No Way To Be In Heaven
"Bones!" Leonard paused in his trek across the campus green towards the main gates, sighing at the sound of his ridiculous nickname being bellowed from somewhere to his left. He turned to see his best friend trotting towards him, one hand up, signaling Leonard to wait. Jim's smile was, as usual, open and bright, and completely visible even across the damn quad. Leonard sighed and waited patiently for his roommate.
"Bones," Jim called in the space between them. "Bones. Guess what? It's Thursday!"
Leonard rolled his eyes and continued his trek across the grounds, as Jim finally fell in step with him. "Hurrah," Leonard grumbled, trying his best for caustic sarcasm. "Forgive me, I forgot to schedule the ticker tape parade." Leonard rolled his eyes again, though this time it was more at himself than Jim - sarcastic as his word choice had been, Leonard knew he sounded far too affectionate for Jim to mistake his opinion for anything but warmth.
Sure enough, Jim's bright smile got even wider, and, if at all possible, brighter, as he began to rattle off some long story about the history of the city and its culinary adventures. It never seemed to matter how much Leonard tried to doom and gloom the guy, Jim always just shrugged and smiled right through it. Leonard could never resist Jim's optimism, even if he wanted to - which, today, he sort of did, but whatever.
Leonard started slightly and glared at Jim. "What?"
"I just asked you a... dammit, were you even listening to me?"
Leonard blinked. "Uh..." He realized he'd been so busy lamenting Jim's irresistible charms that he'd totally tuned out everything Jim had been saying. "Not really..."
Jim snorted. "Sometimes I hate you."
"Yeah, you and everyone in Savannah. What were you saying? Not that it was important, I'm sure."
Jim sighed with all the drama and gravitas he could muster (which was quite a bit, actually), and rolled his eyes. "If you were listening, you'd know that there's a new drinking hole in the Mission district. The Golden Nugget," Jim said reverently.
"Oh, well, yeah, I knew that." Leonard had been forced all day to listen to his fellow cadets espouse upon the magical wondrousness of some new sports bar across town that apparently made everyone's dreams come true and gave out free unicorns and ponies to every new patron, and made poor girls into zillionaire princesses and unlucky boys into paradigms of rabbits feet and four leaf clovers, and also had beer that could cure the common cold and ugliness. In short, it didn't sound like Leonard's kind of place to get a drink. Leonard's kind of place was the damn supermarket, where he could get enough booze to run his own damn bar for the price of one damn fancy fru-fru drink, take it home, and suck it all down without worrying about trying to get anywhere but from the bed to the head and back.
"Of course you knew," Jim grumbled. "I suppose that means you have absolutely zero interest in coming with me to check it out, then."
"Less than zero."
Jim stepped smoothly into Leonard's path, and stood nose to nose with him. "Bones, come on! It's Thursday!"
A wry little smile twisted Leonard's lips. "Yes, Jim, I know. Why don't you take that girl from your warp theory design whatever class? The redhead that makes you drool like a rabid sheepdog?"
Jim narrowed his eyes, but Leonard could see beyond Jim's fake irritation to the true disappointment on his face. "That's not the drill, Bones, and you know it," Jim growled. "Come on, tomorrow's Friday, no classes-"
Leonard held his hand up to forestall the hour-long persuasive speech that Jim was getting all set to plow into. "Yes, and no-class-Friday is exactly why I signed up to complete my off-campus hours on a Thursday night." Jim's answering groan was almost a whine, but Leonard ignored him, refusing to be distracted from his explanation. "Nights are busier than days, I can sleep in on Friday, and I can knock out as many hours as I can in one go."
Jim kept whining. "Okay, so you can't reschedule to a different Thursday?"
Leonard chuckled. "Sure I could, but rescheduling wouldn't endear me to them even if I gave them plenty of notice. Cutting out on them with only a couple of hours before my shift starts could really put them in a bind."
Jim's impatience seemed to put a block on his ability to process basic language. "Wha - put who in a bind, Bones?"
"San Francisco General."
With that, Jim seemed to deflate. "Oh. Gotcha."
Leonard pushed down the first inklings of guilt so he could remind Jim - and himself - of his pressing responsibility. "Listen, Jim, the place'll be there next Thursday. We can go then." At Jim's dubious look, Leonard hastened to add, "We will go, then. I promise."
Jim looked at him a moment longer, but he nodded and that same ridiculously bright smile reappeared, slow but sure. "Alright. See you in the morning?"
That was better. Leonard nodded and found himself returning the smile wholeheartedly. "You got it. Don't wait up."
Jim just laughed and punched Leonard in the shoulder with a little too much force. "You ain't the boss of me!" He turned and headed off toward the library, cackling all the while.
At San Francisco General Hospital, things were busy, like always, but very tedious, also like always. There were mostly clumsy accidents, the usual hypochondriacal cases, and the occasional check up on those patients who hadn't been discharged or moved to a more appropriate unit. None of the cases were challenging. They made very little use of Leonard's specialized talents, but, despite his renown on Earth as a brilliant surgeon, he was still a student in need of a certain number of hours practiced within a particular time frame (damn bureaucratic bullshit), and they were a hospital in a very crowded city with a very crowded emergency room. When the drudgery got to him, Leonard just reminded himself that he was helping people who needed it, and that usually helped him through his irritation.
It was nearing time to clock out, and Leonard's throat was getting dry. He was reconsidering asking Jim to meet him at the bar after all for a late, late beer just before last call, when San Francisco decided to explode all over itself. With literally minutes left on Leonard's clock for the next two weeks, a slew of injuries burst through the ambulance entrance. Six victims of a nasty interstate pileup were whisked past him in an all fired hurry, followed by three fool teenaged boys covered in chemical burns - the kind that came from playing with Starfleet-grade explosives. A gaggle of moaning people dragged themselves in through the self-admittance entrance, all complaining of terrible digestive troubles, dehydration, and in a couple of cases, delirium. They were in formal dress, they all seemed to know each other, and they were all threatening to sue the same catering company. Leonard patted one miserable young woman on the shoulder and tried to flag down a receptionist. Looked like he was going to be there a little longer.
Another stretcher burst through the ambulance doors. On it lay a young man with alabaster skin, covered in blood and unnaturally still. Leonard watched the EMTs rush the stretcher past Triage and swore under his breath. He knew that most of the doctors on hand weren't necessarily surgeons, and those that were were probably dealing with the soft tissue injuries of the car wreck victims. "Where you taking him?"
"Room seven's open," an orderly said, as a group of orderlies and nurses rushed to take control of the stretcher from the paramedics. Leonard ran behind them, barking orders to people as they struggled to move the patient's deadweight to an operating table. Clothing was sliced off, vital readings were announced, and Leonard moved in to try to save the young man's life.
He froze, hands millimeters from the man's chest. The face was battered and bruised, with three long diagonal slices from left cheek to right lower jaw, but the mouth, the nose, the hair... unmistakable. How... what...?
"Doctor?" One of the nurses nudged Leonard. He was holding out the laser sealer, and looking at Leonard with open worry. "Should I-"
"No." Leonard shoved down his fear and snatched the tool from the nurse's hand. "No." He worked quickly, quietly, efficiently. The body on the table didn't move for several minutes. When it finally did, there was only a gurgling rattle from the throat, before the chest seemed to deflate. Leonard's mouth tightened, and he moved to begin compressions to a chest that more closely resembled ribbons soaked in cherry wine than the flesh of a man. "No." Quicker. Quieter. More efficient. More work. More. There must be more.
"Doctor." The same nurse - this time, the nurse had a hand on Leonard's elbow, and was holding onto it with a vice grip. "It's done. You need to call it."
"No..." Leonard stumbled back from the table a step, two, before surging back to the already cooling body. He reached for the man's face, opened an eye. Blue as the morning summer sky in Macon. Leonard yanked his hand back, as if he'd been burned - and maybe he had. The one eye stayed open, winking up at the bright lighting panel set into the ceiling.
Leonard reached for the chart with a shaking hand. John Doe. He was tempted to change the name then and there, but there were protocols to be followed, investigations to run, things that weren't his place, weren't his responsibility. The only responsibility he had was to enter a time and date in the appropriate field, and close that one shining blue eye. He did so with terribly shaking hands, and staggered out of the operating room, into the waiting room, where no one was waiting for John Doe to wake up and go home.
Leonard had no idea how in the fuck he'd arrived at The Golden Nugget. He had no idea how he was going to get back to campus. He had no idea why he hadn't just blown off the fucking emergency room and gone to The Golden Nugget when he was asked earlier that evening. He had no idea if he could have prevented the end of the one good good thing left in his life after he'd signed his life away in the middle of Bumblefuck, Iowa. He only knew two things: 1) there wasn't enough whiskey in the galaxy to un-know the second thing that he knew, and 2) Jim Kirk was dead.
A sob caught in Leonard's throat, and he poured more whiskey down it to help rinse it away. There was nothing fucking good or fortunate about The Fucking Golden Goddamned Nugget, and there never would be. The only friend he had left in the whole goddamn super-fucking-universe was gone, sliced to fucking ribbons in the middle of the goddamned night - and for what? Because he couldn't leave some chick alone? Because he had to harp on some meaningless point until some stranger with anger management issues lost his shit and decided to impress everyone with a botched samurai impression? Because he was too vain to leave his uniform on, had to be seen in expensive jeans that would lure some greedy, maladjusted thief in the night? What the fuck for?
When it became clear that no more drinks would be poured, no matter how loudly they were called for, Leonard fell from his stool and stumbled out of the bar in a blind, alcohol fuzzed rage. The streets were dark and cold, and the fog settled into his bones. Bones. If the former Mrs. McCoy took the whole damn planet, then some evil motherfucker in the murk and muck of the San Francisco Bay had finally taken Leonard's bones, or the keeper of his bones, and left him only with a soul-sucking loneliness.
Leonard leaned against the window next to the doors of the West Campus Commons and slowly dragged his hand up to the recognition plate. The plate lit blue and chimed, and the main doors slid open to allow his entry. Leonard just stood outside, by the window, afraid to enter the building. If he went inside, he'd have to climb the stairs to the third floor, have to walk down the hall to the third entry on the right, have to key in his code, have to walk into a cold, empty space, have to see all Jim's things piled up in a corner on his side of the room, have to sleep in a cold shell that would never know life again. So Leonard stood there until the doors slid shut, then sagged heavily against the transparent aluminum.
The mist that rolled in from the bay was thick and icy, and clung to the thin scrubs that Leonard had worn back from SFGH. He was shaking as much from the cold as from grief and basic lack of coordination. He was wet and miserable and he needed to take a leak. Palm to the recognition plate again, blue light, open doors. Nauseated, Leonard forced himself inside, where the lobby was warm and dry, and the stairs were just past the lift, where he could trip his way up to his own personal Hell.
Leonard made it to the third floor without falling, made it to his door without stumbling, entered his combination without fail. Maybe he wasn't as drunk as he thought he was. Maybe it was just his misery that was making everything so damned difficult.
"I know, I know, I wasn't supposed to wait up, but there was a movie... on... Bones? What...?"
Or, maybe he was waaaaay more drunk than he thought he was, and he was just that good at walking and entering memorized numerical sequences.
There was a ghost in Leonard's room. A beautiful, golden haired, pink cheeked, whole skinned, blue eyed ghost in his room, and it was coming toward him, hands outstretched. "Bones, what happened? Did something happen? What happened?" The ghost wrinkled its nose. "Ugh, you smell like a distillery! Get in here, before someone walks by! Shit, Bones, what happened?!"
The ghost was solid. It pulled him into the room with very real, very strong hands, guided him to his own bed, and sat down next to him. The bed sunk where the ghost sat. Leonard lifted a shaking hand and gently brushed his fingertips against the ghost's face, against the cheek, up to the eye that shone bright blue, like the one that was left staring at the ceiling of Operating Room Seven in SFGH. The eye squinted and fluttered. The ghost wriggled away from the touch. "Bones. Talk to me. What is it?"
The ghost froze a little. Aha, Leonard thought. Caught. But the ghost just patted his shoulder. "Uh... it's a little late for a philosophical discussion, especially with a drunk dude."
That was true. There was nothing Leonard could do about the hour, but he could make the drunken stupor dissipate a little faster. He flopped back in his bed and flailed around until he could reach his nightstand, pulled out a detox cocktail, stabbed himself in the neck with it, and waited for his head to clear. All too soon, the drunken fog cleared, and every horrible second of the failed emergency operation stood out in crystal clarity. Leonard closed his eyes against the memory and forced himself to sit up, feeling more dejected and lonesome than ever. He put his hand to his eyes and tried to pinch away the tears that threatened to fall, before sighing and turning to the extra blankets he had at the foot of his bed.
He shrieked in terror when he bumped into Jim, who was still sitting next to him on the bunk.
Jim screamed and flailed right back. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Jim cried when he was able to be a little more coherent. "I thought that thing was supposed to make you less drunk!"
"Who are you!? What are you?! What the hell do you want?!?" Leonard couldn't be bothered with coherency himself - not when there was a ghost screaming at him. A living, breathing ghost that seemed to be just as confused and terrified of Leonard as he was of it. Him. Whatever.
"Bones, what happened? Talk to me, please. You're scaring me, man." Jim was edging closer to the wall-comm unit, and he had a look on his face that wasn't too different from the look he had when they'd first met.
Huh. Leonard played a hunch. "How'd we meet?"
"...on a shuttlecraft."
Leonard threw his hands in the air, frustrated. That didn't prove anything, except that someone might have heard from someone else who might have known them - and anyone who knew Jim knew Leonard, these days - that they'd first met on the shuttle from the Riverside Shipyard. "What's my name?"
"It's Leonard McCoy. Seriously, I should call some-"
Leonard popped up, breathless. "GET AWAY FROM IT!" Jim paused mid motion, eyes wide, face pale. The face from the operating table came back, and Leonard curled in on himself again, crawling into his bunk. "That ain't my name, and my friend Jim knows that."
"What the... I've been calling you 'Bones' all night." The bed sunk down a little next to Leonard, and a large hand rested on his shoulder, radiating heat and strength. "Who do you think I am?"
Leonard shook his head quickly - he didn't want to look at the ghost again, didn't want to see that awful memory anymore. Maybe he should tell Jim to go to the light? "It's okay," he whispered, but that was bullshit. It wasn't okay. It would never be okay.
"What's okay? You're scaring me, Bones."
"Go on..." Leonard tried his damnedest, but he couldn't make himself say the words.
"I'm not going to bed, if that's what you're on about. You don't have to tell me what happened, but I'm gonna sit right here until you relax, because clearly you need me."
That was it. Leonard burst into tears, unable to hold back the flood a moment longer. The only person strong enough to help him through this mess was in a stasis locker in SFGH's basement by now. But the hand on his shoulder was warm and strong, and the dip in the bed was real. Jim could go to the goddamned light in a minute. Leonard turned and threw himself into Jim's not-exactly-waiting arms and bawled nonstop for what felt like forever, babbling about the impossible tragedy on his operating table. Leonard threw his arms around his friend's neck and held on tight, wanting to keep Jim to himself for as long as possible, before the angels or whatever finally pried his warm, strong spirit from their room.
"Dude, for real. The fuck did you drink tonight?"
Leonard dared lift his head from Jim's solid (and now soggy) shoulder, and looked into those brilliant blue eyes. "Beer... I was upset..."
"Obviously! Bones, listen to me - look at me. I'm alive. I'm not a ghost. I'm not a heavenly apparition. I'm here, now, living and breathing." Jim wriggled away and reached for the same night stand where Leonard had gotten his detox cocktail, and pulled out a tricorder. "You're a doctor, a man of science, and a member of Starfleet. Quit panicking and use that. Tell me what you find."
Leonard's findings were exactly as they should have been. Two adult Human males, one in his mid thirties, the other about ten years younger. The older one was slightly inebriated. The younger one had an unusually elevated heart rate and was showing signs of recent adrenal activity. Leonard sagged. Elevated adrenaline levels meant Jim was probably terrified by Leonard's panicked ravings. But... "But I saw you. You died, Jim. You died."
Jim plucked the tricorder from Leonard's hands and looked at the readings before tossing the machine lightly aside. Leonard watched it bounce on the bunk as Jim wrestled him into another bearhug. "I'm right here, Bones. I don't know who that guy was, but I promise you. That. Was. Not. Me." He squeezed Leonard tight. "You know you can't get rid of me that easy, man."
"Better not," Leonard said softly, before finally slipping into an uncomfortable doze.