Something about a dark, foggy night just lends itself to slow lovemaking.
Slow isn’t always an easy concept for Jim, but there are times Leonard likes to remind him he doesn’t know everything. Slowly and steadily, Leonard has built the quiet warmth between them into a frantic heat at the center of his bedroom wrapped in darkness; a darkness wrapped in cold fog muffling the building, the Academy, the entire city.
Their friction pulls helpless noises from Jim, normally so silent in bed. He writhes on his back, legs bent up so they capture Leonard’s ribcage between his knees, heaving and whimpering beneath Leonard’s slow, hard thrusts. His face twists with a raw, purely physical intensity of feeling he never shows any other time.
They come to their climax close together, sweating in the dark, and Jim clings to Leonard's forearms as if he will never let go.
He will, of course. And Leonard hates the bitterness that floats to the surface of his bliss, poisoning the warm, shuddering pleasure when he ought to be ebbing into a satisfied sleep.
Tonight, Jim slips away almost as soon as they've separated. Leonard catches at a wrist, and Jim glides free, turns back to kiss Leonard's temple with a murmured word Leonard doesn't really catch. He's not meant to, he knows, because speech means a hell of a lot less than the fact that Jim's already half-dressed and out the door.
Leonard checks the clock and sighs, drawing the sheets more tightly around him against the chill of Jim's leaving.
He knows he's setting himself up for disappointment every time he lets himself hope that this time, Jim might be relaxed enough, exhausted enough, happy enough, to let himself sleep through the night in Leonard’s bed. And following after flighty Jim won't do him any good. Jim will chivvy him back into bed and vanish long before dawn. Leonard's given up — he’s tried to give up — asking himself why Jim won't stay.
His gran used to tell him a story: A hungry fisherman caught a fish in his net, but the beautiful creature spoke, begging and pleading and promising wishes if its life were spared. The fisherman, happy with his life, could think of nothing to wish for, but was so moved by the fish's words that he released it back into the ocean. That night, when he returned home, he told his spouse the story.
"Call it back," the spouse replied, "and wish for a larger house."
The fisher did as he was bid, the following morning and many mornings after that, for his spouse was never satisfied with the result of their wishes. Until one night, as they were holding each other in bed, the fisherman's spouse once again ordered him to wish for a larger house.
The following gray dawn, the fisherman returned to the water and called the fish back to wish there had never been any wishes at all.
So Leonard tries to be content with coaxing Jim to come to him; coaxing him to stay feels like trying to tame a wild thing, and Leonard's still hopeful during every near approach, relieved that Jim keeps coming back.
And he's glad to be touched, after feeling for so long like he’d dropped out of the human race altogether; glad to be kissed, glad to be wanted at all.
A wonder of its own, being wanted by Jim — purely, passionately — even aside from whether Leonard deserves him or not. When he's up close Jim has this intoxicating way of focusing everything he has on a person, wrapping Leonard in skeins of sensation, drawing his soul up out of its lonely depths to tremble just beneath the surface of his skin.
Until Jim slips away, elusive as the surf from the shore.
Leonard's like the warm wind that tumbles all the way across the Pacific only to barrel across the cold California current, where all that hope and anticipation of reaching out to touch dry land mystifies into a fog that hides the very thing he wants most.
He closes his eyes and throws his arm over them and starts a relaxation breathing technique because there's only about four hours left until another day begins, and the incomprehensible state of his love life isn't going to make a damn bit of difference to the professors and patients he needs to be alert for tomorrow.
A clamorous song goes off in Leonard's ear; he'd be instantly awake anyway but he growls the alarm off, then rolls out of bed and ducks briefly under the sonics. It isn't until he's stepping out of the narrow cubicle that he realizes Jim’s been at his alarm again, because his brain finally identifies the archaic chestnut he'd cut off as "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu." He shakes his head, pulling on his sweats, wondering if Jim will ever run out of medical-flavored songs or a taste for inflicting them on Leonard.
The jog down to their marker stone at the edge of Baker Beach is enough to limber up Leonard's long muscles, but his stomach remains tight and apprehensive until he catches sight of Jim on the sand, stretching out his quads. Jim's never missed a morning run yet unless he's out on a command exercise, but Leonard didn't know what to expect today, given how quickly Jim fled from him last night.
Jim waits, expressionless, until he can reach out to cuff Leonard on the shoulder in a gesture that feels like Jim's telling him everything when really he's explaining nothing.
They run silently but for the rasp of their breath in the lingering fog, side by side down the grey-limned beach, through the city, and back to the Academy gate — who needs words when they can shear through the air together, pitting matched strength and stamina against the mute pull of gravity? They aren't racing anything but the clock, to get back to their dormitories and into their reds before mess call. It's a strange sort of togetherness, Leonard thinks when they separate at the gate with a bump of shoulders.
He's lost in his own thoughts in the barely dawn light, trying to figure why he thought mercurial Jim would become less puzzling over time. At first, he believed everything could be explained by the combination of Jim's corybantic libido and quicksilver mind: the voracious hunger for touch and for knowledge, the focus he brings to bear on books, films, other peoples’ stories. He studies, too, for all that he’s light years ahead of most cadets, but if he has his own self-imposed goals, he hasn't shared them with Leonard and Leonard hasn't asked.
Leonard treads carefully, holds on lightly. He’s afraid that if he demands too much in the way of traditional devotion, Jim’ll vanish like a mirage in the too-bright California sun, leaving Leonard as bereft and bitter as he had been in his first months here, before Jim's birthday present turned his life inside out.
By the same token, he gets more frustrated than he ought when Jim can juggle three different padds full of schedules and reading and equations, but doesn’t hear a question he’s been asked seven times. Or when he doesn’t seem to notice or care when he’s late for a rendezvous, even if Leonard’s climbed the scale from toe-tapping impatience to red-eared disgust.
There's no answer for any of it, though, except to keep trying.
Leonard ducks back in the shower, this time using a bit of his water allotment to wash off the sweat of the run, and arrives at the empty hall for his next class with strong black coffee and enough time to review two new articles on modifications to his neuro-grafting technique, and to draft a letter to the editor about the idiocy he finds in one of them.
His morning class really ought to hold his attention better than it does, but halfway through he realizes he's still mulling over Jim, still trying to fit the pieces of their silent nights and mornings into some sort of sense. Still putting too much energy into trying to solve Jim, diagnose his peculiarities, understand what makes him tick — because Leonard's driven by that same desire to "fix the problem" that makes him a doctor in the first place.
But some problems aren't, and some things don't actually need solving, and though he was fool enough to think he might fix his marriage by fixing Joce, he'll be damned if he's going to make the same mistake twice. Only one person here he can do anything about, and it's sure's hell not Jim.
Lunchtime sweeps him into the noisy cafeteria with a hundred other cadets; and the daytime Jim he’d once thought was the only Jim arrives, bubbling over with words and ideas at a speed Leonard can't always quite assimilate. Everything with Jim feels this way: Leonard is either drowning, or dying of thirst.
But at least on the mental plane he can just enjoy riding the swell, stretching the limits of his own erudition and philosophy to keep up with Jim, striving to get a word in or put Jim in his place now and then when he gets a wild hare on some topic or another.
Jim's spent the morning in advanced astrophysics, so today along with meatloaf and zucchini he gets the possibilities inherent in pushing warp, at least until dessert when Jim tears off on a mathematical tangent Leonard's not sure a Vulcan could follow.
"It’s extraordinary, Bones, with this math, at least in an abstract solar system, you can calculate a gorgeous hyperbola that by every means I can measure should actually take you back in time."
He looks through his empty plate to some spot on the other side of the earth; Leonard’s noticed when Jim's thinking deeply he forgets little niceties like eye contact.
"But real systems are messy, Jim," Leonard says, setting his fork down and pushing back his chair. "Abstract's all well and good, but one bit of misinformation, one piece of missing data, and your slingshot’s hopelessly off, right? You'll vaporize in the sun, or smash out past the heliopause without a parachute. And say you do succeed in slipping through the temporal keyhole — I can’t imagine how insanely hard it is to calculate the time travel itself. How could you end up within even a thousand years of the date you need...?"
Jim stands and gathers his tray, bringing himself back to the world and offering a shrug and a smile. "Okay, okay, so it’s difficult — but isn’t it amazing to think that it’s even possible? However desperate you’d have to be to give it a try?"
"Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting theory — but I'm not sure 'amazing' is the word," Leonard says, dryly. Jim leads the way to the doors; when they've finished threading through the noisy crowd, Leonard grumbles, "Can we leave going in reverse out of this 'til I’m comfortable going forward in spacetime?"
Jim chuckles, stepping out into a clear summer afternoon. "Speaking of, how are your flight courses going?"
"I don't hyperventilate when I get in the cabin anymore, so there's that." Leonard shrugs with a nonchalance he's not really feeling. "Last sim I managed to crash us full-on into Mare Tranquillitatis mid-flight, and I'm still not sure which display I missed or misread."
"Hey Bones..." Jim trots down the steps, not even pausing for his customary leer at the pretty girls coming up, and trails to a stop a few steps along the walkway. He turns to face Leonard, eyes glinting bright blue, like a reflection of the sunny sky. "What's the most important thing for you to keep track of when you've got a patient on the table?"
"Depends, but O2 saturation or blood pressure are key indicators."
"So blood pressure and pulse, that's your propulsion — the thrusters, the antigrav. The output from your impulse drive—"
"Exactly. And your controls are like vasoconstriction and — "
"Yeah," Leonard jumps in, caught up in Jim's metaphor, "different ways to keep the BP and heart rate within limits. And the guidance system is the brain, or, no, the visual cortex, I guess..."
"Yes, that's it, it covers a lot of different senses, I think. The computer is your brainstem and limbic system, handles all sorts of homeostatic stuff so you don't have to, but the brain — the decision-making part of the brain — is you." Jim pushes insistent fingers against his chest, pressing the point home, and Leonard's heart flutters. "So as far as flying goes, the key is your speed — think of that as respiration: too fast, your patient's hyperventilating, out of control, too slow and everything that relies on O2 starts to fall apart..."
"Right," he replies, frowning down at the concrete in concentration. Words and images that had seemed dauntingly foreign before are starting to swim into focus. "So the autopilot's like the autonomic breathing reflex, but when the speed's out of whack we need emergency measures..."
He glances up for confirmation, but Jim's staring off across the lawn.
Right in the middle of a god-damned conversation, and the bastard's slipped out of his reach again.
A hollow pang ricochets through Leonard's chest; he bites back the sharp comment that won't remotely dent Jim's hide and follows his gaze.
The little boy running across the grass has to be what's caught Jim's attention: a piercing young voice calling "Daddy! Daddy!" with the kind of glee only a four-year-old can muster. His mother trails along behind, more slowly, smiling as she watches a red-clad cadet kneel down to catch the boy. Jim's eyes are focused on the child but it's impossible to tell if he's watching the tender moment or lost on some other internal track; his distant expression certainly doesn't soften.
"Cute kid," Leonard says, some of the sting creeping into the edges of his voice because asking won't get him anything resembling an answer, just a counterfeit smile and an abrupt change of subject.
And that, Leonard McCoy, is why you're the fisherman's spouse.
He watches the mother press a gentle kiss on the father's cheek, the boy still chattering away with all of the things his father has missed.
Jim abruptly looks back at him, rewinding their conversation, and Leonard sees him decide not to pick up where they left off; his eyes drift down to the left.
"I'm — I need to go — I just... remembered a meeting with Captain Pike..."
"Fine, then, go," Leonard says, Jim's lie bringing the words out thick and bitter. Depleted by Jim's tergiversation, he doesn't ask if he'll see him later, just watches him hurry across the quad before making his own way toward the Academy hospital.
There's always been one surefire way to stop himself wondering and wanting, and so he throws himself into his work with all the fury of a desert sandstorm. He finishes drafting up the rebuttal and ships it off to Phil Boyce for tempering before he sends it back to the journal. He scares hell out of the clinic administrator by volunteering a few hours, loses himself in the problems of his patients, and then misses supper, spending the time focused on running simulations for some delicate nerve grafting he's hypothesized but not previously tried.
When he makes it back to his quarters through another thick evening fog, he's too weary to do more than note his utter lack of surprise at Jim's absence. He strips off his reds and tosses them in the cleaner, then sonics off the last of the hospital antiseptic-and-illness smell and curls up in bed, stretching an order to the computer through a yawn until the lights finally die.
Leonard's still drifting in the upper levels of sleep, turning uneasily in his empty bed, when the door slides open, pulling him to an alertness he doesn't want but can't avoid. Mind still racing with half-dreamed chimeras of pumping hearts and pulsing engines, senses and sensors stretching through the ether, he shifts over to make room for surreptitious Jim and tosses the blanket aside.
In the darkness they never speak, don't even whisper unless it's a warning hiss, and this night is no different; Jim slips back into those silent waters, asks his questions with dumb and diffident fingertips, and when Leonard doesn't withdraw he gets pulled in after Jim, deluged by the tempest of his desire. He submerges Leonard in skin-on-skin, reckless as the wild surf, until Leonard gives up hope and understanding, abandons the foothold of wants and needs, loses his balance beneath Jim's raw intensity.
Leonard doesn't fight the riptide this time; he curls beneath Jim, sobbing for breath, swept away by sensation, reciprocating the stormy passion that's the one thing he's sure they both share.
Jim collapses against Leonard until their rough breathing softens, then separates them enough to roll heavily onto his back. Leonard turns on his side, still unmoored; presses his forehead against Jim's bicep. And Jim allows the point of contact to remain despite the faint twitch and tremor under his skin.
Leonard waits, listening to the distant foghorns, and tries not to wish.