Jim returns to Iowa, alone, after Tarsus (he had slipped on to the refugee ship bound for Earth and through cleverness and sheer willpower, avoided getting his name on any list – he doesn't want the attention of the rest of the universe on him for being the cowardly son of the heroic George Kirk). He comes back, too thin and hating himself. Sam died trying to save their cousin Jacob, who was to be exterminated because he was too young, at six, to be valuable enough to live (Jacob died anyway, making Sam's death almost a waste - almost, because Sam did something when Jim was too cowardly).

He doesn't know what happened to his brother's body, but a soldier made a point of showing him the corpse when the man dragged him off to join those who would be allowed to live. The back of Sam's head had been beaten in and Jim almost didn't recognize his brother's face, which was so different in death than in life. (Sam had blamed Jim for not doing anything and had left him to his own devices on the farm a few days before his death, taking Jacob with him. Jim doesn't blame Sam – he did, after all, freeze up when soldiers stole their family).

His mother isn't in Iowa when he arrives and he hasn't contacted his stepfather to let him know he's coming. Jim just shows up on the doorstep and walks silently past a dumbstruck Frank, who doesn't stop him from entering the house and re-enrolls him in school at Jim's request. (He's also just gruff instead of abusive, almost as if he feels bad that he was the reason that he and Sam were on Tarsus IV, and Jim doesn't know what to do with that). Frank also contacts Winona, which Jim isn't entirely sure he wants.

It's two, almost three weeks (during which his birthday passes), before his mother returns. Jim hears the door slam open, a frantic female voice calling, and the sound of stairs being taken two at a time. She rushes through his bedroom door and Jim just looks at her. She stops dead in her tracks, a deer-in-the-headlights look flashing across her face for an instant. His mother takes a deep breath and approaches him again, tentatively wrapping her arms around Jim. He doesn't stop her but makes no move to respond. It's not a gesture he's familiar with or, really, comfortable with (it's something he'll learn from Bones, later in life).

"Oh Jim," she murmurs against his hair, swaying gently, as if he were an infant again.
He still doesn't respond (partly because he doesn't know how to and partly, perhaps more importantly, because he doesn't want to).

She withdraws and searches his face. "Where's your brother? Frank said you can back without him."

Jim tries to tell her, but can't find the words for a long time (he knows that she doesn't blame Sam like she does him, that his brother was not attached to memories of deep loss like Jim is, and he hates her for it, but he feels he ought to tell her).

Her face grows concerned. "Jim? Where's Sam? Did you two get separated?"

Jim shuts his mouth and looks away. "He was killed when he tried to protect Jacob," he says bitterly, closing his eyes so he can't see her shell-shocked expression. He lets her clutch at him (she did, after all, lose a son and he's not a monster) but he ignores her gasp and the sobs that follow.

His mother tries to stay around after that, and dotes on her only remaining child through tears and agony. He doesn't accept her attention. He's fourteen and bitter and more than a little bit jaded. (And it's her fault. Her fault for never being there, her fault for marrying Frank, her fault for loving Sam more than him, her fault for his being on Tarsus IV, and he's disinclined to forgive her for anything).

(He also thinks that she's not doing this because she really loves but because it's what she should do. It's what's expected of her).

Her stay is counted is months before his mother gives up on him and leaves for space again. As she walks out the door, Jim asks that she tell no one – not even her superiors – that she lost a son to Tarsus IV (because losing her brother and his family is enough of a reason for bereavement leave). Two sons, really, he adds, with the idle cruelty of a teenager. Her face crumples and she nods. It's the last time he talks to her, much less sees her, for a very long time. (He doesn't regret this until his thirties, when she dies in action at the hands of Romulans – he still hates her, at the end, but has matured enough to understand her reasons).

Jim learns to compartmentalize Tarsus and his family, if at great cost to himself. He boxes up the horror and the loss and bitterness, the sights and smells, and shoves them in a corner of his mind. He develops a self-destructive streak a kilometer wide, drinking and fucking his way through weekends and breaks. Things leak out of the Tarsus Boxes, too. Jim's self-loathing spikes and he gets in trouble, which leads to time in juvie and Frank's abuse magnifying. When he's sixteen, he lets a fight with his stepfather escalate into a brawl, in which he thoroughly beats Frank's fat ass. When he knocks his stepfather out cold, Jim packs a bag – school stuff, clothes, books – and leaves. (As he walks out the door, he knows he ought to call an ambulance because Frank is still out after twenty minutes and that's bad. He finds himself not caring if Frank gets brain damage).

Jim continues to go to school because he knows it's damn near impossible to get a job without a high school diploma and he's so close to graduation anyway (he may be a troublemaker but he's also fucking smart and isn't going to waste more time than necessary in that hellhole). He stays with older friends during this time. They let him because they know why he left (he's never talked about it, but they saw him come to school with poorly disguised black eyes even when he wasn't in juvie and it's not hard to see the marks an abusive childhood left on him. It's the price of being picky about his friends – they're all brilliant and more observant than he might like but their company is worth it and they're smart enough not to mention what they see).

Graduation rolls around and it doesn't take long to find a job (sometimes being the son of a hero is a benefit that makes people want to hire him, rap sheet or not). Jim moves in with some other friends and life is tolerable enough, even if he still gets in trouble. The Tarsus Boxes still leak once in a while, or it's because he has a chance to make up for his failure to act. Sometimes it's because he can or wants something or because he's angry and spoiling for a fight.

It's because he wants Uhura that he gets in the fight that leads him to Starfleet Academy. She's sexy and brilliant and doesn't want him, so he tries even harder to get her. He notices some other cadets glaring at him for hitting on their hot classmate and doesn't give a shit until they're almost on top of him. He's never been one to say no to a good old-fashioned bar fight and is initially disappointed when an old man interrupts the brawl with a whistle but less so when the man – Pike – offers a suitable challenge.
And James T. Kirk never backs down from a challenge.

Jim is looking forward to the shuttle ride, as he loves nothing better than being in the air (it's better than getting smashed and a hot lay and winning a fight all at once). An angry, half drunk man drops down next to him and Jim's anticipated enjoyment drop when the man threatens to puke on him. But then the man offers him free booze and he decides this might be good after all.

As the cliché goes, it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The man's name is Leonard McCoy, but Jim decides he likes the name "Bones" better, despite Bones's strenuous objections. There is something about the man that pulls Jim in, and something about them that makes them work seamlessly (it's the night Bones gets dragged into a bar brawl with him and they fight in perfect tandem that he decides that Bones is the only CMO he wants).

It takes about a year to realize it, but sometime during their second spring semester Jim discovers that there's a lot more than friendship between the two of them. Touches he would never allow from anyone else, the way they fit together so well (it just adds up to "so much more than what I thought" and Jim doesn't want to deny it). It's not perfect and they still fuck up, but they adjust to each others' scars and thorns so it's still amazing (sometime later, lying in bed with a sleeping Bones, Jim decides that fact makes their relationship all the more intimate and worth keeping, even when he has to fight his instinct to bolt or push him away when he catches Bones looking at him a certain way).

(It's a testament to how much he loves Bones that he even tries – he never tried with anyone else. )

It's almost six months before he makes a move. He got an inkling that Bones might want him, might feel the same, when they take off for Georgia to spend a few weeks with Joanna that summer, but he has to be sure that he's read Bones right (he would much rather spend the rest of his life buried under a mountain of "what if"s than loose this man because their friendship is the best damn thing he's ever had). When he gets what he feels is the go-ahead from Bones ("Jim, what's wrong?" Bones asks, worry in his voice when Jim closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath. "Nothing," Jim murmurs. "At least nothing yet," he adds before he kisses his best friend square on the mouth), he leaps.

Bones catches him and it's wild and wonderful and he just lets go for as long as he can. During winter break, though, it all comes crashing down. The Tarsus Boxes break open as the ten-year anniversary of Tarsus IV itself approaches and it all comes flooding out. He gets them both drunk enough for the conversation and lets Bones push and prod him for the answers he wants/doesn't want to give.

His fear of abandonment follows closely behind, a jagged snarl in their early relationship. It almost ends them, comes so close to smothering their feelings when Jim proceeds to shove Bones away from him, rage and fear and agony at what he can't help but suspect is coming bleeding into words he doesn't mean but can't not say. Bones is more understanding than Jim feels he deserves when Bones puts two and two together and the realization dawns in his eyes. He takes Jim's hands in his and tells him what's what in calm (you-aren't-broken-Jim) tones that reassure him enough that all the feelings come flooding back.

This is not to say that all the snarls in those first years are all because of Jim's issues. Bones's (how-the-fuck-is-she-Joanna's-mother) ex-wife left him a mess, on top of the weight Bones bears for his (begged for) hand in his father's death. Sometimes he lashes out at Jim and Jim tries to be just as understanding toward him as Bones has been to him, but he still responds sometimes and while their fights are never, ever physical (or even get close because Jim swore he'd never be like Frank), they do get nasty with things both meant/unmeant said by both sides.

(This isn't a love song, this isn't a fable about a pair of souls so perfectly matched that they never fight. It's Jim and Bones. JimAndBones. Nothing more, nothing less.)

Eventually, they work out each others' tender spots and open wounds and try to help each other deal with them (Bones tries to pinch the wound of Jim's abandonment closed to help it heal, which it does quite a bit. But not all the way, despite his efforts. Jim tries to help Bones shed the crosses he bears and is less successful than Bones is at helping him, but Bones knows he tries and that's more than he ever could have asked for). Jagged places and rough patches still remain, but they know what not to say and they fit even tighter.

(This isn't a love song, this isn't a fable about a pair of souls so perfectly matched that they never fight. It's Jim and Bones. JimAndBones. Nothing more, nothing less.)

Six years in, Jim hesitantly suggests they formalize their relationship ("That way they can never separate us," Jim says quickly, when Bones looks a little scared, even as he stomps on the rising fear that this will kill JimAndBones and the needy little voice that says this will make it harder for him to leave, trying to focus on hope instead. Bones reaches forward, frames Jim's face with his hands, and kisses him. "Yes," Bones whispers in his ear when they part to breathe. Jim's insides relax and he sighs into Bones's shoulder). They sign i=the paperwork and turn it in at the next Starbase. Neither one ever calls it a marriage and there are no rings. That's what it is, and what the papers say of course, but it's still just JimAndBones to them and the papers just make it legal.

Shore leave on Earth gives them a chance to tell properly Joanna, who doesn't quite understand what they are to each other (just that Jim makes her poppa happy), and it's during this time that it occurs to Jim to send his mother a note telling her that he's found someone. He never knows it, but she cries when he mentions how long they've been together and that it's been a year since it was formalized (bitter guilt eats at her; what a mother she must be if her only remaining son didn't think to tell her when he was wed until well after the fact). They also make a brief stop in Riverside so the friends Jim has kept in touch with can meet Bones. (They love him and Jim feels even better about his choice).

They keep their relationship quiet. Neither one will ever deny that they are JimAndBones, but they don't bring it up and make an effort not to show it in public (Jim thinks that should be much harder than it is, given how they feel, but outside the privacy of their own little world they wear different masks and play different roles. That seems to make it easier and all it looks like is that they're very close friends to anyone else).

Of course, a few people know – Gaila walked in on them kissing once, and Uhura and Spock and Sulu are all very observant (it's the price they pay for being picky about their friends – they're all brilliant and more observant than they might like but the company is worth it and they're smart enough not to mention what they see). They count themselves lucky that there's never more than whispers no one ever takes seriously.

(Jim never knows it, but their relationship becomes public after his death twenty-odd years down the road because someone, and no one is ever able to track that person down, photographed their last kiss. Bones wants to track down the person who took and spread the picture and strangle them but never denies that they were JimAndBones because he loves Jim too much for that, more than the price he pays when he's seen as Jim's husband and never quiet seen as Doctor Leonard McCoy for the rest of his days. Jim is more than worth that, Bones thinks).

This isn't a love song, this isn't a fable about a pair of souls so perfectly matched that they never fight. It's Jim and Bones. JimAndBones. Nothing more, nothing less.

A/n: Many thanks to lj's Hyde-the-Body for her beta. :)