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A Light Hits the Gloom on the Gray

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Leonard walks into the front office of Enterprise University's campus radio station with one hand raised defensively, the other yanking at the knot in his scarf. He makes a beeline for the coffee machine. It's half past midnight and in order to make it to three, he's going to need a direct injection of caffeine.

"I know, I know, I'm late. Don't ask."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Nyota says, her eyebrows lifted in that I'm not judging you judgy way. She shuffles through some paperwork, having far more important things to do than look at Leonard. "John said he didn't mind covering for you for an extra half-hour, so it's fine."

Leonard rolls his eyes as he pours himself a cup of coffee. He really needed to finish and send his advisor the first draft of his newest dissertation chapter—deadlines and all—but still, he hates the idea of exposing his poor listeners to an unexpected half-hour of the horrific dullness that is John Harrison preening between songs that absolutely no one wants to hear.

"Well, whenever he's done regaling himself with the sound of his own voice, I'll be ready to take some callers. Is Pavel here?"

"Yeah, he's waiting in the back, playing Candy Crush." Nyota licks her thumb as she files papers and smirks. "Think your secret admirer will call tonight?"

"I don't have a secret admirer."

"Oh, please. People don't call into radio stations every night unless they're totally lonely and miserable or they have a major thing for the on-air personality."

Leonard gulps his coffee too quickly. Lucky for him, it's not ever hot enough to actually scald his throat.

"You're the only one who thinks it's the same guy calling each time."

"Oh, please," Nyota says, shooting him a look. "As if anyone is buying those terrible accents. Not that I don't appreciate the idea of a British foreign exchange student looking for advice on a potential three-way with two organic chemistry TAs."

"Okay, that one was a little tough to swallow."

Leonard looks into the studio, where John Harrison is sitting, whistling to himself as he queues up his final track. He sees Leonard through the large picture window and winks, giving him an exaggerated thumbs-up. Leonard tries not to visibly recoil.

Now I bid you goodnight, gorgeous listeners, and I leave you with one of my all-time favorites, "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal. Stay tuned for a session of sage advice from Leonard "Dr. Love" McCoy. I'm John Harrison and this has been "Love Songs at Night." Stay in the mood, Enterprise U.

"How can people stand to listen to this?" Leonard mutters.

Nyota shrugs. "The ladies love him."

"I've never claimed to understand the fairer sex."

"Aren’t you a doctoral candidate in psych?"

"That doesn't mean I know anything."

John Harrison walks out of the studio, slipping on a tailored pea coat and looking unbearably smug, as usual.

"Thanks for the extra air time, McCoy. I'm sure the listeners appreciated it."

"Some people have actual work to do outside of this station, Harrison. Not that creating a vomit-worthy playlist every night isn't significant stuff."

"It's called knowing your audience. Though I suppose you'd need to gain an audience to understand as much."

"Oh, Len has a very devoted audience," Nyota says, grinning. "Of one."

Leonard puts his hands over his ears as he flees into the studio. "I have to go talk to sad people now, goodbye."

Unfortunately, he can still see both of them laughing through the window. Stupid window.

*

"Listen, Kevin," Leonard says, rubbing his temple. "As always, I'm prefacing this with a reminder that I'm not a medical doctor, but I really recommend you refrain from using anything besides lube as lube. I know maple syrup seems like a sexy idea when you're getting, uh…romantic in the kitchen. But trust me; it's not. It's really, really not."

Pavel looks flummoxed in the next booth as he takes calls. He's a good kid—an undergrad physics major and one of the most eager interns the campus station has—but he tends to let a lot of weird calls slip through the cracks. Leonard's stuck with him, mainly because Pavel's the only one willing to work the graveyard shift. Apparently the kid's an insomniac so he likes "feeling useful" if he can't sleep.

Right now, he's not being useful so much as instrumental in making Leonard's left eye twitch.

"Pavel, please tell me you have someone with an actual problem that doesn't involve bizarre sex acts," he pleads.

"Yes, indeed," Pavel says, in his radio-unfriendly accent. "Our next caller is Hans, who has a question about infidelity."

"Hans," Leonard repeats, his voice deadpan. He looks over to the office window and spies Nyota smirking at him. "Good lord. Okay. Hi there…Hans."

"Hello, Leonard," a man says in a soft German accent. Leonard has to admit, it's not a bad attempt. "I am in a relationship but I have been having thoughts about sleeping with another man. What do you suggest I do?"

Nyota starts laughing on her side of the window. Leonard runs a palm over his face.

"Listen, uh, 'Hans.' You wouldn't happen to be the same person who called in last night about the roommate who has loud sex, would you? What was his name again?"

"Preston," Pavel says over the air.

The caller pauses and stutters a little. "Oh…n-no. Preston? I don't know a Preston. This is Hans."

"You know, Hans or Preston, or whoever you are, it's not very nice to waste my time every night with fake problems. You're taking time away from all of the other people waiting to ask me questions."

Pavel pipes up again. "Actually, we have no other callers right now, Leonard."

"Not helping, Pavel."

"Okay, um." The guy drops the accent and laughs, sounding embarrassed. As he should, Leonard thinks. "You got me. I just really enjoy listening to your show and I wanted an excuse to talk to you. More than once."

"Well, I'm flattered, really, but this show is meant to assist people looking for advice about personal relationships and other issues. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to indulge this sort of thing on the air."

"That makes sense. I understand. I'll, just, um, leave you alone."

"Okay, great." The line goes dead and Leonard looks over at Nyota, who holds up a piece of paper. It reads simply: BOO. Leonard frowns. "Pavel, who's next?"

"I told you, Leonard. There is no one else in the queue."

"Not even one person?" he asks. Pavel shakes his head and shrugs. Leonard looks at his watch. It's one thirty, which means he has another hour and a half to fill, and he really doesn't want to replay that one night Pavel ate up time by rambling about the latest Assassin's Creed, whatever that is. Leonard takes a deep breath and figures, hey, what the hell. "Well, listen, Hans or Preston, or whatever your real name is. It looks like I've got free time after all, so if you wanna call back and chat, that'd be fine by me."

A few moments pass without any sign of a new call and Pavel shrugs again.

"John left his last record out," he says, holding it up. "We could play that."

"I am not playing goddamn Seal, so help me, god," Leonard snarls.

"Oh, oh, there is a call! I will put it right through."

Leonard breathes a sigh of relief. "Finally. Hello?"

"Hi, it's me again," the familiar voice says. "I figured I'd call back, since you asked so nicely. And since there was a danger of Seal being played twice in one night."

Leonard almost laughs. "Yeah, that would have been offensive."

"I like this song," Pavel says. "It was big hit in Russia."

"Pavel, don't be that guy," the caller says.

"So, um, caller," Leonard says, clearing his throat. "Do you have a real name?"

"Yeah, but I'd prefer to keep it anonymous, if that's okay."

"That's fine. What would you like me to call you?"

"I dunno. Sexypants?" he says, laughing. He has a nice laugh, admittedly. "Sorry, how about just…JT?"

"All right, JT. That's something. Now, why don't you tell me about yourself?"

"Well, I have a little bit of a crush on this late-night radio host," JT says, and Leonard can hear his grin. "Also, I'm five-foot-two, hideously disfigured, an American Studies major. I have an awesome pog collection."

Leonard smothers a smile into his palm. When he darts another glance over at the window, Nyota treats him to a new message scrawled on scrap paper: HE SOUNDS HOT.

He refuses to blush. Refuses.

*

JT calls regularly over the next few nights. Leonard would be annoyed that his show has essentially turned into a platform for some stranger to flirt with him on the air, but the other calls remain light so it's not like it's hurting anyone. If Leonard's being honest, it's kind of fun—and flattering, knowing that someone out there likes him so much. JT is a witty and funny guy and it's easier to get through his daily workload of endless writing and research, knowing he'll get to talk to JT some time between midnight and three.

Plus, according to Nyota, he's not the only one who's appreciating it.

"Your numbers are way up," she says between bites of salad at lunch. "Not that they were ever huge, but. People like listening to you two flirt. We've even gotten some emails and tweets about it."

"Is there fanfiction yet?" Hikaru asks. JT reminds Leonard a little of Hikaru—his off-campus roommate who majors in botany and is the captain of Enterprise's award-winning fencing team, no big deal. Similar sense of humor. Hikaru is drier, though, and he doesn't even smile as he cracks his little joke, eating potato chips from a greasy bag.

"Very funny," Leonard says with a grumble. "Don't you think it's a little odd that we've basically replaced the format of the show with…gossip?"

"It's cute," Hikaru says. "Dr. Love finding love. Give the people what they want."

Leonard looks at the remains of his turkey sandwich. "I wouldn't go that far. I don't even know the guy."

"No?" Nyota asks. "I was wondering about that, actually, because I met someone I'd like to set you up with, but I didn't know how you'd feel about it with the whole JT thing."

Leonard blinks in surprise at the news. "Who? How?"

"Just this guy who works with Spock at the campus coffeehouse. He's always making passes at me but he's so not my type."

Hikaru snorts into the back of his hand. "Wait, he's making passes at you so you wanna set him up with Len?"

"He's bisexual! He told me so."

"And he hits on other people's girlfriends," Leonard says. "He sounds like a real catch."

"He hits on everyone," Nyota says, waving a hand. "It's part of his charm."

Leonard snorts. "Even better."

"I think he would be good for you. He's kind of annoying but sweet. And as far as looks go, he's no Spock—" She gives Hikaru a dirty look before he can laugh. "—but he's pretty damn cute. If I weren't taken, I'd consider it."

"I think you should stick with this JT dude," Hikaru says. "Sure, you don't know what he looks like or what his real name is, but he's clearly into you. How do you think he'd feel if you started dating someone else?"

"He doesn't need to know," Nyota says. "Plus, you'd just be meeting the guy. And he'd be a real live person, as opposed to a disembodied voice on the phone."

Leonard fidgets and scratches behind his ear. "I'll think about it."

"Poor JT," Hikaru sighs. "Just because he's too ugly to leave the house…"

"Friday," Nyota says, smiling. "Your night off. Come to the coffeehouse with me. Just to see."

"Just to see," Leonard repeats, nodding.

He wonders if it's weird to hope that the guy turns out to be a prick.

*

By the time Thursday rolls around, a mix of nerves and guilt has already consumed Leonard. Oh, and annoyance, because who needs this crap, anyway? JT is great, really great, but he's just a guy on the phone. A disembodied voice, like Nyota said. And Leonard's only agreed to go to a coffee shop to meet someone, not to marry him. Hell, he might not even talk to him; just stare at him from a corner table. That wouldn't be weird or creepy at all.

"What's up, Leonard?" JT asks, interrupting his thoughts. "You're quiet tonight. I haven't heard you grumble about 'those goddamned underclassmen' yet."

"Sorry. I've just got something on my mind."

"Ooh, role reversal. Can I help? I'm not getting a PhD, granted, but I have some experience with giving advice. Which may or may not have resulted in explosions."

Leonard smirks and glances toward the main office, where Nyota usually sits. She's off tonight so there's no one to hold up obnoxious (and occasionally helpful) notes. Pavel, for his part, is nodding off in the neighboring booth. And here Leonard was beginning to believe that the kid never slept.

"Well…" Leonard begins. He decides to be honest, even though he has visions of Nyota pounding on the glass and hollering expletives. "The thing is, my friend wants to, uh, set me up with someone."

"Oh?" JT says, after the smallest of pauses.

"Just a casual meet-and-greet. She thinks I'd like him." He scratches his cheek and conducts a frantic mental search for the right words. "I don't want to spoil things. Here, that is. Between us. I feel guilty, I guess. But that's silly, right? For god's sake, I don't even know your real name."

JT laughs and it's awkward and sad. It burns Leonard like a brand in his side.

"Why are you telling me this?" he asks. "If you're so sure it's silly, that is."

Leonard doesn't know how to reply. A few seconds of silence pass as he chews on his lip and berates himself for being a complete idiot.

"Listen, I should go," JT says.

Pavel suddenly jolts awake in the booth. "Next caller!" he yells.

"No, no—don't go. I don't know why I even brought it up, it's—it has nothing to do with anything."

"No, it's okay. I mean, you're right. I haven't told you my name. We don't really know each other. This is all just an extended fantasy, right?"

Leonard squints. "Fantasy?"

"I mean, probably. So, yeah. Have fun at your meet-and-greet. Goodnight, Leonard."

"Jesus H. Christ," Leonard mutters after JT hangs up. Pavel peers at him, perplexed.

"What happened?" he says. Then he startles again. "Oh! We have callers!"

"Well, go ahead and put one through."

"Uh, hi, Dr. Love?" a female voice pipes up. "I have to say that what you just did was the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

"A fine contribution," Leonard says with a growl. "Tell me something I don't know." He disconnects her and looks at his watch, then to Pavel. "Any other callers?"

"Yes," Pavel says, cringing. "Twenty-three. Oh, wait—twenty-four."

"Oh, sure, now I have an audience."

*

Nyota has to just about drag Leonard into the coffeehouse.

"I really think this is a bad idea."

"And I really think you're being a giant baby because you hurt your fake boyfriend's feelings—which, by the way, was crazy stupid and pointless."

"I know, I know; I'm the worst. Hordes of angry students with way too much time on their hands called in last night to tell me as much."

"You're just meeting a human being," she says, rolling her eyes. "You don't even have to meet him. We'll go in, I'll point him out, and if it's a no go, we'll leave. If you think he's cute, I'll introduce you. Deal?"

Leonard grunts his assent. "I guess."

Except when they go inside, the only person behind the counter is Spock. Yippee, Leonard thinks.

"Hello, Nyota," Spock says. He appears pleased to see her, which, when it comes to Spock, resembles the look of someone passing gas in a crowded room. Leonard receives a stonier expression. "Leonard."

"Yeah, hi."

"Hi, Spock." She leans over the counter for a quick kiss. "Where's Jim? I wanted to introduce him to Leonard."

"He's on his break. Most likely talking on the phone."

Nyota looks around and nudges Leonard's side. "Ooh, that's him, sitting in the back."

And there he is, this Jim, talking on the phone, just as Spock said. Leonard barely stops himself from making an embarrassing, involuntary sound. The guy is gorgeous, what with his thick, wheat-colored hair and his disgustingly bright blue eyes. What kind of person is he, walking around with those eyes, like he has the right? Jim smiles when he spots Nyota at the counter and waves to her. Leonard ducks his head, not wanting to face the possibility of looking directly at him.

"You think he's cute, don't you?" Nyota says, grinning. Leonard feels his face flush and Nyota bounces. "Oh, my god, you doooo."

"He seems depressed today," Spock says. "Perhaps your visit will lift his spirits."

"It'd better. I brought him a hot guy to flirt with."

Leonard swallows and shoves his hands in his pockets. He hasn't been able to stop thinking about JT all day and as attractive as Jim is, Leonard is beginning to realize that it doesn't much matter. He likes JT because they have great conversations and they connect. He starts to fidget, feeling guiltier by the second.

"I'm not sure I can do this," he says, starting to inch away from the counter. "Just tell him I said sorry, okay? That I forgot I had something else to do."

"What? No, come on, stay," Nyota says, pouting. "Look, he's already coming over."

And she's right. Jim strides over, tall and confident even in a ruffled apron, and Leonard feels his stomach drop at the very sight of him. He supposes he could still run away but then he'd never be able to frequent the coffeehouse again. He briefly considers the possibility of setting up permanent camp at the radio station and drinking the coffee there all day long. Sure, he'd have to see more of John Harrison, but it might be worth the hardship. Maybe. Before he has time to form another coherent thought on the subject, Jim is standing right next to them, licking his perfect lips like an ass and flashing a bright smile.

"Nyota! How did you know I needed a dose of hotness from my best friend's girlfriend? And you brought a hot friend! You're my favorite person; you know that, right?"

Leonard freezes. He knows that voice, almost as well as his own mother's, at this point. And suddenly he can't feel his legs. He's pretty sure he walked in here with legs.

"I had a sneaking suspicion," Nyota says, oblivious to Leonard's gaping maw. She motions to Jim's phone. "Setting up a booty call for later, I presume?"

"A logical deduction, given past experience," Spock says.

"You guys wound me." Jim smirks and then regards Leonard, tilting his head. "So are you going to introduce me to your hot friend or do I have to do all the work myself?"

This time, Leonard can't stop the noise that escapes him. Spock peers at him curiously.

"I was getting to it! Jim, this is—"

"Len," he interrupts, squaring his shoulders. He offers Jim—JT—his hand. "I'm Len."

Jim's eyes widen as he returns Leonard's shake. His throat undulates as realization dawns. He's not the only one with a distinctive voice around here, after all.

"Len. As in…Leonard? 'Dr. Love' Leonard?"

Nyota clasps her hands over her mouth. "No fucking way," she says into her palms, laughing. "Oh, I am good."

"I can't believe it," Leonard says, still feeling a bit shaky. "You're really him? You're JT?"

Jim blushes and it's adorable. "James Tiberius Kirk. Senior poli-sci major, late-night barista, pseudo-insane radio host stalker extraordinaire. At your service?"

Spock wrinkles his nose. "I am puzzled."

"Spock, Jim is the guy who's been calling Leonard every night! Remember, the one I told you about?"

Jim cringes. "Ah, yeah, but only after midnight, when it's slow. Not when there's, like, customers. I'm a model employee, after all. I would never ignore a customer."

Spock gives him an unimpressed look before walking away. "No, of course not."

"Look, Nyota, can you give us a moment here?" Leonard asks.

"Oh, of course! This is so You've Got Mail." Leonard gives her a dirty look as she walks away. "What? It is!"

"So, yeah, wow," Jim says, leaning against the counter and smirking. "I can't believe you blew me off because you were meeting some random guy in a coffee shop."

"I didn’t blow you off. I was just trying to be honest."

"Yeah, you kinda did. 'Cause you were scared. Am I right?" Jim tilts his head and Leonard scowls. How does this kid already have him figured out? Leonard's supposed to be the psych whiz here. "It's cool. I was, too. That's why I didn't want to ruin the mystique by telling you my real name. But I guess the cat's out of the bag now. And that's fine because I'm really digging this scary grizzly bear thing you have going on."

Leonard ducks his head so Jim can't see him smile. "And you're kind of a brat in person. Which shouldn't be cute, but."

"It is. I know." Jim leans in and Leonard has to stop himself from grabbing him with both hands and hauling him even closer. "Hey, you wanna get out of here?"

"Don't you have to finish your shift?"

"Nah. Spock loves me. Plus, you guys are the first customers we've had all night. It's Friday; everyone's out trying to get laid." He unties his apron and flings it over his shoulder. "Hey, Spock! I'm leaving early!" he yells. Across the room, Spock doesn't pause in his conversation with Nyota as he lifts his middle finger in response. "See? That's Spock speak for 'Bye, Jim! I love you and I'll miss you.'"

"That's more words than I've ever heard him utter at once," Leonard says. When Jim laughs and kisses his cheek, Leonard swears he can feel his insides melt. They both wave goodbye to Nyota, who's leering at them like a deranged yenta. "So we're on kissing terms now, huh?"

"Maybe," Jim says. He grabs his coat from the rack by the door and smiles. "Do you want to be? Dr. Love?"

Leonard snorts. "Well. Not if it means you won't call me anymore."

"Oh, I'll still call. But you might not want to air the things I plan to say. Also, Pavel and his innocent ears will have to leave the room."

"Stop talking and hand me your phone so I can give you my number, you corn-fed menace."

Jim texts him, once he has Leonard's number. Leonard smirks and saves Jim as a new contact as they leave the shop.

"Did you seriously save my name in your phone as Hans?" Jim asks, peering over his shoulder.

"Maybe."

This time, Jim kisses him square on the mouth.