Notes: Another introspective piece. I know they're not what you guys are after, but it's all my brain is coming out with lately.

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.

Nothing Like This

There's nothing like this.

Klingons aren't a lot of things when it comes to a battlefield - clever, strategic, subtle - but they are a damn good shot, and McCoy swears he can smell burning hair fresh every time another blast zips by over his head. But Lieutenant Crowe is bleeding out under his hands, and to hell with his hair. He can stop using the suppressors until it grows back; he can't grow a leg back, not without ten weeks and enough morphine to stone stone a Vulcan, he thinks, when the commander is suddenly pressing him down and firing back, using McCoy's shoulders as a glorified tripod. He wants to snap at him, wants to tell him to find some other poor fucker to use as cannon fodder, because he's busy here, damnit...

He doesn't.

He doesn't, because - there's no because, not until they're back on board, and the sickbay is humming around them like a womb, and he's washed the blood off his hands and finally had the leisure to check that he's not been phasered bald in the middle of that Kirk-issue cluster-fuck. Then he forms the because - he didn't snap because the Vulcan had that narrow-eyed hard glare on, the one even McCoy knows means do not fuck with me right now. He didn't snap because he didn't have time to blast the man and save Crowe's life. He didn't snap because it would have given the Klingons a better idea of their numbers. He didn't snap because Spock was defending him and his patient, no matter how much he doesn't like the cold-blooded computer all the other days of the week.

But none of the reasons are true. There is no because. He just didn't snap. Any other time, he would have done; in that moment, something else took over.

There's nothing like that.

There's nothing like this.

The communications department operates quiet and unobtrusive, until the monthly mail-call. It's not mail - it hasn't been mail since the digital revolution, long before regular space travel - but the name's stuck. The day that the channels open up and the recordings flood in. The day that all the other people on this tin can with families and friends and loved ones back home get to hear from them, hear their news and stories, and get to make their own recordings to send back. The modern-day telegram. The day they feel a little bit less lonely out here.

McCoy isn't one of them. There's nobody left for him out there; there's no parent waiting for news, no girlfriend watching the news feeds every morning just in case, no scrappy artworks in the attachments files from his kids. He doesn't watch the calendar for mail-day; he doesn't finish up his shift early to get back to his cabin and listen to all his messages and pretend he's home. He can't. There's nobody trying to talk to him.

Only on mail-day, they need him. Nurse Gregory will get her monthly call from her little boy - her sick little boy, who isn't going to ever be a man, and to whom she sends all her wages every month to buy better equipment, better drugs, better life for the little time he's got. And he'll call her and tell her how much he loves his Mom, and by the evening, she'll be back in the Sickbay in tears, crying into McCoy's scrubs because she can't cry in front of even the image of her little boy. Harry Jenkins from the engineering department won't be much better, turning up in the mess in the early hours with pictures of his wife and kids back home, misty-eyed and gruff because he misses them. He won't cry - not quite - but he'll sit with McCoy and mutter unconvincingly that McCoy is lucky to be divorced, and by the time McCoy persuades him to stop drinking and go to bed, the smile might just be a real one.

And then there's the month Jim's Mom sends her own recording - she doesn't do it often, because she's actively serving again herself now, which complicates communication even further - and Jim turns up halfway through beta to drag McCoy off to his cabin and watch too, because she's included a whole paragraph for him, like he's part of her family too, like this woman he's never actually met has any reason to think of him when she's making a recording for her son.

But he is - by extension, he is part of her family. He is certainly part of Jim's. It's a trite cliché that the recruitment drives have been trotting out since the beginning of time, but they are a family up here, complete with the snotty brother who always knows best in their First Officer, and the rampaging toddler belonging to some distant cousin in their Captain. They need him on mail-day, to be a part of their family that's right there, and when another month slips by with nobody in the world outside of this ship remembering that he ever existed, Leonard McCoy will sometimes admit that he needs them too.

There's nothing like that.

There's nothing like this.

He's filthy, starving, and exhausted. He wants to sleep, but he's still too jumped up, and in any case, it's not safe. They've holed up for the moment, but they won't be able to stay here for long. Their communicators aren't working, so the transporter probably won't be able to pick them up either. They'll have to move as soon as darkness falls, and it's dim already.

He takes his minute, though. It might be the last one he ever has. Species across the whole universe tend to be pretty obvious on the trying-to-kill-you front, and he's fairly sure he can issue a death threat in their own language now. In the back of his mind, somewhere deep where he can still be him under the fear, the survival instincts, and the training, he's mildly offended. Sure, Spock can frighten babies at five hundred metres, but nobody's reacted that badly to McCoy himself since he met his ex-mother-in-law for the first time. Apparently, taking plant samples is punishable by...something very nasty. He's not that good at the local death threats yet.

He's shattered and crumpled; Spock is still as stone, an unmoving shadow in the darkness. They don't talk. Hell, they don't talk anyway, never mind when they're in mortal danger. McCoy isn't Jim. He doesn't fall all over himself to please someone the minute that they express the slightest dislike of him. If the hobgoblin doesn't like him, that's just fine. He doesn't have to like him.

And that's why the situation suddenly strikes him as almost funny. He's stuck in a hole, quite literally, with somebody he can't stand and who can't stand him in the return. If Jim forces them to converse beyond "tell me if this hurts", it's awkward and occasionally downright rude. They're never going to be friends. They're never even going to awkwardly make small talk in the turbolift.

Yet McCoy trusts him. He can't stand the green-blooded freak, but he trusts him. If he had the time, he'd sleep - he'd sleep with this alien watching over him, who's made no secret of the fact that he doesn't like the doctor either, and has a fully-functioning energy rifle slung over his knees. Judging by the fact McCoy has been wrist-deep in Spock's chest, and the hobgoblin has every right to demand that Starfleet send a specialist who's actually treated Vulcans in medical school and not just got a theory certificate from the Academy, and hasn't, it's pretty safe to say the Vulcan trusts him too.

McCoy drops his head back against the rock wall and smiles in the gathering darkness. He's never been good at the whole friends-and-family thing. He makes more enemies than he does friends, and he always has. Jim is the enormous, ridiculous, obstinate exception to the rule. His ex-wife is the walking epitome of the rule.

But Spock's the new rule. He doesn't like him. He doesn't even talk to him, ninety-nine days out of a hundred. But he trusts him, quite literally, with his life.

There's nothing like that.

There's nothing like this.

They're still young enough that shore leave gatherings for the senior crew still take place in anonymous bars on anonymous worlds, and it's there - after one too many fizzing purple drinks, and popping the top button on his shirt - that the alpha communications officer slides her dainty little hands into his and takes him out on the dance floor.

He doesn't see Nyota much on a day-to-day basis; her needs are usually nothing more than needing a nurse now and then to check her wayward blood pressure and issue her regular hypos. The odd time he does see her, it's usually that grim, closed expression as she stalks into the bay like an angry cat, very much intent on scratching her boyfriend. And McCoy knows enough about women to run for the hills when that expression shows itself.

But it's November eighteenth, and they're on leave, and she's looking as elegant and stunning as is humanly possible in a little peach dress that shows off those gorgeous legs to their best advantage. Most 'Fleet woman aren't beautiful, and certainly don't try to be; she is both, and yet looks effortless while she does it. Nyota wears little earrings that shimmer in the light, and her hands are smooth as water as she drags him away from the booth.

"Dance with me," she says, and it's not a question.

If there is one thing McCoy can do, it's dance with a lady. He had a proper upbringing, not like some of these security yahoos trying the old clutch-and-sway technique (and failing even at that) with their own squeezes, and he can twirl her around the dance floor without really remembering how. It just happens; a muscle memory linked to a little too much booze, and a lot of beautiful woman.

And yet it comes without the trappings. He is dancing with a beautiful woman, and she expects nothing from him but this one dance. He is dancing with someone else's woman, and that someone else barely even glances their way, wholly unperturbed by the situation. He can see the looks the other patrons shoot their way, and feels no need to defend the lady's honour, because that lady is wholly capable of defending her own honour and probably wouldn't thank him for the help.

Her next dance will be another of the crew - probably Chekov, now he's well enough into the vodka to forget his shyness around women - and another, and another, until she manages to coax her own man into a dance, or he manages to coax her out of the bar altogether, and not one dance will come with trappings and jealousy and disputes.

There's nothing like that.

There's nothing like this.

He wakes in the darkness of his office, laid out in the emergency bunk that runs along the wall. He never sets it out; soldiers - and that's what they are, really - aren't prone to preferring the couch over a face-to-face obstinacy match across the desk. But he wakes up curled up on it all the same, an honest-to-god fabric blanket tucked over him and a pillow that smells of the maintenance dryers tucked under his hair.

Seventy-six hours trying to find a cure, and his notes and successful samples are gone from the desk. There's a fresh list of the afflicted, four hours old - and fifty-six names shorter. There's nobody new on the thankfully small pile of personnel padds waiting for the death certificates to be signed.

It's over, and somebody - he doesn't know who - has tucked him into bed and handled the rest without him.

He feels better for the sleep, but most of it comes from that. Somebody has caught him sleeping, taken his success and applied it where it needs to be, and...put him to bed, rather than leaving him on the desk. He can sleep on desks. He's done it plenty. Hell, he's slept in worse places. But somebody's racked the emergency bunk, fetched bedding, and tucked him the fuck in. It should make him feel embarrassed, but it doesn't.

It makes him feel...

If he really wanted to, he could figure out who it was and thank them - but he doesn't. Something says not to; something says there is no thanks for this. Something says to simply let it go, and he doesn't. He never really finds out, and as time and life go by, he stops really caring. It doesn't matter now, if it ever did. As time goes by, it stops even being special - it is simply done, to assist in even those small ways, and he stops caring who was specifically responsible.

There's nothing like that.

There's nothing like this.

Eighteen years after the divorce, he meets Joss at Deep Space Three. He's consulting with their medical staff over a potential cure for hypsos influenza; she is passing through on her way to somewhere else, and hunts him down. McCoy is not an uncommon name; Dr. Leonard H. McCoy M.D. most certainly is.

She is much the same. Her fair hair is tinged grey, and her mouth has soured into a frown, and there's no ring on her fingers like he'd expected to see. She's still slim, still graceful, still arranges her purse on her lap just so at the coffee house where they arrange to meet. And yet the first thing she says is, "You're different."

Nobody ever think of themselves as changing, McCoy supposes, because he is genuinely surprised.

"You've...changed," she says. "You're not so..."

She never says anything after that - trails off, changes the subject - but McCoy knows what he is. He's less angry, less uncertain, less lost. He's not drifting anymore; he likes a drink but he doesn't need the bottle the way he used to. His shoes don't feel too small; the world doesn't seem quite so enclosed and claustrophobic. He doesn't feel pinned, like a butterfly under glass and only half-dead, struggling on the needle.

He has changed.

There's nothing like that.