The shuttle rattles like the death-trap it is before they've even left the ground. Leonard's protests at being manhandled out of his hiding place in the bathroom are of no avail, and he drops into an uncomfortable seat with bad grace. Muttering darkly, he fastens his harness and glares half-heartedly at the wide-eyed young man beside him, who looks more than a little taken aback to suddenly have a ranting lunatic for a companion.
As this fact seeps into Leonard's awareness, he tries to scale it back a little, looks away and pulls out his flask. Glancing sideways, there's no judgement in the clear eyes watching him, just a little confusion, a little sympathy, and a whole lot of roll-with-the-punches acceptance. It's this last (along with the bones-deep hospitality instilled in him by his mother, even though he's so very far from home) that spurs Leonard to offer the kid a taste of the greasy rocket fuel masquerading as bourbon.
When he takes it, his fingers wrap around the old pewter familiarly. He's both gentle and respectful, despite the stiffness in his movements that Leonard suspects correlates well with the torn skin over his knuckles and the faint bruising on his cheekbone. He introduces himself as Jim Kirk – a name that rings a faint bell in the back of Leonard's mind, though he's damned if he knows why – takes a mouthful and hands the flask back. A drop of amber liquid rolls down Jim's thumb and is swiftly licked away. It's only a brief glimpse, but something stirs within Leonard, makes him look away hurriedly as his heart races and he feels the warmth of his own blood spread up from his chest all the way to the tips of his own fingers.
As far as house parties go, this is Leonard's favourite type of affair. The music is not too obnoxious or too loud, the company both intelligent and easy on the eye. He's had enough to drink to loosen him up, enough to make him slide off the sofa and on to the floor, legs stretched out and mind relaxed and affable. He leans his head back on the sofa cushions, lets his eyes slide shut and the rumble of conversation roll over him.
He's startled out of his half-doze by a sudden darkness and the sad whirring of computer cooling systems powering down. Blinking owlishly, he can just about make out surprised expressions around the room, then tucks his legs out of the way as someone feels their way across the room to investigate the circuit breaker. It becomes swiftly obvious that it's not a local problem, but that power has been lost over a fairly wide area. A motley collection of candles is produced by their hostess, a scattering of tealights, a huge church pillar candle, and something alien that burns with an orange glow and a cloying scent that makes Leonard wrinkle his nose in distaste.
Some level of light restored, attention turns to the next deprived sense, and people cast around for some way of providing music. Communicators and PADDs are hacked and discarded as the tinny sound quality is deemed not worth the effort.
“Or you could play us something yourself,” Leonard drawls, pointing at the guitar hanging on the wall.
“Oh, I don't play,” she says. “It's a family thing, it belonged to my brother.”
Jim looks round at this. “My brother used to play too. I can give it a go, if you like.” Enthusiastic responses follow, and Jim hauls himself to his feet, unhooks the guitar and settles himself opposite Leonard, the dancing candlelight between them.
He tunes the guitar carefully, focussed and intent until he's satisfied. He plays a few bars of a song, a riff here and a snatch of melody there, until he's warmed up and conversation has been restored. Someone asks if he knows any whole songs, and Jim hesitates, then glances briefly at Leonard. “I know a few,” he says.
It's a gentle melody, soft and sad, filling in the quiet corners of the room and the spaces between breaths. Leonard is transfixed, watching him, the candlelight playing over his face and keeping his eyes shadowed. His fingers dance over the strings, but it's not a mindless leaping or eager twisting. It's not quite stately, either, but it has a solemn steadiness to it, a controlled sort of artistry that is elegant nonetheless. There are a couple of metallic scrapes as he slides from one fret to another, and the occasional hesitation, but the overall impression tells of a skill that couldn't be guessed at from Jim's nonchalant offer to try and play a little.
Jim's lips move ever so slightly, singing under his breath, and as he draws to a close and turns his head, there's a hint of moisture on his eyelashes, sparkling in the dim light. He sets the guitar down and steps softly around the room. As he reaches the door, Leonard finds his voice, low and scratchy though it is.
“Jim? You okay?”
Jim half-turns, waves a repressing hand, the pads of his fingers pink and string-lined. “I'm fine. See you later, Bones.”
“Damn fool showboating nonsense,” Leonard grumbles as they climb down the rickety steps from the shuttle. “Why the hell are we doing this, anyway?”
“Our superiors instructed us to engage in interaction with the general public in order to capitalise on the improved public opinion of Starfleet following the defeat of the Narada, in the hopes that there will be a rise in enlistment,” Spock replies.
“Yeah, Bones,” Jim chimes in. “We have our orders; now make nice with the housewives.”
It's really not Leonard's thing, this public-relations pandering to the obsessive flag-waving portions of society. Still, he pastes on what he hopes is a smile and brings all his well-brought-up manners to the fore as he feigns interest in dull anecdotes, poses for poorly-focused photographs, and signs whatever is thrust into his hands.
After half an hour or so, he moves along the line again and finds himself elbow to elbow with Jim, who turns to him with a sunny smile. He launches into an retelling of one of the fans' dull anecdotes – considerably less dull with a gifted bullshitter telling the tale – but Leonard barely pays attention. He's too busy looking at Jim's hands, spread fingers holding tight to a postcard, while the other waves a pen as if he's conducting his own orchestra. Leonard grabs the postcard from him, adds his own signature under Jim's lengthy message, scowling as he does so.
The lucky recipient of a double-signature hesitantly reaches out for the card. “Thank you. Are you alright, Dr McCoy?”
He snorts, shakes his head. “I'm fine, darlin', just laughing at my chicken-scratch doctor's handwriting.” He elbows Jim sharply in the ribs. “Doesn't seem fair, does it, that of the two of us, the one who spends his life writing prescriptions is barely legible while your golden boy here has beautiful handwriting to match his beautiful hands. Huh.”
He stalks away, trying to gather enough charm for the next hopeful fan. He completely misses Jim's stunned expression.
It's a beautiful planet, Leonard supposes, though a little too pastel for his tastes. The rocks are a pale pink, rounded and smooth. The vegetation is more familiar, though the green of the leaves is muted, with neither the bright vibrancy of spring nor the deep and workmanlike hue of late summer. There's water everywhere, running over – and occasionally through – the rocks, and dripping off every leaf. Droplets hang in the air, forming rainbows almost everywhere Leonard looks, as the twin suns fight over which can create the most. They're crossing a little river, a natural rock bridge carrying them over the running water some distance below them.
Their uniforms are already beading with moisture, and Spock's hair is in danger of gaining a personality. Jim is in his element, chattering away to their guide and beaming smiles to every native they meet. The whole place seems so gentle and rounded, so welcoming and safe as if they're wandering through a cheerful child's fairytale daydream, that Leonard lets his habitual away-mission wariness desert him and begins to enjoy himself.
Of course, it's at that point that his boot slips on the slick rock, and Leonard hits it hard, the shock of the rock not actually being made of marshmallow almost as great as that from the impact. The rock is not just damp, though, it's wet enough that he can't get enough purchase to stand, and his efforts send him into a head-first slide that he's powerless to stop. He scrabbles helplessly, seeing the edge of the rock and the rushing sound of the river approaching all too quickly, when there's an iron grip around his ankle and he's brought up short.
A heartbeat later, Jim's hands are on his arms, hauling him upright and pulling him away from the edge. His fingers bite into Leonard's biceps, their strength shocking and almost painful. Jim's eyes are wide and wild, startlingly blue in this land of insipid paleness. It's a long minute before Jim relaxes his hold, accepts that no terrible accident has befallen their landing party, just that Leonard is marginally more wet than the rest of them.
Jim slides his hand down Leonard's arm until he reaches skin, twining their fingers together. His fingers are narrower than Leonard's, slippery with water, but still warm. “Clearly you're not safe to be let out on your own, Bones,” he says. “Hold my hand, I'll keep you safe.”
Leonard gives him a sidelong look, unsure if he's being taken for a ride or just plain patronised, but the worried sincerity in Jim's eyes implies that he's deadly serious. What the hell, Leonard thinks, and shrugs. When he steps away to follow the guide once more, still holding tight to Jim's hand, shock and pleasure war with each other for a brief moment over Jim's face, before both are quashed and replaced with the affable friendliness that seems to work well with this culture. Leonard tugs at his hand, and Jim goes back to work, occasionally squeezing Leonard's hand and giving blinding grins to everyone around him.
Leonard's changed out of his operating scrubs and gone through the decontamination protocols, and has fifteen minutes left of his shift, which he thinks can probably be best used by keeping the captain under observation. Alright, maybe best used is pushing the definition, but it's only fifteen minutes and sickbay is pretty quiet. In any case, what's the point in being CMO if you can't abuse your position a little every now and again?
Leonard sinks down into the not-quite-comfortable chair beside the biobed, and watches his friend. It's like this every time Jim's been in surgery. When he's coming round, his fingers twitch, as if he's trying to swim his way out of unconsciousness. At least this time it was a pretty straightforward surgery, a simple bit of carpentry as he reset a broken ankle. The regenerators fastened around Jim's right leg are humming away, steadily knitting the bone back together. Their steady droning and the reassuring beeping of the biobed readouts join to form the familiar background noise and drain the stress out of Leonard until he's feeling dozy, just sitting and watching Jim's fingers flicker and tremble.
It's rare that he sees Jim's hands still. Like the rest of him, his hands are always active, either gesturing when he speaks, or taking notes with an old-fashioned pen, or tapping away at his PADD. Even at rest, he uses his hands, casually stroking the rims of glasses or the arms of chairs, or tapping his fingernails against his teeth while he thinks through games of chess.
He's not sure he likes it, this constant movement, this restlessness. It smacks of a dissatisfaction, a needling wanderlust that frightens Leonard even though he knows they're constantly travelling. For all the “final frontier” crap on the recruitment posters, Sickbay, the mess, the bridge, his quarters and Jim's – these are what make up Leonard's home. It's a home that would be too big and too empty without Jim to fill the howling spaces in his heart, and so without really thinking about it, Leonard reaches out, folds the twitching fingers into his own. He rubs gently at the soft skin at the inside of Jim's wrist and looks up as Jim's fingers tighten with a little more purpose. Jim's eyelids are heavy, and his smile is simple and sweet in its sleepiness.
“Alright there, sleeping beauty?” Leonard asks, his voice quiet.
Jim nods, tightens his grip a little more and as he drifts into a more natural sleep, whispers “Stay?”
It's not quite a disaster, the mission ended without anyone dying, unless you count the poor fuckers in the village that only became a target when the away team barrelled through it en route to the beam-out location, and Leonard does include them because they're people too, damn it, even if they're strangers and aliens. Still, he'd rather them than their own crew members, and it was a close-run thing with a couple of the guys from Security. Both Leonard and Geoff are bone-tired and covered in other people's blood when they meet up in decon and compare notes.
At least M'Benga is heading off shift, Leonard has another two hours before he can get some proper rest. The time passes like treacle, paperwork making wavy lines in front of his eyes and refusing to co-operate. He startles badly when his office door opens and Chapel sticks her head in.
“Sir? Didn't you finish your shift half an hour ago?” She's right, just like she always is, and Leonard nods mutely before levering himself to his feet and sleepwalking out of sickbay.
He's almost at his door when his communicator beeps cheerfully. “Kirk to McCoy.”
“Yeah, Jim?” Leonard's too tired to answer as per protocol, and sways a little as he stands in the middle of the corridor, passing ensigns side-eying him as they squeeze past.
“My quarters, now. Kirk out.”
Leonard groans, then resumes his steady shuffle past his own quarters and on to Jim's. He pushes through the door and doesn't even look around for Jim, just heads straight for the small sofa and collapses into it, resting his elbows on his knees. Jim appears on silent feet, and drops down on the floor, cross-legged in front of Leonard.
“Chapel commed me,” he says, companionably. “Said you were dead on your feet.”
“Long shift,” Leonard replies, his voice muffled by his hands covering his face.
When Jim tugs his hand away, it's a huge effort to hold his head up, and all Leonard can do is stare blearily as Jim pushes his thumbs into Leonard's palm, pressing deep into the muscle and stroking over the joints of each finger.
“I've always liked your hands,” Jim murmurs.
Leonard stares dumbly at him, floored. “That's my line.”
Jim raises an eyebrow, and Leonard wonders briefly if he got that expression from him or Spock, or if it was his own all along. “You like your own hands?”
“I like yours, you idiot.” Leonard groans as Jim digs in to the meat of his thumb, then releases his hand altogether.
“Alright then,” Jim says, softly. “Hands are your territory. But I claim everything else.” He smooths a thumb over Leonard's eyebrow, then his jaw.
“Yes,” Jim breathes, leaning in close and suddenly his hands are everywhere, but Leonard doesn't care because Jim's lips are warm and soft and perfect on his, taking and giving and it's all Leonard can do to remember that he has a brain, even though he's utterly incapable of using it.
It's a slow and stumbling journey into Jim's bedroom, pieces of clothing falling as if by magic on the way, and Jim's hands are still everywhere, sliding down Leonard's back and up over his chest and then holding him close as Jim tumbles them both gently into the bed. Leonard whimpers as Jim moves over him, their cocks pushing at each other and Jim still kissing like Leonard's mouth is a new-found heaven.
It's long minutes of vague thrusting before Jim's fingers finally travel far enough down their bodies to hold their cocks together and steadily move in such a languid fashion that it's barely a stimulation, except that momentum gathers until orgasm is as unstoppable as a runaway freight train. They fall at near enough the same time, breathing the same air and leaning into one another, and Leonard is all feeling and no thought, his mind floating on exhaustion and endorphins.
Before sleep carries him under, there's just one thing. “How long, Jim?”
“How long what?” Jim replies, curled up with one arm lying possessively over Leonard's belly.
“How long have you known I loved you?”
The answer pushes him into sleep with a smile on his face and his fingers tangling with Jim's. “Always.”