What he ends up doing, because he realises pretty damn quickly that Jim is the only friend he’s bothered to make, not that Leonard’s made much of an effort to maintain that friendship, is going to the clinic.
Nobody questions why he’s there even though he’s not scheduled, which either speaks to the reputation Leonard has built up for himself or just to the fact that the Academy clinic could always use an extra pair of hands.
At some point, Christine comes to find him, her brow scrunched up in confusion. She holds up her PADD for Leonard to see, asking, “Any reason Jim Kirk is sending emails pestering me about your whereabouts?”
“Because I’m going to kill him,” Leonard snaps immediately, wondering where the hell Jim gets off, chasing after him like this, keeping tabs on him like he’s not a grown man.
“Oookay,” says Christine, both eyebrows jumping spastically. “That doesn’t make any sense. Unless you mean he’s tracking your movements in order to stay at least fifty yards away from you at all times.”
“Give me that,” says Leonard, snatching up Christine’s PADD.
“Hey!” protests Christine, grabbing it back. “You have your own, Len. I don’t want you sending incriminating death threats to Kirk via my PADD. What are you doing here, anyway? You’re off for the next three days.”
Well, so much for not being questioned.
“I have no life,” says Leonard irritably, wrestling his communicator out of his pocket and jabbing out an angry message to Jim: I am not dead in a ditch and you are not my keeper so BACK OFF. “I have no life, so I choose to dedicate my spare time to all the needy little fuckstick cadets that like to cram their fingers in warp coils or kick each other aggressively in the shins and call it self-defence.”
When he looks up from penning his furious missive, it’s to an expression on Christine’s face that resembles subdued awe. “Wow,” she says. “Have you been drinking?”
“What? No. I’m drunk off the fumes of incompetence and reckless abandon, if anything,” he grumbles distractedly. “I think it’s called eau de idiot cadet.”
Christine whistles lowly. “Is this what you’re like when you’re actually angry?”
“I’m always angry,” retorts Leonard. This conversation isn’t doing much for his déjà vu. What the hell is going on here? Is the entire universe conspiring against him?
“It’s usually more of a focused, productive rage,” Christine shrugs. “Aimed at specific patients, out of badly-hidden concern for their wellbeing. And this, well, this is a lot more....ranting insanity than the brand of complaining I’m used to hearing come out of your mouth, Len. Maybe you should get some sleep. Stop working so much.”
She pats him on the shoulder and leaves, and Leonard stands in the corridor, completely fucking done with this day, and all the people in it.
Thing is, Christine is right. So is Jim. He’s doing a shit-poor job of taking care of himself, and an even worse job of treating the handful of people in his life that speak to him and seem to regard him with some manner of affection or accustomed tolerance. For someone that has always adopted a very strict approach toward self-sufficiency, Leonard is appropriately ashamed of himself.
He sleeps on a cot in the on-call room, and in the morning, he makes a list:
Apologize to Jim
Go to class
Send a message to mom
After a moment, he scribbles out the last item. One step at a damn time.
Jim is in the room when Leonard slips in twenty minutes later. He’s seated at the computer terminal, speaking to—
“I’m pretty sure he had work last night, Mrs. McCoy,” Jim is saying. He doesn’t look up, must not have heard the door open. “And he should be in class right now.”
For his part, Leonard goes absolutely still, standing up against the wall that separates the entry-way from the main room and hopefully hiding himself from view.
“I see,” says Eleanor. The sound of her voice slices right through every defence Leonard’s built up for himself, already shaken and cracked by the unopened message in his inbox yesterday. Shit. “I was hoping to catch him before he left.”
Jim hesitates. “I think he must have left before I got up. Sometimes he goes into Medical before lecture.”
“He always did work too hard,” says Eleanor. Leonard’s gut clenches. He starts to inch back toward the door. He can go to class in his scrubs. It’ll be fine. But there is no way in hell he’s entering this room, this sucking blackhole of pure desperate raw—raw—
“Well,” says Eleanor, interrupting the maddening whirl of Leonard’s panicked thoughts. “I suppose I’ll try him later, or send another message. Could you please tell him I called, Jim?”
“Of course,” Jim says graciously.
“And...tell him I love him. And that I’m sorry.”
The connection terminates. Leonard stays stock-still in the corner of the entry-way, like if he doesn’t move, the stillness of the room won’t be disturbed. Then Jim shoves back his chair and gets to his feet, yawning and stretching, and the moment he angles his body away from the desk, he catches sight of Leonard lurking by the door.
“Bones,” he says, voice surprised.
Leonard has no desire to find out what he looks like in Jim’s eyes, dressed in rumpled scrubs, hair unbrushed and unwashed, eyes fixed wide on Jim. “Jim,” he says raggedly. He swallows. “That was my mother.”
Jim nods shortly.
“Shit,” sighs Leonard. His body comes back online slowly, as he kicks off his boots and shuffles into the room, brushing past Jim and sinking down onto the edge of his bed, tipping his aching head into his hands.
This is the complete opposite of awesome.
Awesome isn’t even his word, he’s picked it up from Jim, somehow, during the last few months, as he’s drifted on the terrifying ocean rocking up in sharp waves around his thoughts. He’s long past thinking it’s normal, has self-diagnosed countless times, has come to terms with how the last two years of his life have shaped him.
Isn’t it part of recovery to admit there’s something wrong? To step up to his reflection in the mirror and say you’re depressed, you sad-sack motherfucker.
If he can get through a conversation like this, maybe that’ll be a step in the right direction.
The bed dips beside him as Jim settles into it. Leonard closes his eyes and rasps out, “I’m sorry, Jim.”
“For what?” replies Jim mildly. “If you mean yesterday, then forget it, I shouldn’t have—”
“Shut up,” interrupts Leonard. “I do mean about yesterday. Don’t try to mitigate my behaviour because you know there’s something else to it. Whatever my deal is, it’s not an excuse, and you shouldn’t try to defend me without all the facts. So, I’m sorry about yesterday, and the day before, and every single second you’ve had to deal with my shit on top of your own.”
“I haven’t got any shit, Bones,” says Jim. He sounds gently amused.
“Yes,” says Leonard firmly, “You do. Everybody has shit. We’re goddamn shit-machines. I think I’m an adequate judge of the human condition, considering my line of work, to be able to say that humanity as a whole tends to come with a giant heap of baggage. Just because I don’t know what yours is doesn’t mean you don’t have it. I’ve been ignoring you, sidelining you, and yesterday was just a poor excuse for behaviour on my part. I’m sorry I was a dick. I’m sorry I said all that crap to you.”
“I accept your apology,” says Jim simply. “And I’m sorry I pushed you.”
Leonard shrugs vaguely. Silence settles around them, not uncomfortably, and in a low voice, Leonard continues, “My—father died last year.”
It’s not as hard as he thought it would be to say, but the words still stick. He hasn’t told anyone this, but Jim deserves an explanation. Jim deserves more. “It was one of those long, drawn out sort of deaths—exactly what you don’t wish on criminals, let alone family members, and it broke him down. He—needed the pain to stop. And I—”
Leonard falters, and out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jim working this through in his mind, parsing the information, the implication behind Leonard’s words.
“I made it stop,” finishes Leonard softly. He sucks in a breath, sidesteps the familiar tide of grief that he’s had months to deal with, and confronts the quieter pain that he’s been ignoring. “My mama and my daddy were high school sweethearts. Married nearly fifty years, storybook fucking romance. And my mama didn’t take his death well, and our—methods of grieving kind of butted heads. Her grief, on top of the stress of a guilt-ridden son self-destructing, well—my marriage wasn’t the only thing that suffered.”
That was a goddamn understatement. They’d always been close, more alike in temperament and personality than Leonard and his father, and having her systematically shut him out of her life has sent gaping cracks through him. Their relationship had buckled.
“When was the last time you talked to her?” asks Jim quietly.
“About seven months ago,” says Leonard. “I called her to tell her about the divorce. Her words, at the time, were, ‘Can’t say I’m surprised, Len.’ She was disappointed in me. I don’t think she’d ever considered the idea that her boy might meet a challenge he couldn’t be relied upon to face and fix.”
“You didn’t tell her you were leaving.”
Leonard shakes his head. “I packed up my stuff and caught a shuttle to Iowa. Didn’t even leave a note.”
“Are you still angry at her?”
It’s a question Leonard’s spent minutes and hours and days of his time avoiding, getting intentionally lost along the way so that he wouldn’t have face it.
And of all the things that Leonard McCoy is—tall, dark-haired, full-lipped, broad-shouldered, sarcastic, abrasive, generous, caring, honest—angry at his mother is not one of them. Not any longer.
What used to be crippling anger has, over the long months, morphed into paralyzing terror. He’s terrified of the idea of being rejected by her, left alone, abandoned by the last bit of family he has.
He ran and hid rather than hear what she has to say about him.
Leonard shrugs. “I was at first. I was angry at everything. I couldn’t explain to her—I couldn’t admit to myself what I was going through. That it wasn’t just grief or guilt over dad. I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t know if she blames me. I was the catalyst, Jim.”
He still hasn’t said it. Damned if he’s going to say it out loud, though. He thinks they both know exactly what he’s talking about without saying the word anyway.
Shoulders tense, Leonard sits next to Jim, enjoying the heat of his body pressed up against his own. Jim always brings that heat, that intimacy and comfort. An arm snakes around Leonard’s shoulders, and he breathes out, slowly.
“She wants to talk to you, Bones,” says Jim. “You heard her.”
Leonard shakes his head silently. Sure, she wants to talk to him. The several hundred persistent messages he’s received since she discovered his whereabouts tell him that. But there’s a voice inside his head that gets louder and louder the lower he feels, and it’s convinced she’s calling to cut ties between them for good. To tell him she wants nothing more to do with the son that took her husband away.
He couldn’t take that. He’d crumble.
Jim leans in and presses a brief, chaste kiss to Leonard’s temple.
Leonard clears his throat as his stomach flips. “Thanks.”
He can feel Jim shrug against him. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? The sky didn’t come crashing down.”
Leonard still hasn’t figured it out, how Jim can always read him like this. Leonard doesn’t even know when Jim’s birthday is, what he does on the evenings when Leonard is at the clinic, whether he’s doing well in his classes. He doesn’t know anything about Jim’s family, or the kind of life Jim left behind, except that he was sitting next to him bloodied and skittish on the shuttle, gladly accepting McCoy’s bourbon.
To be honest, Leonard can’t remember what he said to Jim after he was ejected from the bathroom on the shuttle. He doesn’t want to ask. It was probably too much information. He’s always been a maudlin, over-sharing drunk.
But Jim’s right.
Somehow, beyond all reason, Leonard told him everything. There’s a warm knot of pride and accomplishment in his belly at the fact that he spilled his guts and Jim’s still sitting here beside him.
And Jim’s thumb, Leonard realises, is rubbing slowly up and down his arm. Jim has large hands, capable, blunt-fingered. Leonard notices hands. He likes the things they do.
Leonard didn’t break down, like he thought he might. His foundations didn’t crumble, he kept his shit together.
He told Jim, and the sky didn’t fall down.
It waits until the following week to do that.
He’s not sure how he gets home.
His feet are probably involved, carrying him away from the crushing defeat of his shift, but Leonard is sunk into a fog, spiralling deep and remote. When he gets inside, the only thing he manages to coax himself into doing before he collapses face-first onto his bed is kicking off his boots.
Distantly, he is aware that’s soaked from the rain, that there are shivers echoing through his limbs. He’s seeping water into the covers of his bed, but now that’s he down, he can’t make himself move. He can just stay here, forever, in his bed, like he’s wanted to do for weeks, months, hell, maybe years—eventually he’ll dry off, and so will the sheets. He doesn’t need to move. He doesn’t need to do anything, shouldn’t do anything, because everything he touches goes wrong.
The thing that’s needling at him now is that it has never extended into his job. No matter how low he was feeling in his private life, being a doctor always gave him one shining beacon of hope, a place where he could be amazing.
Working is a distraction from his own worries, much like Jim has become a distraction from Leonard’s own thoughts. Having something go wrong at work, even something as inconsequential as what had happened today with a patient’s chart, has shaken him. The nurse that had corrected him hadn’t even batted an eye, but Leonard had spent the rest of the day in a daze. If he can’t function competently in a medical capacity, then maybe he isn’t fit for this after all. Maybe he can’t separate the emotional from the professional.
It had been so easy to compartmentalize, in the past.
But today. Today he’d fucked up. The next time this happened, it could be ten times more serious. There couldn’t be a next time.
Leonard turns his face into the pillow and clutches at the bedspread, trying to calm down, imagining the tension seeping out of his shoulders.
It almost works.
He concentrates on his breathing, inhaling and exhaling deep, even breaths, pushing the negativity and strain of the day down through his limbs and out through his fingers, and—
“—Bones, Boooones, are you dead? Seriously, buddy, I know you’re not asleep. I’ve called your name like five times.”
Leonard goes as still as possible, tension flooding back through him in a rush of frustrated anger, igniting his nerves and making his fingers twitch. He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to pretend he’s sleeping, because a self-respecting person would back the fuck off when confronted with someone lying face-down on their bed.
He grits his teeth. Fuck off fuck off fuck off, I cannot deal with you, I can’t—
There’s silence for a moment. Leonard hesitates to think Jim has actually backed right off—and then Jim’s hand settles on his shoulder.
His nerves burn with the urge to flee. Leonard jerks back from Jim’s touch, tangling his ankles in the bedclothes. There’s nowhere for the anger and fear to go, no outlet for the restless aggravation balling up in his fists. Jim is reaching out for him again, eyes wide with concern, that this is an overreaction, but all the tension that’s been building inside suddenly has a conduit and Leonard snaps out, “Goddammit Jim, don’t touch me!”
He shies away from the trajectory of Jim’s hand, and when the wall gets in the way of his escape, Leonard swings for it. He grunts at the pain that bursts over his knuckles, raw and blistered and real.
It hurts, it hurts a lot, splintered and throbbing, so he does it again with the other fist, relishing the deep ache and sting that washes over his screaming brain, blotting out every other thought that’s clamouring for his attention.
“Whoa!” cries Jim, his voice startled. He catches Leonard’s wrist easily as he pulls back for another swing and that’s even worse, somehow, makes Leonard tug his arm out of Jim’s grip and swing with his other hand, focused on the wall, wanting more of that rush of pain. When Jim catches him again, Leonard lets out a frustrated sound, tugging at his trapped wrist until he overbalances them both and they tumble to the floor. Jim wraps around him like a starfish.
Leonard squirms in the tight circle of Jim’s arms as Jim tries to restrain him; he has no luck in dislodging him without doing anything that might hurt Jim so he keeps wriggling as Jim holds him close. They roll over and over on the floor, panting raggedly.
The adrenaline fades embarrassingly quickly, and Leonard can’t describe the weight of exhaustion that settles over him. Somehow, he ends up with his head and shoulders in Jim’s lap, legs drawn up while he curls into himself with Jim’s arms around him, grounding him, holding him steady while Leonard breathes through the throb of his knuckles and the staccato beat of his heart.
It’s a while before he gets himself under control. He counts each breath, trembling gently. The rise and fall of Jim’s chest against his back is soothing. Leonard concentrates on the warmth of his body, and weight of him around him.
Leonard imagines himself sinking into the floor, his heart somewhere by his boots.
“Jim,” he says hoarsely. He blinks gritty, hot eyelids, and tries again. “Jim, I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
He can almost feel the confusion and the worry radiating from Jim’s body, the tactile force of his emotions, and doesn’t even need to look up at him. It would be worse to see it, laid out in clear-cut blue, so he sighs and burrows closer into Jim’s lap, and waits.
Finally, Jim clears his throat. Quietly, he asks, “Do what, Bones?”
Leonard clutches at the warm rush of affection that nicknames dredges up inside him. He rests his head against Jim’s thigh and mumbles, “This. Everything. Faking my way through every single goddamn day. Don’t got the energy. I can’t. I can’t.”
“Bones,” breathes Jim. He takes a deep breath, and Leonard stiffens, waiting for Jim to displace him, to quite rightly withdraw and back away, to run and leave him. But Jim’s grip, if anything, tightens. “What can I do?”
Leonard’s lungs feel thin. “Stay.”
They sit on the floor for nearly an hour.
Leonard is hyper-conscious of Jim’s hand in his hair, fingers filtering through the strands, and the warmth of his body below and around him. Jim’s legs must be numb by now, but he hasn’t moved, hasn’t even suggested they move to somewhere more comfortable.
He’s letting Leonard decide when it’s time to get his ass up.
“You hungry?” Leonard says. His voice comes out gravelly, thin. His sinuses feel clogged, though he hasn’t really been crying.
“I could eat,” replies Jim.
With great reluctance, Leonard sits up, joints stiff, eyes sandy. He doesn’t look at Jim.
“You know,” offers Jim quietly, “My mom is like you.”
Leonard scoots up beside Jim, glances at him, takes in his generous mouth, wide forehead, soft, spiky blond hair. He’s got blue eyes that should be cold, distant, way too bright, like a winter sky, but they’re soft and open. Leonard’s walls tremble.
“Depressed?” he offers, his voice rough around the edges of the word.
Jim nods simply. “Yeah. I think—if I didn’t have that to fall back on, to know what it can look like, I wouldn’t even have known, man. It’s not like you hide it particularly well, but you keep it to yourself. You sleep a lot, and you don’t smile, or laugh, or do anything without being pushed. You don’t share. I learned more about you in that first five minutes after we met than in the month after that.”
“I was drunk,” says Leonard. “I’m a talky drunk.”
Jim’s lips quirk. “You’re talky when you’re working, too. That’s what threw me off. You’re really good at your job.”
Leonard’s cheeks colour. “It’s all I’ve got.”
Jim considers this, and Leonard’s expecting him to say ‘you’ve got me,’ or ‘you’ve still got your mom’, but he doesn’t. Thank god.
“My dad died when I was born,” says Jim. “On a starship. He died saving the crew, and my mom, and me.”
Leonard remembers something about a man named Kirk, and the strange, unexplained attack that occurred on the edges of Klingon space when Leonard was just a kid.
“And my mom never got over that. She’s, like, freakishly smart,” says Jim, gesturing animatedly with his hands, his eyes bright, and his mouth quirking up like he’s playing memories in his head. “She’s awesome. She used to take me and my older brother out on little field trips, on weekends, because we lived in butt-fuck Iowa, and she hated how isolated it was. It was always science museums, research labs, places she knew people and could get us in to see how things really worked.”
“She sounds amazing,” offers Leonard, when Jim’s been quiet for a little while. And she does. She sounds a bit like his own mother and father put together: excited, supportive, eager to share information.
“Yeah,” says Jim. “She’d go through depressive periods. There wasn’t a pattern to it. Weird things would set her off. Like my dad’s death was there, in the background, and she spent her whole life trying to move on but she could never get all the way free. She’s spend a whole weekend in bed. She’d get up to go the bathroom, to get something to eat for her and for us, but she wouldn’t shower and she’d go right back after she’d seen that the house hadn’t fallen apart in the eight hours she’d had her head buried under a duvet.”
“How old were you?”
“About eight, the first time I really remember it happening. Sam was thirteen. He brought her glasses of water, told her jokes, told me to sit beside her and watch a holo with her.”
Jim trails off again. His expression is pained. “And then the next weekend, it was like she’d just....shed her skin. We’d go to the shipyards, or she’d call in a favour and get us transported to Washington D.C. to go to the Smithsonian. Sam left for school when I was twelve. And I’d learned from him, so I knew the signs, I knew what to do.”
“That must have been hard,” murmurs Leonard. “Taking care of your mom.”
Jim’s lips twist wryly. “I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else to do it. She had me, Bones. She sat with me through every fever, cleaned scrapes and bruises, taught me everything I know. She’s always had my back. How could I not have hers?”
“How’s she doing now?” asks Leonard. “Without you?”
“I’m going down to Iowa on Friday,” replies Jim. “Gonna spend the weekend with her. She’s got a new project she’s working on; she always does better when she’s keeping busy.”
He fixes solemn blue eyes on Leonard. “You could come.”
Leonard shakes his head. “Are you kidding? Last thing you need is my sorry ass trailing after you while you spend time with your mom. I will survive two days without your presence, Jim. You think you’re gonna come back and I’ll still be in bed?”
Jim shrugs. “Just opening up the invitation.”
“I’ll be fine,” says Leonard firmly. “Now lets order some goddamn takeout before I get so hungry I just kill and eat you, instead.”
Jim snorts. “Thai? Chinese? Italian?”
“Chinese,” says Leonard promptly.
“You always say Chinese.”
“I know what I like.”
“You’re the least adventurous person I know.”
“It’s takeout, not a trip to the Andes.”
By 1400 hours on Saturday, Leonard officially misses Jim.
The kid’s only been gone for a day and a half, but Leonard has abandoned all pretence of being a functioning adult that is still perfectly capable of occupying himself without anyone else’s company. He’s got nothing to do and no one to do it with. Hardly an unfamiliar situation, but one that Jim has made intolerable.
As his own private test of will, Leonard actually attempts to take a nap, but instead of falling into sleep without a second thought, he lies restlessly awake and thinks of Jim.
“You,” Leonard says to the ceiling, “You, Leonard H. McCoy, are a needy son-of-a-bitch.”
When it becomes appallingly clear that Leonard is not going to be able to succumb to his usual hobby of epic fucking naps to kill time, he slides off the bed, glowers at his own feet, and eventually gets up, gets dressed, and goes out.
It’s the first time he’s gone anywhere in the city without Jim as a guide. He gets hopelessly lost.
It’s not until he’s walking down unfamiliar winding avenues and roads, wandering from cafe to cafe and, at one point, finding himself in what he realises is a sex shop before stumbling through a surprise street market, that he fully understands just how he’s come to rely on Jim—on his boisterous presence, the comfort of habits which number both annoying and helpful, the easy and bright warmth of his humour and smile.
There’s a vendor selling hot fresh griddle cakes, and Leonard ends up toting around a fragrant brown paper bag and sneaking nibbles as he ponders how the fuck he ended up here.
It’s not that Jim has wormed his way into Leonard’s life without him noticing. Jim has never minimized his presence; he’s always just been there, on the sidelines, graciously offering Leonard company, drinks, conversation. No pretence, no agenda. Completely shattering every notion Leonard ever had of himself as finite and lonely.
Leonard has been doing his absolute best to ignore him for months now, bracing himself for the inevitable break, the moment of discovery where Jim realises Leonard isn’t worth all the effort of maintaining such a limp, one-sided friendship when the only occasional payoffs come when Jim manages to nag Leonard into going out for dinner or having a drink together.
He’s been testing him.
Like an asshole, defensive and unsure and afraid and licking wounds that have been open and sore for nearly two years, Leonard has been intentionally sidelining Jim and seeing what he does.
For some reason Leonard can’t ever hope to discern, Jim’s stuck around. Part of that reason might be the fact that they live in the same room, and Jim isn’t enough of a dick to ask for a new housing assignment when Leonard spends 50% of his time under the covers and is meticulously clean. There’s no way in hell Jim could ever cite “my roommate doesn’t talk to me” as a reason for a reassignment. From what Leonard has heard from colleagues, many cadets would give their left arms for a roommate that didn’t speak to them.
No. Jim likes him. Leonard is pretty sure you don’t let roommates fall apart on you without having formed some sort of affectionate relationship with them.
Clutching his warm bag of sweetly steaming pastry, Leonard sits down on a bench and pulls out his communicator.
LHMcCoy sent (1456):
What the hell do you even see in me?
He pops a bit of pancake into his mouth and the airy fried batter hasn’t even melted in his mouth before he gets a reply.
JTKirk sent (1458):
a good heart, pinned on your sleeve, slightly askew
It’s unexpected and overwhelming, how affection and need swell in his heart, eyes widening and prickling with tears as Leonard stares at the communicator clutched desperately in his hand. It pings again.
JTKirk sent (1501):
plus a wicked sense of a humor and a cracking ass ;)
Leonard snorts a watery laugh.
LHMcCoy sent (1504):
Stop talking to me and go spend time with your mother. And learn to use capital letters and appropriate punctuation, you heathen.
JTKirk sent (1507):
U knw what i mean. and she’s taking a nap. need to talk?
Leonard hesitates. His fingers and heart are fully prepared to type out yes, yes, he needs to talk, needs to talk to Jim, to hear his voice. He’s too far out of Jim’s orbit and he’s struggling to find himself in this unfamiliar place.
LHMcCoy sent (1509):
No thanks, kid, I’m doing okay. Talk to you later, Jim. Have a good weekend.
Jim returns late on Sunday night.
Leonard has no idea what time it is when the bed dips and startles him out of sleep, a hand settling in his hair and petting gently, unselfconscious and warm.
“Hey,” murmurs Jim. The outdoors clings to his clothes and to his hair and he smells like open fields and fresh air.
“How’s your mom?” slurs Leonard, turning halfway onto his back to blink up at Jim. His vision blurs in the dim light, smudging Jim’s features into smooth curves and gentle angles.
“Good. She’s good,” says Jim. The mattress trembles as he shrugs out of his jacket and drops it onto the floor. Twin thumps indicate his boots have suffered a similar fate, and once he’s unencumbered by jacket and boots and, after a moment of wriggling, his pants, Jim lifts the duvet and slips into the snug warmth beside Leonard.
“I’m sorry,” murmurs Leonard. He frowns and shuts his eyes, turning blindly toward Jim, shifts his body clumsily across the mattress until the space between them shrinks to negligible. Jim’s chin bumps the top of his head and Leonard’s elbow sticks Jim in the shoulder, but they eventually tangle themselves together into a puppyish cuddle.
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry about,” says Jim, his voice clear in the stillness.
“I’m still sorry,” mumbles Leonard. “Gonna be sorry for a long time.”
“You did what you had to do.”
Leonard wonders, briefly, how they even know they’re on the same page. He’s grown completely unused to this level of intimacy; he and Jim have never done this before, and yet, it’s exactly what they both need right now. It’s been a damn long time since he had anybody in bed to hold him.
“You can do this, you know.”
“Yeah. I know.”
Leonard wakes up with Jim’s arm draped heavily over his waist and his forehead pressed to Leonard’s back.
They’re both hard.
It’s very abruptly too much to deal with. Leonard worms his way out from underneath Jim’s restraining arm and pads to the shower. He’s midway through the process of shampooing his hair when he realises he hasn’t made a to-do list in almost a week.
When he gets out of the bathroom, he makes a valiant effort to write one, but—everything he tries to put down has already been done.
He wrote his paper. Did his readings. Had a short shift at the clinic. Got groceries. Even went out, on his own, and entertained himself for an afternoon.
After a long moment spent staring down at his agenda, Leonard figures there’s nothing else for it.
Send mom a message Call mom
He carries the scrap of paper around in his pocket for nearly two weeks before he can cross it off.
In the interim, he asks Jim out on a date.
“I think I’m in love with Jim,” he tells Christine on Wednesday.
“Huh,” she says. “Why are you telling me this? I think Kirk would appreciate it more.”
“I can’t tell him,” says Leonard defensively. “What if I’m just projecting? I’m a pathetic bundle of issues that I’m still light-years away from resolving, and I’ve probably imprinted on Jim because he’s there and he listens to me when I shout at him.”
Christine just blinks at him and then rolls her eyes. “To be honest, McCoy, it sounds like you’re already in a relationship.”
“You listen to me when I shout at you, too,” he accuses.
“That’s what you think.”
Jim chooses that moment to materialize, landing a heavy hand on Leonard’s shoulder and lighting him up from the inside out.
“You’re still in scrubs,” says Jim.
“I didn’t have time to change yet,” says Leonard. “I want tacos. Let’s go.”
It probably would’ve been more effective to tell Jim they’re going on a date, but to be honest, being the only person that knows takes a lot of the usual pressure off.
“Let’s go get drinks,” says Leonard, on Thursday night.
Jim gives him a suspicious sideways glance because, well, Leonard never asks if Jim wants to go out. But he’s done so two days in a row, now, and Leonard gets the creeping sense that Jim is beginning to suspect something is up.
And why the hell shouldn’t he? Leonard might as well be creeping around in broad daylight wearing a ski-mask and toting a length of rope.
He could fucking puke, he’s so nervous.
“Sure, Bones,” says Jim slowly. Bless him, he didn’t say a word about how it’s Thursday night, and Jim has a lecture at 0800 hours tomorrow.
Heart pounding, stomach in knots, Leonard nods. “Great. Awesome. Drinks.”
They don’t have drinks at all.
Well, that’s a lie. Jim gets a bright blue fizzy fruit thing from a stall on the boardwalk, and Leonard bitches at him when he reads the ingredients, but nothing alcoholic is consumed, despite the fact that Leonard could desperately use some liquid courage. Things are easier, fuzzier, that way, but it’s not what he wants. Not for this.
They walk together down the shoreline, shoulders touching, talking about topics that don’t require much brainpower, and eventually they end up sitting on a bench, staring out over the waves as the sun blurs slowly into the horizon. Leonard wraps one cold, clammy hand around Jim’s, squeezing gently. Jim squeezes back.
Leonard clears his throat fretfully. “Dinner?”
Jim crooks a grin at him. “Don’t know about you, but I could murder a curry.”
Leonard makes a face. “No thanks. Compromise: we passed a Thai place.”
“Sounds good to me,” says Jim, getting to his feet.
He doesn’t let go of Leonard’s hand.
It takes Leonard the entire night to work up adequate amounts of nerve. They’re back at the dorm, Jim shuffling sleepily past him out of the bathroom at midnight, when Leonard stops him with a hand on his shoulder.
Then he meets Jim’s gaze squarely and kisses him.
And the sky doesn’t fall down.
Leonard wakes to a notice blinking on his PADD.
had to go to class. be back later, then we’ll talk. J.
For a long, bewildering moment, Leonard has no idea why the hell Jim has left him this message. Jim doesn’t inform him when he’s gone to class. It happens every day, it’s not like it’s really a continual surprise to wake up and find Jim gone. And what the hell do they need to talk ab—
Leonard goes back to sleep.
It’s like déjà vu.
The mattress sinks and a hand settles on the top of his head.
Leonard snuffles, still caught in the tendrils of sleep, and turns his face into the hand stroking gently through the locks of his hair.
“Bones,” murmurs Jim.
Leonard flicks his eyelids open, squinting at the outline of Jim leaning over him. “Jim,” he replies quietly. He moves to roll upright, but Jim stops him with a hand on his chest. Leonard goes obediently still, frozen and wary.
“Are you freaking out?” says Jim.
Leonard huffs a sigh and rolls his eyes. “Let me up, dammit. I’m not going to run.”
Jim scoots back to give him room to prop himself up against the headboard and Leonard sits up. “This... Jim, I know what I want, I know I want you, but I don’t know how well I can—”
“Hang on,” says Jim, interrupting him. He reaches for the PADD Leonard keeps on the bedside table, dropping it on his lap and pulling up a blank document. He scribbles something with the stylus, and then passes it over to Leonard.
To-do list for the foreseeable future:
Continue being epic roommates and BFF with Jim
Maybe make out sometimes and see what happens
Only if you want, though
Let’s just see where this goes?
Please circle yes/no
When he looks up, Jim is smiling, head cocked slightly to the side. For all his confidence and care and never-ending support, there’s a nervousness underlying his expression that reminds Leonard that Jim doesn’t always have a plan; he isn’t always completely certain about what he’s doing or saying, despite what impression he gives and what superhuman feats Leonard may think him capable of. The kid may have more of a grip than Leonard, may have the kind of brain that eats tactics for breakfast, but this is still a gamble.
Jim has been standing by Leonard with an arm out to catch him ever since they met. It’s time for Leonard to meet him halfway.
Leonard ignores the PADD and immediately soothes away the flicker of doubt in Jim’s expression by cupping his face, pressing their foreheads together, and kissing him again. It’s a better kiss than the one from last night; softer, more confident, infinitely more sure.
He’s never really noticed how Jim’s eyes crinkle when he smiles. It’s hard, for once, not to smile back.
He wakes up one morning about a week later, and there’s still a whisper of exhaustion curled around his fingers and toes and weighing down his eyelids, tempting him to settle back under the covers and juststay there, but it’s so much easier to push it all away than it used to be.
The only thing he’s truly reluctant to leave is Jim, who’s warm and snuffly and curled around Leonard loosely, but Leonard squirms out of his arms, slips out of bed, and pads to the bathroom.
After he’s washed up, he drops a kiss on Jim’s head, and in the kitchen, he remembers the list he’s been carrying around. The list with just one item on it.
Before he can psych himself out, Leonard sits down at the computer terminal, brings up his mother’s comm frequency, and inputs the call.
There’s a brief moment of terror, that same gripping fear and nausea that overtakes him when a shuttle breaks atmosphere, but then the computer connects the calls, and he’s looking at his mother’s surprised—grateful, relieved, affectionate, worn—face. The curdling in his belly settles and dissipates. Maybe one day the prospect of talking to his mother won’t be nearly so fraught with tension, but until then, this is enough of a start.
He takes a breath. Smiles.
It's all right now
take the world and make it yours again