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If I Had to Keep You

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In his dream, he stands before a window at the end of a long hallway, looking down at a familiar stretch of ground. He recalls how busy the park had been not long ago, a crowd too big to count because everyone knew someone who'd died and had wanted to be at the memorial service. Now, though, the lawn lay like a faded green carpet, sprinkled with thousands of white dots. The fading sun obscures what the dots really are but it is an easy guess they must mark the graves.

Something clatters behind him. When he turns around, the darkness is perfectly still. He faces the window again and searches for its latch, thinking it's better to be down there than up here, waiting for whatever lives within that darkness to reach him.

The window latch gives way the moment the hallway groans. The walls shiver, and a loud thump-thumpthump-thump begins. The window, his only escape, melts away in a stream, which turns into unpleasantly bright light as a confused and heavy-limbed Leonard McCoy blinks awake in the late afternoon of his two-bedroom apartment. His confusion clears somewhat when he recognizes the thumping isn't an echo in his head but a real sound. Distantly, someone is knocking upon a door.

He sits up with a muttered "Christ" and brushes a hand against his hair.

Eventually the knocking finds a new rhythm, an insistent one. Leonard shakes off the last of his sleepiness as he realizes the insistence exists for a reason: the knocker is at his door.

A quick shuffle around the bedroom and a stubbed toe later, he dons a pair of pants and a robe found upon the floor. "Hold on!" the call echoes ahead of his clumsy progress across the apartment. "Just.. hold on a sec, would ya!"

What idiot is bothering him in the middle of a post-hectic-hospital-schedule nap? What idiot is so old-fashioned to forgo the built-in buzzer, the kind of thing Leonard's conditioned to wake up to, and apply knuckles to an unfriendly durasteel door? Better yet, what idiot thinks he has the right—

"Oh, that idiot," Leonard says upon dragging open the door.

The idiot in question, hugging a sagging cardboard box to his chest, flashes a grin that might be perceived as winsome by some but is too close to chipper for Leonard, who really wants to put every fresh chipper face he sees early in the morning (or post-nap) through the worst sort of punishment. Chipper-ness in any form goes against the grain of his natural pessimistic life view.

It's no surprise, under Leonard's frowning stare, the idiot looks more pleased with himself than he does with Leonard for answering the door.

Leonard's eyes close of their own accord, and he automatically massages the bridge of his nose to ease some of the more violent urges he's experiencing. "Do you know what time it is?"

"Most of us thrive in the daylight, Bones."

Leonard opens his eyes to give Jim Kirk a look but his gaze falls to the box and gets stuck there. "What's—oh no, hell no," he says all at once, feeling a flicker of panic spark beneath his breastbone. "What happened to the plan?"

"Fell through."

Shit, shit, and double shit.

"Booones..." Jim drags out the nickname, shifting his weight with increasing impatience.

Leonard shakes his head vehemently. "Look, I'm sorry but this is just... not happening. We tried before, Jim, remember? Never again. Never, ever, ever." He couldn't stress that point enough as far as the matter is concerned.

It is very unfortunate for Leonard that Jim has always been an exceptionally quick thinker. One boot wedged into the right spot, and the apartment door is flummoxed, its gears whining pathetically as it slides back and forth, back and forth. In the end, it relents to Jim's interference and not Leonard's vicious jabs at the command button to close, close, damn it, close right now!

"I'm coming in," Jim announces as if the matter has already been decided. He presses forward, wielding the pointy edges of the cardboard box like a weapon so that Leonard has no option but to retreat.

The first moment he can Leonard shoves the box away from his tender midsection. "Did you hear what I said? We're not doing this."

Jim drops his effects onto the nearest tabletop with the ignorance of the hearing-impaired. Leonard resists the urge to grab at his hair in frustration... or better yet at Jim's. It is a damn shame, he thinks, that Jim has buzzed his hair so short, or Leonard would take two big handfuls and yank. How satisfying would that be?

Maybe Jim sees something of Leonard's imaginings. He puts an extra arm's length between them before saying, "If memory serves me correctly, Bones, last time included an ultimatum: we could be roommates or friends but not both. Clearly I picked wrong." His eyes and his arms open dramatically wide. "Let's be roommates!"

"Kid," Leonard begins, studying the slightly manic expression on Kirk's face, "that was five years ago—and I'm pretty sure the unspoken choice there was either you graciously accept being kicked out, or I kill you."

Kirk's arms drop back to his sides, and Leonard is given another winsome grin. Then Jim darts in to his side, quick and wily, claps Leonard on the shoulder before darting away again. In the next second Jim is headed to the adjoining living room with his head held high. And he's talking: "It's all good. We're commanding officers now, not cadets. I'm more mature, you're more mature, so surely we can—oooh fish."

Leonard huffs out a sigh, suddenly feeling less disgruntled than he should be, and trails after his friend. "Don't touch those," he warns.

Jim pauses, caught in the act of removing the fish tank's top cover, and reluctantly eases it back into place. Afterwards he sticks his hands in his pants pockets like a child deprived of a treat. "Man, Bones, you take the joy out of everything."

Leonard snorts. "Believe me, I'm saving you a heap of trouble." He points at a giant, pale-colored fish currently engaged in a slow swim-by, one beady black eye fixed upon them both. "See that?"

Jim leans down to look at the fish more closely. "Are those fangs?"

"More or less. Let's just go with they're sharp and those little bastards know how use 'em."

Jim can't seem to get over a very basic fact: "Bones, you have pet fish. Why do you have pet fish?"

"Is it against the law? Although... they are Croatian."

Kirk's head snaps up, his eyes rounder than before. "You smuggled an endangered species into San Francisco?" His tone implies How the hell did you get them onto the planet?

"Do I look like a smuggler in exotic fish?" Leonard retorts. "Stupid things were a gift. A few years back, I operated on a department head of Marine Xenobiology, and he was so damn grateful he didn't die, he sent me these." Leonard eyes the school of fish with dislike. "I leave 'em here when we're out on assignment. Other fish would starve but..."

"Ah," says Jim knowingly as he catches on to Leonard's meaning. "So that's what the fangs are for."

"Got it in one, Jim. Fucking alien piranha—cannibalistic alien piranha. Just what I always wanted." The dark-haired man turns away and heads to his kitchen to find a badly needed drink of water, tossing a second warning over his shoulder as he goes. "Don't stick your finger in there. I'm not inclined to retrieve it out of a fish belly."

The kitchen is Jim-free, although Leonard doubts that will last long. The kid has a tendency to hang out where the food is, like either the kitchen is his favorite place to be or he has to keep an eye on the perishables lest they disappear without warning. Not that Leonard's pantry and refrigerator are ever well-stocked. He's a bachelor, and a busy one at that. Lucky for him eating healthy these days isn't restricted to those who have the time to prepare said healthy meals, or he'd have to live on take-out that would kill him in a matter of years.

A quick sip of water and a free moment to lean his forehead against the cool exterior of the refrigerator door help Leonard sort through his turmoil. Could he kick Jim out? Yeah, he could. Should he kick Jim out?

Probably not.

"Damn it," he mutters under his breath, before straightening up to jerk open a cabinet door.

It's not that he doesn't understand the predicament: like a lot of the newly homeless, Jim's complex is a pile of dust and rubble beneath what is left of the Vengeance. On a regular day, there is limited housing on the campus the kid could claim for his own; now, even less so. And it seems Jim's idea to "room with those hot Caitian twins" didn't pan out.

The true problem for Leonard is that he understands too much. So much, in fact, with regards to anything Jim Kirk that living with the man is a disaster of its own. They're great friends. Perhaps, he muses, that's what makes them terrible roommates.

After a long, long sigh, Leonard returns to the living room with a second mug of water. Jim is too busy tapping on the glass of the fish tank to grant full attention to Leonard's arrival but does take the proffered cup with a distracted air. In the tank, the largest fish swims over in their direction to investigate. Leonard is reminded of how eerily intelligent it looks, its liquid-black gaze pinpointing the nearest face—which is Jim's.

"You must be the leader," Jim says by way of introduction to the fish.

The fish opens and closes its mouth, then burps out air bubbles and a fishbone.

Leonard's gaze automatically tracks the fishbone's descent to the bottom of the tank.

"...Or just the hungriest," Jim says, tone cheerful. "Heh. I'm gonna call you Dude. Hey, Dude, I'm Jim. You and me and Bones are gonna be roommates."

Dude's tail swishes languidly from side to side until, all of a sudden, his fishy face is nearly pressed right up against glass. So up-close his sliver-thin teeth somehow appear ominously longer they are. Jim makes an appreciative noise and raps his finger against the glass again. Leonard wonders idly if the meeting of Jim and Dude is a thing of fate.

"Oh, the portent," he murmurs to himself. Then, "Jim! Quit making faces at Du—I mean, the fish. My god, why did you have to name it?"

"Dude's a cool name."

"Only you would—" His grumble is interrupted by an exclamation of "Whoa! Did you see that?"

Leonard did see it, and it's not his first time. These days, he tries not to see it. The spectacle isn't pleasant to watch.

But Jim is clearly fascinated. "Man, he's like a little shark!"

Dude proudly comes back from the other side of the fish tank, where a poor, smaller, slower fish had accidentally swum too far away from the main school. There's a piece of flesh hanging off one tooth and a trail of purplish blood in his wake. It's doubtful Dude's victim even saw him coming.

"Wow, Bones, I didn't know these guys could be so fast!" With a smile, Jim waves his mug of water at the tank. "Hey, little Dude, you got you some dinner, huh?"

"That dinner," Leonard answers, snatching away Jim's precariously tilted cup before it spills its contents on the floor, "was his grandfather."

Jim turns to look at him, eyebrows shooting upward. "His grandfather?"

"I told you: Cannibal. Piranha," Leonard emphasizes, and shrugs. "But, hey... what goes around, comes around. One day Dude's grandson is gonna make a snack out of him."

"That's... kind of gross." Jim peruses the rest of the seemingly innocuous fish. "Also a little awesome."

"It's vicious," corrects the doctor, "but it's a fate we've got no business interfering in."

Jim puts his back to the tank, hands sliding into his pants pockets. His voice grows soft, the look in his eyes unexpectedly cool. "Like you did for me?"

Leonard doesn't know if it is the words or the sudden sharp pain in his chest that causes him to rock back, but eventually he gathers enough of his wits to respond. "I was talking about Nibiru."

Jim's mouth quirks in a way that seems wrong. "Oh" is all he says. Kirk moves away from Leonard and the fish tank then, seeming casual, but the tension in the room tells Leonard there is nothing casual about the conversation they aren't having. Jim approaches his box of belongings and rifles through it in silence while Leonard watches him.

This roommate thing isn't going to work, Leonard begins to realize, for reasons not solely to do with what childish idiots they can be. In fact, he's fairly certain if he and Jim stay together for any length of time, they will permanently damage an already fragile relationship.

Nothing concerning what has happened in the last few weeks has done them any favors. That still seems to be the case.

He draws in an uneven breath. "Jim..."

"Forget it," Jim says, not addressing him directly. "I know Nibiru wasn't my crowning moment, but..." The man falls silent for a short moment before adding, subdued, "...but I think I've paid my dues on that account."

"I know you have," Leonard replies, hearing Jim's pain reflected in his own voice. He makes a helpless gesture his friend can't see, knowing he has caved without meaning to. "I guess I can have a bed brought in for the guest room."

Jim draws his cardboard box against his stomach. "The couch is fine."

"The couch," Leonard complains, hoping to ease them out of treacherously emotional territory, "is a pain in the ass. I mean that literally. It has more lumps than the one my grandparents kept in their basement from nearly a century ago." He shifts enough to see a hint of a smile touch Jim's face. "Even at your age, your back would never stand it, kid."

Jim picks up the box, cutting a sidelong glance Leonard's way. "You know Sulu says his family still sleeps on the floor. They live in a modern house in Old Japan but he told me tradition can be more important than comfort."

In this day and age that just means the Sulu family is made up of a bunch of masochists. Since Leonard would never disrespect another man's culture, at least not Sulu's (green-blooded hobgoblins being a different matter entirely), he firms up his mouth to keep his thoughts to himself.

Jim lets out a quick laugh, declaring, "Trying to withhold an opinion makes you look constipated," and walks away, heading with a renewed confidence to the guest room Leonard has been using as storage space for the odds and ends he has a habit of buying in his spare time.

The word 'constipated' produces a fizzling noise between Leonard's teeth. Once Leonard can talk around his sputtering fit, he cries in Jim's wake, "Don't think you can live here for free, you son of a bitch!"

An echo of singsong comes from the far end of the apartment. The taunt might have been Kisses!

That no-good pile of turkey shit! Leonard may have to kill Jim Kirk after all.

He makes a beeline for the nearest wall comm unit and stabs a green button. "Starfleet Headquarters, Housing," he tells the computer.

"Working... Call connected."

At first Housing doesn't know what he's talking about but once they figure it out, they simply ignore most of his ranting; they go "uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" while he asks how they could leave Captain James T. Kirk to wonder aimlessly for a place to live; they thank Leonard for being a good sport to room with said hero and agree to send along an extra bedding unit.

"It's the least we can do, Mr. McCoy," the sweet-voiced lady on the other end of the comm tells him.

"That's Doctor McCoy, and the least you could've done was let me extend the lease on his room in the outpatient ward like I wanted to, that way he'd have a roof over his head and immediate medical assistance. It was a win-win situation for both of us!"

"Your concerns have been duly noted, Dr. McCoy, but there are regulations concerning disaster relief to which all governing bodies must adhere. Medical facilities must be made readily available to registered patients only."

"He is registered! I re-registered him myself!"

She continues on blithely, "Thank you for alerting us to the change in Captain Kirk's housing status. I shall mark his new place of residence as permanent until otherwise notified. Housing—"

"What! No, goddamn it, did you hear me? He's registered, he's been registered going on five years, I renew his registration every three months in case of an emergency!"

"—appreciates your call. If you would like to stay on the line, there will be a short customer service survey."

With a curse, Leonard hangs up and considers punching the comm unit into oblivion. His better judgment tells him he doesn't need the repair bill.

"Hey, Bones!" Jim's return is preceded by his inherent cheeriness. "You own the weirdest shit."

Leonard stares at the tall twenty-something wearing a straw sombrero and snakeskin boots, and holding a maraca in one hand.

Grinning, Jim gives the brightly colored maraca a shake and pronounces, "This time we're going to be great roommates, Bones. You'll see!"

Leonard drops back against the wall and shakes his head slowly as Jim gives the maraca three additional enthusiastic shakes.

Would anyone believe him, he wonders, if he pleaded temporary insanity at the murder trial?

"Whose murder?" Jim wants to know, for Leonard's brain-to-mouth filter has apparently failed him.

"Don't ask," Leonard grumps.

Wisely, Jim does not.

~~~

At first, rooming with Jim seems like it might work. The universe doesn't implode, nor does Leonard. Leonard says as much, thoughtfully, if maybe with a hint of suspicion.

Which leads him to ponder, "How come you're being so quiet?"

Jim's response is to shrug and otherwise ignore the question.

Leonard purses his mouth and continues to scrutinize his new roommate. He feels it's prudent to remark, "If you cram any more of those pancakes in your mouth, you'll choke."

To spite Leonard and his sage advice, Jim manages to fit another half of a pancake in his mouth—and promptly chokes.

"Told you so," Leonard can't help saying as he moves to stand behind Jim's chair and gives the man a hearty thump on the back. Once Jim is breathing normally again, Leonard hands him the nearest glass of orange juice despite that it happens to be his own.

"Shit," Jim gasps out after swallowing a mouthful of juice and coughing. "That sucked."

"And now your pancakes are all regurgitated and you ain't gonna want 'em. Such a shame."

"Shut up, Bones."

"Hey, I—"

"Told me so. Yeah, I know. In fact, that's been your mantra since I got here."

Leonard frowns as Jim pushes away from the kitchen table. "What's that mean?"

Jim gives him an indecipherable look and picks up his plate.

"Jim," Leonard stresses when the answer doesn't come and Kirk moves away from the table to dispose of the remnants of his breakfast. "What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means: how about letting me make my own mistakes without rubbing it in?"

"I don't do that."

Jim accuses, "Yes, you do!"

When recognition of what's actually happening occurs to Leonard, he lifts a hand to stall their argument. "Wait, wait, wait... Are we finally fighting?"

"That surprises you?"

"Well, yeah—but only because I thought I'd pick the first fight."

Jim snorts and drops his plate and silverware into the sink with a clang. "Because I would be the one to set you off? You give me so much credit, Bones." Jim stays with his back to Leonard, bracing his hands against the counter. His voice turns much softer. "I know this isn't what you asked for, but I am trying here... Can't you see that?"

And suddenly Leonard feels like an ass. "Jim, I'm sorry." He wants to go over to lay a hand on Jim's shoulder but knows from the man's stance physical contact wouldn't be welcome. "Look, I know you being here wasn't something you asked for either. I'm not blaming you. The fact is we're victims of circumstance and somebody else's grudge. All we can do—are doing—is pick ourselves out of the rubble and help each other however we can." His shoulders lower slightly in guilt. "I guess I'm not doing my part."

Jim surprises him by turning abruptly to stare him down. "Don't say that, ever. I've never seen you not do your part. I've never seen you do just your part." He gestures to himself. "And if you think that might be a lie, then consider me as proof."

Leonard has to glance away at that remark because he doesn't want to dredge up the memories. Not again. They already haunt him at night.

"Still," he murmurs, his tone intentionally light, "giving you a hard time is not a big help to either of us."

Jim relaxes back against the counter, the tightness about his mouth replaced by some of his trademark humor. "I never said you weren't an ass sometimes."

"Thanks," Leonard retorts with a touch of dryness. "I'm sorry anyway. I'll do better."

Jim studies him closely. "Does this mean you'll make me more pancakes?"

Leonard crosses his arms and lifts an eyebrow.

"...And that's a no. Aw, Bones." Jim attempts to project dejection but when that has no effect on Leonard, he scrubs a hand through his hair and announces, "I call first shower!"

Leonard's eyes roll ceiling-ward. "It's not like calling shotgun, kid. Go take the damn shower." Then he stills and pretends to consider something. "Although maybe I should just be grateful you want one. It's been, what? Three days?"

Middle finger presented, Jim shuffles out of the kitchen.

Feeling no small amount of glee, Leonard hollers after him, "Don't use all the shampoo, Stinky!"

Cackling lightly to himself, Leonard puts the rest of their breakfast down the garbage disposal. This little talk is all they really needed to get them off eggshells and into living together responsibly. He's relieved.

In hindsight, Leonard should have known he would be wrong. Responsible implies mature, and mature... just isn't a state that exists between Leonard and Jim for any significant amount of time.

~~~

"Jim, have you seen my razor?"

"It's in my room. I used it."

Leonard stops dead in the entryway to the living area. "Excuse me?"

Jim gently places another potted plant on the coffee table. His assorted collection of vegetation is beginning to resemble the makings of a mini jungle. Leonard doesn't have a clue why Jim desires house plants all of a sudden.

But first things first. "Why did you use my razor?" he all but demands.

"Mine was too dull."

"Yours was... Well, what the hell made you think you could use mine! Damn it," Leonard says, "did you cut yourself?" He smacks his own forehead to show his own idiocy. "Wait, why am I even asking this? Of course you did. Now I'll have to sterilize the blade! Where is it? Damn it, Jim, it's an antique!"

Jim blinks blankly over his row of plants until Leonard pauses for breath. "You said 'damn it' twice."

Leonard throws out his arms, hands grasping at empty air as if he is squeezing a neck between them.

Jim, apparently, thinks it's funny when Leonard is furious enough to choke the air. "It's just a razor, Bones. Also, I'm not twelve. I didn't cut myself." He rubs at his collarbone. "It's important to be extra careful when you shave your chest." He lifts up a plant for Leonard to see. "Hey, I'm starting an herb garden. Growing things is therapeutic. This is mint. Bones? Bones, where are you going?"

Jim never does figure out that another man's razor is sacred, and no matter where Leonard hides all of his toiletries from there on out (using his razors to shave chest hair, my god!), Jim has a sixth sense for finding them.

It could be said this is the worst of Jim's offenses against his friend during their 'unfortunate period of cohabitation' but, sadly, that would be untrue.

~~~

Some mornings should be bypassed altogether. Leonard believes this to be a holy truth. But as he is powerless to affect time, he must endure such god-awful mornings like the rest of humanity. On this particular day, he spends an extra twenty minutes looking for a hospital security badge that doesn't want to be found.

Jim is already awake and roosting on the couch, as he is wont to do when he's bored. Leonard is of the opinion his friend might have been an actual rooster in a previous life. No one else really enjoys getting up with the sun, except for Jim Kirk.

But he can't worry about that. He's lost his damn badge!

Leonard rushes through the living room in a panic, and Kirk's head comes up off the couch, swiveling away from the bright glow of a data padd to track McCoy's headlong flight.

"Hey," Jim calls right before Leonard reaches the opposite side of the room.

Simultaneously pausing in his flight and fortifying himself with a deep breath (can't Jim see he's not calm?), Leonard turns to see what this new, ill-timed expectation of Jim's might be. He has to remind himself it's worth taking another deep breath and holding it so he doesn't comment about the food wrappers and empty drink cans littering the carpet. No matter how the sight irks him, there is no time this morning to address it.

"Hey," repeats Jim, tilting his head, "question..."

Oh, damn. Leonard knows what that means. He squeezes his eyes shut. "Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change..."

"Do women talk about sex? When men aren't around?"

"...or just shut this idiot up," he amends.

"No, really, Bones... is it a guy thing or an everybody thing?"

"And why do you need to know this?"

Something crunches, like when teeth meet an apple. "I'm reading this book right now that makes me question the importance of my penis. Doesn't it frighten you that women understand too much about us, and we too little about them?"

"So get a sex change, or stop reading the book. And for god's sake, don't talk with your mouth full!" Leonard glances at the old clock he'd found at a salvage shop which Jim had cleaned up, repaired, and put on the fireplace mantel. "Damn it, I'm gonna be late."

"But, Bones—"

"If you want a philosophical debate, call Spock!" he snaps, already turning away.

It's amazing how Jim can steamroll right along through a conversation as if Leonard isn't saying no. "I bet the gender versus gender thing transcends species."

"Jim, I told you I don't have time—"

"Hey, Vulcan females... do you think the same applies?"

Leonard's brain has to pause to answer that. "You ever seen a lady Vulcan with an eye tick? A sight like that will do more than wilt your cock. There's a good reason why historically the Vulcan birth rate is so low." Wait, why is he even thinking about this? "Fuck, don't talk to me! I'm late." Leonard scurries away to find his missing badge.

Had he left in the kitchen? Clipped to yesterday's clothes? Shit, dropped it on the street like last time?

"Bones!" the cry follows him. "What about my manhood? Where are you going? I have serious questions!"

Leonard tells no one he discovers the badge in his back pocket two minutes after he gives up the search. The reason he says nothing, of course, is because Jim is the one who points out where the badge is, and no amount of door-slamming, cursing, and in general attempting to scare young interns subsides the echo of Jim's laughter in his head for the remainder of the day.

~~~

While Leonard thinks Jim is crazy, the sentiment might be mutual.

He isn't used to closing doors. A man who lives alone doesn't need doors closed for privacy. This is how Leonard is caught in the bathroom, not with his pants down per se but staring into the mirror above the sink as he habitually does for the first five minutes at the start of every day.

A shadow in the hallway in the midst of passing by coalesces into Jim Kirk as it backtracks to watch Leonard watch himself in the mirror.

"Good morning," Jim says.

Leonard sighs through his nose.

Looking from the man to the mirror and back again, Jim questions, "Is there something wrong with your face? Is it stuck?"

Leonard sighs a second time and admits, "I'm old." He asks his reflection morosely, "How did I get so fucking old?"

"Bones, you're in your thirties."

"Says the kid who still has years to go before he sees the next decade of his life."

"This is a thing with you, isn't it? Calling me 'kid' makes you feel older than you are, and you love to hate yourself."

"No," Leonard refutes, annoyed, turning from that agonizingly decrepit face in the mirror that must be his. "I call you what you are, kid. Why the hell are you naked?"

"Clothes are confining."

"Well in my house, we don't walk around without pants."

"Whatever" is the flippant reply. "Are there eggs in the frig?"

"Jim, put on some damn boxers at least!" Leonard leans around the frame of the bathroom door to yell down the hallway after the retreating Kirk. "You can't fry eggs in the nude. It's unsanitary!"

Jim yells back, "Scrambled or sunny-side up?"

Leonard hmphs in lieu of answering and returns to his former position in the bathroom, except this time making certain to close the door. The same face is still there—porous, wrinkled thing that it is. If he sighs over it, well, that nobody's business but his own.

And especially not Jim's!

~~~

Bad things happen. Leonard hates it when they do, of course, but like everyone else he knows how to cope. Living on Earth instead of that tin can they call the Enterprise, however, always dulls his senses a little to bad things. That is, until Jim comes to live with him.

On the day Leonard McCoy arrives at home to discover it's on fire, he honestly isn't as shocked as he should be.

Bellowing "Jim! JIM!", Leonard drops his duffel bag, dives past the front door and into a thick billow of smoke leaking out of the kitchen. "Jim, where the devil are you?!" He swerves towards the sound of coughing and grabs at the vague shape of a man.

Said man screeches in surprise, flails, and sends them to the floor amidst a scattering of items that turn out to be tools. At least, Leonard supposes that's what they are because he finds himself nose-to-nose with a screwdriver. He picks it up and brandishes it at the smoke and the not-Jim with his demands: "What the hell is going on? Who are you? Where's Jim?"

Not-Jim is too busy hacking up a lung to give a coherent reply. Leonard contemplates knocking him out on principle.

Somewhere in the apartment, a door opens and closes and there comes the sound of running feet. Leonard hears "Bones!"

"In the kitchen!" he shouts.

Jim's voice grows closer. "Bones, don't go in the kitchen." Strangely, it's not panicked at all. "Come out of there!"

"No shit," growls Leonard, opting to crawl on his hands and knees toward where he knows the exit to be. Of course, he doesn't get far because his conscience is a hard thing to ignore. He drags the stranger out with him, lays the man flat on his back and tells him to keep breathing. Where's an oxygen mask when he needs one?

Jim squats down beside them. "Bob, man, you don't look so good."

Bob, eyes watering from his prolonged coughing fit, nods mutely.

Leonard narrows his eyes at this interaction and holds up the screwdriver. "Jim, want to tell me what's going on here?"

Jim's eyes widen just a fraction and his teeth sink into his bottom lip.

"S-Smoke," says Bob on Kirk's behalf.

Leonard has to question if the poor man's brains weren't scrambled before the smoke inhalation. "Yes, lots of smoke. Bad smoke. Who started the fire?"

"No fire," Jim finally supplies, if reluctantly. "The stove started smoking, and I called Bob in to help."

"And Bob is...?"

"The building's handyman."

Leonard sits down on the floor with a thump. "My god, Jim, what did you break?"

Jim gives him an unsure smile before he begins to explain. Half a minute into the explanation, Leonard wishes he hadn't asked.

Later, once Bob is fully recovered from his shock and has lumbered off to contact the landlord, Leonard considers the misshapen lump that used to be his stove. At Leonard's side, Jim looks guilty.

"How could you possible kill a stove, Jim?"

Jim's sudden fidgeting is close to a squirm. "At least it didn't blow up. Scotty would have blown it up."

Leonard rounds on his roommate and jabs a finger into a breastbone. "Scotty's not here, you are! You destroyed my kitchen!"

"I'll pay for it."

"No, the insurance will pay for it. You will get a hobby—preferably one that involves you actually stepping foot outside of this apartment!"

Jim widens his stance and crosses his arms. "Hey, it's not like I don't go out."

Leonard ticks off one finger. "To the corner store." Then another. "To the Chinese joint across the street." Another. "To pick up packages which technically never requires you to vacate the building." He shakes those three fingers at Jim's nose. "Medical leave does not mean live like a hermit!"

"I'm rehabilitating!"

"No, convicts rehabilitate. Addicts rehabilitate. You're hiding!"

Jim's eyes flash with real temper, and he clams up.

Leonard knows he's said the wrong thing. He pulls back and lowers his voice. "I get it, I do. You're not as comfortable in your skin as you used to be. But that doesn't mean you're not the same person you've always been." Dismayed, he glances at the stove. "I'm not going to push you before you're ready, Jim, but please... try not to cause any more household items to suffer in the meantime."

"Your stove had a design flaw. I wanted to fix it."

Leonard considers that statement because he thinks he hears something Jim isn't saying. Sighing when he comes to a conclusion, Leonard drapes an arm over Kirk's shoulders. "I knew it had a flaw."

A muscle ticks in Jim's jaw. "Then why didn't you get it fixed?"

"Because I liked it the way it was. To me, it didn't need fixin'."

Jim asks after a beat of silence, expression unchanged, "Would you fix me?"

"Don't I always if you need it?"

Leonard can't blame Jim for deciding whether or not to believe him, but he does worry when Jim nods once, yielding, "If you say so, Bones" yet still seems troubled as he looks away.

But he lets the point go, because maybe there is something about Jim after all that isn't as whole as he thought. Maybe there is a new thing—not a flaw but a piece of Jim which used to have purpose but doesn't anymore. Leonard doesn't know what to do about it, no matter his on-the-side degree in psychology, except to react as a friend would. They stand as they are for a while, not exactly hugging but not breaking contact with each other either, until Handyman Bob comes back into the apartment with word from the building owner.

~~~

Like any two people who have known each other long enough to be accepting of each other's shortcomings, Jim and Leonard don't always drive each other crazy. The fact is Leonard is very used to being around Jim most days. During the Academy years they kept in constant touch, had late dinners together, bitched about school life or poor quality cafeteria food, had each other's backs in a fight—did all the things good friends would do. On the Enterprise they remained close despite the individual responsibilities turning their schedules into uncooperative things which like to place them on separate ends of the ship as often as possible. Jim sought Leonard out as a best friend would, and Leonard made a point of sticking by Jim when times were at their most stressful.

But at the end of everything, Leonard has had the option of retreating to his own room or his own bay or his own side of San Francisco. It may not be an option he always chose but he would know he could and that, it seems, makes all the difference between defining a functional and a dysfunctional relationship.

So he and Jim can share a meal or watch the same news channel; they can talk about trivial things, discuss future plans, or watch Dude swim round and round the fish tank like a mean killing machine. Everything is fine, perfectly ordinary—until Leonard recalls he can't send Jim on his way once he needs to be alone.

Jim, it could be said, never needs or wants to be alone.

"I don't think I can take much more of this," Leonard tells a friend over a morning cup of coffee. "He's my best friend, and it could probably be said I love the bastard—not that I'm admitting I do," he adds at his friend's speculative look, "—but if I have to see Jim's face when I get home tonight... things may happen. Unfortunate things," he mutters into his expensive dark roast.

"You know, when you're living under the same roof with someone you get around the hate-filled thoughts by—"

"—having sex. Yeah. I was married. Believe me, I remember how that works. Or in my case, how it didn't." He flashes his ring-less left hand that still sports the slight indent of a wedding band. "Hence the divorce."

His friend props her head up, chin in hand. "So sex isn't an option?"

Leonard gives her a sour look. "You're not being helpful, Nyota."

"What should I do then? Give you permission to stick him with sharp objects?" The smirk blossoming on her face is disturbingly razor-edged. "Sure, go ahead, Leonard. Just leave his head mostly intact. We might need that once we have our ship back."

"That's the part I really want to break," Leonard grumbles.

Nyota must find his griping hilarious. Leonard waits until she's done laughing to pick up her coffee cup along with his. "Want a refill, darlin'?"

"No, that's all right," the woman says, standing up. "I have a seminar to attend, and you should be at the hospital."

He snorts, amused for no particular reason. "I think they could do without me just this once."

Nyota reaches out to pat his bare forearm, her smile inexplicably soft. "No, I doubt they could. None of us can—and Jim being the foremost of us. Don't forget you're the reason we still have him, Leonard."

Leonard shakes his head slightly, not really wanting to put into words how unlikely it is he will ever forget that one little fact. The cost to save Jim had been high. He knows he's lucky to still have his practitioner’s license, although he isn't doing much practicing at all these days, just work a residency student would. There are some individuals on the Medical Board who didn't, and still don't, want to see him set foot on the hospital grounds. It will be a long time, if ever, that the stigma of what he did to preserve his captain's life is not the first thing upon which peers and rivals alike judge him.

"You should come visit us sometime," Uhura offers in the wake of his silence. "Just you. It might lessen that urge to do bodily harm to your roommate."

"I really don't see how swapping out Spock for Jim will improve my mood."

That smirk comes back. "Consider it an invitation to broaden your perspective."

"So after an evening with a Vulcan, I'm likely to see Jim as the lesser of two evils?" Leonard stares at her, not certain if it would be rude to laugh. "Woman, I don't know whether to call you crazy or a saint."

"Isn't long-suffering a term for both?" Nyota quips in return, then winks. "Just give it some thought. You know where I live once you decide." After a brief goodbye, she leaves him at the table in the crowded campus cafe.

Leonard recycles her cup, refills his own, and soon exits the cafe himself. During his ambulatory path to work, he considers the pros and cons of sharing personal space with Spock. Maybe it is a point in Jim's favor that he cannot think of a single pro except one: were Leonard and Spock roommates, it surely would drive Spock crazier than it would him!

It's a shame no one at the hospital asks Leonard why he chuckles intermittently. He would have been immensely pleased to explain it to them.

~~~

Jim is definitely no Vulcan.

Actually, Leonard thinks he must be living with a five year-old in a grown man's body. That would explain why he startles awake to find Jim leaning over him, having pried Leonard's eyelids open at the crack of dawn in order to ask, "Are you asleep?"

Predictably, Leonard punches Jim. Because he also cares about the asshole, he crawls out of bed and retrieves a bag of frozen peas for Jim's bruised right eye.

Jim grins lopsidedly at him from behind the peas, balanced upon the edge of Leonard's bed. "Your right hook's improving."

Leonard briefly considers blackening the other eye but remembers he doesn't have a second bag of peas. He settles for growling, "Is there a good reason why you woke me up?"

Jim, still grinning, keeps his silence. Leonard never figures out the motive for that early morning disturbance, but then again he doubts anyone truly comprehends the reasoning behind the weird things Jim does.

~~~

Some days with Jim defy explanation. Like today.

The fish tank looks festive. Dude is wearing a tiny plastic party hat. It sparkles. Leonard has no words.

Even when Jim pops out of a closet in that ridiculous sombrero with a cry of "Happy Birthday, Bones!" Leonard has no words. Then his roommate shoves a bottle of old Kentucky Blue into his hands.

Leonard twists out the cork and drinks the liquor straight. He gives his stomach a moment to quit roiling and says matter-of-factly to Jim, "Never tell me how you got that hat on that fish."

And thus they get drunk, watch old movies, and valiantly ignore Jim's sloppily bandaged left hand.

~~~

Other days with Jim can be explained but really, truly shouldn't be. At least not to sane people.

Jim and Leonard end up fighting over the last pretzel. Jim knocks it to the floor, Leonard goes after it, Jim gives Leonard a wedgie, Leonard knees Jim in the groin, somebody gets their hair set on fire, and somebody else wakes up painted blue.

It's a fair fight, even though afterwards Leonard maintains that he won it.

Jim argues, "Yeah but blue dye, Bones? How is that even a respectable counter attack?"

The next morning, Jim wakes up with blue hair too.

~~~

When Jim's medical leave ends, they've been living together for three months. Jim has been called back to Headquarters for a briefing and an assignment, though tentative dates for housing reconstruction are abysmal. Leonard is simply grateful to know Jim will be part of a collaborative project or two that doesn't involve attempts to communicate telepathically with a cannibal-fish, because he thinks Jim needs the direction and the focus. He doesn't mention his gratitude to anyone.

That hour before his meeting, Jim flies into the kitchen. "Bones, have you seen my left sock?"

Leonard reaches for another dirty plate in the sink. "What?" he asks absently, squinting at the research article text on the data padd propped against the sill above the sink.

"My sock."

"Choriomeningitis, variety, Vegan," mutters the doctor. "Jim, hush, I have to study this and I can't do that with you yappin'."

Moments later, a finger pokes rudely into Leonard's side. Leonard is startled enough to drop the half-scrubbed plate back into the soapy water. He curses.

"Sock. Sooock," repeats his roommate, crowding him.

Leonard's fingers find a spatula beneath the water line and he ponders what kind of criminal charges Jim could bring up against him if he used it as a weapon. Probably domestic abuse.

"Sock," Jim says again, like they don't speak the same language.

"Did you check the laundry basket?"

"We have a laundry basket?"

"Yes, doofus, we have a laundry basket. But maybe you don't know that because I'm the one who has to dump your dirty clothes in it!"

"I thought we had maid service."

Leonard jerks his hands out of the dishwater. "I'M THE MAID!"

Jim makes a face and proceeds to wipe away the suds that had been flung at him. "Wow, okay. Did you take your medication this morning?"

"THAT'S FOR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE!"

"So, sock in the basket and bring you some more blood pressure meds. Got it."

Jim is out of the kitchen in the next blink of Leonard's eye. Muttering about selfish bastards who can't wash their own socks, Leonard goes back to cleaning the dishes with one hand and scrolling through his padd with the other.

Jim never does bring him that medication.

~~~

Everybody knows Leonard Horatio McCoy is a moody man. Some would even say he broods simply because he can. It surprises Leonard a little, then, to find himself trying to talk someone else out of a long bout of brooding. After an unsuccessful Sunday afternoon of exactly this, he admits failure.

"Fine, be that way," Leonard complains to his eerily silent companion. "Don't come crying to me when all your little plants have wilted because your cloud of gloom and doom has stolen their sunshine."

Jim cuts a look in his direction, and to say Leonard has improved Kirk's mood with his humor would be an utter lie. If anything, Jim looks sourer.

Leonard tries to match the expression and simply can't. That level of grumpiness is beyond him, and he figures he's pretty good at it given that he was born with a frown on his face.

Jim returns to staring into the fish tank. Dude stares back. He probably hasn't forgiven Jim for the embarrassment of the hat.

"Jim," Leonard sighs, "my grandmamma used to say, 'if you could kick the person in the ass most responsible for your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a week.' Now as much as I hate to admit it, she was right a time or two. I don't think glowering at Dude or me," he adds when Jim's head swivels in his direction again, "is going to make you feel better. Why don't we talk about it like the rational fellows we are?"

"Fuck off, Bones!" Jim snaps out and levers himself away from his preferred side of the couch.

Leonard is actually glad to see Jim can still stand up. He had feared at one point, since Jim had been in that same spot for hours, the kid had been assimilated by the furniture. He follows Jim to the guest room, which has pretty much become unconditionally Jim's.

Jim stops him at the door with a look that could almost flay skin from bone. "Are you deaf, Leonard?"

"I'm not deaf. I'm worried. What did Barnett say?"

Jim shuts the door in his face.

Leonard blows out a breath and congratulates himself for alienating his closest friend. He thinks if they weren't bumping elbows all the time, Jim could have eventually been coaxed out of his bad mood and made to talk. They'd meet for a beer and hash it out. As it stands now, the best Leonard can do is offer space and time for Jim's temper to cool.

And that, he decides, is yet another crappy side-effect of being roommates.

A few days afterward, Jim stops sliding his vegetables around on his dinner plate to say, "The Klingons are still howling about invasion of their territory, and while Marcus was the culprit, he's dead. Barnett said they're handling things... but don't be surprised if I'm the one they serve up as the scapegoat."

Leonard puts down his fork. "Those motherfuckers."

Jim won't look at him. "I did volunteer us to go after Khan." His voice is bitter, his expression miserable. "And played my crew right into Marcus's hands."

"Shut up, Jim," Leonard says, picking up his fork again. "If you deserve punishment, then we all do."

Jim glances at him. "You don't understand."

"I understand perfectly," snarls Leonard, stabbing at a diced potato that definitely bears resemblance to Barnett's face in his mind's eye. "You died for your ship. I think you get a fuckin' clean slate for that. And I'll tell any rat bastard the same thing who says otherwise. So tomorrow we go to HQ and—" He has to stop, has to, because he realizes with a jolt he can't do what he's thinking. Up in HQ, there isn't that one person they know they can count on to listen, to take their side. There isn't that one person who believes in Jim more than Leonard does. He's dead and buried.

Leonard finds it hard to swallow.

The sudden sheen to Jim's eyes is unmistakable. But Jim says nothing to encourage or deny Leonard's anger, just keeps his gaze fixed upon his untouched dinner. Leonard comes close to hating himself in that moment for re-opening the wound of Pike's death.

"Tomorrow we go to find Spock. His father's still an ambassador, and if Sarek's on our side that has to hold some weight with the Powers That Be," he finishes, hating how desperate and farfetched the suggestion sounds.

Jim shakes his head and pushes away from the table. "I don't want Spock or his family involved, Bones. I don't want you involved either. I was captain. I was responsible."

Leonard wants to say no one is responsible for the actions of mad men except the mad men themselves but doesn't. Jim won't listen.

It doesn't matter, Leonard decides, staring down at his plate, his appetite gone. Jim may not care to fight the battle, but Leonard does and knows plenty of other people who do too. He will go see Spock if that's what it takes.

It's ironic, Leonard will think later on, that he ends up accepting Nyota's offer on Jim's behalf and not his own.