“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”
Poppy Z Brite
"Is that the radio?"
Jim Kirk made a scoffing sort of sound, arching an eyebrow as he scrolled down his computer, lines of C++ coding rolling past his eyes. "I didn't think they used real people for that shit anymore," he laughed as a woman's voice, warm and pleasant, described tomorrow's weather as a 'balmy forty degrees'.
Fucking Iowa in January.
Carol looked up, an irritated look on her face. "Didn't peg you for a snob, Jim," she said, pulling her hair back into a ponytail before turning back toward her own computer terminal.
"Me?" Jim answered, one hand on his chest, a mock hurt look on his face. "Never. I just appreciate the genius that is modern technology," he picked up his smart phone, shaking it a bit. Carol didn't respond, but Jim did groan when she purposefully turned up the volume on the small stereo near her workstation, just as a man's voice, dark and smooth, began speaking. "Really, Carol?"
"Shh," she answered, listening, a sort of amused look on her face. "You might learn something."
"And we're back. Thank you for joining me tonight on 'The Dark Side' on KRCR, Riverside College Radio. It's just past ten PM and I'm John Harrison and it will be you and me, just us, until the clock strikes midnight… and then I must leave you."
"I can't believe you-"
"Shh," Carol repeated, a little smile on her face. "The emails are my favorite part."
Dear John, the voice began, a soft instrumental playing in the background. "My sweetheart is away this weekend, and I'm alone. Can you recommend something I can do by myself when he's gone?" Jim heard this smug little laugh in a low baritone. "There are a multitude of ways to occupy your time, my darling. But I think the best is to sit here, in the dark, and share the night with me."
"...Carol Wallace, you have a PhD in Aerospace Engineering. How can you take this seriously?"
Carol's face wrinkled up. "Jim, for someone with a great sense of humor, you are missing the point. This is fun and silly, and sometimes we all need a little more silly. Besides," she added with a grin, "he's got such a nice voice, doesn't he?"
"He sounds like a douchebag. I'm not spending the next two months listening to this shit."
"Then I suggest you stop listening." Rolling his eyes, Jim did just that, tucking his earbuds into his own ears, and soon he was lost in his own music, his eyes darting across the screen and watching his coding, looking for those bugs that were fucking around with his beloved satellites.
Jim blinked his eyes. Sliding his finger across his phone, the alarm stopped chiming. Two AM. "Musta fallen asleep," he murmured, looking around the lab. No one else around. "Thanks for saying goodbye, Carol," Jim groused to himself, scrubbing his face as he regained full awareness.
Yeah, this was going to be a long semester.
Checking the computer, Jim saw that his program was still running, all the notated bugs eliminated. "This is good, Jimmy, looking real good."
When Jim had first been told that this semester he'd be spending a lot of time working at night, he'd been irritated. Jim Kirk had surprised everyone (including himself) by being a really good instructor, the youngest PhD in the history of the small, private college. Even better, he enjoyed being in a classroom environment, working with students, explaining what he knew and hoping that they could see how exciting the sciences could be.
But Christopher Pike wasn't someone you trifled with, not when so many people wanted in on his projects. Professor Pike was the one that brought Jim in on this particular astrodynamics project and Jim wasn't going to refuse him.
Not when it was this important.
Still, it was a long time since Jim had been staying up this late for this many days in a row, and it was starting to wear on him. It was getting cold too, so Jim reached for his Riverside College hoodie and pulled it over his head. Music coming from across the room caught his attention, and Jim suddenly realized that Carol had left the radio on for him. Three steps and his hand was on the dial, when he heard it. The voice. "Why the hell was that playing. Damn, I hate that song. Tell me I'm not the only one that hates that song."
The voice, low and deep and rugged, made Jim stop and pause. "You can't tell me that song is about love. 'Every breath you take, every step you make, I'll be watching you?' Hmpf. Ladies and gentleman, if someone, ANYONE tells you that, you need to be calling the police, not the wedding planner. I mean Jesus..."
Jim could hear the man stop and take a sip of something to drink. "Love is not about owning someone. Falling in love, yeah, that's about drowning, pouring another person around you, inside you. But that's fleeting, and not real, and if you ain't got nothing else in common after that feeling goes away, then you're gonna end up alone. Not that there's anything wrong with that," he added. "Alone is good too. Anyway, this is Doctor Love. Got something to say? Grab a drink, give me a call, and we'll talk. But first, some Patti Smith to cleanse the palate."
Jim stared at the small radio, caught being amused and intrigued. Reaching for the small radio, he carried it over to his station and listened as he continued reading his debugging report. Singing along to some old song he remembered from his youth, Jim took a sip of his now room-temperature energy drink, turning the volume up when the song ended and the voice started talking again.
"You're on the air with Doctor Love," the voice began, outright sarcasm in the tone of those last two words. "Tell me what's going on with you."
"Hey Doctor Love, glad to talk to you. Love the show."
"Thanks, sweetheart. How you doin' tonight?"
"Not too good. I think my boyfriend is gonna propose to me for Valentine's Day."
"Hmm, that does sound like a problem." The girl's voice laughed nervously, and Jim was impressed by how gentle Doctor Love sounded when he spoke with her. "You don't wanna marry him?"
"I do, I think. But right now… I'm twenty-two, and some of my friends are all looking for that engagement ring, ready to settle down once we all graduate. I love him, but-"
"You still got some living to do."
"I think so. I don't want to lose him, but I don't want to be tied down here."
"Let me ask you a questions, hon. If your boyfriend came to you tomorrow and said he got a great job, fantastic money, but you had to leave with him right now - would you go?"
"Because I'm not-" She stopped with a sigh. "I'm not ready."
"Then that's what you tell him when he asks. Or maybe start leaving out some brochures on out of state grad programs, or leave your computer up after you've browsed Portland or Houston, or some faraway cities. Just remind him that you might have plans of your own, that he might need to check with you before makin' his own plans."
"I think I will. Thanks, Doc."
"Anytime, sweetheart, anytime." The voices faded out, replaced with a song he remembered his mom singing when he was a kid. He looked down at his phone, checking the time. Technically, his programming was done for the evening, but Jim wanted to listen a little longer. Soon, another caller came on, this time a guy who wanted to take his boyfriend home for Spring Break.
"I promise you, kid, ten to one, your mom already knows about your sexual orientation. What you do is tell her that you're bringing someone home with you, for her to meet, and you say, 'His name is John'."
"No, she won't. She loves you, son. What she doesn't like is having to pretend like she doesn't know about this. But you tell her, you share it with her, make her feel like she's important enough to you that you want to share this part of your life with her. She'll welcome you both - but don't be surprised if she's made up the guest room for him. You better not think of sharing a room with that boy under her roof."
Jim laughed at that old-fashioned bit of information. Yawning, he turned the radio off, grabbed his jacket and bicycle helmet, and headed outside for the chilly ride home.
The lights in his apartment were on when he got home. "Hey," he said as he tossed the keys on the counter. "What are you doing up so late?"
Jim's brother Sam was sitting at the small dining table, eating a bowl of cereal. "Couldn't sleep, thought I'd wait up for you." Jim could see that Sam was still wearing the t-shirt he'd had on yesterday. "Thought you'd be home sooner than this, though."
"Got caught up with some last minute debugging," Jim answered. "And," he admitted, a sheepish look on his face, "I started listening to this guy on the radio. Really funny."
"Like a comedian?" Sam answered, tilting the bowl up into his mouth, drinking the last of the milk in the bowl.
"No, one of those love songs DJs, but he was different. Kinda rough around the edges, grumpy… but said some good things."
"Maybe I oughta call him," Sam snorted, dropping the dish in the sink.
"You talk to her today?"
"Nope," Sam said, turning to face Jim. "I'm not calling her. She's the one that threw me out."
"Sam," Jim began, but stopped. He didn't want to come between Sam and his wife, but he knew enough about both of them - and his brother - to know that whatever happened, it had to be more complicated than that. "Maybe tomorrow." Sam didn't respond, so Jim just clapped him on the shoulder. "You're welcome here as long as you need."
"Appreciate it, little brother." Sam smiled sadly at him. "Get to bed now, fuck knows you need your beauty sleep," he said, pushing his hand all over Jim's face. "So pretty, Professor Kirk..."
Jim pushed back, laughing. "Night," he said, walking into his own room. Jim pulled off his shirt and jeans, turned off his alarm for the next morning, and fell into his bed, asleep within minutes.
Over the next week, Jim didn't stop giving Carol shit about listening to that stupid Love Songs show - but he didn't mention that after she left, he took her radio and listened to Doctor Love's show.
When he discovered Riverside Campus Radio had an app that played 'The Best of Doctor Love', he could listen and no one could hear.
"I think my boyfriend is cheating."
"Probably. You can't change that. What are you going to do now that you know?"
"I'm giving up men forever."
"A woman'll break your heart just as easily as a man, sweetheart. I've dated them both. Trust me, I know.
"Doctor Love, I like this girl, but she sees me as just a friend."
"Okay, you're her friend."
"But I want to be more."
"Does she know this?"
"I think so."
"Tell her. If she wants more, that's great. If not, then you need to come to terms that you are her friend. If that's not enough for you, then you need to leave her alone, because she don't need douchebags who just want to get into her pants, but pretending to be her friend bothering her."
Jim heard the click on the other end of the line. "Asshole. This one's for the douchebags out there."
Wednesday nights Jim didn't go into the lab, but he tried to maintain his strange sleep schedule as much as possible. Two-thirty AM and he was just settling into bed, closing his moleskin notebook when he heard Doctor Love talking to a familiar voice on the radio. "Tell me, Sam, what's going on with you tonight?"
"Well, I'm having some marital problems."
Doctor Love whistled low. "Sorry to hear that. Married long?"
"Five years. Thought it was forever, but things have changed."
"Things do start changing around five years. Happened to me too, a long time ago. What's changed for you?"
"All of a sudden, she wants to change me. We've always been like leaves on the wind, you know? We're both freelance, so no nine to five jobs. No mortgages, no ties to anything real or lasting. Me and her against the world. But now…"
"Now she wants something else?"
"Yeah. It started with wanting to buy a house."
"That's a big step."
"That's what I told her. Didn't like the idea of it. She told me I was selfish and only thought about myself. But I'm not the one that changed, she was perfectly happy before and now she's not the woman I married."
"Maybe she's not. My marriage lasted about five years."
Jim listened carefully as silence filled the air. Finally, "With us… I guess I was the one that changed. Then she left. And now I'm here, talkin' to you nice folks."
"Sorry about that, Doc."
"It happens. Might be happening here, Sam."
"So you're saying that my marriage is over?"
"What I'm saying is that people change. People grow apart or they grow together. If you don't like who you're with, who they've become, then you always have the option to leave."
Jim's brows went up. This wasn't at all what he expected. Doctor Love was telling Sam to give up on his marriage?
"That's what I thought. I guess I just needed to hear someone else-"
"No no no," Jim said, standing up. Opening the door, he headed to the living room, but Sam wasn't there, the couch empty. "Sam!" he called out, but no response.
"I don't believe this…" Jim began, talking to himself. How dare that guy tell Sam to just give up on his marriage! Kirks never gave up, not when their dad died, not when his mom had to raise the two of them on their own. Stomping into his bedroom, Jim flipped open his laptop and found the website to the campus radio station.
There was a phone number. Tapping the keypad on his phone with more force than necessary, Jim paced the room like a caged animal. "You're on the air with Doctor Love."
"Yeah, Doctor Love," Jim growled, saying his name sarcastically. "That guy you just talked to was my brother, and he's going through a rough time right now. How could you tell him to just walk away from his wife?"
"Isn't that what's already happened? Look, son-"
"Don't call me son."
The voice snickered. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, kid. Your brother is a grown man. He asked, I answered. He don't have to take my advice."
"Yeah, well now he's got someone validating his bad decisions."
"Maybe he had to call me because you weren't doing that."
"I have been trying to stay out of it."
"Good for you. Because that's what he needed from his brother, total apathy."
"I hear that a lot. Here, kid, have a song and have a good night." Jim heard the click on the other end of the call.
"That son of a bitch..."
Jim didn't care that it was nearly 3 AM. Banging a few times on the glass door of the Riverside College Communications Building, Jim stopped only when a familiar woman approached the door. "What are you doing here?"
"I want to see him."
Nyota Uhura's eyes narrowed. "Who him?"
"Doctor Love." Jim felt silly even saying the words. "He gave my brother some crappy advice, and I want to talk to him."
"Oh my God, you were the one that he was talking too?"
"Where is he?"
Uhura pursed her lips together, as if she was thinking. "One condition."
"What is it?"
"I get to watch." Opening the door wide, she let Jim into the building. "The radio station's down this way. But his show's not over, you need to wait another twenty minutes."
"Fine." Jim followed her into a room with several cubicles, the walls decorated with posters from the radio shows. "How's Spock doing?"
"He's well." Nyota leaned back in her chair. "It's an election year, so there's been a lot of policy writing discussions going on, but I think he's pretty content. Says he never sees you anymore."
Jim shrugged. "Got a strange schedule this semester. This project of Pike's..."
"You're not teaching?"
"One freshmen level physics and one astronomy class. Sulu's picked up all the others I usually do." Looking around her cubicle, he gave her a little smile, the anger ebbing slowly. "I was not surprised to find out you here, though it's a little late. Linguistics Department getting boring?"
"Hardly," she replied, kicking him lightly with her leg. "But like you said, when your department chair asks for your help..." Nyota shrugged her shoulders, pulling a sweater around her. "The radio station's in danger of losing funding, so Communications is partnering with them, trying to find ways of making it profitable. Besides, Leonard's a friend of mine. This show, it's like an experiment, and I don't like him being alone here at night."
Looking up, he could see a glass partition across the hallway. A man walked by, rumbled flannel shirt and holding a coffee mug in one hand, running his hand through his hair. Not too bad-looking, Jim thought. Not bad looking at all. He watched him another moment, then as the song ended the man disappeared to the other side of the room and soon Jim could hear Doctor Love's voice again.
"Well that's all for tonight, folks. If you're out and about, drive safe, and if you're home, turn off the lights and get to bed, what the hell are you still doing up… night all."
Some music began playing and Jim saw the door open, and Tall, Dark, and Rumbled walk toward them. Up close, Jim spotted a pair of eyes that seemed to radiate their own yellow light. "You needed me?" he asked, leaning against Nyota's door.
"Not me," Nyota said. "But this guy does."
It took Jim a minute to reconcile that gruff voice with the hot man standing in front of him. Doctor Love was… really good looking. Not nearly as old as Jim originally thought, but easily somewhere in his thirties. "Can I help you?" he asked, dark eyes carefully assessing Jim.
It took a moment for Jim to remember why he was here. "Yeah," he said, standing. "I don't like the advice you gave my brother."
"The advice I gave… wait," he said, back straightening. "You're Sam's brother."
"Damn right I am Sam's brother, and you gave him shitty advice."
"Which is more than you've given him, I reckon." The man turned to leave and began walking away.
"Hey, I'm not done."
"And I don't fucking care. Nyota, you gonna be okay with this guy?"
"Jim? He's harmless, don't worry."
"I'm not harmless, and I'm still talking to you." Jim's hand reached for the man's shoulder, stopping him.
The guy turned around, glaring at Jim, and used one hand to push Jim's hand away from him. "Good night," he said in a low voice, and this time, Jim didn't stop him as he turned and walked away.
It didn't get better at home.
Jim barely opened the door when he heard his brother. "What was that?" Sam stood in the middle of the living room, his face dark and angry.
So Sam had heard… "Look, I just didn't think-"
"No, you didn't think," Sam retorted. "This isn't any of your business, Jim. This is between me and my wife-"
"...who you aren't even talking to right now." Jim circled Sam, the two men pacing like wild animals. "Sam, you can tell me what's going on. Let me help."
"I don't want your help, Jimmy. I just- do you want me to leave? Am I bothering you here?"
"NO! No, Sam, I just- you wanna talk to some stranger but not your own family?"
"You don't get it, Jim. It's always been so easy for you, everything just goes your way. Always has."
Jim was stunned. "You are out of your fucking mind."
"Whatever." Turning away, Sam headed into the bathroom, leaving Jim standing there, mouth open at what he'd heard. Easy for him? Nothing had been easy for Jim, nothing. He'd worked for everything he'd gotten, paid for it in sweat and blood.
Laying in bed that night, he seethed, Sam's words mingling with Doctor Love's words, and Jim slept uneasy that night, not falling into a peaceful rest until near dawn.
Three days later
"Professor Kirk, I am so sorry, I don't know how-"
"It's okay, Chekov."
"No, I cannot believe- I am such an oaf-"
Jim shook his head, trying not to groan too loudly but there was something wrong with his neck. Fuck.
It was his own fault, he knew. And it had been such a good day. He and Sam had shared lunch, the first time they talked since the fight the other night. Then he stopped by the small office he shared with Hikaru Sulu. They chatted about Jim's work in Pike's Aerospace labs and which classes were going to be offered in the fall semester, and made plans to meet up over the weekend at the Rec center to shoot some hoops.
Jim could have never predicted it would end with him being carted into Riverside Urgent Care Center, but then again - zipping around campus on his bicycle with his earbuds playing music hadn't been the smartest decision he'd made that day.
At least he hadn't been too badly hurt when Pavel Chekov hit him with his car. It was a low-impact sort of crash, Jim being more startled than anything and falling off his bike. Pavel offered to take him to the emergency room, and when Jim said no, then insisted he go to the clinic across the street from campus. "Just to be sure, Mister Kirk. Please."
"I'm not gonna fail you," Jim half-heartedly tried to shake it off, but the young man had already bundled Jim into his car and before Jim realized it, he was being shuffled into the clinic.
"Can I help you?"
"I ran over my professor!"
"What?" The receptionist got up ran to the back as the other woman jogged over toward Jim, giving him a once over. "Do you need an ambulance?"
"No, really - I just skidded a little. No one was run over," he said loudly, glaring at Pavel. "I'm fine, but my neck hurts a little. Maybe a couple stitches," he added, holding up his bleeding hand.
"Let me get you to the back," she said. "Jan, is Leonard still here?"
"Room two," came a man's voice, loud and overbearing.
"I am so sorry," Pavel continued groveling, Jim trying to just ignore him now. He was trying to text Sam to see if he could come get him, since his bike was toast. He was about to hit 'send' when he heard that voice again, almost familiar.
"Oh it's you." Jim looked up and into the grumpy and rumbled face of Doctor Love. "What are you doing here?" he barked at Jim.
"I'm not here by choice." Jim snarled back, showing him his hand.
"What, you piss someone else off? They run you over?"
Chekov's eyes went wide. "It was an accident, I didn't see him. I am so sorry, I will submit to police if needed."
"Relax, kid, I for one am not gonna blame you for hitting this guy with your car."
"Gee, thanks," Jim muttered, trying to ignore Chekov's Russian babbling as the doctor began examining him. "Pavel, you can go now. I'm okay."
"Sit still." Jim tried to keep his eyes forward as someone shuffled Pavel out of the room. But when Doctor Grumpy's hands lifted his chin, their eyes met and for a moment Jim remembered that initial feeling of attraction to the rumbled DJ.
It annoyed Jim how good looking the man was. "Fantastic bedside manner you got there, Doctor Love. Are you even a real doctor?" he asked, that evident irritation in his voice. Looking down at the man's badge, Jim saw 'Leonard McCoy, MD'. "McCoy…"
"That's what they call me," he mumbled. Another few minutes passed in silence, McCoy cleaning and tending to Jim's wounds. "Gonna give you a tetanus shot. You allergic to anything?"
"Don't think so." Jim watched as his hand was numbed and the stitches neatly sewn. The door opened, and the receptionist walked inside to collect Jim's information. He gave her his name, address, insurance information, and employment details.
"You teach at the university?"
"A couple classes. Right now, I'm mostly working on a project for the Aerospace Engineering labs."
When he looked up, he saw that all the others had left the room, only he and Doctor McCoy remaining. Neither man spoke, and Jim was struck again by how good looking Doctor Love - Doctor McCoy was.
Until he opened his mouth. "Must be quite the professor, if your students are hitting you with their cars. Remind me not to take any of your classes. What else hurts?"
"I'm a fantastic teacher," Jim snapped back. "And my neck hurts," he admitted. "I think I pulled something."
McCoy grunted as he finished Jim's hand. He began examining the rest of Jim, checking his eyes and feeling the back of his neck. His hands were stupidly gentle, and Jim found himself getting mad. "On a scale of one to ten, how sore are you right now?"
McCoy nodded. "That'll be a seven tomorrow. I'm writing you a prescription for Carisoprodol. It's a muscle relaxant, it'll help with the neck pain. Don't drink alcohol for the next week or so, okay? And you might wanna take tomorrow off, rest a little at home."
Jim nodded, immediately regretting moving his head. "Okay. Thanks," he told them both, looking for his jacket. The pretty nurse gave him a few samples of the medication and a prescription, asking, "You have a ride home, Mister Kirk?"
"My brother's gonna pick me up," Jim told her, thanking her once more before leaving.
Jim felt like he couldn't get out of there fast enough.
Once Jim left the clinic, he began walking toward campus, looking for Sam's car. But one glance down at Jim's phone and Jim sighed.
Jim began walking toward campus, and sure enough, his bike was still there, on the side of the street. Kneeling down, Jim examined it, not seeing much damage to the cycle frame, but the chain would need to be replaced and the back tire was trashed.
"Hey." Jim looked up and saw a truck pulled up alongside him, Doctor McCoy's arm hanging out the window. "What happened to your brother?"
Jim gave a little shrug. "He didn't get the message. But I'm okay."
"Yeah," McCoy replied in a tired voice. "You need a ride?" Before Jim could answer, he pointed at the back of his truck. "You can put the bike back there."
Jim looked at him for a long moment, then exhaled, letting it all go. "Okay." After dropping his bike in the bed of the truck, Jim slid into the front seat. "Thanks," he said again, giving McCoy directions to his apartment complex and feeling a little strange now for the way he acted earlier.
It was quiet for a minute before Jim spoke. "So, you're a real doctor?"
McCoy laughed. "Believe it. I'm working part time at the clinic until this fall."
"Why the radio show?"
Now it was McCoy's turn to shrug. "A friend asked me to try it, on a lark. She thought it would be funny, you know. Someone like me giving love advice. But it's turned out to be kinda popular, I don't know…" He looked over at Jim, as if suspicious of what Jim was going to say. "What do you think?"
"It's pretty entertaining, I guess. I like it when you answer the questions," Jim answered honestly.
McCoy snorted. "Most of them, anyway."
Now it was Jim's turn to awkwardly laugh. "Yeah, most of them. Turn in here," Jim added, pointing at the building in the front. "You can drop me off right here." Jim reached out and offered his hand to McCoy. "Thanks for the ride. And I'm sorry I called you an asshole the other day."
"Don't worry 'bout either. Just be careful out there." Jim felt those eyes watching him as he pulled his bike out from the back of his truck. Then it was Jim's turn to watch as McCoy drove away and for the first time in what felt like forever, Jim was intrigued.
Jim was in the shower when his phone rang. Peeking down at it, he saw the unknown number, Atlanta area code. "Yeah, Kirk here," he answered, sticking his head out to keep the phone from getting wet.
Jim recognized the slight rumbly drawl and smiled. Straightening, he couldn't help the smile on his face. "Hey," Jim replied. "Glad you called."
After two days of unsuccessfully trying to stop thinking about McCoy, Jim had called Nyota and asked her to give the doctor his number. "Well, Nyota said you weren't too dangerous."
"Nah," Jim grinned. "Well, maybe a little. But hey, I am glad you called. I wanted to thank you for the other day, bringing me home."
"No need," McCoy told him. "Couldn't leave you there all pathetic like."
"Still." Jim hesitated, then pushed on. "I'd like to buy you dinner, to say thanks. Maybe," Jim began, "maybe we got off to a bad start."
There was a low chuckle on the other end of the line. "I've had worse," McCoy answered. "Okay, dinner. When?"
Eight o'clock was a little later than Jim usually liked to eat, but Leonard had a couple hours between the clinic and the radio station, so they decided to meet at the local wing place near campus.
"So you work evenings at the clinic, and then all night at the radio station." Jim dug into his plate of wings, curious. "I thought I had a strange schedule."
"It's only for a little while," Leonard answered, reaching into their shared basket of fries. "Come summer, Doctor Puri is taking a position in Des Moines and I'm buying out his share of the clinic."
Jim whistled low. "Momma always said there was money in medicine," to which McCoy laughed aloud.
"I dunno 'bout that, but it's just me, so I live simply. Save as much as I can for my daughter's college." McCoy tore apart one of his wings, chewing slowly. "So I looked up your webpage on the college website."
Jim grinned. "Oh crap," he laughed. "Was it awful?"
"Nah, pretty interesting. Makes you sound really smart. I didn't realize you really were Doctor Kirk. What was your PhD in?"
"Aerospace engineering. Specifically, orbital mechanics." Jim laughed when Leonard's eyes went cross-eyed at that remark. "It's really not that big a deal, it's just like any other flight mechanics… just geared for space programs." Leonard whistled low, still looking pretty impressed, which made Jim feel really good, despite himself. "Sounds more dramatic than it is really. Right now, I'm working for this special project for one of my old instructors. He's been like my mentor, really, through all my schooling, and I owe him a lot."
"Sounds like an important guy."
"He is, in a lot of ways. Pike's got some amazing ideas, and it's important work. At least, I think so. If this all works out right, it'll get me in with the right people doing what I want to do. Unfortunately, right now the money's in ISR, but that's not me."
Jim flushed pink. "Sorry. ISR is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems."
"Like those drones."
"Something like that. But that's not what I want to spend my life working on. I've been working with image processing equipment, things that will be used for space exploration, not sneaking up on people."
"Sounds like you love your job. Nothing matters more than that."
"It's a good life." A little lonely right now, but Jim understood that sacrifices had to be made. "I was the youngest PhD they ever hired, but I can't imagine doing anything else."
"I had no idea that Riverside College had such an advanced program."
"Again, I think a lot of that was Professor Pike. He developed the Enterprise program for deep space imaging here several years ago. Could have gone anywhere, play with the big telescopes but he wanted to stay here in Riverside. Somehow, the college scraped up the funding for him to develop a pretty top-notch program, if I say so myself." Jim's eyes got wide. "He's recruited some top minds for our department. And we got a Cray, which is bad ass."
"You don't say," Leonard's voice was teasing, but there was something warm and sincere in his eyes. "I guess I would be more excited if I knew what that was."
"It's a really powerful computer." Jim looked around and noticed that the restaurant was getting ready to close. They'd been talking for nearly three hours. Leonard had the same look on his face, and when they looked at each other, it was like they both knew what the other was thinking. "Let's get out of here."
Dinner ended and they walked around campus, the weather relatively mild for late January. The radio station was near the center of campus, and they had time so they meandered around. "How did you end up working with the radio station?"
"I met Nyota pretty soon after I got to town. She was having a bad time with her guy, and I gave her some advice that she liked, I guess. Next thing I know, she had me answering questions on one of the night shows, and then boom - Doctor Love was born." Jim was captivated by the way Leonard's face changed as he talked, showing each and every emotion he felt. Lines and shadows and crinkles as he laughed and sighed and frowned. "Only been doing it for a couple months, really, but it's popular, getting a little buzz. Whatever helps her out, you know?"
"Yeah," Jim replied, still curious about all of this. Leonard McCoy was a paradox. "You naturally a night owl?"
"Not really," Leonard admitted, shrugging. "But after my divorce I picked up all the night shifts at the emergency room back home, just to avoid being alone at my apartment. Got used to it, I guess." They bumped arms as they walked. "What about you? You party all night, sleep all days?" he asked, a smirk as he spoke.
Jim laughed outright. "You know how hard it is to get to get your PhD in Aerospace Engineering by the time you're twenty-seven? Accelerated programs, working through the summers. Giving up internships to plod through school."
Jim thought a moment before answering, not sure whether to give his usual flippant 'Because I could' answer. '"Because I wanted to - is that enough of a reason? Maybe just to see if I could? And," Jim added, speaking slowly, "I just wanted to get started doing things."
"Why not?" Jim answered quickly this time, the answer easier in a way. "Been kinda obsessed all my life." Telescopes and astronomy camps and sleeping under the stars. "Both me and my brother, we used to just get away sometimes, when we were kids. Take some food and water and go find a place at one of the state parks. But I could never sleep, you know?" Jim looked up, almost reverent as he spotted the constellations. Old friends. "I love the stars..." It was quiet a moment. Jim looked back at Leonard, a little self-conscious when he saw how intently the other man was looking at him. "What..."
"Nothing, Jim." Leonard's face was warm, though it was cold enough now that they could both see their breath when they spoke. "Nothing at all…"
Jim pointed out the buildings where he taught, and the lab where he spent most of his time. "So, a hometown boy," Leonard said as they walked past a small memorial. Black marble obelisk, with a name etched onto each side. "That your dad?"
"Yeah," Jim nodded, stopping. It had been a while since he'd been to this side of campus. George Samuel Kirk. "There was a big fire in one of the dorms. Killed two students and two firefighters - my dad and his partner, Rick Robau." Jim didn't know either of them, just heard the stories. Brave men, saved over a hundred college kids, going in over and over again for more until they were finally stopped by the flames. "It was a big deal back here, really shook up the town."
"I can imagine." Leonard bumped up against Jim, and Jim smiled sadly to himself, leaning back into that touch, strong and gentle at the same time.
"You're good, you know that?"
"Giving people what they need." Jim's hand reached down and found Leonard's, taking it in his own.
"...you're not so bad yourself, Jim."
It was nearly midnight when they got to the Communications building, with its radio antennae and satellite dish. "Time for Doctor Love to show up," Jim murmured, a smile on his lips as he pulled Leonard close to him. They stared at each other for a moment, that electricity in the crisp cold air that told Jim that this was good, this was right. Then Leonard moved first, tilting his head and closing his eyes, those soft lips pressed against Jim's.
One kiss led to another, then a third. Jim felt those gentle hands cradling his face, his own wrapped tight around Leonard's waist. "You goin' to the lab tonight?" Leonard asked him, pulling his face back enough to murmur those words into Jim's temple.
Jim shook his head. "Heading home. Got an early day tomorrow." He looked up into Leonard's eyes, shining bright. "You give em' hell, okay?"
Leonard laughed at that. "I'll try." One last lingering kiss, that amazing smile on Leonard's face, totally transformed and Jim knew he was lost. "Be careful going home."
"Sure thing, Doc." Jim watched Leonard punch the security code to let himself inside, and then headed back toward his car.
"...so don't worry, kid. It might feel bleak right now, but I bet somethin' wonderful's gonna happen to you tomorrow. You'll wake up and it'll feel like just another day, but that's when the magic happens.
Music began to play, happy and full of promise. Jim laughed to himself, hugging his pillow as he closed his eyes, and fell asleep.
The next couple weeks flew by. February arrived and brought chilly weather. Jim acclimated better to his nights, with a little help from Leonard. He got used to staying up at the lab until Leonard's program ended at three, then walking over and meeting him for a late night dinner/early breakfast at Denny's before saying goodnight to each other at dawn.
It was hard to call them 'dates'. Four o'clock in the morning, two men sharing war stories from their childhood. Old relationships, parental problems, college pranks… nothing seemed off the table. The middle of the night somehow made it safer, like sharing secrets over french fries and short stacks.
Leonard felt safe too, in a way. Older and wiser, someone who'd lived a bit more than Jim. A real profession, a proper grown-up. But the other man never once made Jim feel like he wasn't his intellectual equal. Gary had pouted whenever Jim bested him in anything. But Leonard seemed impressed, almost proud of Jim, and that meant something to Jim, a sort of warmth he didn't often feel before, and never so fast.
And Leonard kissed like a man starving for affection. Jim was more than happy to oblige.
Jim looked over and saw that Leonard was awake.
Leonard's daughter had come up the previous weekend, and Jim hadn't seen him for a couple days, but last night…
After Denny's, they'd ended up at Leonard's place and in Leonard's bed. Jim turned his head to look at the clock on his desk. 11:15 AM. "Hey." Jim closed his eyes and smiled as those arms wrapped tight around him again, Leonard's hands spreading wide across his torso.
Last night Jim had felt those hands all over him, touching him, stroking him, memorizing him by inches. Now they were pulling him into the shower and threading through his hair as he got down on his knees and swallowed Leonard's cock.
After they cleaned up, Jim discovered Leonard could cook a mean breakfast. "This is how we court someone down South," he chuckled, sliding a big plate of food in front of Jim - eggs and bacon and toast.
"You people are brilliant," Jim said, lifting his fork and digging in. "Mark me down for moving down South if this thing doesn't work out with us." Leonard laughed at that, but gave Jim a warm look that made Jim's insides tighten pleasantly. This was good, whatever it was, and both of them knew it. "Still always surprised when someone moves to Iowa of their own volition."
"I needed a change of pace. A fresh start." Leonard sat down with his own plate. "No one mentioned the fucking cold, though."
"It's not that bad," Jim laughed, shaking his head. But something Leonard said stuck with him. "Is that why you told my brother that stuff? About giving up?" he asked, taking another bite but looking intently at Leonard.
"It's not always giving up, Jim. Sometimes," he gestured with his hands, "it doesn't always have to last forever to be meaningful. With some people, five years is enough."
Jim knew what Leonard meant… but he didn't like thinking about his brother like that. "Just don't like thinking about giving up."
"There's giving up, and there's letting go. Letting go isn't always bad."
Jim didn't answer for a while, the two of them eating quietly. When Jim finished, he picked up his plate and took it to the kitchen. From here, he could see a skeleton on a stand in the corner of Leonard's living room, completely missed last night when they came in in the dark (and wrapped up in each other's arms). "Who's that?"
"That's Bones. He moved with me up here, a little joke from my friends back home." Leonard washed the dishes quickly, handing them to Jim, who dried them. "So I wouldn't be lonely."
"Bones, eh?" Jim nudged Leonard with his elbow. Leonard threw his arm around Jim's shoulder and soon they were kissing again, this time against the counter, dishes (and everything else) forgotten.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. Jim found himself all caught up in a wave of memories from that morning, and the deep desire to hurry up and get back to Leonard's tonight. It didn't surprise Jim when got to his lab and realized he'd forgotten to pack his dinner. "Want a menu?" Carol offered, waving at a small bulletin board close to her, filled with flyers from nearby restaurants.
Jim considered them, then was struck by an idea. It was just after six PM. "No, I think I'll go get something." Leonard had mentioned that he had a short shift at the clinic, so Jim decided to ambush him for a quick bite to eat.
It was a pretty afternoon, so he walked the mile or so to the clinic. Jan had gotten used to seeing him stop by a couple of times, and didn't look surprised to see him. "Hello Jim."
"Hey Jan. Doctor McCoy around?"
"He's finishing up, I'll let him know you're here."
But before she could go find him, Leonard walked out into the waiting area, talking to someone that Jim knew. "Give Doctor M'Benga a call, he knows that I've referred you to him. I think you'll like-" Both of them stopped and stared at Jim.
Right now, all Jim could see was Aurelan. His brother's wife. Her eyes were red and puffy. "What's wrong?" Jim asked, walking toward her.
"Hey Jim," she said, wiping her cheek. "Nothing's wrong."
"Bullshit," Jim told her. "What do you mean nothing, you're crying… what's wrong with her?" he looked over at Leonard, who shook his head.
"Jim, don't," Aurelan told him.
"You know I can't," Leonard said at the same time.
No. "Someone needs to tell me what's wrong." Jim walked up to Aurelan, trying to put his arm around her. "Aurelan, what's going on? Does Sam know that something's wrong?"
"Jim, just…" she shook her head and walked off.
"Dammit, Jim-" Jim turned on Leonard standing there, glaring at him. "You can't just-"
"No, don't 'dammit Jim' me, McCoy. Do you know who that woman is? She's-"
"...married to your brother, yes."
Jim felt gutted. "And you won't tell me what's wrong?"
"I can't. If she doesn't want you to know, then I'm not saying."
Jim shook his head and walked out, too upset to think about anything other than getting some answers. "Jim," he heard Leonard calling behind him, but right now, there was something else, something more important.
"Aurelan!" Jim ran down the street, nearly getting hit as he jogged across the street toward the car he recognized as hers. "Hey!" he shouted again, catching up with her just as she opened her car door.
"Jim, I really need to go-"
"Just tell me - are you okay?"
"What do you mean?" Aurelan asked, her face telling him exactly how 'not okay' she was feeling right now.
"You're seeing a doctor, that's not nothing. Tell me why McCoy wants you to go see another doctor. Are you sick?"
Aurelan's face fell, and Jim thought she was going to burst out into tears. "No Jim," she finally replied in a soft, low voice. The look she gave him spoke volumes. "I'm not sick."
It hit Jim like a ton of bricks.
Fuck... "Aurelan... are you sure?" She rolled her eyes at Jim, shaking her head, like she didn't want to talk about this. But this... this wasn't something Jim could keep quiet about. A baby. "You gotta tell Sam. He needs to know. He needs to know right now."
She laughed bitterly. "Sam wants a baby in our lives like he wants a hole in his head."
"He told you this."
Aurelan pulled her jacket around her more tightly. "I asked him if we could sign a lease for longer than six months and he bolted, Jim. What does that tell you?"
"It's not the same," Jim sighed, leaning against her car. She didn't look at Jim. Staring straight over his shoulder, Jim could see her steeling herself against his argument. "This... this is important."
"I should be important too, Jim - with or without a baby." Pushing his hand away from her car door, Aurelan got inside her car and drove off, leaving Jim standing in the street, watching, the knot in his stomach getting tighter. He needed to tell Sam.
But first, Jim narrowed his eyes and turned toward the clinic. He needed to talk to someone else first.
He charged in, heading for the back rooms. Jan stood up behind her desk. "Jim, you can't just-"
"I got him, Jan." Leonard turned to Jim, that irritated look on his face that only fueled Jim's anger. "I know you don't get the whole patient confidentiality concept, or that I might be a real doctor sometimes, but you can't just barge into my clinic whenever the hell you feel like it."
"You knew she was pregnant and you didn't tell me."
"I can't talk about this, any of this - and you know that."
"This is important, this is my family. You know they were fighting."
"I'm not discussing this with you."
"That is bullshit." They stared at each other, glaring and Jim felt that tightness inside him, confusion and anger and blinding rage. In the back of his head a voice spoke softly but Jim didn't pay it any attention. All he saw was someone he cared about keeping secrets. Telling him no.
All he saw was red. "Don't worry, you won't have to see me anymore." Turning around, Jim headed to the front door, that angry buzz inside his head.
"Jim." He could hear Leonard calling behind him, but didn't turn around. He heard his name twice more, then the door closed. And then nothing.
Jim sent Carol a quick text, telling her that he wasn't coming back to the lab. Ignoring her insinuation that he and Leonard had snuck off for an afternoon quickie, Jim jogged to his bike and headed toward his apartment.
Sam's car wasn't in the parking lot. There was a note on the sofa.
Hey little bro - I think I need to clear my head, get away and think about things. What I want to do next. Heading off to Pine Lake for a couple days. Don't worry. I should back by the weekend. Maybe.
Jim spotted Sam's cell phone under his note. "Figures," he shook his head. Sam gone off again, off the grid. No way for Jim to tell him what he'd found out. Jim was torn between being angry at Sam's 'head in the sand' nonsense in all of this and wanting to pack a bag and go join him, fuck all his own responsibilities. Didn't feel fair.
Days past. Jim got up and went to work. Jim listened to the radio show, even though it hurt. Jim went home. Jim slept.
Wake up, repeat.
Jim didn't call Leonard. Didn't keep him from checking his phone a couple times a day, half-hoping there was a text message or a voice mail from his grumpy doctor.
"Things don't always turn out the way we want them. But we get up and keep going. You gonna get up and keep going with me?"
"Yeah. Thanks Doctor Love."
"Anytime, sweetheart. This one's for you, and me, and all the others with tender hearts tonight."
It was nearly a week before Sam returned.
Jim woke up around noon to familiar sounds coming from his living room. 'Hey, you're back," he said, rubbing his face and watching Sam gathering all of his clothes, toss them into a duffle bag.
"Hi Jim," Sam replied, throwing an old t-shirt at Jim. "Sorry if I woke you. I think this is yours."
"What's going on?"
Sam zipped up the last bag. "I'm moving back home."
"What?" Jim flopped on the sofa next to Sam's bags, his head still foggy from sleep. "You're leaving?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I guess I just needed to clear my head, you know? Think about what I had, and what I wanted."
About time. "That sounds good," Jim agreed, nodding slowly. "You know, it isn't all about you, Sam. You need to talk to your wife."
Jim's brother looked up sharply at those words, but he didn't disagree. "You think I was wrong for leaving?"
"I'm not saying that," Jim said as Sam sat down next to him. "But yeah, maybe. I think that when you commit to someone, it becomes more than what you want. You should be a team."
"Maybe... I mean, I know that. It's just hard, when you're as selfish as I am. I mean, its like Doctor Love said. People grow, and you can grow together or you can grow apart. I want to grow with her," Sam told him, giving Jim a sad smile. "I just needed to hear that it was an option to cut and run, even if it wasn't what I wanted in my heart. Gave me permission to imagine that happening - and that's when I knew it wasn't what I was going to do, not ever."
"She's a great girl, Sam."
"She is. And I'm an ass."
"Yeah," Jim agreed, then laughed, as a cold realization hit him. "Runs in the family, I guess." Part of him wanted to tell Sam what he knew, that he was going to be a father. Just the idea of something so big and permanent scared Jim a little, but this wasn't his secret to tell. This belonged to Aurelan and Sam.
Sam nodded. "Anyway, I called her and told her I wanted to talk, and she said that was cool. She sounded like she missed me," he added, smile curling up on his face. "Besides - it's Valentine's Day. Good a day as any to make up with someone, right? To be with the one you want?" When Jim didn't say anything, Sam just shook his head, reaching out and ruffling Jim's messy hair. "Little brother, I know something's going on with you. Sleeping somewhere else, mysterious text messages. You got a sweetheart, don't you?"
There was a confident knowing look in Sam's eyes, and Jim didn't have the heart to tell him that things with Leonard were over. "I don't know what's going on," he said honestly, because he didn't. The idea that he and Leonard were over was unfathomable.
"Well, you'll tell me when you're ready." An hour later, Sam was gone - and Jim was alone again.
Jim left the lab before midnight, relatively early for him. It had been too quiet there, Carol and a couple of the other researchers taking the night off to spend with their friends and loved ones.
Now that Sam was gone, it was too quiet at home, too.
Laying back on his bed, Jim stared at the ceiling, trying to get comfortable. Something… was wrong here, and he couldn't quite put a finger on it. One bowl of ice cream, some cold pizza, and two beers later, he still hadn't come up with an answer to the twisting inside his stomach.
Except… maybe he had.
Leonard's eyes and Leonard's hands. Arms reaching for him. Those late night conversations where they found each other.
It was the middle of the night, and Jim was alone.
-I know there are some folks out there that can be friends with their exes. But it isn't easy, and it doesn't happen overnight. You gotta have that time to mourn, to heal. Eventually, there will be shiny pink skin underneath that scab, but you can't force it… and sometimes, it just doesn't happen. And that's okay, too. Jim told himself that it wasn't Leonard's voice that he wanted, he just liked the show, even if things hadn't worked out between him and 'Doctor Love'.
I promise you, having a woman fall asleep after sex isn't any sort of dig on your prowess. Think of it this way - you wore her out! Good job, pat yourself on the back for doing a good job. But if you wanna cuddle, then you gotta tell her. No shame in wanting to cuddle, man. Jim laughed. Yeah, that was good advice too.
Even… even what he told Sam, that wasn't so bad. Sam said it was what he needed to hear.
Maybe it was Jim who hadn't been listening.
Picking up his phone, Jim stared at it for a long moment before dialing. It rang twice. "You're on the air with Doctor Love."
"Hey," Jim started, then he stopped. Now that he was on the phone with Leonard, he didn't know what to say. "It's Valentine's Day."
He could hear Leonard pause on the other end of the line. "That it is," he replied slowly. "What can I do for you tonight?"
"I've got a problem. You see, I was seeing this guy, and he was really great. Kinda an asshole, but the sort that grows on you, if you know what I mean."
"I know the type," Leonard said. "So what happened?"
"Misunderstanding. Mostly me not listening, and him, a little."
Jim chuckled nervously. "I dunno… and I don't care, really. My fault, his fault - I just miss him and I don't know how to make things better."
"You talked to him?"
"What do you think my advice to you is gonna be?"
"GIve him a call? Just call and say 'Hey Bones, I was an ass and-' ''
"His name is Bones?"
"It's a pet name. It works for him"
He could hear Leonard laughing. "It's cute."
"I guess..." Already Jim was feeling better, lighter. "What do I do if he doesn't forgive me?"
"Then you're right back where you started… and maybe there's a lesson that you learned here. Good luck with that, okay?"
"Thanks again, Doc," Jim said, then heard the line go dark. Grabbing his keys, Jim ran out of his apartment and jumped in his car. Flipping on the radio, he heard this song playing, full of hope and solace.
Leonard's song for him.
It was a good sign.
It was cold. Really cold, like all the relatively warm temperatures that they'd been having over the last month disappeared, replaced by deep freeze that they all knew was coming. Jim didn't have long to wait, though, before he saw the door to the Communications building open up. He watched as Leonard walked Nyota over to her car, and then over to his truck, stopping when he spotted Jim leaning against the light post.
"Hey," Jim called out, just as the snow began to fall.
Leonard walked toward him, pulling his jacket tightly around him. "Hi, Jim."
It was awkward and it was cold, but all Jim could feel was this bubbling inside him, like he knew things would be okay. The look on Leonard's face… he wanted this too. Wanted them. "I'm sorry."
Leonard looked down, then back up at Jim. "I know. It's okay."
"Yeah?" Jim asked, stepping a little closer, until their jackets were brushing against each other and then Leonard's arms were around him and he lifted his own hands to Leonard's face.
"Fingers're cold," Leonard said, right before Jim pressed his lips to Leonard's mouth. Yes. "Come home with me," he murmured as their kiss deepened.
"Yeah," Jim nodded, holding on tight to the collar of Leonard's jacket. Snowflakes were landing on Leonard's hair, and Jim laughed, kissing him once more before sliding into Leonard's truck. They glanced at each other in the minute or two they waited for it to warm up. There were things that needed to be said - but Jim had a feeling that neither man really wanted to talk any more tonight.
They drove off down the road, Jim covered Leonard's knee with his hand. Technically, it was after midnight, February 15th, but it was still their Valentine's Day. It was corny and ridiculous and he knew it would always be special to them - the day they found each other again.
There were things to be said, but not now. Right now, they needed each other.
Everything else could wait.