They’ve known each other for years, though they’ve never met. Leonard doesn’t even know what Jim looks like, or even his full name. He knows other things though. He knows that Jim likes space, the exploration that comes with sciences, that he enjoys fast cars and music that their parents listen to.
He knows that Jim owns a leather jacket and a motorbike, and that when he’s not online, he’s cruising around Iowa on it and staring at the stars.
He knows that Jim is a genius. Not just figuratively, but literally. His aptitude tests mean he doesn’t even need to attend high school. Judging from the time stamps of some of the messages Leonard receives, he guesses that Jim doesn’t attend school that regularly.
He knows all this because they’ve been messaging each other through the internet on and off for years. But they’ve never got into specifics. At first it was because they were both too young and had internet safety drilled into them. Later it became weird to ask.
What he doesn’t know is the colour of Jim’s eyes. Jim has never mailed him a photograph of himself, only the things he sees. He takes photographs of his bike, of the sunset over the cornfields in Iowa, of the gigantic hot dog he devoured the night before. He takes photographs of people in the street, and funny signs and sometimes Jim photographs passages from books he’s reading.
What he doesn’t know is what Jim’s voice sounds like. He has read emails in his mind a thousand times, the way Jim’s words must lilt. He’s looked up accent tags on Youtube and tried to imagine Jim’s voice sounding that way as he reads the emails. He takes every typo, every small inflection of dialect, and tries to analyse it to work out just what Jim’s voice must be like.
What he doesn’t know is how Jim would feel. And that gets to him. He hasn’t ever had the opportunity to touch Jim, and he knows he’d really like to. He hasn’t ever had feelings like these before, and they’re so strong that when Jocelyn Darnell asks him out, he says no and goes home and writes an email to Jim pretending he said yes to see his reaction.
Jim wishes him well.
The first time he sees Jim, the first time he hears his voice, the first time he sees how Jim interacts with other people, it’s by accident. He’s online and he’s going through suggested videos from the most recent accent tag he’s watched. It’s a new video, uploaded only a few days before, and it’s from a bar. He only makes the connection because Jim’s username ‘EnterprisingJim’ is a commenter below.
"Jim! Jim wave at the camera!" the person behind the camera is saying.
A blond man looks over. Even in the darkness of a bar, Leonard can tell he’s breath-takingly handsome. His eyes shine out of the darkness like LEDs. Leonard watches as the camera zooms in shakily and he’s annoyed all of a sudden by the drunk cameraman’s dodgy grasp of focus. For a while Jim is a blurred shape, before he’s in focus again.
"What are you doing Sulu?" Jim asks and he’s laughing then. He’s knocking back a shot and his voice sounds nothing like Leonard imagined but somehow better.
"It’s your birthday! I’m documenting it for posterity! Come on, say something profound!" Sulu prompts. Jim rolls his eyes and throws an arm around the woman next to him. He whispers in her ear and Leonard knows it’s probably obscene and almost clicks off the video, but then Jim turns back to the camera.
"Don’t put this online, Sulu, come on, no one wants to see me drunk off my face," Jim says and he laughs helplessly. "Seriously man, I’ve got a reputation."
"Yeah as a scoundrel," Sulu replies and Jim waves him off. The video cuts then to later in the night and Jim’s dancing with the girl in fuzzy focus until the camera swirls around to the face of an asian man who is making an ecstatic face.
"Jim, I know you’re not going to see this until after tonight, but I gotta say. If that’s the girl you’ve been talking about, hot damn, boy, she’s awesome," he says and then turns the camera back.
It cuts one more time to outside. There’s giggling and the cameraman is clearly talking to someone and tring to drunkenly shush them at the same time. Jim is making out with a woman against his bike and as his hands slide through her hair, Leonard feels sick.
The camerman lets out a bark of laughter and Jim jumps away from the girl. He sees them and walks towards them, grabbing the camera and snapping it shut ending the recording.
Leonard watches as the Youtube video brings up recommended other videos and he stares for a long moment at the screen before he goes down to Jim’s comment below.
"Dude, delete this, alright?" it says.
Leonard closes the window and stares at his inbox for a long time afterward. He’s kept every single one of his and Jim’s emails in a folder. Years of ‘From EnterprisingJim’ all down his inbox.
He right-clicks the folder and selects ‘Sweep’. Within seconds the emails have disappeared into the ether of the internet.
He had always known that Jim didn’t see him the same way, but seeing it made it all the more real.
A new email appeared in the folder. It was titled ‘Things I Think About on Nights Out’. Leonard didn’t open it. He shut his laptop and walked away, sitting on his bed and staring at the ceiling.
They’ve known each other for years and they’ve never met. Now Leonard thinks there might be a reason for that.
They’d known each other for years, though they’d never met and now were never likely to. Jim doesn’t know what he’d done wrong over half a year ago to make Bones hate him. He thinks about him every day.
He knows that Bones was going to study at Ole Miss, one of the few details he did know, but he didn’t know what he was going to study. Still, it was with desperation that Jim decides to apply there too. His mother wants him to go to Harvard, but Jim spurns all other colleges and heads down to Ole Miss and hopes.
He knows some of the things that Bones likes. He knows he’ll find him at the student bars, because Bones likes to drink, even if he doesn’t particularly like company when he does it. He knows he’s more likely to be studying sciences than arts. He knows that Bones won’t be hanging around with the stoners on the grass of the quad like Jim is but he doesn’t know how to make any other friends.
He knows that Bones must have got in. Somewhere amongst the thousands of students, one of them is Bones. He knows this because Bones was too clever to not have got in. Jim Kirk can’t believe in himself, but he can believe in Bones. He has faith.
He knows that Bones must be gorgeous, because he has that faith. He knows that Bones will have an accent that is amazing and beautiful, that words that pass through his lips will be tainted with the music of the South and warm summer nights.
He knows he’s thought too much about all this.
He’s at a party when he meets Leonard. The other is stood in a corner, forgoing the normal beer for something harder. Jim stands next to him surveying the party for a moment before he turns to him and truly takes him in.
And god he’s gorgeous. Jim can see the way his eyes change between brown and green in the light, and how his thick, dark hair has been mussed up by tipsy fingers running through it. He can see he slight scowl on his face and the way his mouth turns down. He can see how desperately the other person doesn’t want to talk to him, despite him not having opened his mouth yet.
"Jim Kirk," he says, offering his hand. The man stares at it for a long time before he takes it, a firm clasp and Jim doesn’t want to let go. He’s aware he’s holding on too long but he doesn’t care.
"Leonard McCoy," the other says and his voice. God, his voice. Jim realizes then that the reason he chose Leonard, out of everyone in that party, is because he feels familiar. He’s not exactly how Jim imagines Bones, but he’s close, and he’s gorgeous and Jim can’t help himself.
He hadn’t realized he felt so lonely.
"This is the point where you say something about how it’s a great party then realize we have nothing else to discuss," Leonard says and pulls his hand away. Jim smiles and moves to stand a little closer.
"Great party huh?" he obliges. Leonard looks at him out of the corner of his eye.
"You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?" he asks and Jim grins in response.
"You’re the best looking guy here," he replies. Leonard goes crimson and drinks deeply from his cup before he casts Jim another sidelong glance.
"What do you study?" Jim asks and Leonard crumples the cup in his hands and throws it in the trashcan next to them.
"Pre-med," he said. Jim let’s out a whistle. "You?"
"Astrophysics," he replies. Leonard nods and, just as Jim thought he was warming to him, his eyes suddenly become cold.
"Now we’ve got the pleasantries out of the way, it was nice to meet you Kirk," Leonard says and then he walks off, leaving Jim stood there and staring.
That night he goes home and logs into his computer. He’s drunk and he’s lost his inhibitions. He checks his mail but, as usual, there’s nothing from Bones. He’s been emailing virtually every week since Bones stopped contacting him, but the emails have gotten shorter. The most recent one is just a pathetic list of questions that Jim wishes he’d never sent.
He opens a new email and types in Bones’ email address before he sits and thinks about what he’s going to say. He knows he’s drunk, and it’s not a good idea, but he does it anyway.
I get it. Whatever I did was shit enough for you to call off our friendship. It’s fine. I’m used to people leaving me behind. I just wanted to let you know that… I met someone tonight and they reminded me so much of you it made my whole body hurt.
They weren’t the way I imagined you, not exactly, but they were so close to perfect I can’t describe it in words. I just realized I never told you I was in love with you, did I? I mean, I implied it plenty, I guess, but we were never going to meet were we? I mean what was the point in saying it bluntly?
Anyway, this guy hates me and I don’t know why. I guess that’s another thing you’ve got in common. He sounds like he’s from Georgia, and that’s where you’re from. He’s gorgeous, Bones, and I think if I don’t let you go, I’m not going to be able to even try it with him. I think… I don’t know. I’m not thinking, I’m fucking drunk.
His name is Leonard and that’s a funny name really for a young kid, but I think he makes it work.
I hate myself because right now I feel like… like I’m being disrespectful to you somehow, even though you probably aren’t even reading these. I just wanted you to know… to know that I didn’t give up I guess, but now I’m going to have to because… because, shit, I don’t know. Because there was a stranger at a party and I realized I’d be fucking nuts to carry on being in love with the idea of you when I could chase something real in front of me right now.
This is a rambling mess of an email. I probably will never send it.
James Tiberius Kirk
He hit send and went to bed, desperately trying not to think about years of friendship thrown away and a scowled expression around hazel eyes.
[Subject: Re: (No Subject)]
You’re an idiot.
Jim stares at the email for a long time and doesn’t know what to write in response. It could be serious, it could be sarcasm, it could be anything and he doesn’t know what to say or do. He spends a day thinking about it in all of his classes before he blows off his final lecture and goes home.
He sits with his laptop on his stomach and tries to formulate a response that doesn’t sound stupid.
[Subject: Re:Re: (No Subject)]
I was drunk so the honesty came forth. I’m sorry, alright? I get that you don’t want anything to do with me anymore but I just… I needed closure.
Leonard reads through the email and taps out the drumbeat to his roommate’s terrible dance music as he tries to think of an appropriate response. He eventually closes his laptop and goes to get some fresh air and contemplate what the hell he’s thinking of doing.
He runs into Jim by chance. The other is drinking Starbucks coffee and reading a book on the steps outside their dorm building. He hadn’t even realized they shared one. Jim looks up at him and smiles brightly and Leonard’s breath catches in his chest for a moment.
He sits down on the steps beside Jim and tries to get his thoughts together. With Jim sat next to him, it’s somehow easier to think. He is right there and Leonard knows he could just tell him that ‘Bones’ and ‘Leonard’ are the same person, but something stops him.
Jim wants closure, closure from him, and that means he could lose him completely if he told him who he was.
"Hungover?" Jim asks, and Leonard thinks it’s as good an excuse as any and nods. Jim winces in sympathy.
"Here, try this. It’s my own special blend of coffee that instantly cures all ailments," Jim says and he hands Leonard his coffee cup. Leonard takes it and pulls off the sippy lid. The smell that hits his nose is about twenty parts sugar to fifteen parts coffee but he sips it anyway. It tastes like he chewed on a coffee filter and is sweet enough that he immediately gets a rush of sugar to his head.
"Unpleasant," he says, handing it back. Jim laughs and puts the sippy lid back on.
"Yeah I guess it is but it does the job," he says. Leonard nods. Jim is reading Vonnegut and he’s slowly dog earing the pages with his index finger as he does.
"I was rude to you the other night. Sorry. I’m an asshole when I’m out of my comfort zone," Leonard says. Jim looks up at him and Leonard sees those blue eyes filled with guarded hope and a hint of guilt. He looks away.
"Don’t worry about it. I’m an asshole nine times out of ten, so it was probably just desserts to get it back for a change," Jim says, sipping his coffee again and turning back to his book. There is a stretch of comfortable silence while Leonard watches the trees, their shifting autumn colours rustling in the breeze.
"Maybe we should go for coffee some time?" he hears himself asking. "Decent coffee that is."
Jim looks up at him, and he looks alarmed for a moment, but then he’s oozing charm and grace and smirking.
"Sure, why not?" he replies. Leonard nods and gets to his feet. He dusts off the back of his pants and goes back to his room. It’s only when he gets up there that he realises he didn’t give Jim his contact details.
[Subject: Re:Re:Re: (No Subject)]
If you need closure, maybe we should meet?
Jim stares at the email in front of him and his heart is racing. He wants to reply ‘YES YES YES’ but he can’t because it’s five minutes before he has to leave. Leonard gave him his number when they ran into each other at the library a few days before, and they’ve been messaging back and forth since then.
It’s been easy. Jim doesn’t have to agonise over every word, because Leonard just lets him say whatever he wants. He lets him talk and is a surprisingly good listener. They’re meeting for coffee in a few moments and Jim doesn’t want his mind filled with Bones while he’s there but goddamnit, he still hasn’t replied to this email and he knows he should.
He stands up, what will another few hours be when he’s waited days already? He walks down to the local hipster coffee house and ignores the way that the woman behind the till flirts with him. He sits down at the stools at the front near the window and pulls out another book. This time its Lovecraft, because he’s been meaning to read the Necronomicon since forever and had never got around to it.
Leonard slips into the seat next to him, putting down his coffee and smiling at Jim. “Hey,” he says and Jim’s mouth feels dry.
"Hey," Jim says back and he puts down the book. He had forgotten how Leonard could capture his attention. Thoughts of Bones are far from his mind all of a sudden when Leonard’s long-fingered hands trace the cover of the front of his book, over the tendrils and tentacles that make up Cthulhu’s face on the cover.
"Gotta admit, I was disappointed by Dagon when I read this," Leonard say. Jim smiles and sips his coffee.
"Yeah. A friend said that to me, once. I don’t know though, it sets up the mythos pretty well," he replies. Leonard seems to phase out a little and then starts playing with his coffee cup.
"So…" he says, drawing out the word. Jim wants to grab Leonard McCoy by his shirt front and kiss him, right here in the damn coffee shop, to see if those lips are really as soft as they look. But it feels disingenuous because he’s really not being honest with his feelings.
"I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have agreed to this," Jim hears himself saying. Leonard looks up at him, surprised, and Jim feels like the worst kind of asshole.
"It’s just coffee-" Leonard says but Jim cuts him off.
"No. I… I’m kind of… I don’t know. I’m sort of emotionally involved with someone else and it’s not fair to you. You’re… you’re great. I mean, with anyone else I wouldn’t have even got this far. I really do like you, but I just… I can’t until I’ve ended it with this other guy,” Jim hears himself ramble. Leonard doesn’t look angry, he sips his coffee and pushes the mostly full cup away from himself as he gets to his feet.
"Well, you’ve got my number if you ever decide to break it off with him," he says. Jim feels like a total dick when Leonard leaves. He tries to pick up his book and continue reading, but he can’t concentrate. In the end he grabs his cup and Leonard’s and heads to the trash can.
He misjudges the weight of the Necronomicon though, and though it’s tucked into the crook of his elbow he overreaches and then Leonard’s cup is falling from his hand and it goes all over the floor. He curses and reaches for napkins, wiping up the sopping mess and ignoring how it’s gone all up his trousers.
He picks up the cup last and goes to throw it when something catches his eye. It’s written in the sharpie scrawl of Starbucks, and Jim thinks he might be hallucinating, but he’s almost certain that it’s an o and not an a, and in any case an a wouldn’t make sense here.
The coffee cup reads ‘Bones’ on the side.
[Subject: Re:Re:Re:Re: (No Subject)]
You like your coffee black with one sugar and an extra shot of espresso.
Leonard stares up at the stars and tries not to feel nervous. Jim has messaged him asking to meet. Leonard has seen his email. He’d intended to tell Jim who he was on that date, but hearing Jim’s small rant he hadn’t had the courage. The fact that Jim had found out though Leonard’s own carelessness meant he had no idea what he was going to say to him now.
They have arranged to meet on the steps where Leonard asked Jim out for coffee and Leonard stares at his feet when he hears Jim’s footfalls. Jim sits down next to him and they bump thighs as he does so. Leonard’s heart feels like it’s about to stop.
"Bones," Jim says, and it’s weighted with so much feeling that Leonard has to look up. Jim’s face is open and raw and his eyes shine with a light that has nothing to do with the street lamps around campus. Leonard clears his throat.
"Yes Jim?" he replies and then he’s tackled to the ground. Jim’s arms are around his neck so tight he feels briefly like he can’t breathe. Jim’s whole body is pressed against him as the other hugs him as though he’s trying to assimilate him and he returns to embrace just as tightly.
"You complete and utter… You asshole! You complete and utter asshole!" Jim is saying fiercely into his shoulder. Leonard raises a hand and slowly strokes it through Jim’s hair.
They have a lot to talk about, and Leonard’s not sure if they can make it work. He’s not sure that ‘Leonard’ will ever live up to ‘Bones’, and he’s not sure Jim will forgive him for seven months of silence, but for now, it’s enough that they are finally here.
Leonard knows what Jim looks like. He can see his blond hair and tanned skin. He knows what Jim sounds like, his deep voice giving way now to laughter. He knows how Jim feels, because he’s here, pressed along the length of him, firm and warm and perfect.