rare medicine or perfected some new technique, but nobody in this or any other universe knows Jim Kirk better than Leonard McCoy, and even if they did Jim wouldn't have them.

He stands, giving Jim's hand a final squeeze before moving towards the monitors. "I'm going to wake you up now," Bones says in his normal tone, which echoes loudly through the stillness of the room. "It's too damn quiet around here."

He flips open his communicator. "McCoy to bridge."

Spock's voice answers, low and even, but quicker than is usual, almost eager. "Spock here. Is there any change?"

"There's going to be," Bones says firmly. "Just ignore what's about to happen."

"Doctor-" Bones closes the comm with a satisfying click.

"Computer," he calls out to the room at large. "Seal sickbay. Double red alert. Authorization McCoy bravo delta one-two-four."

The doors slam shut and the overhead lights dim, bathing the room in the red pulse of the emergency flashers. A siren wails an uneven rhythm, the sound bouncing and echoing off every surface, shredding through his body and flashing like fire across his nerves.

Jim flies into a sitting position, and only Bones' lightning-quick hands keep him from leaping out of the bed. The monitors are shrieking, adding to the cacophony and plunging the room into utter chaos.

"Computer!" Bones bellows, not sure he'll be heard over the din. "Cancel alert, repeat, cancel alert."

Silence falls like a curtain, and the lights fade back to their usual serene glow. The only sound is a frantic gasping, and Bones is shocked to realize that it's not coming from Jim, but from himself. Jim, wide-eyed and twitchy, is breathing normally.

"You okay?" Jim asks, voice rough and rusty, and Bones almost laughs.

"I'm great," he grins, groping for his frantic-sounding communicator. "McCoy here."

"Doctor McCoy, report." Spock says, and Bones grins wider at the unaccustomed inflection.

"Everything's fine, Spock. Jim's awake. I'll comm you in a few." He closes the device without waiting for a response.

"You're awake," he says, looking at Jim with something he knows must approach reverence.

"How could I not be?" Jim says, peevishly. "That would've woken the dead."

Bones freezes. "Don't say it like that."

"I'm sorry," Jim says immediately, remorse written all over his face.

"It's okay," Bones says, running a thumb over Jim's cheek. "How're you feeling?"

"Tired." Jim's eyes close, then snap open again. "Is that bad?"

"No," Bones squeezes his shoulder reassuringly. "You weren't really sleeping, before. You probably need it." He smiles. "Besides, I know what'll wake you now. Should have known right away you'd jump if the ship needed you."

"Not that," Jim sighs. "The siren - sickbay double red. Know it by heart. Means you need me."

Bones doesn't speak, just pauses for a long moment before leaning over and kissing Jim lightly on the forehead.

"Still gon' love me 'f I go back t'sleep?" Jim murmurs, eyes closing.

"It would probably make me love you more," Bones grumbles, pulling the sheet up and tucking it around Jim's shoulders.

Jim's brow furrows. "That true?"

"No," Bones whispers, carding his fingers through Jim's hair. "It's not true. I don't think think I could love you more than I do already."

Jim's breathing is regular and even, and a glance at the monitor reveals that he's already drifted off.

"Don't go."

"I have to." Jim sighs, silently debating whether or not to pour himself another round of whiskey. Scowling, he pushes his glass away - this is not a moment to be numb, however tempted he may be.

Bones grabs the glass, finishing off the last few drops and bringing it down too hard onto the table. "You don't. You don't have to."

"I do," Jim reaches out for Bones' hand but Bones pulls away, pushing his chair back with a clatter and storming across the room. "These orders come from the highest offices of the admiralty. Even I can't get out of them."

"They're bad orders," Bones growls, flexing his hands into fists, again and again. "You've got no business interfering in that planet's civil war. Particularly on behalf of the losing side."

Jim closes his eyes. "I know that."

"It's probably suicide." The words tumble from Bones' mouth too quickly, as if he has to get them out or choke on them.

Jim turns, and Bones meets his eyes, looking sick and desperate. "I know that, too."

"Then fuck 'em! Just tell 'em to fuck right off," Bones says, raggedly. "You don't have to die for some fanatical revolutionaries, no matter how much dilithium they've paid for you.

"I'm pretty sure a dishonorable discharge isn't going to shine on the old resume, Bones," Jim murmurs. "Besides, you'd still have to finish out your tour. I'd be stuck on Earth, and you'd be up here."

Bones drops onto the bed and stares at him, eyes wide and afraid, and Jim's heart breaks at how young Bones looks at this moment. "I'll go with you," he says, quietly, tentatively, like he's offering something Jim might not want.

"Then you'll be AWOL, and end up in military jail. So either way I can't have you." Jim pitches his voice low and gentle, trying to calm Bones like he would any spooked creature.

"But you'll be alive," Bones says, fiercely.

Jim crosses the room to kneel in front of Bones, bringing a hand up to brush the hair out of his face. "But I'll be alive without you, so there's no damn point."

Bones swallows, and turns his face towards the wall, leaning up against it and closing his eyes like he's in prayer. And the bottom drops out of Jim's stomach, because surely Bones knows how much Jim needs him, even if he's never said it quite so clearly before.

"You still gonna love me if I go?" Jim asks hesitantly, knowing the answer but still afraid of it.

Bones turns his head and just looks at him, like Jim's said something so profoundly confusing he doesn't even know where to begin.

"Am I still gonna love you?" Bones repeats, trying to clarify. "Am I- what the hell, Jim?" He shakes his head, still staring at Jim with unwavering intensity.

"Don't you know? Jesus, Jim, don't you - my last fucking breath is going to be your name. I'm gonna love you when my heart stops beating, and when the neurons in my brain stop firing. As the cells in my body break down, they're going to fade out remembering your touch. When I'm down to a pile of hollow bones, your name's gonna be engraved on 'em. And finally, when all that's left of me is dust, that dust is going to scatter to every corner of the universe, looking for you."

And Bones pulls Jim onto the bed and against him, as if reminding himself that Jim is still there, that they're still together. "So yes, it's a pretty damn safe bet that I'm gonna love you after you do this idiotic, ridiculous thing."

Bones sounds bitter, and so hopelessly tired that Jim doesn't know whether or not the words are intended to be comforting. But his hands are gentle on Jim's skin, trailing up and down his arms like he can memorize his shape.

He leans back, pressing his face into Bones' neck, just to absorb the nearness, saving it for a rainy day. Bones relaxes under him, wrapping his arms around Jim and holding him too tightly, just short of the point of discomfort. It's enough. Jim will give solace, and take it, where he can.

"Shit, Bones, what do you have in here? Your brick collection?" Jim groans, lifting the box in question and shoving it gracelessly onto a hand cart.

"Lift with your knees, Jim," Bones says. "And stop complaining. That was the last box, anyway."

"Good," Jim huffs, trying to get his breath back. "I hate to think of you back in San Francisco, pining for your collection of intergalactic boulders."

Bones rolls his eyes. "That box is full of your books, if you'd look at the label. And take a break before you cart all that over to the transporter - you're looking a bit red in the face."

"I'll show you red in the face," Jim grumbles. "I don't need a break, Bones, I'm hardly an old man." But he sits on the edge of the mattress anyway, and wipes his forehead with his sleeve.

"Old enough. I want to go check Sickbay one last time," Bones says, "Just to make sure everything's all set for the new guy." He unzips his duffel bag, verifying again that he hasn't forgotten anything.

"Bones. You have checked Sickbay four times this morning already. Unless there was some epic disaster in the last hour, everything is perfect, just like you left it. And if there was, we'd know, because I'm still technically the captain of this ship until I hand over the bridge." Jim sighs, a little wistfully, and Bones' gaze snaps over to him.

"You sure about this?" He asks, for what must be the seven-thousandth time, and Jim laughs.

"Little late to change my mind now, don't you think? Though it might be fun to crush Spock's dreams of captaincy." Jim winks. "But I'm sure. Mostly sure."

"Only mostly?"

"Well, there's one thing that's been bothering me," Jim says, biting his lip.

Bones reaches out to run his fingers down Jim's cheek, then through his hair, surprised as ever to see gray mixed in among the gold. "What's that?"

"You still gonna love me, Bones, when I'm just some stuffy old professor, and not a fancy starship captain?" Jim grins at him.

The knot of tension in his stomach eases, and Bones grins back, dropping next to Jim on the bed and bumping against him, shoulder to shoulder. "You mean, am I gonna love you back on Earth? With grass and dirt under our feet, and sunshine on our faces? In wind and in rain and God help me in snow?"

Turning, he pushes Jim down gently onto his back, leaning over him. "Am I gonna love you when we're never working separate shifts and I can wake up next to you every damn day? After hearing your godawful caterwauling in the shower every morning? When the biggest disaster we have to face is your cooking? After you get bored of tormenting your students and I have to come up with new ways to entertain you all the damn time? Am I still going to love you then?"

"Well," Jim smirks up at him, sure of his answer. "Are you?"

Bones pauses for a moment, raises a brow as if considering the matter. "Reckon so."

Jim's smile breaks into a full-fledged grin and he rises, pulling Bones with him and grabbing the abandoned bag from the floor, shrugging it over a shoulder. "Well, all right then. Let's get started."

"Promise me this is the last time we have to do this," Jim grumbles, opening another box and trying to gauge if the rest of their various books and sundries will fit on the rapidly diminishing shelf-space in their new living room.

"Can't. You'll probably get bored and have us both back up on a starship inside of six months."

"Bones, we've been dirtside for how many years now? I don't think I'm suddenly going to decide that I have to be Captain Kirk again."

Bones pauses, the books he's putting away trembling in midair, and he smiles. "You'll always be Captain Kirk."

Jim winks at him. "Besides, didn't I promise you we'd retire to Georgia?"

"That you did, Jim," Bones nods, laying the books haphazardly on a side-table. "But you didn't say for how long."

"I think you're giving me a hard time so you have to do less of the unpacking," Jim says, eyes narrowed.

"Don't push me, I'm an old man, I'm delicate," Bones grouses, laying a hand over his heart.

Jim rolls his eyes so hard it almost hurts. "You've been using that line for fifty years. I'm immune."

He opens another box, pulling things out and shoving them on shelves at random. A bit of silver catches his eye and he pulls it closer, almost to the tip of his nose.

"Put your glasses on, Jim." Bones rolls his eyes. "I promise not to look." He turns back to his own unpacking, but Jim catches him glancing over out of the corner of his eye.

"Liar," Jim says. "You love my glasses." He makes a show of pulling them out of his shirt pocket and slipping them on, pointedly ignoring Bones' muttered remarks about old men who ought to have outgrown such ridiculous vanity. The image in the frame blurs into focus: him and Bones in their cadet reds, Jim laughing his head off about some fool thing he can't remember now, and Bones looking at him, not quite grinning, but smiling that little smile that Jim still hasn't quite figured out.

They look young, so young that Jim almost can't remember what it felt like. These days he wakes with aching joints and barely enough energy to shuffle towards the shower. And it weighs on him sometimes, every day between then and now heavy on his tired frame. But the young men in the picture smile with the whole world laid out in front of them, never imagining how fast it'd blink by.

"Look at those damn kids," he says, thickly. And it strikes him that he should have done better by Bones, for Bones. Though he can't quite regret spending the coin of his youth captaining a starship, he wishes that he'd known to save more of his best days for Bones, who had cherished each one.

The photo blurs before his eyes, and Bones plucks it from his fingers. He smiles down at it, a reflection of his younger image, and suddenly the last piece falls into place and Jim understands. It's his smile, the one he only ever sees when Bones has Jim on his mind - an expression of indulgence, and amusement, and love.

"You're still that damn kid," Bones says, tucking the photo into place on the shelf and wiping a spot from the glass. He turns to look at Jim, who knows that whatever Bones is seeing, it's not wrinkles.

And that brings Jim back, way back to one of those first nights on the Enterprise, when they were young and love was a new thing that seemed as delicate as a ball of glass. He remembers, vaguely, trying to picture how Bones would look when he was old. Apparently it had been a wasted effort. Bones looks the same to him as he did that first day on the shuttle, just the same.

"You still love me, Bones?" He has to ask, though he's always known the answer.

Bones takes a step towards him, reaches out to thumb the moisture from Jim's cheeks, and his voice is gentle.

"Of course, Jim. Always gonna."