Title: One of Each of Us (6/6)
Fandom: AOS/XI/Reboot
Characters: Kirk, McCoy, various including Spock and the ever-present Cupcake
Rating: PG-13 for off-screen character death and serious angst
Word Count this chapter: 6045
Warnings/Spoilers: Surely everyone's seen the movie by now or wouldn't be a part of this comm; basic movie spoilers referenced here and there. Shameless H/C – SHAMELESS, I tell you! Read at your peril. :P I don't write slash, but this can be read as pre-slash or deep friendship if that's what floats your boat. Also warning for references to TOS episodes and off-screen (and non-AOS) character death. TOS spoilers footnoted for the sake of XI-onlyers. Warning - one swear word (very mild) in this chapter. Cursing puts me off a fic, and I don't swear myself, so I don't write it either, but in this situation it's more than warranted. I mean, it is AOS Bones.
Summary: Five times Bones comforted Jim, and one time Jim returned the favor
A/N: This is the first time I've written the Reboot since my STBB last October, and so since it was a bit rough trying to settle into an idea and voice I asked my artist if she would like anything in particular; she gave me a few details and the title, and this was the result. Title comes from this quote, from the TOS episode The Balance of Terror, McCoy speaking to Kirk: In this galaxy there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all that, and perhaps more...only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk.


After nine years in deep space, Jim thinks he's seen enough to really feel that he's as good a captain as his older counterpart had been in that other universe he's wondered so much about. He's a highly proficient diplomat, a tactical genius, and one of the most famous names in Federation history; not bad for someone only in his early thirties. He's a decade ahead already of his other-universal counterpart, and he's already nearly completed a second five-year mission, which his other never had. He's skilled and experienced now, rather than just confident and hopeful – and it shows in his line of success stories. The Enterprise has become renowned as The Ship to send if there's a disaster in the making, and her crew is legendary, highly-sought-after and dreamed of by Academy hopefuls.

It's no surprise to him that when the worst plague to hit the galaxy since the initial outbreak of Rigellian fever on Rigel IX two decades ago, it's the Enterprise which is dispatched immediately to the Priority One distress call. His ship's the biggest and fastest, and she has the most competent medical staff in the Federation; the medical frigates which will follow him have the space for treatment and casualty, but he has the knowledge. They can do this, and so he goes into the situation confident that they will have a solution within days and the plague under control in not many more.

He hasn't anticipated, and therefore is totally blindsided by, finding out a week into their work that the plague is not a natural development on the planet of Ardia, a small, intrinsically worthless sphere just this side of the Neutral Zone. It's a genetically-engineered virus which is deadly within hours, one whose lethal precision indicates immediately to his medical staff that it's a bio-weapon, not a plague outbreak. Biological warfare was outlawed two centuries ago, but that doesn't stop the psychopaths of the galaxy from utilizing its destructive power. The death toll on Ardia is already in the ten-thousands, and if this thing really is a bio-weapon then that count will at least double before the virus stops mutating, faster than they can develop an anti-virus.

Jim's on the Enterprise, when his chief medical staff under an exhausted Leonard McCoy's direction inform them of this fact. They have just enough time to panic over that discovery before a rogue Romulan Warbird (there's no way in the galaxy those embellished armaments are standard Romulan fleet; the problems with renegade Romulans are getting worse by the year) decloaks in front of them and damages their Engineering section beyond quick repair before they can finally return fire enough to destroy it.

But he has to fight to keep his composure when his viewscreen flickers back into life, showing the science station below and his people within it – now hostages under the four Romulans who managed to beam off the Warbird before it was destroyed. The worst part of his job is things like this; hostage situations are never pretty, and usually end in tragedy for someone.

The sight of his Chief Medical Officer, Head Nurse, Chief Security officer, half-a-dozen BioMedical research personnel and Security guards, and a few scattered civilians kneeling on the floor, hands behind their heads, sends adrenaline shooting through his veins faster than a hypospray of stimulants, and he clenches his fists behind his back to hide their trembling.

"Captain Kirk," the foremost Romulan says directly to him. The hulking figure turns his phaser rifle over to a subordinate, who replaces the barrel against McCoy's head (he has to hand it to Bones, the guy looks like he's deciding what bits to cut off the Romulan first the moment he has a chance – space has changed all of them). "I am Rhanat, Chief Tactical Officer of the research vessel you destroyed above this planet just now."

"What does a research vessel need with a Chief Tactical Officer?" he retorts, putting all the force of his name and power into his words and praying it's enough after these years to give him a psychological edge. "And I don't care who you are, you're not going to get away with taking my people hostage. Do you really want the Federation after you for straying past the Neutral Zone?"

"We did not stray, Captain," Rhanat answers calmly, smiling at the screen. Jim tries to not be freaked out by the Vulcanoid mannerisms combined with a free openness of emotion – in this instance, hatred and apathy to the welfare of the 'Fleet personnel trapped down there. "This planet is one of our research stations. Your Federation has no claim upon it, and it is just within the cushion of space which comprises the borders of the Neutral Zone. You have less right to be here than we do, and no right to destroy our vessel."

He snorts, refraining from further expressions when his people are menaced by the other three Romulans with the phaser rifles. "Your vessel nearly took out my warp core, Commander Rhanat," he returns pointedly. "You fired the first shot; and why the cloak, if you do indeed have the right to be in this space?"

"For the very simple reason that we did not wish your Federation to know of our presence on Ardia, Captain," Rhanat says. Jim flicks a glance to the side and sees a brief shake of head; their subspace communications are being jammed. A medical frigate is only two hours behind them but they're not going to be much tactical help; the Enterprise is on her own.

"Ardia is under enforced Priority One quarantine as of today, Commander," he returns with perfect diplomacy. "We will be happy to escort you to another planet within your neutral zone, or allow you on board to be our guests until a transport can be arranged for you. There's no need to hold Federation personnel and civilians hostage."

The Romulan laughs, and everyone on the Bridge shivers; it just looks wrong coming from a face with pointed ears. No matter how many Romulans he meets, Jim will never get used to that. "Captain, I had expected you to be much quicker in your intuitive leaps; the rumors are, I see, highly exaggerated. No matter." Dark eyes glitter with malice, and he gets the distinct impression that this guy is almost as crazy as Nero had been – mad with anger and hatred.

Wait, intuitive leaps?

"Captain, Ardia is a tactical research station," Rhanat speaks slowly, as if explaining things to a child. "Specifically, researching…biological weaponry?"

If he hadn't made the connection a second before, the look of horror that twists his CMO's face lights up the whole picture for him clear as day, and it makes him ill to think of.

"You're…experimenting on these innocent people?" Bless her, Christine Chapel looks like she's about to faint, but Jim can't blame her. This is madness on a grandiose scale, beyond the usual horrors they encounter with fair regularity.

Rhanat doesn't even spare her a look, only fixes his eyes hungrily on the viewscreen. Jim feels the unaccountable urge to hide behind something, but naturally stands his ground. "I have need of your ship and her tactical and medical facilities, Captain Kirk," the Romulan announces calmly, as if asking for nothing more than the time of day.

"Over my dead body," he snaps back without thinking, shuddering internally at the thought of what the Enterprise's firepower could do in the hands of a madman. He can see by the subtle blink of lights in his armrest that Spock's already used the captain's codes (he knows everything; Jim has fun trying to stump him by changing them every few days) to lock out all commands from the ship's computers.

"Not yours, necessarily, but if you require a demonstration of the severity of the situation..." The Romulan barks a harsh word in Rihannsu, and before any of them can react there's the flash of a phaser rifle and one of Spock's bio-research lieutenants disintegrates, only her scream remaining for a moment before fading into silence.

Jim's already on his feet by the time the stunned bridge crew can react. Someone in the back of the group on the viewscreen retches softly, and a child from somewhere in the lab below is crying, he can hear it through the speakers.

This can't be happening.

It's the heartbroken look on Bones's face that nearly cracks his resolve, though; they've not lost anyone pointlessly like this in a very long time and it may well kill them both. Lieutenant Xan-thra was only 22 years old; they're getting younger and younger, it seems like.

He forces chilled steel into his voice despite his sudden terror. "That wasn't necessary, Commander," he snarls.

"Oh, but I think it was, Captain. Now. Barat's scans show you have locked out all functions from your ship's computers; I will require your override, for that to be lifted so that we may remotely access your transporter."

Jim smiles thinly. "No."

"I have almost twenty of your crew here, Captain; how many more of them must die before you'll concede to the inevitable?"

He falters for only an instant, and then sees Giotto behind McCoy, glaring at him with a look that says he's a dead man if he even thinks about it. He sets his jaw; being captain means making horrible choices if necessary.

"I won't concede," he snaps bluntly. "And nothing you can do will make me; that's not how Starfleet works. We don't negotiate with mass murderers. Killing them won't change my mind, so it's pointle-"

He chokes to a halt when the third Romulan in the group shoots one of the civilians.

"Stop it, you inhuman son of a-" He winces as his furious CMO surges to one knee and then takes a hard backhand to the mouth, effectively stopping the tirade, but he doesn't dare protest for fear Bones will get worse from the Romulan holding him.

"Stand down, Doctor!"

"Jim, you can't let him keep –"

"I said stand down!" He's really scared now, because all it would take is for one Romulan to get tired of hearing human voices and he'd lose his best friend. It kills him to see the look of grief and hurt in McCoy's eyes, but it's the price he pays in this business. "You know the rules as well as I do, Lieutenant-Commander," he continues, reminding the physician of his rank before his occupation.

Rhanat is no fool, though, and Jim sees with an edge of panic that he is regarding McCoy thoughtfully.

"In our fleet," the Romulan muses aloud, carefully sizing up the furious human kneeling before him, "all Chief of Medical staff carry higher override clearance for computer functions than anyone else aboard ship, including the ship's captain."

Jim thinks he might throw up, and beside him he sees Spock stiffen and then attempt to overlay a second set of commands on the first. He won't have the time to write a new program completely, though, and they both know it.

"Don't you dare, McCoy!" he shouts into the comm, as he sees the physician hesitate briefly. Bones knows better, he knows better – but he's primarily a doctor, not a ranking officer, for a reason; he takes the vow to do no harm as applying to him both directly and indirectly. "If they take the Enterprise they'll have the firepower to destroy an entire planet and more!"

Jim holds his breath as the physician meets his eyes, haunted. Rhanat regards them both for a minute, and then with a knowing leer yanks one of the civilians to her feet by her hair and aims his hand phaser at her head.

She can't be more than four or five years old. Dark curly ringlets and blue eyes, clutching a dingy stuffed rabbit to her chest and sobbing from sheer terror.

Jim closes his eyes, because he knows in that instant that they're all lost.

"Will it be a quick death, Doctor, or shall I simply turn the phaser setting to disrupt, and let her skin and organs slowly disintegrate?" Rhanat asks in a bored tone. "Pretty little thing, isn't she? Perhaps I will just leave her alive, and send her back to her mother and father after a few months in our care."

"All right, I'll give you the damn codes, just don't touch her! Chief Medical Officer override alpha-three-three-alpha-zero-three, secondary confirmation three-zero-one-three-zero-three!"

It shouldn't be a surprise, but just the same Jim wants to scream and plead for someone – anyone – to stop this from happening, but he can't in his heart blame Bones for not wanting someone else's daughter to suffer like that. It's what makes McCoy who he is, and it's what Jim loves about him; but now it's a liability, and the universe is in danger because once the Romulans have control over the Enterprise's computer…

The older man looks right at him on the screen, eyes haunted, as his hands lower dejectedly from his head to linger at his sides, where they form tight fists.

Jim looks back at him, for the first time in his life wondering what they're going to do now.

"I'm sorry, Jim," the physician whispers, and he nods numbly.

It's not until McCoy looks up with a fierce grin at his captors that Jim realizes he wasn't apologizing for the override codes – he's apologizing for what he's about to do.

One clenched hand opens to reveal a corked test tube. "I don't hold with killing, but have a dose of your own bio-weapon, Rhanat," the doctor spits.

The next instant the tube shatters on the floor.

Blue lights immediately flood the laboratory, klaxons wailing to indicate a biocontaminant alert before the screen flickers and then shuts off due to immediate emergency lockdown of the facility on the planet below.

Jim collapses into his chair, staring at the blank screen. For a minute, no one moves or speaks, the silence only filled by mechanical whirrs and beeps from the Bridge stations. He looks over at Spock, who is silently staring at the blank screen, equally shocked and horrified at what had just happened.

Then a chirp fills the silence, and a familiar voice scratches through a patchy comm-channel.

"…you read. Enterprise, do you read, please come in."

Uhura knows him well enough by now to only scoot out of the way as he leaps the dividing rail and pounds the intercom switch so hard it almost snaps off. "Bones?"

"Sorry 'bout that, Captain," the drawl fills the Bridge, and Jim can actually hear the collective sigh of relief. "Wasn't any way to tell you we'd all been vaccinated against the virus a few hours ago; may get a little puny-lookin' but no one's gonna die from it. Our green-blooded friends, though…"

Weak-kneed, he collapses into the spare chair at the communications console. "You are a dead man when you get back on board, Doctor," he finally says, grinning shakily at a relieved Uhura, who gives him a smile and a thumbs-up. "Don't ever scare me like that again."

"No promises," is the flippant reply. "Was the only – Chapel, for heaven's sake, woman, go make yourself useful, I'm fine! – only way to get rid of 'em. Couldn't let 'em have the ship, could I? You'd murder me in my sleep."

Jim would swear he hears a muttered "One of us may still do so," from Spock's station, but he'll never be able to prove it.

"The civilians?"

"Got the vaccine as well, Captain. Wasn't about to let any of 'em in here without it. We're nearing a breakthrough; give us five hours and we'll be ready to beam back aboard for a full report." This is McCoy in official mode; Jim heard the transition from shaky to confident from the moment the connection was made.

"Five hours and no more, Doctor, unless we don't get some power from Engineering by then," he returns, because he can be as professional as the other man even if inside he's limp with relief over that fool stunt. "Enterprise out. Uhura, contact Engineering and as soon as we have power back to the transporters get a security detachment and the next shift of medical down there for reinforcements."

"Aye, sir."

And he finally allows himself to breathe again.

Five hours later, despite Scotty's gloomy predictions, they have enough power to transport reinforcements to their weary medical teams below. The three Romulans are most likely not going to survive the next day, but they're placed in quarantine in a secure facility on the surface under Starfleet guard and given medical care anyway; McCoy's orders, Jim is told when he beams down later that evening to check on their progress. While repairs are being made to his ship, he and Spock are vaccinated and don protective suits to beam down within the isolation of the secure research domes, safely out of the danger zone for any contagion just in case.

The labs are flurrying with activity, as they have been since they arrived ten days ago, because the plague stops for no man and people's lives literally depend upon them working quickly to diagnose, research, treat, prevent. He knows his medical staff has been working around the clock, along with volunteers from other departments, to combat the effects of the virus and try to inoculate those lucky enough to not yet be affected. When this is all over, he's already planning to enforce a mandatory shore leave on the planet of their choice in repayment for everything they've done. Now that they'll need to dock somewhere for a bit for repairs, it just makes the whole process a bit easier.

He sidesteps a scurrying experimental team, who are too busy to more than give him a half-attentive glance; but of course he doesn't care – it shows they're busy with far more important things than acknowledging their captain's presence. That's his crew. All in all, it looks to be a good day's work for his people, and he couldn't be prouder.

His satisfaction turns into dismay when he reaches the command central of the medical operations to find his Head Nurse looking somewhere between frazzled and a nervous breakdown complete with hysterics.

"Nurse Chapel," Spock speaks up from behind him, and he's no idiot – he sees the slight blush that colors the woman's cheeks. Chapel's one-sided but short-lived crush on Spock was a bit of a problem during the first five-year mission; since then the nurse has seen sense and moved on, but a bit of nostalgic longing remains obviously. But right now, the deep, soothing tones of their First Officer are exactly what she needs, because she relaxes slightly at the sight of them.

"Mr. Spock, Captain," she says, a little flustered.

"Report," he inquires kindly.

"Sir…" She shouldn't be hesitating; it's not in her no-nonsense nature. That throws up an immediate red flag in his mind. "For the most part," she continues hastily, at his searching look, "the plans are proceeding on target. The virus has slowed its mutation rate to manageable time frames; the vaccine which Dr. McCoy's research team developed late last night appears to have been effective on everyone who received it, and will still be effective against new strains of the virus."

The wording is odd, and that's what arrests his attention. "Everyone who received it?" he repeats, tamping down on a feeling of unease.

Chapel turns a shade paler. "Yes, sir."

Spock's one step ahead of him, and his tone bespeaks of a month's gamma shift duty to anyone who doesn't give him a straight answer. "And who, exactly, did not receive it, Nurse?"

Ice settles in his gut for a second at her hesitation, and he closes his eyes. "Tell me Dr. McCoy did not 'forget' to vaccinate himself."

"No, sir! He was the first test subject, sir, insisted upon it," Chapel hastily reassures him, suitably horrified at the idea and apparently offended that Jim thinks she'd allow that to happen in the first place.

A knot of tension loosens in his shoulders. "Who then, and how did they get overlooked?" he asks quietly.

"Captain…it was a little chaotic here the last twelve hours, and to be honest we don't know how he was overlooked; assumptions were made incorrectly and the patient himself never said a word so we never gave it a second thought to double-check that everyone had been."

It wasn't an excuse, but it was a reason; Jim recognizes that, and he knows they did everything they could. "Nurse."

Chapel looks away for a second, guilt darkening their blueness into a depressive gray. "Security Chief Giotto, Captain. Somehow we missed him when we were inoculating everyone, and he said nothing."

"I'll kill him," he growls. "Carelessness like that is inexcusable –"

"Sir, I doubt he even realized that we'd been vaccinating everyone; he was so busy making sure his men were doing their jobs, crowd control and patrolling the perimeter of the safe zones, keeping the press and officials away...we'd never have been able to work as quickly as we have without him," Chapel interjects, and he smiles sadly at her vehement loyalty. She's a perfect match for Bones in every way. "I don't think he's slept any more than Dr. McCoy since we beamed down ten days ago – and that's about three hours at a stretch every few days."

He pales at the revelation that his people have been exhausting themselves to that extent without his knowledge or sanction, while he's been sitting up in his ship conducting ship's business and actually eating and sleeping regularly. It's appalling; he'd have been down here had he known the true extent of the stress for his personnel. Even he can load hypospray cartridges and run basic scanner tests…heck, he could have at least taken dictation and made lunch runs.

Spock looks no less appalled, and a little offended to think he missed out on important scientific action. "Where is the doctor, Nurse Chapel?"

"In his 'office'," she sighs, gesturing across the lab to a closed door. "He's beating himself up over Giotto. We've more than a good chance of pulling him through, simply because we have the facilities and are extrapolating an antivirus from the vaccine now that it's stopped mutation; if he can hang on for another twenty-four hours he will be fine."

"Odds?" he asks hoarsely, and it's weird because he doesn't even really get along with Cupcake but he's so going to miss him if the guy doesn't pull through.

"About sixty-forty as it stands, I'd say," she replies. "Most of the patients don't drop into critical condition until after the twenty-four hour contagion mark, so it might even be better chances than that if we can find that antivirus as soon as possible. And he's in top physical condition, which seems to help in the cases we've studied. He has a better than average chance, sir."

"And Bones?"

"He's heartbroken, Captain," Chapel replies bluntly. "He takes his oath more seriously than any other physician I've ever worked with. He's blaming himself because he infected this room with the virus when the Romulans attacked us; he had no way of knowing Giotto wasn't inoculated but that's not stopping him from blaming himself. And you know how close they are, sir."

He does know; it's a friendship born out of mutual irritation with one Jim Kirk. It's a not-really-vicious cycle by now; Cupcake tries to talk him out of going on away missions, doesn't succeed, Jim gets sick/injured/propositioned/sneezed on/whatever, lands in Sickbay, Bones yells and swears for a half-hour, cue the latest hypospray of choice, Jim whines and gripes, Cupcake smirks over the bio-bed and agrees that his captain is a moron, they all three have a celebratory drink and the cycle starts over next mission.

Bones was brilliant today; nothing else would have stopped the Romulans from taking the ship as easily as the doctor's solution and with as minimal damage. It's not his fault that his idiot of a security chief forgot to come in for his vaccine – and if Cupcake lives Jim's going to give him hell over it. After he hugs him. Or hits him. Or maybe both.

Chapel's looking at him a little strangely, and he nods. Understanding and unspoken answers flicker between them for a second. Then, "See that we're not disturbed until I say, for anything other than a red alert," he orders, and doesn't wait to hear her acknowledgement. He knows he has it; Chapel's a keeper, more for the fact that she worships the ground her CMO walks on than anything else. Bones needs someone who can take his crap and dish it right back at him. Plus she makes an amazing Irish coffee. He should totally marry her. Or at least Bones should, and he can just get in on the benefits.

Spock's placidly following in his wake, diverting anyone who wants their captain's attention, and that's another thing he doesn't have to see to know is happening. What he ever did without these wonderful people in his life he has no idea, and it doesn't bear thinking about.

"Hey, BONES," he bellows just before he strides through the unlocked door into the cool, clean-smelling little room.

A crash greets him, and belatedly remembers it's not exactly the best idea to holler at someone who's been running on caffeine overdose and not much else for a fortnight. Spock's eyes close, which means he's hiding the fact that he's rolling them like a human at his captain's idiotic tendencies.

He ignores Spock and cautiously, silently moves around a partition – right into the business end of a Starfleet-issue phaser.

"Whoa, whoa!" One practiced move, and his wrist cleanly knocks the arm upward, other hand removing the weapon from a set of icy fingers. "Easy, it's just me and Spock," he adds, concerned.

His Chief Medical Officer looks like he's gone four rounds with a Romulan and lost every one of them. Barely-shaven and chalky white under the stubble, eyes surrounded by almost black circles and lines of sheer weariness, McCoy looks by far the worst off of all the medical personnel Jim's seen since he beamed down. The physician is swaying on his feet, breathing heavily in relief that it's just them and not more Romulans, and Jim realizes that even though McCoy's a Starfleet officer, he's rarely been deeply involved in combat missions and as such this has to be a shock to an already overtaxed system.

"Sorry. Thought one of those renegade hobgoblins had escaped or somethin', don' rightly know what ah was thinking…" the man murmurs, weaving listlessly out of Jim's grip and sinking down on the nearest article of furniture, which fortunately happens to be a small sofa. His normally smooth accent is harshly pronounced, as it always is when Bones is exhausted (or drunk, but that's not the case now). "Been a long day, Jim."

"Long ten days, more like," he agrees quietly, and moves to sit beside his CMO and friend. A coffee cup, half-filled, sits on the small table in front of them; obviously, judging from the spreading puddle of milky-brown, his entrance had startled the physician in the middle of his latest stimulant binge. Jim's gone without sufficient sleep and too many stimulants for over five days before – never ten – and just that was enough to make him feel pretty sick for a long time afterwards. If Chapel was telling the truth, Bones is going to be crashing here soon and there's nothing they can do except brace for the fallout and be here when he does.

He flicks a glance at Spock, and after all these years no words are needed; the Vulcan gives a curt nod and exits the room.

"Hey," he says softly, putting a hesitant hand on a shoulder rigid with strung-out tension. "It's okay. You did good today, Bones." A dry snort is his only answer, but he continues, poking cautiously at the blank exterior; it's only a matter of time before he finds the chink in the armor and can exploit it. "I mean it; you saved everyone in this lab and the Enterprise – and I can't thank you enough for that. You took care of my people, Bones; and that's all I'll ever ask of you."

McCoy slumps slightly in his seat, staring at his hands which rest loosely between his spread legs. "Fool Security Chief didn't get himself vaccinated," he mutters bleakly.

"Chapel says he'll pull through if he doesn't give up in the next twenty-four hours," he answers matter-of-factly; McCoy wouldn't appreciate platitudes or absolution, not right now at least. "And we both know he's too stubborn to do that; he won't get to tear us a new one about this mess if he does."

McCoy says nothing, barely even blinks, and that's way more worrying to Jim than if the guy had blown up over Giotto's rashness.

"Remind me to get him the biggest, most sickeningly girly stuffed animal they have on Starbase Eleven," he says, picturing that with a smirk. "We'll be headed there as soon as the plague is under control here, and your whole medical team is going to get the best shore leave I can squeeze out of Starfleet."

"They deserve it," is the absent reply.

He shakes his head, and wraps an arm around the physician's shoulders, tugging slightly back towards him. "You deserve it. Running yourself ragged down here with next to no help – why didn't you tell us how bad it was? I'd have beamed down myself, and so would Spock. Even if all we did was basic triage it would have helped long enough for you to eat a meal or sleep for a while."

"Didn' want you or yer Vulcan shadow chancin' gettin' this virus 'til we had a sure-fire antidote, moron," McCoy murmurs tiredly, and the words make his throat clench. "Too valu'ble to that danged ship of yours."

That's the last straw, and he firmly blinks the tears away from his eyes. Ten years ago no one in the world other than Chris Pike even cared he existed; and now? Whatever Destiny had taken from him at his birth and the Battle of Vulcan, she's made up for it with incredible people like this one prickly but so unselfish man. He doesn't deserve this, not in a million years or a million lifetimes – and yet he has it, and it humbles him.

"Ah'm sorry about the override codes, Jim," is the next rambling comment that drops, the words increasingly slow.

"Don't sweat it," he manages to choke out, and squeezes the arm around Bones's shoulders hard. "No harm done; and that's your oath, isn't it – do no harm. You…you did good." He bites his lip, trying to regain control of his emotions because this really isn't going to help at all, but is saved from having to temporarily by Spock's re-entrance.

"Repairs are underway aboard the Enterprise, sir. Mr. Scott will not require us for at least twelve hours. I have taken the liberty of gathering seventy volunteers from among the Engineering and Sciences departments to rotate out with the personnel here if their skills permit; this cannot be permitted to continue if we wish to prevent exhaustive collapse."

"Thanks, Spock. Bones," he leans forward a little, trying to re-attract a wandering attention. "I want you to come back to the ship and sleep tonight, spend at least eight hours off this planet."

"Outta the question," is the immediate reply, and he frowns at the dismissal until he realizes Bones really is so out of it he probably has no idea what he's actually saying. "Too much work ta do, gotta get that anti-virus perfected before anyone else dies…"

"Bones, seriously," he repeats, catching at the limp hand that dangles between the physician's legs. It's as cold as ice, and when he slides a finger subtly over the pulse point he can feel the unsteady, fluttering beat of exhaustion thrumming too rapidly below rough skin. "Don't force me to make it an order or get Chapel to sedate you."

That gets a small reaction, a clenching of fearsome eyebrows and a glare that could demolecularize durasteel. "Don't you dare," McCoy snarls, free hand clenching into a fist. "Giotto's gonna be goin' through seven hells before it gets better – and that's if he lives – and ah'm not gonna go back to that flyin' tin can and eat and sleep while he's puking his guts out and trying to endure the pain of acute renal failure!"

This is it, the breaking point; Jim's eyes dart over a blue-clad shoulder to Spock, who looks slightly uncomfortable but edges closer to the worn couch. Jim hates himself for what he's about to do, but he's a master manipulator and he knows better than anyone else what a man will do when eaten up by guilt and grief.

"Why?" he demands coolly. "You can't do anything to help him, now can you; seeing as you couldn't even seem to vaccinate him along with everyone else down here."

Bones swears at him, little surprise there, and he's braced and ready to roll with it when his friend decides to deck him one…but the blow doesn't come, doesn't even start. McCoy looks at him, and Jim's heart breaks at what he sees in those dark hazel eyes.

"Ah'm sorry, Jim…so sorry…" The physician's head drops limply into his hands – he doesn't seem to realize one of them is still caught fast in Jim's – and he begins to tremble, shuddering as shock and exhaustion finally catch up to him.

Jim's a bit scared now, and a little horrified, because that's not the reaction he was trying to produce and he's never seen it before in his life from this most stubborn and strong of people. He has no idea what to do, except to scrunch closer, resting his chin on a shaking shoulder, and hold on for all he's worth as a man he respects more than anyone else on his ship almost literally falls apart in front of him.

Lucky for him, Spock is standing right behind them, and in nine years he's slowly gotten over his (pretty legitimate, actually) phobia of mental contact and physical touch with any being but a pure Vulcan one. Jim feels a hesitant hand on his shoulder, and sees the other come to rest on McCoy's, completing the circle. Bit by tiny bit, the tension leeches from his body, and he can fairly feel it doing the same to the man who's still shaking in his arms, face hidden in his hands. A sense of peace, of calm, of rightness, slowly begins to seep in through the choking cloud of emotions, leaving only acceptance and tranquility in its wake.

The sheer beauty of Spock's 'Vulcan voodoo' is interrupted by McCoy's head lifting from his hands at last, haunted eyes sharpening in what he pretends is annoyance but what they can both see is actually gratitude. "Who invited you inta mah head, Spock?" the doctor grumbles, exhaustion coating the accent with an even thicker drawl than ten minutes previously.

"Yup, open house in McCoy's brain," Jim chirps with a small grin. "Enter at your own risk; the owner isn't responsible for any damages incurred."

He's never been more glad to get a swat upside the back of the head, and never been more embarrassed to be pulled into an impromptu hug there on the small couch. Spock scoots well out of arm's reach just in case he's next, and he laughs at the illogical-gestures-do-not-compute-now-rebooting-brain expression on the Vulcan's face.

No more words are said by any of them; but the beautiful thing is that none are necessary. He and Bones, and Spock too – the three of them are a power to be feared, a force to be reckoned with, a trio whose destinies are so intertwined not even the Fates themselves dare attempt unwinding them.

Whatever their lives might have been, Jim wouldn't trade it with what he has now. Not for anything in this, or in any other, universe.