Part 8

Being the CMO on a Federation exploration vessel means Leonard has seen a lot.

He's seen disease and danger, silence and darkness, and a whole lot of surprises. He's watched plagues devastate entire planets. He's witnessed humanoid species with the ability to automatically regenerate life and limb. He's seen the triumph of survival. He's seen bodies strewn about like broken dolls after battles.

He's seen a lot of death. It never gets easier.

Loss of life is expected in the vast blackness of space: inhospitable, unknown, vacuous. He's filled out too many death certificates for members of the Enterprise crew, and each one hurts. For all the self-punishment it causes, he hopes it never gets easier. That would mean he'd lost his own humanity. But when death is so close to him, it has to rip a little piece of his soul out.

At least a fetus doesn't require a death certificate.

The fetus - and it was a fetus, just starting its eighth week after conception, no longer an embryo - had already been dead for a few hours before the DIC started. Despite Jim's demands, there was nothing to save, even if he'd wanted to. He could only guess as to what had initially caused it. A tiny clot within the placenta, or in the abnormal blood vessels leading to the uterine sac? A hemorrhage that had disrupted blood flow to the fetus? Hormone imbalance, developmental anomaly, immunological reaction, poor oxygenation, metabolic waste accrual... all he can do is guess. Something went wrong, and the fetus died. From there, everything had crashed like a set of dominoes.

The uterine sac had rapidly become necrotic as the abnormal connective tissue holding it together broke down, and the decaying tissue triggered the disseminated intravascular coagulation event - the DIC. Tiny clots began to form throughout Jim's body, making blood flow sluggish, decreasing oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain, the heart... everything. And the sick irony was that a DIC uses up all the clotting factors, leaving the remaining blood so deficient in platelets and clotting proteins that the patient begins to bleed... everywhere. Despite all the incredible advances of medicine, it's still one of the deadliest emergencies a doctor can face.

At that point, even with the risk of a bleed-out, he'd had no choice but to operate to remove the dead tissue and hope the microcellular surgical technique would work, even in the worst possible scenario.

Leonard pulls his shaking hands down from his face and looks numbly at the formal medical report on the surgery, staring at the last line of dictation:

Surgery successful.

Barely, but Jim had pulled through.

Leonard lets out an unsteady breath and leans back so that he can see Jim lying on the biobed, still unconscious, but breathing on his own. He'll be asleep for a while longer, which is just as well. At least now, his body can rest and recover peacefully for a little while. He's still in the process of receiving his fourth unit of blood and additional platelets. Even with pain meds, he'll be sore as hell when he wakes up.

When he wakes up. At least he will wake up, but when he does, Leonard has no idea what mental state the poor kid will be in. He'd been frantic until they'd sedated him.

It's haunting him, Leonard realizes - the look on Jim's face as he begged, deliriously, for him to save the fetus. After everything they'd discussed, why, goddammit? What the hell had Jim been thinking?

It would be nice to brush it off as the ravings of a man who was experiencing a transient ischemic attack from the miniscule clots throughout his brain, reducing blood flow and leaving him foggy-headed and unable to understand what was happening around him. Or perhaps he could chalk it up to Jim's medical phobia leaving him desperate for any reason not to be dragged into surgery so suddenly. But those answers are just too easy, and he has a gnawing feeling that it was more complicated than that.

Who knew where Jim's mind had wandered as he'd roamed the ship, unable to sleep? He's creative, brilliant, and prone to intuitive leaps of logic… especially in times of stress. It was precisely that ability that had saved them during the Narada crisis. Something made Jim come to the conclusion that in spite of everything, he wanted the baby with a fierce intensity bordering on desperation.

Whatever the reason, now that Leonard has finished the surgery and has a minute to think, Jim's desperate plea has left him feeling gutted.

"Promise to save the baby first!"

No, even though he could blame it on delirium, drowsiness, or pure terror, Jim did decide to keep it. For some unfathomable reason, he wanted the baby. Their baby.


Leonard leans his forehead into his hands and stares at the PADD on his desk. The words of his report blur before his eyes. He's got to report it to Starfleet now, in full, but he can barely focus on it. It's all too much for him to really wrap his head around. He'd slept for barely three hours before jumping into emergency surgery. Alpha shift has already begun, though, and his natural circadian rhythm will keep him awake for a while. But his mind is ready to shut down.

"Are you going to get some rest, Doctor?"

Leonard looks up at Nurse Chapel's sympathetic face, but can only shake his head in reply. "I know I look like hell, Christine, but you know I can't sleep right now."

"He's okay, Leonard," she says, walking into his office and leaning against the doorframe. She folds her arms low across her chest. "We caught him in time. His blood chemistry should be back to normal within two more hours, the surgery itself was textbook perfect, and he's resting. You should, too." A faint smile, slightly broken, bends her lips. "You saved him."

"I'm not sure I did." Leonard doesn't even know what he means by that, and he shakes his head and brushes her off with a wave of his hand before she can ask. "Go take yourself off duty. I woke you up in the middle of your normal sleep cycle, too, and we've got two other nurses here during alpha shift."

"Okay, but you know M'Benga will either chase you out of sickbay or sedate you himself if you don't get some sleep soon."

"That man's been up all night, too," Leonard grumbles lightly, but at the pointed look from Nurse Chapel, he sighs and tosses her a mock salute. "Aye aye."

She nods in satisfaction, turns, and walks out the door. Leonard watches her go, but his eyes fix on Jim's biobed as she walks past.

Clenching his jaw, he saves and closes the surgical report, pushes himself heavily out of his chair, and plods out of his office. A moment later, he drops into the chair he'd placed next to Jim's biobed earlier. The position feels too disturbingly familiar, like he's returning to a place that he'd simply rather not visit again.

"Hey, kid."

Jim doesn't move. Not that Leonard expects him to.

"I'm so sorry, Jim. I really am." He leans back, taking in Jim's pale complexion and slack features. He's got more color in his face than he had even an hour ago. When Leonard closed and stepped back for the first time since surgery had begun, Jim was so pasty and gray that Leonard almost couldn't believe the biosensors telling him that he was still alive.

He's begun cycling toward consciousness as the anesthesia loosens its grip on him, so Leonard keeps talking. Jim won't understand what he's saying, but he's hoping that something in his voice will soothe Jim as he comes back to awareness. And there are some things that are a lot easier to say when Jim can only listen and not respond.

"I should have checked on you more carefully last night. I wanted you to relax, so I didn't. And now, I'll never know if the anticoagulants caused the... the miscarriage... or if taking you off the meds caused it. I'll never know what time it began. Dammit, it could have started..." His voice cracks a tiny bit, and he's grateful that nobody else is within earshot. "For all I know, it could have started while we were sittin' on the couch, drinkin' tea. You could have been leaning against my shoulder at the moment you started to die on me, and I didn't even know."

The thought that this had all happened right under his nose is leaving him feeling unbalanced. Incompetent and useless. Jim is the most important person on the ship to him. He's spent the last several weeks focusing on Jim's health in every possible detail, monitoring his biostats day and night... and the minute he let his guard slip, everything went wrong. Like the runner who slows down because the finish line is in sight, only to be beaten at the wire.

He came through it, Leonard reminds himself. He didn't fail. Jim's not paralyzed. His digestive system's intact, and his organs weren't damaged. But shit, that was too damned close. Jim had lost so much blood, a rarity with modern medicine. It had been touch and go...

"You're one hell of a fighter, Jim. You should know that. And you'll bounce back from this, eventually. I know it." He reaches out and wraps his hand around Jim's slack fingers. "I just hope you can forgive me for... everything."

He gives Jim's hand a squeeze, but doesn't receive one in return.

The first time Jim climbs into awareness, someone's talking to him. The words don't penetrate, but he's comforted by the voice. It's good to know that he's not alone. He drifts, at peace and unconcerned. He can feel vague sensations: a heaviness in his limbs, a strange numbness in his torso. He's dizzy.

He knows there's something he should remember, but he doesn't really want to leave this serene limbo. So he floats off again.

The next time he wakes, he's still in the same peaceful, dreamlike state.

But a second later it all comes back to him in a rush: who and where he is, what was happening just – minutes? – ago, the fear and the baby and they're going to cut into him, and—

"Captain, can you hear me?" someone is saying. "Don't worry, everything's fine." Nurse Chapel, his mind supplies sluggishly.

"Don't do it," he mumbles. His throat is dry and his mouth feels clumsy and stiff.

"It's all over." Chapel's voice is soft and soothing. "You're out of surgery. How do you feel? Nauseous at all?"

There are too many things for him to process all at once. He's still stuck on It's all over, and her other questions don't make sense. A minute ago there was a crowd of people around him, and Bones was looking down at him telling him to relax and not to fight it, and now everyone's gone. "What happened?" His throat is so parched that the words sound scratchy and weak.

"I'll give you an ice chip to suck on. It'll help your throat." Something smooth and cold is pushed between his lips, and he runs his tongue over its deliciously cool surface. It feels so good that it distracts him, and he can't remember what he wanted to say other than the fact that he wants another ice chip.

"Do you know where you are, Captain?"

That's a simple enough question, and he even knows the answer. "Sickbay." Focus, he tells himself. Something important happened, something bad. What was it?

"That's right. You've just come out of surgery," she says again patiently.

He feels disoriented. Surgery… how long was he out, then? "Where's Bones?"

"I'll call Doctor McCoy in a moment."

That's not what he wants. He needs Bones here, now. He has to talk to him, tell him… what?

Before he can get his thoughts together to argue with her, she's there again, relentlessly. "Does anything hurt?"

He lets go of his thoughts about Bones to focus on his body. He's groggy and it's so hard to concentrate. His limbs still feel heavy and a little tingly, as if the drugs haven't quite worked their way out of his system. Maybe that's a good thing, because nothing hurts, really.

"'m fine."

"Any nausea?" She's got so many questions, but dammit, she's not giving him any answers. He takes a deep breath, but his stomach doesn't seem to be on the edge of revolt, so he shakes his head.

She smiles. "All right. You just rest here for a bit. I'll call Doctor McCoy." He frowns at her retreating back, confused, because Bones was just here a minute ago. Why would he leave? How much time has gone by? The last thing he remembers was Bones standing over him with a medical team, telling him that he couldn't save the embryo and he might not be able to save Jim. It'll be okay, I promise.

But it's not okay. Something went terribly wrong, he knows that.

He twists a little on the bed, moving cautiously, trying to see what works and what doesn't. He curls his fingers and toes, stretches his legs. There's an IV catheter sticking out of the back of his hand, and he stares at it. He's not sure what that means.

He tries to roll onto his side, and that's when he realizes that fuck, he's sore as hell. Just the simple act of twisting himself slightly on the bed is enough to set off an unpleasant chain reaction: a sharp tug in his abdomen, followed by a deeper ache that settles uncomfortably into his belly and a throbbing pain in his skull. Something seems to pull at the skin over his stomach, taut and unnaturally stiff - a bandage, he realizes as his fingers connect with the slick, siligel surface.

It's truly over, then. He feels more than a little bewildered. One minute he was being rushed into sickbay, staring into that bright overhead light and struggling, pleading for Bones to slow down and listen, and now… there's a block of time missing from his awareness, a gaping hole which has left him stranded back in a reality which has clearly changed. He's had the surgery, obviously, but it doesn't feel like any time has passed at all.

A minute later, his emotions start catching up with his sluggish thought processes. It's all coming back now: the blood and the godawful cramping in his gut, his frantic pleading to save the baby, the panic in Bones' eyes as he was rushed to sickbay, the terror that ripped through him as he was held down and-

"Jim." Bones is striding toward him, wearing his habitual scowl of concern, and he looks terrible: eyes bloodshot, face drawn and pale. He looks like he's been up all night, and Jim can't help but feel a pang of guilt, because it's not hard to guess why. It reminds him that he hadn't wanted to call Bones when the trouble first started because he wanted him to get a good night's sleep.

As his mind sharpens, the sequence of what happened is becoming clearer: he remembers locking himself off in the observation lounge, gazing down at the beautiful planet below, the sudden resolution that he was going to try to see this through, keep the baby if he could, be a parent… and then the flash of dread when he'd seen all the blood. He couldn't stop bleeding and he was hurting and dizzy, and then, only then, did he think to alert the doctor.

Shit. Why the hell did he have to wait so long? Whatever happened, it's his fault.

Bracing himself, Jim waits for Bones' standard diatribe of you-oughta-be-glad-you're-injured-because-otherwise-I'd-deck-you, but Bones just gives him a small, fleeting smile. For once, his eyes don't raise automatically to the readouts over Jim's head, but stay focused on him, searching his face as if he's looking for something.

It's really bad, then.

"About time you're awake, kid. How're you feeling?"

"What happened?" He remembers Bones saying something about an emergency, some weird acronym and a catastrophic failure of something.

"You're all right, Jim. It was touch and go there for a while, and thank God I did so much practice with the microcellular techniques. But you're going to be fine."

Jim nods warily. There's something Bones isn't telling him, and his behavior is vaguely off in a way that scares him. He should be angrier, ranting about how irresponsible Jim was, telling him how he'd gotten a hundred more grey hairs and it was all Jim's fault. Jim wants to hear it, because Lord knows it's true. But Bones is just looking at him sadly, and it's making Jim really fucking nervous. Either there's something medically wrong that Bones has to tell him, or…

Or maybe Jim's just screwed this up so badly that it's changed everything between them.

He doesn't want to be flat on his back for this conversation. It's too vulnerable a position. He starts to push up on his left elbow, ignoring the twinge that shoots out from his belly, but Bones is quicker, pushing down lightly on his chest. "Lie back, kid. You've just had major abdominal surgery, and you're not going anywhere for a while."

"Bones, what the hell happened?"

"You had a DIC, Jim. A disseminated intravascular coagulation. Your blood started clotting... tiny clots, not like the large one you had in your leg. Different things can trigger it, but once it's started, it's... well, it's a cascade effect. The clots were clogging tiny blood vessels, impeding blood flow."

Jim frowns. "Isn't clotting the opposite of bleeding? My nose was bleeding, and it wouldn't stop."

"The tiny clots used up all your clotting factors. The blood left over couldn't clot well enough, so you kept bleeding. The only way to stop it was to remove the cause of the DIC. If I hadn't done that, it would have killed you. That's why we had to rush you into surgery and couldn't wait, kid." His expression is bleak, wounded in a way Jim has seldom seen on Bones.

Jim tries to follow everything Bones is saying, but it's hard. "Remove the cause? I don't get it... "

"You lost a lot of blood. We almost couldn't stop the bleeding, and your brain wasn't getting enough blood flow for a while during the DIC anyway. Your blood chemistry is almost normalized again, but it took four units of blood to bring you back. You'll feel sluggish for a while, maybe a little confused. But you'll be fine, Jim." His gaze is far away for a moment. "You'll be fine," he says again.

Jim can't stand that look on Bones' face, and his brain just doesn't want to process this. His head hurts. He raises his left hand to his throbbing forehead, but the IV tugs at his skin uncomfortably. Lowering his hand, he stares at it in defeat. He can't quite summon the energy to object, but God, he hates seeing the tiny tube piercing his skin, attached to his vein. It's a constant reminder that there are fluids and medications flowing into his body that he can't control, but after all he's been through lately, it seems almost ludicrous to make a fuss about it.

"Do you want me to take that out?"

Jim blinks up at Bones in surprise. "Really?" he blurts. That's the last question he expected. "I mean, of course I do. Now?"

"You've got about another twenty minutes to finish this drip of saline, but after that, I'll remove it if it's bothering you. But that'll mean I'll have to administer the meds by hypo every three hours. Is that what you want?"

"I have a choice?" he asks, just to make sure. As a doctor, Bones usually favors the unchallenged-dictator mode of interaction. Jim's used to Bones simply taking away his choices and ignoring his preferences, accompanied by his no-nonsense, deal-with-it-dammit attitude. His sudden change of heart is only reinforcing Jim's certainty that there's something Bones isn't telling him. Maybe he's dying, and Bones is trying to be subtle about granting his last wish. Or maybe it's a sort of pre-emptive strike; Bones knows that Jim is going to start whining about it any minute, and he just doesn't have the energy for it. He's giving in without a fight, and that just seems wrong.

Even so, Jim's not going to argue. "Take it out, then." The hypos hurt but they're not as bad as looking at a tube stuck in his body.

"How's your pain level?"

The burning in his abdomen is more insistent now, but old habits die hard. "It's fine. Bones, what about the embryo? The baby..."

Bones' eyes flick up to the monitor, then back down to him. "Jim, answer me first. If you're starting to hurt, it'll be easier to deal with now rather than later when the pain's really bad. On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it?"

Jim's relationship with pain is complicated, as Bones well knows. It's a tangled mess of associations that have been with him since childhood: anger, guilt, shame, and, sometimes, self-flagellation. It's not easy to quantify. He's hurting now, but he deserves it, even craves it. "It's okay, Bones. You always say a little suffering is good for the soul."

"Jim, you're not coming off a bender, you're coming out of anesthesia. Just tell me how you're feeling, for God's sake." He sounds impatient, or maybe just tired.

"It's a three. A three or a four. I don't need anything."

But Bones is already reaching for something in the cabinet, plucking out a vial filled with amber liquid. "It won't stay a four for much longer, kid." Jim's quiet as Bones injects the drug through the IV. He'd rather hold onto the pain, but there's something comforting and familiar about Bones running over his objections. That feels normal.

It's the guarded look in Bones' eyes that is anything but.

"Tell me what happened." He pitches his voice low, with just a hint of his command authority in it. "All of it. What caused the DIC? Why... why did you say you couldn't save the baby?"

Bones sighs. "The fetus had already died, Jim."

Dead. He knew it, but even so, it's hard to grasp. "How?"

"I'm not entirely sure. Even women, who are equipped for carrying a fetus to term, sometimes spontaneously abort, and there are so many reasons why it happens. Hormone fluctuation. Problems with the placenta. Anything. In your case, I think the artificial uterine sac was simply unstable, and blood flow to the fetus was disrupted." His mouth pinches. "It was probably dead before you went to bed. Maybe even before I met you in your quarters."

"Oh." That doesn't make sense, though. He was feeling fine then, just a little unsettled because of the surgery. It was later... when he couldn't sleep. That was when the uncomfortable cramping had started. It was just a minor discomfort at first… which he ignored, of course.

"I'm so sorry, Jim. I should have been checking. But I wanted you to relax before the surgery..." Bones' eyes are almost pleading. "I'm sorry."

Jim isn't even sure what to say to an apology like that. He sure as hell doesn't feel like Bones is the one who should be apologizing. It's his own damn fault, ignoring the pain in his gut even though he knew he was supposed to report a symptom like that. Lying right next to the doctor, letting him sleep on obliviously, not waking him up out of some misplaced sense of consideration. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

"Was it a boy or a girl?"

Bones frowns, then just shakes his head. "I guess there's no reason to keep that from you now. It was a boy."

Jim nods. His son. Their son. Gone.

He gives a harsh laugh. "Guess I wasn't cut out to be a mom." Or a dad, he thinks. But he can't say that because his throat is too constricted and he'll choke on the words.

Bones' expression tightens a bit. "It was a medical impossibility from the start. I told you that. Your body's not built to sustain a pregnancy, and this was an alien implant. You could have died and you almost did. I got it out cleanly, and you'll heal up just fine." Bones eyes are reddened and bloodshot, and God, so sad. "There was no way to save the fetus, Jim. There never really was."

It's not Bones' fault, but he looks honestly regretful, and that's not right. Jim's responsible for the way things ended.

"I'm sorry," he blurts out. He's sorry for all of it: the stress and the worry of the past weeks, the stupid stunt in the gym, the way he's been avoiding Bones since Antos, the desperate plea at the end that must have made Bones feel worse than he already did. It's a weak, vague apology, and Jim feels like a coward for saying it like that. But he's always been better with excuses than with requests for forgiveness, and he doesn't know how to say any of it without making things worse.

"I'm sorry too, kid. I wish…" Jim waits, but whatever it is, Bones doesn't seem to be able to put it into words any better than Jim can. "It doesn't matter. You need to put it behind you now. Get some rest."

Jim watches him walk away. The pain is gone, and with nothing to anchor him and no one to talk to, he can only close his eyes and drift.

An hour later, Bones steps into his room again. Jim hopes that this time they'll be able to talk, and he'll somehow find the courage to say what he needs to say – It's my fault and I didn't mean to and I need you - but instead, Bones just checks his bandage and asks if he's thirsty. Jim nods. He sips through a straw, cooperates with the exam, and waits for the right time to speak, but it doesn't come. Bones seems subdued and careful around him, so unlike his usual blustery self.

When he asks Jim whether he wants to stay in a private recovery room or move out to the main Bay, Jim looks up at him, startled. He doesn't know this CMO who considers his preferences and gives him choices. There's a warning bell ringing in the back of his mind that says that Bones shouldn't be asking him what he wants, he should be telling him what's going to happen in no uncertain terms. He can't understand what Bones is trying to do. It's like he's trying to put together a puzzle, but some of the key pieces are missing and he can't see the whole picture.

But at any rate, he doesn't want to be alone with his thoughts anymore, even if it means that his crew will be able to see him lounging in a biobed wearing sickbay scrubs.

Being in the main Bay is a relief, in some ways. It's distracting. He can observe the medical staff as they interact with each other and treat the occasional crewman who drops by with a minor complaint. He can flirt with the nurses as they help him relieve himself or check his bandages. He doesn't object to any of the procedures, not in front of the nurses or orderlies, because, well, he's the Captain and he has to save face. But his stomach is tying itself into its usual knot of anxiety every time one of them approaches him. They won't let him up off the bed, and he hates lying there, feeling so dependent and weak.

Bones isn't avoiding him, exactly. From Jim's vantage point in the corner bed, he can easily keep an eye on the doctor, and Bones is busy. Jim's used to hearing Bones answer him on the comm with short-tempered impatience ("What the hell do you need, Captain? I've got a sickbay to run!"), but it's the first time he's really had the opportunity to watch him go through a regular shift. Treating patients for minor injuries and problems. Checking reports. Wandering into the lab where he conducts research on some virus or medical miracle he's working on this week. He's brisk and authoritative with his staff, annoyed with anything less than top efficiency. And as Jim has come to expect, he doesn't coddle the patients.

Except for Jim. As promised, Bones comes by every three hours with a hypo. Jim is almost looking forward to the sharp stinging pain, but Bones administers it so gently that he barely feels it. Bones pats his shoulder, asks if he needs anything, and tells him he's looking good. Then he walks away again before Jim can even protest.

By the afternoon, Jim's irritable and depressed, exhausted by the effort of maintaining a show of good humor in front of the med staff. And he's worried. There's nothing wrong with the way Bones is treating him, but it's just a little too kind, a little too solicitous. If Bones thinks he's so fragile that he'll break if Bones isn't nice to him, then he doesn't know Jim very well and that worries him. And if Bones needs the space because he can't handle being close to Jim right now, because he's angry and devastated by what happened, then that worries him too. They need to talk and there's no privacy here.

Spock comes by mid-beta shift. He doesn't come directly to Jim, but turns first to the CMO's office at the opposite end of sickbay. It's a good thing, because it gives Jim time to comb his fingers hastily through his hair, straighten his rumpled scrubs, and rearrange himself on the bed. He can't move much, but he shifts himself slowly so that he's lying on his side, propped up on his elbow, rather than flat on his back. It's embarrassing to be in this position again, stuck on a biobed while his First Officer comes for a visit, immaculate in his uniform and looking down on him calmly.

He remembers his last conversation with Spock, when he told him how scared he was about the surgery. Spock said something about Jim's strength of character and the definition of courage. Watching Spock now, Jim cringes a little inside, thinking about how when the time came, he was terrified, pleading with Bones to slow down and not to cut him. Thank God Spock didn't see that part.

Spock exits Bones' office after a moment, and he's at Jim's side seconds later. "Captain," he says, looking Jim over calmly, "I am relieved to hear that the surgery was successful. Doctor McCoy has informed me that there were last-minute complications."

"I was lucky, Spock. And Bones is a great surgeon."

"Indeed. I am told that your recovery is proceeding on schedule and that you are being surprisingly cooperative."

Jim scowls reflexively. "Why is that surprising?"

Spock's eyebrow rises. "Is the anesthesia still affecting your cognitive processes? Do you not recall your abortive escape attempt from sickbay after your injuries on Starbase Twelve, or the time you insisted on feeding yourself while recovering from Rigellian Pox yet succeeded only in—"

"Never mind, Spock," he says quickly. No need to be reminded of all the times he's lost his dignity here. "My memory's fine. I'm just seeing what compliance feels like, for a change of pace."

"Most admirable."

"Is that all Bones had to say? I'm on the mend, a model patient?" He's curious; maybe Bones has let something slip to Spock that could clue him in on what's going on, since he's not telling Jim.

"For the most part. Although he did mention that you seemed… preoccupied." Spock lowers himself gracefully into the chair by the bed, and Jim notices, for the first time, that he's carrying something, a boxy leather case. Something inside it makes a clinking noise when he sets it on his lap.

"He won't let me have a PADD or even sit up yet. There's a lot of time to think."

"And you do not appreciate the opportunity to contemplate recent events without distraction?"

Jim laughs. "No. We're different that way, I guess. I don't do very well with so much enforced time to, uh… contemplate. I do my best thinking when I'm running. Or moving around, anyway. I get bored quickly."

"So I have noticed."

"I can't stand to lie around doing nothing, that's all. And sickbay's not exactly conducive to meditation anyway."

"Then it is fortunate that I have brought something that may help you occupy your mind, if you are so inclined." He pops open the case, turning it around so that Jim can see the contents: several small, square boards, checked in lacquered polish, and two sets of intricately molded pieces in black and white.

"This is a 3D chess set," Jim says, nonplussed.

"Obviously, Captain." Spock is rapidly assembling the base and stand, twisting them together and attaching the boards at various heights.

"I'm not much of a player, Spock." Despite himself, he's intrigued by the shiny pieces, by the way the boards fan out, overlapping slightly. The set is obviously expensive and well cared for. "I probably wouldn't be any kind of challenge for you."

Spock doesn't even hesitate in his rapid placement of the pieces. "If you are unfamiliar with this version of the game, I will instruct you."

"I really don't think…" Spock is looking at him expectantly, and he sighs. "Look, I can't even sit up."

"I will place your pieces for you. You can see the board easily even from a reclining position. And you are, as you complained, unoccupied and bored."

"I've never even played the game on a real board," he admits. "Just on the nets."

"Then you are familiar with the rules?" Spock asks, waiting for Jim to nod in confirmation. "That will make this considerably easier."

Jim's never mentioned it to Spock, but chess was a passion of his when he was a kid, before he began his great rebellion. He would spend hours practicing openings and studying endgames, learning basic attacks and defenses, inventing new maneuvers. He'd tried 3D chess a few times on his PADD, but at the time, it seemed too complicated. He preferred to hone his skills on the standard version of the game. He began playing in virtual tournaments and did relatively well, but as his home situation worsened, he'd lost his focus, and eventually stopped playing altogether.

"It's been a long time. I haven't played chess in years, not since I was a kid. I wasn't very good at the 3D version."

"You may find that some of the more complex strategic reasoning comes to you more quickly now than it did in your youth. From what I have observed, you're quite suited to this game."

"Pool's really more my style, Spock. Or poker."

Spock ignores him. "You have an intuitive grasp of your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, and a capacity to calculate several moves in advance in order to evaluate the success of tactical maneuvers. Your move, Captain," he says gesturing toward the orderly line of white pieces on the bottom level.

What the hell, he thinks. Can't be any worse than lying here worrying.

It turns out to be a distraction, all right. At first Jim's hesitant, and his moves are inconsistent and disorganized. Spock points out his blunders, generously offering to let him "reconsider" the moves which would have finished the game in minutes. He improves quickly, although he's still not very sharp. The pain meds Bones has him on make it hard for him to concentrate. Spock doesn't seem disappointed, though. He keeps up a running commentary on the advantages and disadvantages of various moves and positions, and draws Jim's focus back when his attention wanders too obviously ("Captain, would you like me to repeat what I explained earlier about using your knight for simultaneous attacks?").

Jim never had Spock as an instructor back at the Academy, but he can see that he's a born teacher. Actually, it's just as well that Jim was never in one of his classes, because Spock's teaching style doesn't make much allowance for Jim's typical student behaviors. Like trying to distract the teacher from the subject matter, which Jim considers a legitimate chess tactic.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I won the Iowa City Poker Championship? It was ten years ago exactly. I wasn't really supposed to be able to enter, legally, but I hacked the entry site and—"

"At the age of seventeen? I was under the impression that gambling was illegal at that age."

"Well, technically that's true, but that's not the point, Spock, because once I got in, they recognized my outstanding skills, and-"

"Chess has many advantages over poker. There are no age restrictions, no element of chance, and," Spock replies icily, "no incentive to lie."

"Bluff," Jim corrects. "It's called bluffing. It's a time-honored tradition in poker."

"There is no place for bluffing in chess. It requires only skill and concentration. Please focus on the game."

"Right," Jim replies, moving his bishop up a level. "See what you think of that."

"That is not a wise move."

Jim smiles as confidently as he can, while surreptitiously scanning the boards for something he's missed.

"Perhaps you should reconsider. You are placing your rook in jeopardy."

"Now you're bluffing. I'm not gonna let you psych me out, Spock. Check in two moves."

"Not this time." Spock's knight seems to swoop down out of nowhere. "Checkmate in three."

"Shit." Jim stares glumly at the boards, then tips over his king, symbolically ceding the game. "Sorry, didn't see that coming."


"Guess I need a little more practice, or a little less pain medication, or something."

"On the contrary, you did quite well for a novice. If you like, we can play again tomorrow." Spock begins dismantling the boards, packing the pieces carefully into their padded slots in the case.

Jim grins. "Maybe by then Bones will let me sit up." And maybe he can get his hands on a PADD and study some basic 3D tactics.

"If I might make a suggestion, Jim. You seem to be overly concerned with defending and holding onto all your pieces."

Jim squints up at him in confusion. "I'm just trying to keep all my options. Those pieces might be valuable in the long run."

"Of course that may be the case, depending on the dynamic that develops on the board." Spock's eyes bore into him, and Jim is suddenly aware that there is more going on in this conversation than a friendly tip about chess. "But as the game progresses, one must be prepared to sacrifice certain pieces as part of an overall strategy."

Oh, fuck. So that's what this was about. Chess as a metaphor for life. He should have known.

"I'll try to remember that," he says neutrally, but he feels a gut-level resistance to Spock's advice. He doesn't like the idea of sacrificing anything or anybody - even a chess piece - to save his ass, strategy be damned. Bones is always telling him to stop taking chances with his own safety, but as far as he's concerned, if there's going to be any sacrificing, he's going to be the one doing it.

"When you are attacked," Spock continues as if they're really discussing game tactics, "you must decide whether the piece is worth defending. It may be preferable to allow your piece to be captured, rather than waste valuable resources defending it."

"I know that," Jim says tightly. He doesn't want to hear this.

"I have not finished." There's a touch of impatience in Spock's tone, and Jim knows that he's not going to drop it until he makes his point, whatever it is. "You should also remember that a pawn often needs to be sacrificed in order to exchange it for a piece of higher value." Jim's heart has started beating faster. Spock doesn't look up at the monitor above the bed, but obviously he can hear the soft, accelerating beeps

"I get it, Spock." Jim rolls onto his back, staring at the ceiling. But he doesn't, not really. Spock's implying something about his loss, but he doesn't have a clue as to what he's gained from all this. If Spock knows, he should say so, instead of speaking in riddles.

"Jim… the loss of the material value of the pawn is often compensated for in the long term by the gain of a better strategic position."

There's a long pause between them. A better strategic position? Fuck that. Spock may think he's gained something important, but Jim sure as hell doesn't know what it could be. All that he seems to have accomplished in the last seven weeks is losing his dignity and his sense of control, ruining his relationship with Bones, and destroying a fanciful dream that he didn't even know he had.

"Thanks for the game," Jim says stiffly.

"I only ask that you consider this. Rest and recover, Captain." He rises to his feet, grasping the chess case firmly in his hand, and walks out.

It's quiet in Jim's quarters.

Sure, he could tell the computer to call up some music, or play the daily audio transmission from the Federation News Network, but somehow, the silence seems appropriate.

Bones released him this morning. It's the first time he's ever been released from sickbay without needing to argue with Bones. In fact, there was no arguing the entire time he was there. Bones didn't give him much of a chance. Jim slept a lot, and Bones was busy. Eventually, the man left sickbay to take a shower and sleep... which Jim only found out from the night staff, because Bones didn't bother to let him know that he was leaving. And then, when Bones came back on shift, he'd been almost shockingly kind. Considerate, permissive, non-intrusive. Jim had a say in everything.

It was damned peculiar. Unnerving.

And now, barely forty hours after Jim nearly bled out on the table - don't think about it - he's back in his quarters, alone. With plenty of time to think.

He's cleaning.

After everything that's happened, with the dozens of broken thoughts swimming in his mind, he's cleaning his quarters. It's so ludicrous in its normalcy that it almost makes him laugh. Almost, but not quite. True, Bones told him to relax, but he's restless. He's only a little bit sore, and Bones said that everything was absolutely stable, so there's no reason why he can't do a bit of light housekeeping. And for some reason, the shoes and clothes he usually leaves lying on the floor are bothering him.

He gathers up the clothes and throws them into the laundry hatch, and lines his boots up by the door. As he does, he can't stop thinking of Bones, always telling him to do those things, and he can't quite understand why he feels the need to tidy up now. Absently, he moves on to menial straightening... the blanket on the bed, his books, his few mementos. It's not that they're out of place; it's just something to do with his hands, which seem far too empty and idle. On the one hand, he'd love to go back on duty immediately, to keep himself occupied and distracted. But the fact is, even if he wasn't on a forty-eight-hour duty restriction, he's not really ready to face anyone right now.

He's had plenty of time in sickbay to think - far too much, if he's honest with himself - but he still hasn't been able to wrap his head around everything that's happened. Sure, he can do it in a detached sort of way: he was abducted by aliens, used in medical experiments, and artificially impregnated and violated. God, it sounds like a bad headline from a cheap tabloid, but as always, reality proves that it really is stranger than fiction.

He lived as a pregnant man for almost two months while desperately trying to keep his shit together and be the captain of a Federation starship. Then he suffered complications and almost died from them.

And now, it's over. He's alive. A bit sore and tired, but relatively speaking, he feels fine. The final physical traces of his ordeal are gone. He made it. He's been through the gauntlet and has come out the other end more or less unscathed, bent but not broken. The Antosians didn't defeat him.

He should be happy.

It was a boy.

Suddenly, his knees are shaking and weak, as if they can't hold up his weight any longer. And then he's on the floor, on his hands and knees, and the carpet is blurry in front of his eyes. He's not crying, goddammit, but his eyes feel hot and wet and he doesn't even know why.

It's the hormones, he tells himself, in a vague attempt to salvage his bruised ego. Bones said that his hormones would be out of balance for a few days until they stabilize.

You'll get your life back, Bones told him. Things will go back to normal. But normal is something he almost can't remember. Normal doesn't exist anymore. Something's happened to his confidence, to his belief in his own invincibility. Something's missing from his life that he never realized was missing before.

It was a boy.

The door chimes, and he wipes the back of his hand hastily over his eyes. Shit, he doesn't need anybody to see him like this. He sits quietly on the floor, trying to get his breathing under control.

He ignores the second chime as well. Maybe whoever it is will take the hint and go away. He's allowed a little privacy as he recovers, isn't he? If it's Rand, she'll probably give up and come back later. Spock will be more persistent, but he'll try the comm next. If it's Bones-

Without warning, the door slides open. From his position on the floor, Jim can see a pair of boots take two determined steps into the room, and then stop. Jim doesn't need to look up to know who it is.

Bones and his fucking medical override.

"Think you're overusing that privilege, doctor," he says testily, not looking up to meet Bones' eyes. He doesn't want his bloodshot eyes and his expression to give him away, but it doesn't fucking matter because his nose is stuffy and his voice is just a bit choked. Bones can always see right through him, anyway.

There are more footsteps and a softly muttered goddammit and hands on his shoulders. He looks up, finally, to find Bones kneeling next to him, gazing back at him sadly.

Trying to save face, he forces a laugh. "Don't force me to use my lockout code just to get a little privacy, Bones. That override's supposed to be for emergencies."

"I'll use it at my discretion. You should answer your door. Anyway, I was just coming by to see how you were doing. "

Jim snorts, then sniffs to keep his nose from running. "Yeah. Well, take a look. Clearly, I'm doing just great."

"Does the incision hurt?" There's a twist of clinical concern, and for a moment, Bones' eyes roam over him, looking for tells of hidden pain. "Feeling sick? Anything?"

"Nothing physical," Jim says through a tight throat. "Nothing I need a doctor for."

The clinical frown softens. "What about just me?"

Jim nods slowly. "Yeah, I think that would be good."

"I thought so." Bones stands and holds out a hand. "Come on, kid."

He's not sure why he's got no inclination to resist, or why his usual stoicism that would have him waving off the helping hand never shows itself, but he grabs Bones' hand and lets himself be hauled to his feet. He's deposited softly on his couch, and watches dully as Bones goes over to the drink slot and orders up two cups of tea.

"How about a splash of Kentucky's finest in that?" Jim says, trying for levity. "Isn't that the southern cure-all?"

He's expecting Bones to give him a lecture about not drinking so soon after leaving sickbay, but instead, the cup of tea is merely placed in his hands without apology. "Cure-all, not fix-everything. Subtle difference. I know you, Jim, and you really don't want to drink right now."

He feels inexplicably comforted at being read so easily. "Maybe you're right." He wraps his hands around the cup, noting with detachment how the palms of his hands ache with the just-slightly-too-hot burn. It's satisfying.

Almost as satisfying as the heavy weight of Bones' body settling onto the couch next to him. Not quite touching, but close. "So, Jim... are you gonna tell me what just happened there?"

All Jim can do is shrug. "Nothing. Hormones, right? You said my hormones would be fucked up for a few days."

"Jim," Bones says in a level tone, "your levels are a bit uneven, meaning you might get a pimple or two as the last of the artificial hormones work their way out of your system. That's not what's going on here and you know it. Hormones don't bring grown men to their knees... at least not you. "

"Not me," he parrots with bitter irony, then shakes his head. "There are a lot of things that shouldn't have happened to me. They did anyway."


He blows a tight breath through pursed lips. "I was just... I was cleaning. And thinking." He stares straight ahead, only seeing Bones in his peripheral vision.

"I can see you were cleaning." Bones takes a sip of his own drink. "The thing is, except for your clothes, which you insist on dumping on the floor for some inexplicable reason, this room's already about as clean as you could make it. You'd pass a dormitory inspection with flying colors. So if you're cleaning, I'm gonna guess it's because you're bored... or you're about ready to jump out of your skin."

Jim snorts. "As if you're acting like yourself, either."

"Oh? Care to elaborate?"

Bones' words are so falsely calm, so carefully measured, that it sparks something in Jim's chest. He puts the cup of tea on the table and turns in place on the couch, pointedly ignoring the ache in his stomach as he twists too quickly. "Just like that, Bones! You haven't been acting right since I woke up from surgery. You've been... shit, you've been... I don't know what to call it! Calm and professional and distant. You usually yell at me for every dumb thing I do that puts me in your sickbay, and you bully me around more than the rest of your staff combined. And maybe I hate it, but I'm used to it. It's familiar."

Bones is scowling at him. "I don't bully you, and neither does my staff. You're typically the most uncooperative patient on the ship, dammit. I need to make sure you follow my orders for your own good."

"But that isn't what's been happening! You've been tip-toeing around me like I'm going to break. Since when do you give me any choice in what happens to me when I'm stuck on a biobed? I don't know what's gotten into you. Or why."

Bones is looking at him, and at first Jim thinks he's still holding onto that clinical, infuriating calmness... until he realizes with shocking clarity that it's all a front. Behind that calm expression, something in Bones' eyes is haunted. Horribly, achingly haunted.


He watches with dismay as Bones lets out a ragged sigh, and his stiff posture crumbles a bit. "I'm sorry, Jim."

The change in Bones' demeanor is so sudden and unexpected that Jim feels a bit lost. "What for? Bones, what are you -"

"I am so goddamned sorry." There's a hint of moisture at the corners of Bones' eyes, but he blinks it back as quickly as it appears. "I did what I had to do, Jim. I kept you alive, but what I did to you... the way it happened... I'm so sorry."

Jim feels a cold flash run through him. "Wait, slow down. What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"I knew you were terrified, and you had every right to be, but there was no time."

The words are triggering something within him that he doesn't want to pursue. He scrambles for the easiest thing to say. "Shit, I know that, Bones. You told me. I understand..."

But Bones' frown is growing deeper, and he keeps talking. "It had to have been like going through what happened on Antos all over again, and I did it to you, and -"

"It's not like what happened on Antos," Jim protests, even though he knows it's a lie. He doesn't want to deal with the fact that Bones put him back into that nightmare. But his thoughts flash back involuntarily to the too-bright overhead light in sickbay that seemed to sear his eyes, a horrifying echo of what happened to him on the planet, and the helpless panic he'd felt as Bones and his staff had surrounded him and held him down. "It was you, not them," he tries again, sounding unconvinced even to his own ears. "And sure I was... well yeah, I was scared, but I was okay in the end. I didn't want to... I didn't..."

Jim's eyes go wide as he catches himself, and the implications of his reflexive thought hit him like ice water. It's something he hasn't thought about since the day he was rescued. Something that feels too close to the precipice he's been standing on for too long. "Fuck."


"Never mind," Jim says, shaking his head dumbly. "It's not something important."

"Say it anyway."

His throat feels too tight. "I gave up," he says reluctantly. "Back on Antos."

Bones' eyebrows wrinkle in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"I told you about that third session... that I just wanted it to end, that I couldn't fight anymore." It's so hard to get the words out. "But I didn't really explain. I meant that I completely gave up. I knew I couldn't last much longer and I wanted it to be over. By the time you got there, I'd already accepted it. I was ready to die. I wanted to die."

In a rush, the memory is back like a visceral thing - the pain, the near-blindness, the indistinct noises, and the gut-wrenching sense of futility. He's right back there, and he knows that he lost some vital part of himself that day when he'd accepted that he was going to die. Naked, broken, starved, and alone.

Bones doesn't say anything, but a hand reaches out and squeezes Jim's knee.

"It's okay, Jim."

"You don't understand. I didn't expect to live, but I did. And then when I found out that they'd implanted an embryo… it was like they put me right back there. And every time something else happened... all of your tests, the clot, and now this... it brought me right back there. I think maybe some part of me has been waiting to die this whole time."

"Jesus," Bones breathes. "Kid, you can't -"

But Jim waves him off, mentally cutting off that whole line of thought. It's too close to something ugly and real, and he can't go there yet. "Don't, Bones. It's not like that. It's just... sometimes I feel like I never escaped. That the hell just continued as long as that embryo was there. I just wanted it to be gone and I was so fucking angry at you because you wouldn't – couldn't – get rid of it for me."

"I know. Believe me, I could see what it did to you. What I was doing to you. The waiting, and all those invasive tests -"

Jim gives an involuntary shudder. "It wasn't your fault."

"That's not the point. This has been hell for both of us, but nothing compares to the fact that you went through it first-hand. It took me too damned long to find a way to fix it, and that whole time... I knew I was hurting you all over again. I could see it in your eyes every time I touched you. After everything they did to you... I just made it worse. And I didn't give you any choice about it, even though I knew just being in sickbay – just being near me when I had to act as your doctor – was the last thing you wanted."

He nods. Rationally, he knows that Bones was only doing his job. But emotions, as he's been reminded too often, are irrational and highly illogical. Because Bones is right, and as much as he's tried to fight it, there's a knot of bitterness and blame inside him. It's almost a relief to admit it. There's an immature, resentful part of him that is furious at the way Bones has been monitoring him, medicating him, hurting him.

"You couldn't have done anything differently," he says finally. It's not a real statement of forgiveness, and the look of disappointment in Bones' eyes makes him wince.

"Maybe not, but dammit, I'd give anything not to have been the one who put you through all of that. So... after you woke up from surgery, I tried to give you some space. Consider what you wanted, for once. Let you recover..." Bones' voice trails off as he pinches the bridge of his nose, then scrubs a hand over his face. The gesture is achingly familiar. "I swore I'd help you, that I'd give you a choice, but I couldn't even do that." He swallows thickly. "God, Jim... I don't even know if I can say this."

"Bones, just talk to me."

He shakes his head for a moment, and he looks like he's about to snap from the tension in his shoulders. "You were begging me, Jim. Pleading with me. Yeah, I knew you were scared, but... you fought against the sedatives like you were drowning, mumbling about saving the baby until you finally went under. Over and over again, Jim... Save the baby." A visible shudder runs through him. "But there was nothing I could do."

"I know, Bones. The baby was already dead." Jim feels his throat tighten painfully. "The baby was already dead," he says again, but this time, it's a whisper: tight, choked, and raspy.

"I know." Bones' eyes are distant and glazed. "I held it in my hands, Jim. I... it was so small, and..." He closes his eyes. "Doesn't matter. It was already gone. Never really had a chance."

The words hang between them, inescapable and blunt.

After a minute, Bones clears his throat. "I never thought you'd actually want to keep the pregnancy. The baby. I thought it was just hypothetical. The what-if. Just to see how far your ability to choose would really go. After what the Antosians did to you, I couldn't imagine you wanting to keep it."

"But I did." And the proof of that, he knows, is how miserable he's feeling now.

"Why, Jim?"

Jim really doesn't know how to reply to that. He's been thinking about those hazy thoughts he had in the moments leading up to... everything. Mostly, he remembers feeling defiant: of Starfleet and other people's expectations, of his own muddled past and the best medical advice. Angry, but also protective.

It wasn't like he had some desire to be a father - mother, his subconscious mocks lightly - or to put himself through any further hell. And fuck, maybe it had all been because he was delirious, already starting to suffer from the insidious clots that were clogging up his blood. The madness of a dying man. Or maybe it had come from some deeper piece of his psyche that he didn't even understand.

"It was ours," Jim finally says, not quite sure where the words are coming from. "Fuck the Antosians. Screw Starfleet and medical risks and medical impossibility, Bones, it was ours. You can't tell me that you didn't think of that." He glances up at Bones, hoping to glean some insight into what the doctor is thinking.

Bones' face is unreadable. "Yes, Jim, of course I thought of that."

"It still scared the shit out of me, but it was alive, Bones. The Antosians almost killed me, but here was this healthy embryo, and it was ours. Yours and mine. And I couldn't keep thinking that I wanted it gone."

"What you wanted was to be free of what the Antosians did to you. Don't feel guilty about that. You didn't ask for any of this." Bones sounds so damned reasonable it hurts.

"Look, Bones, we had... we have... something good, right?" Don't use the past tense, he scolds himself. You've got to try to salvage this. "I've got my ship and you've got your sickbay and we've got each other. We didn't need anything else. There was never anything else... and then there was. And maybe the Admirals would have had a fit, but we could have... it could have been..."

Bones nods. "So you decided to try and keep it."

"Not that any of it was really my decision in the end," he says darkly. "It died. It seems like that should be trivial in the grand scheme of things. It was so small and caused so many problems. But it doesn't feel trivial."

"It's not trivial, Jim. Not at all."

Bones is giving him a look of bitter empathy, and Jim can't quite bring himself to face it. He leans back heavily against the sofa cushions, staring at his empty hands, upturned in his lap. He used to think his hands were strong, capable. Now, he feels as though he let something immeasurably valuable slip through his fingers, and all that's left is him and his empty hands.

"The fetus... fuck it, the baby died," he says. But he lived. He should be celebrating that fact. He's alive and recovering. But when he says it like that, in such stark contrast, it hurts like a fresh wound. Or maybe an old wound that started on Antos and has been slowly festering until it needed be ripped wide open again in order to heal. Yeah, he gave up on Antos. He'd expected to die, and somehow, that's been following him ever since. And now that the tiny spark of life has fizzled out - the only thing the Antosians had done that wasn't purely destructive - and all that's left is the hollow shell of himself. "I survived," he whispers.

"You did survive, Jim, and I'll thank the fates every goddamned day for that simple fact. If the loss of an embryo is what it took to keep you alive, then I think that's a fair trade."

"Seems like a shit trade to me," he says darkly.

There's silence for a moment, and when Jim looks over, Bones is staring at him with an expression of anguished disbelief. "You'd rather have died?"

"That's not what I meant." It's defensiveness and backpedaling, but even to his own ears, it's not quite a denial. It's just that it doesn't seem fair that this potential life, this innocent child, is gone and all that's left is Jim, broken and damaged.

"Dammit, Jim, you almost bled out in my O.R. two days ago, after you almost died on Antos! What do you think it would have been like if I'd finally lost you? Is that what you wanted?"

"Of course not! But it was... I didn't want..." His eyes are blurring again. He blinks back the unshed tears clouding his vision, but there's a firm hand on his shoulder and Bones is looking back at him. "It was ours."

"Stop, Jim." Bones voice is firm, and Jim takes a shaky breath. He rubs his eyes, trying to get his vision to clear.

Bones nods his approval. "I know it was ours. Believe me. From the minute I got the result of the DNA analysis, I haven't been able to forget it. I knew it was a boy. I knew it was there, and alive. No matter how much I tried to stop thinking about it, I kept coming up with names."

"You did?" Jim chokes out.

"Yeah. But I knew it wasn't going to happen. And I knew that the only possible survivor from this was going to be you... if I could even manage to save you at all." His expression pinches tightly. "Good thing some jackass taught me not to believe in no-win scenarios."

Jim nods vaguely. "Yeah, good thing. But... Bones? Did you want to keep it?"

Bones' breath visibly catches, and his mouth opens, but no words come out.

"Please... just tell me. Did you want it? Don't tell me that it was dangerous or unnatural or risky or the product of an assault and..." He hesitates, then says it. "…and rape. I know that, but dammit, did you want it?"

Bones presses his lips together, and finally, slowly, he nods. "Maybe. On some level. Not now, but someday..."

Something in Jim's chest twists. "I took that from you," Jim says, more to himself than Bones.

"No!" Bones' grip on his shoulder tightens. "You didn't take anything from me, so get that damned fool idea out of your head." Jim can feel himself shrinking away, and Bones loosens his grip without letting go, and his tone softens. "Listen... in a perfect world, Jim, we could have everything we want without having to... to sacrifice something in the process. Sure, part of me wanted it. In the end, there was no decision to be made, but even if there was, other things are more important."

"Yeah?" Jim licks his lips, which feel too dry. The word sacrifice reverberates within him, eerily echoing something Spock was trying to tell him. "Like what?" Maybe Bones knows something he doesn't.

Bones gives him a weak shadow of his usual scowl, then reaches up to brush a thumb across Jim's cheekbone. "What do you think, kid?"

"I don't know," he says, feeling depleted of energy and utterly out of ideas. "Tell me."

For a moment, Jim's sure that Bones is going to clam up as usual, or tell Jim to stop being a moron, but he just says quietly, "You're more important to me, Jim. What we are to each other is more important."

"Sentimental asshole," Jim says, choking up for a different reason now.

"Reckless, self-sacrificing idiot."

"It's what I do best."

Bones offers a broken smile. "Try not to do it so often, okay?"

"I'll try." He lets out a breath, and suddenly seems so much more tired than he did just a moment ago. Their attempt at their usual banter seems wrong somehow, like a hasty bandage over a wound that hasn't healed. They've said so much, and it's all spinning uncomfortably in his head. Bones is smiling at him, but it seems forced. They're okay, but it's still not right. Nothing's right. Not really. Damn, his head hurts.

"You look like you ought to lie down," Bones says gently.

"I've been lying down nonstop for two days," Jim protests, but he doesn't really mean it. Even if things are still abnormal and unsettled, the notion of Bones telling him to rest and take care of himself is too familiar and easy, so he lets Bones pull him to his feet.

"Are you in any pain? Feeling okay?"

"I'm fine, Bones."

"And I'm a tap-dancing Klingon. I discharged you with those pills for a reason."

He can't fully stop the grin that creeps up on him as he follows Bones to the bedroom and accepts the pill pressed into his hand with minimal complaint. He doesn't feel surprised when Bones goes over to the dresser and pulls out some of his own clothes - boxers and a t-shirt, his usual nightclothes. Bones didn't ask, and Jim finds that deeply comforting. It says that Bones still feels like his place is with Jim, and maybe they're okay. They have to be okay.

Holding tight to that idea, Jim pulls his shirt off tosses it absently on the floor. When he hears a slight chuckle, he looks over at Bones in confusion. "What?"

Bones merely shakes his head. "Nothing, Jim. Nothing at all."

A few minutes later, pulling on the last reserves of his energy, he's climbing into bed, and Bones is joining him. It's not that everything is back to normal, but it seems okay.

A/N: We deeply apologize for going so long between updates this time. RL intervened and both of us have been swamped with distractions... But we're back, and we promise to get the epilogue up within the next few days.

Please, please review! Go ahead, make our day...