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Star Trek reboot fic: Theory of Flight (1/1)

December 21st, 2015 (02:35 pm)
productive

feeling: productive

Title: Theory of Flight

Disclaimer: I own nothing!

A/N: For sockie1000. I hope your holidays are peaceful -- or, as peaceful as they can be :) No beta, set sometime post Into Darkness but there are no real references to anything.

Summary: McCoy doesn’t like to fly. Kirk gives him another reason why.



-o-

The thing about James Kirk was that he was, invariably, the best. Now, granted, he sometimes picked his moments to his own advantage, but that was all part of the trick. Because Jim had always known, from the time he was a little kid, that he was meant for greater things. That he’d have to kick and fight and scheme, but he was going to end up on top.

Jim Kirk, you see, he was on his way up.

Funny thing about going up, though.

If you go up, you always come down.

Always.

-o-

Groaning, Jim opened his eyes.

Or tried to anyway.

The simple movement was harder than he expected and the payoff wasn’t nearly as good as he’d wanted. In fact, there wasn’t any payoff. There was only pain.

And a lot of it.

Grimacing, Jim tried to curl in on himself but that was difficult thanks to the large bulkhead he was draped over. His legs were pressed awkwardly under him, and one hand was trapped beneath his body. He used the other to push himself up, which was a movement even less pleasant than opening his eyes.

This time, the pain exploded, radiating from his chest and encompassing every inch of his body. His head throbbed; his chest ached. Jim had been in his share of fights before, and this felt like he’d gone 10 rounds.

And lost.

He winced again, swallowing back blood.

Badly.

What the hell had happened? He’d woken up confused before, but not in quite some time. At least, not while on active duty. And the last he remembered, he was still captain of the Enterprise, which meant…

He grunted, levering himself to a sitting position. This wasn’t the Enterprise, though. This was the shuttlepod.

Or what was left of it.

The front of the pod was crumped with the viewscreen badly fractured. The console he was draped over was cracked in half and smoking. While his chair was still somehow anchored in place, the rest of the pod behind him was ripped open and mostly gone.

Cursing, he tried moving again, just to bite back a cry. His wrist was swollen and bruised -- it felt broken.

With a whimper, he tried to breath through the pain but a deep breath just made it worse.

“Ribs,” he muttered with a glare at the console responsible for the damage. He touched his chest gingerly with his good hand. “Probably just bruised.”

That was the optimistic take anyway, and Jim could use some optimism right then. The shuttlepod wasn’t going to fly; hell, at this point, it wasn’t even going to make a distress call. And given that the distress beacon was stored in the rear of the cabin, he probably wasn’t going to be activating that anytime soon, either.

He was used to missions going bad, but this one hadn’t even started.

Sluggishly, the details started to come back to him.

A new solar system; a new planet. Difficult atmospheric conditions made a shuttlepod the most viable means of transporting a small team to the surface. Preliminary observation should be conducted with minimal crew members in order to honor the Prime Directive.

Damn it, Jim was spending too much time with Spock. That damn Vulcan’s voice was in his head.

Spock had recommended taking one of their more experienced pilots as his number two on this one. Smug bastard had probably wanted to go himself.

He wondered, vaguely, if Vulcans would still say I told you so now that one of those atmospheric conditions had just blown him out of the sky. It would be one of those rare and annoying times when Bones agreed with Spock--

Bones.

Jim straightened abruptly, damaged ribs be damned.

Because Jim hadn’t taken Spock or Sulu on this mission.

No, he’d taken McCoy.

He’d said that he’s wanted to run scans, to get a good understanding of the indigenous population, and to scan the effects of the atmosphere on humans. But really, he just didn’t want to take Spock, and he didn’t want to listen to Sulu talk about sword fighting again, and he couldn’t understand what Chekov said half the time, and Scotty would be so annoyingly anxious about the stress on the engines, and damn it, Jim likes Bones. He’d wanted him to come along, even despite his protestations.

Probably because of his protestations.

But now, as Jim looked around the torn open shuttle, the good doctor was nowhere to be found.

-o-

Inaction lasted about two seconds.

Because Jim Kirk, he wasn’t one to be idle. He didn’t stop; he didn’t stand still. Even when he probably needed to. It was that incessant drive that got him into Starfleet. It was that inevitable inertia that had landed him in the captain’s chair time and time again.

Sometimes, you had to be too smart to know when to quit.

Or too stupid.

Jim was still trying to figure that out.

This, though -- this wasn’t a hard decision. If McCoy was missing, Jim was damn well going to find him.

He took a careful step, mindful of the way the movement tweaked his damaged ribs. The second step was a little easier as he braced himself, visually scanning the under the rubble for any sign of life.

“Bones?” he called, breath catching as he tried to raise his voice. “McCoy!”

His own voice filtered back to him, and there was the sound of birds in rustling in the trees. Limping outside, it was easy to see the path in the trees their shuttlepod had taken. The branches were broken for quite a ways, which suggested that Jim had tried with limited success to create a landing field out of nothing. The impact against the trees would have slowed them down, which was probably one of the reasons he was still alive.

It was also one of the reasons why McCoy might still be alive.

The ground was uneven, strewn with wreckage, and Jim pulled at a larger piece to look under it. “Bones?” he tried again, gritting his teeth as he jarred his broken wrist. “I could sure as hell use a doctor right about now.”

There was nothing, though. Just wreckage, trees, and nothing. The planet didn’t even look very interesting, which meant that Jim had crashed a shuttlepod, busted his ribs, lost his best friend for absolutely nothing.

“Come on, Bones,” he said, circling around and pushing another smoking bit of bulkhead out of the way. “You’ve got to be here.”

He was sweating now, the fine sheen breaking out over his face as he struggled to keep his lungs working. It was excruciating now, the throbbing almost eclipsing his consciousness. He staggered another step, leaning against a half felled tree to keep himself upright.

Closing his eyes, he bowed his head against the tree, trying to regain his strength and his composure. He’d been in worse situations before. Hell, his entire career was composed of worse situations. This wasn’t the time he was going to lose it.

No way.

Opening his eyes again, he pushed away from the tree, following the line of damaged branches. There were a few larger pieces from the shuttlepod now, and Jim recognized parts from the cargo hold. Guarding his ribs, he pulled through it, doing his best to look for any sign of McCoy.

Then he saw a chair.

It was remarkably intact, given the speed of impact, and it almost looked funny, standing perfectly upright in the middle of alien woods.

There were only two chairs in the shuttlepod. Jim had woken up in one.

Which meant…

Damaged ribs be damned, Jim broke into a run. It was actually more like a hobbling jog, but the intent was the same. The chair was empty, but it was also the last place Jim had seen the doctor.

When he reached it, he almost keeled over. By force of will, he kept himself upright, leaning against it as he looked through the woods with new determination. “Bones!” he called out, voice almost cracking. “McCoy!”

Then, he saw it.

Not the torn piece of door.

Not the churned up foliage.

The hand.

The human hand.

Now, Jim didn’t know what sort of aliens were on this planet, but he had to think that they wouldn’t have hands just like humans. Moreover, the odds of a random alien being in the path of their random falling shuttlepod over the most sparse area of the whole damn planet was pretty slim.

Which meant--

“Bones!” Jim cried, rushing forward now. He pulled at the door, wincing in pain as it jarred his ribs even worse than before. “Damn it, Bones--”

He heaved with effort, letting a grunt escape as he hoisted the panel of the torn door. It was heavier than he might have thought, and he almost dropped it. Somehow, he managed to catch it, almost crying in agony as he had to use his bad wrist to drag it clear and drop it harmlessly back to the ground.

Exhaling in a rush, Jim almost fell to his knees as he turned back toward his friend.

“Bones?” he asked, heart pounding so loud in his ears that it was almost deafening. “McCoy!”

McCoy was on the ground, sprawled on his back. His uniform was stained and muddied, torn in various locations. It was impossible to tell for sure how much was mud and how much was blood -- and hell, how much was just both.

“Come on,” Jim said, trying not to sound desperate. That was stupid, though. He was desperate. “Come on.”

He reached up, tipping McCoy’s face toward him. For the damage to the rest of his body, his face was remarkably unscathed. There was a cut at his hairline, and the blood had seeped back, matting his hair, but besides that--

Jim tapped McCoy’s cheek. “Come on, Bones,” he cajoled. “Stay with me.”

His fingers were trembling now, shaking so bad that he almost could find the pulse point at McCoy’s throat. Basic first aid was one of those courses he’d slept through, and he’d only learned mouth-to-mouth from Tiana McCreedy, who was a very thorough teacher.

There it was, a heart beat.

Jim let out his breath and dropped his head in relief, thanking God and Tiana McCreedy all at the same time.

McCoy was alive.

Jim had found him, and he was alive.

Looking up, Jim scanned the woods with new interest before his eyes settled back on McCoy’s battered body.

Now it was up to Jim to keep him that way.

-o-

First things first…

Jim had no idea what to do first.

Combat situations, those came naturally.

High stress captain decision, he could do those with aplomb.

But being stranded on a remote planet with a badly injured doctor?

That kind of thing didn’t have a Starfleet training course behind it. Not that Jim would have paid much attention to it if there had been.

Still, Jim had good instincts.

So, first things first…

He needed to get the hell out of here.

Given that the shuttlepod wasn’t going anywhere, that meant he needed to contact the ship for help.

Chewing his lip, Jim looked back through the thicket. He could just make out the form of the cockpit where he’d woken up, but there was nothing usable in there. Instead, he reached down and picked up his communicator, but when he opened it, it gave one pathetic beep and died.

Jim tried it again.

And again.

It was broken -- damaged from the impact.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jim protested, pounding on it in futility. Maybe he should have paid more attention in basic engineering, too. What had Jim paid attention to back at the Academy?

Frustrated, he fiddled with the back panel, pulling it off before poking at a few of the wires. It sparked and flared before promptly catching on fire.

Swearing, Jim tossed it, stamping the smoldering communicator to ash in the dirt.

“So much for calling backup.” he muttered, gingerly holding his side again.

Now Jim had no shuttlepod, busted ribs, a broken wrist, and no comms.

Not to mention a still badly injured best friend.

“Great,” he muttered, lashing out at a tree with his boot. “Great, great, great!”

This, naturally, was not the best choice, and he was fairly certain that keeping your calm in duress was probably another day of class he missed, because kicking the tree only managed to make him stub his toe.

Which made him lose balance.

So he grabbed a tree.

With his bad wrist.

And nearly fell over because his ribs hurt so damn much.

Grunting, Jim breathed through the pain. “Damn it!”

This was just getting worse and worse and--

“Jim?”

Jim stopped and almost fell down again. He turned so fast it was almost comical, and he felt it pull in his chest without feeling it at all. Gaping, he looked down at McCoy.

Who was looking back at him.

Battered, bruised and conscious.

“Bones!” Jim cried, rushing back toward his friend. “You’re awake!”

McCoy frowned, grimacing deeply. “And you’re kicking trees.”

“Well,” Jim quipped, somehow managing to smile like he had planned this all along. “Someone’s got to do the hard work. These trees aren’t going to kick themselves.”

McCoy stared at him for a long moment. “I must be concussed because you’re stupid than usual,” he muttered, closing his eyes again.

Jim’s grin faded. “Hey,” he said. “No sleeping.”

“What, you’re a doctor now?” McCoy grumbled, although he did open his eyes.

“Well, that’s why I did bring you on this mission,” Jim pointed out.

“Because you knew you were going to crash the shuttlepod?” McCoy asked caustically.

Jim huffed. “I didn’t crash the shuttlepod!”

“You were piloting it,” McCoy pointed out.

“And there was an atmospheric disturbance--”

“Which you couldn’t account for so the plane went down,” Bones said, gritting his teeth for a moment. He took a terse breath, face still taut with pain. “That’s crashing, by the way.”

“You know, most people would be impressed that I got us down in one piece,” Jim reminded him.

McCoy swallowed, face paling somewhat. “Remind me to be impressed when I’m not bleeding into my chest cavity,” he muttered before looking at Jim more intently. “How are you, anyway?”

It said something that Bones hadn’t tried to get up yet. Jim hadn’t seen a mirror recently, but he knew how his head felt, so he could only imagine how he looked. With obvious injuries, McCoy wouldn’t be asking this question under most circumstances. No, he’d be forcing Jim onto the ground and subjecting him to an unpleasantly thorough physical examination.

This made Jim suspect that McCoy might not be exaggerating about the chest cavity thing.

“I’m fine,” Jim said.

McCoy scowled. “You’re not fine.”

“I am fine,” Jim said again, as if his fortitude alone could make it true.

That worked on a lot of his crew.

Not Bones, though.

“No, you’re not,” McCoy said knowingly. “And you’re also not a doctor. How bad is the concussion?”

“I--” Jim started to protested. He shook his head. “It’s not a concussion--”

“Any broken bones besides the wrist?”

Jim closed his mouth abruptly.

“Jim--”

“Bones--”

Jim,” he returned unflinchingly. Then he made a move to sit up. “Don’t make me get up--”

Hastily, Jim reached down to keep the doctor on the ground. “Just -- just -- stop,” he said. “My ribs hurt, okay?”

McCoy appeared somewhat mollified. “Then no more heavy lifting for you,” he said. He gave Jim an appraising look. “You should be sitting.”

This time, Jim didn’t obey. “Well, someone has to get us out of here.”

“Yeah, you,” McCoy said. “Which you won’t be able to do if you start bleeding into your chest cavity, too.”

“You know, you were easier to deal with when you were unconscious,” Jim said.

“And you were easier to deal with -- never,” he said. “You haven’t been easy since the first time we met and we hadn’t even gotten off the ground yet.”

“Well, we’re not in the air now,” Jim said snidely. “Happy?”

“Ecstatic,” McCoy said. “I can’t even die in peace.”

The banter was familiar, but it was sharper than it usually was. It was reassuring that Bones was keeping up with the reparate, but it just reminded Jim that he still had something to lose here.

And no real way of saving it.

“Yeah, well,” he said, subdued now. “No dying at all, once I figure this thing out.”

Wetting his lips, McCoy closed his eyes for a long moment. “Any word on a rescue party yet?”

Jim glanced guiltily at the broken communicator. “Computer on the shuttlepod is fried, and I haven’t been able to find the emergency beacon,” he admitted. “My communicator got damaged in the crash.”

Eyes opening again, McCoy reached down with shaking hands. Jim was going to stop him when he realized what Bones was holding out to him.

A communicator.

An intact communicator.

“Try mine,” McCoy said, his voice tinged with a wheeze now.

Jim grinned despite himself, reaching over to take it out of McCoy’s shaking fingers. When he activated it, it beeped reassuringly, lighting up perfectly.

Whooping, Jim laughed in success. “Bones, I could kiss you!”

McCoy furrowed his brow, turning away weakly. “Let’s skip the kissing and get to the rescuing.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” he said, patting Bones lightly on the shoulder as he dialed in the ship. “For once, we are totally on the same page.”

-o-

Jim Kirk wasn’t a religious man, but it was a small miracle that the comm signal still worked. He was sure that Uhura had some wonderfully scientific explanation for how shuttles could get blown out of the sky from a volatile atmosphere but comm signals could still slip right through. He might even read that part of the report.

For the moment, however, he was just so damn glad to hear Spock’s voice.

“Captain,” Spock said, sounding surprised. “We grew concerned after we lost contact with your shuttle.”

At least, Kirk figured he was surprised. With Spock, it was sometimes hard to tell. “Yeah,” Kirk said, keeping his injured wrist close to him. “Those atmosphere shifts were a bit stronger than anticipated. I think there’s something in the gasses that ignites when combined with our exhaust fuel.”

“I do believe I warned you--”

“We said heavy turbulence,” Kirk said, pacing along the ground. “That damn thing blew me out of the sky before I even saw it coming.”

“Nothing was flagged by the science team during the preliminary briefing--”

“I was out there, okay?” Jim snapped, too tired to justify himself this time. “The force crippled the shuttle, and the damn things aren’t visible to the eye. Your science team expected a visible sign to make navigation easier, and there was nothing.”

“All the more reason we should have had a pilot trained--”

Gritting his teeth, Kirk drew a breath to keep his temper in check. “Let’s save the grandstanding,” he said, a bit more clipped than he would in other circumstances. “How about using the transporter to get us out of here?”

There was a pause.

Damn it, there was a pause.

That meant there was something churning in that frustrating Vulcan mind, something that Kirk wouldn’t like to hear.

“I believe that using the transporter may be even more dangerous than we previously thought,” Spock reported. “If the atmospheric shifts are, indeed, as severe as you suggest they are, then using the transporter could result in catastrophic outcomes.”

Kirk willed himself not to groan out loud. “Catastrophic outcomes?”

“If the beam is interrupted, it might never rematerialize,” Spock reported.

“A shuttle, then,” Kirk said, doing everything he could to keep his voice even. “Can you send a shuttle?”

“Lieutenant Sulu has been analyzing the atmospheric shifts, but more intense scanning may be in order,” Spock said. “If we can chart the shifts that have occurred during our time in orbit, then there is a possibility that we could better map out the shifts and plot a course to avoid them.”

“Then why didn’t we do that in the first place?” Kirk demanded.

“It was you who said that exploration needed to be experienced, not plotted to death,” Spock reminded him.

Kirk swallowed back his reply sheepishly. That sounded like him.

This entire thing sounded like him.

Go in first, ask questions later. He understood the consequences of his actions -- he did -- but then again, after doing the things he did, it was hard not to be a little cocky. A run of the mill mission was supposed to be a run of the mill mission. It wasn’t supposed to be so damn hard.

So damn dangerous.

Jim nodded to himself, his internal conflict resolved. “Chart the shifts,” he said. “I want Sulu to have a solid flight plan before he comes down here. We can’t afford to lose two shuttlepods in a single mission.”

Much less two crew members.

“Very good, Captain,” Spock replied. “We will keep you apprised of our progress. Are you and the doctor okay?”

He didn’t say it, but it was clear that Spock suspected something. The pain in Jim’s voice; the absence of McCoy’s -- the logical conclusion was that something more important than the shuttlepod had been damaged.

Jim glanced back toward Bones, who was watching him from his spot on the ground.

Guiltily, Jim turned away. “Just be fast about it, okay?” he said, and the lack of an order was obvious to them both. He let out his breath, but it didn’t make him feel any better. “Kirk out.”

-o-

Honestly, Jim needed a minute.

He needed a chance to compose himself, to get the pain under control. He needed to get his head, to circle his thoughts and regain the unflagging confidence that had put him at the helm of a starship far earlier than he probably had any right.

Too bad he didn’t really have a minute.

Not with Bones lying on the ground behind him.

As a captain, Jim had priorities.

As a friend, even more so.

Turning around, he plastered a smile on his face as he made his way back toward McCoy. “Comm signal still works,” he said, trying to sound upbeat. He sat down carefully on the ground next to Bones, doing his best not to show just how much it hurt. “Spock sounded optimistic.”

“I’m not that badly concussed,” McCoy muttered tersely. “Spock never sounds optimistic.”

“They just need to chart the atmosphere shifts a little more,” Jim said.

McCoy eyed him. “And we couldn’t have done that the first time?”

“We had no way of knowing how strong they’d be,” Jim explained. “And who knows? Maybe we just got unlucky.”

Bones harrumphed a little. “We’ve been unlucky ever since we left space dock,” he said. “We were better off on the ground.”

“Aw, come on, Bones,” Jim cajoled. “You don’t mean that?”

McCoy cocked an eyebrow dramatically. “Don’t I?”

Jim just rolled his eyes. “Spock just needs a little time to get things together, and a rescue team will be sent down in no time.”

With an unsteady breath, McCoy made an effort to keep his eyes open. “Should they really risk another team?”

“What, like they’d leave us here?” Jim asked. He offered a lopsided grin. “Ship can’t live without its doctor.”

McCoy looked away for a moment before mustering up a small smile in return. “Or is captain.”

“See, that’s the spirit,” Jim said with forced levity. “Just a few hours. And we’ll be back in the air in no time.”

With a long suffering sigh, McCoy relaxed back against the ground. “I can barely contain my joy.”

-o-

The thing about being Captain was that there was always something to do.

Always.

Unless, of course, he was stranded on a planet with rescue still hours away.

Then, naturally, there was very little to do except sit there and think about how badly he’d managed to screw this whole thing up.

Not that it had been explicitly his fault, but it still sort of felt like completely his fault. There was no one else to blame nearby, after all, and with McCoy lying on the ground looking half dead, he definitely wanted someone to blame.

And something to do.

Swallowing hard, Kirk rallied his inexorable self control and tended to their makeshift camp. Cleaning away debris, he looked for anything salvageable and tried to make the most of it. His meager organizational efforts proved unnecessary, and when he finally paused, he found Bones looking at him.

No biting commentary. No cutting sarcasm.

Since apparently Jim didn’t feel bad enough about this as it was.

Drawing a breath, he crossed back to McCoy. “How are you doing?”

McCoy made a small noise in the back of his throat. “Been better,” he said, and it was easy to tell that his voice carried less vigor than it had even five minutes ago.

Jim looked over McCoy again, trying to see what he could make out of the injuries. Superficially, they looked bad. Given McCoy’s pallor and his lukewarm mannerism, he suspected that his internal injuries could be more complicated.

“Is there anything I can do?” Jim asked. “Do you need to sit up or--”

McCoy shook his head, face screwing up for a moment. “It’s best to be still for now,” he said. “So far my breathing hasn’t been compromised, and any bleeding can be aggravated by movement.”

Jim winced, no matter how hard he tried not to. “Should I apply pressure?”

“Only if you want me to bleed internally a little faster,” McCoy quipped.

Jim couldn’t bring himself to laugh, though. “What about your medical kit,” he said.

“Lost it in the crash,” McCoy said.

“I could look for it,” Jim offered.

“You’ve been all over this crash site--”

“But if we had it--”

“If we had it, it wouldn’t do us any good,” McCoy said, face flushing with the exertion. He breathed out heavily through his nose as he set his jaw grimly. “A medical tricorder will only tell me what I already know.”

Jim felt his heart flutter in his chest. “And what do you know?”

McCoy hesitated, eyes almost looking away. He didn’t want to say it -- for Jim’s sake. For all that he complained, McCoy didn’t want to blame Jim for this. It was so painfully obvious that Jim hated himself even more.

“Bones,” Jim said, putting just a hint of command in his voice.

McCoy sighed wearily. “Internal bleeding throughout the chest and probably the abdomen,” he said. “Ribs are badly broken, but they haven’t perforated the lungs yet, which is the good news. For now, it’s probably a slow bleed. Shock hasn’t quite set in yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time.”

“Then let me find the kit,” Jim said, starting to get to his feet. “With the kit--”

McCoy reached out, weakly grabbing Jim’s arm.

He stopped, looking back down at his friend.

“A hypospray might be able to lift my blood pressure, but it can’t stop the bleeding,” he said. “Injuries on this scale…”

He trailed off, almost shrugging.

His gaze grew steady on Jim’s. “I need full surgical measures,” McCoy concluded finally. “The medical kit will only be a stopgap, and not even a good one at that.”

Still poised to get up, Jim found himself frozen. The need to act was almost overwhelming, but McCoy’s expression kept him there. It was a question of what part he was going to play now, the captain or the best friend.

Or maybe a little of both.

McCoy’s expression softened, the small line between his eyebrows almost indicative of a request. “I need you here,” he said. “Keep me warm; keep awake.”

Finally, Jim gave in. He eased himself down, forcing himself to smile as he settled once again. “Okay, then, we just have to get through the next couple of hours then,” he said, trying to sound as conversational as he possibly could. He nodded at McCoy, gently placing a hand reassuringly on his shoulder, willing them both to believe it. “Together.”

-o-

The thing was, Jim was a fast learner, and he was damn good under pressure. When there was a challenge, he didn’t just rise. No, damn it, he flew.

That could be in battle. It could be at the command post of his very own starship.

Or it could be right here, right now.

Warm and awake.

Jim would do that.

No matter what.

“I just don’t think it’s that inappropriate,” Jim said, making a futile gesture in the air.

On the ground, Bones knitted his eyebrows together. “A phaser?” he asked incredulously. “She’s a child, Jim. My child.”

“You can get them so they’ve only got a mild stun setting,” Jim said. “And besides, if she’s going to follow in your footsteps, then she needs to start her training young.”

McCoy actually harrumphed at that. “She’s not going to join Starfleet,” he muttered. “She’s going to keep both feet planted on the ground where they belong.”

“Oh, please,” Jim said. “Flight has been proven to be very safe--”

“Not with people like you in control of starships,” McCoy returned petulantly.

Jim smirked. “She may like to fly,” he pointed out. “The sense of freedom--”

“The dread of impending doom--”

“It’s exhilarating,” Jim said.

“For you, but only because you think you’ll always go up,” McCoy said.

“To be fair,” Jim said. “I always have.”

McCoy shifted, shivering a little bit. “The universe doesn’t work that way,” he said, visibly working to pull another breath into his lungs. “That which goes up -- must come down.”

“That’s gravity,” Jim said. “Which doesn’t exist in space, by the way.”

“No,” McCoy said crossly. “That’s life.”

Jim made a face. “You really do hate flying, don’t you?


On the ground, McCoy raised his eyebrows. “You think the last several years with you have been an act?”

“An exaggeration, maybe.”

McCoy glowered. “I like both feet on the ground,” he said. “I like things I can be sure of.”

“Come on, Bones,” Jim said. “We can’t be sure of anything.”

“After today,” he replied, letting out a long, tired breath. “I’m starting to believe it.”

-o-

Jim reached out, shaking McCoy lightly on the arm. “Hey,” he said, not for the first time. “Hey.”

McCoy grimaced, turning his head away without opening his eyes.

“Bones,” Jim said again, more insistent now. “You need to wake up.”

With a small growl of protest, McCoy opened his eyes. The movement was sluggish this time, though, marked by the growing paleness in the doctor’s face. “Who put you in charge anyway?”

Sitting back, Jim managed to smile. “Starfleet,” he said. “Take it up with them.”

McCoy sighed, his shivering more pronounced now. “I would if I thought it’d make any difference,” he said, the words starting to slip together a little more than before. He shuddered. “How long have we been here anyway?”

“A few hours,” Jim reported. “Shouldn’t be much longer now. Spock said Sulu almost had a solid flight plan.”

This did not seem to appease the doctor. “Trusting a Vulcan,” he muttered. “That’s almost as bad as trusting a starship captain.”

“Spock will get it done,” Jim assured him. “He’s proven that by now.”

“Of course he has,” McCoy said bitterly. “Between the two of you -- sacrificing yourselves -- blowing things up -- it’s a wonder any of us -- any of us are still alive.”

He was struggling more than before, but that wasn’t something Jim was about to comment on. For both of their sakes.

“The point is,” Jim said, adding inflection now. “We’re going to be out of here in no time flat.”

For all that Jim worked to make his voice buoyant, Leonard McCoy was the eternal pessimist. “Till the next disaster, you mean.”

Jim groaned. “Let me contact them again,” he said. “See if this can go a little faster.”

“Oh, and I’m putting you out now?” McCoy asked snidely.

“Nah,” Jim said with a wink. “I am glad to see that your injuries haven’t affected your sunny disposition.”

“Or your painful sense of invincibility,” McCoy huffed.

Jim offered his most winning smile. “Just give me a sec,” he said, getting the communicator out and climbing to his feet.

“Oh, don’t mind me!” McCoy said after him. “I’ll just lay here! Holding down the fort!”

Jim gave him a thumbs up.

Only because the finger to a man with internal bleeding would probably be in poor taste.

-o-

“We’re working as fast as we can,” Spock explained, as though he was being entirely reasonable.

Jim sighed, running a hand through his hair. His own headache was ratcheting up another notch, but he’d almost gotten used to the pain in his side. “Bones is looking pretty bad,” he said, taking a few more paces away from their campsite.

“I cannot send Mr. Sulu and another shuttlepod into an unknown--”

“I know, I know,” Jim said in exasperation, wincing as he paused and leaned himself against a tree. “I just...I’m running out of options.”

That was an understatement. He had already run out of options, and an open comm line only reinforced that point to him. He could make any command he wanted, and it wouldn’t actually fix the problem. McCoy was right; he did think he would always keep going up.

When, sometimes, the only way to go was down.

“Just give me the ETA,” he said finally.

“An hour,” Spock reported. “Maybe less.”

“Okay,” Jim agreed. “Just take care of my ship, okay?”

“Need I remind you that you were the one who crashed--”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Spock,” he interjected, shaking his head. “Kirk out.”

-o-

Kirk out.

Out of options, out of energy, out of time.

He dipped his head, resting against one of the trees. He’d learned the hard way just how dangerous this job was; he knew the stakes, better than just about anyone else on his crew. He could still remember the name of every man and woman who had died under his command. He could still remember Pike telling him how many lives his father had saved.

And he still weigh that number against those he’d fail to save, Pike’s name at the top of that list.

Bones was wrong.

It wasn’t that Jim believed he was invincible; it was that he was necessarily cocky. Someone had to make the tough decisions; someone had to lead even when all the roads were bad. Someone had to carry that burden and still make enough lift to keep them flying.

That was him.

It had to be him.

He looked back across the campsite, where Bones was still lying.

The problem was that flying was easy.

Coming back down, on the other hand.

Well that was pretty damn hard.

-o-

McCoy was half asleep by the time Jim got back, and it was clearly an effort to wake up when Jim sat down beside him again. He tipped his head languidly toward Jim, grimacing as he tried to wet his lips. “Not coming?” he asked, voice even thinner than before.

“Just a little longer,” Jim said, and while it was true, it didn’t feel like enough. “They’ve almost got the rescue mission together.”

McCoy’s eyes slid shut again. “Maybe not soon enough.”

“Hey,” Jim said, his own voice rattling in his throat. “Keep awake, remember? We have to keep awake.”

When his eyes opened again, McCoy just looked exhausted. “Is there -- is there a point?”

“Hell, yeah,” Jim said. “That rescue flight is for two, so you better not let me do it alone.”

That was how it had been between the two of them, ever since the start. When one went up, the other inevitably followed. Between them, they could redefine the theory of flight with loyalty as the only lift they’d ever need.

McCoy hummed a little, mouth twitching in a smile. “Well, then,” he rasped. “We can’t have that.”

“Exactly,” Jim said with a resolute nod. “So, back to the birthday present. If I can’t get her a phaser, what exactly can I give your daughter?”

-o-

Fifteen minutes later, Spock reported that the shuttlepod would be departing shortly.

Jim grinned, feeling more than a little relieved.

“See, we’ll be out of here in no time,” Jim said, settling back down contentedly by McCoy’s side.

Face pinched, the doctor still mustered up a glare. It was probably reflex. “Never thought I’d be so happy -- happy to see his pointy ears,” he said, teeth chattering just slightly.

“I’ll be sure to let him know how much you care,” Jim said. “Maybe next time we can do a mission, just the three of us.”

Brows knitting together in abject consternation, Bones protested with almost comical vehemence. “I’d rather you send a phaser to my daughter for her birthday.”

“I knew I’d get you to say to that somehow,” Jim said. “Or, you know, I could always arrange for flight lessons.”

McCoy grunted, trembling badly with the effort. “So she can crash land like you?”

“I prefer to focus on going up,” Jim said.

“Conveniently forgetting the part where you hit the ground.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “You can’t actually hate flying that much.”

“I can’t?” McCoy asked, eyebrows lifting. He cleared his throat, laboring for a deep breath. “Because I think--”

He paused, taking another tremulous breath as his chest hitched.

“I think--” he started again, but this time his breathing staggered and the scant color drained from his cheeks. “I think--”

Jim frowned, sitting a little closer. “Bones?”

McCoy inhaled with rattling force before he coughed. The spasm shook him -- hard.

“McCoy, talk to me,” Jim said, voice hinging on an order now.

But McCoy coughed again, even harder than before, and the action left him trembling and spent.

Then he pulled his hand away.

And Jim saw red.

Collected on the doctor’s bottom lip, spattered on his hand.

This time, it was Jim’s breathing that caught before McCoy spasmed again, fresh blood flecking his mouth.

Just like that, soon would never be soon enough.

-o-

Jim swore.

Reaching out, he tried to steady McCoy, for all the good it did. “Easy, easy,” he coaxed, for lack of something better to say. “Just -- settle down.”

But McCoy was far from settled. His eyes looked at his hand, and then he looked up at Jim.

“Just relax,” Jim said.

McCoy shook his head. “I punctured a lung.”

Jim blinked, somewhat dumbfounded.

“Damn it,” McCoy gritted out. “I punctured a damn lung.”

His own pulse racing, Jim shrugged helplessly. “So what does that mean?”

“It means,” McCoy said between heavy breaths. “That my lungs are filling with blood.”

Jim stared, wishing he didn’t have to know that.

McCoy worked hard to maintain eye contact, face set with a grim expression. “As that happens, I’ll eventually be unable to breathe,” he said before taking a deep breath for emphasis.

“Okay,” Jim said. “Eventually?”

Bones coughed again, this time a small rivulet of blood trickling down his chin. “Soon,” he said with a pronounced rasp now.

“How soon?” Jim demanded.

McCoy’s breathing whistled as he inhaled again. “Soon enough that you need to listen,” he said, pausing to take a dramatic breath. “Very, very carefully.”

Very, very carefully. McCoy did things very, very carefully. Spock did things very, very carefully. Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura -- they did things very, very carefully.

Jim?

He was the guy who’d reprogrammed the Kobiyashi Maru so he could beat the damn thing. He was the dumbass teenager who picked bar fights just for kicks. He was the punk kid who stole cars and crashed them off cliffs.

Careful wasn’t exactly part of his MO.

Bones knew that better than anyone.

His face contorted, and he shook his head. “What?”

“The pressure,” McCoy said, his entire body arching as he tried to inhale again. “You need to relieve the pressure.”

The pressure was probably pretty obvious to anyone else, but Jim was the only one here and he was a captain, not a doctor, damn it. And McCoy was spitting blood and they had a crashed shuttlepod and there was so much pressure to think about, that Jim couldn’t be sure which one Bones was actually referring to.

“In my lungs,” McCoy squeaked out. “The pressure in my lungs.”

Jim blinked a few times, mouth falling open. “I -- uh,” he said. “We never found your equipment.”

“We don’t need it,” McCoy hissed, almost turning on his side.

“Uh, yeah we do--”

“Medicine existed before medical tricorders,” McCoy all but spit at him. “You’ll have to do it -- the old fashioned way.”

“I don’t even know the new fashioned way!” Jim protested.

“Your knife,” McCoy said gruffly. “Get your knife.”

“What?” Jim said.

“Get your damn knife,” McCoy growled, more blood trickling down his face.

With numb fingers, Jim obeyed, finding the standard issue utility knife in the away gear still strapped to his waist. “Okay.”

“Okay,” McCoy said, sounding marginally mollified. “Now. Tubing.”

“Tubing?”

“Tubing,” McCoy reiterated, as if that was totally and completely obvious.

It wasn’t. “Where am I going to find some tubing?”

McCoy pinned him with a deadly look. “You’re responsible for an entire crew,” he wheezed. “And you can’t come up with -- tubing?”

“I don’t even know what it’s for!”

Rolling his eyes, McCoy looked more than a little vexed. “A straw,” he said. “A straw.”

“But--” Jim started, looking around him blankly.

“Survival rations,” McCoy said tersely.

Jim’s eyes brightened. Survival rations -- they had. Jim had made a point to collect and organize them earlier for the lack of something better to do. Freeze dried dinners, bottled water.

Complete with convenient, reusable straws.

“Okay,” Jim said, turning away. He struggled to get his mind together, before reminding himself that there wasn’t time for this.

There wasn’t time for anything.

Quickly, he jogged over to the pile, tossing freeze dried dinners out of the way before searching through the rest of the rations. Bottles, plates, forks -- straws.

Jim grabbed them, returning to Bones triumphantly. “Okay,” he said, holding them up. “Straws.”

McCoy’s expression wasn’t exactly laudatory, but that might be asking for a little much at the moment. “Now,” he said, voice growing thinner as his breathing got shallower. “Find the ribs on my right side.”

Jim’s brow creased, but McCoy shook his head with a short, determined motion.

“Ribs, right side,” he ordered shortly. “Fourth and fifth from the top.”

This wasn’t an order Jim wanted to follow, and not because Jim Kirk had issues following orders. He did, that much was certain, but it was the nature of this order that he didn’t like. Because sure, Jim made life and death decisions, and he was good under pressure, but there was a reason -- a very good reason -- he wasn’t a doctor.

Medical stuff -- it wasn’t that he just didn’t know it. He didn’t particularly like it. Anatomy made him feel nervous when it was talked about in a clinical manner. After his own near death experience, McCoy had tried to talk him through the recovery process, but Jim had found that knowing what was wrong with his body made it all the harder to focus on getting better. This was a situation where Jim honestly believed that ignorance was mostly bliss, and he had always been more than happy to trust Bones to be medically minded enough for the both of them.

He had never considered this a luxury.

Until this very moment.

Yet, if he didn’t do it, McCoy was probably going to die.

Not just another name he was responsible.

Someone he trusted, someone he cared about.

A friend.

With a solidifying breath, Jim bent forward, hastily lifting the hem of McCoy’s uniform.

The doctor writhed somewhat, shaking his head. “Just -- rip it.”

Wincing, Jim grabbed the dollar of the shirt, piercing it with the edge of his knife blade. With a flick of his wrist, he started a slice before putting the knife away and ripping the shirt all the way in two. When he saw McCoy’s chest, he really wished he hadn’t.

It was discolored and mottled with bruises, and it was easy to see the irregular rise and fall with far too much clarity.

“Fourth and fifth,” McCoy said with even more effort now. “Right side.”

Counting down the ribs, Jim hesitated, tracing the line lightly with his finger.

McCoy flinched, face almost gray now with a dusky color settling into his lips and the tip of his nose. “Good,” he said, shuddering badly. “Now. Take your knife.”

Jim lifted it again, ready for instruction.

“And stab me right in the center,” he continued.

Jim’s hastily pulled together self control shattered. “What?!”

McCoy gave a tight nod. “Stab me, only an inch -- an inch deep,” he said haltingly. He had to blink his eyes several times to focus on Jim again. “You’ll feel -- resistance--”

“You think?” Jim asked, incredulous now.

McCoy shook his head this time. “Just have to get -- close enough,” he said, wheezing even harder now. “Open the lung. Insert the tube.”

“I’m still on the part where you want me to stab you,” Jim said, heart racing now, almost too loud to hear anything else.

“You have to--”

“In the chest?” Jim asked, palms starting to sweat.

“The pressure--”

“I can’t stab you in the chest!”

McCoy face twisted in rage for a moment. “To save my life, damn it!” he heaved between gulping breaths.

“But--”

“Jim,” McCoy said, eyes shining now. “Please.”

Jim deflated, shoulders falling. “But I could kill you.”

“Already--” McCoy said, almost inaudible now as his breathing grew even more strained. “--dying.”

“You want me to stab you in the chest,” Jim said, pleading now. “Bones--”

But McCoy couldn’t answer, not anymore. His breathing had taken up a frantic quality, but the harder the doctor worked, the less air he clearly got. His entire face was settling with a bluish tinge, and his gaze slipped from Jim’s, staring up at the canopy above them in pained concentration.

Spock was on his way, but even Sulu would take time navigating the atmosphere. Another fifteen minutes might be too much; a half hour would be for sure.

Action was needed.

Now.

Jim looked at the knife in one hand, the tubing in another.

Good thing Jim Kirk was a man of action, then.

With a deep breath, Jim bent over McCoy again, willing his trembling fingers to be still. He counted the ribs again, feeling the squishy part between the bones and estimating the location. Beneath his touch, McCoy was making a gurgling sound, body going stiff as he struggled for air that he couldn’t quite find.

Then, in a swift, steady movement, Jim placed the blade against the flesh, counting in his head, one, two--

The blade dug in, slipping through the skin and muscle with sickening ease. At the first hint of resistance, he pushed a little further before pulling it back out again.

McCoy screamed, a strangled, horrible sound that racked the doctor’s body. He nearly convulsed, face even darker than before as a thick stream of blood seeped from the new hole in his chest. Tears streamed from McCoy’s eyes, his fingers clenched into ineffectual fists as his taut body flailed in desperation.

His own vision was blurry as he moved the tube into place. He almost missed, threading the tube with difficulty into the bloody gouge in the doctor’s chest. McCoy had never told him exactly to do, so Jim guessed as best he could, maneuvering the straw until bright red blood started filling it, dripping out the end.

Then, McCoy’s chest filled with air, rising to its full height once more.

The exhale was long and rattling, followed by another, less tenuous inhalation.

McCoy was breathing.

He was actually breathing.

Jim dropped his head, his own bloody fingers limp in his lap.

That was the thing about flying.

You never could tell, sometimes, the difference between falling and flight.

Except that crash landing at the end.

-o-

The thing about James Kirk was that he was, invariably, the best. He used to think that was because he was smarter and bolder, that he took chances that other people were afraid to go after.

That wasn’t it, though.

Not really.

Because Jim Kirk wasn’t flying solo anymore.

He had a whole crew to back him up, and whether he wanted to admit it or not, he needed every single one of them. It took a hell of a lot of people to put a spaceship in the air.

But it only took one to bring it crashing to the ground.

That person, Jim feared, might one day be him.

-o-

Hands covered in blood, Jim stared for several long moments, watching the rise and fall of McCoy’s chest. The steadiness of it was reassuring -- a reassurance he needed more than he was quite ready to acknowledge.

Breathing was good, but it was about the only good news. The shuttle was still in transit, and McCoy hadn’t explained what the long term implications of stabbing someone in the lung actually were. There was no way for Jim to know if this quick and bloody fix would last long enough -- or if Jim had done more damage than good.

What if he’d nicked something vital? What if there was other bleeding that he’d just made worse? What if he stabbed his best friend in the chest and he ended up dying anyway?

There was no easy out to this one. He couldn’t cheat the system or sweet talk his way out of thing. He had no choice but to stay his course and hope for the best.

Sighing, he went to rub his forehead but stopped at the sight of the blood. Wincing, he wiped his fingers and palms off on his pants, doing his best to clean them. It only partially worked -- blood still clung to the cracks and crevices, staining his nail beds crimson.

Finally, he gave up, letting his shoulders slump as he maintained his vigil. McCoy was breathing easier and the color had returned a little to his cheeks -- but he was still out like a light. Part of Jim wanted to rouse him, but considering that the last time Bones had been awake he’d insisted on Jim cutting him open, unconsciousness was probably a better alternative for now.

“Not long now,” he mused absently, glancing toward the sky. “Pretty soon we’ll be back on Enterprise and this will be nothing but a starlog.”

He smiled, trying to sound lighthearted.

The grim tableau in front of him made that hard.

He looked down, studying his hands again. “I never think about it, you know,” he said, looking at McCoy again. “I never thinking about the ground when I’m in the air.”

On the ground, McCoy continued to breath, each breath a little steadier than the last.

“You do, though, I think,” he said. He tilted his head, thoughtful. “Maybe that’s why we work, you and I. You ground me, even when I don’t like it. And I take you up, even if you’re kicking and screaming.”

The image made him smile, just a little.

“We work,” he said, more decidedly now. He chewed his bottom lip. “We work really well.”

McCoy’s chest expanded, falling once more. Jim reached out, squeezing his shoulder.

“So, please, Bones,” he said. “Don’t let me crash now.”

-o-

McCoy kept breathing, and the shuttle finally came. They’d have to come back to clean up the crash site, but for now, Jim just wanted to get back to Enterprise. Sulu was only too happy to comply, and even Spock sounded relieved to know that the rescue mission was going without a hitch.

Or, any more hitches.

With Sulu’s help, he strapped McCoy securely to an emergency gurney, sitting beside him as Sulu got behind the conn. It was a bumpy liftoff, and Jim may have held his breath while they rose over the treeline, clenching his fingers in anticipation as they rose into the atmosphere.

When they finally got into open space, Sulu rounded them toward Enterprise, and nothing had ever looked so good to Jim.

At least, not until he looked at Bones.

The doctor was watching him, nose scrunched in confusion and pain. “We still on the ground?” he rasped.

Jim grinned, sitting forward while Sulu smoothed out their approach. “Afraid not,” he said. “On our way back to Enterprise.”

McCoy let out a long, tired breath.

Jim reached forward, patting him on the arm. “We’ll land soon, though,” he said. “I know how you hate to fly.”

Shifting on the cot, McCoy seemed to settle himself more carefully. “I do hate flying,” he said contrarily. Then he looked up at Jim. “But I’ll tell you something.”

“Yeah?” Jim asked.

McCoy nodded. “There’s no one else,” he said, pausing to focus on his breathing for a moment. “No one else who’d get me in the air but you.”

Chuckling, Jim nodded. “That’s why you love me.”

Inhaling through his nose, McCoy closed his eyes again. “Something like that.”

Jim was still smiling, tracking the even rise and fall of McCoy’s chest as Sulu took them in through the docking bay doors, expertly sliding them into place before the feet of the shuttle touched down in a perfect, soft landing.

After all this, Jim knew the theory of flight pretty well.

He was starting to grasp the theory of friendship even better.