“Let me help.” The words are a soft whisper against his ear, breaking slightly in a betrayal of emotion Leonard doubts Jim wants him to hear. He tenses when he feels Jim’s body press against his back and listens to the catch of breath Jim can’t hide from him before he breaks contact. “Bones.”
It’s just his name. Nothing else. His name said in a voice that sounds like he feels: aching and uncertain and maybe a little scared. It’s not his given name, though. He was born Leonard Horatio McCoy, and his mom called him Lenny until he was five and told her how much he hated it. He’s been Leonard since. Or McCoy to those who don’t earn the right to use his given name. And for nearly four years now, he’s been Bones to Jim. Only to Jim. It’s sometimes difficult to remember who Leonard even was before he became Bones.
Leonard keeps staring at his hands while focusing on the sound of Jim breathing behind him because there’s an odd sort of calming effect when he knows Jim’s alive. He closes his eyes suddenly and curls his fingers into his palm while tightening his hold on the brush he’s been using to scrub his skin. His breathing becomes more erratic as he remembers the sheer terror and determination that rushed through him when they were ambushed and Jim suddenly had the point of a sharp arrow pressed against his jugular.
“Bones.” Jim says his name again, and Leonard thinks he feels warmth against his shoulder but there’s no touch so he isn’t sure if he’s imagining it or not. Jim’s voice sounds desperate and slightly broken as he murmurs his name and the word ‘please’ over and over while Leonard stubbornly keeps his eyes shut and his body tense.
“It was supposed to be uninhabited,” he finally whispers, listening to his words as if someone else is speaking them.
Jim makes a noise and his breath catches, as if he’s surprised to hear Leonard talk or maybe doesn’t know what to say. “The scans indicated that it was,” he says quietly, using a voice that Leonard’s overheard him use with injured crew members who are scared and in pain. Leonard isn’t lying in a biobed waiting to find out if he’s going to die, so it irritates him to hear that tone used on himself.
“They were wrong.” He spits the words out, angry with himself and with Jim and with everything in the world. When he opens his eyes, he stares down at red blood covering the orange stain. “They were wrong.” This time, the words are broken and he stumbles over them, barely getting them out as he thinks about the warmth of the blood spilling on his hands and the sound the body made when it fell to the ground at Jim’s feet. He starts to shake and can feel the bile rising in his throat, making him cough as he leans forward to rest his head against the mirror.
“They were.” It’s all Jim says before familiar arms reach around him, and he’s being held so tight it’s like Jim’s afraid he’s going to disappear if he lets go. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Bones. It’s all my fault,” Jim says, his voice not even loud enough to be called a whisper. There’s something damp pressed against Leonard’s neck as Jim keeps talking and holding him and not letting go.
“Isn’t,” he denies. His voice is low and gruff, and it hurts to get that one word out when he feels like this, but he can’t let Jim take the blame for this. Jim might have asked him to go down and explore the planet because he’d been working too hard, but Leonard’s the one who forgot his vow to do no harm when they were attacked. He’s the one who reacted without hesitation when he saw Jim standing with that arrow against his throat. He’s the one who has blood on his hands that won’t come off.
“Is too.” Jim tightens his arms and sighs, murmuring something inaudible against the strap of Leonard’s tank top. The words are whispered into his skin, but he figures it was probably a simple I love you because neither of them are very good at saying that any other way.
“I didn’t hesitate,” he admits, knowing that Jim’ll understand what he means without any other explanation. Leonard likes to think he’d react the same way if it had been him and anyone else, that he’d have killed a living being in order to keep a co-worker alive, but he can’t help but think there’d be a moment of hesitation, even a single second when he remembers that he’s a healer and not a killer, yet that isn’t what happened earlier, so he isn’t sure. Finally, he opens his eyes and looks at his hands. “You’re alive.”
Those words don’t make everything okay, and it won’t be okay, not for a while, if ever. Leonard’s killed someone, and that isn’t anything he’s likely to get over. But it probably won’t be the last time, not when they’re in the deep reaches of space and exploring planets Starfleet isn’t even aware existed until they find them. That doesn’t make it better, but it helps to know that Jim’s here with him and that it will be something they get through together.
“You’re alive, too,” Jim whispers, arms tightening once before he rubs his face against Leonard’s neck, dry lips brushing against his skin and damp cheeks making him realize it was Jim’s tears he felt earlier against his neck. Leonard exhales slowly and gradually leans against Jim, watching Jim’s hands as they join his. The brush is dropped to the bottom of the basin as their fingers tangle together, and he watches as the orange and red blood begins to stain Jim’s skin, too.