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When it first started happening, he had almost convinced himself that he was hallucinating from too much booze, or too little sleep, or both.

As time went on and it still kept happening, he'd decided that it was a sign of an incipient nervous breakdown, the rational veneer that he'd been clinging to by a freakin' thread since his father died and his life went to total shit, sliding right the fuck off under the pressure of wanting something that he was never going to get. It was sublimated desire, refracted through an oddly chaste dream, like a memory of all the good parts of monogamy, without the really good parts, goddamnit.

But now that it'd been four nights without Jim Kirk sneaking into his bed to sleep, he was truly afraid that he was going to crack right the fuck up.

Because how the hell did it get to the point where he can't fuckin' sleep without Kirk, when all Kirk has ever fuckin' done was sleep with him?

If Leonard McCoy's life could get any fucking weirder, it would be … Jesus, he didn't even want to think what that could possibly mean, because it'd already been too fucking weird to make any kind of rational sense. Because, really. He will not get any kind of sleep tonight again, if Jim doesn't show up. And bitter experience -- does he have any other kind? -- has proven that a Leonard McCoy who hasn't slept more than an hour or two out of closing in on 96 hours is a fuckin' psychotic nightmare.

And he has the residency write-ups to back him the fuck up on that.

Chapter 1

+

It wasn't that he didn't want to fuck Kirk, and there was none of that 'we'll fuck up the friendship' bullshit about doing it, as far as he was concerned.

Well. There probably would be, but that wasn't what was stopping him.

First up, it was him. He hadn’t exactly been in the mood for fucking around after his marriage had imploded.

It wasn't like he hadn't gone through his periods of raging when he was younger, although it wasn't like he raged that hard, at least not on the Kirk Scale of Raging, which was pretty fuckin’ extreme –- well, he couldn’t say that for certain, not without a test drive to give him some sort of parameters beyond his own imagination –- but he had done enough to know what he liked, and what he didn’t.

And, speaking of scales, he was a doctor, and a 23rd century man, and he knew all about the Kinsey scale and where he fit on it. He'd done his share of fooling around with girls and boys in high school, and then he'd fallen in love with Jessica, and that was a sweeter thing, a hotter thing than just rubbing up against anyone, no matter how good their body was.

So when Jessica and he had broken up –- college, distance, the usual story –- he'd gone through a period of serious dogging it with other men. It didn't take anyone with more than an iota of psychological training to see that he'd turned away from women while he was grieving the loss of his first love. It was just the way he was. Hell, even back when he'd played ball he'd been a switch hitter.

And it wasn’t like he wasn’t a citizen of the galaxy, either, because he’d had his taste of strange, and it had been hot and good, but ultimately way too complicated, too alien.

He'd fallen for Tharis when he began the PhD part of his MD/PhD, and Tharis was finishing his stint as a post-doc working in Leo’s advisor's lab. Tharis was an Andorian chan and already twice bonded. After they began, Tharis had introduced Leo to his zhen, Talea. They were both were hot for Leo to be their thaan, and he reflected on the nights they'd spent together building their bond with pure pleasure, but … he couldn't seem to make a bond to their third, the chen Teara. Couldn't really get it up for the odd little sie, either.

Besides, at the time he was all of 22 years old, and they were all focused on making babies. He understood their desire, what with needing four bodies to make a fruitful marriage and all, but as happy as he was to go on with Tharis and Talea, he couldn't see the rest of it. He was, for all of his open mindedness, still Human, as it turned out. There was something about the pair bond that spoke to him.

And it was in that frame of mind, heartbroken from the loss of Tharis (and Talea, too), that the disaster that became his marriage began. He'd heard all the warnings about getting married in the middle of internships and residencies, but he'd also heard that no one made it out alive and healthy without a partner. And he wanted to be part of something, to be able to define himself as part of that duality of partnership. What he didn't realize until later was that the other old warning about marrying someone in the profession was a good one. Most of his friends who'd married within the field were still together, but the ones like him, the ones who'd wanted to retain contact with the non-medical world, or thought they did, were the ones who ended up divorced.
It wasn't just that, of course. What with having always been ahead in school, Leo was used to being with an older partner, or two, in the case of the Andorians. And Jocelyn fit that pattern, was a few years older than he was, and settling down meant something different to her than it did to him. He wanted the stability, the bond, the certainty of partnership while he was getting through the long preparation for his career. She wanted all the trappings of marriage, the house, the kids, the nice car.

At first, it was OK, not perfect, but OK. The long hours that he put in during his residencies had grated on her, but there was an end to that, and it was in sight. But just when he should have begun his practice, his father became suddenly, acutely ill. And then, whatever time he wasn’t spending treating patients, he was working in the lab to try and find something, anything, to make it so that he'd not lose his only living parent. David McCoy was not supposed to die, not before his own father, and his grandfather, for God's sake. He was supposed to live to be 120 years old like Ol’ Paw, at the very least.

But he hadn't -- and Leo had fallen into despair, into drink, into guilt. What good was his vaunted genius if he couldn't use it to save his own father?

Jocelyn had tried to understand, but both of her parents were still alive, and they weren’t close. She couldn’t understand what he’d lost. She’d only known Leo as a grown-up, as a serious-minded multi-disciplinary resident with a bright future in surgery and research medicine, as the only son of a loving, single father. The Leo that he’d been, the boy who didn’t quote mortality statistics for random accidents automatically, that boy? He had died when Leo was eight years old, when a shuttle accident had transformed him from the light of his mother’s life and the indulgent but exasperated older brother, into that only child of a single parent.

And the only person who knew that about him, knew the sunny, smiling boy who'd been part of a family, was David McCoy.

He tried to explain, or at least he thought he had, but it was of no matter. In time, cracks in the relationship became crevasses and then canyons, especially when it became clear that they’d never have children together. 250+ years of reliable reproductive technology and there was still nothing that medicine could do when a woman made antibodies to her husband's sperm, natural or synthesized from stem cells. And if that wasn't a perfect analogy for their fucked up relationship, the fact that she was allergic to him at his most basic, he didn't know what was.

Maybe in some alternate universe where people called him Len, they'd had a kid or two and were happy forever.

Or maybe Joss had called him Leonard all the time, in that hard voice like she did at the end, and they'd been able to have a kid or two, and still ended up with their marriage dissolved.

But here in this reality, where only his father had remembered and still occasionally imitated the way his sister Joanna had called him 'Lay-o' when she was a baby, just to make him smile, he'd let Jocelyn go, let her take all of her anger out on him, let her take it all. It meant nothing, anyway. It was all just stuff, and all of it just reminded him of how he'd failed: first, do no harm.

He couldn't help how he'd failed Jocelyn – but his father? Maybe in that universe where Leo had stayed married and been happy, maybe there his father had lived.

Fuck it. Whatever alternate universes there were, he was stuck in this one.

He had drifted for long days and nights when it had all gone to shit, drunken ramblings reducing his thoughts to incoherent what ifs. Whomever he might have thought to fuck -- just for connection, just to not be alone for a few minutes -- stayed the hell away from him once they got a good look in his eyes. So, he signed his life away to Starfleet, and why not? At the very least, he'd have a fucking job, a place to go every day.

There was fuck all left for him in Georgia anyway, and it beat looking at the inside of his eyelids. Besides, the next vantage point on his scintillating life journey was the fucking gutter, only looking up at the stars as he got stepped over. It didn't matter that he was scared shitless of going out there, into the void, up into the black. It was better to be terrified and informed, so as to be ready.

That's what he told himself anyway. That he was prepared for all untoward surprises, and wasn't that a fucking joke?

So. Fate sat his tired ass down on that shuttle next to the only other out of place, too-old Cadet on that goddamned ride.

The rest of them were all too shiny, too young, too fucking uniform in their cute red outfits. Their innocence was almost as terrifying as the mortality statistics for shuttle accidents, and he’d felt the despair rising as he looked around the cabin, before he’d gotten up and locked himself in the bathroom. Those cadets -- they'd never seen death, never watched bodies bleeding out on the table, never seen the disappointment in the eyes of someone they loved but couldn't do right by, never had to do something against all of their basic principles because it was the right thing to do, even when it was the exact wrong thing, as it turned out.

Most of them had no fucking idea that Fate was a capricious, mean-spirited bitch.

Except for that other too old Cadet, who was still laughably young. Jim Kirk, with his face a fucking series of bruises around fever-bright blue eyes, was good-looking enough despite them that he could have been an actor, porn or otherwise.

And, oh, he was seven kinds of jackass, Kirk was, but Leo could see it in his eyes -- he was a jackass who'd seen the darkness. Most people looked at Leo and decided he was nuts, and then looked away. But not Kirk. He’d looked at Leo, really looked at him, before he commandeered his flask with a flick of those pretty eyes and then given Leo his hand in friendship, and he never looked back.

Leo had wondered what the hell Kirk had seen when he looked at him so intently, but he doubted he'd ever tell him. It wouldn't matter anyway, he was sure of it.

+

They'd probably have drifted apart over the course of their re-education at the Academy, the both of them wearing those red uniforms but never letting the uniforms wear them, Leo mostly on the graduate student track, and Jim doing his long-put-off undergrad work, but it didn't work that way. They were late recruits, so it was just Kirk and McCoy who got processed together in the induction center in San Francisco. Leo was putting on the last bit of his shiny new red uniform when the penny dropped. He’d heard the fragments of conversation, but he suddenly comprehended them as he smoothed his new jacket down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kirk's hand clenching into a fist as he stood there, half-dressed and poised for a fight, in his black Starfleet undershirt and red uniform pants, and … Kirk, James Kirk. No fucking wonder the boy had the darkest bright blue eyes he'd ever seen.

For once, Leo didn't think, didn't calculate the odds and outcomes, just walked the few feet that separated them and dumped his gear next to Kirk’s on the bench. "I look like a right jackass, don't I?" he asked Kirk.

"You look fine," Kirk gritted out automatically, his eyes still fixed on the whisperers talking about what a fuck-up he was, compared to his father.

"Nah," Leo said, picking up Kirk’s jacket. He closed his hand over Jim’s fist and firmly unknotted it, slipping the jacket up his arm, and pushing him to shrug into the other side. He turned Jim to face him so that his back was to the whisperers, and adjusted the shoulders of the jacket with heavy hands, pressing down against the ridge of muscles to drop the boy’s shoulders out of his ears. "It's gonna take a while for this monkey suit to fit me." Kirk still had his head turned, listening, so he stared at the side of Kirk’s face while he zipped up the jacket. "But it looks good on you. It looks right."

Kirk's blue eyes tracked to his face with a snap and Leo felt the measure of Kirk’s gaze as he searched his eyes.

Kirk’s hard expression eased into something like a smirk, and he issued a puff of air, less than a snort, more than a breath. "You comin' on to me, Bones?"

"You couldn't handle this much man, boy," Leo shot back, spinning Kirk around to tug at the back of his uniform, and then running his thumb down from the base of Kirk's skull and pressing hard between his shoulders to straighten him the fuck up from his coiled slouch. It turned out that he was only a shade shorter than Leo when he stood upright. "And who the fuck is Bones?"

Jim just spun around slowly and smiled that sweet jackass smile at him, and Bones felt his eyebrow rising. "All I got left is muh Bones," he drawled out, in a sickeningly poor imitation of Leo's accent.

"Jesus," Leo said. "Tell me you're not going for Communications, because your accent is for shit. I shudder to think how you’d mangle peace accords with that tin ear." He turned Kirk around and shoved him toward the inductees testing center and away from danger, slinging an arm around his shoulder to keep him moving in the right direction, and that ... was that.

+

Chapter 2

+

When Leo came out of the testing center hours later with his luggage plus a full complement of shiny red uniforms, having been forced to not only do the standard tests, but to pass some graduate level bullshit medical boards that were laughably out of date, it was full dark, he was hungry, his head was pounding and he still had to find his fucking dorm. Of course, whether they called it a barracks or a graduate level residence hall or some other shit, a dorm is what it was, and man, that was just … he was a 28 year old divorced fucking idiot, living in a dorm. Just fuckin’ great.

“Hey.”

He rounded at the feel of a hand peeling the bag off his shoulder, trying to assume a defensive posture.

“Wow,” Kirk said, with a wide-eyed disbelieving expression. “We are going to have to fucking work on that." He blinked and scratched his head. "What exactly were you going to do next, give me a vigorous scolding?”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Leo asked grouchily, “Why aren’t you back at your dorm?” He spat the last word out with scorn, and Kirk laughed.

“Been there,” he said, wrapping an arm around Leo's shoulders. “Already boring. Let’s see what you got, Bones.”

“How the fuck did you get out of there so fast?” Leo grumbled.

“One, I didn’t have to take as many tests as you, Mr. Career Change, and two, the tests I did have to take were totally bullshit easy. I didn’t even rush,” Kirk wasn’t bragging, exactly.

“That’s Dr. Career Change to you,” Leo said sullenly. “And where are we going, exactly?”

“Your dorm,” Kirk said easily, “and then we’re going to get some real food, and some real booze. Classes don’t start for three days, and I intend to enjoy myself, Bones. How ‘bout you?”

“How do you know where my dorm is?” Leo asked suspiciously. “And stop calling me Bones!”

+

But he never fucking did, and after a while he didn't even blink or grouse about it, because it was the way it was. Bones went to Starfleet with Jim, and mostly everybody else called him McCoy or Leonard, and Leo just faded away, except for inside his own head.

The Academy was OK, and at least someone had the sense that God gave a turtle and didn’t give him a fucking roommate, because that would have just been intolerable, in so many different ways. Except it didn’t much matter, because Kirk had a way of just kind of appearing in his space, of being inside his room when he got home sometimes, late from a shift at the infirmary. There was no point in trying to change the code because Jim could bypass almost any system, the same way that he had hacked McCoy’s records to find out where he lived before McCoy even knew, or how he could make it look like he was in his bed on time for curfew. Because evidently, Kirk wasn’t just a jackass, he was a certified genius jackass, which seriously, so was Leo, although their aptitudes were different.

Still, that first semester, even though they’d both passed out of a bunch of requirements, they each had to do some baccalaureate level crap with the freshman, of all humiliating things. So, they saw each other in two classes. And when Kirk got tired of playing with the kiddies, which he did with regularity, they'd go off campus and drink and talk. Jim was almost five years older than most of his classmates that first semester, which he thought was a huge age difference, although Leo noticed that it didn't stop him from fucking anything he took a liking to.

But 18 was way too young for Leo, creepy even, because even when he'd been 18, they were too young for him, after having been with Jessica. Now that he'd just recently turned 28, they made him feel older than fuck, and tired, and just so … crabby. They came into clinic and they complained about everything, and were stupid and didn't get their shots and use the appropriate protection for their own fucking species, much less anyone else's. They were just so shockingly spoiled that it flabbergasted him, and made him more sour.

His biggest problem was with the physical requirements, though. Not the training, per se, because he was a doctor, not an idiot. He watched his weight and he worked out and made sure that he got enough cardio and did his strength training. He needed to be sure that he had the kind of stamina and endurance that the long hours of surgery required of him. If he ever went into a battlefield or other cataclysmic situation, he’d need to be prepared to operate for hours on end, and he couldn’t depend on back-up. Besides, that was his middle name, prepared. But the hand-to-hand requirement was just fucking useless for him, and he objected in general, on principle.

Leo'd always hated fighting, the useless macho bullshit of it. It wasn't that he didn't fucking know how. There were still people out there with early 20th century morality, who hadn't fucking woken up to reality -- people who thought God, of all things, imbued them somehow with a moral authority to pass judgment on boys and girls like Leo, people who liked the person, and didn’t really discriminate based on whatever parts that person happened to be born with.

When he was a teenager, young and skinny, and beginning to understand himself, he thought that more of those dumb assholes lived in Georgia than anywhere else on the goddamned planet. He'd had to fight his way out of a bad situation more than once, and first dumb luck and then an understanding of where to really hit someone and make it fucking hurt had saved him. But he'd never liked it, not really, even if it did feel good to give in to the rage that he felt because of their stupid, judgmental ways.

Jim, on the other hand, saw fighting as survival, as dominance, as a way of ensuring that he was not going to be controlled. It was a necessity, but he got off on it to some degree, or at least it appeared that way to Leo. It was hard to tell, though, because Jim liked to fucking win. He liked it more than any other person that Leo'd ever met, and he had a drive for it that Leo found hard to understand.

But by mid-term first semester, Leo was failing his hand-to-hand class, because he didn't fucking see the point of it. Still, it galled him to get a failing grade at anything, and he knew he'd have to do something about it, although he didn't know what.

+

His first mistake had been answering the comm, when he was tired and had been on his feet for hours at the infirmary. The academic year had all sorts of rhythms, and anyone who was on the medical side of things would tell you that if it was time for midterms, there was going to be some seriously rotten infectious crap getting passed around. This time, it was a bad 'flu, bouncing from species to species with abandon and becoming, not lethal, but completely fucking annoying, and it was taking out the medical staff one by one. So far, Leo had staved it off, but he'd been pulling double shifts and studying for his tests and it was goddamned late and he was tired and he needed a good, full night's sleep and some peace and quiet.

Still, when he'd seen the incoming code, he'd taken the call, forgetting that he was still wearing his uniform, forgetting that it'd remind his grandmother of her first dead son, his namesake uncle. By the time he heard the snick of the door, he was just about done with the conversation, but knew that Jim had heard the end of it.

"I just want you to be happy," she said to him, her voice sad and sincere.

"I know," he said back to her. "I know you do."

"Sleep well, sweet Leo," she said, and then her worn face disappeared from his view, and he was staring at his own reflection, his bone-weary visage blinking at him.

"Mom?" Jim asked from where he stood in the shadows.

He shook his head, and unzipped his jacket. "She's been dead a long time, Jim," he answered tiredly. "Grandmother."

“She’s up late,” Jim said.

“Yeah,” Leo said, too tired to explain.

Kirk finally moved into the light, and Leo could see the blood on his shirt, and the crooked, open gash across his cheekbone.

"Jesus, Jim," he said. "What the hell …" He knew that Jim couldn't afford any more demerits, that there were plenty of people wanting to see him fail, to see him fuck up. Jim had lived too long on his own to accommodate easily to a system that required him to be in bed at a certain hour, to show up for classes exactly on time. Even if he did all his work well, and he did, there were still certain professors who relished marking him down, no matter that Captain Pike was on his side. From what Leo could see, academic politics were still the same pile of ridiculous dogshit even when there was a military structure overlaid on top of it.

Kirk held his hand up. "It's not like that, Bones," he said. "I was working the door down at Finnegan's," he began.

Leo sighed. He knew that Jim didn’t have any money coming from back home, and that the work/study job that he'd been offered was one of those menial bullshit ones that meant that he'd be cleaning up after his more well-heeled classmates. Leo'd been working on a job as an orderly for him when Jim had gone ahead and gotten the job at the bar. He'd started out as a bar back doing occasional security, but the first night that he'd worked the door, standing out on the sidewalk in the foggy night, the business had increased exponentially. Leo'd watched it happen with bemusement, the mirror over the bar giving him a perfect view of Jim as he leaned against a stool and examined ID, flirting with man, woman and everything in between. Most nights, Jim left the bar with pockets full of comm numbers, not bruises.

"And Cupcake came in tonight and got a little overeager with some of the women after a few too many. Had to wrestle him out, and he did not want to go."

Jim looked as exhausted as Leo felt, and Leo sighed again. "Sit down, kid," he said, standing up. He stripped off his uniform jacket and went into the bathroom to take a piss, and wash his hands and his face, before he fixed him up. While he was doing all that, he brushed his teeth for good measure. After he finished with Jim, he was going to bed, do not pass go, do not collect 500 credits. When he came out, Jim wasn't sitting in the chair at his desk as he expected, but was perched on the edge of Leo's bed, barefoot, with shoes and jacket discarded on the floor, long legs crossed one over the other at the ankle. He was holding onto the edge of the mattress like he was teetering on a precipice, his striking fine-boned fingers white-knuckling it.

Leo sighed and dragged the chair over, and Jim pulled his legs up and made room for him to roll between them as Leo told the computer to turn the lights up. He studied Jim's face before he pressed on the orbital bones around Jim's watchful blue eyes. It looked like that fucker had gone after both of his baby blues, with the nasty gash just a potentially disfiguring bonus. “Cupcake wearing a bigass ring?” Leo asked.

Jim nodded.

“He’s a total dickhead, that kid,” Leo said. "I cannot believe that he still hasn't washed out of the command track. He would be a fucking nightmare with any actual authority."

Jim's flinch was subtle, and Leo wasn't sure if he'd pressed on a nerve with his fingers or his words.

"Didn't know you had any family, Bones," Jim said conversationally, changing the subject.

Words, then. "Not much anymore," Leo answered. He cleaned the cut on Jim's cheekbone, and Jim sighed and closed his eyes. "I mean, there's some cousins and aunts and uncles, but really, family is just my father's parents, and my great-grandfather."

Jim opened his eyes in surprise and raised an eyebrow. "You have a great-grandfather?"

"Yeah," Leo said slowly, his accent heavier because he was tired. "Not for much longer, though."

Jim was still under his hands, watching him with those eyes. Until he'd met Kirk, he's always thought that blue eyes were kind of cold, but Jim had the most soulful blue eyes Leo'd ever seen. They were so warm they were hot, the color like the sun on the ocean. They were far too inviting, making him want to dive right in, so he looked down instead and found the portable derm regenerator and applied it to Jim's face, breaking contact with Jim's penetrating stare.

"I'm sorry, Bones," Jim said softly.

"S'ok," Leo said gruffly. "He's almost 123. He had a good run of it." Up close, he could really see the pitting on Jim's skin, the small scars from of all things, a pox, and -- unless he missed his guess -- acne, along with a couple of old scars. He wondered why the skin was never regenerated before it scarred, wondered who in the hell took care of this boy, or fucking didn't, when he was young. Pox? Acne? They’d both been treatable for hundreds of years. As much as he didn’t approve of violence in general, sometimes when Leo looked at Jim’s scarred, beautiful face he wanted to take a shuttle to Iowa, and punch someone right in the face. Maybe someday, he’d figure out exactly who.

Leo cupped the back of Jim's head and turned his face into the light, studying his handiwork. Jim closed his eyes and seemed to sag a bit as Leo ran the regen over some of the developing contusions, still cradling Jim's skull in one hand. Jim blinked, jerked and then nodded against his hand, his whole body swaying with the tremor of exhaustion.

"How long you been without sleep, Jimmy?" Leo asked, knowing that Jim was taking an oversized class load, on top of his job, and trying to figure out how many nights Jim had been burning the candle at both ends. He steeled himself to let go of the face he found far too fascinating, before he did something really stupid.

"Long," Jim said, yawning. "S'ok, Bones."

"No, it's not," he said softly, then spoke before he could second-guess himself. "C'mon, you can bunk here. But take that bloody shirt off and wash your face first."

Jim was poking at the barely healed skin, wincing a little.

"Stop touching that!" he ordered and got out a hypo.

"Aw, Bones!" Jim whined.

"Jim," he said firmly, cutting off his protest, "he had a fucking ring on, and who knows what kind of disgusting microbial crap he had on his simian knuckles. Man up."

He jabbed Jim in the neck while he winced, pulling at the tender skin when Leo withdrew.

Jim scowled as Leo rolled away from him. "It's not about manning up," he said petulantly. "I'm allergic to a lot of shit."

"Now you tell me?" Leo asked incredulously. "Like what?"

"Binders and shit," he mumbled, as Leo groaned.

"Fucking awesome," he said, already searching through his medkit and his desk drawer to see what antihistaminergic remedies he had. Jim stood there, looking awkward and strangely abashed until Leo looked up again. "Go clean up," he ordered, pointing toward the bathroom. "And do not use my toothbrush!"

He was dozing by the time Jim came out of the bathroom, hypos loaded and within easy reach on the nightstand next to the bed. He'd heard the shower come on, so wasn't surprised to feel Jim's slightly damp skin drag against his before Jim shifted back and away in the too small bunk. Leo'd felt enough to know that Jim had thankfully put his briefs back on, because exhausted or not, that would have been just too much for him to withstand.

"Lights," he said to the computer crossly, and the room plunged into darkness. Leo rolled onto his side, facing the wall and giving Jim more room, feeling the press of the mattress as Jim mirrored his movement, but kept a distance between their bodies.

"Thanks, Bones," Jim said softly. He was silent for a long time, and Leo could feel his breath against the skin of his upper back, his neck. "I haven't done this in forever," he murmured, sounding like he was on the edge of sleep.

"What?" Leo whispered, roused enough from the sedating effects of Jim’s even breaths to ask.

"Used t'sleep with my big brother," Jim said softly, mumbling. "Long time ago."

"I didn't know you have a brother," Leo said, surprised enough to open his eyes, but Jim was silent behind him. "Jim?" All he heard was the soft sough of Jim's breath, as it painted his right shoulder with humidity. "Kid?" he whispered.

"Bones," Jim said foggily, and curled one hand over Leo's hip, thumb rubbing against the skin on his back. Leo felt the brush of Jim's hair against his neck, as if he'd curled closer to him, but Jim said nothing more, just slept on, his hand heavy and claiming.

Leo struggled to stay awake, to catalogue all the sensations so that he'd remember them in minute detail, but he was too tired, and the sound of Jim's breathing, the smell of his clean body, and the incredible heat that he put out was a soporific that pulled him under like a wave, lulling him into a dreamless sleep.

+

Chapter 3

+

He'd slept only a couple of hours when the sound of Jim scratching at his own skin roused him. He turned over, pushing Jim to lay on his back and groggily ordered the lights to 50%, pulling the covers away from Jim's bare chest. Jim had a few hives, but they were neither that prominent nor that acute-looking. Still, they dotted his arms and chest, disappearing below his briefs, and as Leo pulled down the covers to look at Jim's legs, he could discern a few here and there, even all the way down to his feet. He swallowed hard looking at Jim's body, the fair skin stretched over well-defined musculature. He really was incredibly beautiful. Leo pointedly did not allow himself to look at Jim's groin. He still had hours to sleep with him in this too small bed.

"Cold," the object of his admiration complained, throwing an arm up over his eyes.

"Itchy, too, from the looks of it," Leo said, and leaned up and over Jim to get at the hypos on the bedside table.

"B'nes?" Jim asked, cracking one eye from under his bicep. His hand had come up toward Leo, and although at first Leo thought it was to block the light, he realized that Jim had stopped himself from making a defensive move.

"Yeah, Sleepin' Beauty," Leo drawled, finding the hypo he needed.

Jim yawned and shifted underneath him so that his body turned a bit toward Leo, even though he remained on his back. He flopped the arm he'd raised to defend himself over Leo's shoulder casually, his fingers brushing up against Leo's neck and the base of his head, as if they were out drunk in a bar somewhere and he was at that stage where he was leaning on Leo, as if they weren't half naked in Leo's bed. Leo gritted his teeth, and Jim looked up at him drowsily, lashes fluttering over his sleepy blue eyes. "What?" Jim whispered.

"When's your first test tomorrow?" Leo asked, completely ignoring his question.

Jim scratched at his chest. "10:00?" he said.

"You sure?" Leo said.

"Yeah," Jim said. "Why?"

"'Cause this is going to make you sleepy," Leo said, jabbing him in the neck after he'd adjusted the dosage.

"Fuck, Bones!" Jim groused. "Could you fucking warn me next time?" He glared up at Leo, but he took the hand that had been laying on the back of Leo's neck like it was no big thing off him to rub at his own neck.

"Sure thing, Jimmy," Leo said sarcastically. "Roll over on your other side, you bed hog."

"Why?" Jim asked petulantly.

"Because my left hip hurts," Leo lied. Really, he was thinking that if he had Jim in front of him, then Jim wouldn't be able to touch him like he was his big brother, as Leo sure as hell wasn't having particularly fraternal feelings about his current circumstance.

"Oh, all right, old man," Jim said grumpily, kicking at the covers ineffectively to pull them back up as he turned over. "Lights?"

"One second," Leo said, recalibrating the hypo in case a second dose was necessary. A glance at Jim's back revealed that he had hives on the smooth skin there, too. He reached over Jim carefully, trying not to make contact again, but couldn't stop himself from looking down and noticing the curve of Jim's lashes atop his healing cheekbone as he lay there, itching. "Stop scratching them -- it only makes them worse," Leo ordered, pulling up the covers over them both. "Lights off."

In the flash before the lights turned off, he realized that the skin on Jim's back was not as smooth as it first appeared. He’d caught just a glimpse of a scar accentuated by the stretching from one of the urticaria, a thin line that traveled across Jim's back at an angle from his side in toward his spine. He couldn't swear to it, but he thought that wasn't the only thin line that the hives had revealed.

Before he fell into a troubled sleep this time, restraining his fingers from tracing the skin on Jim's back, his mind trying to assimilate what he'd seen, he felt the sole of one of Jim's feet pressing against his calf, like Jim was grounding himself with that one point of contact.

+

Too many years of being expected to be up and at 'em first thing in the day meant that Leo's internal clock woke him, no matter what, just after daybreak. If he'd drunk enough, or was exhausted enough, he could make himself go back to sleep, but he startled awake at the realization that he had wrapped himself around Jim, a fact that his dick was both aware of and quite pleased by. He was sharing Jim's pillow, with his arm underneath it and both of their heads. His mouth was pressed against Jim’s warm skin, on the curve where Jim's neck met his shoulder, his nose against Jim's neck. Everywhere, except for the one place he wanted to feel it most, he had miles of Jim's skin right up against his own. Most tellingly, his left arm was wrapped tightly around Jim's torso holding him in place, Leo's hand splayed flat over Jim's heart, and the fine examples of pectoralis major that shielded it.

He had to let go of Jim in increments, not because he was forcing himself to do so, surely, but because when he'd made a sudden move upon realizing his position, Jim had startled and seemed to rouse, which was definitely not what Leo wanted. The fewer witnesses he had to this situation, the better. He tried to move away from Jim in tiny degrees, first moving his pelvis away, and then slowly the rest of him, as the room lightened around them. The problem was that Jim kept moving with him, shifting back to get as much contact between their bodies as possible, and Leo bit back a groan when he felt the wall against his back, effectively trapping him as Jim pushed his ass back against Leo’s erection. Leo shifted to his back, pushing Jim away, and Jim grumbled in his sleep but begrudgingly allowed Leo more room, even as he pressed his backside against Leo’s hip. Leo waited a few minutes, tensely, his entire body throbbing in time with the pounding blood in his groin. He forced himself to breathe evenly, and when Jim was no longer stirring, and seemed to have dropped into a deeper sleep, only then did he sit up and move down to the end of the bed.

Jim roused when he moved, rolling over to where his body had been minutes before. "Bones?" he said.

"Just going to the head," he answered gruffly. "Go back to sleep."

To his surprise, Jim did just that, turning over onto his stomach and stuffing his hands up under the pillow that Leo'd been using when he’d first gone to sleep, so Leo got up out of the bed. It was bright enough in the room now that he had a clear view of Jim's back, which was exposed almost to his waist. Leo stood and rubbed at his eyes, making sure that Jim was unaware of his movements, then bent over and looked carefully at the expanse of skin. The flush of hives had faded, but there was still enough redness there that it highlighted exactly what he'd thought he'd seen the night before: a collection of thin, criss-crossing scars that were old, and showed some evidence of regeneration, but not enough to remove them completely from sight. They were so faint that if not for Jim's allergic response last night, he wondered how long it would have taken for him to notice them, but the sight of them now was enough to render him wide awake. He'd never seen such scarring in person, but he was in the midst of a section on recognizing signs of abusive treatment of political dissidents or prisoners of war, and he recognized what he was seeing, even as his mind could not truly comprehend it: sometime in the past, someone had taken a whip to Jim Kirk's back. Over his ribs, Leo could see the remnant of a deeper cut where the lash had torn into the flesh, curling around the curve of Jim's body. Leo felt suddenly abjectly ill and blindly murderous. Who in the name of fuck had done this?

Jim stirred under his scrutiny, and Leo turned away and crossed the short distance to the bathroom, hiding in the shower until his breathing and his heart rate returned to normal. Whatever arousal he'd felt upon waking up and finding himself holding Jim had been subsumed by what he'd seen. There was only one thought left in his head: he was going to figure out who had fucking done this to Jim, so help him.

+

Leo was sitting at his desk wearing clean uniform pants and a white t-shirt, lips pursed in his usual frown of concentration, when he became aware that Jim was awake. He'd replicated a cup of coffee and had purposefully focused on his work, not allowing himself to stare at the pretty picture that Jim made in his bed, sleeping with his face relaxed, that mouth of his that wised off too much and was always far too tempting, slack and slightly open as he breathed in and out. Jim had turned his head in Leo's direction when he'd come out of the bathroom after his shower, and there'd been an instant when Leo was sure that Jim was watching him while he dressed, but when he’d looked, there been no flash of color from those unmistakably blue eyes. Now, however, Jim's lashes were opening and closing slowly as he woke, arms still curled up under his head. It'd been the longest time he'd ever spent with Jim without the man saying a word.

"How're you feeling?" Bones asked, breaking the silence.

Jim stretched and yawned, picking up his head to look down at his chest. "Good," he said after a minute, rolling over and running his hands through his messy hair. "What time is it?" His voice was raspy with sleep.

"Oh-seven-thirty-five," Leo said, making the final notes on the comm that he was going to send to Commander Yu, whose hand-to-hand class he was currently failing. He'd met Yu before, when he'd come to the infirmary, and liked the man. He hoped he'd see reason, see that Leo’s role in Starfleet was not to fight, but to deal with the inevitable aftermath. He'd made a small notation on another PADD that just said 'JK: All ?Binder prot.', which was a reminder to use adding the allergy notation to Jim's record so that he could see his full medical history. The temptation to use his access to the medical records system from his console was almost all-consuming, but he would not do it here, not when he'd found Jim at his console more than once, working on something. It's not that he didn't trust Jim, exactly, just that he'd rather compromise the man's privacy someplace where it would be more difficult for him to figure out that Leo'd breached his trust. "How'd you sleep?"

Jim yawned hugely, and Leo sipped his coffee. "Good," Jim said, and he sounded surprised. "I don't usually sleep that much."

Leo nodded. "I told you the antihistamines would make you sleepy," he reminded him.

Jim rolled over onto his side and bunched the pillows up under his head, looking at Leo with that inscrutable blue stare of his. He looked entirely too comfortable in Leo's bed. "What're you working on that's already got you scowling?"

'Just trying to figure out the mystery that is you, Jim,' Leo thought, but he said, "I'm writing a comm to Commander Yu."

"Hand-to-hand Yu?" Jim asked.

Leo nodded.

"Why're you failing the class, Bones?" Jim asked, and Leo rolled his eyes, knowing then for sure that his decision not to upload or search from his console had been a good one. The boy probably knew what Leo's grade point average was for all of his classes.

"I'm a doctor, not a fighter, Jim," Leo said tensely.

"I know you know how," Jim said pointedly, and Leo looked up sharply. "But you're out of practice, and you weren't trained right." Leo's eyebrows raised to his hairline.

"And you were?"

"Yes," Jim said simply, sitting up. "What're you asking Yu?"

"To waive me," Leo said. He was not going to fight with Jim over this. It was an absolutely unnecessary and dubious 'skill' for a doctor.

"He won't do that," Jim said surely, swinging his legs over the side of Leo's bed and crossing them over each other at the ankle. His posture was a mirror of what it had been a few hours ago, but without the tension and exhaustion in his muscles. He raised his ankles off the floor, then levered his body up by his hands, as if he was working on a balance beam. He pressed his weight up and down a few times, then hung there holding all of his body weight upright on arms that weren't even straining for a full thirty seconds, his hands curled around on the edge of Leo’s bed, before he lowered himself to the mattress and began to stand.

Leo looked down, hoping that he wasn't gaping at Jim's display of dexterity and strength, and tried to focus on the list of arguments he had on his PADD, mostly so he wouldn't see the bunched up covers fall away from Jim's groin. He had a feeling the sight of Jim's morning wood would haunt his dreams otherwise. He was better not knowing anything for sure -- his imagination was bad enough. Instead, he hit send on the comm requesting the appointment and only looked up when Jim was safely at the bathroom door, where he could only see the long line of his back ending in his white briefs, and the tops of his thighs.

"I'm telling you, Bones, he won't," Jim said. He opened the door and turned so that his body was in profile, backlit by the overhead in the bathroom. "You're going to have to figure something else out." He could see the bulge of Jim's cock as it rose up from his body, high and tight against his abdomen, and felt the answering shift of his own, thankfully hidden by the desk.

"We'll see," Leo gritted out, forcing speech up and over the knot of hopeless want that was working its way up his throat.

Jim tilted his head and went into the bathroom as Leo searched for a suitably upsetting news story that he could use to tamp down the raging desire that he felt. He reminded himself that in no way had Jim ever acted anything other than fraternal toward him, and that for a creature as sexual as Jim, that was a statement as loud as a spoken rejection. This was his problem, and his alone. And he was just going to have to fucking deal.

+

Leo had hopes of carrying his case with Commander Yu despite Jim’s discouragement, at least at the beginning of their late in the day appointment. His only other interaction with Harrison Yu had been professional, when Yu had come to take his statement and impressions in regard to a potential crime. The particular patient had been a young girl, just 18 and away from home for the first time. She’d been raped, and brutally, by an upperclass Cadet. Yu had been charged with determining whether or not her alleged rapist should be turned over to civilian authorities -- typically, the alleged rapist was denying that there had been a crime.

Leo had not minced words detailing the violence that Cadet Federova had suffered. After taking Leo’s statement, Yu had asked him to compare collected DNA from Cadet Federova with a sample from the purported rapist, and Leo’d been happy to oblige. The rapist had been less than happy to surrender his DNA, and had protested vigorously, despite the fact that the law had been on Yu’s side on this issue for hundreds of years. When the rapist saw that he wasn’t going to win the battle, he'd struggled against the two ensigns that were holding him, and started in on the whole despicable routine that men like him always used: the victim had been the initiator, it was consensual, she liked it rough. Leo, who’d seen firsthand the damage to the unconscious girl’s body, had not objected one iota when Yu signaled the ensigns to let the rapist go, and then knocked him right the fuck out so that Leo could get his samples.

That had been the last time he’d seen Yu, and he had hopes that the shared experience and the fact that they were more peers in age, at least, would overcome the rank imposed by the command structure. After all, when Leo’d been asked by the rapist’s lawyer if he recalled the rapist being knocked out by Yu, Leo’d conveniently had amnesia on the topic.

However, Yu remained entirely, impassively unmoved by Leo’s assertion that as a doctor, his role would be taking care of patients, not actively fighting. Yu was a couple of inches taller than Leo and all muscle, with close-cropped black hair bristling out from his skull. After listening to Leo’s arguments, he uncrossed his well-defined arms from across his chest and shot him down with absolutely no compunction, adding, “In point of fact, I think you’d be better served by a change of section leaders, as Cadet Gaines suggested in her notes.”

Leo raised his eyebrows. “Gaines suggested I swap sections?”

Yu brought up a screen on his console. “She did. She said that she felt that you needed more remedial instruction to account for ‘an extreme deficit in basic training and technique’ and suggested that you be swapped to the section that meets at 1000 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Leo’s jaw was so tight that he could hear his teeth grinding, because unless he missed his fucking guess, and he knew that he hadn’t, that was the section that Kirk was in. That little fucker had hacked his records, and Gaines’ account to boot. The fact that the section time fit into his schedule without him having to adjust his shifts at the infirmary and everywhere else was just another little galling sidenote.

“And who, exactly, is the section leader for that section?”

Yu looked puzzled but answered his question, “Cadet Hanlon,” he answered.

Leo goggled. “Cupcake?” Oh, Kirk was treachery personified, but he was as bright as he was manipulative.

“Huh?” Yu said.

“God Almighty,” Leo swore. “I’m not going to mince words here, Commander, and I am speaking to you now in my official capacity as a doctor, not as a Cadet.” He paused, and Yu nodded. “The first time you and I ever interacted, it was in a situation that proved that the psych evals for Starfleet are by no means infallible.”

Yu was very still in his chair, listening to Leo with all of his attention. “Go on.”

“Vesting any authority in Cadet Hanlon, especially over a section that includes students who require remedial instruction, is an absolute mistake,” Leo said. “He is a short-tempered bully. I’ve seen the results of his handiwork more than once, and in my professional opinion, he is unsuited for any kind of command.”

Yu was studying Leo’s face. “I’ve seen no such charges in Hanlon’s record.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t always get Cadets, especially the underclassmen, to proffer charges when they’re appropriate, and farther than that I cannot go without breaching confidentiality which I’ve sworn to uphold,” Leo argued. “But I will tell you, on my word as a doctor, that what I’m asserting here is true, and I’ll ask you this: how high is the injury rate in his section, compared to the others?” Leo knew that he’d struck a blow by the subtle shift in Yu’s face.

Yu’s expression was now implacable. “Doctor McCoy,” he said, “I expect that you’ll attend the 1000 section tomorrow morning.” He held up a hand to forestall any argument from Leo. “Your arguments have convinced me that it is entirely appropriate that you be shifted to this section, as you are uniquely qualified to render a judgment I now find myself in need of. I expect that you will report any observations that you feel support or refute the arguments that you’ve recently made to me, immediately, and without fail.” He paused. “That’s an order.”

Fuck.

“Yes, sir,” Leo said, just managing to keep the anger out of his voice as he saluted and left the office.

Goddamn Jim Kirk. Sometimes it was really no wonder that people wanted to punch him in the face all the time.

+

Chapter 4

+

Leo was practically staggering with exhaustion by the time he got back to his room. It was well after midnight, and long after his shift at the infirmary was supposed to have ended. He entered the passcode for his room and dumped the bag that held his uniform into the laundry chute, punching in the code for biomedical controls with more than his usual vehemence. He didn't even flinch at the smell of sick that rose from his fouled pants in the interval that the chute was open. There had been so much puke throughout the past few hours that he was smelling it all the time, and was almost insensible to the stench, although he had left his supposedly now clean shoes outside the door.

He ordered the lights to 25% and moved immediately to the bathroom, stripping off the scrubs that he'd worn home as he did so.

Goddamn fucking Starfleet. They'd gone balls out on their recruitment drive, the one that had bagged him and Kirk, taking advantage of the galactic economy being in the crapper. He had no fucking doubt whatsoever that the severity of the 'flu raging through the campus was the direct outcome of the resulting overcrowding. A typical class had about 1200 recruits in it -- the class of '58 had more than 1600, with the overage not only in older students like himself, but in fucking kids. Literally. One of the kids he'd treated tonight had looked like he was 12, although his medical records listed him as 15. Starfleet had jammed 'em in every which way, creating awesome germ vectors at every turn. They'd declared rooms designed for two ‘suites’ putting in bunk beds – hell, Jim's room had been a single, but they'd jammed two beds in there, putting the desks underneath their elevated platforms.

Morons. He had a mind to write a scathing letter to … somebody, especially after tonight's fiasco. He washed, even inside his nostrils, trying to get the pervasive stench out of his head, then toweled himself off roughly, wincing as he hit the hypo bruise on his neck. Maybe Kirk had a point about his heavy hand, but he'd needed to give himself a goddamned immuno-booster with all the shit floating around the infirmary. He still could not believe that O'Brien had fucking puked all over his pants and shoes. That left five attendings to cover all the shifts, and with the nurses going down like flies, it would be a wonder if they'd all survive through next week. As it was, they'd had to stow O'Brien and two of the nurses in the on-call room for the time being. Hopefully, they'd be ambulatory enough in the next couple of days that there'd be someplace to bunk during all the extra shifts he'd have to cover.

He stomped over to his console to check one last time, but only confirmed what he suspected. Jim Kirk, troublemaker extraordinaire, was still mysteriously unavailable and not answering his comms.

Fucker.

He glanced over at his bed, willing himself not to see the image of Jim waking up there, his face nestled in Leo's pillows, all that skin pressed to Leo’s sheets.

He ordered the lights off before he was even under the covers, letting out a tired groan as he became blessedly supine and began to relax, and just before it hit him that he could smell Jim everywhere in his bed. He turned his head into the pillow, and there it was, the same scent that he'd woken up to this morning, the clean smell of Jim's skin and the hair at the base of his skull. He felt his tired body stir with arousal, but he pushed it away, turning over and burying his face in the scent.

Jim.

He slept, ignoring the empty ache in his arms.

+

At 0950, Leo stood watching his new hand-to-hand section fall in, watched Cupcake at the front of the room, flirting with some of the prettier girls, and talking shit with the bigger guys. Sourly, he ruminated that putting a hothead third year in charge of a section was probably also a result of the overcrowding that was currently causing so much misery. He yawned expansively. He'd been up since 0500, had already done his rounds and assessed all of his patients. He had a Xenobiology midterm right after this bullshit section, and then he was back on at the infirmary until God knew when. O'Brien was still flat on his ass, and there were so many Cadets on inpatient status that they were going to have to start stacking them in the hallways soon. At least no one was dead, just sick as fucking dogs.

He studied the room as he waited for Kirk to show up, noting that in the back of the room there was a huddle of little kids. Over on the other side of the room were a number of grad student recruits, some of them even older than he was. A couple of them looked like they hadn’t willingly undertaken any form of exercise since they'd left high school, and he idly wondered if he had enough of the right meds in his kit to take care of someone if they had a cardiac episode. Christ. He glanced in the mirror at himself – he might not be a trained fighter, but at least he was in fucking shape.

At 0957, Kirk bounced into the room, all sunshine and good cheer, but with an element of seriousness underneath his usual bravado that immediately made Leo wary. He nodded at Leo from afar, but moved into the middle of the room, standing slightly off-center from where the instructor would stand. Leo narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out just what the fuck he was doing, but Cupcake blew a whistle and ordered them to fall in.

The mirrored wall opposite them allowed Leo to keep an eye on Jim while Cupcake was yammering about some shit at the head of the group. Kirk was stretching out slowly but surely, muscle group by muscle group. Where he'd chosen to stand, he was easily discernible by the littlest of the Cadets, some of whom looked liked they'd barely entered puberty. They were still clustered at the back of the class in a fruitless effort to make themselves invisible.

With a shock, Leo realized that Jim was passively instructing the kids. A number of them were echoing his movements, adjusting their feet to stand like him as he lifted his feet deliberately, shifting their posture and mimicking his movements. As Leo watched, Jim's eyes tracked the kids who were focused on him and repeated movements as necessary until most of them were doing it correctly. He also used the mirror to make eye contact with the kids who weren't paying attention to him, and damned if many of them didn't start following what he was doing, based on a simple look from Jim. He noted with surprise that they weren't the only ones. Many of the older students in the section were also following Jim's movements in the mirror and running through the warm-up.

Cupcake finally stopped talking and ran the class through some sparring postures for today’s skill, then went on to demonstrate a fight routine with one of the more experienced members of the class. As he got closer to the end of the run through, Leo could feel the tension in the class as it rose, and understood why when Cupcake began surveying the littlest kids in the class, ready for the next part of the demonstration. As Cupcake moved to the back of the class, Leo noticed with horror that Federova was among the kids who were hiding. Although she was older than most of them, she was petite and fine-boned enough to look way too fragile to withstand any abuse. Without even looking, he knew that Jim was going to do something to stop Cupcake from picking Federova or any of the other small kids; knowing Jim, whatever he'd planned to do would end up with Leo patching him up for the second time in three days. Without forethought, he struck first.

"Cadet Hanlon," Leo said, using the voice that had cowed idiot interns in Mississippi and Georgia, and in just a few weeks had begun to make the incompetents at the Starfleet Infirmary cringe.

"Yes?" Hanlon said snidely. "You want to volunteer, Cadet?"

"It's Dr. McCoy," Leo said with no hint of humor in his voice whatsoever. "And I'm exercising my authority in these matters to tell you to choose a more weight appropriate Cadet to spar with. Now."

"For what reason?"

"When you get your medical degree, you can question my reasoning,” Leo snapped. “Until then, you will adhere to regulation and cede to a doctor's orders."

"I don't think you have the authority to do that," Cupcake said.

"He does," a voice piped up from the front of the class, and McCoy turned to see the overweight guy he'd been worrying about moving toward him

"And who're you?" Cupcake said.

"Phillips," he answered. "JAG. The Doctor has precedence." He pinned Hanlon with a surprisingly hard stare, not backing down, and McCoy reassessed his original opinion. Phillips might be flabby, but he had balls.

"Hey," Kirk said suddenly from right next to Leo’s elbow, and his head pivoted toward him in surprise. Jim put an arm around his shoulders and subtly moved Leo out of the way. Well, well -- he guessed it wasn't only the little kids that Jim was interested in protecting. "We're wasting time, so … I'll do the demo with you, Hanlon."

"Fine," Hanlon said tightly, and went on to 'demonstrate' by trying to piledrive Jim into the floor.

Leo felt his jaw clench as he watched them fighting. Oh, he was going to have a lot to say to Yu.

+

Jim wasn't at the door when he got to Finnegan's later that night, and the bar was half empty in a way not typical for a Friday. But between midterms, the 'flu and the fact that there was only an hour until last call, it wasn't really that surprising.

He scanned the room, looking for Jim but not seeing him. He wasn't disappointed. His Jim-sense was telling him that he was here, somewhere. Leo signaled the bartender and got a beer and a shot, retreating to one of the booths in the back that gave him a good perspective of the room, and dug in his pocket for his comm PADD. The infirmary schedule had been in the middle of being re-set when he’d finally left, and he was hoping that there was going to be some room for him to study between shifts. Not all of his classes were guts, and his work ethic was too firmly engrained for him not to be prepared.

His shot was gone and he was halfway through his first beer and an interesting article about a new surgical nerve grafting technique when a fresh shot and a beer was plopped down in front of him, its twin hitting the table next to him where Jim Kirk was sliding into the booth.

"So," Kirk said. "How pissed are you, Bones?"

Leo narrowed his eyes at him. "If you were going to fucking hack something, kid," he growled, "why didn't you just waive me out of the class? I don't appreciate you making me your …" he choked on the words 'whip hand', which had almost slipped out.

"What?" Jim asked, nudging a strong thigh against him as a prompt.

"You shoulda just waived me out of the class, Jim."

"No, Bones," Jim said simply, like Leo was a stubborn child, which only made him angrier.

He snorted and Jim pressed his point, along with his thigh against Leo’s as he spoke. "It's important, Bones," he said succinctly.

"Not for me, it isn't," Leo insisted. "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a warrior. I've sworn oaths not to harm others, and I meant them."

Jim was listening, but just like Yu, he seemed impervious to Leo's arguments. "This is Starfleet, Bones," he said.

"I fucking know it's Starfleet, Jim! But they didn't want me to join up so that I could fight for them!" He held his hands up. "They wanted these! They wanted me because I'm a surgeon, and a damned good one -- why the hell would I ruin my best instruments by punching people with them?"

Jim listened to him rant, twirling Leo's empty shot glass and watching him with those fathomless blue eyes, then said, "So what are you going to do if you're on a ship somewhere, and it gets overtaken? How're you going to protect yourself if you beam down into the middle of a hostile situation?"

"I'll hypo 'em!"

Jim laughed and rubbed his neck where Leo'd stuck him. "Yeah, fast draw, but …" His smile slipped, and that serious Jim, the one that had been teaching those little kids today, was looking right at him. "Shit happens, Bones, and you've got to be fucking ready. You've got to drill until your body knows what to do, and maybe you'll never have to throw that punch, but if you have to, it’ll just flow." He downed his shot.

And there was something in the way that he said, 'Shit happens' that made Leo's heart break a little, a certainty behind the words that left him cold.

"Yeah," Leo said gruffly, downing his shot. "Shit happens." He paused. "But you’re doing a good thing with the little kids in the section. Protecting them."

"No, I'm fucking not, Bones!"

Jim's sudden vehemence took Leo by surprise. He wasn't surprised to miss the press of Jim's leg against his.

"I'm not fucking helping them at all," he said hotly. "Nobody is, because they have to know how to take care of themselves, and they're not fucking getting taught how to do that. They don't even fucking know how to stand right, how to assess their own strengths, nothing." Jim fiddled with the empty shot glasses, making a small pyramid out of the three of the, before he knocked them down with one flick of his finger. "They're setting those kids up to be cannon fodder," he said gloomily. "They're not learning anything, and what they are learning is shit."

"What're they learning, Jim?" Leo asked quietly, honestly amazed by Jim's passionate statements.

Jim sat there for such a long time that Leo was afraid that he wouldn't answer at all, just clench his jaw and let his ticking facial muscles speak for him, but then he took a big hit of his beer, moving as if he was going to stand up before he stopped himself. "They're learning that ‘might equals right’, that the biggest bully wins," he said tightly. He drained the rest of his beer, and cracked the empty glass against the table. “And I fucking refuse to accept that." This time, he did stand up.

"I've got to finish up in the back," he said. "See you later, Bones." Kirk walked away without looking back.

+

Leo liked to think that he was a pretty good prognosticator. It was part of a class of skills that allowed him to be a good diagnostician and a good doctor, and because of that, he was pretty sure he knew how Monday's Hand-to-Hand section was going to go.

Cupcake was clearly pissed from the get-go, and it was entirely predictable that he was going to reassert his ‘authority' by teaching someone a lesson. By Leo's reckoning that meant that Cupcake was either going to pick Phillips or himself for the demo. Leo’s money was on himself, and although he worried that the still overloaded infirmary couldn't lose one more attending for the hours it would take to patch him up, he was rooting for Cupcake to pick him, since Yu had silently slipped in the side door.

The one thing that Leo hadn’t counted on, in so many ways, was the Jim Kirk Principle, which in this case meant that Kirk did everything he possibly could, taunting Cupcake, and egging him on, to make it so that Cupcake had to fight him, and not Leo. As the demonstration wore on, and Cupcake couldn’t get a hand on Kirk, he got more and more angry.

And Kirk? Kirk just got more calm, but more mouthy at the same time, until the instant that he pinned Cupcake definitively, signaling the end of the demonstration. Except, of course, that Cupcake had other ideas, so after Kirk walked off the mat, Cupcake stood up and gave Kirk a heavy shot right to the kidneys. Unfortunately for Cupcake, that earned him an elbow to the face as Jim spun, pulling Cupcake’s head down before he threw an uppercut that felled the bigger man like a fucking tree.

Up until that moment, Leo had not realized just how very much Jim was holding himself back. He got out his medkit to make sure that Cupcake wasn't dead, but positioned himself so that he could see what happened next.

The long moment of silence was broken when Kirk swung back around to face the group. “OK,” Kirk said, voice raspy, “what’d I do wrong there?” He wasn’t even breathing that heavily.

“Um …” one of the littlest kids in the back said, “You turned your back on him, sir.”

Leo quirked an eyebrow at the kid's tone, but Jim was still calm and serious-faced.

“It’s Kirk,” Jim said, “or Jim. And you’re right …” he looked at the kid quizzically.

“Balasubramanian,” the kid piped up.

“Good answer, Subie,” Jim said breezily, while Balasubramanian beamed. “Why was turning my back wrong?”

There was another long pause.

“Because he fights dirty?” Another kid said, as if he wasn’t sure.

“Listen up,” Jim said, very seriously. “Everybody fucking fights dirty. Everybody. Because fighting, when it's real, is about survival, about one of two basic instincts: fight or flight." He counted off the two instincts on his long fingers, and let that statement sink in, while Leo stared at him, wondering who the hell Jim Kirk really was. "And if you're going to survive out there in the black, you damned well better know how to do both."

Jim clapped his hands and rubbed them together, then began pairing a bunch of students on the mats, reserving the least in shape and littlest kids for a second group. He ran the first group through a basic drill, put one them in charge of calling out the forms. He pushed Bones into that formation, and then he went back to the group of young kids and started working with them on posture and balance. He got teeterboards out for some of the kids, and made them work on them. Leo glanced over his shoulder at Yu, who was no longer hiding his presence in the room, but had made no motion to stop Kirk, and was watching with an assessing expression on his face.

When section was over, Yu walked directly over to Kirk, who didn't flinch and wasn't exactly defiant, but wasn't backing down, either. "I guess you think you should be teaching this section," Yu said.

"I think someone should be teaching this section," Jim said plainly. "And actually teaching something of value."

Yu's answer was to strip off his black commander's tunic and to take off his shoes, and Leo felt his throat go dry at the sight of Yu's muscle-bound physique under his t-shirt. Christ Almighty, but somebody was going to get hurt, and he wasn't going to stand around and watch. He ordered Cupcake to go to the infirmary, re-packed his medkit and walked out the door of the gym, only catching a glimpse of Jim's focused expression as he and Yu began their battle.

Two hours later, just after he began his shift, Yu and Jim came into the Infirmary, leaning on each other and laughing. Jim's face was beat to hell, and he was favoring his left side. Unless Leo missed his guess, his left shoulder was out of the socket and his ribs had taken a pounding. Yu was limping and his face was covered with blood from his clearly broken nose.

Leo rolled his eyes and ordered them both to the one area not filled with 'flu patients, and began the laborious process of patching them up. Because he was pissed, he took care of Yu first.

Yu squinted at him through swollen eyes and announced, "Your friend has just become the first ever, first-year section leader."

"Imagine my surprise," Leo said sarcastically. "And stop fucking moving unless you'd like me to leave your nose at that angle."

Yu quieted down and only talked to Kirk about lesson plans and expectations when Leo'd moved on to his leg. He left after ordering Kirk to appear at his office at 0800 the next day, clapping Leo on the back while he was assessing Jim with his tricorder.

Jim was silent while Leo stepped toward him, but shifted to the edge of the bed and spread his legs so that Leo could stand between them. Leo'd never had a patient that so aggressively wanted the doctor to invade his personal space. "I'm going to make a lesson plan for you, too, Bones," he said quietly. His color was still high from fighting, and Leo could practically hear the adrenaline zinging through his system.

"That a fact?" Leo drawled, lining up hypos on the tray with some satisfaction.

"Yep," Jim said, and Leo started at the feeling of Kirk's hand wrapping itself around his hip the way it had the other night, and he looked up, straight into Jim's bloodshot blue eyes. "Going to make sure that you're capable of disarming an enemy, teach you to use whatever weapons you have at hand to defend yourself and sickbay."

Leo picked up one of the hypo sprays menacingly, and he heard Jim chuckle, then felt his long fingers flex on his hip, his thumb rubbing against the ridge of his external obliques. Jim was watching him, his eyes twinkling with amusement and something that looked a lot like affection, before he closed his eyes and lifted his chin, exposing the long line of his neck. "Go ahead, Bones," he said quietly. "I'm all yours."

+

Chapter 5

+

Of course, he wasn't, really. All Leo's, that was.

In fact, in the weeks that followed Jim's rise to section leader status, Leo saw less of him than he had at any time since they'd met. Jim had held firm on his promise of making up a lesson plan for Leo's training, and they pursued that, although they often sparred alone in the gym later in the evenings, when typically they'd have been drinking. Truth was, Jim used a drink after sparring as bait, and Leo wasn't that averse to either offer. Jim was a surprisingly good teacher, but stubborn as all get out, refusing to let Leo pull punches and meticulously analyzing the way Leo fought so that he could teach Leo skills that he would need, and how to avoid traps that his shortfalls would lead him into. Jim was mysterious about where he'd learned all of these skills, brushing Leo off with his juvenile delinquent past, and some crap about learning how to fight in the county system gym. While Leo was sure there was an element of truth in that, he was also sure that wasn't all there was to it by a long shot. But Kirk, the man full of a thousand boasts and bullshit stories, was uncharacteristically closed mouthed on the subject, wanting Leo to focus on the work and chiding him 'to stop fucking around, Bones, we're working here'.

Leo would have liked to believe that only he was getting such special treatment, but the fact was that first thing in the morning, on his way to the infirmary, he would often see Jim running through the quad to the track facility, with streams of kids and some of the older students following him, huffing and puffing at first, but getting steadily stronger as the weeks rolled on. And that was only one of the activities that Jim had organized for his section: he'd taken them rockclimbing (Leo had passed); hoverboarding (ditto); surfing in the ocean in the surprisingly hot late fall (tritto) and cross-country running on the hills in Golden Gate Park. That last one Leo had attended, and the scenery really had been beautiful. Leo had noticed it, while he lay there attempting not to pass out, after they finally got up to the top of an incredibly high hill. Jim had just laughed and flopped down next to him, close enough that Leo could feel Jim's heart beating against his elbow, and then began pointing out figures that he could see in clouds until the rest of the section lay down, joined in and began calling out their own delusions.

Jim was an enthusiastic and positive section leader, and distinctly hands on. He'd never been one to shy away from physical contact, and more often than not, he would place a hand on the shoulder of a person he was correcting, adjusting their limbs to make them get into position, or tapping muscle groups that they weren't using but should be. Such behavior was so pervasive that it took Leo a while to notice that Jim never touched Federova, and a couple of the other kids, not once. Instead, when he demonstrated forms to her or those others, he stood alongside them and directed their attention to the mirror, patting the part of his own body that they needed to adjust. The thing was, Leo didn't think that Jim actually knew in any definitive way what had happened to Federova, but there was something about the way she held herself, something about the way the other kids held themselves, that Jim had zeroed in on, the same way that Leo knew when a patient was guarding an injury or not telling him the whole story. It was not a skill that Leo would have thought that Jim had, because it indicated that Jim had a level of understanding of body language that was pretty sophisticated.

It made the situation that they were in that much more confounding, frankly. Jim was a walking contradiction. He was … Jim Kirk.

+

One of the skills that Jim was adamant that the littler kids had to master was disabling a larger opponent to get them down to a level where a knockout blow could be administered. Fedorova, in particular, had been having a hard time with the kicks meant to take out an assailant’s knee, but Jim kept after her, trying to get her to do it to him. He didn’t use any of the bullshit tearing down language that Cupcake or Leo's old section leader had used, just kept telling her that she had to do it, that she had to make it hurt to make it work. He adjusted his guards and stood opposite the girl, encouraging her to kick him, to use the core of strength that women had in their lower bodies to deal the necessary blow. He assured her that he could take it, pointing to Leo, who’d stopped doing anything other than watching and had moved to less than three meters from them and said, "Even if you break my knee, my friend Bones here will fix me right up. He’s a doctor, you know.”

He smiled at Federova, all charm and seriousness somehow intermingled, and then said in a low voice, “Do it. I know you can do it.”

And goddamnit, if that girl hadn’t lashed out and kicked him with all her might. Leo held his breath as the monitor light on the guard blinked and then flashed red, signaling a direct hit.

Jim smiled, huge and happy. "See?" He bowed to Fedorova, and then held out his fists at waist height in front of her. "I knew you had it in you. I knew it!" He crowed.

And Fedorova? She leaned forward and bumped her closed fists on Jim's, lightly, her eyes shining, and a huge smile on her pretty face.

Leo felt a lump in his throat at the sight of her, at witnessing the restoration of some of her physical confidence. And that right there, that Jim Kirk, pushy bastard extraordinaire, that he could do that, could motivate her to learn and to take even the smallest piece of what had been stolen from her back, that was the moment that Leo knew, he knew that Jim Kirk was going to be a great Captain.

Jim pulled back, pointing a finger at Fedorova. "You're the woman, Fedorova! See that, you guys?" he bellowed at the section, giddy with success. "That's how you do it!" The warning bell sounded, so he raised his voice. "Next section, we're going to work on sweeping the feet out from under a disabled opponent! Do your drills!"

He pointed at Fedorova one more time as the section began to disperse and she waved, turning to run after her classmates. Then he turned to Leo, arms raised above his head, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Good j-" whatever he might have said was lost when Jim bounded over to him and caught him up in a huge hug, lifting Leo completely off the ground in his exuberance, before planting him back down. He grabbed Leo's head with both hands.

"Goddamnit, Bones!" he announced, smacking a stinging kiss against Leo's cheek. "I am good!" He ran across the gym, hooting, doing a cartwheel that ended in a flip, then walked on his hands for a while, while Leo stood there astonished, watching him and laughing.

"Hey – help me clean up all this crap, all right?" upside-down Jim said, blue eyes blazing at Leo from across the way.

He flipped back upright with a bounce and Leo shook his head, trying to clear it. "Didja spend some time in circus that you forget to mention there, Jim?" The kid was like a hurricane, wild and elemental, but thrilling.

"Well … " Jim began, going over to an equipment locker with an armload of stuff, and Leo rolled his eyes. "I did know a girl who was in the circus. Well, she was mostly a girl, but you know, gender is a speciesist notion, so … I can hear you rolling your eyes, Bones," he intoned, "You really need to expand your horizons and branch out a little – actually, maybe you should just get laid in the first place, but I'm telling you right now, despite your skepticism: it was hot."

Leo sighed, and stacked some mats.

+

Of course, every day was not sunshine and rainbows, because Cupcake had friends, and unsurprisingly, friends of dickheads tended to be dickheads.

Leo lost count of how many times Jim came to the Infirmary, or slid in his door late at night so that Leo could patch up his broken knuckles or bruised ribs. For a while there, Jim looked as if he hadn't slept in a week, since there was only so much that the regen could do to repair the constantly rupturing blood vessels under his blue eyes. Jim was adamant that he wasn't bringing Yu into the matter, and absolutely forebade Leo to intervene. In fact, the night that he'd argued with Leo the loudest on the subject, Jim had insisted that they'd get tired of picking on him after a while, because not only did he give as good as he got, he was better at fighting than they were. Besides, he'd lived through worse before, he said, then promptly clammed up when Leo pressed for details as to what the fuck he was talking about, shaking his head and going in to take a shower before he climbed in bed with Leo.

And that? Leo only had himself to blame for Jim's continued presence in his bed, although it didn't happen all that often.

Still, when it was the middle of the night, and Jim was exhausted and beaten to shit, he never said no when Leo offered to let him sleep over. The weird part was that as sexually frustrated as Leo was by the mixed signals that he was getting from Jim, he always slept really well with Jim next to him, sometimes needed to imagine the phantom weight of Jim's hand curled over his hip, the heat of him all alongside his back, to fall asleep on the nights that he wasn't there.

It was not normal, by any stretch of the imagination. It was fucking codependent and kind of pathetic, really, and Leo tried not to dwell on it too much.

+

Kirk had been right, of course, and after a while, Cupcake's asshole friends had stopped picking on him. Instead, they began picking on the littlest kids in the section, not beating them up or anything, but just being demeaning and generally insufferable. One of their favorite games was to leapfrog over Balasubramanian, who although tiny, really wasn't short enough to be gotten over without getting his head clonked by some dirtbag's junk. Leo had ranted and raved to Jim about the potential for spinal injuries and stress fractures from a 113 kg asshole pressing his full weight down on a 57 kg kid, but Jim had just gritted out that he'd take care of it.

Leo wasn't on the quad the day that Balasubramanian dropped into a roll when Griffin, all 200 cm of him, tried to leapfrog over him again and got dumped on his fat head by the 150 cm (if that) Cadet, but he smiled real brightly when Griffin was brought into the infirmary on a litter. He might have been stroking his hypospray menacingly, just a little. He'd already heard the story from the medics that had been dispatched to assess Griffin, and enjoyed hearing the reports about Griffin's moaning. He was a doctor, yes, but if anyone deserved a good compression head injury, it was Cupcake and all of his fucking miserable friends.

Leo had hoped that the cameras that dotted the quad here and there for security reasons had gotten a good angle on the whole humiliating situation but for once, reality surpassed his wildest dreams. By dinner that night, it seemed like every Cadet on campus had seen the footage, and even though the upload link had to keep being shifted so that the administration wouldn't get their hands on it, Leo got a chance to savor it himself that night in his room with a nice glass of bourbon or three, and Jim leaning against him as they watched the footage over and over, wiping away tears of laughter.

"Tell me again how you jabbed him with the hypo," Jim said drunkenly from where he sat, balanced on the arm of Leo's desk chair.

Leo demonstrated with a flourish that set them off into fits of laughter again, Jim almost upending Leo's chair and the both of them.

"I fuckin' love these kids," Jim said expansively. "All of 'em. Even that one that smells." He paused. "Shields!" Then, "You're a doctor, Bones."

"I am," he agreed genially.

"Can't you tell Shields to use deodorant, or something? He is just rank," Jim was staring at him, and then began counting down. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … liftoff!" He threw his hands in the air, coming perilously close to flinging bourbon out of his glass.

Leo just stared back at him, eyebrows raised.

"I fucking love it when you do the eyebrow thing," Jim said. "But I still think you should give Shields the hygiene talk."

"Coward," Leo said.

"Am not," Jim scoffed. "As fuckin' if. Anyway, I'm going to have a party for these kids at Thanksgiving," he belched expansively and Leo waved his hand in front of his face. His eyes were watering again.

"Speaking of hygiene," he muttered. "Why Thanksgiving?"

"The bar'll be closed," Jim said. "And I talked Liam into letting me use it, for the kids. Ooh, eyebrow!"

"A bar, Jim?" Leo said incredulously. "Some of those kids are 15."

Jim shrugged. "I was drinking at 15," he said succinctly, "and so were you," he added grouchily, "so don't get all high and mighty with me, you boozebag. 'sides, Liam said no booze and I promised."

"You promised?"

"I did," Jim said huffily. "And that means you too, Bones."

"Who said I'm coming then?"

Jim cuffed him on the back of the head. "You are too."

Leo rolled his eyes.

"Run it again," Jim said, and they watched Griffin fall down and go boom, laughing even harder.

"I can't decide what I like more," Leo said, wiping his streaming eyes on the sleeve of his white undershirt. "The expression on his face when he realizes he's goin' down, or the one on his friend's faces when they realize that they've all been caught on video."

"I like Subie's face the best," Jim said, "that look he gives the camera just before he drops –- he's a hot shit, that kid," Jim said. "He knew that Griffin was going to get him again today, so he had his friends waiting with their comms and they all filmed it."

"That explains all the different angles," Leo said with inebriated admiration. "And I have to say that their editing and sound effects are just superb." He might just have been slurring a little. "Those boys are a loss to the holovid industry, I'll tell you what."

"To Starfleet's gain," Jim said, and raised his glass in a toast, which Leo accepted, and they both threw back their drinks.

Jim shook off the bourbon burn and said, "Subie says it was all Sen and that other kid, you know …" Jim paused, and tried to compose himself, wavering, teetering precariously on the arm of Leo's chair, "Rajphan- Rajpha'-thong, fuck it, that's a hard fucking name, Bones. Raji. That kid, you know, the really teeny one." Jim made a drunken motion with his index finger and thumb that indicated that the kid was practically microscopic.

That time, they did end up on the floor, before they crawled to Leo's bed and passed out. But it was fucking worth the bruises, and the hangover.

+

Chapter 6

+

Leo had always loved Thanksgiving, and this year hadn’t changed that fact, which was kind of strange. Thanksgiving was all about counting your blessings, being thankful for what you had, and when he looked back at the wreckage of his recent life, he had the sense that he should be more dissatisfied with where he was. After all, he'd worked for years and years to gain an education and professional standing, only to see it all come to nothing.

But as the holiday approached, he found himself oddly thankful. He'd been given an opportunity to – not exactly to start over – but something like it. He was still a doctor, and despite the grind of classwork again, when he'd sworn that he was all done with that, thank you very much, he found himself re-engaged intellectually, and challenged in other ways.

By Kirk, of course. Jim was a huge part of the reason his days were brighter, if he was honest with himself. He hadn't laughed this much in years, and despite the hunger for more that being around Jim created in him, the fact that he had an appetite for something after the long months filled with nothing but despair was a reason to be thankful.

+

He was also grateful that the physical assaults on Jim, and the attempts at humiliating the littler kids in the section, seemed to have dissipated in the wake of the video of that had circulated around campus. He’d heard that a high-speed edit of the incident had ended up being broadcast in a survey class that all third years were required to take, just before the instructor walked in the room. Leo had his suspicions about how that had been accomplished, considering Kirk’s hacking abilities, but he kept his opinions to himself. If what he overheard at the infirmary and in his own classes was any indication, however, campus opinion was on the side of the ‘geeks’, an old-fashioned word that was back in vogue again. It had almost made Leo exhale his coffee through his nose the first time it was used in front of him -- not that he didn’t identify as a geek, really. It was just that it had been a goddamned long time since he was in high school, and honestly, he hadn’t fucking missed it. At all.

His feelings on that matter were only solidified one afternoon when he heard whispering behind him.

“Yes?” he said testily to the interns.

“Um, there’s something written on the back of your white coat, Dr. McCoy,” he was told.

“What is it?” Leo attempted fruitlessly to peer over his own shoulder.

“KFF,” the other intern piped up nervously, wetting his lips when Leo squinted at him quizzically. “I didn’t realize that you were KFF.”

“Huh?” Leo growled. He really did not have the fucking time for this juvenile shit.

“Kirk’s hand-to-hand section,” the second intern said. “The … the other guys, they call you KFF.”

“And what, exactly, does that mean?” Leo gritted out. He wasn’t really all that surprised when they told him. It should be a law of science or something, like Newton’s Third, except involving predictability, morons and lack of progress.

+

“So …” Kirk said the next morning in section, looking at the group, most of whom had KFF stamped on one article of their clothing. Some kids had it on their backsides, some down the legs of their regulation sweats. It was across the crotch of Philips’ sweats, but he’d lost so much weight in the past few weeks that the letters were accordioned in on themselves. The KFF on Jim’s black t-shirt, however, was stretched tautly over his pecs, and he didn’t seem the least perturbed by its presence. Behind Jim, Leo saw Yu slip quietly in a side door. “You have to admit, the whole hacking the laundry thing is pretty genius, plus the fact that the stencil doesn’t show up until your body heat activates it,” he said, smiling as he shook his head. “It’s pretty sweet.”

The section stared at him gloomily as a unit, for once not responding to the Jim Kirk Sunshine Show.

Jim pursed his lips as he looked at the group. “So, I guess KFF doesn’t stand for Kickass Fighting Force? Or Killer Fighting Form?”

The group shifted uncomfortably and Leo was about ready to start hollering when Sen piped up. “It stands for Kirk’s Fighting Faggots,” he said.

Jim’s expression didn’t change one iota. “And we’re supposed to find that insulting, right?”

“Um, yeah,” another kid said, his voice cracking.

Kirk shrugged. “Boring,” he said, then continued as the younger Cadets made expressions of disbelief. “I mean, come on -- you’ve gotta feel sorry for a bunch of guys who are so sexually insecure that this was the best insult they could come up with.”

He looked around the room. “This is the 23rd century, people! Are we still getting hung up on that kind of labeling bullshit? Or does anybody in this room really believe that being queer makes you weak, or unmanly … or unwomanly, or whatever … but you get my point.”

Some of the younger members of the class were stirring uncomfortably, but many of them were listening. “Seriously – I feel bad for them because they don’t appreciate the possibilities of IDIC because you know, basically as long as everyone involved is capable of consenting, it’s all good as far as I’m concerned: men, women, everything in between, tentacles – it’s all awesome, am I right?” Some nervous laughter had broken out, and Kirk pointed into the crowd. “Listen, do not knock tentacles until you’ve tried them, is my point. If you don’t want to, that’s cool, because it should be about everybody having fun, and what’s wrong with that? And, you know what, if this is the worst insult that they can come up with, so fuckin’ what?”

Jim paused and looked around the room. “This is only happening because you’re all so totally fabulous that you’re starting to make people jealous,” he smirked at Leo, whose own t-shirt said KFF across the front. “They don’t know whether to punch you or to kiss you. So, that gives you the advantage, right? Because you are Kickass Fierce Fighters, and you will use any advantage you’re given. Insulting the enemy is a common tactic to get you off your game and make you lose focus during a fight, but how your opponent has sized you up – the ways that they choose to insult you, can give you valuable insight into their own weaknesses. Be smart." He tapped his temple. "Don't lose the fight up here first." He paused. "All right. We're going to take two steps back to previous fight postures, but we're going to add trash talk."

A hand waved from the group.

"Insult, Raji," Kirk said. "Think about your opponent and try to break their focus by being a total bastard. Let's work on it!" Kirk rubbed his hands together, and moved the class into forms.

Leo stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. “You got any more of those t-shirts?” Yu asked him.

“I’m pretty sure most of my t-shirts say KFF,” Leo asked. “Why?”

“Get me as many as you can spare,” Yu said, and his expression was thunderous.

Leo looked him in the eye, and saw the very real, personal anger lurking there and nodded. “I think my t-shirts will be a little small for you, Commander.”

Yu smiled, but there was something menacing about it. “All the better,” he said, and then moved on to speak to Jim.

+

Leo was surprised by the how crowded the campus was on Thanksgiving Day. Classes were canceled for both Thursday and Friday in celebration of the former American holiday, which had been adopted planetwide a hundred years earlier. Despite the fact that there had been many changes made to the celebration over the course of the past 600 years, roasted turkey (or a meat substitute for the vegetarians) was still the centerpiece course in the massive mess hall, which had been festively decorated in the harvest colors traditionally associated with the holiday. Despite this fact, the San Francisco weather still persisted in being far more warm than it would have been in Georgia. He felt a moderate amount of guilt at not making an effort to return there, but he'd used the twin excuses of having to work and his well-known dislike of shuttle travel to get out of having to go back. With his father gone, and Jocelyn … it would have just been a bad idea, in general. Besides, exams would start in ten days, and he had plenty to do here at the Academy. Not to mention that he was more than a little curious to see what, exactly, Jim had in mind for his party this evening.

He scanned the incredibly full room looking for Kirk, noticing that like him, almost all of the Cadets had opted for civilian wear. It changed the tenor of the room somewhat, contributing to a celebratory air and the volume of noise in the room, which was appreciably louder than a typical Thursday lunch.

"Bones!" he heard, above the din, and turned to see Jim standing up from one of the center tables, surrounded by some of their sectionmates from hand-to-hand, a couple of whom were waving. His lips curled up into a slightly sardonic smile. He should have known that Kirk would plant himself right in the middle of the room. Jim hadn't dressed – in fact, he was wearing a tight white t-shirt and jeans, pretty much his standard civilian dress, unlike Leo, who'd put a black sport coat over a forest green button-down and a pair of black dress slacks.

He carried his tray full of sides over to the tables, which were adorned with carved platters of turkey and all the trimmings.

"Look at you!" Jim said appreciatively. "You clean up nice!"

"He does," said the woman sitting next to him, her red hair oddly complementing her bright green skin. She was wearing a one-shouldered blue silk dress the shade of Jim's eyes, and was altogether a riotous blast of color in the room. She was looking at Leo very assessingly, in the way that Orion women always seemed to. "Hello," she said sweetly. "I am Gaila."

She extended her hand, and then made a noise somewhat like a purr when Leo bent forward and pressed a kiss to it.

"Leonard McCoy," he said simply, as Jim leaned over Gaila and squeezed his shoulder with a smile. Leo greeted Philips across the table and was introduced to his wife, and exchanged hellos with the others from section that he recognized.

"Bones," Jim said to Gaila, who had yet to take her eyes off Leo after he sat down next to her on the crowded bench, the tight confines forcing him to notice that her dress was slit along the length of her toned green thigh. Even by the standard of Orion women, Gaila was lush and curvy, which only added to her sensual air.

"Oh," she said knowingly, and unless he missed his guess, she smelled him. "You are Jim's doctor."

"On occasion," Leo drawled, feeling slightly lost in the burst of her powerful pheromones. "And you are …"

"Gaila," she said again. She drew a finger down the back of his hand. "You are very pretty," she said serenely, in a quiet voice.

Leo smiled. "Not as pretty as Jim," he said, leaning close to her ear.

She pondered this for a moment. "There are many kinds of pretty to enjoy," she said, then turned to Jim. "Your doctor has dressed up," she said accusatorily, and Jim rolled his eyes as he passed Leo the platter of turkey. "It is a celebration," she stated, "so I dressed up."

She paused, and Leo, recognizing a cue when he was given one, said, "And we are all very grateful for that. You look lovely."

Gaila preened, then declined to take turkey, whispering to Leo. "It smells too strange to me," she said. "I never wish to eat in a place with so many beings – the food smells interfere with so much information. I like your smell," she continued conversationally, "I recognize it from when Jim smells like you."

Leo raised both eyebrows in surprise, and glanced across the table but Phillips and his wife were engrossed in a conversation with another Cadet who was standing in the aisle.

"Although, he never smells like sex when he smells like you. I do not understand this," she said plaintively.

Leo felt sweat break out on his lower back, and watched Gaila's nostrils flair. He was glad that her voice was low, and that Kirk seemed to be involved in a conversation with Balasubramanian and Sen. "Because we don't have sex," Leo said simply, tamping down the response that he wanted to give, which was more along the lines of 'Get in line'.

Gaila's expression was shrewd as she weighed his answer. "Do you need a third partner?" she asked. "Because I would be happy to join you. In fact, I would be happy to simply watch, and achieve pleasure that way," she paused. "This is not an offer I make typically."

Leo nodded. "And, I'm honored by your offer, but … I think that we're fine for now." He stopped, brain whirring. "Uh, thank you."

Gaila watched him for a moment longer. "I do not withdraw my offer," she said. "So you may change your mind."

Leo smiled anemically, but luckily, Gaila's attention was drawn away by new people arriving at nearby tables. He turned and looked at Jim over her head, unsure of how much Jim had overheard, but Jim just shrugged with a mischievous smile, eyes dancing.

"Gaila is Uhura's roommate," he said.

"Ah," Leo answered, having heard quite a great deal about Jim's fruitless quest of the elusive Uhura over the months. He couldn't exactly blame him. She was a strikingly beautiful young woman, but Leo doubted that she would ever give Jim a tumble.

"Yes," Gaila said, "and she offered to take me home again this year with her, but I had already done that." She paused, looking around the room with bright eyes before her eyes lit on Leo again, and then to Jim on her other side. "I like doing new things," she said pointedly.

Leo nodded, as Jim grinned. "What are you studying here at the Academy, Gaila?" Leo asked, changing the subject and tucking into his surprisingly good meal.

"Everything," Gaila said, "but I particularly enjoy the computational sciences and the applied physics involved in the mechanics of warp theory." Her voice still had that same serene cadence.

"So, you'd be going for Engineering when you go back up into the black?" Leonard said.

"Yes," she said. "I'm very much interested in that. Oh," her blue eyes widened and her mouth held the 'o' shape as she looked over Leo's shoulder.

He turned to see what she was looking at, and noticed Commander Yu walking slowly but purposefully over to their table. Like Leo, he'd opted for a black sport jacket, but his was cropped at the waist and fitted, tailored over his taut arms and tapered to show off his toned abdomen. He was wearing black jeans that looked like they'd been similarly tailored, and like Jim, he was wearing a t-shirt, although Yu's was a black Starfleet standard issue t-shirt. In fact, Leo was pretty sure that it was one of his t-shirts, from the way the letters KFF were rippling over Yu's incredibly sculpted chest. Leo had to admit that Yu was a damned fine looking man, as was the man walking behind him, carrying two trays and wearing a red hooded sweatshirt over a white KFF t-shirt and a pair of tight blue jeans. With surprise, Leo recognized Paul Barresi, who was an attending and an instructor at the medical school. He'd known that Paul was married, but up until now, he'd not realized that he was married to Harrison Yu.

"Cadet Kirk," Yu said in his command voice, and Jim snapped up from the table.

"Commander Yu," he said, with a small smile.

"I just came to wish you and some of my favorite fighters a Happy Thanksgiving," he said. Yu had not changed the level of his speaking voice at all, but he sounded louder as the room had quieted around him.

Jim nodded, "Thank you, sir." He looked around the table at the assembled members of the KFF, many of whom were agog. "On behalf of the KFF, I'd like to wish you and Lieutenant Commander Barresi the same."

"Thank you, Kirk," Yu said, "Enjoy your holiday, everyone. I’m sure that I’ll be seeing some of you later." As he turned away, the noise in the room rose back up. Yu and Barresi made their way over to the Officers' Table, which was set up on risers at the head of the room. A number of the officers had opted to join in the common festivity and not eat in the Officers' Mess, although most were junior officers. Still, Leo was surprised to note that one or two of them were also wearing KFF t-shirts.

"Well, I'll be goddamned," he said aloud.

"It's a long way from ‘don't ask, don't tell’, eh, McCoy," Phillips said, eyes twinkling. "Good for him. That fuckhead – "

"Bill!" his wife said.

"Hanlon," he continued, "is behind you, and he looks like he wants to sink down through the floor."

"Yeah, well," Jim said, crowding Gaila up against Leo. "That's the problem with flailing in a fight, right there." He smirked at Leo, "You never know who you're going to hit."

Leo looked at Gaila, who seemed to be pouting. "Are you all right?"

"I do not understand Terrans," she said. "He –" she pointed up at the high table. "did not even look at me."

"Honey, he's gay," Leo said gently.

"I know," she said sternly. "I just do not understand such unilateral behavior. It is very frustrating!"

"Ah," Leo said. "Not for him. He is happy with his husband."

"Monogamy," Gaila said darkly, as if it were the nastiest thing she'd ever heard of.

"Yes," Leo said.

"It's unnatural," Gaila said surely.

Over her shoulder, Jim Kirk laughed.

+

Leo would have thought that Jim would be on a high after Yu’s display in the Mess Hall, but Jim’s mood seemed to have darkened by the end of the meal. Of course, Gaila had also disappeared, so Leo assumed that he’d been thinking of continuing the celebration in other ways.

“Hey,” he said, nudging Jim with his shoulder. Jim was leaning against the table, scowling down at his empty plate. “Why don’t you just comm her?”

“Huh?” Jim looked puzzled.

"Gaila?” Leo said, waving a hand in the air.

“Nah,” Jim said, “I’m sure she’s having fun.” He indicated Leo’s clean plate with his chin. “You done?”

“I think I ate quite enough,” Leo said drolly. “You?”

Jim had consumed more than his typical astonishing amount of food, but there wasn’t so much as a crumb on his plate. That wasn’t too surprising -- Jim probably burned twice as many calories than most in a day, just by the way he bounced through it.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jim said.

“What do you want to do?” Leo asked. “There’s football on the quad.”

“Watching or playing?”

“Both, I’m pretty sure,” Leo answered, and Jim contemplated this with a wrinkled brow, but Leo could tell he had little enthusiasm for either. He couldn’t quite get a handle on Jim’s mood, but decided not to push.

They walked the long way to the graduate student dorms, strolling in the warm afternoon sunshine, not talking much. Jim’s contemplative mood continued, and they ended up filling Leo’s flask with bourbon ‘as a digestive aid’ and flopping on the smaller, quieter quad in front of Leo’s dorm. After a few sips, Jim wanted to hear stories about Thanksgiving in Georgia, and surprisingly, Leo was willing to oblige, telling Jim stories of four generations of McCoys eating at tables jammed into every room in the house, and of the year that it was so cold that the teenagers, who were routinely exiled to the veranda in an effort to contain their voluminous energy, had gotten stinking drunk and pilfered all the coats from the upstairs bedroom to use as blankets. Unfortunately, before the plan could be put into motion, Leo’s cousin Tim had barfed all over the stack of them, which set off a chain reaction of barfing the likes of which Leo hoped never to see again, as long as he lived.

“Man, that was ugly,” Leo finished as they wound down from laughing, wiping his eyes and dropping his head back on the ground and accepting the flask from Jim. He was laying on his back, one arm up under his head, probably straining the shoulder seams of his jacket beyond their capacity. Working out and sparring with Jim had built his shoulders up more than they used to be. “You ever have holidays like that?” Leo asked casually.

Jim was laying on his stomach right next to Leo, plucking pieces of grass from the lawn and sucking on them, fruitlessly looking for sweet grass. “No, there was never that many of us to start with,” Jim said, “and my mother wasn’t around all that much.” He paused, and Leo wondered if he’d expound on the subject at all. “When we were little, we used to go to my Grandma Kirk’s,” he said, and smiled a little. “She was cool. She didn’t even get that mad at me when I set the turkeys free.”

“Jim, you didn’t!” Leo said.

“I was maybe four,” Jim said, defensively. “And very concerned about where the meat was coming from. Did you guys pick a turkey to kill and eat that you'd fed for weeks before?”

“No,” Leo said, slowly, “and that does seem a little barbaric, now that you mention it.”

“Well …” Jim said, “I wouldn’t go that far, but I was little, and I couldn’t believe that we were going to kill Joe the turkey.”

“Aw …” Leo said, teasingly. “you named him, baby Jim.”

Jim nodded ruefully, and pointed at Leo. “Four,” he said. “But that was the Thanksgiving I learned that really don’t like just vegetables for dinner. The end.” He lay down on his stomach, eyes twinkling.

“It’s better for you, though,” Leo pointed out, passing the flask back.

“Blah, blah, blah,” Jim mumbled. Jim's lids were shuttering in that way that they did when he was fighting sleep, and Leo figured that between the bourbon and the huge meal, it wasn’t long until he followed him into unconsciousness.

He accepted the flask back from Jim and closed it, propping it against his hip as he closed his eyes and basked in the sun. Leo'd settled into a light doze that was disturbed when he felt the press of Jim’s body up against his side. He opened his eyes, but Jim appeared to be fast asleep. As Leo watched, he could see Jim’s eyes moving under his lids, and feel Jim shiver. He shifted closer to Leo, and Leo eased up and away gently, peeling off his suit jacket.

Before he could spread it over Jim, he turned onto his side, creeping closer to Leo and curling in on himself. Leo draped the jacket over Jim before he lay back down, putting his arms under his head and looking up at the blue sky with a yawn. To his surprise, he felt one of Jim’s hands spreading out over the curve of his side, right over where his heart beat, a little faster now. He forced himself to breathe down and to lower his heart rate, but Jim never noticed, just slept on, with a slight curve bowing his mouth.

Leo watched him until his eyes could no longer stay open.

+

Whatever the mood was that Jim had been in earlier, Leo was seeing no evidence of it at 2030 hours at Finnegan's. The chairs and tables had been pushed out of the way, and the sound system was cranking away at ear damaging decibels while Jim danced with the KFF, bouncing from group to group like he was made out of springs. Leo couldn't help but smile as he watched him, laughing and talking with all the kids and the older Cadets that had shown up. Jim was proud of himself, and he had a right to be.

Next to him, behind the bar where they were guarding the alcohol, or at least insuring that none of the genius kids figured out how to disable the force field, Paul Barresi gave him a nudge.

"He's pretty damned gorgeous," he said of Jim, giving Leo a look.

"That he is," Leo agreed. He couldn't believe that he was having this conversation for the second time in one day, and bluntly added. "He's the best friend I've made in forever."

Paul looked at him searchingly, and Leo sighed. God, he needed a drink, but he'd promised Jim to hold off until the kiddies were gone home to meet curfew.

"I just got divorced three months ago, Paul," he said.

Paul reached a hand out and squeezed his shoulder with a sympathetic look in his eye. "I'm sorry, Leonard," he said. "I knew that you were divorced, but I had no idea it was so recent. I'll just shut up over here."

Leo smiled sardonically and changed the subject. "Where'd the hell did Yu get the money to make the shirts?" he asked. Finnegan's was currently full of folks wearing t-shirts that looked like they belonged to a baseball league, with KFF across the chest and a name and a number, or something, on the back.

"He took it from the third year discretionary fund," Paul said, sucking on an ice cube.

"You are shittin' me!" said Leo.

"Nope," Paul said. "Harry doesn't play around. They'll be no year end party for them."

"Wow," Leo said. "Still, nice touch with the backs of the shirts."

"That was all Kirk's doing," Paul said. "He was going to make the shirts up himself, and had sketched out who got what."

Leo was already laughing, "I should have known," he said. Balasubramanian's shirt said 'Subie' and had a mu on the back of it, Sen's had a digamma and Raji an omega. "I'm pretty sure that if you put those five or so guys together, that you'll either get the formula for basic rocket fuel, or a very dirty word."

Now Paul was laughing.

"One of the two."

"What's with Bones?" Paul asked, nodding at Leo's t-shirt.

"That's just Jim being an ass," Leo said.

Paul looked at him quizzically, and he sighed. "It's a nickname he gave me almost the minute he met me," Leo said. "He persists in using it to irritate me."

"You really think so?" Paul asked disbelievingly.

Leo shrugged, feeling the wood of the shelf behind the bar bite into his knee where his oldest jeans had worn through. He figured that he'd better not dress up, not knowing what Jim had planned. "Who knows?" he asked.

"You're number 1, I noticed," Paul continued.

"Yeah, and your husband is 99," Leo said as Yu crossed the room and came behind the bar to join them. "And Jim is the infinity symbol. I'm sure there's some deeper logic behind that, too, but I'm not sure we should try and figure it out."

Yu and Paul spoke quietly for a moment, and Leo searched out Jim, who had bounced over to Federova and was dancing with her and her friends. He sucked in a breath as Jim reached out a hand to the girl and then spun her after she placed hers in it. Then, he spun all of her friends, dipping the last one.

"Um …" Yu said, next to Leo's ear. "Did you ever tell him?"

"I'm a doctor," Leo said sternly, "not a gossip. No. I've never said a word, but he's always been really careful with her."

"I just think it would be a bad idea," Yu said uneasily.

"I don't think that Jim would cross the line with anyone that he's instructing," Leo said stiffly, and Yu searched his eyes. "But if it will make you feel better, I'll find out what his intentions are."

The tension in Yu's shoulders eased off a little. "I trust your judgment," he said. "Can you cover for a few minutes?"

Leo nodded and Yu pulled his husband out onto the dance floor.

"Hey," Jim said from across the bar. "Are you having any fun at all?"

"Yes," Leo said, filling him up a glass of ice water and handing it off. "Although I'm not sure whose bright idea it was to put me next to all the booze when I can't have any of it." He eyebrowed Jim, who grinned as he drained the glass of water. "Are you having fun?"

Jim nodded.

"The shirts are great, Jim," Leo said.

"Yu did 'em," he said, and Leo shook his head at his prevarication.

"Yu paid for 'em," he corrected, "but you did 'em."

Jim shrugged, and tilted his head, looking out over the crowd.

"By the way," he said. "Yu paid for them, and tonight, by using the third year's party fund."

"Sweet!" Jim said enthusiastically, before his face fell.

"Yes, Jim," Leo said. "It had occurred to me that those fuckheads are going to be trying to kick your ass, again."

"Well," he said, "at least you'll get more doctorin' time."

"Yeah, because that's the kind of doctorin' time I live for, Jimmy," Leo said. "Now tell me, what's up with you and Federova?"

Jim turned to look at Leo with an incredulous expression on his face and said flatly, "Nothin'."

"It didn't look like nothin' a few minutes ago," Leo said.

"That was just dancing," Jim insisted. "I want her to have fun."

"Jim," Leo said, "she's been through …"

Jim cut him off before he could say anything else. "I know she's lived through something bad, Bones," he said, holding up a hand. "But the point is that she lived through it, whatever it was. She's here. She should have fun."

"What kind of fun we talkin' about though, Jim?" Leo asked, arms crossed over his chest. "Because Jim Kirk and girls and fun, well … my mind starts trending in a typical direction."

"No," Jim said firmly, and he was starting to look pretty fucking irritated. "Aside from the whole she's in my section thing, Bones, everything about the way she looks at me lets me know that I'm too big, and I'm too loud and I'm too scary. And that is fucking fine," he said. "Because it's supposed to be fun, and that wouldn't be fun for her." He was staring at Leo, his eyes dark but vividly blue in the dim lights.

"Well, you know, Jim," Leo said. "A lot of people think that it should be sacred, and she might be one of them."

Jim shook his head, and looked down at the bar. He shook the ice out of his glass and into his mouth, crunching it fiercely before he looked back up at Leo, leveling his blue stare on him. "Well, I think that fun is sacred," he said, "because it's a lot more rare than it should be. I also think that more people should try and understand that." He stared at Leo for another fraught moment, then turned away abruptly when a new song came on. "I love this song!" he said, and bounded back amidst the Cadets.

Yu nudged Leo out of the way of a stack of napkins and used them to blot his brow, laughing at the exuberant way that Jim was dancing as the song, nearly three hundred years old, filled the barroom.

"Is this the original?" Yu asked,

Leo nodded, his eyes glued to Jim, who was singing as he swayed his hips.

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain

Leo could feel the gooseflesh raising on his arms as Jim duck walked and then moved his mouth to the words. Behind his eyes, he could see his imaginings of the day of Jim's birth, of an impossible lightning storm in space.

"Jumpin' Jack Flash," Yu said, "perfect."

I was raised by a toothless bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back

"You know, no matter how many times this song has been re-made, this is still the best version," Yu said.

"The original usually is," Leo said, more by way of making conversation than anything else.

But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right, I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash
It's a gas, gas, gas!

"You think so?" Yu said. "That closes the door on improvement."

In the middle of the dance floor, Jim danced around in a circle, bouncing up and down with his arms over his head.

I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.

"But the innovation has to come first," Leo said, eyes still glued to Jim. "Without the original, there's nothing to build on." He strained to remember the last words of the song as Jim continued to dance.

I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head.

Leo's breath caught in his throat as Jim turned around and pointed at him behind the bar, then motioned for him to come out to the floor while he continued mouthing the words being sung by a long dead rock 'n' roller.

But its all right now, in fact, its a gas!
But it's all right, I'm jumpin jack flash,
It's a gas! gas! gas!

Jim Kirk turned in the strobing light, jumping like he could defeat gravity, just by trying.

+

Chapter 7

+

Five days before the Christmas break, and with two tests left to go, Leo got the comm that he’d been dreading. He found himself on a shuttle back to Georgia less than 36 hours later, having made arrangements to take his final test during the winter break. He’d commed Jim to tell him what had happened, but hadn’t heard a peep out of him before he left. He wasn’t all that surprised. Aside from his oversized courseload, Jim had convinced his advisor to let him prove that he knew the material in some of the survey courses in second year by taking the finals. If Jim achieved scores in the 90th percentile, he'd be able to continue on his accelerated class schedule.

So, Leo wasn't surprised not to hear from Jim, but he had to admit that it would have been nice to hear a familiar voice before he left on the shuttle. He was never going to be easy on the infernal things, and Jim had distracted him after he’d run out of things to rant about on the way out to San Francisco. He doubted he’d find such an amenable seat companion this go-round -- he never had before. To make things worse, he knew that he could no longer rely on getting himself blind drunk like he'd done the last time, not while he was in uniform. Instead, he’d hypoed himself with a mild dose of anti-anxiety drugs, reflecting with grim amusement that now if he blew up or boiled in his chair, he’d find it so much less upsetting.

The Starfleet Shuttle service was less than half-full of uniformed personnel and civilian employees who transferred from the shuttle bay in Atlanta to the transporter station in a quiet and orderly fashion. It was odd how conspicuous Leo felt, especially in light of the fact that he'd been at the Academy and wearing his Cadet reds for months now, but it was easier to fit in San Francisco, where the sight of Cadets and other uniformed personnel was just a part of the scenery. Here, he could feel the stares of passersby, and was even more startled to receive an occasional nod, or salute. The whole experience felt alien, and not just because of his reds – he felt like he was seeing Atlanta itself, the city that had been his home as a married man, the one that he’d grown up on the outskirts of, with new eyes.

He knew, of course, that Atlanta had a history of being a city of constant change, one that adapted and evolved, a trend that had begun nearly 400 years before when Sherman had burned it to the ground. But the city had willingly overwritten its own landscape in the name of progress after that, long before it had been completely destroyed by the devastation of WWIII. That had been more than 200 years ago, and yet in many ways, it felt like the city had been being rebuilt Leo’s whole life. Of course, San Francisco had been mostly destroyed as well, but the redevelopment there had been more referential to what had been. Here in Atlanta, there was an emphasis on the new, the best, that suddenly seemed vulgar to Leo. It left him adrift without landmarks of his own past, a thought that occurred to him as he passed by the site of the first apartment complex he'd lived in with Jocelyn before they married. It was an empty lot now, with a sign announcing that new luxury units would be available for rental in 2257.

He found himself glad as the city receded from view, as his rental car took him closer to the country roads on the way to the place he’d always thought of as home. And that in itself was odd and untrue, because he hadn’t actually lived there for longer than a few weeks at a time since he’d left home for college. He’d been just as young as the kids in the KFF then, all rawbones and gangly, pining for Jessica and longing for the time they spent together on his breaks. It seemed impossible now, as old as he felt.

As the landscape outside changed from scattered ex-urban development to wide open country vistas, he opened the windows. The air was mild for December, and smelled fresh and full of the land. He navigated off the highway without a thought, winding over roads so familiar that even now he recalled where bumps had been, although they had disappeared, smoothed over by repavings. He wondered what the new surface hid, what this road had been before in lifetimes long gone. It was no idle musing on his part. Ol' Paw had always warned them that the ground here wasn't as solid as it looked, that back in the days before WWIII and the subsequent nuclear winter, that these fields had been towns, and home to hundreds of thousands of people. He'd told them stories of farmers who had lost tractors when spring rains had softened the ground enough for the cellars of homes long destroyed to open up and swallow them. In the way of adolescents everywhen, he and his cousins had discounted everything they'd been told until the day Leo had plunged headfirst into one of those cellars after he'd jumped his favorite chestnut bay over the last of the hurdles they'd set up on a steeplechase course through the woods. He'd never forget the noise that Blackfoot had made as she fell, or the helplessness he felt when there was nothing to be done but to put her down. He'd done it himself, staring into her pain-filled eyes as he administered the hypo that stopped her heart.

So many of the turning points in Leo's life revolved around death. His childhood had ended when his mother and Joanna had died, his adolescence over there in that field. And his youth, the last piece of his innocence, had died the day that he held his father's hand while he pushed the hypospray gently against his neck, giving him the death that he'd begged for. It had all happened in the house behind the fence, at the end of the long road that Leo was slowly driving up. He had not returned since his father's funeral. Instead he'd returned to Jocelyn and their floundering marriage. Whatever had been left of his remaining optimism had received its coup de grace when the cure for his father's disease had been discovered not three months after his death.

As he pulled the car up to the turn out in front of the farmhouse that Ol' Paw's father had built, he could see his grandfather stand up from the wicker armchair where he'd been writing on a PADD, most likely composing his father's eulogy. Ted McCoy would be 90 in the spring, but his posture was straight and tall, his hair still black at the back and underneath the silver. Leo watched as his grandfather covered his eyes to counter the reflection off the windshield, trying to discern who was in the car. He sighed, but turned the engine off and got out of the vehicle, standing up tall. His grandfather stiffened at the sight of him, his face becoming stony and closed. "I'll get your grandmother," he said in a voice devoid of anything other than disdain. "Welcome home, Leo," he thought sardonically.

+

Re-entering his childhood bedroom was like walking into an archaeological dig of his past. There, under the boxes that he'd had shipped here after his divorce, was the bed that he'd shared with Jessica on the sly during those very rare times when his father and grandparents weren't at home. Ol' Paw hadn't cared that Leo and Jessica had snuck off to his room –– well, that wasn't exactly true -- he'd cared. He'd made sure that Leo was actually using contraception and given him the dermal barrier gel that would shield him from STDs and other microbes. He'd liked Jessica, Ol' Paw, approved of her despite the fact that she was a couple of years older than Leo. Gram and his father were more worried about Leo, about the fact that he was 'a sensitive boy'. Really, they couldn't bear the idea that he might have his heart broken, something he both understood and resented. It had been his life to lead, his heart to break. And compared to what came after, the love that he'd had with Jessica still existed in memory as one of the only happy times that he'd known.

Leo shifted the boxes from the bed to the floor, intending to make up the bed with clean sheets, but couldn't stop himself from opening them to see what they contained. His clothes, including all his riding gear, in one huge box. In another, awards, degrees, the professional and academic detritus of his past life. In the last, he found stacks of handwritten journals and the telltale frames that he'd been hoping for. That box he dug into, not truly surprised to see that Jocelyn had given him all of their wedding holos. He dumped the lot of them into one of the drawers of the dresser without looking. Maybe someday he'd be interested in revisiting that part of his past, but he couldn't imagine when that would be.

He moved down through the stages of his life, looking for images of his father, his mother, Joanna. Those were worth keeping, worth taking back to San Francisco with him, because even his desire to see Gram wouldn't be enough to bring him back to this house where his grandfather's rage and bitterness poisoned the atmosphere. It didn't matter how loudly Gram defended him, reminded his granddad that Leo had only done what his father had begged of him – he would always blame Leo for having killed his own father, for having failed not to discover the cure in time.

The thing was, Leo couldn't disagree with his grandfather on this point. He had failed. He'd fucked up and given in when he should have held on.

"Leo," Gram's voice was soft but stern next to him. She put a hand on his shoulder.

He'd been so deep in thought that he hadn't heard her enter the room.

"Leo," she said again, turning his face to look at her. She dried tears that he hadn't realized he was crying, and turned the frame of the holo he was holding so that she could see what it was. "Your medical school graduation," she said fondly, tracing first her son's face, and then his. "David was so proud of you, Leo – he still would be."

"Don't say that," Leo said. "You don't know that. He –"

"Leo –" she said sharply, and even though he was a grown man, he responded to the command in her voice and shut up. "He was my son," she said deliberately. "He grew under my heart, and I raised him. When his heart was broken and he brought you both to this house so that we could be together, who do you think he told his troubles to?" She smoothed back his hair, her voice gentler. "Do you think he didn't tell me about the burden he was placing on you? Do you think I didn't try and talk him out of it? Of leaving this world before me?"

Leo grasped one of her strong hands in his, but even though his own eyes were streaming with tears, Gram's remained dry.

"I begged, Leo," she said. "God help me, I pleaded with him to hang on, to give you more time, but …" her grip on Leo's hand tightened, and her voice broke then. "He was in so much pain. What you did for him was no crime, but a mercy. You were a good son to him," her voice rose when he shook his head. "You were a good son," she insisted. "I would never have wanted another for him, and neither would he. You've got to forgive yourself, Leo."

"He won't," Leo said harshly.

"Never you mind your grandfather," Gram said, in a low voice that held a bit of a growl. "His need for someone to blame because both of his sons have died before him is his problem, not yours. I love him, but he's a stubborn asshole like the rest of you hard-headed McCoys," she smiled fondly at Leo. "I've lost too much, Leo. I will not lose you." It was as much a threat as it was a promise. "You've been given enough burdens to shoulder in this world for two lifetimes. You deserve to be happy, Leo," she stroked his fingers with hers, then kissed him on the cheek and stood. "Get some sleep, boy," she ordered. "I swear that demon horse knew you were on the way, and has been kicking up a ruckus. You'll take him out in the morning before everything, yes?" It was hardly a question, but she smiled and leaned forward to kiss him again. "It's good to have you home," she whispered.

+

When Leo had slept, it was restless and unsatisfying. His dreams were full of his father as he looked in the worst days before his death, gaunt and hollowed out by pain. He woke with the smell of death in his nostrils – not the post-mortem suppuration, but the particular smell that the body makes as it dies piece by piece over the course of a long illness. If he were anywhere but here, he would have drunk himself into a state of insensibility, but his grandfather's hard words about his weakness, his constant drunkenness in the days after his father's death had stung, and he'd vowed not to give him the satisfaction. There'd be time enough for a big glass of bourbon when he got back to San Francisco, which would be tomorrow morning at the very latest.

By dawn, he'd organized what he was taking to be packed in a second duffel, and discarded the remainder as unworthy. If his grandfather chose to torch the rest of his belongings, there would be nothing destroyed that he'd miss. He began to dress for a ride, and was surprised to find that he couldn't really get his jodhpurs up over his thighs and that the ends of the breeches were taut around his calves. The damned things were supposed to fit snugly, but cutting off his circulation was not going to cut it. Pulling on his favorite riding shirt over the silk turtleneck also confirmed that he'd gotten bigger through the chest and shoulder.

He stripped them off and slipped quietly from his room to his father's across the hall, dark and silent in the morning light. Before illness had wasted him, David McCoy had been built like a broader version of Leo, so he had hopes that his father's clothes would fit. Leo stopped after closing the door, and before he turned on the light, drawing in a breath of pain at its emptiness. All of the medical equipment had been removed, the clutter cleaned off the bedside tables, and the holos that had stood there when his father was well had been returned to their previous positions. He carefully pulled one or two out of place, knowing that only his Gram would notice that they were gone, and she would not object to him taking his parents' wedding picture, or one of the four of them, the summer before it had all gone to hell. He blinked back the tears that threatened and crossed to his father's closet, only to find himself assaulted with the smell of his father's aftershave and his riding boots on the floor, all of the elements that added up to an olfactory memory of 'Daddy' in Leo's subconscious. He inhaled deeply, feeling the ache of pleasure in his chest just as sharply as the pain, before he fumbled for the light to find his father's jodhpurs and his favorite dark green riding pull over. On a whim, he also took a couple of his father's well worn flannel shirts, and his bathrobe to add to the pile of things he was taking from the house.

He slipped on the jodhpurs and they fit him like a glove, putting the subtle padding in the places where he'd need it most. It'd been months since he'd ridden, and no matter how much he worked out with Jim, he knew he'd be saddle sore tomorrow. He strode across the hall and stepped into his boots, which were broken in enough to accommodate the small changes in his calves, then dumped his gloves and crop inside his helmet as he went down the stairs. He was pulling his father's shirt on as he entered the kitchen and heard the intake of breath. Fuck.

"You know," his grandfather said hostilely. "Clothes most certainly do not make the man, especially in this case. Take that off."

"No," Leo said clearly, pulling the shirt down.

"No?" Ted echoed, with a crazed look in his eye. He stepped right up to Leo as Leo ignored him, tucking his crop into the top of his boot and putting apples in his helmet.

"No," Leo said firmly, and this time he looked his grandfather in the eye. Since he was taller than the older man, this forced him to look up, which seemed to enrage him more. Leo could see his intent as it was forming, and shifted his helmet to his left hand, easily blocking his grandfather's hand as it went for the crop. By the time his grandfather went to swing at him with his other hand, Leo'd put the helmet down on the counter and had pinned his wrist high up against the wall, using his body weight to keep Ted from doing more than grappling with him. And it occurred to him that he owed Jim Kirk several drinks, because he never would have been able to counter his grandfather so easily before. Then again, he'd never had to. Ol' Paw had always been there to stop his son from doing anything so foolish, and even Ted McCoy had not dared to disobey his father. But Ted McCoy was the patriarch now, and just about all he had left was his anger.

They struggled for a few minutes, eyes glaring murderously at each other, until Leo felt Ted realize that he wasn't going to get the better of a man nearly 60 years his junior.

When Leo was sure that his grandfather wasn't going to start up again, he let him go, taking his helmet and stepping back out of the range of his swing in one motion.

"I see you've learned something at Starfleet," Ted spat vituperously, rubbing his wrists one after the other. "You arrogant useless prick."

"You oughta know that the apple doesn't fall from the tree," Leo said, tossing him one from his helmet as he crossed the room to the back door.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Leo ignored him, already halfway across the wide verandah.

"That's my damned horse," Ted insisted, coming out on the porch behind him as Leo strode the path to the barn. "And I forbid you to ride him!"

As if in answer, Leo heard the sound of Saturn whinnying in the barn and laughed out loud. "And who was it who told me that the horse chooses the rider, old man?" he taunted over his shoulder. At the sound of his voice, he could hear Saturn rearing up, his hooves clattering against his stall door as he called out for Leo.

He turned his back on Ted and pulled the large door to the horse barn open. Curious, the other horses came to the fronts of their stalls and Leo murmured and whistled to them, but went straight for the last filled stall, the one with the empty stalls on either side. He could see Saturn's black mane flying as he alternately bucked and reared.

"There's my beauty," he said as he got closer to the stall, and Saturn backed away from him, baring his teeth, eyes wild and angry. "I know, I know," he crooned, coaxing the horse forward.

"Shoulda known it was you, Doc," a voice behind him said affectionately. "He's been crazier than usual."

Leo didn't need to turn his head to know that it was Steve, the man who'd been their horse farm manager his whole life. He'd been calling Leo Doc since long before he had his degrees. "He's not crazy," Leo said. "He's high-spirited."

Steve laughed, but there was a sad note in it. "I'm afraid that he has gotten a little crazy without you," he said, and this time Leo did turn and look at him. "We let him out and run him, but there's only a couple of the hands that'll he tolerate riding him. I swear he's waiting for you."

Leo's heart ached, but like so many other things, there was little he could do about it. He felt the snort of Saturn's breath against his neck above his collar just before he felt the nip on his shoulder. He turned back to the horse, stroking a hand down his muzzle, then rubbing under his forelock where the white blaze shone, the only bit of light on the otherwise pitch-black horse. "That true, you devil?" he crooned to the horse, who whinnied in answer. Leo put an apple on his palm and felt the skim of teeth as Saturn continued to make his displeasure known. "Are you gonna let me ride?" he whispered to the horse, staring into his left eye. "Are you?"

"He bucked the old man off last week," Steve told him.

"Good," Leo retorted. "How many times is that now?"

"More'na three dozen," Steve said ruefully. "I've told him that it ain't his horse, but he won't listen." He paused. "You should take him with you, Doc."

Leo sighed from deep in his chest as he opened the stall door and Saturn pranced out, then followed him to the tack room. "Where am I gonna keep him -- in my dorm room? Besides, he ain't my horse."

"The hell he ain't," Steve retorted as Leo saddled Saturn.

+

Riding was the closest thing to flying that Leo did voluntarily, and he relished how the world became a blur when Saturn reared and then burst right out the door of the barn at a flat out run as soon as Leo's weight hit the saddle. The horse immediately bolted for the long trails that ran through the woods. Leo gave him his head, leaning forward and feeling the power of the horse between his legs, knowing that they were airborne as they rode together, Saturn's stride only touching back down every few feet to propel them forward at breakneck speeds. There was a special kind of grace that he felt in moments like this, a sympathy with nature that he'd only found in the partnership between man and horse. As they charged into the woods, the air streaming by them, he was awestruck anew that this magnificent animal had chosen him, allowed him this perspective of the world, the freedom that he felt astride him.

Jim would laugh at him, he was sure, seeing the contradiction in his willingly placing his safety in the hand of a 450 kg animal that most people thought was crazy. But he wasn't crazy, Saturn. He just refused to be broken, to be forced to run and perform in the ways that made a horse a champion in the circles that Leo's family moved in, and Leo had to admire the tenacity of spirit that made him stand his ground.

Aside from Gram, Saturn was the one thing that Leo missed about Georgia.

+

Leo was fucking exhausted by the time he got to the last shuttle out of Atlanta that night. The situation with his grandfather was just impossible and ridiculous, and he'd whispered apologies to both his grandmother and Saturn as he'd left that evening. He knew that he'd hurt them both by leaving so soon, but he just couldn't countenance another confrontation with his grandfather. His control was slipping, and sooner rather than later, he'd have hauled off and belted the asshole right in the mouth.

It had been a day full of surprises. The first had been the feeling of a hand on his arm at the after-funeral luncheon, a hand that he hadn't felt the touch of in almost a decade, but still remembered. Jessica. She'd been off-world when his father died, but had sent condolence notes to him and to his grandparents, and he had no idea that she was back planetside. He told her so before he wrapped her up in a hug that told him that more things had changed than he'd first recognized.

He broke away from her and looked down to where her abdomen was slightly distended. "When?"

"I'm about halfway," she said, smiling up at him.

He stammered his congratulations, and she looked at him with a quizzical expression on her sweet face. Jessica had been a beautiful girl, but she was glowing with health and vitality as a pregnant woman. "I didn't even …" he looked down at her left hand. "Why didn't you tell me you got married?" He couldn't keep the accusatory tone out of his voice. Sure, they were only sporadically in contact, but he'd invited her to his damned wedding years ago. He'd expected to receive the same accord from her.

Jessica was staring at him, eyes wide. "But I did," she said, "you declined."

He was shaking his head before she finished the sentence. "I never saw an invitation," he said. "As a matter of fact, I haven't gotten so much as a message from you for years other than the note you sent here when my father died."

Jessica's face was shuttered, as if something she'd long suspected had been confirmed. "I had hoped …" she began, then stopped herself. "I'm sorry that you didn't know, Leo. I did write to you. More than once."

Leo huffed out a breath, suddenly glad that Jocelyn hadn't so much as sent a message herself, much less showed up. He'd been feeling a little wistful about that fact until precisely that moment, had felt sad that everything that they had, all that promise, had been reduced to gall and then ashes, and then … nothing. He sighed. "When things were going to shit between us," he said, "she must have felt threatened." He shook his head. "I'm not making excuses for her, I swear," he said at Jess' dubious expression. "I just know the way her mind works. I should have made more an effort to stay in touch," he finished. "It's partly my fault."

He jammed his duffels into the overhead bins, grateful that he was early enough before the holiday rush that he hadn't had to check his bags through, then went to the head with his medkit and gave himself an even lower dose of anti-anxiety meds than he had on the way out. He had every intention of having a drink when he finally got his molecules back in order in San Francisco, and he had no desire to pass out before he had a chance to relax. Goddamned Ted McCoy and his vicious fucking mouth, he thought, washing his face. He'd ordered Leo out of his house the instant that they got back to it after the funeral, and even though Gram had practically ripped his balls off defending Leo, he'd been happy to go. It just wasn't fucking worth it to hang around for one more night, and one more ride on Saturn in the morning. He'd tried to explain it to Saturn, and then his grandmother when she came down to the barn to try and talk him out of it. God, he loved that woman – she'd put up with way more shit than she should have had to because of McCoy men, and he was ashamed to count himself among those who'd wounded her, but there was nothing he could do about it.

His life was no longer in Georgia, and this last trip 'home' had proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

+

He'd dozed a bit on the way back, bringing his grand total of sleep somewhere close to four hours out of the previous 48, so at first he thought he was still dreaming when he saw Jim wearing practically the same outfit he'd worn the first time he saw him, minus the blood, standing behind the glass wall at the transport station in the waiting room. Jim was leaning back against the wall, one leg up and braced behind, drumming his fingers restively as he scanned the crowd. Leo blinked, but when he opened his eyes, Jim was gone. He sighed and moved along with the small crowd as it streamed out of the transporter bay.

"Bones!"

He almost heard the whistle of Jim's hand through the air as it moved toward him, and he braced himself, ready for the clap. So of course Jim surprised him by squeezing his shoulder and turning him to face him.

"You look like crap, Bones," he said. Jim looked like he hadn't slept all that much in the past couple of weeks, but he was full of his usual cheer and his nearly manic energy level. "I'm sorry about your great-grandpa," he said sincerely, blue eyes warm with concern. He pulled Leo forward into a far too brief one-armed hug before he peeled one of Leo's bags off of him and slung an arm across his shoulders.

Leo felt a mild déjà vu. "What're you doing here, Jim?" Leo asked.

"Taking your tired, sad ass out for a drink," Jim said. "Shit, Bones. Is packing light not a concept you've ever heard of?"

+

They'd ended up going back to Leo's dorm first to drop everything off, and Leo changed into jeans and a t-shirt himself, digging through his bags for this or that. When he came back out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth, he found Jim sitting on his bed next to one of the duffels, staring at a holo in a frame he didn't recognize with a rather awestruck expression on his face.

"Privacy, Jim?" Leo chided, but Jim just stared at him like he'd never seen him before.

"When was this taken, Bones?" he asked, turning the screen around so that Leo could see himself talking to Saturn, his brow resting below the horse's blaze, hands on the horse's muzzle.

Leo shook his head in surprise. Either his grandmother or Steve had taken the picture, and his money was on Gram. "A few hours ago, I guess," he said. "I didn't realize I wasn't alone."

Jim turned the holo back towards him and pressed the lower right hand corner, before turning the screen back toward him. "And this one?"

Leo barked out a laugh. Gram had caught him with an apple clenched between his teeth, offering it to Saturn. "This morning," he said.

"I can't believe you didn't get bitten," Jim said.

"As you shouldn't," Leo said, pulling out the same overshirt that he was wearing in the holo. His lip was still a bit tender where Saturn had nipped at it, and he rubbed where he'd regenerated it, watching Jim's eyes track from his lip to the shirt and back.

"He bit you?" Jim was incredulous.

"Not the first time," Leo said, turning the shirt upside down.

"And yet you keep feeding him that way?"

Leo shrugged and put his arms in the overshirt.

"And you say I'm reckless?" Jim chided.

"He's not gonna hurt me," Leo said, as if the very thought was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard of. "It's just his way of telling me that he was pissed at me for being gone so long, and also that he knew I was leaving."

Jim was staring at him again with that inscrutable expression on his face.

"What?"

"You really surprise me sometimes, Bones."

Leo pulled the shirt over his head, and when he popped back out, Jim was staring at the holo screen with a pensive expression on his face.

"What?"

"Look at you," Jim said, but this time he didn't turn the frame toward Leo, so he shoved his duffel bag back on the bed and sat down, feeling his boots push up against his sore backside.

"I'm riding," Leo said, wincing at the sight of the goofy but thoroughly necessary helmet he was wearing. As a point of fact, he was jumping, and Gram had caught him at the apex of Saturn's flight over the hurdle, when all of his legs were off the ground, and Leo was slanted forward tight over him, urging him on as they flew together.

"You're smiling," Jim said quietly. "I've never seen you smile like that."

Leo looked at Jim quizzically. "I'm sure you must have," he said.

"No," Jim said surely. "Never."

"I never said I was Mr. Happy," he remarked. "Are we going to get a drink or what?" He started to stand, but pulled the boots out of his bag to set them upright on the closet floor.

Jim advanced the holo, and a short film of Leo riding filled the screen. As he watched, Saturn burst out of the barn doors like he was being chased by the devil himself with Leo smiling and urging him on from above. "Wow," Jim said.

Leo shook his head. "It's just riding, Jim. You musta done some of that out in I-O-way," he said in exaggerated tones.

"Not like that," Jim said, eyes still glued on the screen. He must have looked up when Leo plopped the boots down on the closet floor, because he asked, "Hey, aren't you going to need those when you go home?"

Leo scratched his head with his back still to Jim and considered how to answer that question. Finally, he turned around and said simply, "I'm not going back, Jim." He kept talking to forestall the questions that he could see forming in Jim's eyes as he looked from the holo in his hand back to Leo. "I'm going to get a drink," he said, walking to the door. "Are you coming or not, kid?"

+

Chapter 8

+

Leo should have realized that with only one more day of finals and the looming winter break, every bar near campus would be crawling with Cadets on the prowl, looking to make a memory to keep them warm during their nights back home with the parents. Then again, it had been a damned long time since he was in college. He and Jim had rejected several noisy, crowded and excessively hormonal options before ending up at Finnegan’s, a place where they were both comfortable elbowing their way through the crowd. Luckily, the emphasis on bagging someone before it was too late meant that they only hung out on the edge of the bar for a while before they were able to snag two seats in one of the smaller booths at the back. Of course, that also meant that Leo’d gotten his ass groped a number of times as they walked back to claim their table, which … he supposed he should be complimented by the fact that the youngsters thought his old ass was still worth groping, but Jesus, did they have to choose the one night when it was so sore to play grabass?

Jim opted to cram onto the bench next to Leo rather than sit opposite him, which Leo assumed was because he wanted to scope out his options for companionship. However, after several drinks and one or two dances, Jim just kept coming back to the table.

“Somebody just grabbed my balls,” he announced as he returned from his last foray to the bar, his hands full of drinks.

“Congratulations,” Leo said sarcastically.

“It was actually kind of painful,” Jim said, kicking an empty chair over opposite to where Leo was slouching into a relaxed state of inebriation.

“Are you intimating that you need a doctor’s attention?” Leo asked, raising an eyebrow. He hoped that didn’t sound as dirty as he thought that it might.

Jim smirked at him and put the drinks down on the table. “Maybe later, big guy,” he said, sitting down and crowding up next to Leo. He leaned forward and shrugged out of his leather jacket before he leaned back and toed the chair over, putting his feet up on it. “But no, my point was that I usually like, you know, a basic introduction, maybe a handshake, before someone goes for the goods.”

“I did not know that about you,” Leo said, mock-seriously, jostling against him to get a foot on the chair. “That you have standards and all.” Leo moved the small table over so that their drinks were out of the line of fire.

Jim elbowed him, but didn’t knock his foot off the chair. They were pressed up against each other’s sides from shoulder to ankle now.

“Seriously, Jim, I thought it was more free-form than that,” Leo continued, maneuvering carefully to get his other foot up on the chair without upending the table. He crossed his feet at the ankle and slouched down a little more, taking his body weight off the sorest part of his ass.

“Well, I do like to actually see the person who’s copping a feel,” Jim said. He put the heel of his right foot on the toe of his left shoe and leaned across Leo to the table. “I can’t reach my beer, now,” he complained, reaching. He was holding his shot in his other hand.

“Sucks to be you,” Leo said flatly, and picked up his whiskey. They’d eschewed bourbon for Jack boilermakers, because Leo would be damned if he’d pay bar prices for the horse piss they dared to call bourbon. “Yeah, Jim, you’re a real old-fashioned guy,” he mocked, lifting his glass, but Jim’s hand covered it before he could knock it back.

“Wait,” he said. “Here’s to … what was your great-grandpa’s name?”

“Horatio,” Leo said fondly, touched at Jim’s thoughtfulness. “Horatio Ellison McCoy.”

“Horatio Ellison McCoy,” Jim echoed, his face serious. He raised his glass as he said it, then tilted his shot in Leo’s direction in lieu of clinking his glass, before he paused.

“He was a true original,” Leo said, around the lump in his throat, repeating Jim’s motions.

Jim’s eyes were serious as he held Leo’s gaze, never looking away as they both downed their shots, and Jim leaned across him to slam his empty down on the table that really was too far away from him. Leo was the first to blink, pretending that it was the burn of the Jack that had brought tears to his eyes. Jim didn’t say a word, just pressed his forehead against Leo’s, his hand resting on the base of his skull and rubbing his nape before he shifted and settled back along Leo’s side, a comforting, solid weight. His arm slid behind Leo casually, comfortably filling the empty space along Leo’s lower back that had opened up when he'd slouched to put his feet on the chair.

“So, tell –“ Jim began, but a voice interrupted them.

“Hi,” a young woman said in a throaty intent voice, and Leo looked up. She was brunette, voluptuous, a second or third year. Ramirez, he thought her name might be. She glanced at him, but her eyes immediately snapped back to regard Jim with hungry interest.

“Hey, Aribel,” Jim said easily. “Bones, this is Aribel.”

She tipped her head to one side, exposing the long line of her pretty neck. “Bones?” she asked.

“Leonard,” he answered. He would have extended a hand to greet her, but Jim was a dead weight on his right side. He felt Jim shifting, and thought that he was moving to accommodate him, but was surprised when Jim just moved closer to him, dropping a head on his shoulder.

“Nice to meet you,” Aribel said, but he kinda doubted that from the tightness of her current expression, and the way her eyes had narrowed.

Next to him, Jim leaned across his body and managed to snag his beer, smiling triumphantly before he dropped his head back on Leo’s shoulder.

“I really love this song,” Aribel said in a meaningful voice. “And you did promise me a dance.”

“I did,” Jim said apologetically. “But I haven’t seen Bones for a couple of weeks, so … rain check?”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Leo said in his ‘I’m a big boy’ voice, just to fuck with Jim’s head the way Jim was fucking with his, and Aribel’s.

“He’s very generous, isn’t he?” Jim said fondly, and Leo almost inhaled a mouthful of beer up his nose when he felt Jim’s hand slide around his hip and stay there.

He looked up to see that Aribel had definitely noticed.

“Generous,” the young woman said. “Yeah. Well, I’m leaving in ten minutes, so … that’s how long your rain check is good for.”

“Thanks,” Jim said brightly.

Aribel looked confused and pissed as she walked away.

Leo wrested his arm out from where Jim had pinned it to his side and pinched a smirking Jim by pressing the vastus medialis and lateralis together with his strong hand on Jim’s thigh just above the knee, hard.

“Ow!” he complained, “what the fuck was the monkey bite for?”

“Why are you using me as a cockblock?” Leo growled.

Jim’s blue eyes widened. “Wow, say that again, Bones.”

Leo stared at him, unblinking.

“Seriously,” Jim said. “That was really hot.”

Leo flexed his fingers on Jim’s thigh threateningly and Jim began talking. “I promised her that dance a coupla weeks ago, before I found out that she’s kind of an asshole,” he said. “She thought the whole leapfrogging thing was funny.”

Leo searched Jim's eyes and seeing that he was telling the truth, eased up on his grip, but left his hand laying on Jim's knee.

“Besides,” Jim said, shrugging and settling back down against Leo. “I do feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”

Leo sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah,” he said. He dropped his head back against the bench and closed his eyes. God. He was really tired, and starting to feel it all: the alcohol, the shuttle lag, the funeral, his fucking grandfather, Saturn …

“Hey …” Jim said softly. “Tell me about your great-grandfather. Horatio. Was he a sailor?”

Leo couldn’t help the smile that crossed his face at the question. “There aren’t too many sailors from Georgia, Jim,” he said, turning his head and opening his eyes to find Jim’s face inches from his own, listening.

“I know one,” Jim said, with a small smile. “He’s gonna sail the stars in a couple of years.”

“Don’t remind me,” Leo groaned. “If I’m lucky, I’ll find a nice starbase somewhere.”

Jim shook his head. “That’s no fun, Bones.”

“Yeah, well that’s me,” he retorted sourly. “Nofun Bones.”

Jim looked like he wanted to say something, but stopped himself and said, “So, Horatio McCoy wasn’t a sailor.”

Leo shook his head. “He might’ve wanted to be, though. A real star sailor,” he said to Jim. “He did his time up in the black.” He thought about it. “More than his time, really. But that was before we really had Starfleet, just when the Academy was starting.”

Jim had an encouraging look on his face, but was otherwise quiet.

“You would have liked him, Jim,” Leo said, and he couldn’t help the smile. “He definitely would’ve liked you.” Shit, he was drunk, and if he wasn’t careful, he’d get maudlin and do something really stupid, like lean forward the few inches that separated them and kiss Jim’s pretty mouth. He shook his head. “He didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, that’s for damned sure – the surest way to get something done was to tell Horatio McCoy that it was impossible,” Leo laughed. “Then, he had to do it – just to prove you wrong.”

Jim smiled at Leo. “You really loved him.”

“I did,” Leo said. “I did.” He took in a deep breath, and thought about whether or not he should say what he wanted to, searching Jim’s blue eyes. It was so weird, but despite the many unanswered questions and all the mixed signals, he trusted Jim. He knew that Jim was his friend, whatever else he might be besides. “We moved to the farm the summer I was eight,” he began, "after my mom and my sister died.”

Jim’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry, Bones,” he said quietly.

Leo nodded. “Yeah, well. Thanks.” He sighed. “But, you know, everybody wanted me to talk about how I felt, and I just … I just couldn’t.” There was something … a flash of understanding, of empathy, in Jim’s eyes. “And Ol’ Paw – Horatio,” Leo clarified. “He was the only one who wasn’t at me all the time, asking me how I felt.” Leo smiled at the memory. “He taught me to fly fish, instead.”

“And you talked to him, didn’t you?” Jim asked.

“Yeah,” Leo said. “He was smarter than all of them put together. Don’t get me wrong,” he said, quaffing the rest of his beer. “They love me, and they were worried about me, but …”

“He was the one who understood you,” Jim said surely.

“Yeah,” Leo said, surprised at Jim’s insight. “He was.”

Jim nodded, and peeled himself away from Leo. “Save my seat,” he said. “I’m going to get us more drinks.”

“We should probably –-" Leo began, but Jim leaned right into Leo’s space again.

“We should probably drink another toast to Horatio McCoy,” Jim said.

And Leo huffed out a laugh, and let his head drop back against the bench. “Yeah.”

+

Leonard Horatio McCoy was drunk.

D.R.U.N.K.

Drunk.

The kind of drunk where he was prone to ramble, had to check himself to make sure that he wasn’t spewing too much of his inner monologue aloud, because even if he didn’t talk a lot (out loud, anyways) in general, he was sure as hell thinking a lot of things that he was better off not saying. Like how good it felt to lean up against Jim, to feel him bolstering Leo up from below as they staggered their way back to Leo’s dorm. They’d closed the bar, not surprisingly, and so far, Leo’d managed not to say one stupid thing like, 'You got such pretty eyes' or lips. Or cheekbones. Hell, Jim even had a pretty nose, fer cryin’ out loud.

“Jesus, Bones,” the prettiest man on Starfleet campus groused. “You are fucking heavy.”

“’ts’all muscle, Jimmy my boy,” Leo said grandly.

“Yeah, yeah, Muscles McCoy,” Jim complained. “Could you try and maybe use them just a tiny bit to support yourself?”

Leo tried to correct himself, realizing that he’d probably been leaning on Jim because he enjoyed the feeling of Jim's body pressed up against his far too much. The only saving grace in this whole situation was the fact that he was too drunk and too tired to get really hard.

Although, actually … now that he'd thought about it …

"Bones, man, what in the hell are you thinking about?"

"Huh?" He managed to rasp out, hoping he looked innocent.

"You have the most bizarre expression on your face," Jim said, propping him against a wall.

No, wait … Leo barely restrained himself from reaching out to grab at him as Jim moved away, but he started tipping anyway, and Jim planted one of his beautiful hands – the right one, Leo's favorite – against his chest to press him back against the wall. Leo looped one hand around Jim's wrist and spread the other one over Jim's hand. "Jim …" he said softly.

"Yeah, Bones," Jim said. He seemed a little unsteady himself, and seemed to be having trouble with … where the fuck were they? "Shit," Jim said.

Leo looked around and recognized his surroundings. "Didja forget my code?" he asked.

"Shh … Bones," Jim said, putting a finger up over his own lips, and then moving the finger toward Leo's mouth. Leo made a small noise of disappointment when it moved away. It was Jim's left hand, Leo's other favorite. "It's way the fuck after curfew." Jim turned back toward the door, and fumbled with the keypad again, letting out a relieved breath when it clicked through and the door popped open.

"It's pathetic, you know," Leo groused when Jim slung Leo's arm around his shoulder and they staggered in through the door. "Being 28 fucking years old and having a curfew."

"It's not that great when you're 22, either, Bones," Jim whispered. "And shut the fuck up." He propped Leo up against the wall next to the turbolift and then rolled him into it when the door opened.

Leo closed his eyes against the feeling of vertigo that roiled through him as the world shifted around them, and then Jim was shaking him.

"Bones," he said urgently. "Stay with me here. I'm shit tired and I don't think I could carry your drunk ass." The turbolift opened, and Leo leaned off the wall and onto Jim, facing him, as they kind of waltzed out of the 'lift.

"Shit, Jim," Leo said. "Are we dancing?"

Jim huffed out a laugh right next to Leo's ear. "Whatever works," he said, propping Leo up next to his door. "I've never seen you this bad, Bones, and I've seen you drink way more than this before." He searched Leo's face. "When was the last time you ate?"

"Afraid I'm gonna throw up on you?" Leo asked grouchily, and then thought better of having brought up the subject of food as his stomach flipped.

"Should I be?" Jim asked in a stage whisper, finally getting the door open.

Leo thought that over, as Jim half-wrestled, half-waltzed him into the dark room. "I ate lunch," he said, and then, suddenly, he was tipping over, tripping over something. "Shit!"

He and Jim both said it at the same time, as Leo's upper half hit the bed, hard, and Jim landed on top of him, right on his sore ass.

"Fuck!"

"Shh …" Jim hissed furiously, standing up. "Lights!" He moved to the door and closed it, as Leo groaned.

"50%!" Leo said loudly, trying to right himself as the damned lights refused to respond to his slurred command.

Jim repeated the command, laughing at him. "I guess the computer doesn't understand drunk Southerner," he said.

"Fuck you," Leo groused. He was lying half on, half off the bed, his legs tangled up in something that he kicked at feebly. "Oh, fuck! My holos …" he groaned, trying to sit up and almost falling off the bed again, before Jim caught him and pushed him back down.

"Here, here …" Jim said, untangling Leo's feet from the straps of his duffel, and pulling off his shoes for good measure. He lifted the bag up, and handed it to Leo when he grabbed at it. "I'm sure they're fine," he said. "I didn't hear anything break."

Leo managed to sit up, his strained muscles complaining all the while. He pawed through the bag, and saw that Jim was right. Everything looked OK. He pulled out one of the journals that had gotten bent, and straightened it out, smoothing the leather cover, and looking for the rest of them.

"Your diaries, Bones?" Jim teased. He had sat down on the bed next to Leo, and was leaning against him comfortably.

"Not mine," Leo said. "Horatio's."

Jim looked at him in surprise.

"From when he was up in the black," he said, finding the next one and placing it atop the others.

"Wow," Jim said. "Have you read them?"

"No," Leo said quietly. "He asked me to wait until …"

Jim nodded.

"I think he saw a lot of shit," Leo said drunkenly. "He told me, you know, back in the summer when I wouldn't talk," Jim's eyes widened at the implication, "that if I couldn't talk about it out loud, that it helped to write things down." Leo stroked a hand across the journal. "He enlisted, too, you know."

"No, I didn't," Jim said.

Leo nodded, finding the last of the five leather-bound journals. "He went up to fight the Romulans."

Jim went very still next to him.

"Almost a hundred years ago now," Leo said. He paused. "I think there are things in here he never told another soul." He looked at Jim, who seemed to be intently listening to his every word. "I didn't even know that he'd been up there until this other old guy in town was telling war stories one time, and I could tell that Ol' Paw was pissed."

"Why?" Jim's voice was a whisper.

"He said that the guys who fucking bragged about everything were the ones who'd done the least, seen the least. That the men and women who knew about valor and sacrifice and what really happens in a war don't need to brag about it, that they didn't take pride in war stories." He looked over at Jim and found himself momentarily sobered by the expression of deep knowing on Jim's face, of how suddenly old Jim's eyes looked, but then Jim blinked and his eyes cleared and Leo wondered if he'd just imagined it.

Jim gently pried the journals out of Leo's hands and stacked them carefully on Leo's desk. "Not tonight, Bones," he said. "You've got to get some sleep."

"Yeah," Leo sighed.

"C'mon," Jim said, and he stood, taking the duffel and placing it carefully by the door. "Let's get you in bed." His hands reached for the hem of Leo's, no, his father's shirt, and he pulled it and Leo's t-shirt up and over his head, before he reached for the button of his jeans, and Leo stopped his hand, and stood. "Bones," Jim said, as Leo swayed.

"I gotta use the head, Jim," he said, trying desperately to cover the fact that the idea of Jim undressing him was leading him down all sorts of bad roads. Jim was just trying to be a good friend to him, not a lover. He staggered to the bathroom, undoing his pants as he went.

"I'm timing you, Bones," Jim warned. "Any longer than three minutes and I'm coming in after you."

Promises, promises, Leo thought sardonically.

+

Leo was only half-conscious when Jim came back into the room. He'd dozed off to the sound of the shower running and had been lost in his dreams, so he startled when Jim's weight hit the bed.

"It's just me, Bones," Jim said.

"Jim?" he said muzzily, rolling over. He'd been dreaming that he was back in Georgia, alone. The house was deserted, windows open and curtains flapping in the hot, empty breeze as he laid in the narrow childhood bed he'd only ever shared with Jessica, alone. Always alone.

"S'ok," Jim murmured, stroking the hair off his forehead, and Leo knew he was still dreaming, especially when he felt Jim's hand wiping at his face, felt Jim's lips pressing against his hairline. He hadn't been crying, had he? He was dreaming.

Jim's arms wrapped around him, sure and strong, and Leo pressed his face into Jim's neck and sighed. "Jim," he said, and he wrapped his arms around Jim's back and held on, because he was dreaming.

+

Chapter 9

+

The second time Leo woke was to the sound of Jim swearing as he rolled away from his back and vaulted out of bed, his right hand pressing against Leo's hip as he used it for leverage. He vaguely recalled having heard muttering from the comm before then, but had ignored it.

The first time he'd woken, it was right around daybreak, and the room was still mostly dark. He remembered falling asleep with his face pressed into Jim's neck, and the sensation of his collarbone under his lips, but maybe his imagination was more vivid than he'd given himself credit for in the past, because he’d woken in just about the same position he'd dozed off in. Of course, Jim had not been completely wrapped around him then, his knees tucked up behind Leo's, his heart beat steady and slow against Leo's back, his face pressed into the nape of Leo's neck as they shared the pillow. Jim's right hand was splayed like a starfish over Leo's abdomen, holding him in place even as Jim slept. Leo wondered drowsily what had made Jim abandon his usual posture of casual possession, the one where that hand claimed his hip. Not that he was complaining. The length of Jim's skin along his felt indescribably good, and when he’d shifted to rub at his gritty eyes, Jim had followed him, pressing his pelvis and his cock more firmly against his ass. Leo had closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep with a wry smile on his face. Jim's body knew what it wanted, that was for damned sure.

"Shit!"

Leo rolled over and tried to focus on Jim.

"Bones, man," Jim said in an urgent voice. "You've got to wake up."

"Why?" Bones groaned, throwing his arm over his head. Jesus, he was hung over. His mouth was dry and filled with sawdust, and he could feel the bones in his skull moving in time with the pounding of the blood in his head.

He opened an eye when he felt the weight of something hit the bed. It was his medkit. He looked up to see Jim wearing last night's t-shirt under a suspiciously baggy open red tunic. He was running Leo's sonic razor over his jawline.

"Bones?" Jim said. "You got anything there in your magic bag you can dose us with?" Jim looked hung over and just … Jesus, he was so fucking young. Leo was a total idiot sometimes. Jim raked a hand through his dampened hair attempting to straighten it out.

"Where's the fire, Jim?" Leo asked, yawning and closing his eyes. He didn't need to be at the hospital until 1200 hours, which gave him another couple of hours to laze around.

"Astrophysics," Jim said.

Leo cracked an eye open at him. "You have a fucking test this morning, and we went out and got drunk last night?"

Jim looked at him like he was the insane one. "Bones," he started in a reproving tone, but Leo cut him off.

"You really are an infant," Leo said sharply, looking through the medkit for the right hypo.

"I'm not worried about the fucking test," Jim said exasperatedly, pulling on a pair of red pants, and stuffing his foot into his decidedly non-regulation footwear. "I'll do fine. You gotta dose yourself, too, Bones," he cocked his thumb back at the comm and hopped into his other boot as Leo looked up at him. "Your surgery's been moved back to 1030."

Fuck. "I really don't need this shit," Leo growled. "What time is it?"

"0830," Jim said, zipping up the jacket.

He was wearing one of Leo's reds, and the poor fit only served to make him look younger. The tunic was too broad, the pants too loose around the hip and thigh – Leo was pretty sure that if he tugged on them, he'd expose Jim's briefs. "Nice outfit," he said sourly, stabbing himself in the neck before he sat up. Jim handed him a glass of water and he raised an eyebrow as he mumbled his thanks.

"Sorry, man," Jim said cheerfully. "I don't want to get bagged out of uniform on the last day of the semester. I'll return it." He added, "Clean, I swear," when Leo scowled at him.

Leo grumbled, but nodded, relieved to feel his head clearing and the vise around it loosen. "C'mere," he said to Jim, who bent down. He pushed the collar of his/Jim's uniform down and pressed the hypospray against his neck. Jim winced and rubbed at his neck as he moved away. "Baby," he muttered.

"Bones," he said. "Can I steal a bag?" He was already stuffing his clothes from the previous night into one of Leo's duffels, so Leo just grunted. Jim turned and looked at him from the door. "Do you need me to set the alarm?"

"No," Leo said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, and rubbing the back of his neck. After a minute of silence, he looked up to find Jim watching him with an inscrutable expression on his face. "Jim?" he asked.

Kirk stared at him for a moment longer, almost like he had something to say, but then he smiled. It was one his falsely sunny ones, and it didn't reach his eyes. Jim had never smiled at Leo like that before. “I gotta go," he said.

Leo stared at him, not quite sure what in the hell was going on. "Good luck on your test, kid," he said. Jim nodded and turned toward the door. "And Jim," Leo added. "Thanks for last night."

Jim looked over his shoulder at Leo, and smiled with one side of his mouth, a wry, sad smile. "What are friends for?" He paused. "Later, Bones."

'What the hell?' Leo thought, as he stood up. Maybe he had done or said something last night, after all.

Fuck.

+

One shift turned into three when a couple of Cadets decided that the ideal thing to do on a Friday night now that the term was over was to climb one of the biggest trees on campus. All told, Leo spent about 36 hours at work, most of it in surgery, repairing the delicate bundles of nerves that made the central nervous system of humanoids, even the morons, operate. By the time he got back to his room again, he was strung out on stims and needed a shower and a glass of bourbon, not necessarily in that order. In fact, he was seriously considering taking the glass of bourbon right in the shower with him as he fumbled his way into the room, ordering the lights on, only to reveal that Jim had been there first. On Leo's desk there was a bottle of bourbon with a red bow, and next to it in a gold bucket was a small live pine tree. It was decorated with small starships of various sizes and generations, and as Leo watched, the nacelles flared on them one after another, flashing their red lights. He huffed out a laugh and saw that his uniform was laid over a chair, cleaned and pressed, with a note affixed to it.

Good as new, it said in Jim's loopy scrawl. Gone sightseeing, JTK and in smaller scrawl at the bottom, Back before 2256.01.

Leo sighed, and spun one of the starships on the tree. Well, hell. He couldn't expect Jim to babysit him, or give up his own plans for the holidays just to suit Leo, but … Jim’d always been particularly closed mouthed about his family, so Leo had just assumed that he’d be around for the holidays.

Of course, maybe he was just a little bit jealous that Jim had somewhere to spend the holidays, or maybe someone to spend it with. He sighed, and sat down at his desk, reaching for the open bottle of bourbon in his bottom drawer.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

+

Leo’s dour mood did not improve as the days went on.

Unlike Thanksgiving, the campus was mostly deserted during winter break, with only those students who were offworlders, grinds or orphans like himself remaining. Overseeing them was a skeleton crew of faculty, both at the Academy and at Starfleet Medical. The days dragged, although it was possible for Leo to actually focus on long-delayed research projects of one kind or another. Mostly, he caught up on a lot of journal reading. Still, the short days and the darkness, combined with the increasing damp and cold, made for a miserable Christmas. It didn’t help that Leo had been warned that this was just a prelude to the Bay Area winter which consisted of rain, rain, and for some variation, cold rain. Atlanta might get colder, but there was something about the persistent damp of San Francisco that got inside his bones and left a chill.

Christmas Eve was cold enough that Leo could see his breath as he walked across campus, and it felt like the fog was clinging to him long after he'd gone inside his building and waited for the turbolift. He'd already spoken to Gram, and was slated to work the next day, so he was looking forward to a long evening of reading, alone in his room. Maybe he'd crack open the bottle that Jim had given him. Hell, it was Christmas, after all. He’d shrugged out of his overcoat and turned away to hang it up after ordering the lights on when something sparkling on his desk caught his eye.

His mini-Christmas tree was now sporting a glittering holographic star at the top. Smaller ones were twinkling between the starships, and Leo couldn't help but laugh out loud, which he imagined had been Jim's intention in the first place. Only Jim Kirk would give an aviophobic a space-themed Christmas tree, an attempt to transform something frightening into something amusing, and beautiful. He shook his head.

That boy could rule the world if he put his mind to it.

+

Late one day, after Christmas, but before most of the students had begun returning to campus, Leo found himself alone at the row of terminals assigned to fellows and junior faculty for updating medical records. He'd been waiting for such an opportunity to arise, not wanting anyone to witness him looking up Jim's medical records. It's not that updating Jim's record with his allergic reactions was anything that he'd be questioned about – it was that he felt guilty. He knew that he was snooping, giving in to a desire to get answers about Jim’s past by looking at his records instead of asking him directly. Leo was dry-mouthed and sweaty-palmed, half-expecting that Jim would suddenly transport into the room and look at him accusatorily, but nothing happened when he pulled up Jim's records, and scrolled down to the known allergies section. He added Jim's response to the full-spectrum anti-microbial that he'd given him, but made it seem as if Jim had had the reaction when he'd been seen after sparring with Yu, a time when he'd legitimately been Leo's patient. He requested that Jim’s attending physician give him a full-panel work-up at his next visit, and then scrolled through the allergy section, finding that Jim had some other sensitivities listed there, before he backed out into Jim's general medical history.

He couldn't restrain the whistle when he saw the listing of injuries and treatments over the past few years, evidence of Jim's history of problem-solving with his fists. As he scrolled back and clicked through, he noted that Jim hadn't been lying about doing time in the county system. He appeared to have been in and out of Juvenile Detention a number of times before his eighteenth birthday, but there was nothing in Jim’s record to indicate how he’d gotten those whip marks on his back. Leo went back through the entries carefully, especially the County ones, looking to see if someone had tried to cover up the actions of an abusive guard, but the only entry that even referenced those scars was from one of his first admissions to a County facility when they were referred to as identifying marks.

He scrolled back, and found himself getting more and more anxious as the years peeled backward. God. He thought of Jim as being a kid now at almost 23, but that was nothing when compared to the idea that someone would have put their hands on a boy so savagely. He was already back to 2247, the year Jim had been all of 14, when his eye stuttered to a stop at the code for quarantine for offworld exposure, followed by a hospitalization that lasted for weeks. Leo stared at the entry -- Jim had never said a word about having been off-world, but that was clearly what the entry implied – at the very least, it meant that Jim had been exposed to some off-world pathogen and suffered life-threatening consequences. He watched his hand move to click through to the entry with a sense of utter dread, and the sure knowledge that he was absolutely, utterly intruding.

When the screen came up, Leo sat and stared blankly at it for a full minute: 13-year-old James T. Kirk had been processed for Terra re-entry from Tarsus IV on 2246.332.

Leo's hands were shaking as he clicked through for more details, hoping against hope to find that Jim had just gone to Tarsus with the rescue teams -- that he'd been aboard a ship with his mother – she'd stayed in Starfleet, hadn't she? He wanted to believe that Jim had ended up on that godforsaken hellhole after it had all gone bad, wanted to believe that Jim had not been witness to the genocide, to the grotesque culling of colonists that Kodos the Executioner had enforced after the crops failed, that he'd not seen people he knew and loved being led away to be forcibly slaughtered. It had been one of the biggest news stories of the past decade, had led to massive changes in the authority of colonial governors, to more direct oversight of remote locales – all too late for the 4,000 that had died in Kodos' death chambers, or the 2,000 that starved or were killed when the insurrection that followed the genocide was cruelly suppressed.

His lips compressed into a thin line as he read the entry that detailed Jim's condition: he’d been malnourished, his height and weight below the 25th percentile for his age group, and way off his projected targets based on his previous growth history. His body had been ravaged by a bovine-analogous off-world pox that he'd contracted, most likely from eating dirt contaminated with animal wastes in an effort to sustain himself. He'd almost died during treatments – he’d had an atypical response to one of the medications, and his ravaged immune system had misfired with near fatal results. Further complicating matters was the early stage sepsis that he was suffering from, most likely from the bacteremia he’d acquired, a bacteremia attributed to the severely infected whip wounds on his back.

The light tremors that Leo had felt upon opening the entry had been eclipsed as his system was so flooded with adrenaline that he felt lightheaded and nauseous.

Leo had spent a considerable period of his life feeling sorry for himself, although not without some justification. For all the gifts he'd been given: life, intelligence, good health, a strong and loving family, he’d been subjected to losses -- most of his family and in ways that he thought were horrific. He’d mused, in his more morbid moments, that he’d been born under a particularly dark star. But Jim Kirk, born in the dark void of space one minute before his father died to save him, Jim Kirk …

He thought of Jim’s face the night before he’d left, when Leo’d been talking about Horatio, the flash of knowing that he’d seen on Jim’s face, the way that Jim, the eternal optimist, sometimes had the saddest eyes that he’d ever seen. He’d always assumed that the way Jim had been born, the inevitable comparisons to his heroic father, had worn on him, made it hard for him to create an identity for himself, made him become larger than life to even begin to compare. But now … now he knew that everything he’d ever assumed had been far too simplistic.

But it all made a kind of sense now, like he’d found the one puzzle piece that he'd been looking for and could assemble all of the other broken pieces around it: the way Jim had gotten moody on Thanksgiving, for example. In retrospect, Leo could see that Jim had been disturbed by the amount of food left to waste on people’s plates. And the night before Jim had left for wherever he’d been these past couple of weeks, that look he’d seen in Jim’s eyes had been real, not some drunken imagining on his part.

Jim knew what Ol’ Paw had been talking about, had known it since he’d been a kid as small as some of those kids in the KFF. Anyone who’d been alive when the news about Tarsus IV had become public knew that it had been the kids who’d fought Kodos’ men to get the word out to the Federation about what was really going on planetside. That it was the kids, starving adolescents and children, who’d organized a raid and gotten control briefly, and at enormous cost to their ragtag army, of the communications array so that they could contact Starfleet. The Children’s Revolution, they'd called it – it had been the headline on the news for the days and weeks that followed.

He closed his eyes, and he saw Jim dancing, singing Jumpin' Jack Flash with a smile on his face, rolling out the words not defiantly, but with … understanding. What was it he'd said about Federova? That was what important was that she'd survived what had happened to her.

Jim had not only survived The Children’s Revolution, but Leo would lay money down that James T. Kirk had been one of its leaders.

He toggled away from the medical records database and did a general search for the colonists of Tarsus IV. There had been larger genocides in history, certainly, but still … seeing the listed names and how many of them were red and how few were black was sobering. Nearly a decade later, the effects of the genocide still rippled outward – Leo had read an article just last week that documented the unusually high suicide rate among the survivors, many of whom felt guilt for having been chosen to survive, when the rest of their families were not, or who couldn’t take the isolation, the loss, and the memories. He wondered how it was that he’d never read a story that capitalized on the fact that James T. Kirk, the son of Federation hero George Kirk, was one of the survivors of Kodos the Executioner’s bloody reign. Cynically, he imagined that the Federation had a vested interest in keeping the fact that they’d delivered the child of a galactic hero into the hands of a murdering madman out of the news cycle.

He scrolled down the list until he reached the Ks, and started when he saw two names on the list, one red and one black: George S. Kirk and James T. Kirk. Goddamnit. Both of George Kirk’s boys had been on Tarsus IV, only his namesake had not come back.

"Used t'sleep with my big brother," he heard Jim saying again, on the verge of sleep. "Long time ago."

In his pocket, his comm chimed and he flipped it open so he could see the view screen. Starfleet Medical Service was notifying him, as Jim Kirk’s attending physician, to make sure that Jim had a full allergy panel on his next visit. He closed the comm and toggled back to Jim’s medical records, scrolling up to the basic information. He swallowed hard around the sudden lump in his throat, when he read that not only was he listed as Jim’s attending physician, but that under Primary Contact it read 'Leonard H. McCoy', followed by his comm code.

"Damn it, Jim," he whispered.

+

Chapter 10

+

Leonard “Bones” McCoy knew a few things about himself. He had a tendency toward the obsessive, and an inability to unsee the negative side of things, like the fact that he knew, in excruciating detail, the many ways to die in a shuttle mishap, not to mention the odds of doing so. The fact that one’s chances were 1:100,000 meant far less to him than they should. Probabilities were probabilities, but somebody still had to be the one in the equation, a fact he’d known intimately for most of his life.

It would be easy to write him off as a pessimist, although there was a kernel of truth there. But he was also a certified contrarian, a man who didn’t like mysteries, medical or otherwise. He liked certainties, believed that solutions could be found if one was just dogged enough, stubborn enough. The fact that his father’s cure had been found just weeks after his death only cemented his belief in the rightness of staunch perseverance.

“You’re like a dog with a bone,” Gram has said repeatedly over the course of his life. And it’s true, he will not give up until he gets every last little bit of whatever it is that he’s after. Right now, that’s answers. The very next day found him back at the same terminal, the same desk, the minute his shift was over.

He was under no illusion that he’ll like what he finds, but he needed to understand. He needed to know how the fuck Jim Kirk, cocky bastard and bright light, ended up almost dying on Tarsus IV with his brother.

+

There were no easy answers to be found, at first. There were only two Kirks in the colony database, and Leo had no idea what Jim’s mother’s first name was. He toggled over to the Starfleet database and entered George Kirk into it to see that not only Jim’s father, but his Kirk grandfather, Tiberius, had served in Starfleet. Jim’s mother was listed as a Winona Kirk, and when Leo clicked through to her name, he saw that she was offworld on the Endeavour, a ship they’d been getting tremendous amounts of data from as it explored unknown portions of the Beta Quadrant. She’d never changed her name, not even through two subsequent marriages and divorces, but as far as Leo could discern she had not spent a lot of time on Terra during Jim’s childhood. He couldn’t find any indication that she’d been to Tarsus.

Leo pressed his lips into a thin line and tried to figure out where to go next. Jim’s maternal grandfather, a James MacAllister, had a youthful Starfleet service record, but there was no indication that he’d been on Tarsus – and no MacAllisters appeared on the listing.

He had been frowning at the terminal for a while when he heard an amused, lyrical voice nearby.

“I’m pretty sure scowling at the computer won’t make it work any faster, McCoy.”

He looked up to see Patty Stefanakis, one of the psychiatry attendings, standing on the other side of the row of terminals, a stack of PADDs in her arms. Her long dark hair was pulled up into a messy bun secured at the back of her head by a number of PADD styluses, and her pretty face was both tired and cheerful.

“Yeah, well …” Leo said.

“Merry Christmas?” she offered, cocking her head to one side.

Patty’s dark green eyes were focused on Leo in an incisive manner that he found extremely irritating, and Leo’s scowl deepened. He liked Patty – she was brilliant and kind and damned good at her job -- which was exactly the problem right now. Psychiatrists were notoriously nosey pains-in-the-asses, and Patty was a prime example.

“Bah humbug,” Leo offered.

Patty smiled. “You know, if you ever smiled real bright and pretty like I know you can, you might have to resuscitate me,” she said in an amused tone.

Leo rolled his eyes.

“What’re you working on?”

Well, Patty, I just discovered that my new best friend, the most brilliant, generally optimistic, yet sufficiently cynical man I’ve ever met, may have forever redefined the concept of resiliency in my head. “I was updating one of my patient’s records and noticed something that I’m tracking down,” Leo said instead.

She nodded. “Something that’s really gotten under your skin,” she said.

“Yeah, well,” Leo answered, then paused and thought, before looking up at her. “What do you know about Tarsus IV?”

Patty’s professional mask dropped into place in an eye blink. “I know that there may be survivors among the Cadets,” she said carefully. “There may also be personnel in other posts.”

Leo raised an eyebrow at that careful reveal, but instead asked, “Have you met with them – the Cadets, I mean?”

“If I had, Leonard,” she began, and he waved her off with an eye roll clearly meant to convey ‘please give me a fucking break’.

Patty was a couple of years older than he was, but he knew that she’d checked out all his quals – she was a psychiatrist, for fuck’s sake. Besides, he’d done the same to her, and he respected her, and she knew it, and she knew him well enough, he was sure, to know that respect was not something he automatically granted to either peers or superiors.

Patty stared at him, and then said, “Part of my job over the course of the time that the Cadets are here is to evaluate them on how their track choices jibe with a realistic assessment of their skills.”

Leo nodded.

“You’d be surprised at how much grandiosity and narcissism plays into career track choices.”

Leo snorted.

“OK, maybe not.” Patty smiled at him, the expression just shy of a smirk. “Anyway, part of my job is to assess whether or not the Cadets are truly suited for the post they want, regardless of their training and aptitudes. So, the answer is: I’ll see them all eventually.” She paused again. “Actually, I do know that you’re very well aware of the limits of standard testing.” She looked him in the eye. “I was given an interesting assessment you wrote of a third year who was on the command track until recently.”

Leo perked right up. “Was?

She nodded.

“Thank fuck,” he said, rocking back in his chair. “That boy could turn into an authoritarian nightmare in a flash.”

“I concur,” she said. “And I only read your assessment after I’d already made my own. I came to my conclusions via different observations, but for many of the same reasons. Some personality types will become abusive when given unchecked authority. Which brings us back to Tarsus, quite neatly. Why do you ask?”

“Is it possible for someone to really get over an experience like that?” Leo asked quietly. “Seeing people that you know and love being killed. Being chosen. Being starved. Being brutalized. Being exposed to the fuckwittery of the Eugenics thesis.” He paused. “Not dying.”

Patty shook her head. “Human beings have extraordinary resiliency,” she began hesitantly, and he smiled at her echoing his thought from earlier, “but what’s less predictable is who will be resilient. Certain personality types have a higher rate of success, obviously, but that’s not always associated with positivism, or overall achievement in career or socionormative experiences.”

“Meaning?”

“Some people do well because they can compartmentalize and divorce themselves from the experience. Some integrate and move on,” she shook her head. “I wish we could predict who was going to succeed, have some more reliable benchmarks so that we could set up fail safes. The rate of suicide among Tarsus survivors is fairly high.”

“Fairly?” From what Leo’d seen, it was unacceptably high. But then again, he was a doctor, not a statistician. Loss of life was anathema to him.

“Compared to the rates of suicide in other genocidal situations,” Patty said, putting down her PADDs and pulling up a chair to face Leo. She had a contemplative expression on her face, and a bit of a gleam in her eye as she said, “You referenced the ‘fuckwittery of Eugenics theory’, but many of our colleagues believe that as a race we are stronger and smarter, more resilient in general since the Augments became part of the genome, that they're part of the reason for the decline of many kinds of illnesses.”
“Bullshit, Patty,” Leo snapped, sitting up. “I’m sorry, but there is zero evidence for that being biologically true. I grant that some of those enhancements may have made their way into the gene pool, but speaking of narcissistic and grandiose fuckers, Keniclius has still to this day never explained what the hell he was doing with anything remotely resembling true scientific disclosure, nor has he submitted to any form of peer review. I just don’t buy it.”

“And yet he’s still alive, more than 200 years later.” Patty was observing him very carefully, and Leo found that he didn’t care, because about this bullshit, he’d never stop arguing, not until the day he died.

“Is he?” Leo asked. “I mean, is he the Stavos Keniclius that was born 200 years ago? How many body parts can you replace before you’ve physically become a clone of yourself? You know, my great grand-daddy just died at nearly 123 years of age. All original body parts,” he emphasized. “Even back when Keniclius was born, the McCoys were regularly living in good health until their ninth decade, and here my great-grandfather has outstripped that in a few generations, by a long shot. That’s just one example of what I find it to be the more likely scenario,” he said emphatically.

“Which is?” Patty asked.

“That Darwin was fucking right,” Leo answered. “We’re all of us that are alive now the offspring of those that survived WWIII and more importantly, everything that came after. Luck could have accounted for the former but there was a definitive culling, in the true biological sense, that occurred in the latter case. It’s all there in the records, the starvation and the plagues that followed the nuclear war. That was where the natural selection occurred, although, I’ll grant you, by unnatural means in true evolutionary terms.”

Patty was watching him. “You’re a very passionate person,” she observed, and Leo felt, abruptly, that he’d been far more revelatory than he’d intended to be.

He shrugged in response. “Yeah, well,” he said. “I’m not much of a fencesitter.”

She smiled. “No, I definitely see that,” she watched him for a few more minutes and said. “So, your patient? Is there something about his or her behavior that has you worried?”

“No,” Leo said surely. “I’d have referred him if that were the case. Mostly, I’m just plain surprised. It explains some anomalous findings on his basic physical, but it’s not something that he disclosed to me voluntarily. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing in his behavior that would indicate that he’s lived through such a traumatic experience.”

“Hmm …” Patty nodded.

“You’re not surprised by that observation,” Leo said.

“He could have integrated,” she suggested.

“He could have …” Leo said. “But I don’t think that’s it.”

“For the most part, the Tarsus survivors have tried to live their lives quietly,” she said.

Well, now. Quiet would never be among the first dozen words he’d use to describe Jim Kirk. Even when the kid wasn’t talking at all, he was impossible to ignore, and he was pretty sure that it wasn’t just a halfway in love Leonard McCoy who felt that way.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Patty,” he said, “I’m invoking confidentiality on this conversation, even though you do not know the identity of my patient.”

“Understood,” she said.

Leo sucked in a breath. “I have reason to believe that he was one of the leaders of the Children’s Revolution.”

Patty’s eyes widened. “That is … why do you think that?” She was leaning forward in her seat.

Leo shook his head. “It just … it just fits,” he said. “It just … some things make sense now in a way they didn’t before, I guess.”

“He’s not really just a patient, is he?” Patty asked shrewdly, then added. “I’m not judging or questioning your ethics here.”

Maybe you should be, Leo thought grimly. “I’ve treated him on a number of occasions, but we did meet socially first,” he said, prevaricating.

She looked thoughtful. “Have you read the trial transcripts?”

“What? No,” Leo said. “You know, I don’t even remember any trials. I must have been in med school when they happened.”

“Maybe,” Patty said. “But because of the age of most of the survivors when the crimes were committed, there were no cameras allowed, and names of underage witnesses were redacted. And with no Kodos to try …”

Leo shook his head sourly. “I see. No fucking news at 11:00, so no coverage, right?”

Patty shrugged. “Anyway. They’re a frustrating, but fascinating read,” she watched him for a minute, then turned to her terminal. “Let me send you a link to them.”

“Oh …” Leo began.

“There’s quite a bit of testimony about the leaders of the Children’s Revolution,” she said quietly. "If you have questions, you'll know where to find me."

The room fell to absolute quiet for a few seconds. “Send it to me,” Leo said.

+

It had been a week since he’d last seen Jim, the days ticking down slowly to 2256. A week from tonight, it’d be another Friday night, but it’d be Remembrance Day. Jim’s birthday. He couldn’t imagine what that must have been like for Jim, to know that the whole world was mourning his hero father’s death, on his birthday. Did Jim ever have a birthday party, any celebration on that day? Leo couldn’t imagine how that would work, and the whole thing just struck him as a sad and wrong. He was musing darkly as he lay on his bed, wearing jeans and a ratty t-shirt, his ankles crossed and the pillows bunched up under his head. He had a glass of bourbon balanced on his lower abdomen as he scrolled down through the testimony he’d transferred to his PADD. It was an old studying trick of his that served multiple purposes, holding the bourbon like that. For one, it proved that he wasn’t getting a gut, even if he was holding those muscles taut for long minutes in between sips. For another, he knew that if the glass slipped he was getting drunk, and he’d stop imbibing. So. Win, win.

The dormitory was still pretty quiet, but he wasn’t listening to music as he normally would. Be back before 2256.01 Jim’s note had said. He wasn’t sure when exactly that would be, but the last thing he wanted to be caught out doing was reading what he was reading. He had a journal article on new techniques in myelin regeneration open on another screen, so he’d be ready to close the testimony if he so much as heard the turbolift move.

Truthfully, the testimony had been an excruciating read so far, and he wasn’t entirely sure how much more of it he could take. It had become pretty clear that the only adults that Kodos had allowed to live were the most passive ones. Any adults that might have posed a threat, that might have risen up and led the colonists to rebel had been killed first. The ones who were left … Leo hadn’t spend a lot of time in his life blaming the victims, but goddamn … he never would have given up the way some of these people appeared to have.

Pieces of the testimony burned through his consciousness as he read.

We didn’t know what he was really doing, you know. We thought that he was in charge, that he knew what was best.

There wasn’t enough food, no matter what he did. People would have died.

I had to protect the children I had left. I couldn’t think about what had happened to all the others.

That last statement had been echoed elsewhere, and that one, that brutally pragmatic view, Leo could understand, to some degree. Every doctor who dealt with trauma learned to triage, to assess and decide who could wait, and who would take precedence. Of course, triage also meant that sometimes a doctor had to decide that the most critical patient would take too many resources, or too much time. He’d already been in enough battlefield sims to know that he’d be called upon to decide who lived or died at some time in his Starfleet career, if he went up into the black. Hell, it could happen tomorrow, if there was a big enough disaster at the Academy itself.

He unclenched his muscles and grabbed the glass and took a swallow as he scrolled down, carefully tightening his muscles before he balanced the glass again.

There were three of them, of the kids, that were the ringleaders. Those two boys, and that girl that the older one was always with. He'd said that they were the future, those three, his best and brightest, so it was ironic that they were the ones that brought him down.

They were beautiful, those boys … they were brothers. The little one was blond. The girl was fair, too. He didn't keep anybody who wasn't Caucasian. I don't think that he even kept anyone who had brown eyes.

I thought he'd killed the old people first, and then all the babies, but later I realized that I hadn't seen some of the colonists my age. There were a few that had been in Starfleet, and they were just gone. I'm pretty sure that they were {redacted} and {redacted}. {redacted}, he taught {redacted} at the Academy, that's what I heard. The rumor was that he was keeping them close to help him with strategy, but it was a lie. It was always lies.

Leo made a mental note to look in the regular database at work tomorrow. There'd been mention of the man whose name was redacted more than once. There had to be some way to cross-check for names of Academy personnel who'd died on Tarsus. At the very least, there had to be a memorial marker somewhere on the campus.

Leo scrolled down, noting how even in testimony, the deposed kept referring to Kodos as He, almost like he was God. In a way, he supposed he had been.

His voice, I still hear his voice in my sleep sometimes. He never let us see his face, you know. Only the kids saw his face. He killed everyone else who'd be able to identify him, after he found out what those kids had done, that they'd gotten the word off-planet to Starfleet. He called his senior staff into a conference room, and he poisoned them all. Only he had the antidote.

I heard that it was a poison gas, like the one he used in the chambers.

He knocked them out with some kind of toxin, and then he blew up the building. That's why we thought he'd died in there with them. But that was after … after he killed those kids, the ones that were the traitors, he said. He never came out of the building, but we could hear his voice from the balcony as he spoke.

They whipped them. The girl first, and the older boy tried to save her … and {let the record show a gap of three minutes before Witness 507 composes herself} … and they whipped him until they killed him. The guards, they just killed him, and the younger one, {redacted}, kept screaming for his brother …

Leo sat straight up in the bed, his bourbon forgotten, barely registering the wetness as it soaked into his jeans.

They left their bodies in the square, all three of them, naked with the sun beating down on them. I thought they were all dead. They just left them there in the dirt, staked down with chains around their necks, bleeding. The rescue ships showed up two days later.

The little one? He never stopped fighting. He never stopped talking, yelling at us to stand up, to do something, even when they were whipping him. So, they gagged him and when he finally fell, one of the guards spat on him, and said he was the biggest traitor of all.

God forgive us. We were too afraid to do anything … I can't believe he lived. {let the record show a gap of two minutes before Witness 507 speaks again} He's really alive, {redacted}? Would you … would you tell him that I'm sorry? I'm so sorry.

Leo vaguely heard the sound of glass shattering as he stumbled to the small bathroom, the PADD dropping from his numb hands. The bourbon burned as it came back up, mingling with the acids from his stomach and the tears that streamed down his face as he choked.

+

Chapter 11

+

Leo was glad that he was working the early shift the next morning, because it gave him the excuse to give up attempting to sleep entirely. He couldn’t actually picture Jim as a child, but that didn’t stop his imagination from conjuring up the scenarios described by the Tarsus survivors in the testimony he had read. Now that he was awake, the words rained through his consciousness like drops of blood as he walked across the campus at 0500 to Starfleet Medical in the winter dark, the swift wind off the bay a cold knife that drew tears from his eyes. The moon had been diminishing to a sliver over the course of the week, and all Leo could discern of it now was its shadowed outline, and probably only because he knew where to look. The absolute darkness suited him at the moment –- the sky was as black as Saturn’s mane, with only the blaze of starlight as contrast -- he turned his face down from the glittering heavens and tucked it into his upturned collar.

In old Terran astrology, Saturn ruled the stars for this next moon cycle. And if Leo was remembering correctly, Saturn was associated with a domineering father figure, with the myth of Cronus swallowing his own children so they would not supplant him. It was ironic, because George Kirk had sacrificed his life to save his wife and son, but in so doing, had made himself the measure against which that son would always be judged. It was the exact opposite of Cronus’ selfish intentions, but ultimately had had much the same effect.

Of course, Saturn was also associated with melancholy, one of the four basic humors that ancient physicians had ascribed to human nature. Saturn ruled them to some degree too, supposedly, scientists and physicians, and he could see how that would fit his own personality. What he could not see was how Saturn could be construed as Jim Kirk’s ruling planet. After all, he’d been born on the other side of the galaxy, far beyond its reach. Besides, there was something expansive about Jim, something golden and well-lit that defied the darkness even in the face of sure death.

He had no doubt that the blond boy who’d refused to lay down and die, to capitulate to the evil father that was Kodos, was Jim. And despite the horror that he felt at all that Jim must have suffered, or the rage that threatened to consume him when he thought of the layers of betrayal that it represented – he was grateful that Jim had survived. Hell, he was in awe. Jim Kirk was not a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination – he was cocky to the point of arrogance, and reckless, presenting an air of invincibility to the world at large. He believed that he could charm, manipulate, bull, seduce or punch his way out of or through any problem, a tendency that Leo had worried would lead him to harm. He’d never considered that there was anything in Jim’s past that would have proven to him that these were workable strategies. In fact, he’d been secretly hoping that the universe would knock him down a peg so that Jim would exert a little more care for himself. Now that he knew about Tarsus, however, he had no idea what the fuck anyone could do to check Jim. Starfleet thought they were going to break Jim down and mold him into their ideal officer, but that? That was not fucking going to happen. As the saying went, the past was prologue.

What Leo was most afraid of, aside from Jim’s own safety, was what that meant for him, and his already bruised heart.

+

As he crossed the threshold from the infirmary’s artificial light and heat into the darkness again, he experienced a moment of dislocation. It was hard to know what time of day or night it was when he came to work in the darkness and left in the darkness again. He’d seen the winter sunlight from the windows as he’d passed by them throughout the course of the day, but hadn’t been outside once since he’d entered the building. With a shiver at the cold, Leo wondered how it would feel to spend days and weeks and months aboard a starship, never feeling the wind. Cold as it was, he found himself relishing the fresh air.

His day had been long and boring -- a large part of it had been spent arbitrating between two junior colleagues who were intently arguing over the best course of treatment for a patient. There wasn’t a doctor alive who wasn’t a bit of a control freak, wanting to outwit death at every turn, wanting, needing to fix what was broken, as Leo well knew. That was part of the reason that he had ended up in Starfleet, broken by his failure to fix his father, but knowing this about himself didn't mean that he relished spending his day as a referee.

Leo wandered the campus in the direction of his dorm, but found himself with no desire to turn down the appropriate path and head there. Instead, he walked off campus and into the city, not acknowledging until he was there that he was heading for Finnegan’s. The bar was pretty packed for a Saturday night, and it was clear that a number of the Cadets had headed back to campus even though classes weren’t scheduled to start up again until the Monday after Remembrance Day. Leo wasn’t so old that he didn’t remember the desire to spend New Year’s Eve with friends. He looked around the room, half-expecting to see Jim somewhere. He told himself he wasn’t disappointed as he made his way through the crowd at the bar, wedging himself into a corner and catching the bartender’s eye.

He took a slug of the bourbon he was treating himself to and watched the crowd, feeling nostalgic for simpler times, or maybe for his own innocence. In some ways, as cynical as he liked to believe himself to be, he’d lost some more of that just this week. He should be happier about that, he supposed – he honestly hadn’t thought that he had any left to lose. All over the bar, young people of all species were talking, most of them flirting. He watched hands touch and mouths smile, eyelashes lower coyly. It was early in the evening still, too early for the more overt displays of sexuality that became more commonplace as everybody got a little loose from the alcohol. He wasn't expecting any such overtures to be directed at him tonight, knowing that he was projecting his foul mood like a cartoon black cloud over his head.

“Hello,” a low voice said next to him.

Leo turned to his left and was surprised to be meeting the eye of a Denobulan female who hadn’t been there before. She was a few years older than he, and tall, very fit. She was certainly not the type of female that he expected to see in a bar routinely patronized by Starfleet Cadets. Then again, he supposed he stuck out as well. “Ma’am,” Leo said courteously.

“You are very attractive,” the Denobulan said, in a direct way. “I prefer when males do not exercise their facial muscles too much.”

Leo raised both his eyebrows, and stifled his chuckle. So much for his earlier thoughts on the subject.

“The lower facial muscles,” the Denobulan continued. “I should have specified. Your forehead ripples impressively when you raise the upper ones.”

Leo felt like laughing for the first time in days, but contained himself. “Why, thank you, Ma’am,” he said. “Your forehead is also quite impressive.”

The Denobulan made a moue of approval, and Leo hastened to speak before she out and out propositioned him or blasted him with her pheromones.

“My companion has stated his preference for my forehead ripples on a number of occasions.” Two, to be precise, and it was really more about his eyebrows, but … in for a penny, in for a pound.

The Denobulan’s mouth turned down a bit at the edges. “Is your availability only to males?” she asked bluntly.

“Generally, no,” Leo said, “but at this particular time ...”

“I see,” the Denobulan said. “There is nothing I can do that would persuade you otherwise?”

“No,” Leo said, believing it better to err on the side of bluntness, rather than risk misunderstanding by trying to be kinder. “But I thank you for your expression of interest. It was most complimentary.”

The Denobulan searched his eyes for a moment, but must have seen his sincerity, because she turned and left after nodding. Leo shook his head and focused on his bourbon, ignoring the curiosity of the guy on the other side of him. He supposed he should feel slightly guilty for using Jim as a cockblock, but he did owe the kid one. Besides, he’d never know.

+

Leo spent about an hour at the bar all told, and got chatted up twice more, although he wasn’t really sure if the last guy was being friendly or flirty. It wasn’t the first time that had happened recently, what with Jim and all. He was really incredibly out of practice, was the problem. He’d been with Jocelyn since he was slightly older than Jim, and even though they’d been separated for months before their divorce, and estranged for longer than that, he hadn’t felt unmarried until he actually was. He’d meant his vows when he’d made them, and then there was the whole stubborn thing. Even though he knew Jocelyn had moved on, he just … hadn’t. It was what his Gram referred to as his ‘patented McCoy mule-headedness’ – up until the day they’d signed the papers, he’d hoped that they were going to figure things out. The thing was, he knew that it wasn’t much out of love for her anymore that he felt that way. It was just that once Joss was gone, every piece of his former life, everything that he’d thought to count on, was gone. That was one of the downsides of his stubbornness, right there.

He pushed away from the bar and began working his way across the more crowded room when a flash of something familiar caught his eye. He turned toward the back of the bar, just catching a glimpse of a man that might be Jim as he disappeared behind the curtained door that was staff only. Curious and slightly pissed that Jim might be back in town without telling him, if he had to admit to it, Leo changed direction and made his way to the curtain, making sure that he was unobserved before he stepped behind it.

The material wasn't soundproofed but the noise from the room was muffled. The most startling change was the seeming total darkness before Leo’s eyes adjusted. He moved forward, hearing a laugh, breathless and low, that sounded like Jim’s. He moved gingerly past the crates of full bottles that diminished into racks of empties as the corridor went on.

The corridor opened up in two directions just before the doorway to the back alley and Leo stopped, unsure of which way to go, and even more unsure of why he was there in the first place. What the fuck would he say to Jim if he came in from the outside door with a load of booze? He turned to walk away when the sound of a moan, low down from a man’s chest, reached him. He stopped, and deliberated for a full thirty seconds before he turned back and cautiously looked back around the corner, already knowing what he was going to see, but helpless or too masochistic to stop himself.

+

Leo stood at the large window at one of the conference rooms on the highest floor of Starfleet Medical, watching the barrage of fireworks over the Golden Gate Bridge illuminate the night, welcoming in the New Year. Occasionally, the door to the room would open behind him as his colleagues came and went, and he’d catch a glimpse of himself superimposed over the burning lights, tall, grimfaced, arms crossed over his chest.

Happy Fucking New Year.

“What’s your resolution?” Patty Stefanakis asked quietly.

He’d smelled her perfume for the past couple of minutes as she’d moved closer to him, and had kind of figured that she was waiting until they were alone to speak to him. Patty had made a habit of checking up on him the past few days, wanting to follow up with him on the Tarsus testimony. They were becoming, not exactly friends yet, but more than colleagues.

“Hmm …” he hummed, buying himself a little time. Try as he might, he couldn’t wash the image of Jim Kirk -- pants open and head thrown back against a back corridor wall at Finnegan’s as he sunk his hands into the hair of the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man who knelt at his feet -- out of his mind. Jim's eyes had been heavy-lidded, his mouth open as he gasped, hips bucking forward as the man pulled them toward him. Jim’d looked down, and laughed a little through a moan, urging the man on. ‘Just like that,’ he’d said roughly, and the way he moved turned his head into the light enough that Leo could see his blue eyes flashing. ‘Just like that.’

“I don’t suppose that not being such a fucking idiot is a resolution that a psychiatrist might find particularly healthy.”

Patty didn’t answer him for a few seconds, and when the last of the fireworks surged into the sky, he was shocked to see a brief expression of absolute misery on her reflection's face before she realized that he had seen her.

“Patty?” he said, turning toward her.

She watched him for a long moment, those big green eyes searching his before she pushed him over to sit in the armchairs near a coffee table in one corner of the room. “Is it your ex-wife?” she asked in a low voice, and he shook his head, not understanding. “I see you sometimes with this expression on your face, and I know,” she said harshly, “I know how that look feels.”

He regarded her carefully, but had to admit that he felt moved enough by her words to lean in. He put a hand on her arm. “I haven’t given her more than a passing though in months, Patty,” he said softly. “My current idiocy is all about me wanting something I can’t have.”

“Is she married?” Patty had hesitated minutely before using the pronoun, and Leo smiled, and shook his head. She really was pretty goddamned good.

“No, Patty,” he murmured with a hint of sarcasm, “he’s not married.”

She tilted her head and blushed a little, knowing that he’d heard her hesitance. “Is he not queer?” she added. “Like us?”

Leo thought about her question. “I don’t know how he’d identify,” he said slowly, “but from my perspective? He’s a 2.”

Patty smiled at him referring to the Kinsey scale. “And you are?”

“I am a solid 3, darlin',” he drawled. “You?”

“If I were going to use such an outmoded, speciesist system --” Leo rolled his eyes at her, and she huffed out a laugh, before she said, “I’m a 4.”

“Well …” Leo said, slapping on the Southerner extra-hard. “Ain’t that nice? We got all the middle flavors of the rainbow covered there, between us three. And your friend? What’s she?”

Patty’s expression became more bleak. “She’s says she’s a 0.”

“Ah,” Leo said, rolling his shoulders. “If she’s kissed you, she ain’t a 0.” He watched Patty’s cheeks pink up, and he pinched one, trying to tease her out of her sad mood. Oh, he could suffer in silence forever and ever, but give him someone to fix, and he’d forget all about his own troubles.

“Has your 2 kissed you?” Patty asked.

And right there? That was the problem with trying to fix another damned doctor. “No,” Leo said, shaking his head. “Goddamn him.” He looked at Patty. “He’s not what you’d call shy,” he said slowly. “So the obvious conclusion is that he just wants to be my friend. I’m just … making myself miserable.”

Patty took his hand and squeezed it, looking down.

He tilted his head forward, catching the sheen of tears in his eyes. “Patty?”

She wiped her other hand across her eyes, and Leo fished in his pocket and found a little packet of tissue and handed it to her. She laughed at the sight of it, and he could hear the water in her throat. “You are such a gentleman, Leonard McCoy,” she said.

“And that definitely ain’t his type,” Leo said wistfully, thinking of the leather-clad man he’d seen on his knees in front of Jim.

“Then he’s an idiot,” Patty said firmly, wiping her eyes with a tissue.

“So’s she, Patty,” Leo said sincerely. “Tell me.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m too old for this shit, Leonard,” she said. “People are supposed to have figured themselves out when they’re over 30, you know? Especially when they’ve studied and gone through therapy themselves.”

“Patty,” Leo said quietly. “We all know that being educated doesn’t make a damned bit of difference about this kind of stupidity.”

“Yeah,” she said. She said. “She’s from a very traditional background,” she said softly.

“Southern Baptist?” Leo asked, wrinkling his nose. “Church of God?” He paused. “Is she Terran?”

“Yeah,” Patty said. “And no, she’s Muslim.”

“Ah,” Leo said. Even after the devastations from the Eugenics Wars, that part of Terra had been prone to spates of religious-based violence all the way into this century.

“Her parents want her to marry a man from their faith,” she said bitterly. “They have him all picked out and everything.”

Well. That was fucking byzantine in this day and age, but Leo held his tongue. “And she won’t say ‘no’?” he asked gently.

Patty rocked her head back. “No,” she whispered sadly. “I don’t think she will. I think that she doesn’t love me enough to make a stand.” She looked up at Leo, and the devastation in her expression moved him to open up his arms and hold her. “It’s still easier being a 0, in some parts of the universe.”

“Patty, darling,” he said, “I am sincerely sorry.” He felt her nod, but before she succumbed to her tears, Leo's comm chirped in his pocket, the code for emergency sounding loud in the now quiet room. "Oh, fuck," he said, fumbling for it, as Patty's comm began to beep the same code. "Happy Fucking New Year, and here we go."

+

Men were idiots. Leo knew this. He was one, after all.

Tonight's particular brand of idiocy revolved around drunken brawls, never a good idea, but made especially bad by having taken place on a fifth story stairwell. The Cadet with the blown-out kidney had gone down the staircase, but the Cadet with the major head injuries had gone over the railing and down five stories. The blown spinal column was just the icing on the cake.

Leo'd been operating for fuck knows how long, but he was pretty sure that he was past hour seven. The team that had been assembled was pretty good, although they'd not had much experience working together. Leo was the most experienced of them, but the one without a 'fleet title in front of his name, which had led to some unnecessary pissing matches. Leo had been growling a lot at one of the other surgeons, whose technique was too slow and timorous for his taste. There was a lot to do and not enough time to be hemming and hawing. Trauma surgery required incisive decisionmaking, and Spencer didn't seem to have the knack for it. Finally, after two micro-leaks of CSF that were just totally unnecessary, he'd had enough and stomped around the bed, issuing a sharp, "Move!" as he took over.

His right hand was aching from the hours of work he'd put in, so he picked up a laser scalpel with his left hand and glared at Spencer, who was still standing way the fuck too close. "Move!" he said again, before looking down and seeing that there were more microleaks opening up everywhere. "I said to seal the spine, Doctor," he barked, "not make it fucking porous!"

"You're going to use your left hand?" Spencer was gaping at him, but his pomposity was showing. "That's highly irregular."

"Not when you're ambidextrous," Leo said, biting the words out through his teeth. "Not to mention this is a better angle, so fucking move before I knock you out!"

One of the other doctors pulled Spencer away, and Leo took a deep breath, then ordered the anesthesiologist to make some minor changes to the sedation. He focused on the spinal column, seeing it the way it was, then closed his eyes and let his head drop back, visualizing what it should look like in this body and prioritizing what needed to be done in an orderly fashion. There. He had it.

He opened his eyes, still looking up, and found himself staring up at Jim Kirk. Dressed in civilian clothes with nary a bruise or a drop of blood on his shirt, Jim was leaning against the window of the otherwise empty observation space, just watching him, wearing that leather jacket over his ubiquitous jeans and t-shirt. Leo started, concentration blown, and closed his eyes again. Goddamnit, he was fucking hallucinating now.

When he opened his eyes, Jim was still there, still watching him. He nodded at Leo, then glanced at the kid on the table before looking back at Leo. Leo snapped out of his stasis and looked down at his patient. He didn't recognize the kid, hadn't even looked at his face before he began this process, but could see the pale expanse of freckled skin on the table. This must be someone that Kirk knew, he thought, then he bent his head and put his mind to the task of saving the kid's spine.

+

When he stumbled out of the hospital at the end of the day, the sun was still up, but low in the sky. Patty and he had met up as they finalized reports, and they'd discussed dinner desultorily before giving up on the idea. He just wanted to sleep, and so did Patty. They crossed the campus together, hurrying as much as tired muscles would allow, shivering from the cold, too much caffeine and the comedown from the stims.

"So, final tally," she said blearily. "Two into anger management, one discharge from the Academy, and one kid undergoing detox from od-ing on synths. Unknown if his brain will ever be the same, but maybe that's for the better," she paused. "He was pretty serious about killing himself," she said tiredly.

"Jesus," Leo said. "My two idiots are going to be OK, I think. Not sure about fine motor on the kid with the bad spine, but that is not my fucking fault," he said crossly.

"I heard that you reamed Spencer," she said, yawning. "He was yelling about it, but the rest of the team wasn't backing him. They'll review the vids of the surgery," she said soothingly, as if he might be worried. "I'm sure that you were right."

"What-the-fuck-ever," Leo said. He wasn't worried. "I was right." He yawned so hard that his jaw cracked and Patty yawned again, swatting at him to stop.

"Hey," she said, at the point where their paths were going to diverge. "Did you ever figure out if …" she looked around at the passing Cadets, and didn't finish her sentence.

"Yes," he said tiredly. "I'm pretty sure I was right. G'night, Patty," he said, turning away and trudging towards his dorm.

In fact, he knew he was right, had figured out how Jim had gotten to Tarsus in the first place. Instinct was never going to be good enough for him. He was a scientist, not a psychic. He needed proof. So, he'd cross-checked the name of dead Starfleet personnel, finding the answer to that mystery in one Brian Williams, Lt. Cmdr. (Ret.).

Williams had taught Hand-to-Hand at the Academy before he and Marinell Williams, nee MacAllister, had taken their two small children to Tarsus to try their luck on a new world. He could only imagine how dizzy with excitement and adventure Jim must have been about him and his brother going to visit their aunt and uncle on a new world. Those poor boys. Their uncle had tried to save them the best that he knew how, had taught them to fight and strategize, so that they could stand on their own if he couldn't protect them. His own children had been too little to fight, and by all accounts they'd perished in the first wave of the killings along with their parents.

God help them all.

Leo's room was lit by the plum shadows cast as the winter sun set rapidly in the West. He shrugged out of his coat and kicked off his shoes, too weary to even think about showering again. He stunk from the antimicrobial treatment that was part and parcel of post-op, but he'd deal with it in the morning, or whenever he woke up. He left his clothes in a heap on the floor, only stopping to slap his comm on the table next to the Christmas tree on his desk which hadn't turned on when he came in the room, he realized.

"Lights," he said to the computer, but the tree stayed stubbornly dark. Although Gram had been known to leave their tree up long past the New Year, he knew that some folks undecorated the tree on New Year's Day. Someone in Jim's family must have kept the same custom, because although the starships still dangled from the branches, their nacelles were dark and their skins pewter against the pine needles.

He took a closer look, realizing that there was something different. A new starship, larger and more scuffed looking than the rest, dangled upside down awkwardly. Unlike the other starships with their loops for ornament hangers, this one had red thread snaked through holes on the top of it at the main saucer's edge. There were small crystals stuck on the thread and he touched one cautiously, then tasted it. Salt.

On the saucer, Jim had neatly printed the words 'USS Enterprise' and below that in bigger letters 'NCC 1701'. Leo was mystified as to how a beat-up salt shaker had come to represent Starfleet's new flagship, when there were a couple of other models of Constitution-class heavy cruisers on the tree. He turned the ship over, and a small shower of crystals rained on his desk. On the under side, where the crew quarters would be, Jim had written a small J and then a bit further down, an equally small B. Unless he missed his guess, Jim'd put them where the command staff's quarters should be.

He huffed out a laugh and placed the small, odd gift back on the tree, tapping it with a finger to give it a spin as he did. "Lights out," he ordered the computer and got into bed. He was too tired to contemplate any more Kirkian mysteries, so he rolled over and went to sleep.

+


Chapter 12

+

Leo's sense of dislocation continued on into the next day, oddly inverted because this time, he'd gone to sleep when it was light out and when he'd woken hours and hours later, it was to the bright light of the morning. He was felt muzzy in that hungover way that one felt when one had gotten too much sleep, as if the world was a little far away, as if his thoughts were processing just a bit too slowly. He had the strangest sense of not being alone and he opened an eye, expecting to find Jim sitting at his desk watching him sleep the way he'd been watching him operate, but the room was empty, and nothing seemed disturbed. There were no new ornaments on his Christmas tree, no notes … nothing.

He was really losing it over that kid. It was only 2256.02 and he'd broken his resolution immediately upon waking. He sighed and rolled over onto his stomach, flipping the pillow up and over, only to stop short before his head actually hit the fabric. He sniffed at the pillow and then at his sheets, which just smelled like sleep and him and hospital. He returned to the pillow. Well. He guessed he wasn't that fucking crazy, after all.

Jim had been here, in his bed again, goddamnit.

+

The thing he was pondering as he ate his second bowl of oatmeal in the mess was whether or not Jim had actually slid into bed with him at some point last night, and then slid out again before Leo'd awoken. As tired as he'd been the night before, he hadn't noticed anything other than bed and horizontal before he slipped right over the edge of sleep. However, he was a light sleeper, like most doctors who'd done urgent care, so the idea that Jim could have crept into his room while he was sleeping and not awakened him at all was a bit disturbing, he had to admit.

The man in question squeezed his shoulder and plopped a tray down next to his before he sat. "Bones!" he said cheerfully. "Happy New Year, man!"

Leo turned to look at his companion, schooling his expression to be as neutral, as normal as it ever had been. Jim was far too intuitive to not notice if Leo started acting weird around him, and he didn't particularly relish the conversation they'd need to have about how Leo had obsessively figured out the mystery of Tarsus. "Thanks, Jim," he said, as politely as Gram would expect him to be. "Same to you. How was your Christmas?" He hadn't really gotten a good look at Jim either time he'd seen him before, so he allowed his eyes to really drink him in, noting that his hair looked lighter, and that he was a few shades darker than he'd been the last time he'd seen him.

His sun-kissed color only served to highlight how blue his eyes were when he looked at Leo. "I don’t really celebrate it," he said, shrugging.

"Really," Leo said. "I've got a Christmas tree in my room that says otherwise."

Jim was looking down at his tray, cutting his omelet up with a semi-disgruntled expression on his face. "Well," he said, after muttering about his requests being ignored. Leo noted that his omelet had peppers in it, but Jim wasn't picking them out. He was going to eat what he'd been given, regardless of whether or not it was what he'd asked for. Leo felt his heart constrict with a pang. "I knew that you had to be here for work," Jim looked up at Leo and smiled. "I thought a little holiday spirit wouldn't hurt."

Leo raised an eyebrow, and Jim's smile kicked up in wattage.

"You liked it!" he crowed.

Leo rolled his eyes. "It was very thoughtful of you, Jim," he said begrudgingly, and Jim crowded up against him in a seated hip check, holding his fork far too close to Leo's eye. He pushed the hand away, maybe a bit more gently than he would have done ten days ago.

"You loved it!" Jim said enthusiastically. "I rock."

"I'm not actually required to participate in this conversation, am I?" Leo said, amused and touched by Jim's enthusiasm, but letting his answer slide out as sarcastically as ever. "I'll just be quiet over here while you and your ego congratulate each other.

Jim smirked at him, then glanced down at Leo's tray. "Bones, what's with all the oatmeal?"

"I'm hungry," he said, feeling a twinge in his gut and clamping down on the smart remark that he'd normally have made. "Yesterday was a lot more hectic that I expected."

"Skipping meals?" Jim asked sympathetically, and it was all Leo could do not to gape at him, or burst into tears.

He focused on his food instead, and just nodded, taking a breath in before decidedly changing the subject. "So, you decided that the way to spend New Year's Eve was watching me perform spinal surgery on one of your pals."

Jim looked puzzled. "Who?"

Now Leo was confused. "The kid on the table –- I thought you knew him."

"No," Jim said, looking at Leo over the rim of his juice glass. "I was looking for you."

"Huh?" Leo said.

"I said I'd be back before 2256.01," Jim said, as if the answer were self-evident, which it most decidedly was not. "You were supposed to be off shift at 2000 hours, so …"

Leo just stared at him. He needed some sort of damned translator key for Jim Kirk, that was the trouble.

Jim continued talking, waving his fork in the air for emphasis as he took a swig off his coffee. "When you weren't back in your room, I figured you'd been delayed, so I was just hanging out, waiting for you," he shoveled a forkful of omelet up toward his mouth, "when Rajphanthongsy called me."

"Huh?" Leo said again, mystified.

"Raji," Jim said patiently. "Bones, did you not get any sleep while I was away?"

"Jim," he said in irritation, "what does Raji have to do with you showing up in the OR?"

"I'm telling you!" Jim said, tucking into his home fries. "He and Sen went to some party last night, and Sen got dosed with some crap."

Leo sat up straight in alarm, thinking of Patty's litany of ODs. "Jesus, Jim! Is he OK?"

"He's fine," Jim soothed, before his face tightened. "Although I hope he fucking learned his lesson about taking drinks from strangers."

Leo was already sifting through the screens on his PADD, looking for admissions from the night before.

"It wasn't anything too serious," Jim assured Leo, "but Raji was scared and I went and got them and brought them to the infirmary. The idiots were at some party with 3rd and 4th years," Jim's expression was grim, "and I guess somebody thought it would be funny," his voice was hard, "to fuck one of the little kids up."

"Cupcake?" Leo asked, scrolling down to read that Sen had already been discharged.

Jim was peering over his shoulder, his breath grazing Leo's ear as he spoke. "Not at the party, and Gaila said she didn't think it had been malicious, but …" Jim sighed, "she misses the nuances a lot of the time."

"He's been discharged already," Leo said, putting the PADD down. His appetite was gone, but he made himself focus on eating his oatmeal. He'd be goddamned if he'd leave as much of a morsel of it in his bowl. "I'll check on his chart when I get a chance."

Jim nodded. "Anyway. I asked for you, but by the time he got seen, you were already in surgery. And you know, I've never actually seen you in all your Bones-y glory before, so …"

"You snuck in to watch," Leo said, looking up at Jim. "Why?"

"I just said it," Jim said patiently, squeezing Leo's shoulder. "Seriously, man. Sleep? Didja get any?"

"But you knew that I'm a surgeon, Jim," Leo said.

"Yeah, yeah," Jim said with a smile. "You have mentioned it once or twice," he mocked. "And yeah, you patch me up and I've seen you take care of a few other people, and you wield a mean hypospray, but I've never actually seen you in your real element before. And …" Jim looked down. "It wasn't just me, you know. I was trying to figure out where you actually were, trying to get someone at the desk to comm you when the whole place just started buzzing with activity, and then they were talking about who was on and who could deal with the new patients, and your name kept coming up. So I stuck around, and then when the others left the observation room, I went in."

"Others?" Leo asked.

Jim nodded. "Evidently that kid is the grandson of some Admiral, or something. That's why that douche fought so hard to be on the OR team."

Leo blinked. "Huh."

"You had no idea, of course," Jim said warmly, "because you're just about doing what needs to be done."

Leo turned his head and looked at him sharply.

"You were amazing, man," Jim said. "I was tired just watching you, and when you knocked that douche –"

"Lt. Spencer," Leo corrected.

Jim just rolled his eyes. "What-the-fuck-ever Bones – don't ever let that douche near me if I need surgery, OK?"

Leo had to laugh. "Jim if you need surgery, I'll be doing it."

"My plan exactly," Jim said, before Leo interrupted him.

"Although, you could try, you know, not to fucking need surgery in the first place."

"Anyway," Jim said loudly. "When I'm Captain --"

Leo rolled his eyes and muttered about delusions –

"I know that you'll have the right to pick your own staff as CMO, but I'm putting my foot down on the douche," he concluded, downing the rest of his juice. He turned and looked at Leo after a few seconds of silence. "What, no commentary?"

"About the imaginary ship you'll be commanding where I'll be your imaginary CMO?" Leo said. "I didn't think I actually needed to participate in the conversation, as it might constitute encouraging your delusions of grandeur."

Jim grinned at him, and Leo rolled his eyes. Jim turned and swung one leg over the bench as if preparing to take flight. "Anyway," he said, "it turns out you've been holding out on me."

Pot, meet kettle, Leo thought bitterly. "What the fuck are you talking about, Jim?"

"Ambidextrous?" Jim said smugly. "That totally changes your fight training plan."

Leo raised an eyebrow and drawled out. "Imagine you not noticing, what with your tactical genius and all."

Jim smirked, but it was rueful. "Yeah, yeah," he said and stood up.

"Where you going?" Leo asked, not quite ready, never quite ready, for Jim to leave again so soon.

"I've got a meeting with Rosovsky," he said.

"Commander Rosovsky? What for?" Leo couldn't imagine what the hell Jim had done already in the short time he'd been back.

"I'm petitioning him to take his summer course," Jim said. "You want me to take your tray?"

Leo handed his over. "The survival thing?" Goddamnit. That was probably one of the three most dangerous classes that Starfleet offered. "The one where they drop you off all by yourself in the middle of some godforsaken hellhole with fuck all to use to keep yourself alive?"

"The very one," Jim said cheerfully.

"Jim, were you dropped on your head a lot as an infant?" Leo asked crossly. "What about that sounds like a good way to spend your summer vacation?"

"Oh, c'mon," Jim said, "like you aren't going to spend your summer break working on some incredibly lethal disease or something."

"Damn it, Jim! Have you been hacking into my comms?" Leo was flustered as much as he was irritated by the potential incursion. He thought with relief of the PADD he'd broken that had the Tarsus testimony on it, and how careful he'd been to download it from the central computers and not to link to his home console at all, even for a synch.

"No," Jim said, and he sounded hostile and a bit insulted. "It just seemed like something you'd do, and obviously, I was right. Anyway, the rumor is that Rosovsky's going to pick a desert site this summer …"

Of course, Leo thought. Because going to a desert in the middle of summer was an awesome idea.

"And I checked out a couple of possible locales when I was off sightseeing."

Leo started. "You didn't go home?"

Jim stared down at him, then shifted Leo's empty bowls and cups over to his tray before stacking the two of them and picking them up. "What for?" he asked Leo without a trace of bitterness. Then he clapped a hand on his shoulder and shot him a sunny smile and a "Later, Bones," and walked away, whistling lightly.

Leo watched as he strode across the mess hall, occasionally spinning around to catch the rear view of a Cadet in a mini-skirt, waving at and speaking to a number of people, and probably flirting with every single one of them, including the elderly kitchen attendant.

He sighed, and shook his head, and headed out in the opposite direction for the infirmary.

+

Patty found him late in the day at the same console he'd come to think of as his. He was updating his final notes on the surgical procedure on the kid with the bad spine, whose name had turned out to be Buckley.

"Hey," she said, sitting down next to him. "Do you have a minute?"

He looked over at her, and saw that she looked significantly less well-rested than he did, and he frowned. She was pale, which her olive-toned complexion translated into a sallow tone. If he had to guess, he'd guess that she hadn't been eating well, either. "Are you all right, Patty?" he said softly.

She shook her head. "No." Her voice was just above a whisper. "My 0 was waiting for me when I got home this morning." Her green eyes were full of tears. "And you know, I told her that she can't keep on using me like that. That I won't be her lover behind closed doors, her dirty little secret." Her expression was so bleak, so haunted, that it hurt to look at her.

Leo looked over his shoulder, but no one appeared to be paying attention to them. He rolled his chair a little closer and put his hand over hers, and Patty curled her far smaller hand into his and grasped it. Even seated he towered over her and he felt simultaneously protective and ungainly as he mutely tried to will some of his strength into her.

"I'm trying to keep our resolution, you know?" she said, with a weak smile, squeezing his hand.

"What did she say?" Leo said quietly.

She shook her head. "She tried to change my mind," she looked up at Leo, "not with words. But you know, it's easy when it's just the two of us, behind closed doors. It's always been easy there. And I've let her make the rules for too long. She can't just say that she loves me one day, and then tell me that she might have to get married to a man the next." She gave Leo's hand a final squeeze before dropping it. "Especially since her next words were about how we didn't have to stop just because she got married to someone else."

Leo's eyes widened. "Are you kidding me?"

Patty looked up at him.

"No, I'm sorry, darling, I know you're not kidding me," Leo said hastily. "But why would he … sweet baby Jesus," he said, "is he queer, too?"

Patty shrugged. "I have no fucking idea," she said. "And I could really care less what his motivation is. I just don't … why would I want to participate in this clusterfuck?" she asked him, and he nodded sympathetically. "And if she really loved me, I mean, really loved me, she would know, wouldn't she? She would know how disrespectful and wrong this is."

Leo sighed. "Most people are selfish when it comes to love, Patty," he said, laying a hand on her knee. "You know this."

"Yeah," she said, looking down. "That doesn't mean it doesn't fucking suck, though."

"Amen," Leo said.

Patty took in a deep breath. "How're you doing, Leonard?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I'm OK."

She searched his face. "Really?"

"I didn't grab him and plant one on him when he showed up this morning, or anything," he said.

Patty smiled, "Well, there is that, I guess." She cocked her head to the side. "You know," she said, in a confidential tone. "The Leonard McCoy Fan Club has acquired a few new members due to your recent display of … adroitness," she said wickedly. "As a matter of fact, I was personally witness to a meeting which revealed that there are a few pretty cute members of the nursing staff, not to mention the residents, who'd be glad to experience your adeptness at getting them out of their lingerie."

Leo did not blush. Seriously. He was a grown man. Clearly, there was something wrong with the environmental controls in this room.

"You are freakin' adorable," Patty teased him. "Would you like a list? It might just be the thing to break the back of your problem with your 2."

Leo rubbed the back of his neck and thought about it. "I …" he began, and looked at Patty helplessly.

She was staring at him with an intent, shrewd expression. "Mm hmm," she said assessingly. "Not in the mood for lingerie at the moment, are you?"

"No," Leo said. "I tend to switch back and forth, and there's been nobody since my ex-."

She nodded. "Well," she said. "Luckily, the Leonard McCoy Fan Club is equal opportunity." She paused, and seemed to be considering some things. "Do you know Rick Jindal?"

Leo shook his head. "I think I've seen the name," he said, "but I can't …"

"Surgical fellow," she said. "About your age, I think. Not as smart as you, but I imagine that's true of 95% of the people you meet," Leo shook his head at her. "Oh, please, " she said, "you have a ridiculous number of initials after your name, Dr. McCoy, so don't even bother with the denials. Anyway, he's fit, he's good-looking, he's very nice," she said, "and I happen to believe that he's your Number One fan." She stood up and smoothed a hand over her hair, which only served to make it more messy, not less. "And I'll bet you dinner at your favorite restaurant that if he isn't a 6, then he's a 5."

"Patty …" he started, in a demurring tone.

"I didn't say you had to marry him, idiot," she said affectionately. "Just pay attention the next time he talks to you, and see what you think." She picked up her stack of PADDs and bent forward, brushing a kiss against his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered into his ear.

"Back atcha, darlin'," he said quietly. "Take care of yourself."

"You, too," she said.

+

It was raining on Remembrance Day, and although it felt somehow appropriate, Leo couldn't help but feel bad for Jim. Nearly his whole life, or as far back as he could remember clearly, this day had been commemorated with ceremony. It usually began the hour before the destruction of the Kelvin. This year, the ceremony began "Twenty-three years ago today …" and Leo felt an unexpected stab of pain. All these years, as the world, the Federation, counted its distance from this tragedy, they were counting the years of Jim Kirk's life.

The ceremony continued on in the ritual that he'd heard for years but felt like he was listening to for the first time, recounting the communications between the doomed ship and its home planet, detailing the events as they unfolded. At the hour of the Kelvin's destruction, they all stood, pausing for a moment of silence, and all Leo could think of was one-minute old James Kirk, probably being held in the arms of his weeping mother, innocent and unaware of the fate he'd been born to.

After the pause, the names of the lost were read out in alphabetical order, until the Admiral came to the last two on the list. Every year, they did it the same way, so Leo braced himself for what was coming.

"Captain Richard Robau," the Admiral solemnly intoned, and paused.

In all the years that Leo'd heard the last name read, there had always been a note of defiance, and triumph in the way it was said, and this year was no different. "Captain George Kirk," the Admiral said, and let the name ring in the air for a minute before he added, "Heroes all. Never forgotten."

Leo turned and looked, but Jim's face was in the shadows and barely visible. He doubted that anyone other than him had noticed Jim slip into the room after the ceremony had already begun, only the escaping pressure from the hydraulics marking his passage. Leo had sat near the back, one seat in from the aisle, and crossed his long legs in front of the empty seat, leaving room for Jim and trying to discourage a latecomer, another latecomer from slipping into the space that he'd left for him. He'd been right about what door Jim would use, but hadn't counted on the fact that he'd refuse to actually enter the convocation. Not that he could blame him, really. George Kirk had been a hero, no doubt. But he wasn't the only hero named Kirk, goddamnit.

+

It was technically no longer Jim's birthday when Leo entered Finnegan's just before closing time. He'd commed and even gone by Jim's room, but no one had heard or seen of him, least of all his useless roommates. After thinking about it, Leo had decided that this was probably where Jim had been hiding, at least for part of the day.

Liam Finnegan was behind the bar, not his usual post, and he nodded at Leo when he stepped up to the bar, his eyes cutting to a corner in the back, the same one where he and Jim had dug themselves in after Horatio.

"Is he bad?" Leo asked quietly, ordering drinks. He pulled his wallet out of his civilian overcoat. He'd changed into civvies, thinking that the last thing Jim wanted to see today was a 'fleet uniform.

"Been nursing the same beer for the last 45 minutes," Liam said, pouring out the shots. "Before that, he was out back loading up all the empties into the truck for recycling." He looked up at Leo. "Usually takes a couple of days. Hallway's totally empty."
Leo nodded, and refused to accept Liam's hand wave of the bill, tossing some credits down on the bar and picking up the small tray.

As he crossed the room, he could see Jim slouched in the dark corner. Jim had a number of slouches – and was able to broadcast a wide variety of emotional states via them. Tonight, he was sprawled across the bench with his head against the corner of the booth, one foot up on the chair opposite, the other down on the ground. There was nothing particularly relaxed about his posture. Instead, it said 'Fuck Off' and 'Leave Me Alone'.

Leo kicked the chair out from underneath Jim's foot and put the drinks down on the table, tossing the empty tray onto another table nearby. He put his coat on the back of the chair and picked it up, turning it around and sitting down right inside Jim's airspace. He moved the table a little closer to him, and parceled out the drinks, two shots and one beer apiece. He picked a shot up in either hand and waited, staring at his friend.

"And what are we drinking to exactly?" Jim asked. Leo could hear the thread of exhaustion and finally, that undernote of bitterness that he knew had to be there, somewhere.

"Sit up," Leo ordered, and wonder of wonders, after staring at him for a good long time, Jim did just that. Leo had positioned his chair so that when Jim sat up, they were inches away from each other, directly opposite one another.

Leo held Jim's eye and handed him the first shot.

Jim looked at Leo warily, almost belligerently.

Leo took in a breath, and said in a clear, low voice, "To George Kirk." He raised his glass and waited.

He thought he saw a bit of a tremor in Jim's lower lip, but he nodded and said, "To George Kirk," blue eyes dark and wet looking, before he tilted his head back and drank the shot down.

When Jim slapped his shot down on the table, Leo picked up the other two and sat there with them, staring at him.

"No, Bones," he said.

"Yes, Bones," Leo answered. "Take the fucking shot."

The air between them was fraught with tension, but Leo was not going to back down, and Jim must have seen that in his expression because he finally reached out, still reluctant, and took the shot.

"To my friend," Leo said, "James T. Kirk." He raised the glass.

Jim just stared at him, and this time there was a definite tremble to his lips.

"Jim," Leo said quietly. "It's a new year for you. Drink to it with me."

Leo saw Jim's throat work as he looked down at the glass in his hand.

"Please, Jim."

Jim nodded and tossed back the drink without saying a word. This time, it was Leo who slammed his against the table. Uncharacteristically, Jim just kind of slid his across the surface. Before he could lean back into his sullen slump, Leo caught him by the back of the neck and pressed Jim's forehead against his own, rubbing his hand up and down over the nape of his neck the way Jim had done to him.

"I'm grateful to know you, Jim," Leo said to him quietly. "I'm glad that you're here."

He heard the hitch in Jim's breath as his words sunk in, and then felt Jim's hand come up and grasp the back of his neck, pulling Leo in a little tighter before he pressed away.

"Thanks, Bones," Jim said. He turned his head and thumbed at his eye before he reached for their beers. When he handed one of them to Leo, he could see Jim's vulnerability, how alone he'd been for so long. "I just … thanks."

"You're welcome," Leo said, and picked up his own beer.

This time, they drank in companionable silence.

+

Chapter 13

+

January was as unrelentingly grey and rainy as he’d been warned, but hearing about something and experiencing it were two different things, a fact that he reflected upon with bitterness. Normally, he would have done everything possible to protect himself from the cold deluge – used an umbrella, taken shelter in a doorway or under an awning – but not this morning. Leo walked home in the pre-dawn deluge, soaked to the skin, and hoping that somehow it would wash away his sin. Because he had broken his first and most important promise: he had done harm. And this fact was made all the more bitter by the knowledge that he has done so out of his own base selfishness, betraying himself as well as that whom he’d injured.

+

Rick Jindal was a really nice guy, Leo had to admit. He couldn’t help but notice him after Patty had mentioned him, and it was clear from the minute Leo began paying attention that this guy liked him. Not that he actually knew Leo or anything, but Rick’s every glance let Leo know that he was attracted to him, that he wanted to get to know Leo. When the Buckley case had been reviewed at M&M, Jindal had spoken articulately on the needs of the patient taking precedence over the maintenance of protocol, neatly refuting Spencer’s arguments on the necessity of preservation of rank and its importance in the military surgical theatre. Leo had taken the opportunity, next time he saw him, to speak to him directly. He wasn’t so much thanking him for his support as he was acknowledging the commonality of their viewpoints. That initial conversation had led to others, which had led to Rick asking him out to dinner, which had led to Leo walking home in the darkness before dawn, in the freezing cold rain, feeling like the biggest asshole on the planet.

What he should have done was said ‘no’ when Rick had asked him if he’d like to go back to his place for an after-dinner drink. He’d had a good time, and he’d had enough to drink. He was pleasantly mellow, not buzzed to the point where inhibition would fall away, where the loneliness of the past year and his desire to drive Jim Kirk from his brain would overwhelm his common sense. That point he got to after they got back to Rick’s small but nicely appointed apartment, with its bay view and fake fireplace that threw off real heat. The conversation turned more personal, and when he was one drink beyond the point where he really should have stopped, he had turned his head in for a second round of kisses when he should have drawn back, made plans for a second date, and gone home.

But he hadn’t. Instead, he’d let himself get swept up in Rick's desire for him, let himself revel in being the object of another’s longing, because it felt so damned good to be wanted. There had been real pleasure in the surrender, to have someone be so responsive to his every twitch and sigh and moan. It wasn’t Rick’s fault that Leo had opened his eyes up, realized where he was, and what he was doing, and that he wasn’t doing it with the guy he had been imagining.

The disconnect had begun when he’d run one hand through Rick’s hair, and the other over the smooth plane of muscle in his shoulder as he knelt in front of Leo, trying to swallow him whole. He knew, somewhere, that it wasn’t Jim that was touching him, but he’d been so caught up in the holo playing inside his own head that the coarse straight hair running through his fingers, the difference in skin texture, shocked him into reality. Leo’s eyes had snapped open and he’d seen and suddenly it was all wrong – the shape and color of the eyes looking up at him through half-lowered lashes, the curve of the mouth, the play of tongue, the feel of the hands grasping him at his base and pressing behind his balls – and Leo’s own hands went from encouraging Rick closer to pushing him away. He’d tried to play if off as wanting something else, not someone else, and when he got up on his hands and knees, he hoped that by turning his back he’d be able to focus on sensation and not have touch or vision intrude. As long as he couldn’t see what was going on, he could pretend it was somebody else’s cock, somebody else’s hands, somebody else’s mouth.

Jim’s hands on him, that was what he was imagining. Jim’s hands, Jim’s lips and tongue, Jim’s cock pressing him wide open and wanting.

He closed his eyes and focused on the sensations, trying to block out Rick’s voice and listening to his own internal monologue, but he’d found himself faltering again, falling out of focus and disconnecting, when Rick’s hand, not the hand he wanted, moved down to stroke him in time with his thrusts. Leo braced himself on one arm, moving his hand down to take over, and Rick redoubled his efforts, thrusting harder, bending over him, holding onto his shoulders for leverage. But it wasn’t until Rick’s hand shifted and landed on Leo’s right hip to pull him back and in to one of his thrusts, that Leo felt himself coming with a strangled cry of “Ji-“ that he just managed to stifle as Rick bit into his back above the shoulder blade and came.

They collapsed into a tangled heap for mere seconds, and Leo had a hope, a vain one, that if Rick had heard his strangled cry that he’d be able to pass it off as his last name, as if anyone would find calling someone’s last name in bed remotely attractive. But the way Rick moved away from him while he was still trying to catch his breath let him know that he hadn't gotten away with anything.

He pushed himself up to turn around and look at Rick, and found that he had turned his face away, covering up with an arm he’d flung over his head, hiding himself from view.

Leo opened his mouth to say something -- what he had no idea -- when Rick's voice sounded in the quiet room.

"Well," he said. "I can honestly say that's never happened to me before." He pulled his arm away from his eyes and looked at Leo, anger and hurt clearly evident. "What was your ex-wife's name?"

Oh, fuck. Leo closed his own eyes, knowing that he'd been granted an out of sorts, but one that would make it infinitely worse. "Rick …" he began, not knowing how to start.

"What. Was. Her. Name," Rick clipped out, not giving an inch.

"Jocelyn," Leo said softly.

"Yeah," Rick said, getting up off the bed.

"Rick," Leo began, reaching for him, but Rick wrenched his arm out of Leo's grasp.

"I really, really don't think that you should fucking touch me right now," Rick said, standing at the edge of the bed. He began stripping the bedclothes off that had been rumpled by their sex.

"I'm sorry," Leo said sincerely. "I'm so sorry."

"Yeah," Rick said, not looking at him. "I think you should leave."

Leo stood and began looking for his clothes, which were nowhere in the room they currently occupied. "I'm gonna --" he said, pointing in the direction of the living room.

"Yeah," Rick said harshly, still not looking at him, while making a pile of the sheets. "There's a washroom off the living room."

Leo left the bedroom silently after staring at Rick's back, seeing the tightness and the grief in the other man's posture.

When he came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, Rick was in the kitchen, wearing a robe that covered him from the neck down, the rest of him hidden by the counter he was standing behind. He'd already washed what they'd used, and was drying and putting the glasses away. He looked up at Leo as he stood awkwardly in the living room. "So, was I the first person you've fucked since her?"

"Yeah," Leo said, because that at least was the truth.

Rick nodded, wiping off the counter. "I pushed," he said.

"No," Leo said.

"Yeah, I did," Rick said angrily. "There was a moment when I knew that you were thinking you really should leave," he met Leo's eye for the first time since it had all gone to hell, "and I decided to convince you otherwise."

"Rick," Leo sighed. "I wanted to be convinced."

"I get it," Rick said, balling up the towel he'd used to dry the counter. Leo figured that he was probably going to wash everything that Leo had touched, and he felt shamed, knowing how he'd just crushed this guy's hopes. "I just, uh, think that maybe you need to take some more time."

There was nothing Leo could possibly say that would make the situation anything but infinitely worse by admitting that it hadn't been Joss' name that he had almost said, that it wasn't Joss that he had been picturing. "Yeah," Leo said, feeling lost and stupid. He was usually the fixer of problems, not the cause, and the idea that he could do nothing to make the situation better was just- "I am sor-"

"Just go, OK?" Rick said, not looking up again. "Let's forget this ever happened. Forget you know me."

Leo left without another word, and walked out into the dark San Francisco morning.

He didn't even notice the rain until he was soaking wet.

+

He’d seen Rick the second day after their humiliating encounter, and as he’d expected, the other man had passed him by in the hall at Starfleet Medical with a curt nod. Also as expected, Leo still felt like a total shit.

Jim had noticed his crappy mood and kept commenting on it, but Leo kept telling him to fuck off and leave it alone. Surprisingly, he’d done so, but only after having been told that six or seven times in a row when they'd been out drinking the night after his disastrous re-entry into the dating world. Finally, Jim had stalked away to chat up some young and less grouchy female, and that had been the last he'd seen of him for the evening. Well, aside from the worried looks that Jim had thrown him as he sat in his corner, nursing his drink and his bitterness in equal measure.

Patty, of course, was a totally different story. Telling a psychiatrist to fuck off and leave it alone was the same as painting a phosphorescent circle with huge arrows pointing at whatever it was that you didn't want to discuss. Which was pretty much what she told him when she locked them into the on-call room and told him to "Tell me what's got you growling at everyone like a constipated fucking bear before I hypo you with truth serum."

He stared at her, mutinous and angry, because this was partly her fault.

"Leonard," she said softly, putting her hand on his arm and looking up at him with those big green eyes. "Please talk to me."

Aw, fuck it.

He spilled the whole sordid tale and Patty, bless her heart, immediately felt guilty. "Oh, no," she said, "This is all my fault! I should have just kept my big mouth shut – oh, Leonard!" She wrapped her arms around his waist, and her head resting against his breastbone felt a little bit like absolution. "I'm such an asshole!"

So, of course he had to disagree with her. "No," he sighed, sitting down with a heavy whump on one of the beds in the room. "That's me. The asshole that called out somebody else's name as he came."

Patty wrung her hands and winced. "He really thought that you were calling your ex-wife's name?"

Leo nodded wearily and Patty paced back and forth in the same room. "Oh, that poor guy."

"Yep," Leo said.

"Didja …" Patty began, looking at Leo imploringly.

"Patty, what the fuck was I going to say!" He put on a chipper, yet sarcastic voice, "'Actually, Rick, I was calling out the name of another guy, a guy that just wants to be my pal. My ex-wife? She hates my guts, and I love him. And you? You're nowhere in this scenario, even though you were the one fucking me. Thanks, though!'"

Patty moaned and dropped down on the other bed, holding her head. "Oh, God," she said. "How … awkward."

"Oh," Leo said. "Try fucking living it, if you want some awkward. You know, this is why I never put out on the first date – it was a good goddamned policy over the years – because that way, if things get all weird after the sex, at least you know the other person. Sex needs to either be totally anonymous, one night, that’s it, no names -- or in an established relationship." He was waving his hands every which way as he spoke. "Anything in between is just totally …" He flapped around, looking for a word.

"Awkward," Patty sighed. She stared at Leo with an expression of abject sympathy. "Seriously, though. Your ex- and your number 2 have similar names?"

"No," Leo said. "But they start with the same letter," he paused. "Come to think of it, my high school girlfriend's name started with J too, damn it." He looked at Patty. "That's weird, isn't it?"

She shrugged. "It's not like you named them, Leonard."

Which was true, but he still found the whole thing vaguely unsettling now that he'd noticed it. It was as weird as the Andorians and all their Ts, and well, fuck it, he had a bunch of them, too, didn't he?

"What're you gonna do now?" Patty asked.

"I'm going to become a fucking monk, that's what," Leo said crossly.

"Oh, Len," Patty said. She looked pensive, like maybe she was thinking a little too hard.

"Don't even make a fucking suggestion, Patty," he pointed a finger at her in warning. "I swear to God, not one word about anybody else. You promise me, woman!"

+

Leo had managed to forget all about the whole sorry mess for a little while when he'd been sparring with Jim. It was late, and they were alone in one of the smaller training rooms, running through Jim's new routines for him. There had been this the moment when he became weightless, when he left behind all the pain and the confusion and was simply acting with and reacting against Jim. For the first time, he actually understood why fighting things out could make sense, because he wasn't thinking and he wasn't hurting, he was just … doing something.

Jim had been ebullient about his progress, but their post-session conversation had been cut short by Harry Yu. Leo’d been unaware that he’d even come into the room, his focus had been so narrowed by the fight, so he jumped when Yu complimented him on his improved skills. Leo had to smile at the man, still wearing Leo’s too tight KFF t-shirt even after all these weeks, just to make a point. Yu had smirked back at him, then commandeered Jim for a talk about his second semester sections – the requests for admittance to Jim’s section had gone through the roof, and Jim had agreed to take on one more group, but refused to turn the KFF over to another instructor.

Leo'd excused himself to the showers, happy to not have to suffer the pleasure and pain of soaping up alongside a naked and chatty Jim, because sure, men let it all hang out in the locker room, but Jim was as comfortable naked as he was clothed, and … it just wasn't good for Leo to dwell too much on the very idea, much less the stark reality of Jim as God had made him.

So, by the time Jim bounced into the locker room, naked as the day he was born, talking a mile a minute and drying himself off as he walked, Leo had just given the boys one last drying and was pulling on his briefs, bent over in front of his open locker, which was, of course, next to Jim's. When he straightened up, he heard Jim's monologue just kind of snap off an instant before he felt Jim's fingers ghost along the skin of his back, two fingers lightly outlining the lower part of the bruise that Rick had left on his shoulder blade. Fuck.

Leo closed his eyes against the conversation that he knew was coming. He should have made Patty regen that bite for him, or made a more valiant attempt to take care of it himself, even if it was in a place that was difficult for him to reach. The truth was that he'd left it there, like a scarlet letter, the pull of it when he moved his right arm a reminder of the pain he'd caused another human being.

"Wow, Bones," Jim said lightly, in a tone that was not light at all. "That's kind of a big mouth for a chick."

Leo decided that his best course of action was to just fucking ignore Jim. He pulled his red pants off the hanger and snapped them open, stepping in one leg at a time.

"I mean, seriously," Jim said, and Leo could feel his gaze on the bite as if it were an actual touch, and it burned accordingly. "She must have been a really big girl."

When Leo continued pulling up his pants, Jim stepped closer. "Bones?"

Leo looked up at him finally, feeling trapped and shamed and fucking hostile, because he knew that Jim knew that no woman had left that bite mark. "Stupid is not a good look for you, Jim," he said sharply, looking him in the eye as he pulled his deodorant off the shelf of his locker.

Jim's gaze was hooded and frankly assessing as it traveled over the front of Leo's body, looking for more marks, more evidence, looking as if he were seeing Leo for the first time. The towel Jim'd been using to dry himself had halted halfway down his torso, and his hand held it there, thankfully hiding his crotch from Leo’s view, but exposing the expanse of his smooth white hip.

"Am I gonna meet this guy?" Jim asked casually, but once again, there was not a thing casual about his question.

"No," Leo said, pulling his t-shirt over his head. He refused to hurry his movements, even though he was flushing from the heat of Jim's gaze. How dare he be fucking … jealous or whatever it was that he was? Leo took his time, tucking his t-shirt into his pants, his actions as precise as ever.

"Bones," Jim said seriously, and Leo couldn't help but look up. "Was this …" Jim looked a little flustered. "Did he ... did you not want to?"

Goddamnit, was the kid actually worried? Leo stared at him for a moment, incredulous to see that he was … confused at the very least. "Jim," Leo sighed, sitting down on the bench and reaching for his socks. Jim had made no move whatsoever to get dressed, and as Leo looked down he could see the long bones in his feet, and how oddly vulnerable they looked unshod. He said nothing more.

"What, Bones?" Jim said. "Jim, what? I mean, what am I supposed to think here?"

Leo looked up at him now in pure exasperation. "Why are you even thinking about it at all?" he demanded.

Jim's lips compressed into a thin line, and he got that mulish, obstinate expression on his face that Leo had come to dread. "Why am I …" he repeated. "Bones, I fucking tell you everything about my sex life," he said angrily, and before Leo could protest that he’d never asked for that dubious honor, he continued, "and you're fucking someone and you’ve never mentioned it? Should I start calling now before I come over? Are you gonna be too busy to hang out? What!?" Jim said, off Bones' expression.

"I already said," Leo gritted out, "that you won't be meeting him."

"And, what does that even fucking mean?!" Jim said. "You don't want me to meet him? I thought we were friends!"

"Damn it, Jim," Leo said, standing up again. "You won't be meeting him because I won't be seeing him!"

Jim just stared at Leo, and he looked … startled.

"What?" Leo said, zipping up his fly and buttoning his pants. Jim was still naked.

"I …I …"

Jesus, the kid was stammering.

Leo shook his head at him, wordlessly conveying that he had no fucking idea what Jim was trying to say.

"Jesus, Bones," Jim said. "I didn't think you did casual sex. Have you been fucking people this whole time?"

"Jim," Leo said wearily. "This whole time is what, six months?"

"Bones," Jim said tightly, his blue eyes flashing.

"OK, Jim, you want to hear it?" He searched Jim's eyes. "What I still do, evidently, is make a huge fucking mistake once in a while. So, no, it wasn't good, and it wasn't fun, and I don't want to talk about it, OK?"

Jim stared at him for a moment longer, holding his gaze. He clearly recognized the echo of his own words from a couple of months ago. "OK," he said softly. "OK."

Leo turned and put an arm into his jacket. He could still feel Jim's blue gaze burning into his skin, despite the two layers of clothes.

+

Chapter 14

+

Leo hadn’t expected that that would be the last conversation about his sex life, so he wasn’t surprised when the inevitable questions began. What was surprising was how long it took for Jim to start asking them, and the way Jim sometimes looked at him when he thought Leo wasn’t paying attention, as if he found Leo intriguing, like a new alien species, or a talking dog. It was just so fucking bizarre, as if Jim Kirk, hypersexual, had never really considered Leo a sexual being.

Or maybe he’d just thought that Leo was straight, which was also a little strange, because straight guys usually didn’t crawl into bed with one another, even if it was to just sleep. In fact, they generally didn’t sleep in the same bed together unless they actually were brothers, and that habit usually ended in childhood. It all kept leading him back to the same depressing conclusion: that he really had been a substitute for Jim’s lost brother. The question was … what was he now?

+

Jim hadn’t crawled into Leo’s bed for quite a while, nor had he shown up at Leo’s doorstep late at night, bleeding and bruised. He was happy about the latter development, obviously, but the former made his heart ache. There was an odd kind of stutter about Jim’s physicality with him, as if Jim had suddenly become aware of how his actions might be perceived and was consciously holding himself back. It wasn’t that Jim didn’t touch him at all, because he did, but they were the kind of touches that Jim doled out to every person within a specific radius of his being, and therefore impersonal. The thing that Leo missed the most, aside from waking at some point in the night to find Jim beside him or even rolling over in the morning and catching the scent of his skin on the sheets and realizing that somehow Jim had managed to slip into bed and slip out again without waking him, was the way that Jim used to sling an arm around his neck, the way that Jim had used to lean on him in barrooms. The only way that he got any full body contact with Jim these days was fighting with him, and that was never going to be a substitute for the affection that he’d grown used to.

Of course, there was the possibility that Jim’s reticence to touch Leo wasn’t so much about his consciousness of Leo’s sexuality as it was about a kind of trust between them being fractured. When Leo had had time to think about his response to Jim’s questions in the locker room, he had to admit that he’d overreacted. Jim wasn’t responsible for how Leo felt about him, nor was he responsible for the whole gruesome scene at Rick’s, even if he had been an unknowing participant in it. Leo had taken out some of his resentment and anger on him, and harshly established a boundary in their friendship. Not that Jim seemed to resent him for it, at least outwardly. In fact, his line of demarcation had made his sex life and his history all the more interesting to Jim. He could tell by the way Jim watched him, watched who he was looking at when they were out drinking.

Jim was trying to figure him out.

If only Leo knew why.

+

Midterms had just ended, and when Leo entered Finnegan’s after working a shift at the hospital, the place was packed to the rafters. He was later than he expected because he’d had to wait for Patty to get ready to meet her 0, Shohreh. Patty had held firm to her New Year’s resolution of all or nothing, and refused to let Shohreh back into her life halfway. After weeks of no contact and grieving on Patty's part, Shohreh had contacted Patty and asked if they could meet at a restaurant for dinner. Patty was ecstatic; the restaurant was not only elegantly romantic in its setting, but it was located well outside of the historically gay districts of San Francisco. In their past relationship, they’d stuck to small, out-of-the-way places where’d they be less likely to stand out, hiding in plain sight. Patty had high hopes for what this evening would mean.

Leo had stayed late to help her get ready, and to hold her hand while she hyperventilated. He was happy for her, but as he crossed the threshold to Finnegan’s, he couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for himself at how he’d damaged his friendship with Jim. Jealousy was a part of human nature, he reckoned. After all, he had no romantic designs on Patty, but if she and Shohreh got back together, he knew that he’d lose his partner in commiseration, and that was a real shame, because misery did, in fact, love company, especially when they could laugh and talk and compare notes about how much their lives sucked. If Patty got what she’d wanted, well, he’d be back to being miserable alone.

He scanned the room for Jim and finally spotted him all the way across the room, his tall form ringed by a circle of young human women. Jim had been working his bad boy smile on the group but it brightened into a true one when he spotted Leo, who couldn’t help but smile back. Leo felt his shoulders ease down from their tense posture as he decided, right then and there, that he was going to change how he’d been behaving toward Jim. If they were friends, they were friends –- and that meant that he had to learn how to let him in a little more. He’d come to Starfleet with a chip on his shoulder, guarding his secret about his father’s death and his role in it. When he’d met Jim, he’d not wanted to yield a bit in his solitary stance, but Jim had refused to let him be. It wasn’t Jim’s fault that Leo felt more than he let on. Jim confounded him, that was true, but he was willing to bet that Jim felt the same way about Leo’s own mixed signals. One of them would have to change the dynamic between them, and if Jim’s recent reticence with him was because he thought he was unwelcome, well … it was up to Leo to set it right.

Across the floor, Jim scowled and put on a grumpy face, making a gesture that Leo interpreted as ‘where the fuck have you been?’ and Leo shrugged. He pointed at the bar in the universal signal of ‘you ready for another round?’ and Jim nodded, their silent conversation taking place over the heads of the bouncing, grinding mass of Cadets determined to burn off their test-taking stress one way or another. Jim tilted his head and pointed to the back corner, where they usually hung out when they were together, and Leo nodded before turning to push his way through the thick crowd. As he got close to the bar, he found himself getting drunkenly pawed by a young woman at least a decade younger than he was. He returned her grabby hands to her person gently but firmly, only to find her draped over his back while he ordered drinks.

“Hello?” he said over his shoulder.

“You’re nice,” the young woman drunkenly slurred. She was tall enough in her high heels that her head rested on Leo’s shoulder. He could feel the weight of her breasts against his shoulder blade and spine as she settled, resting her slight weight against him.

He sighed, shaking his head. “Not that nice, darling,” he said to her, tilting his head into the light to take a good look at her. She was beautiful, in that raw, ill-defined way that youth can sometimes be. Her unnaturally blue eyes had been tinted to cover up their natural brown, and she’d emphasized the color with heavy eyeliner and long blue eyelashes. The effect was not as pleasing as she suspected, but she was young –- she’d learn what really suited her as she grew up. Ever the doctor, he couldn't resist checking out her reactions to light, as she stared at him, barely focused. Her pupils indicated that she was just very, very drunk, not drunk and high. While he understood the logic behind allowing 18 year-olds, who could vote, wield weapons and fight and die in wars, to drink, he also recognized that sometimes they really lacked the emotional maturity to do so. He slid an arm around the girl to steady her as he turned to face her and she threw her arms around his neck. Leo stifled a grimace.

“Where are your friends, darlin’?” he asked, touching her cheek to rouse her from her stupor.

She pouted. “I wanna stay wi' you,” she said. Her head dropped back onto Leo’s shoulder.

Leo loudly asked if anyone knew who the young woman was, but was met with indifference. “What about you?” he asked the barkeep, a Tellarite.

He nodded toward the dance floor, then put Leo’s drinks on a tray at his request. He tipped the guy, then turned both him and his new friend toward the floor. “Darlin’,” he said to her, and she drunkenly raised her head and smiled. “Your friends are sad without you.”

“I hate 'em,” she announced. “Wanna stay here wi’ you. You’re nice,” he raised his chin to dodge her kiss and she mashed her nose against his throat and mumbled something, pressing her face into his neck.

Leo moved them steadily toward the floor, balancing the tray above his head precariously, while he alternately dragged and lifted the young woman with him. Across the dance floor, he saw Jim’s eyes widen, and then question him across the distance.

Leo shook his head helplessly, and he just caught a glimpse of Jim’s smirk before he lost sight of him in the crowd.

“Darlin’,” he bellowed into the young woman’s ear. “Are these your friends?”

She looked around blearily. “No,” she said, “but I love this song! Dance wi' me?” She came alive and began trying to drag Leo into the crush of dancers.

He planted his heels and counterbalanced her, and she bounced back towards him like a slingshot, thumping against his chest, making his drinks slosh over the sides. “Damn it!”

“I cannot take you anywhere,” he heard Jim say right into his ear, his voice low and amused. Jim snagged the two shots off the tray and downed one, then came around to Leo’s front and held the shot to his lips. “You look like you need this,” he said, eyes twinkling with dark mirth.

Watching Jim, Leo opened his mouth and took the shot. It was an awkward angle, and some of the Jack escaped over the edge of the glass and onto Jim’s fingers. Unselfconsciously, Jim licked his long fingers and watched Leo, eyes sliding from him to the young woman plastered to his side. Jim tilted his head and raised an eyebrow.

“The missus is really lovely,” Jim said blandly.

“Fuck you,” Leo snorted.

Jim laughed and took the tray from Leo’s hand, returning a minute later just carrying their two beers. He handed Leo his, and Leo took a long pull.

“Now what?” Jim asked.

“Her friends are out there,” Leo said, moving a little bit closer to the dance floor. “Darlin’,” he bellowed at the drunk. “Do you see your friends?”

She raised her head woozily and looked at Leo as if she’d never seen him before.

“Darlin’?” he asked, concerned.

“Ashley!” The shriek was ear-splittingly high and rendered extra loud for having been made in triplicate.

“Wow,” Jim said, widening his eyes. He put a finger in his ear, as if to clear it.

Meanwhile, something small and hard began smack Leo in the chest, and he raised his beer out of the line of fire.

“Let go of her, you creep!”

Leo was being beaten by a tiny, metallic evening bag being wielded by a tiny young woman, while her two equally tiny friends echoed her every word. The evening bag was a surprisingly effective weapon.

“Stop it,” Ashley said, drunkenly, pushing at her friends, whom she towered over, as Leo rubbed at his sore pectoral. “He’s wunnerful. I’ma stay wi’ him.”

Leo’s eyes were going to roll right out of his head one of these days, honestly. “No, darlin’,” he said, passing her over to her friends' collective embrace. “You stay here with your friends. Bye now.” He turned around and caught a laughing Jim by the elbow, dragging him away over his protests.

“Bones,” he protested, “It was just getting interesting! There was going to be like a cat fight, maybe.”

Leo looked at Jim like he was insane.

“The other two,” Jim said, “they thought you were hot. You coulda gotten some multi-partner action,” he crowed.

Leo rolled his eyes.

“I mean, that would be new and different, right?”

Leo looked at Jim, allowing the tiniest smirk to curve his mouth.

Jim’s mouth positively gaped, his eyes wide. “Bones!” he said, then narrowed his eyes. “You’re totally fucking with me, aren’t you?”

"Where are we goin', Jim?" Leo asked, refusing to answer. He was wearing what he hoped was a secretive smile.

Jim stared at him for a beat longer, then turned to lead the way back toward their usual corner, stopping short and almost spilling Leo's beer again. Goddamnit. They really needed to find a less crowded place with fewer hormonal children in it. Why couldn't they ever go to a nice jazz bar or something?

"Damn it, Jim," Leo said, flinging beer off his fingers.

Over Jim's shoulder, he could see what had stopped his forward progress. Gaila was tucked into the corner of the booth Leo thought of as theirs, her arms full of another young woman. She was inspecting that young woman’s tonsils quite thoroughly, one hand on her face, while the other was out of view, under the other woman's skirt.

Jim whistled softly in appreciation.

"Oh," Gaila said, looking up. "Jim –- I thought you'd left."

Jim cocked his head and Leo looked at his expression. He didn't seem jealous. In fact, he looked … interested.

"Oh …" Gaila purred out. "You found your doctor."

She extended the hand that had been holding the young woman's face, and Leo grasped it, placing a kiss on the back of her hand.

"Miss Gaila," he said.

"Doctor," she answered, stretching sinuously. Her companion hadn't looked away from Gaila once. Instead, she was stroking the smooth skin of the Orion woman's neck, tracing the edges of her rumpled uniform, running her palms over Gaila's breasts. Gaila glanced at her friend, and said, "We're thinking of leaving." She looked at Jim and then at Leo. "Would you two care to join us?"

At the offer, her companion finally seemed to rouse from her stupor. "No," she said firmly. It was clear she wanted Gaila all to herself.

Gaila looked into her eyes, and then nodded. She rose gracefully, pulling the young woman up with her. "Perhaps another time?" she said. She leaned up and kissed Jim on the lips and then turned to Leo, pressing a nipping kiss to his upper lip. "Pity," she sighed, then strolled away through the crowd, holding onto the other woman's hand, and leaving a trail of pheromones in her wake.

Jim shook his head as if to clear it. "Wow," he offered.

"She is something else," Leo said, pushing around Jim to sit down.

Jim crowded into the booth next to him, and Leo felt his whole body relax at the contact. He looked out over the crowd, feeling slightly dizzy from the aftereffects of Gaila's presence.

He hadn’t realized that Jim was staring at him until he felt Jim's fingers against the skin of his throat. He looked over at him and Jim was smirking, rubbing something between his fingers. He pulled a napkin from below an empty drink and wiped his hands. He held up the napkin. "Blue's your color, Bones," he said.

Leo stared at the napkin, not comprehending right away. When he did, he raised his chin, baring his throat to Jim. "Didja get it all?"

"No," Jim said, and this time, he leaned in as close as he ever had, to wipe Ashley's makeup off Leo's neck.

+

Two hours later, the bar had only cleared out a little and Leo was definitely buzzed. Jim was still sitting next to him in the corner booth, but he wasn't pressed up against his side. This wasn't disturbing him, because Jim wasn’t pressed up against him because he was turned toward Leo, studying his face, calculating his next question about Leo’s past sexual experiences. And Leo had to admit it – he was enjoying the hell out of tormenting him by being mysterious.

Jim had started out by asking him if Rick was the first guy he’d been with, which Leo had answered by just staring at him for a while.

When Jim had pressed the question, Leo’d wondered aloud why, when Jim has always been really clear that he was bound by neither gender nor species, that he would find it so odd that Leo has had lovers of different genders.

Jim had made a face at the use of the word ‘lovers.’

“What’s up with that?” Leo asked.

“What?” Jim said.

“When I brought up my lovers,” he pointed at Jim, “you just did it again.”

“It’s just … lovers,” Jim said, emphasizing the word. “What does that even mean?”

Leo looked at Jim in real surprise. “You have had sex, right?”

Jim rolled his eyes at Leo.

“Well,” Leo said, in an exaggerated Southern accent, “when you have feelings about the person that you’re having sex with,” Jim rolled his eyes again and opened his mouth to speak, but Leo only spoke louder, “aside from how hot they are, and you have a relationship that sex is a part of but not the only thing, that’s when you have a lover. Also, when part of the sexual relationship is figuring out what that person really likes because you want to give them the most pleasure possible.” He paused. “Although it’s entirely possible to have a lover that you just have sex with, but it’s still about mutual gratification, but more about the sex.” Jim looked startled. “But it’s a multiple kind of thing. Not that kind of multiple,” he added severely. “I mean, not a one-time thing.”

“I have repeaters,” Jim said grouchily.

Leo grunted.

“So, how many lovers,” Jim said the word as if it tasted bad coming out of his mouth, “have you had?”

“Enough, Jim,” Leo said smugly.

“What, are you done or something?” Jim asked.

Leo smirked at him in a ‘wouldn’t you like to know’ sort of way.

“So, you’ve had long-term lovers that were men?” Jim asked.

“Not all of them were long-term,” Leo said. “But, yes.”

Jim just stared at him, digesting this information.

“Spit it out, kid,” Leo said, taking a swig of his beer.

“I … it just surprised me, Bones,” Jim said.

“That I’ve had sex?” he asked grouchily.

“No!” Jim said, punching him in the shoulder. “I mean – you were married.”

Leo drew his brows down at Jim’s emphasis on the word, and he hastened to explain.

“I mean, you married young, Bones,” Jim said seriously and paused, but Leo wasn’t going to disagree. He had been young, only a few months older than Jim was now. “So, I just had this idea that you were Southern, and you’re always yelling at me about STIs and casual sex and I just thought …”

Jim’s sentence kind of drifted away unfinished and it took Leo a second to comprehend what Jim was really saying to him. When his brain caught up, he laughed out loud, surprising the hell out of Jim, who looked startled and then gaped, before he smiled and finally chuckled.

“Jim,” Leo said, after a few minutes, “did you think I was a virgin who got married so I could have sex or something? I mean, shit, you know me well enough to know that I am the farthest thing from religious, right?”

Jim shook his head helplessly, “But you’re old-fashioned,” he said, “and you’re always talking about doing the right thing and the moral thing,” Leo was still laughing a little, and Jim added, “and you said that there were some things that should be sacred.”

Leo shook his head. “If I did, Jim, I was talking about love,” he said. “Love is sacred.”

Jim rolled his eyes.

“You don’t believe that love is sacred,” Leo said.

“I don’t know if I believe that it even fucking exists,” Jim said, and there was such a hardness in his tone that Leo felt the words like a blow. “Or if it’s worth it, if it does.”

“Why would you say that?” Leo asked, truly curious.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Jim said. “The first time I met you, you were half-crazy about everything you’d lost. Why would you want to do that over and over again?”

Well, now. Leo hoped his mouth wasn’t gaping open as he digested that statement. "I think," he said, "that most of us hope that we won't have to keep doing it over and over, that we'll find the right person –"

Jim snorted. "Because that always works out so well, even when that happens," he said sarcastically. Jim shook his head and brought his beer up for a long drink. “And don’t give me that crap about how much better sex feels when you're in love. You're always telling me that a lot of things that feel good are really bad for you. And the way people talk about love –- it's like it’s a drug,” he said. “I’m not taking it.”

And like he always did whenever Leo got too close to something that he really didn’t want to discuss further, Jim asked Leo if he’d been late because he’d a bad case at the hospital that evening.

Leo considered whether or not he should let Jim change the subject, but figured that he had enough to dwell on for a while. He felt overwhelmed by Jim’s answer, and wondered what kind of men his mother had married after his father’s death, if her two divorces had convinced him that love was just a joke. Or maybe it was that she’d never been able to move on past the loss of Jim's father. God knew that his own father never could transcend his mother's death.

“Actually, I was with another friend of mine,” Leo said. A muscle in Jim’s jaw ticked, which he found interesting. Jim might not believe in love, but he certainly subtly expressed some of the emotions associated with it, like jealousy. The way he'd acted that night in the locker room had initially read a lot like jealousy, like Jim was afraid that if Leo took a male lover, that he'd be out … of whatever this thing was between them.

“Am I gonna meet him?” Jim asked, playing at being supportive. He was looking at his drink, and not Leo.

“Her,” Leo corrected. “And I’m sure you will, at some point.” Jim looked at him curiously. “She had a big date tonight,” Leo continued, “wanted opinions on what looked best on her, what would impress her lover,” he said decidedly, “the most.”

Jim’s flinch was fairly contained. “Now you’re just being an asshole,” he said. “Although it’s very nice of you to help her dress up for some other dude.”

“Her lover’s not a dude,” Leo drawled, and Jim looked intrigued. "Don’t get too excited, kid. Unlike Miss Gaila, I don't think she'd invite you to watch, or participate." Before Jim could ask him another question, Leo asked one of his own. "It doesn't bother you that Gaila left with someone else?"

Jim looked at him as if the idea had never occurred to him. Curious and curiouser. "No," he said plainly. "She's not my lover," he said with exaggerated emphasis.

"But she's one of your repeaters," Leo clarified.

Jim shrugged. "We have fun sometimes," he said, as if it were all that simple. "Aliens are … different," he said in a kind of vaguely paternalistic fashion, "but I guess you'd have to had sex with an offworlder to understand –" He broke off abruptly and stared at Leo, who had involuntarily twitched in annoyance at Jim's casual condescension. "Oh my God, Bones," he said, eyes wide. "You have!"

Leo just smiled serenely at him. Two could play at the smug bastard game, and when he finally did tell Jim about Tharis and Talea – hell, he'd even cop to Teara, although technically, they'd never actually gotten it on, but zhe'd been there, so, zhe counted – he was willing to bet that he'd blow Jim's tiny little mind.

"Bones!" Jim warned, his hand on Leo's thigh, digging in. "Tell me."

"Why, Jim –" Leo began, all honeyed drawl and flirtatious charm, "what makes you so sure that I have something to tell. After all, I was married and …" Leo lost his train of thought when he saw a woman working her way through the crowd, looking around frantically, obviously distressed. "Jesus, God," he said. It was Patty, and she looked … she looked wild-eyed and crazy and utterly destroyed. "Jim," he said, urgently, already standing up. "I gotta go."

"Bones –" Jim protested, “what the fuck?”

Leo turned around and looked back at Jim, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing it to let him know that he wasn't just being an asshole. "I'm sorry, Jim," he said, raising his voice to account for the distance between them. Jim wrapped a hand around his wrist. "It's an emergency," he said.

He looked back over his shoulder to where Patty had come to a stop at the edge of the dance floor. As he watched, she spotted him and it was as if all the momentum she had had to move herself forward just deserted her. She wavered unsteadily and her face crumpled. Under her open coat, Leo could see the green silk dress that she'd picked out so carefully, so hopefully, and his heart broke for her.

"I gotta go," he said to Jim. He pulled his hand away after giving Jim's shoulder one last squeeze before he walked across the floor, arms already opened up to catch Patty in his embrace.

When he got home hours later in the dark morning, exhausted and worn down by Patty’s sorrow, he knew that Jim had been there before he even got into the bed.

This time, he’d left a note on Leo’s console that said, “More proof that love is awesome, right? JTK”

+

Chapter 15

+

Leo had never been a fan of the Catch-22, a trap where one’s choices were mutually exclusive, so he was far less than pleased to be living one. He was well on his way to being in love with a man who refused to believe in love, seemed not to want anything more than the relationship that they already had. At the same time, it was clear that Jim did love him, but preferred to cast their profound attachment as a strong fraternal relationship, a platonic best friends type of thing. As if they hadn’t already traversed that physical and emotional boundary more than once, without there being actual sexual contact.

But, if he forced the issue and made Jim confront the reality of their relationship and Jim rejected him, he’d break his own heart more than it already had been. And if he waited for Jim to make the first move, he might be waiting forever, because Jim clearly knew that Leo wanted love, not just sex, the one thing that Jim had sworn that he wouldn’t try. Although the idea that Jim could actually stop himself from feeling, from falling in love, was completely ridiculous to Leo, maybe because he’d never been able to do it. Feelings weren’t fucking rational, and they didn’t follow the rules. They just were.

The problem was that denial was a feeling, too.

So. There he was.

Exactly fucking nowhere.

Awesome.

+

He waited out the Jim Kirk Dance of Avoidance, biding his time with a silent and grieving Patty, surprised to realize that the kid, who prided himself on his unpredictability, was actually pretty predictable. If he were around, he’d show up by the fourth day of absence. The one variation, so far, had been at Christmas, but Leo supposed that if anything could affect the parameters of behavior, it would be the holiday season, where it seemed that every being in the universe was talking about family and nostalgia and so on, like everybody had some glorious past, some home to return to. Or as if those like him, who had had that, still had the capacity to return there.

Consequently, he wasn’t that surprised when Jim kind of stumbled into his room on the fourth night. Leo was halfway to bed, shoes off, the red uniform tunic that he’d worn over one of his white KFF t-shirts slung on the back of his desk chair. He'd been going over the latest comments regarding his application for the research project he'd proposed to begin that summer, work on a vaccine for one of the more virulent strains of Capellan Plague. The Capellans were supposed to be an advanced civilization, but their laissez-faire attitude toward death and disease was more than Leo could stand. He reasoned that the Capellans might take an interest in the health and the well-being of their people if it were actually proved to them that one of their most pernicious cyclical scourges could be defeated.

His request had already gone through two rounds of approval; the clarifying questions for this third round were about safety, experimental design and resource allocation. He scowled as he read them, knowing that it was too late for him to marshal a real response, but wanting to know what he was up against.

“Careful your face doesn’t freeze that way, Bones,” Jim said, standing in the shadow of the doorway. He was cradling his right hand in front of him, and Leo could see the blood staining the tight bandage even in the dim light.

“Jesus, Jim,” he said, crossing the room hurriedly and pulling Jim into the light and pushing him onto the bed. “What now?”

“Attempted robbery at Finnegan’s,” he answered.

“With what, a broken bottle?” Leo guessed.

Jim gritted his teeth as Leo unwound the bandage. “Some kind of pig sticker,” he said.

Leo raised an eyebrow at the slang, examining the damage. “Pig sticker?” he asked, trying to keep Jim talking. This was beyond his capacity to fix outside of the infirmary.

“Hunting knife,” Jim clarified. “Ceramic, I think.” He winced as Leo brushed at debris in the wound. “Shattered.”

That explained how the robbers had gotten the fucker by the sensors. “And it didn’t occur to you or Finnegan that you should let a medic see you on the scene?” he growled.

“She put this on,” Jim protested. “When she started talking about surgery, I told them you were my doctor, that you take care of me.”

Well, now, wasn’t that an interesting turn of phrase? Leo’d been toying with putting more psych in his academic plans, maybe finishing that Ph.D. he’d been working toward a couple of years back, but he didn’t need a coursework refresher to hear what was important in that sentence.

Before Leo could say anything, Jim continued on, his voice deeper and with a stubborn edge. “You promised.”

Leo looked up at him from where he was crouched over Jim's torn hand after sealing off the biggest of the bleeders as a temporary hold. Jim was far too pale, and Leo could see that he was resolving into shock. “Yes, I did, Jim,” he said quietly. “And I keep my promises.”

“I know,” Jim said easily, but Leo couldn’t fail to notice the way Jim’s eyes searched his intently looking for any sign of wavering. When Jim finally looked away, he glanced down at Leo's t-shirt. A small smile curved his mouth as his fingers brushed over the KFF that was etched in a vertical line over Leo’s ribs.

“We gotta go to medical, Jim,” Leo said, standing to wrap his hand back up in a fresh bandage. “I need to make sure that there’s no upstream damage from any of the ceramic shards.” And probably also to repair some tendons, but he skipped that part.

“OK,” Jim said, starting to stand up, but Leo stopped him, easing him back down on the bed.

“You gotta go on a stretcher or in a chair, Jim,” Leo said. “There’s no telling what’s floating around in your bloodstream.” He scanned Jim with the tri-c, looking for bleeders in his system, ignoring his protests, then finally hypoing him unconscious so that he could move him onto the hover-stretcher from the First Aid station.

Jim woke up while Leo was performing the surgery on his hand, as he knew he would. He’d put a nerve block on Jim’s right arm, and set things up so that one of the view screens was turned so that Jim could see what he was doing. He knew that Jim liked to watch him work, and reasoned that he wouldn’t mind much if it was his own hand that Leo was fixing. He spoke to Jim quietly as he worked, telling him exactly what he was doing and why, his head down as he focused on repairing torn tendons, finding and removing the bone chips and ceramic shards that were strewn throughout the elegant architecture of Jim’s hand. His focus on what he was doing was so pure that it wasn’t until he was ready to close and begin to repair the damage to Jim’s skin that he realized that Jim hadn't turned his head to watch the vid screen. Instead, he was watching Leo, his eyes blinking drowsily as if Leo had been telling him a good night story for the past three hours.

+

When Leo woke up a few hours later, Jim was watching him again, albeit this time from the biobed where’d he’d been put for post-surgical observation. Leo’d fallen asleep to the drone and hum of the bed as it ensured that there was nothing but blood circulating in Jim’s veins, no clots or pieces of ceramic floating around to do harm. Leo knew that the bed would zap anything foreign with sonic waves, but he meant to stay close for the first bit of recovery, not quite trusting Jim to leave the regen glove on for as long as he should before he crept out of the hospital. Leo’d fallen asleep sitting up, with his legs crossed in front of him and stretched out, his arms crossed over his chest.

He rubbed the back of his neck blearily and blinked, then yawned, looking at Jim. “How’re you feeling, kid?”

Jim shrugged. “OK,” he said. “But these beds aren’t that great for sleeping.”

Leo frowned at him and stood up and stretched. “They’re better than a chair, Jim,” he muttered, cracking his back. “Where in the hell is your chart?” he asked Jim accusatorily.

Jim used the regen glove to point downward. “Don’t look at me, Bones,” he said. “It slid off your lap.”

Leo groaned and bent down to retrieve it, finding his stylus there as well.

“Can you take this thing off?” Jim asked, waving the glove at him again.

“Hold your horses there, Jim,” Leo chided. He got a data dump from the bed to the PADD and noted that Jim had only slept about four hours. “You didn’t sleep very much, Jim,” he said. “Are you in pain?”

“No,” Jim said, still holding his hand up in the air. “It was about as much as I usually get.”

Leo shook his head, and put the PADD down. “It all looks good,” he said, moving to the head of the bed to shut down and disengage the regenerator unit.

“How’s your friend doing?” Jim asked.

Leo looked down at Jim, but he was decidedly not looking at Leo. In fact, he seemed fascinated by the regen unit. “She’s pretty upset,” Leo said.

“What happened?” Jim asked.

Leo sighed. “She thought her ex- wanted to get back together with her.” Jim looked at him, waiting for the rest of the story. “But the ex- wanted to tell her that she’s marrying someone else.”

“Wow,” Jim said. “That’s gotta suck.”

His tone was supposed to be sympathetic, but there was an underlying tone there, a 'see, I told you so' that Leo found goddamn galling.

“Yeah, Jim,” Leo growled, feeling protective of Patty. “It does.”

He removed the glove and picked up Jim’s hand, seeing no evidence of the gruesome wound that had been there the night before. He flexed Jim’s fingers and smoothed his fingertips over Jim’s palm testing his reflexes, and ensuring that Jim’s nerves had been regenerated by tapping and asking, “Can you feel that?” He looked up at Jim. “Don’t look at your hand,” he ordered. “Look up.”

He expected Jim to look up at the ceiling, like most patients would, but as usual, he made eye contact, almost defiantly.

“Can you feel that, Jim?” he asked, pressing on a nerve.

“Yeah, Bones,” Jim answered, “that I can feel.”

+

If he'd thought about it all, he would have seen that the progression from friendship to lovers was inevitable between them, that there was a point at which their sympathy, the way that they both understood exactly how the other hurt, would lead them into bed. They were neither of them getting what they wanted, not from each other or from the one that they each loved, but at least, for a little while, there was a kind of oblivion that occurred when they were in each other's arms. And there was the comfort of someone else's skin against his, even if it was softer and curvier than what he really wanted, the taste and smell of it all wrong. It was still Patty, and she would never be what Jim was to him, but he loved her, because she understood how he felt and she took him as he was. And he knew that she felt the same way.

Besides, she was hurting, and Leo's compulsion to heal, to help, would never have allowed him to say no, not the first time when she'd looked at him that way, not with the way she'd said "please" when she asked.

Jim knew. That was clear by the way he never asked about Patty anymore, by the tension in his jaw when he decidedly didn't ask Leo where he'd been when he didn't appear for dinner after a shift. It was fucking annoying was what it was, how Jim's unvoiced fucking jealous accusations could make Leo feel like a hypocrite. Except that he really didn't need to explain what he was doing with Patty to Jim, especially when Jim made pointed sarcastic barbs about love and was clearly continuing on his path of avoiding love at all costs.

+

At first, Leo thought that Jim was just totally bullshitting him about his housing problem as their first year ended, but he was too goddamned busy to figure it out. A number of the undergrad dorms were being rehabbed over the summer, and Jim had said that he'd been assigned to one of the abysmal four-bunk rooms after the semester break, which was just depressing as all hell, he had to admit. Even if Jim would only be sleeping there for the two weeks before he went off to his godawful survival training thing, and the couple of weeks after when he was back, he could absolutely see how Jim, or any twenty-three year old man, would find the situation completely intolerable. So, he didn't object when he came home one night to find a duffel full of Jim's crap at the foot of his bed, and his uniforms in the closet.

Besides, there was no Jim there for him to object to, and fuck it, he was just tired. He'd done the early shift at the infirmary, then spent the afternoon meeting with his new tech, trying to get the tiny lab space that he'd been allotted to study Capellan Hemorrhagic Fever III into some kind of shape. He'd intended to eat dinner with Patty, but his intentions had ended up in a trail of clothes leading to her bed, and a late meal of ordered in Chinese food. It was not an unpleasant way to end the day, certainly, but, he was just fucking beat.

His life was so weird. He was fucking Patty, if he wanted to be crude about it, but had yet to spend the night in her bed, on the off chance that by sleeping in his own bed that he'd spend the night with Jim, the man he wanted to fuck. He yawned and shucked his clothes, getting in the shower and cleaning up before he got in bed. He'd noticed over the months that Jim always showered before he got in bed with him, maybe to mask whether he'd been in somebody else's bed, maybe because it was his typical practice. Whatever the case, Leo wasn't going to put himself in the position of having to listen to more of Jim's imprecations against love by getting into bed with him after having had sex with Patty.

Or that's what he told himself. He tried not to think about the fact that maybe he was sparing Jim's unacknowledged feelings about whatever the fuck it was that they were doing, as much as Jim was sparing his, maybe, by showering before he slid in bed with Leo.

+

The last he'd seen of Jim had been his sleepy grousing that "You set the alarm too fucking early when there's no classes, Bones!" before he spread out to cover the space where Leo'd been a minute before. He'd grabbed Leo's pillow and held it to his chest, the same way he'd been holding onto Leo and dropped back into sleep instantly, like someone had hit an old-fashioned light switch.

Jim had been working long hours at Finnegan's, doing a much-needed software and systems upgrade, aside from the more physical labor that he put in, so Leo was surprised to hear the knock on the door to the lab and see Jim standing there with an envelope in his hand.

"May I help you?" Bet Wah said solicitously.

"Jim --" Leo said, just a bit behind her. Jim was in civvies, still wearing that leather jacket, even though it was June. Not that Leo could blame him. The late San Francisco spring left a lot to be desired, mostly warmth.

"Thank you," Jim said to Bet Wah, smiling. "I found who I'm looking for." He crossed the room to Bet Wah and extended his hand. "Jim Kirk," he said smoothly, white teeth and blue eyes flashing.

Bet Wah smiled and extended her hand, "Tsang Bet Wah."

"Ni hao," Jim said easily, and Leo began to smirk. Bet Wah was quite happily married, and he was looking forward to her shutting Jim down, even if he was flirting without any real intention. His jaw dropped, however, when Jim continued to speak to Bet Wah in one of the Chinese dialects. Which one, Leo was unsure. Xenobiology he could easily decode. Language was far more mysterious to him.

Bet Wah smiled and answered him, obviously pleased by Jim's courtesy.

They spoke for a few minutes more, Jim saying something that made Bet Wah laugh out loud before she said, in English. "We're being rude, Jim. And may I say that your accent is excellent, and in more than one dialect. Your teacher must be very proud."

Jim's smile twisted a little at the corners, although Leo doubted that Bet Wah noticed. "Yes," he agreed, and said softly. "She was a wonderful teacher. I learned a tremendous amount from her."

And Leo knew, with an instinct too strong to doubt, that this particular teacher had been one of those redacted names in the Tarsus records that he'd read months before. "Jim," he said gruffly, to forestall Bet Wah asking any more questions, "what're you doing here? And who's sending you letters? Starfleet finally kicking you out?"

"I wouldn't know, Bones, as it's not addressed to me, and I do not read mail not addressed to me," Jim tilted his head and batted his eyes at Leo, trying to look innocent but failing quite badly. He handed the envelope to Leo.

"Starfleet Housing," Leo said. "Why the fuck are they sending me a paper letter?"

"My guess," Jim said, "is that they send you a paper notice when you ignore all their comms in your e-mail."

Leo slipped the letter out of the envelope, as Jim took a turn around the small lab, looking at everything. "In my defense," he said. "Most of the comms from 'fleet Housing are bitching about people cramming too much laundry in the chute, or breaking the environmental controls in the common areas."

"True," Jim murmured. Then, "I'd also like to point out that this," he waved at the letter, "is completely not fair." He paced around the tiny lab space like a panther, clearly irritated.

Bet Wah looked at Leo questioningly.

"I'm getting a new room," Leo said.

Bet Wah shrugged. "It's common practice for second years in good standing, and you're half-faculty now, with the teaching in the fall semester, right?"

"I'm almost a third year! And I teach!" Jim said loudly.

"Not a grad student, Jim. And you're a TA," Leo reminded him, then said, "They put him in a four-bunk single for the summer," sotto voce to Bet Wah.

She winced. "What'd you get?"

Leo scanned the letter. "Upper floor, better dorm, bigger room. Kitchenette," he said with surprise.

"I remember those rooms fondly," Bet Wah said. "My husband and I lived in one for the first year of our relationship. If you can survive that," she said, casting an eye toward Jim, "you're good for anything."

"Oh –" Leo began.

"Please," Jim said, "I'm already bunking in with him in the room he has now, which is the size of a shoebox. A shoebox that is still bigger than what they're giving me!"

Leo raised his eyebrows at Jim's complete and utter weirdness, than shrugged at Bet Wah. "He's a volatile personality," he said lamely.

"So I see," she answered.

He turned around when he realized that Jim had gone utterly quiet behind him. He was staring at the whiteboard where Leo'd written a few notes on their project.

"Bones," Jim said in a deadly voice. "Please tell me that CHF does not stand for Capellan Hemorrhagic Fever."

Leo was just going to refuse to be surprised by Jim Kirk, starting from right now. "I can't tell you that, kid," he said.

Jim whirled around and looked from him to Bet Wah and back like they were both crazy, hands on his hips. "OK, seriously, Bones?" he said. "Handling deadly fucking diseases that have raged for centuries with no known cure? You have officially lost your right to chide me about being reckless."

"Jim," he said patiently. "How do you think deadly fucking diseases get cured?"

Jim stared back at him, jaw tight and eyes angry. "Right," he said, then paused. "Nope. You know what? I'm gonna go pack up your crap," he said, "since your hypocritical ass is supposed to be moving tomorrow." He turned and addressed Bet Wah in her first language, then stalked out the door.

Leo was pretty sure that the hypocritical remark was supposed to cover Patty, and not just this situation, although he really couldn't understand what the fuck Jim was so upset about. And then, something else occurred to him. "Hey!" He yelled down the long corridor at Jim's retreating back, startling another doctor into almost dropping his PADD. "You said you didn't read my mail."

Jim shot a reproving look over his shoulder. "Oops," he bellowed down the hall. "I guess you're not the only one who says one thing and does another." Then he turned a corner and disappeared.

"Fucker," Leo growled, not quietly at all. He had definitely been talking about Leo's relationship with Patty with that last shot.

"Well," Bet Wah said, hiding a smile. "You certainly have an interesting relationship."

"It's complicated," Leo said uneasily, flushing.

"Most things worth having are," she said, turning her attention to the lab PADD and getting back to business.

+

Chapter 16

+

They'd been able to achieve a kind of balance before Jim had left for his survival training, mostly prompted by the fact that when Leo'd gotten back to his old room that night, Jim had been sitting at his desk with a pensive expression on his face.

"I was an asshole," he said to Leo.

"Yeah, you were," Leo answered, not backing down one bit.

"There was …" Jim began and stopped.

He seemed to be struggling with what to say, and Leo questioned how much of Jim's petulance from earlier in the day had been prompted by the reminder of Tarsus. He wondered if Jim had ever spoken to anyone about what had happened up there, but somehow he doubted it.

"I was … out of line."

"Is that an apology?" Leo asked.

"Yes," Jim sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Buy you a drink?" he asked hopefully.

Leo looked around the room. Jim had, in fact, packed Leo's few belongings into his various duffel bags. It kind of astonished him to note that even after all these months that he had acquired so few things. He might have had three bags to Jim's one, but anyone looking at his life objectively would see that he was still living as if he were a transient. This was his life, right now, and after ten months he'd never even bothered to buy himself a better set of towels and sheets than the crappy 'fleet-issued standard. Maybe it was time for some things to change.

"From the looks of things," Leo said, "I should probably be the one buying 'em."

Jim smiled brightly. "There really wasn't that much to do," he said. "Besides, I owe you for you letting me crash here."

Leo watched Jim levelly. "OK, kid," he said. "Let me just get out of this monkey suit and we'll go."

Jim spun around in Leo's desk chair. "You can tell me all about your research," he said.

Leo turned and looked at him sharply.

"I'm serious," Jim said.

"How much do you know about disease pathology?" Leo asked sarcastically, not really sure of the answer.

Jim shrugged. "I'm always willing to learn," he said.

Leo bit back the 'Maybe. Maybe not.' that threatened to erupt, settling for a grunt and a raised eyebrow as he pawed through one of his duffels, looking for his favorite jeans.

+

At the bar, Jim had been so full of opinions about his research that Leo suspected that he'd spent the hours after he packed reading everything that he could get his metaphorical hands on. At the very least, their conversation that evening seemed to have gone a long way in assuaging some of Jim's fears.

"Tell me why, though," Jim insisted. "Why one of the Capellan plagues?"

Leo felt his teeth grinding together in exasperation at the very ideas that he was about to express. "All right, so you know how the undergrads have to do Interspecies Ethics – customs, how not to be an ass in diplomatic situations, IDIC?"

Jim nodded.

"Medical personnel have to take the same kind of classes, but they're more specific, about religious or other prohibitions that might have an adverse impact on your capacity as a physician to treat another species."

"OK," Jim said. "Logical."

"Yeah," Leo said hotly. "Except where it's fucking not. So we had this big section on the Capellan system because they're mineral-rich, you see?"

Jim nodded, drinking his beer.

"But they're total fucking idiots," Leo said, and Jim raised his eyebrows in surprise, almost choking on his beer.

"They don't believe medical intervention, like it's the Easter Fucking Bunny or something, because they're all about brute strength and survival of the fittest and every year, Jim, every year, thousands and thousands of people die from treatable diseases. Or at least, they'd probably be treatable, if they had any kind of scientific or medical tradition, but they don't and we're supposed to, doctors, are supposed to go there and smile and nod and let people fucking die so as not to be 'culturally insensitive'."

Jim was watching him with a wry expression on his face. "How big of an argument did you get into with the Professor, Bones?"

Leo took a long pull of his beer. "A big fucking argument. But it's just … it's ludicrous in this day and age to allow such ignorance to go on."

"So, you're gonna cure their worst plague?" Jim asked.

"I'm gonna try," Leo emphasized, "which is a damned sight more than some of those fuckwads have tried. Because don't you think that somebody on that friggin' rock can be reasoned with? That maybe if the diplomats went there to the Teer with a cure that maybe that would be something worth trading for mining rights?"

Jim smiled at him with admiration. "I don't know if it'll work, Bones," he said. "I don't know enough about their society, but it's a hell of an idea. Just … be fucking careful, OK?"

"That is fucking rich, kid," Leo said. "Are you gonna promise me the same thing when they beam you into some godforsaken hellhole with nothing in your hands?"

"I always try to be careful, Bones," Jim smirked. "Besides, I'm not going in with absolutely nothing," he raised his fingers to tick off what he'd have. "The assumption behind the exercise is that it's an away mission gone bad. I'll have clothes appropriate for the environment, although maybe not in prime condition. I'll have at least some part of what I would have beamed down to the theoretical planet with. I'll have my brain."

The look that Leo had shot him had been suitably withering, but Jim had just smirked and pressed his leg up against Leo's. "It's a pretty good brain, as far as they go."

And it was. Leo knew that Jim was bright – shit, he was brilliant. But brilliance wasn't an inoculation against scorpions or dehydration or the ravages an unrelenting 49 degree Celsius temperature could inflict on an unsheltered body.

And all of Jim's reasoning that it was better for him to practice these scenarios in 'safe' environments was not convincing to him. There was no such thing as safety, not in that kind of scenario. People lost their comms when they became addled by the heat, wandered off naked into the desert to dive into the oasis that only existed in their brain. And his fears about death were real. In 2250, a Cadet had frozen to death on an Antarctic expedition to one of the last remaining polar areas on the planet.

No. It was going to be a long fucking summer of worry for Leo, no doubt.

+

His thoughts were so consumed by Jim wandering in the desert that it was almost always a shock for him to leave the lab or his new dorm and find himself confronted with the cool, misty gloom of a San Francisco 'summer'. Leo'd heard that San Francisco was foggy, and thought that he'd experienced the fog in living there for nearly a year, but this was of an order of magnitude that he'd never seen before -- the way the fog crept in and settled for days on end, the sun overhead barely making a dent.

Every day, he hoped that he'd find that the sun would finally burn away the gloom, but it persisted. Sometimes, he could swear that he felt himself dissipating like a ghost as the time went by without Jim, the days grey and colorless, one after another.

+

The small shift of the mattress as her weight hit it roused Leo from his post-coital doze. The clink of a spoon against ceramic made him open his eyes as Patty settled herself in the curve of his body. He was laying on his side, knees curled up. Patty draped herself over his sheet-covered hip, and he could feel the silky length of her hair as it spilled across his lower back. He opened his eyes to the sight of her small feet. This week, her toenails were painted a dark raspberry, something the whole world would know if the weather ever got warm enough for her to wear sandals. As of right now, he was pretty sure that he was the only one who had that particular knowledge, which was quite all right with him. He and Patty were good at keeping each other's secrets.

"Open up," Patty said, leaning forward. She was wearing his t-shirt, and it was absurdly large but somehow beguiling on her. "Don't look," she ordered. "Just trust me."

Leo raised an eyebrow, but dutifully shut his eyes and opened his mouth, only to have them shoot open a minute later. "Peaches," he murmured appreciatively.

"You're such a Georgia boy," she said with a smile, taking a big mouthful of the vanilla ice cream and peaches for herself before giving him another bite. "Although, I'm sure that mere Central California peaches will never be as good as real Georgia peaches, if the grousing I've had to put up with for the past two weeks is any indicator."

Leo smiled, because he had, in fact, been thinking that. "They're still good, though," he said warmly, running a hand down her hair. "Thanks, Patty."

"And there's the smile," Patty observed, looking at him with her sharp eyes. She fed him another bite. "So," she began. "You've been sleeping over lately."

Leo looked at her in alarm, afraid that he'd trespassed on their unspoken arrangement.

"Cut that out," she said immediately. "I'm curious as to why, that's all."

Leo closed his mouth, intending to chew very, very slowly before he answered.

"Stop stalling," she said. "Or I'll stop giving you peaches."

Leo sighed. "You know, you being a psychiatrist is kind of a pain in the ass," he said.

She smiled brilliantly, holding up a spoonful of peaches. "Speak, and they're yours."

"The thing is," he hedged, "there's no reason for me to rush back to my room while Jim's gone."

Patty looked puzzled at his half-answer, then thoughtful. She dumped the spoonful back in the bowl and came up with a far smaller portion. "You can have the rest when you give me the rest of the answer."

Leo rolled his eyes, chewed and swallowed. "He sleeps with me," he said.

He'd never seen Patty's big green eyes quite the big before. "You're not being euphemistic, right?"

"No, damn it," he said tersely.

She gazed at him steadily, ice cream dripping off the spoon into the bowl until she seemed to recollect herself and scoop up another serving. "Start from the beginning," she said, giving him a big mouthful of the peaches.

So, he told her how he'd let Jim crash that one time, and how he'd begun showing up with greater frequency, sometimes drunk, sometimes beat up, sometimes both, until it evolved to the point where Jim didn't even ask anymore, just crept into bed with him some nights, all the way through to him sort of moving in before he went away on the survival training. When he finished his recitation, he could practically see the wheels in Patty's head turning. "So," he said, "kind of pathetic, or creepy, right?"

Patty's brow drew down as she contemplated Leo's words. "That's not … that's definitely not what I was going to say," she said thoughtfully.

"C'mon, Patty," Leo said, "even I know this is not normal behavior. I'm pretty sure that I'm taking the place of his dead brother."

"Huh?" she said sharply. "Why do you say that?"

"Because he did, the first night he slept over."

"What exactly did he say?" Patty asked.

Leo closed his eyes and thought back. "He said that he hadn't done this in forever, and when I asked him what he said he used to sleep with his big brother, a long time ago."

"Hmm …" Patty murmured, stirring the ice cream thoughtfully.

"So, clearly," Leo said again, "I'm the big brother substitute."

"I really don't think so, Leonard," Patty said surely.

He stared at her.

"I don't," she said stubbornly. "Tell me how you sleep with him."

"What do you mean?" he asked. "Like, do I sleep well? 'Cause I do, and I find it really unsettling that he can sneak into bed with me, and that I don't notice until the next day, and lots of times only after he's gone."

"How do you know?" she asked.

"My bed smells like him," he said simply. "Even though he showers before he gets in bed with me."

Patty's eyes opened even wider. "Really?" she said.

Leo shrugged and took the spoon away from her, serving himself some peaches, since she was so distracted. "So, it's clearly weird, and …"

"So, does he have one-night stands only, or regular lovers?"

"You should have heard the whole disquisition on the word lovers," Leo said, shaking his head. "He refers to the people he's slept with more than once as 'repeaters'."

"Mmhmm," Patty said, in that perfect psychiatric tone. "Do you know any of these 'repeaters'?"

"Aside from the Orion woman," Patty's eyebrows skyrocketed, "There's a Denobulan -- guy," he clarified, "and a couple of other Cadets who seem to have the same emphasis on 'fun'," he said sarcastically.

"Fun?"

"Sex is supposed to be fun for everyone involved, no strings, at least that's how he expresses it to me," he said.

"You didn't tell me how you sleep with him," Patty said.

He stared at her. "Like in what position?" he asked.

She nodded, taking the spoon back.

"I usually sleep on my left side and he sleeps behind me," he said slowly, feeling like sharing the details was breaking some bubble of intimacy that was just his and Jim's.

"Does he touch you?"

Leo nodded. "He usually puts his right hand on my hip, and sleeps right behind me. On my pillow," he clarified. "Some nights – actually lately," he said, "he pulls me in and holds onto me like I'm his teddy bear."

"He knows we're having sex," Patty said suddenly.

Leo stared at her. "How the hell did you get there?"

"It's obvious to me," she said. "He must hate my guts."

Leo had gone quiet and still at her words.

"He does, doesn't he?" Patty said.

"He doesn't have the right!" Leo insisted.

"He's in love with you, Leonard," Patty said surely.

"No, he's not," he said wearily. "He doesn't believe in love, he's not going to fall in love, he's told me over and over."

"Has he now?" Patty said, leaning back against his thighs and crossing her feet at the ankles. "Huh." She was smiling.

"Patty, what the fuck are you smiling about?" he growled.

"He's in love with you," she said slowly. When he started to protest, she continued. "I didn't say that he knows it, or that he's willing to admit it, but he is," she said surely.

Leo shook his head and rolled away, flopping back on the pillows and Patty squeaked as her seat back disappeared. "Why are you saying this to me?" he said angrily. "Why are you trying to make me hope for something that's never going to happen?" He felt completely irrational and raw, exposed.

He heard the clink of the bowl being placed on the nightstand, then the press of Patty against his side. "Leonard," she said softly, but he didn't open his eyes. "I am not trying to hurt you," she said. "In fact, that's the last thing I want, but … I just don't think that you're seeing this situation clearly."

"Patty," he said to her, turning his head and opening his eyes, "you've never even met him, you don't know how he is. If he sees someone he wants, he goes right up to them. He never backs down from a challenge."

"But he's never been in love before, has he?" Patty asked quietly.

Leo stared at her. "I … no, I don't think he has," he admitted.

"So he has no frame of reference for how he feels," she said not relenting. "Did he have good role models?"

"No," Leo said hoarsely. "I don't think so. Plus, he's been left behind a lot."

Patty tilted her head, listening.

"Dead or absent parents, impermanence" he said. "Then, Tarsus."

She nodded. "So, pretty much everyone he's loved is dead, is that what you're saying?"

Leo thought about how Jim had never mentioned his mother or his past, how he'd gone off alone at Christmas. "Dead or gone," he answered. "But you know, Patty, the kid is a genius, like off the charts."

She smiled at him. "What did you say to me about it not mattering how educated someone was? It's the same with intelligence."

"My point exactly!" Leo said. "He's determined not to be in a fully realized relationship, ergo, there's no chance."

"Yet he's intimate with you, without being sexual about it," Patty countered. "You've assumed that this is because he doesn't want to have sex with you."

"Yeah," Leo said, "Like I said – I think he's pretty open about going after whomever he wants sexually."

"The thing is, Leonard," Patty said slowly. "I've slept with you a few times now."

"OK?" Leo said, puzzled.

"And you don't sleep curled on your left side facing away," she continued. "You sleep on your back. You sleep facing me. You don't hide from me, like you're hiding from him. You're telling him 'no', without saying it."

Leo stared at her. "You couldn't fit two people, much less two grown men, in my old single."

"You have a bigger bed, now?" Patty asked.

"Yeah, you know, new room," Leo said. "It has a double – it's still small, but … what?"

"Only married students get the double beds, Leonard," she said. "Didn't you tell me that he moved all your stuff for you while you were working?"

He stared at her, but didn't answer.

"So, in the new bed …which he evidently procured for you," she said. "You're still doing the same thing, aren't you?"

"Because he's going to fucking break my heart," he said fiercely. "OK? I know he is."

Patty lay her head down over his heart and was quiet for a few minutes. Leo hoped that she'd gone to sleep, and tried to will himself to calm down, even as her words tumbled through his head making knots and clumps of hope and hurt.

"The thing I love the most about you is how loving you are," Patty said surely. "You're just … you're a healer through and through. I know that you're going to figure this out."

"Why," Leo said after a while, "are you pushing so hard on this, Patty? After everything you've just gone through, after everything that I've gone through, why are you pushing me?"

Patty rose up to look down at him, her hands on his chest. "Because one of us still has the chance to get what we really want," she said. "And I'm not saying it's going to be easy, and I'm not saying that it isn't fucked up, but I want that for you. I do," she said when he began shaking his head 'no'. "He's not getting married, and he'd not dead, he's just … young and he's wounded, and he's stubborn. Maybe more stubborn than you, even. And you love him and it scares the shit out of you, and I'm sorry, but we can't hide here in my bed forever, and you know it," she said, and shook him by the shoulders. "You know it." She pressed her face into his neck for a moment and held him close. "Don't shut yourself off from possibility or use us as an excuse. It would kill me to know that you did that."

She broke away from him and looked at him again, her green eyes earnest and sad. "Also? If I ever meet your ex-wife, I'm gonna punch her right in the face."

Leo laughed through the tears that had been threatening for the last ten minutes.

"Really fucking hard," she added seriously.

He pulled her down into a hug. "Can I belt Shohreh for you?" he drawled.

She kissed him, "You never would," she said. "But thank you for offering. Just …" her voice dropped down to a whisper, "don't shut yourself off from this, Leonard," she said. "You'll regret it. And I don't want that for you."

+

Chapter 17

+

There had been specific points in Leo’s life where the insanity of what was happening to him made him want to look over his shoulder for a guy with a holovid camera, where he was almost waiting for someone to burst from the shrubbery and announce that whatever fucked up shit was going on was all part of an elaborate prank for one of those inexplicably popular holoshows. But whatever weirdness he thought he’d endured before had been eclipsed by his current situation, because, when he thought about the fact that his erstwhile girlfriend was encouraging him to end their sexual relationship because it was keeping him from pursuing the man of his dreams, it seemed more like the premise of a bad romantic comedy rather than the real life a grown man should be living.

Except that he knew that it was for real. And he knew that Patty was honestly his friend in a way that was rare and true, and that, if the tables were turned, he would no more stand in her way of achieving happiness than he would ignore an accident where someone might be injured and in need of aid. He knew that Patty was sincere when she said that she wanted him to be happy. The thing was, aside from all of his fears about the whole Jim thing – after all, once bitten, twice shy – he wasn’t entirely certain that happiness was a concept he believed in. Or maybe he was just terrified to once again pin his greatest hopes on something outside of himself, on someone who had built his life on not making the kind of connection that Leo craved.

Then again, he was also pretty sure that at one time James T. Kirk had sworn on all that was holy, and the rest that was not, that he would never join Starfleet. And yet, here he was. Right next to Leo, a man who would have told you a year ago that you were fucking crazy if you’d told him that he would end up in Starfleet.

So maybe he had to learn how to relax a little, to trust that there was some sort of plan, even if he couldn’t see it.

Maybe, in those universes where he was Leonard or Len instead of Leo, he had still become Bones anyway, and ended up at Jim’s side, despite all the differences between those universes and his. Maybe all the people he knew in this now had floated through his lives in all the other whens, too. Maybe they were always circling each other in some great cosmic swirl, like a nebula.

Maybe some things just were, like the universal constants that had helped them plot the stars and then sail them.

Maybe.

+

It wasn’t like there was much he could do about the whole Jim thing, anyway, what with him off in the middle of nowhere somewhere, risking life and limb for … not even death and glory, because Leo doubted that anyone would see the valor in dying on a training mission. And it was just plain irresponsible that Starfleet still ran courses like the survival training one. Not that he doubted that Cadets needed to be trained to get them as ready as possible for real life situations, it’s just that when he was doing a battlefield medical theatre training exercise, nobody beamed him down into the middle of a live battle. And yeah, maybe sims weren’t as good as the real thing, but, there had to be a better way to run a survival training course other than dumping a bunch of kids off in the desert.

He knew, or needed to believe, that Jim would come back at the end of the summer, full of piss and vinegar and with plenty of new stories to share about the fuckwittery of their fellow Cadets, if not the survival training class itself. But that was the best case scenario, and Leo’s brain, the one that had worked triage in a real ER, the one that had been participating in battlefield sims and disabled starbase sims and shipwide plagues sims for the past year, could not help but analyze the situation for all possible outcomes, and create scenarios to fit them all.

It wasn’t his fault if most of his scenarios were gruesome. He was a doctor, not a playwright -- and gruesome things happened all the time, and a fact he’d known forever, or at least since the summer he turned 8.

So, as the days counted down to his 29th birthday, he found himself cherishing the nights that his dreams were filled with the protein chains from the viral envelope for CHFIII. There was something there, something that he could not yet see in the encoding that was the switch, the way to turn it off, to make it incapable of binding to the host cell. His subconscious brought up images of protein chains swirling in balls and helixes, interlocking and twisting, as they plugged into receptor sites that Leo needed to block. He would wake sometimes, after dreaming complex and seemingly perfect solutions, ready to write down his thoughts on a PADD only to realize that he’d been dreaming in complete gibberish, or about interactions between imaginary molecules, or that what he’d thought so brilliant in the dreamscape was either hopelessly facile or totally unworkable.

Still, he’d learned over the years to quell the negative voice that would chime in about his uselessness, and dutifully record what he had been dreaming, no matter how crazy or impractical it seemed. More than once, it had turned out that at least part of the solution had been gleaned from these fragments of problem solving. And so he tried to direct his dreaming to his lab and its whiteboard and the view through his microscope.

It was far better than the alternative, where his dreamscape was transformed into sun-drenched vistas of breath-taking dryness, the heat rising from the scorched, barren earth in shimmering waves of distortion. He’d walk, his feet slowing down as he approached the thing he feared the most -- the one thing that he wanted to convince himself was a heat-induced hallucination – the clear outline of a ribcage he’d recognize anywhere arcing up from the sand, hollow and empty, the shell of what had once contained Jim Kirk.

Those nights, when he woke gasping and shaking in his room with its mockingly half empty bed, he never returned to sleep. His footsteps would be oddly muffled as he crossed the foggy campus in the early morning with no starlight to aid him, and barely a benchmark to note in the thick oppressive blanket of chilly precipitation that was the San Francisco summer. The security guard at the lab building became used to seeing him leave late and return only a couple of hours later. And if Bet Wah noticed that he was running through the experimental protocols faster than they’d originally planned, she was too polite to ask why, just bought more tea to account for what Leo was drinking in the early morning to combat the chill of August, and his dreams.

Only Patty was bold enough to come to the lab in the evening and drag him out, threatening to sedate him if he didn’t sleep. Even in her bed, however, he was not immune to the dreams that plagued him, especially as the weeks wended on silent and grey, one after the other.

+

Leo hadn’t started to freak out until Jim was 48 hours overdue in returning from his survival training class. He knew that he should be patient -- the return date was an estimate at best, a return window –- in theory, Jim could have returned anytime in the last week or so, having collected all of his stupid flags and ‘completed his mission’ or whatever the bullshit exercise was. But when the last day of the window had passed, and then another, he couldn’t help the rising dread. Summer semester was ending; finals were beginning. He knew that Jim’s successful completion of the summer survival course was how he’d be graded, that it would determine if he’d start his second year on par with the third years. But even with no need to sit for a test, Jim should be back on campus.

By day four, he was beyond pretending that he was not worried, and spent a significant portion of the evening ranting at Patty. Day five found him at Tactical, wanting answers before the weekend began and the department would be closed until Day eight. Answers which were frustratingly scarce on the ground, and even Leo’s status as Jim’s primary contact couldn’t shake information loose.

‘The course is still within the parameters of finishing on time, Cadet McCoy’.

‘There would be no information on the status of individuals on the course until it was deemed completed.’

If there were casualties, he was told, their primary contacts would be notified, ergo the fact that he had not been notified was what he should be focusing on.

Not that this was any comfort to Leo at all.

After refusing to back down, Leo’d finally gotten the junior instructor to admit that search parties were not launched for ‘unreturned’ Cadets until 72 hours after the initial deadline. And as Lt. Cmdr. Wilson had minimal contact with the Commander in charge of the program while he was out in the field, he had no knowledge of a problem. He would assume, though, this Lt. Cmdr. Wilson, that if there were casualties, that Starfleet Medical would hear of them first, and that the point of contact would be more than likely to be someone in Commodore Alberghetti’s staff than his. Leo spent similarly fruitless time in the Admin offices at Starfleet Medical, where the Commodore’s secretary was impassive in the face of his worry, although she did reassure him that as Jim’s contact, he would be the first to be called should the worst arise.

He met Patty for dinner, but he had no appetite and less conversation. She’d tried to talk him into coming back to her place, at least for the companionship she could offer, but he wanted to be alone, even if that meant that the only thing that would be accompanying him was the rising voice of doom in his head. He walked the few kilometers from Patty’s off-campus apartment back to the grounds of Starfleet in the grey gloom, hoping that the exercise would help settle him down, give him a chance to get some sleep, but all he felt was chilled and sweaty by the time he got back to his room, aching for a hot shower and maybe some decaf tea with whiskey in it.

He ordered the lights to 50%, so discouraged that it took him more than a few seconds to register the slightly smaller, sand and dirt-encrusted hiking boots on the tray alongside the shoes that he’d just toed off. He whirled around, half-expecting to be confronted with an empty room, only to see Jim in his bed, laying on his stomach with his hands tucked up under his pillow, fast asleep. Leo closed his eyes for a second, in thankfulness and disbelief, before he crossed the room in a few steps, his jacket halfway off. It was as if everything around him had snapped back into focus for the first time in weeks, like the fog had burned off from one minute to the next. Jim was really there, alive and bright, as if he'd brought the sun back with him. It had certainly touched him everywhere Leo could see – Jim’s hair was streaked with gold, bleached by the desert sun, his shoulders and upper back and arms darkly tanned.

Leo was caught somewhere between a smile and a sigh at the idea that Jim had been both hat- and shirt-less in the desert. Ever the doctor, Leo couldn’t resist bending over and examining what he could see when his eye discerned that Jim’s shoulders had burned, blistered and peeled, and that he’d developed freckles. Jim clearly hadn’t had any skin protection with him on his little jaunt, or not enough, and what Leo could see made him wonder what lay under the covers. Clearly, he was going to have to do some dermal cellular repair to counter damage, particularly anything melanomatic. His hands were literally itching with the desire to touch, to whip out his tricorder and do a status check, but he couldn’t help but notice how peacefully Jim was sleeping, and the fact that he had not stirred at all upon Leo’s entrance or his continued presence alongside him. He looked at Jim’s profile and noticed the circles under his eyes, the slight sunkenness of them, indicative of dehydration. The line of Jim’s jaw was particularly sharp and prominent – he was utterly exhausted, a bit on the thin side, and still ... he was the best thing Leo’d ever seen, the most beautiful sight in the universe.

Leo forced himself to back away from the bedside, and hung up his jacket, then continued on into the bathroom to shower. His own exhaustion had started to make its presence known, now that he no longer had to worry, but he didn’t allow himself to rush through his evening routine – well, not much. Clean, and mostly dry, he strode across the room in his briefs and commed Patty from his console with a simple text that read, “He’s home” before he overrode the daily alarm and set the incoming messages for emergency access only. Tomorrow was Saturday, he didn’t have any experiments that needed to be checked until later in the afternoon, and he was off shift until Sunday. He had no reason to be anywhere else, and no desire to go there anyway. He gave his hair one last drying with the towel before he stuffed it down the chute. Next to it, on the floor, he noted that the duffel bag Jim had left there weeks ago was open, and that he’d clearly been rooting through it for clean laundry. He smiled and crossed the room to the foot of the bed, ready to crawl up ‘his’ side against the wall, and stumbled over a knapsack that he hadn’t noticed, jostling the bed. Jim never stirred.

Leo narrowed his eyes, feeling a bit of his elation leak out of him. Jim had never been that heavy of a sleeper. He crossed back to his desk and got the tri-c out of his medkit, running the scanner over Jim’s head and down his spine, shaking his head as the numbers came up on the screen.

He’d seen better numbers on marathon runners at the end of a race, not that he endorsed such activity. By the looks of it, Jim had been running a marathon for days on end -- he had extreme muscle fatigue, with endocrine and electrolyte readings showing elevated lactic acids and calcium, and lowered testosterone. He was full of broken down ketones, evidence that someone had treated him, probably with IV fluids, but that he needed rest and a lot more sustenance. All in all, he’d lost close to 7 kg, more than Leo would have expected or wanted to see, and he was pretty sure that most of it was muscle.

“Damn it, Jim,” he said in a low voice.

“Bones,” Jim said groggily, swatting up at the scanner, and Leo almost dropped the tri-corder on him in surprise. “I’m fine.”

Leo could see the edge of an abrasion on the inside of his arm that had been regenerated, but needed one more treatment to really heal. “You’re not fine, kid,” he growled.

“Bones,” Jim protested, rolling over onto his back. He stopped in the middle of saying something and looked at Leo. “Wow,” he said, wide-eyed. “That’s kind of kinky.”

“Huh?” Leo asked.

Jim eyeballed his briefs, and Leo rolled his eyes.

“All I’m sayin’ is, you’d probably be the most popular doctor at Starfleet Medical if you went to work like that, Bones,” Jim said with a smirk. His eyes were twinkling at Leo, who couldn’t hold back the smile that curled the edges of his own mouth.

“I missed you, too, kid,” Leo said, continuing to scan his friend.

“Bones,” Jim grouched. “Just cut it out and get in bed. You look like you haven’t slept since I left.” Jim blinked at him, eyes vividly blue in his tanned face. “Or gone outside at all.”

Leo snorted, eyes back on the tri-c.

“I’m fine,” Jim said again. “C’mon, Bones. They told me I need to sleep, an’ I can’t sleep if you’re scanning me.” He started to sit up.

“Where you going?” Leo asked, shutting off the tri-c.

Jim pointed at the bathroom, yawning and running a hand through his hair, which was longer than Leo’d ever seen.

Leo studied the results for a few seconds more, then got into the bed and slid over.

Jim came out of the bathroom, still yawning hugely, and rubbing his arms. He was tanned everywhere, as if he’d shucked all of his clothes at some point, although the skin on his lower arms and face was noticeably darker. He sat down heavily on the bed and shoved his feet under the covers, pulling them up before rolling over on his stomach, facing Leo. “It’s fucking freezing here,” he groused, eyes already sliding closed.

“It’s been like this all summer,” Leo said, watching Jim settle himself in the bed.

“Mmm …” Jim said. “Tell me tomorrow. Lights?”

“Computer, lights off,” Leo ordered, but he didn’t close his eyes. He was laying flat on his back, the arm closest to Jim up over his head, waiting for his vision to adjust so he could watch Jim.

“Nice sheets,” Jim murmured, rubbing his cheek against the pillowcase

“It’s a nice bed,” Leo observed. “I thought I’d splurge.”

“Mmm …” Jim said sleepily.

”You know what I heard?” Leo asked. Jim said nothing, but he continued. “I heard that only married students get the double beds.” Jim twitched the tiniest of amounts. “And you know, my status is still listed as divorced, so I guess it was just a happy accident that I ended up in a room with a double b--”

Jim’s hand had slipped out from underneath his pillow and two fingers landed on Leo’s mouth. “You wan’ me to give it back?” Jim asked, cracking an eye open.

“No,” Leo said, his voice muffled by Jim’s fingers.

“Then shhh …” Jim said, his last utterance ending in a sigh.

Leo felt Jim’s hand go slack and heavy against his jaw, and he twisted his head, feeling slightly claustrophobic. Jim’s hand dropped down to his upper chest, the tips of his fingers splayed against his neck. Jim’s mouth had opened slightly, his face slack. He was already out.

Leo shifted closer to Jim, feeling the weight of Jim’s arm across his chest. He ran his fingers over the warm skin, feeling the smooth tension of Jim’s brachioradialis resolving into the decided curve of his biceps. Jim’s breath puffed in and out, sure and steady, as he slept.

Technically, it was two days too late for it, but … a whole and relatively healthy Jim was the best birthday present he’d gotten in forever. He kept his eyes on Jim as long as he could, eyes drifting closed and then reopening, not to ensure that Jim was really there – Jim’s arm laying across his chest anchored Leo to this reality – but just so that he could see him again. He didn’t feel the slightest inclination to turn away and face the wall, not when he could be looking at Jim. His last cogent thought before he drifted away into a blissfully dreamless sleep was to feel slightly sorry for any of his other selves out there in unknown universes who’d yet to know this feeling.

Maybe, just maybe, he was the lucky one, after all.

+