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August 1, 2009
The silence is becoming uncomfortable.

Jim isn’t sure why it bothers him, especially considering everything that’s been happening, but it does. When Bones is quiet like this, it means he’s thinking. Thinking about things too much, which is a problem. This isn’t something that Jim really wants analyzed and studied in that annoying way Bones has whenever he encounters a puzzle he can’t solve. It’s not a puzzle, but Bones won’t see it that way. Too much has happened for him to not want some sort of explanation, and Jim isn’t in a talkative mood. Not about this.

“How do you feel?” He finally breaks the silence with a question that is deceptively simple. It’s really anything but. For the last two weeks, Bones has been dying, after all. It’s some disease, possibly genetic, no known cures, with Bones getting weaker every day, angry at the world before finally accepting the situation. And Jim had to watch, feeling helpless and confused because the thought of life without Bones made it impossible to sleep and sent him running to the toilet to throw up a few times. Only, Jim hadn’t accepted it, which is why everything’s uncomfortable and awkward now, no doubt.

“Better,” Bones says, his voice quiet and thoughtful. Jim cringes when he feels something poke his shoulderblade. “This is probably going to scar.”

That doesn’t surprise him. It doesn’t really matter, since it can join the other scars that he has. Still, it’s something that Bones will probably blame himself for, since he likes to fix Jim, to heal him and make sure there aren’t any visible reminders of missions gone wrong. With all the medical advancements in the world, Bones has issues with unhealed injuries and things he can’t make better with his equipment. Jim tends to see his scars as reminders of his past, both good and bad, and this one is more important than any of the others. It’s a reminder of the time he saved Bones’ life.

“Alright.” He isn’t really sure what to say now that they’re back on the Enterprise. It seemed easier down on Fresson V, when he was speaking to the Fressoners about their healing legends and having to practically beg them to let him and Bones participate. He’d had to remove his uniform, to represent just himself and not Starfleet or the Federation that Fresson V was not part of, and they’d finally taken pity on him. He knows that he’ll get in trouble for having the ship change course and making contact with the Fressoners, but Bones is alive. That’s worth more than getting scolded by Starfleet.

Bones sighs, and Jim looks back at him, worried that he’s having a relapse or losing his strength again. He looks good, though. His color has returned, the strength is back in his body, his eyes are bright and alive instead of dull and fading, and he’s breathing normally. By the time they participated in the ritual, he was almost dead. Jim held him as he breathed so slowly that each breath seemed to be a struggle and he couldn’t even raise his hand to touch the bowl the Fressoners pressed to his lips. Jim bites his lip as he remembers that it was only yesterday because his mind still can’t grasp the fact that Bones is really improving and recovering so fast.

“We need to talk about this, Jim,” Bones says. “What you’ve done…I don’t really even understand it. It’s not medically possible, but I’m standing here, and I know how I feel. The tests are accurate, too.”

“We don’t need to talk about anything,” Jim interrupts. “Maybe it’s not medically possible, but it’s happened. You’re going to be okay, Bones. The tests aren’t lying. The disease or whatever the hell it was, it’s gone. It won’t be back. The Fressoners are sure of that and, considering everything, I’m inclined to trust them.”

Bones leans against the bio-bed and stares at Jim. That’s almost as uncomfortable as the silence. “I can’t be healed without some sort of logical explanation, Jim. I don’t care what the tests say. I need to know what happened with my own body, damn it.”

“You’re going to upset yourself if you keep on.” Jim frowns and wonders where Doctor M’Benga is because Bones should be in bed recovering, not walking around sick bay interrogating him.

“I’m a doctor, not a patient,” he mutters. “I can remember some of what they said, but it’s sort of foggy and jumbled up. Do you know what they put in the, uh, broth?” Bones makes a slight face, and Jim feels his stomach roll as he thinks back to the ritual. He’d thrown up then, but he hadn’t even hesitated in agreeing to do whatever the Fressoners said would help.

“Some sort of liquid mixture that looked a little like watered down milk, some herbs, there was a root of some kind, and, well, the other thing.” His shoulder twinges as he shifts his position on the bed. “You need to lie down, Bones. Go ahead and take this bed.”

“You should be lying down, too. Do you need a hypospray? I saw that flinch of pain, Jim, so don’t lie and say you’re fine.” Bones scowls at him and looks at Jim’s back. “They cut out a deep chunk of skin back here. M’Benga and Chapel have done what they can, but, damn it. They can’t grow flesh back, not this much.”

“They gave me a hypo for the pain already. It’s just sore, I guess.” He can’t see the wound, but he figures it must be pretty bad if Bones keeps bringing it up. When he had been given the choice, he told the Fressoners to remove the flesh from his shoulderblade because he hadn’t wanted to risk an injury to his legs or arms. Of course, he hadn’t thought about how much it’d hurt to carry Bones or to move his right arm in any way that pulled the muscles in his back.

“You’re crazy,” Bones murmurs, raising his hand to lightly touch the skin around the wound. “You let some non-Federation aliens cut you up and use you to help heal me.”

“I’d have let them kill me if it meant you were cured,” he says honestly. He hears Bones’ sharp intake of breath and wonders if that’s something he should have admitted. It’s the truth, though.

“Don’t say that, Jim. My life isn’t more important than yours, damn it.” Bones grips the back of his neck, forcing him to turn his head to look at him. “I know that you broke rules to save me. I know that you’re going to take a lot of heat for this, might even lose the ship if the Admirals want to get tough. What I don’t know is why. And don’t give me that bullshit about my life being so damn important because we both know that’s not true.”

“You’re wrong. It is true.” Jim smiles wryly. “I’ll take whatever punishment Starfleet throws at me. I’ve been captain for nearly four years, and my record is too good for them to take my ship. I discussed all this with Spock before I made the decision to go to Fresson V, not that I wouldn’t have just stolen a shuttle and taken you myself if the crew had rebelled.” Jim ducks his head and tries to figure out how to explain it to Bones. “The thought of living without you makes me throw up.”

“Oh.” Bones loosens his grip on Jim’s neck and moves his hand down to touch the tender skin around the wound again. His voice is barely above a whisper when he finally speaks. “Do you think that I’d want to be alive knowing you died to save me?”

Jim looks up and meets Bones’ gaze, staring at him silently as he tries to figure out if Bones means it the way he does. He can’t really tell, but he thinks that maybe there’s more in Bones’ expression than the love and bond between best friends, that maybe nearly dying has made him realize that he feels more for Jim, like how it’s opened Jim’s eyes to the truth about feelings and desires and a bunch of confusing shit that he’s tried not to think about while focused on saving Bones. Only, Bones is saved now, he’s recovering and will probably be back to work by next week, and Jim still isn’t entirely sure what to say or do about his awareness regarding everything.

“Probably not,” he says, reaching out to touch Bones’ cheek. He strokes the warm skin and drags his thumb along Bones’ unshaven jaw. “You almost died, Bones.”

“I know.” Bones shifts, raising his legs onto the bio-bed before he leans back against the pillows. “You saved me. Always have to be the damn hero, don’t you?”

“I didn’t do anything. The Fressoners saved you.” He watches Bones for a moment before he moves to lie beside him. They’re best friends and it’s not like they’re snuggling or anything, so to hell with anyone seeing them or talking about them. He almost lost the most important person in his life, and he needs this contact because he’s still trying to accept that Bones is alive and getting better.

“You did everything, Jim. Tracked down the damn planet after finding some brief reference about their healing rituals, let them cut a chunk out of your skin to use in their healing broth, never gave up and accepted that I was going to die.” Bones trails off and clears his throat, moving his hand to rub Jim’s back in a soothing manner when Jim tenses. He doesn’t like to hear Bones talk about dying, not even in a past tense sort of way.

“Maybe we can leave the contents of the broth out of any reports we file,” he murmurs, resting his cheek on Bones’ chest and placing his hand over his heart. He wanted to feel the steady thump so he can stop thinking about how slow Bones’ heartbeat had become and how close he came to losing him. “They might not approve of certain ingredients.” He really doesn’t want to explain that Bones had to eat flesh in order for the ritual to work, nor does he want to defend giving the Fressoners permission to cut him because only the flesh of one who loved the one with the illness would work. Somehow, he doubts Starfleet would understand.

“Yeah, it’ll be our secret,” Bones says. He sounds sleepy, which is good. He needs to rest and get better. “I just wish I understood the tradition and knew how the disease was cured.”

“You don’t have to know everything, Bones.” Jim can’t help but smile as he listens to Bones grumble about logic and medicine and crazy alien rituals. It’s so damn good to have him back, even if things between them are probably going to get more complicated. He moves closer to Bones and closes his eyes, letting the last two weeks of stress and sleepless nights crash around him now that Bones is recovering and Jim feels safe. “Their tradition might not be medically sound, but it obviously worked. So maybe you just need to have faith and believe, like I did.”