Good for the Soul

A/N: This is just a one-shot, indulgent h/c piece, my attempt to stir up the creative juices after over a year in which I haven't written anything for the fandom. Yes, it's the tried and true Jim-is-allergic-to-everything trope, one of my favorites. Set during the Enterprise shakedown cruise, a month or so before the events of STID. Enjoy!

"I know we talked about this," Bones is saying. He's frowning as he stares at the readouts above the biobed, which isn't exactly boosting Jim's confidence. "But that was purely hypothetical. I need to know that you really want to go through with it, like we discussed."

Well. The sane answer to that would be No, I'm having second thoughts. Just give me the hypo, and we can worry about the consequences later. But Jim's always up for a challenge, and hey, Bones was the one who suggested it in the first place.

Bones has got him reclining in the biobed, half-sitting, so he can see the damage clear enough. His legs are bare, both covered with red, inflamed skin and taut blisters that travel up from just above his boot-line to mid-thigh (and thank God not any higher). A thin film of shiny gel is smeared all over the red areas, making them look scaly and wet, like a snake skin. He's got his knees bent in order to keep the backs of his legs off the hard surface of the biobed, because the burns there are even worse.

God, they look ugly. But Bones swears they won't scar, except for the small patches on the back of his thigh and calf that are third-degree burns. Bones did the skin grafts while he was unconscious, so all that's left is a couple of rounds of dermal stim treatment to heal them up good.

"You've got second-degree burns over about twelve percent of your body," Bones informed him when he woke up. "Technically, that's considered a minor injury. You were damn lucky."

Lucky, that's one way to put it. Standing in the wrong place at the wrong fucking time is a little more accurate. He was in engineering, discussing the repairs to the subspace driver coil with Scotty, when the accident occurred. The ensign who was kneeling two meters away, head buried in the console-the crewman who caused the power surge in the first place, who at least was wearing protective gear-escaped mostly unscathed. He was the lucky one, Jim figures, although he doesn't envy the kid, who'll probably be spending the next two months doing scut work under Scotty's close supervision.

A flutter of sparks from the console triggered an alarm, and about two seconds later, before any of them had a chance to figure out what was wrong, something hit his legs and set them on fire. Or that's what it felt like, anyway. As he understands it, the coolant valve overheated, melting its seal and sending the caustic fluid in a deadly spray right in Jim's direction, coating his lower body in tetrafluoric acid. His body shielded Scotty from the worst of the spray, but Jim took the brunt of the damage.

An involuntary shudder runs through him at the sight of all that angry, swollen skin, so he pulls his gaze away from his legs and looks back at Bones. "Just do it."

"This isn't going to be pleasant, Jim, and not quick either. You need to understand that." Bones seems determined to belabor the point, which, frankly, isn't something he considers good bedside manner. He wishes the doctor would just say what he means, for once. Unpleasant means it's going to hurt like hell, and not quick probably translates to a lot longer than you can handle.

He's not excited about that. But what choice does he have? This conversation is starting to piss him off. "For God's sake, I give my consent, okay? Can we move on?"

Bones doesn't say anything. He's clearly reluctant, but Jim's not sure why. Maybe he'd be happier if Jim just changed his mind and asked for the hypo, but in the long run, that wouldn't be better for him, would it?

"C'mon," he prods. "Let's get started. I always follow my CMO's recommendations, you know that…"

Bones huffs and rolls his eyes. "If that's true, it's news to me."

Jim smiles. "Bet it takes all the fun out of having me here, when you can't even tell me how stupid I was."

Bones scowls. "Trust me, I can. Whose dumb idea was it to have a chat within spitting distance of that console while it was being repaired? Yours or Scotty's?"

Jim's smile fades. He's been busting balls about safety regs and procedures since they began the shakedown cruise four months ago, but not really following them himself a hundred percent of the time. Apparently, neither has Scotty.

They'd started their discussion a safe distance away from the repair work, but Scotty wanted to point out some things about the equipment, and they drifted over… The console should have cut its power automatically when the surge occurred, but obviously that didn't happen. "There'll be an investigation," he says, evading Bones' question. "We'll take steps to prevent it happening again."

The look Bones gives him makes it clear that this is a first-class fuck-up, as far as he's concerned. The silence lengthens between them, and he realizes why Bones is so pissed: his injury could have been prevented, and Jim's the one who should have prevented it. The doctor is always disgusted by negligence and foolishness, especially when they result in injury, and in this case Jim knows he's got a valid reason to be angry.

It strengthens his resolve. He probably deserves whatever unpleasant, not-quick treatment Bones is about to dish out to him.

"Fine," Bones tells him, looking like he's just come to the same conclusion.

"Is that everything, Bones?" Jim asks, rubbing a hand over his face in a not-so-subtle attempt to hide his exhaustion. They're set to launch in a little under three days, and he's been swamped with conferences, meetings, and last-minute preparations. Most of it is about procedures, policies, inventories, and other fascinating bureaucratic bullshit, and this one is no exception.

Bones asked for the meeting. As Jim's new chief medical officer, he wanted to brief the captain on some of the administrative issues that he'd be dealing with. Jim listens as the doctor familiarizes him with the facilities and equipment of the medical bay and gives him an overview of the research that will be conducted during the six-month cruise.

He's the captain, so he asks intelligent questions and takes notes, but after half an hour he's fading. Bones is droning on about vaccinations and preventative medicine, but Jim's focus has shifted to lunch and how much he'd like a strong cup of coffee right about now.

"You need to get more sleep." Bones is frowning at him, shaking his head. "You're so pale you're blending in with the walls."

"It's the uniform," Jim counters, stifling a yawn. "Nobody looks good in yellow."

"If you're falling asleep in official meetings, that doesn't look so good either."

Fair point. "Are we done here?" he asks, getting to his feet without waiting for an answer. "Because I need to—"

"Hang on a minute," Bones says, holding up his hand. "I've got one more item on the agenda."

Of course he does. Jim slumps back into the seat, resigned. "All right. I'm listening."

"It's about you, Jim. And your medical history."

He can't keep the tension off his face. His medical history, as Bones well knows, is not a topic of conversation between them. He knows Bones has seen it, and the doctor knows he knows, but they never discuss it. He's sure Bones has questions, both as his friend and as his doctor, but they've always skirted around the subject.

They're not opening it now. Not today, when he's rushing from one meeting to the next.

"This isn't the time," he says, and congratulates himself on keeping his voice as steady as it is. He fixes his CMO with his best Captain's Look—or what he hopes is a good imitation of Chris Pike's expression the last time he reamed Jim out—and adds, rising from his chair, "Thank you for the information, Doctor."

"Calm down," Bones says hastily. "And sit down. I want to talk about your allergy profile."

Oh. Feeling a little foolish, he settles himself back into the chair for the second time. "What's the problem? Nothing new there. I know what foods to avoid. It's not an issue."

"I hope to hell it won't be, but you're allergic to more than food proteins. The problem is, you tend to put your impulsive, accident-prone self in harm's way whenever you get the chance—"

"Okay, mom," Jim interrupts, rolling his eyes. "I solemnly swear to put on my helmet and wear safety gloves." He pauses. "I don't see what that has to do with my allergies."

Bones sighs. "Well, in simple terms, you've demonstrated adverse reactions and hypersensitivities to the three main classes of analgesics, and your overactive immune system makes you quick to sensitize to the alternatives. That limits what I can use to treat you."

"So? Use some other drug."

"I've got one safe, effective alternative for you, and you'll build up a resistance to that one if you use it too often. And my stores aren't unlimited. If we find ourselves out in the black and you get yourself seriously injured…" Bones lets his voice trail off while he waits for Jim to fill in the blanks.

Jim's not happy about what he's implying, but he's not sure what he's supposed to do about it. Does Bones expect him to take a vow of safety, never letting himself go into a dangerous situation? He covers his irritation with a smile. "You're just being overdramatic. You're a good doctor, the best. That's why you're my CMO. It'll be fine."

"Jim, listen for a minute." Bones sounds exasperated. "We're going to have to take preventative action on this. That's what I wanted to talk to you about."

He listens to the doctor's suggestions, then nods at the end. "All right. That's what we'll do."

"It's just a guideline," Bones says, looking uncomfortable. "We'll make the decision on a case-by-case basis."

Jim stands. He needs coffee and a sandwich, now. "Message received, Bones. Keep away from danger, or else."

"Stop making such a big deal of this," Jim tells him now, hitching himself up higher on the bed and wincing as he shifts his weight. "It can't hurt worse than it did when I first got burned, right? I got through that okay."

The doctor stops fiddling with the equipment for a minute and gives him a sharp look. "How much of that do you remember?"

Good question. Not much, really.

He remembers the stinging pain in his legs that rapidly became an intolerable burning, the acrid odor of the coolant fluid, the shouts of the people around him. Scotty had recovered first, hustling Jim over to the emergency wash station and barking orders to the engineers to contain the leak. He remembers, vaguely, being unceremoniously divested of all the clothing on his lower half, his own hands fumbling to help, trying to push down his pants which seemed to be coming apart in fragments, revealing long patches of red, rapidly swelling skin. His hands were grabbed and pulled away, he could hear someone yelling, and then everything became hazy.

Not without gloves, it's corrosive! Medical's on the way… Direct the spray here, that's the worst of it… It's all right, Jim, I've got you…

"Uh, bits and pieces," he admits.

"I'm not surprised. The sedative I gave you can cause some memory loss. Probably a blessing."

Jim gives a noncommittal nod. He doesn't like thinking of what his crew must have seen during those minutes. He knows most of the yelling was coming from him. The moaning too.

Damn it.

"We'll see how it goes," Bones says, tapping something into the tricorder in his hand. "Dermal stim on burns like these takes time. There's a lot of skin to cover. Which is why, normally, I'd use an analgesic-based sedative on a patient undergoing this kind of treatment. But in your case…"

Jim nods, and looks away. He understands.

What the doctor proposed, months ago, was simple. Save the painkillers for when they'd really be needed. For minor procedures Jim would try to tough it out.

And contrary to Leonard's gloomy predictions, they haven't needed to test it before now. Four months into the shakedown cruise, and he's stayed out of danger. Aside from the occasional migraine—Just sleep it off in your quarters, Jim, and you'll be fine tomorrow—and a few sprained muscles, he's kept away from the medical bay, just as he promised.

Until now.

Bones sets up the sterile field, his hands moving surely and smoothly to adjust the equipment. Jim likes watching him. He's competent and efficient, and though he's clearly still angry, his hands remain gentle as they position his legs.

Jim's had dermal stim more than once in the past, and he knows what's involved, theoretically. A diffuse laser beam is used to make continuous sweeps of the wounded area of the skin, heating the subcutaneous layer to the level of a microscopic burn. The damage causes neutrophils and microphages to come rushing to the site. Fibroblasts and granulation tissue grow at an accelerated rate, blood flow increases, and healing progresses much more quickly. It isn't "regeneration" by any means, but it cuts down the healing time by a factor of four or more.

But he doesn't need Bones to tell him that on a burn, which is painfully sensitive to begin with, the laser beam will be hard to tolerate.

He's not looking forward to it. Still, it won't be the first time he's had to pay for an error in judgment with pain. His uncle taught him that lesson, early on.

But he balks when Bones takes out a set of medical restraints. "Put those away. I don't need them," he says tightly.

"The treatment won't be effective unless you keep the limb still," Bones tells him, not even hesitating as he attaches one to Jim's right ankle. "And yes, you do."

"I won't move it. Don't put those things on me." He can feel his heart galloping inside his chest.

Bones glances up at the monitor, so he obviously sees it too. When he looks back at Jim, his gaze is concerned and inquiring. Jim's lips are tight and he can feel a muscle jumping in his jaw, but he has no intention of satisfying the doctor's curiosity right now.

Bones waits another beat, then shakes his head in apology. "Sorry, but it's non-negotiable. I don't need you to be fighting your reactions and driving your blood pressure through the roof just because you think you're too tough to need a little help."

"I'm tougher than you think!"

He tries to draw his ankle back, but the doctor's grasp is firm. "I'm not going to take the chance of having to interrupt the program just to save your ego."

Jim fumes. He's pretty sure his blood pressure is skyrocketing anyway, as he tries to stop himself from flinching each time Bones tightens one of the restraints. When the doctor steps back, Jim can't help pulling against the straps, seeing how much give he has.

Not much.

God, he really, really hates medical treatment. And doctors.

Bones lowers the biobed so that Jim's flat on his back—Perfect, now he feels even more helpless—and starts the stim routine. "We'll begin with your right leg. I'll need to reposition you every twenty minutes or so."

"Fine," Jim grits out. He can feel the mild heat of the beam, sweeping slowly from his ankle up to his thigh, and then repeating.

"That's it, then. Try to relax and just breathe steadily."

He closes his eyes.

The beam rakes slowly over his leg, bottom to top, then over again. It's not really uncomfortable, just warm. Like a burst of heat moving gradually over his skin. Heating the skin which is overheated in the first place.

He tries to think of something else.

His thoughts drift to his first officer. He hasn't seen Spock since the accident, although he spoke with him once, just after he regained consciousness. Spock seemed appropriately concerned, asking relevant questions about his injury and treatment, assuring him that he would oversee the investigation into the accident, and wishing him a speedy recovery. Just exactly the right things to say. Except…

For all that they've worked together so closely for the past four months, not to mention their trial-by-fire in the Narada incident, Jim still finds it hard to connect with him. Spock seems so controlled, so professional, that Jim always feels that he's supposed to be on his best behavior with him. Or that Spock's waiting for him to make a mistake, so he can point out exactly what Jim did wrong and why.

Like he did just yesterday, in fact.

"Perhaps if you conferred with your department heads more often, Captain, and read the in-depth analyses rather than the abridged versions submitted to your briefings, you would be in a better position to decide on the right course of action."

When Jim pointed out, logically, that the summaries were written by the department heads in order to save the captain from wading through tons of irrelevant information, Spock just raised an eyebrow, then nodded, his hands clasped behind his back. "In that case, sir," he said stiffly, "I suggest that you allow me to advise you on these technical matters, as I am your science officer. And I have read the unabridged reports."

There was nothing Jim could say to that which wouldn't make him look like a jackass in front of the bridge crew, except, "Of course, Spock. Thank you."

"You are quite welcome."

It galls him that Spock can make him feel like an impetuous teenager, with his fingers itching to punch him.

Good thing Chris Pike didn't overhear that conversation, or any of a dozen others just like it. He knows what the admiral would say: that Jim obviously isn't ready to be captain of anything, if he can't handle a little criticism. And that Jim has to learn to work with his command team.

But if he's honest with himself, that isn't the problem. It's not about accepting criticism or comparing himself to his ridiculously intelligent and competent his first officer. It's not even about his lack of experience.

He just feels that there's something missing between them, some warmth or affection that should be there but isn't.

He felt it with that other Spock. There was no mistaking how much he cared for—loved, probably—his Jim Kirk, and he wasn't a bastard about showing it, either.

Jim's spent long hours puzzling over their short interaction on Delta Vega, analyzing every remembered gesture and nuance. The older Spock didn't think it was a weakness to show emotion, and he didn't seem to have a problem admitting to Jim when he'd made a mistake or was unsure. Jim liked him.

Could be it's just a function of age or maturity. His Spock is a lot younger.

Or maybe, he thinks suddenly, the problem is him.

The thought sends a pang of anxiety through him, but it resonates with… truth. God knows he's been told often enough that he's trouble. Half his classmates at the Academy couldn't stand him. Even Bones, who knows him better than anyone else, has a long list of his character flaws which he reviews out loud with him regularly.

Maybe he's just too damaged for Spock to befriend. He's defensive, insecure, even antagonistic. Spock probably just doesn't like him.

He shouldn't care, but damn it, he does.

He's spent a lot of time thinking about that other timeline, the one he was supposed to have, the one where his father was proud of him and stayed around for all of his childhood, and his brother never ran off. The one where his mother didn't take the first opportunity to escape the stranglehold of single motherhood and oppressive memories, where they visited Uncle Frank once a year and not more than that, where he never was sent to live off-planet. The one where he joined Starfleet early, worked his way up the ranks the way a captain should, and proved himself over time.

That Jim Kirk was probably a better man, he thinks. He had a glimpse of him through the other Spock's eyes, and he remembers. He was idealistic and strong-willed, sure of himself and his own self-worth, respected by his peers and doted on by his superiors. Loved by his crew. That other Captain James Kirk must have been everything Jim isn't, and maybe that's why he and Spock became such great friends.

That other Kirk probably would never be in the position he's in now, strapped down on a biobed because of his own stupid incompetence.

The beam starts its sweep again, moving past his shin up over his knee, but when it hits his lower thigh it's suddenly hot. He tenses, waiting to see if it'll get worse, but it doesn't. It's just that one spot, right above his knee.

But then it starts again, and this time it's not just that one spot that makes him cringe, it's everything above his knee. The beam feels like a moving pulse of hot air, and when it hits the burned areas it's sharp and downright painful. His leg twitches involuntarily, and he has to admit, Bones was right to strap his leg down.

There's barely a second between the end of the sweep at mid-thigh and the beginning of the new pass just above his ankle.

Oww. He can feel sweat start to trickle down his back. Some areas are more sensitive than others, and when the beam hovers over them, he has to strain to hold back a moan.

"Don't hold your breath, Jim," he hears Bones say softly, startling him. He opens his eyes. The doctor is still there, standing at the foot of the bed, looking down at him with concern. "Just try to focus on your breathing. In and out, steady as you can."

"'m fine," he mutters. "It's okay. Not so bad." Oh, damn it. Bones can't be here for this.

"Want some water?"

"No, I…" Just want you to go away. "I'm all right. You can, uh…" He takes a breath, fighting to keep the tension out of his voice. "You can go back to your office. I'll call you if I need anything."

Fuck it hurts, but he can't let it show on his face.

"You sure? I don't mind—"

"I'm sure," he says, a little too quickly, his words a little too choked off.

Bones frowns. "You don't have anything to prove, kid."

"I'm not trying to prove anything to you, okay?" The beam sweeps over his knee—shit shit shit—and he takes a breath before continuing. "And I don't need you to babysit me like a kid!"

Bones looks wounded, and Jim feels a pang of bittersweet satisfaction. Good. Maybe he'll leave now.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it."

"Go back to your office, Bones. Please. Go do some paperwork or something. Leave me alone." He closes his eyes again, listening. Bones doesn't move for a long minute, but then Jim hears the creak of the chair as he rises, the quick slap of his boots on the floor as he exits the treatment area.

He sighs in relief.

Pain is private.

The footsteps return a while later, just as the beam powers off. "All right, Jim, time to do the other leg."

Thank God. He nods, not trusting himself to be able to speak normally.

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine," he manages. It's a moot point anyway, since Bones' eyes are fixed on the biobed screen, which is no doubt delivering an in-depth readout on Jim's interpretation of fine.

"Uh huh," he says, which in Bones-speak means You're a lying fool but I'm not gonna call you on it. "So… not too bad, was it? You up for another round, or do you need the analgesic?"

"No painkillers."

"See you in twenty minutes, then."

Second verse, same as the first.

He gets a bit of a respite before the next session. Bones releases his legs from the restraints, reapplies the gel and bandages them lightly. He doesn't ask any questions this time, just gives Jim some water which he guzzles down as if he's been running a marathon.

He shifts carefully onto his stomach, easing his legs onto the mattress, but they don't hurt. The gel must have some sort of topical anesthetic, he thinks in relief.

"This session…" Bones sounds a little hesitant, but Jim can't see his face, since the doctor's busy strapping his legs down again. "It might be a little harder. The burns are worse on the backs of your legs, so the skin there will be more sensitive."

Jim just nods.

"I'll stay with you, this time. I want to monitor the treatment a little more closely."

"You don't need to stay here with me."

After a pause, Bones says, "You don't have to go through this alone."

Jim can't fathom why Bones wants to stay, or how he thinks it'll help Jim. He's never been coddled when he was sick, much less had anybody who wanted to sit with him when he was laid up. He's always drawn strength from his solitude. He has walls of self-reliance and pride that shore him up when he's lonely. The thought of his friend sitting here with him, watching him, while he flinches and clenches his teeth and tries to hide his pain… None of that gives him any sense of comfort.

But Bones is stubborn as all hell, which means he's going to have to pull out some major weaponry.

He feels the first, innocuous sweep of the laser start to travel up the back of his calf. It's pleasantly warm, like the sun on a hot day. He knows he has seven or eight minutes, tops, before he's going to be a shuddering, sweaty mess.

"It's not so bad," he tries, head pillowed on his arms. "I'm getting used to it. You can go back to your office."

"We'll just see," Bones says from behind him, maddeningly calm.


"Not going anywhere, kid. So you can just save your breath."

"That's a fucking order, Dr. McCoy," he snaps, twisting around so he can see the doctor out of the corner of his eye.

"You know you can't give me orders when you're a patient in my care, Captain."

"Don't your patients have any rights?"

"To a point," Bones allows. "But when, in my medical judgment, what they want isn't in their best interest, then no. I decide."

He never realized Bones has an ego the size of a starship. When all this is behind them, he's going to have to have a frank talk with his CMO about the limits of his authority.

"Damn it, Bones, just leave me alone for a few minutes!" he grinds out. "I'm fine, okay?"

"You're not fine! You're in pain. Any idiot could see that."

"It doesn't hurt." Not yet, anyway. "If I'm in pain, I'll let you know."

"I can talk you through some breathing exercises that'll help you manage the pain."

"You really don't listen to anybody but yourself, do you?" he snarls. "I don't need you here watching me every minute and reminding me to breathe!"

"You really don't want me here?" Bones asks, sounding incredulous. And hurt.

Finally. "No, I really don't. Give me some damn privacy."

A pause. "I'll be in my office, then. You really can be an asshole, you know that, Jim?"

Jim nods. Yeah. He knows.

That other Jim Kirk… He probably never pushed away his friends. Probably wasn't ashamed to admit when he needed help either.

He's pretty resentful of that other guy, to tell the truth. And just a little envious.

Bones is right. This session is worse.

He could ask for the painkiller. He should ask for it, probably, because only a true idiot would suffer like this just for the hell of it. It's edging the limits of his tolerance, and that's saying a lot.

He's not sure why he's clinging so stubbornly to his decision. Bones thinks he's trying to prove something, but it's not that. The Admiralty, of course, is watching his every move, just like his first officer is, but none of them are here to see what he's going through, and it's not like they're concerned about his pain threshold or his allergies.

It's not even punishment, making himself suffer for his negligence in engineering. Maybe he deserves to experience a little pain for that, but that's not what's holding him back.

It's just… being able to take it. Not flinching from whatever the Universe gives him. He's been dealt some bad cards, some of the worst, but he's never been knocked down for long. Always made it back and kept going, even when nobody cared. It's become a point of pride with him: he can take a punch, offer himself up to be strangled, launch himself off into freefall… and he never backs down.

It occurs to him that as a philosophy of life, it's seriously screwed up, bordering on masochistic.

If he knew, Spock would undoubtedly tell him that he was being both illogical and irresponsible, not to mention short-sighted and self-destructive. Chris Pike would probably yank the Enterprise right out from under his feet. Bones might stop speaking to him entirely, and then when he got his voice back, he'd shout himself hoarse telling Jim what a fool and a jackass he was.

But still. He feels a thrill of pride, lying here on the biobed, shaking with the burning pain but getting through it.

It all breaks down about fifteen minutes into the third session.

The nausea's been building for the last few minutes, and he tries to hold it back, but he's always had a puke reflex when he's in too much pain. It's embarrassing, but there's no stopping it.

He's able to wrench himself over to the side of the bed, at least, so the vomit splatters on the floor for the most part. He retches several times more, and now he feels even worse, because his leg's still burning from the treatment and now his throat's sore and his mouth tastes like death.

He groans, wondering if anyone noticed. He's not in the main sickbay, so there are no nurses or other patients to call for help, even if he wanted someone to notice. Bones is probably monitoring his vitals from his office, but he's not sure if vomiting would set off any alarms. And after the way Jim just treated him, he's probably not in any hurry to help him out.

He lifts his head to turn it to the other side, at least, away from the disgusting smell, but suddenly there's a cool hand on the back of his neck, guiding his head as he turns.

"Relax, kid, I've got this," he hears.

"Where'd you come from?" Bones is suddenly standing right chrome_find class="find_in_page findysel"next to him, when he should be in his office.

"Never left. Been just over there," he points, and Jim notices the chair parked just outside his curtained-off biobed.

Fuck me. He lets his head slump back onto the mattress. He should have known Bones was too stubborn to really leave. Lovely. He's been watching Jim sweat and shake and puke.

"Relax," Bones tells him again, and there's a cool, damp cloth wiping his face. It feels good, but the pleasant sensation is swallowed up by the pain in his legs which he can't escape.

"Can't relax," he mumbles. The beam seems to be drawn to that sensitive spot on the back of his thigh, and his fists close reflexively on the mattress.

"I know it hurts. Just ride it out a little more."

"It burns. It's bad. Please. Make it stop, please…" Oh shit, now he's whining.

"It's just a few more minutes." Bones tells him, his voice low and soothing. "You're doing fine."

It's too much. He's exhausted and miserable, and Bones' calm sympathy tips him over the edge. "Can't do this anymore," he blurts.

"Yes, you can, kid. Don't give up now."

"No!" His breathing is coming faster, and he has to strain to get the words out. "Give me something, okay?"

"This cycle's almost over. Just another three minutes. You can hold on that long, can't you?"

"No… I don't know." His eyes are tightly shut, and it feels like he's being burned all over again, the same relentless, sharp stinging.

Bones' hand grasps his, and his fingers tighten over Jim's fist. "Hold on a little longer, Jim. You won't regret it."

"This sucks," he groans, feeling forlorn and furious. He can feel the sweat running down his face, dripping down his neck. The nausea is still churning in his gut, and all he can think is that he just practically begged his friend to put him out of his misery, and Bones said no.

"I'm sorry. You're right, it sucks. But it's almost over. Two more minutes."

Bones counts down, every five seconds, and Jim grabs his hand back and squeezes.

The beam finally shuts itself off, and Jim slumps in relief. "One more session," Bones tells him. "Rest a little while I get it set up."

Now that he's not in pain anymore, he can feel his cheeks flushing in embarrassment.

God, did he really plead for Bones to knock him out, and then hold his hand like a girl?

"I really think it's better if you're not here," he says quietly.

Bones sits down heavily. "I know you do. But here's the thing…" He pauses. "I don't give a shit."

"What?!" His CMO's a fucking dictator.

"I'm staying right here."

"No you're not," he says as forcefully as he can. "It's easier for me to deal with it if there's nobody around."

"Jim," Bones sighs. "Cut the crap. I'm aware of the fact that you'd rather nobody see you when you're vulnerable. But I'm a healer. That's part of my job. And I can't stand watching you go through this on your own, when I can do something to help!"

"That's just the point," he says, willing Bones to understand. "It doesn't help. It makes it harder."

Bones looks sad, which isn't something Jim sees very often. He's seen him grumpy, angry, haughty, bitter, drunk, and even a few variations of excited and happy, but Bones doesn't do sad.

It makes him feel guilty, just a little. "I don't need to be coddled," he explains.

"Not coddled," Bones corrects. "Helped. Supported. Comforted."

Jim lets out a breath. He doesn't have the energy to argue. "Just give me the painkiller already."


He twists his head back around to glare up at the doctor. "What do you want from me? I'm asking for the hypo!"

"You've come this far without it," Bones says stubbornly. "You can do one more session. I know it hurts, but I already dosed you once today. You really shouldn't take another."

He can feel tears of exhaustion prickling at the corners of his eyes, and he can't think of anything to do besides laugh. "You're a sadist, you know that?"

Bones smiles. "And you're tougher than you think. Man up."

Bones is shameless, really, tossing his own words back at him. "Fine. Let's get it over with, then."

When the burning starts, Bones is right chrome_find class="find_in_page"next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder when he starts twitching.

It's maybe a little easier with him there. But also humiliating. And annoying.

"Just shut up," he growls after a few minutes of Bones' coaching.

"Concentrate on your breathing," Bones says, undeterred. "Do it with me. Breathe in and hold it… Breathe out."

Damn it all if he isn't right. It does help distract him, for half a minute, here and there.

Towards the end, Bones is counting down the seconds again, and Jim finds himself holding onto his voice, anticipating it, latching onto it.

"I know, I know, almost done now, Jim. Eighty-five seconds… That's it… Seventy, it's almost over…"

Bones' hand must be crushed by now. Jim wonders if he'll be able to move his fingers afterward.

"Thirty seconds… You're doing great, Jim, fifteen seconds and it's over…"

Jim's asleep before Bones manages to release the restraints.

He sleeps right through the night, waking just before alpha shift, a little disoriented. Bones has moved his biobed back into the main sickbay, he realizes, and covered him with a blanket. His legs feel sore and stiff, but nothing really hurts.

The doctor strides into sickbay just as Jim is disengaging his IV, or trying to, at least. He looks refreshed and energetic, and his voice booms across the room, freezing Jim in place. "Hold it right there, Captain. I haven't released you yet."

"Get this thing off me, then." Jim's tapping ineffectually at the device strapped to his arm, then holds it out in the doctor's direction. "Here. You do it."

Bones glances up at the biobed monitor, then crosses his arms over his chest, shaking his head. "It's designed for medically phobic idiots like you. The release is locked against non-medical personnel. And I'll take it off when it's finished and not a minute before. You need fluids and a few other things."

"I'm on alpha shift," Jim grumbles. "Can we hurry this up?"

"You're not on any shift, so lie back and rest. You're off duty for the next forty-eight hours."

Jim knows from experience that wheedling and cajoling have absolutely no effect on the doctor when it comes to medical decisions—and after yesterday, he can cross ordering, yelling, and pleading off the list as well—and he doesn't particularly want to hear his CMO berating him in front of everybody, so he shuts up. For now.

In fact, he doesn't have much to say at all.

He doesn't complain while Bones checks the burns and reapplies the gel. He's glad to see that the blisters look smaller and the burns aren't nearly as swollen and red as they were. When the nurse brings him a tray, he eats everything and doesn't even bitch about the lack of coffee. Bones lifts an eyebrow, but doesn't call him on it.

But when Jim meekly accepts all of his instructions for the next two days without argument, Bones draws the line. "What's the matter with you?" he asks, brow crinkling in suspicion. "You're too quiet. And compliant."

Jim shrugs. "I thought I was being a model patient."

"That's not like you."

"I'm hoping to get time off for good behavior," he says with a grin, but Bones just frowns. "Look, I'm just a little tired from yesterday. Excuse me for not doing my usual moaning and groaning, okay? I promise I'll be a pain in your ass on my next visit."

Bones looks him over carefully, then says, "You know, Jim, you don't need to feel uncomfortable about what happened yesterday."

Mind-reader. He's beginning to hate his CMO. "What makes you think I'm uncomfortable?"

Bones makes a scoffing noise. "Come on, Jim, I know you. You've been obsessing over it, and probably tying yourself into knots."

"No I haven't!" At Bones' pointed glare, he slumps a little. "Uh, not much, anyway."

"I knew it."

Bones takes a step toward him, but Jim holds up his hand, as if warning him away. "Leave it, Bones. We don't have to talk about it."

"It doesn't change who you are, you know."

"I know that. So drop it."

Bones actually looks like he might agree for a minute, but then he clears his throat. "Let me say my piece, and then I'll let you go."

Jim has the uncomfortable feeling that the doctor has been planning and rehearsing this speech, but there's no stopping Bones when he gets a notion in his head, so he just nods, bracing himself.

"You'll be a better captain if you can accept help once in a while. It doesn't make you less of a leader."

Jim nods. "You're right. I get that."

"I'm not finished," he says, and even without raising his voice, Bones manages to project enough authority into his tone that Jim is impressed despite himself. "This isn't about being captain. This is about you, Jim, and how you see yourself."

Bones lowers himself to the chair, bringing himself to eye level with Jim, more or less. He waits until Jim's looking up at him steadily, then says, "Listen to me, kid. Suffering by yourself doesn't have any intrinsic worth. It won't prove anything to anyone, and it doesn't make you stronger, or whatever you've convinced yourself. Maybe when you were younger and on your own that's what you had to do to survive, and it helped you then because you didn't have a choice."

Jim turns his head away. He feels unfairly exposed, both literally and figuratively. Why does Bones want to have this conversation with him now, in the bright lights of sickbay, when Jim's half naked and lying down?

"But you're not alone anymore," Bones continues, and even though Jim's got his eyes averted, he can't shut out the words. "I'm here for you. Showing pain doesn't mean you're weak, Jim, and neither does accepting help."

"Feels like it to me," he says quietly.

"Well, you need to work on that, then. Because out here, there's no such thing as privacy, and your crew needs to see you as human, not superhuman. Give these young kids a role model to emulate, someone they can identify with. Let them see your flaws, and they'll be more accepting of their own."

"Got any particular flaws in mind?" he asks sourly.

Bones gives him a lopsided grin. "You've got plenty to choose from. Take your pick."

"Knew you'd say that."

"One more thing." Bones gets to his feet, and Jim turns reluctantly back around to meet his gaze. "You can talk to me, kid. You know that, right?"

Jim knows what he means, and why he's saying it. "It's not that simple anymore. This isn't the Academy. You're my CMO now. One of my officers."

"True, but I go off duty once in a while, and so do you."

Off duty? He's not sure what that means. He feels like he's captain twenty-four hours a day. He never had enough time to observe Chris Pike, to see how another captain managed the pressures of the job. But the hell of it is, he really misses Bones.

He sighs. Even captains need a break, he figures. "Care to back that up with some of your high-quality booze?"

"Almost forgot that I brought it on board." At Jim's inquiring look, he explains, "I don't much like to drink alone. Had a drinking buddy back at the Academy, but he's been pretty busy lately. I thought I'd wait for him."

Jim grins. "Well, if he's not around, I happen to be free. If you're interested."

He cocks his head in invitation, and Bones laughs. "All right, you insufferable leech. I'll be around tonight."

Jim's halfway to the door when he stops, then pivots around. "Uh, Bones…"

"What is it?"

"Thank you. I mean it."

Bones' expression softens. "You're welcome, kid. That's what I'm here for."

It's a little awkward, sauntering out into the corridor in only a pair of shorts and a black t-shirt, barefoot with his legs covered in shiny gel, but he puts on his Captain's Demeanor and makes it back to his quarters without losing too much dignity.

Just as the door slides shut behind him, there's the whistle of a comm at his desk.

"Yes, Mr. Spock."

"I'm pleased to hear you've been released from sickbay, Captain."

"Not as pleased as I am, believe me."

"How do you feel?"

Jim's surprised. He's sure that Spock's already reviewed his release report from sickbay—and probably tracked his movements through the corridors, so he'd know exactly when Jim arrived in his quarters—and there's no logical reason to inquire further about his health. But Spock sounds genuinely concerned. "I'm fine," he says automatically.

"That is… good to hear." There's no denying the tight note of skepticism in Spock's tone.

Damn it.

Maybe Bones has a point. "Actually," he sighs, "I'm still pretty sore. And tired."

"Understandable, and certainly to be expected. I have never experienced burns myself..."

Jim laughs lightly. "Let's hope you never do. The treatment isn't much fun. To put it mildly."

"Indeed. Engineering has completed their investigation of the incident. I will send you a summary of the report." He pauses. "Or the entire technical report, if you wish."

"The summary'll be fine, Spock. I trust you." He does, he realizes. It's a relief to know that he's supported by such quiet competence.

"I merely thought that you might prefer the long version, as you will surely have more free time until you return to duty."

"Just the summary, thanks."

"I've also taken the liberty of compiling a list of the documents and logs that will need to be filed during the next two weeks. Perhaps you would like to use your off duty hours making progress with administrative work. As you are well aware, the Admiralty appreciates receiving reports on time."

"I know that, Spock..."

"Although you may, of course, want to keep them in suspense as usual."

Jim does a double take. Wait, Spock is teasing him. He's teasing, for God's sake.

He wonders if Spock has ever teased him before, and he just never noticed.

"I'll take that under consideration," he says smoothly, then hesitates. He really does hate paperwork. "Uh... it may take me a few days to review the forms and come to a decision."

"I have noticed that you often use procrastination as a form of decision-making."

Great, now Spock's using sarcasm on him. When did his first officer develop a sense of humor? "You'd be surprised how often it works," he says, unable to repress a grin.

"Have a pleasant recuperation, Jim."

His mind drifts to that other Jim Kirk.

They're different people. He knows that, and he's not trying to be like him. He is who he is. But maybe they're not so completely dissimilar, him and that other captain.

For the first time in a while, he doesn't feel jealous, or bitter. Just curious.

The end.

A final note: For those of you who have inquired, yes, I do have an Into Darkness fic in the works, still in the planning stages. Thank goodness the latest movie left us so many plot holes so we could fill in the blanks!

It's been said by about a thousand other authors besides me, but reviews really do encourage me and stimulate my muse. Thanks for reading!