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Stellar Explosion

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"Bones," Jim exclaims when he arrives at the set for his next gig and sees the photographer he'd dubbed with that nickname only days ago.

It's sort of a surprise, getting this booking for NoHo Threads, even more of a surprise than finding Bones behind the camera. Jim's seen their billboards all over town, and when he mentions it to Sulu, Sulu makes a noise filled with total indignation and envy before he smacks Jim on the shoulder. So it's obviously a pretty hot line, and a big get for a newcomer like Jim.

Rand mentions several times, though, that the designer-owner of the brand had seen the proofs of the photos from Jim's photoshoot with Spock. Apparently he had started snapping fingers right then at his assistants, sending them scurrying so he could ask for Jim immediately.

"They want a similar vibe to what you did with Spock," Rand tells him when he's on his way there, like she's scolding him for forgetting something she's reminded him about a billion times already. "You know, guys standing really close together, romantic insinuations, suggestive poses."

"They want something homoerotic," Jim blurts from the subway platform, where he's huddled up to the iron gate leading to the exit and the street above. It's the only way he can catch a blip of a signal to continue their conversation, though it puts him right near the path of everyone pushing through the turnstiles. A tall man in scrubs and a heavy coat standing a few feet away from him snorts at Jim's exclamation. Jim glares at him before turning away to gain a little more privacy.

"Yes, that's exactly it, Jimmy. Now get your ass over there, and work your blue-eyed blond-haired brand of commanding magic!"

"As soon as the train comes, happy to," he says, peering over at the darkened tunnel to see if one is on its way.

"What? Why didn't you take a cab?" she moans. "You could have been there already!"

"Because I'm kind of short on cash, okay?" he hisses. He glances over his shoulder, and Tall Scrubs is shaking his head at him, like, of course Jim would be short on cash. "It's not like I've gotten really good jobs the entire time I've been here, right? And the paycheck for the last two is only coming at the end of this week --"

"Ugh. EXPENSE REPORT IT! I'll cover your fare for this shoot."

"Back to Queens, too?" Jim asks hopefully.

"Don't push it, kid," she says before hanging up.

So Jim manfully had resisted the urge to flip off Tall Scrubs, taken off at a jog through the turnstile to head to the street above, and made it to the shoot with seconds to spare.

"What'd you just call me, kid?" the grumpy photographer asks now that Jim has arrived on the scene and greeted him. His brow looks like it's furrowed in a permanent state of irritation.

"Bones?" Jim repeats uncertainly. Of course now he's having a hard time remembering the guy's actual name instead of the handle he'd bestowed on him. "It's just -- I was calling you that in my head, from when we met at that shoot with Spock. Because of the time you told me how to position my ulna and shift my femur? But --"

"Yeah? Bones, huh? Well. I like it," the photographer growls. He jerks a thumb to indicate Jim better get the hell over to hair and makeup.

"Off with your shirt, honey," the bored looking skinny man unpacking his brushes says as Jim finishes with the hair people and arrives at his station.

"My shirt?" Jim asks in shock before he covers his face with his hands. So much for coming off totally blasé and experienced at this gig.

"Oh, sweetie, they didn't tell you?" the man asks irritably. He's already tugging impatiently at Jim's t-shirt, basically slapping Jim's hands away when he tries to help. "It's bared chest for at least some of the shoot. So we do the base all over the body for now and work out how we're going to highlight those sweet abs and pecs too, okay?" He emphasizes the latter areas by poking Jim sharply in his now-exposed stomach.

"Yeah, okay," Jim manages to get out without saying, Are you serious? in an indignant squawk as he kind of wants to.

Not that he has a huge objection to taking some of his clothes off for the camera; it's just that Rand so didn't mention it. Maybe she didn't have time, he thinks resentfully when the make-up guy gingerly drops Jim's t-shirt to the side like it's made entirely of bugs. Obviously she found out about this job last-minute just like Jim did. It's only that a guy sort of wants to prepare for stuff like this instead of having it sprung on him.

"We have to have our shirts off the entire time?" he asks as the other man gives a shrewdly assessing touch to Jim's ribcage and begins to shake one of his bottles of make-up.

"Hey, it'll be great; don't sweat it," a shirtless guy says as he wanders over with a huge bottle of water in his hand.

"You're working on this job too?" Jim asks him when the guy meanders closer to check Jim out in the lit-up mirror.

From the way the make-up artist rolls his eyes over Jim's shoulder, it's definitely a dumb question. The guy who just arrived wears artfully faded jeans with a woven leather belt and little else. He's barefoot and he's already been skillfully hair-tousled, with evidence of expertly applied highlighter and blush not only over his high cheekbones but at various strategic points on his exposed chest as well. And from the way the guy stands behind him, assessing Jim like he's both a competitor and a prospect, sort of clinches it.

"Sure am. I'm Gary. I'm looking forward to seeing you show your stuff out there." The guy grins at him, easy and confident, before taking a long swallow of his water. As soon as he's apparently verified that Jim and the make-up artist are both watching him, he strolls off to chat with Bones's assistant Pavel. From the way Pavel drops the clipboard he's holding a moment later and blushes all the way from his cheeks to his ears, Gary's saying something at least a little suggestive. Jim totally sympathizes; he's only talked to that Gary guy for a second, and already he feels kind of disarmed.

"Gary Mitchell," the make-up artist murmurs to Jim as he deftly sponges base cream all over Jim's forehead.

"You're Gary Mitchell?" Jim asks in confusion. It seems like a big coincidence for the make-up guy to share a first name with Jim's work partner for the day.

"No, you adorable idiot," the guy sighs as he yanks Jim's arms up to try some neutral tinted liquid on his delts. "I'm Rodney. That was Gary Mitchell. He just did a spread for Ralph Lauren, and he's up for a small role in the next Gus Van Sant film that's casting. Get with the program -- you need to keep an eye on your competition, cupcake."

Jim gives a jerky nod like he gets what all of that means, and focuses on not snapping back at Rodney for calling Jim an idiot and a cupcake.

By the end of the make-up session, though, the artist's various condescending gossip and snide comments about what a naïve cutie Jim is are getting Jim pretty riled up. Hell, he's already upset about how yesterday's conversation with Spock went down. And rushing to the shoot and getting competitive energy from Gary the more-of-a-star-model-than-Jim hasn't helped his mood any. Even the memory of the mocking guy from the subway platform ticks Jim off right now.

When Rodney pronounces, "Okay, that's the best I can do for now, honey," and shoos him to the set like he's a toddler who needs to be wrangled, Jim stalks away from the chair, gritting his teeth and barely noticing his hands curling into fists at his sides.

He tries to take a couple of deep breaths as Bones calls for several lights to get adjusted, forcing himself to count slowly on the exhale and inhale. He can't imagine anyone wants one of the models to start the job feeling like he's ready to punch the first person who looks at him funny. But even though Jim doesn't get enough time to calm down, the frustration turns out to work for him anyway.

After a few stiff poses together on the fake outdoor set, Bones yells out that they should try a couple of wrestling moves to get things going. Gary laughs and gives Jim a patronizing look, like he doubts Jim will be able to hold his own in a little hand-to-hand, even if it's all fake for the cameras.

"Oh, it's so on," Jim mutters as he launches himself at Gary. Gary barely has time to let out a surprised "Oof!" before Jim's grabbed him around his middle and they tumble to the ground together.

"Ugh, screw the both of you, we're going to need to reapply," Jim hears Rodney call in exasperation, probably about the streaks of base make-up he and Gary are smudging on each other's jeans while they grapple. But surprisingly instead of getting pissed-off about the way Jim rushed him, Gary shoots Jim a cocky grin like they're pals now. And when Jim grins back, Gary gets him in a friendly headlock and laughs. So it's not like Jim can summon up much worry over how Rodney's day has been ruined.

"Guess you're not such a newbie nerd after all," Gary pants when he and Jim get to their feet after they've been rolling around for a while. They circle each other, both of them grinning, while Bones mutters imprecations about how they're moving their fool pelvises too fast and snaps pictures of them the entire time.

"Oh, hell no. What'd you just say you thought about me?" Jim asks, baiting Gary with a "come on," hand gesture.

"Well, I thought you were a hot piece of ass, but with like, no game at all," Gary says, obviously amused.

"Oh, it's definitely on now," Jim says with a laugh before he tackles Gary again.

By the end of the shoot, most everyone on the set is laughing at their antics. A few people, though, like Pavel, look a little red in the face. Because while Jim and Gary have been rolling around or sprawling atop each other, Gary's been kind of, well. Handsy, is probably the best way to put it. He keeps grabbing Jim's ass or trying to tug Jim's jeans lower by the belt loops, despite Jim saying, "Hey!" resentfully and smacking his hand away. One time he even yanks Jim's back snug against his torso, and tries to bite at the juncture of Jim's shoulder and neck. At least when Jim ducks away from the attack just in time and pulls Gary's legs out from under him, Gary just guffaws like an arrogant dope instead of pushing his luck further.

It's hard to get too annoyed, because it seems like Gary's just a big joker. He smiles at Jim the rest of the time, easy and unperturbed, even after the times Jim shoves his wandering hands away. Meanwhile, Gary's obviously an equal opportunity flirt; he calls out some things that make the woman who did Jim's hair snicker playfully, and he joshes Pavel a bunch of times about how much he's probably enjoying the show of him and Jim rolling around together.

He can't miss, though, how uncomfortable Pavel looks, and how Bones's angry scowl has begun to make him seem like a pissed off thundercloud. Even so, Jim sort of figures it's all in good fun even if Gary comes on a little strong.

At least, he figures that right up until the moment Gary slides into the bathroom where Jim's just been told he can shower.

"What's up?" Jim asks in confusion.

Gary leans back against the door and says offhandedly, "Hey, that was pretty fun out there. So I was thinking. You can blow me if you want."

Jim laughs aloud at that, but he stops when Gary waits for his answer, one hand planted on his hip like he's getting a little impatient. Jim can't stop himself from glancing down at the fingers framing that groin, because hello, and yeah, Gary's really hard.

It's not a huge shock; Jim had felt the other guy's hard on when they were tumbling around and taking the occasional rest leaning against each other. But no way would he have bet on Gary seriously suggesting that Jim get down on his knees for him right after the shoot.

"Uh. No thanks?" Jim says. He laughs again, though it's a little more strained this time. Gary closed the door behind him when he followed inclined against it, and Jim isn't totally sure how many people are still at the shoot. He's pretty sure he can take Gary in an actual fight if he has to, but he doesn't want to belt another model unless he can't avoid it. It seems kind of unprofessional. Though hey, Gary being a dick and assuming Jim wants to suck his cock is pretty freaking unprofessional too.

"No?" Gary asks. He would sound incredulous if he put a tiny bit more effort into it, like he's totally unused to being turned down. Unlike Jim he's a little more suave at this stuff, though, because he manages to pull off just sounding casually skeptical. "Kind of makes you a tease, if you ask me."

For a moment the small room is filled with tension, and Jim feels himself begin to brace his body, either to push Gary away or throw a punch.

"Okay, then," Gary says, and suddenly he's all smiling friendliness again. "Any time you want to though, buddy. Standing offer," he adds. He claps Jim on the shoulder like they're pals once more and finally leaves the room.

While Jim stands there stunned, he hears the sound of irate Russian words just outside the door, and Gary's scornful laugh in reply.

"You are all right?" a voice calls out a second later.

Jim opens the closed door a crack to see Pavel, Bones's assistant, standing there looking righteously outraged.

"Yeah, I'm okay. That guy --" Jim laughs off the rest of the sentence in lieu of explaining. From Pavel's expression, he's already pretty much guessed what went down.

"He is most rude," Pavel says disapprovingly. He crosses his slim arms over his puffed-out chest, and Jim feels a funny little surge of affection when he realizes that Pavel actually stormed over to try and help out. Never mind that Pavel looks like a strong enough wind could snap him in half.

"He's pretty full of himself," Jim agrees. "Honestly, though, if he had tried anything for real, he would have walked out with two black eyes."

"That is good," Pavel says decisively. "He deserves such blows for his arrogance."

Thanks, kiddo," Jim says before he thinks through that Pavel might not appreciate being called that.

Rather than look insulted, though, instead Pavel's face lights up with a wide smile. "You are wery welcome! I know how to deal with --" and here he launches into another string of Russian words that sound pretty freaking uncomplimentary -- "like that." He gives Jim a sharp nod and leaves him alone.

After Jim showers off all the make-up and jumps back into his street clothes, he finds Bones still in the studio, muttering over some of the live feed they had been apparently taking during the shoot.

"Pavel told me what happened," Bones says shortly before Jim can speak. "That Gary is a real trouble-maker. I caught up to him before he took off, told him to take a hike and never bother you again. You let me know if you have any problems with him."

"Thanks," Jim says, a little dazed at the offer. "I can handle him myself, though," he feels compelled to point out.

Bones scoffs at that, but says only, "I bet you can. Just don't want you to bruise those knuckles of yours; you never know when you might get some hand modeling work."

As Jim blinks at this advice, Bones stuffs a card into Jim's jacket pocket. "That's so you can call me if you need a hand -- not that you will," he adds with a mischievous look to his face when Jim opens his mouth to protest again that he's good as far as protecting himself goes.

"Oh, I can give you my number, too," Jim says, remembering his manners. It's not like he gives it to everyone he meets doing this modeling thing, but Bones seems like one of the more stand-up guys Jim has encountered on the job.

"Already got yours, kid, from your agent for that first shoot," Bones tells him, waving off Jim's offer. "In fact --" he hesitates.

"You were the one who gave it to Spock," Jim realizes at once. He grins. "I kind of wondered who had done that."

"Yeah, well." Bones rubs the back of his neck as he scowls. "Spock is all right. Talks like a goddamn college professor half the time, but he's okay. I figured if he wanted your number, it wasn't like he was going to do anything horrible. I wouldn't give it out to just anyone," he adds crossly as if Jim had been about to suggest such a thing.

"I can tell you wouldn't," Jim rushes to say. And since he has Bones right here, and Bones seems to know stuff about Spock... "Do you think he, uh. I mean, he asked you for my number, I guess, so. Maybe." He clears his throat.

Bones rolls his eyes up to the ceiling and heaves a great put-upon sigh. "Yeah, he definitely asked for your number. No, I have no idea why. Do I think he like likes you? I haven't the faintest. You want to find out what's on Spock's mind, good luck to you. I can't help you any with that."

"Right, yeah," Jim says, trying not to let his disappointment show.

"Chin up, kid," Bones says gruffly, clapping Jim on the shoulder like he's Jim's coach or something. "Everything will work out okay."

"You really think so?" Jim can't resist asking.

Bones snorts at that. "Hell if I know, but that's what you want to hear, right?"

Jim cracks a smile at that. Bones makes him feel weirdly better even if he isn't really one for platitudes. Plus Jim figures that with Bones and Pavel now on the short list of people looking out for him in the city, he's maybe a little less lonely than he figured.

**********

"SHOOT WITH SPOCK TOMORROW," Rand's next email reads in the subject line.

Jim calls her up before he even bothers to skim the rest of it.

"They rescheduled the shoot?" Jim asks eagerly when she answers in her harried taking-on-the-movers-and-shakers voice.

"No, this is a different gig," she says in distraction. "I don't know when that other shoot is going to happen, if it ever will."

Before Jim can register the weird feeling he gets at hearing that, Rand continues. "This one's for a newer brand, from three up-and-coming young designers who partnered together. They had surprise hits at the last fashion week. So it's a little more indie than you've done so far, but it'll be good for your portfolio. Besides, there's lots of buzz about you because --"

"I know, because of the stellar explosion with Spock thing," Jim says dutifully.

The sound of shuffling papers is all Jim hears for a second. "Nope. I think Leonard McCoy talked you up to one of the designers, even though he's not working on this one."

"Leonard -- oh, Bones," Jim exclaims.

Rand makes an impatient sound, like she doesn't know why Jim's calling McCoy "Bones", and totally doesn't want to find out about it. "Now, back to who will be on the set -- it'll be you and Spock, but I don't think they're featuring the two of you together. There are at least a couple of other models engaged for this one, so you might need to jockey for face time. Can you do it?"

Jim looks down at the empty day planner his mother gave him before he got on the plane to New York. Even though he's got a better calendar going with an app on his phone, he keeps pulling this one out instead. The whole week ahead of him is empty. "Yeah, I think I can swing it," he answers casually.

"I haven't even told you the time yet," she says, sounding amused.

"Fine, Janice, congratulations," he grumbles while he taps his pen on the paper and waits for the info. "You caught me out; I don't have any plans tomorrow."

"Yeah, well, you better not have any plans if there's a chance you can get to work with Spock again," she scolds. "Let's see, I have the call time right here --"

He bites his tongue so he can't tell her how much he agrees with her. Possibly it's not the smartest thing, but he's all about jumping at the chance to work with Spock again. Maybe now he can at least explain the misunderstanding about Gaila. And he can make sure to come across all cool and collected so he won't seem overly interested, just in case Spock doesn't, as Bones says, like like him.