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He was definitely leaving the conversation too long-- Thanksgiving service was done, Scotty’s three-years had been butchered for next year’s charcuterie, and Spock was losing his mind with quiet dignity as he got ready for the Fancy Foods Show. Staff and vendor issues aside, Leonard was having a bitch of a time figuring out how to break the news to Jim and Winona.

“Something’s eating you,” Jim observed, not looking up from the speck he was shaving. “What’s up?” He piled the meat in little curls next to some toasted walnuts, wedges of Selhat, and the schmear of pumpkin jam he was assembling for supper with the rye crisps that were Pavel’s newest obsession.

Leonard squared his shoulders, drew in a fortifying breath, and broke the news. “Mama wants us to come visit for Christmas and stay through New Year’s.”

“Us, hunh?” Jim’s eyebrow was skeptical, but his voice was even.

“That’s what I said,” Leonard offered, because he didn’t know how to push the conversation further than that.

Jim snorted, lightly, then turned and shoved Leonard toward the table. “Mom’ll be fine, I’ll ask Janeway and Sju Ni to come stay.”

Leonard shook his head. “I don’t think our local lesbian caffeinistas are a good substitute for you at this time of year, no matter how much sense they’ve got.”

Jim shoved an assembled smorrebrod at him, then shrugged, as if the impending anniversary of both his Dad’s and his brother's traumatic deaths wasn’t likely to make Winona go back off her rocker, like it often did. “We’re going to be closed anyway. If she gets really bad and needs to go to the hospital, I’ll just come home. Your mom hates me anyway, it’s not like she’ll miss me if I have to leave.”

“But,” Leonard protested, then couldn’t figure out what to say next. It was true-- Mama did hate Jim, and Leonard couldn’t figure out for the life of him why she’d bothered to make the invitation, since the last couple of years Leonard’d flown in for Christmas, stayed a few anxious days, and then left before she could get in a second-go-round of all the ways Leonard was a disappointment for not doing whatever it was she thought he ought to be doing instead of being happy. Which he was. Even if she didn’t want to believe it.

“Eat,” Jim remonstrated, picking up his own Selhat and pumpkin jam crisp and taking a critical bite. Since he then took another bite, Leonard resigned himself to redoing to cheese boards again to feature this combo. Pumpkin jam-- good, but still weird. Jim mumbled around his half-chewed second bite, “It’s only a few days, it can’t be that bad. No matter how nasty she is, it’s not like I can’t handle a difficult mother.”

“I’d rather be crazy than be a spiteful old bitch,” Winona observed, having apparently heard the tail end of the conversation as she stole into the kitchen. She was smirking, as if her psychosis was the better end of the deal. Jim snorted as Win pulled some cider out of the fridge-- a sea change from how it’d been five years ago when even mentioning Winona’s delusions aloud made Jim twitch like Leonard was going to somehow jinx another episode into being.

Still, Leonard had to admit that Win was probably right. Her version of crazy aside, she was a damn fine baker and cook, good company, and more than a little bit mean in a straight-shooting way that delighted Leonard as much as it occasionally embarrassed the hell out of Jim. And she was proud of her son and said so to him-- plus, she seemed to genuinely like Leonard, which probably was a vote for more crazy, but it was still something he counted himself lucky to have. An approving mother-in-law was no joke.

“Maybe I’ll go stay with Jean-Luc and Bev,” she volunteered, after pouring the cider and picking out a few curls of speck. “They’ve got the cottages and the homestay food package I can opt into, the change of scenery might be a good thing.” She pursed her lips, thoughtful, then nodded like it was all set-- like staying with Riverside’s most amorous couple was the mental reset she needed at the time of year when her husband and her oldest had died.

“That’s settled, then,” Jim agreed, then frowned. Deeply. “Bones, you’re not eating my food.” He blinked his eyelashes and broke out the pout.

Leonard ate. He knew better than to argue when Jim got all golden retriever on him.

--

They had more downtime in winter, but there’d been less and less the last few years-- between the Crusher-Picards renovating the old camp out at the lake and all their suppliers taking turns playing agriturismo for the overflow guests, there were more and more tourists willing to fly in to Des Moines off-season, and then brave the drive. Most folks seemed to understand Jim wanting to keep the place closed at the end of the year, and Iowa was never going to be a big holiday destination, but still-- between Winona getting more stable and the 6 month wait list for Iron String, Leonard felt more than a little bit guilty pulling Jim away from the restaurant so long. It wasn’t like going to Savannah would be any kind of vacation for either of them, and they’d promised Spock they’d fly up for the FFS, so they’d basically be back on a plane just as soon as they got back from Georgia, with barely time to celebrate Jim’s birthday.

Mulling over the myriad ways their visit could go wrong, Leonard spaced out on the timer for the house-smoked perch, then cussed and burnt his fingers trying to snatch it off of the grate before it turned into fish jerky. Jim had been on a Nordic/Russian/Germanic foods tear, which was all well and good for Iowa in terms of giving the root vegetable farmers an overwinter market, but Leonard was starting to get sick of dried hams, smoked fish, and irregular shipments of Vermont reindeer. He was going to have to convince Una to cull some more steers and ask Pike to take a go at cultured butter if he was going to get fresh beef back on the menu after New Year’s. Rutabaga three ways was all well and good, but Leonard wanted some green the plate. Maybe he could order some CSA greens to be delivered to Mama’s, and jumpstart Jim on cooking some southern wintertime food instead.

“Is that fish all set?” Pavel asked. “I want to try it in some cabbage rolls with some kasha.”

Wesley and Geordi booed the word cabbage from their corner of the workstation, but otherwise kept quiet, plugging away at prep for tonight.

Sulu rolled his eyes at Leonard from the countertop opposite Pavel, where he was doing something with beets that Leonard hoped meant cold, crispy salad and not more roasted vegs. At least Sulu was of Leonard’s mind on the austerity food-- he’d gotten the go-ahead to play around with the molecular menu, which meant that the fresh citrus and Indian flavors he was experimenting with made it into staff meal at least twice a week.

“Kasha’s too strong for perch,” Leonard offered. “You’d do better with stockfish or trout. Or dried roe, maybe.” Damnit, he was a chef, not a subsistence fish farmer, and yet here he was, coming up with goddamn dried salty fish egg ideas.

“You’re dead to me,” Sulu yelled. “Dried roe?!?”

“Dried roe what?” Jim asked, pushing the back door shut behind him.

“Ugh. Leonard’s helping Pasha brainstorm cabbage rolls,” Sulu complained, unafraid to contest the restaurant’s current theme. “See if I give any of you this lime and green mango pudding I’m working on.”

Jim leaned into Sulu’s space to snag a bit of something in a bowl that Leonard hadn’t even noticed was there, chewed thoughtfully, and said “Candied lemongrass? Nice,” before coming over to smack a kiss onto Leonard’s cheek.

“Don’t you worry that someday some asshole’s going to bitch about the clash between the molecular and the locavore shit?” Leonard couldn’t help it, he still kind of thought like a critic.

“Nope,” Jim smiled, popping the p. “It’s Iowa. I do what I want.”

“You’d care if Magnus Nilsson said your reindeer sausage wasn’t funky enough.”

Jim snorted. “I doubt he’d show up in the dining room, but if he did I’d just go on about the Iowa winds carrying different yeasts or some shit.”

“You have a whole chart about seasonal yeasts,” Pavel frowned. Since getting out from under his mother’s thumb, he seemed to be thriving on claiming that everything good had been invented in Russia, since no one in Iowa could argue with him and Sulu was too besotted to care. Safe to say he was thriving under Jim’s current thematic direction-- they had more beet recipes than even Jim could shake a stick at.

Jim’s expression was all smugness. “Yes, I sure do.” He bopped out of the kitchen and into the main before Pavel could quiz him more about Jim’s passionate disdain for people taking him seriously. “Bones!” he yelled through the door. “Come help me plan the Solstice menu!”

Leonard plated the fish and left it with Pavel, then grabbed pen and paper. He was always happy menu-planning with Jim, even if they tried to shout the other one down until they both compromised. He’d rather fight with Jim for a week than his mother-- at least Jim didn’t mind if Leonard won every once in awhile.

--

“You have a beautiful home,” Jim offered as they stepped inside the front hall. “The gingerbread is really impressive, it must be a lot to keep up.”

“Oh, well, I think it’s awful, but some people like garish colors,” Eleanora replied. “Still, it’s been in the family for a hundred years, and the historical registry never would let me put in something a bit more demure. Tasteful.”

Jim arched an eyebrow at Leonard behind his mother’s back, mouthing “wow” at the way Eleanora had managed to turn a banal compliment about the family home into an insult of Jim’s architectural taste. They’d been there less than five minutes.

“Did the groceries I ordered get delivered on time?” Leonard interjected, heading back toward the kitchen. His mother sniffed, but at least she looked Leonard in the eye as she answered.

“Yes, though I don’t see why you couldn’t have had it brought when you got here. I had to have Henny in to deal with that monstrous ham.”

“Oh, Mama, you know he’s sweet on you, I’m just doin’ you a favor bringing your caller around since you’re so set on stringing him along.”

Eleanora sniffed, but didn’t deny it. Once, she’d’ve burst into tears for dramatic effect, and then spent a day or two telling Leonard that he shouldn’t disrespect his Daddy’s memory like that, but since it’d been over ten years since Daddy passed on, he was pretty sure even his Mama knew not to pull bullshit like that.

“The food must have cost you a fortune,” his mother offered, settling at the table as she waved her hand at the pantry. “Henny put it all away for me, don’t expect anything to be in the right place.”

Leonard made his way in, eyeing how nothing had changed since his last visit, or even a decade. The china was all in its hutch in the parlor, but the everyday ironstone that was itself pretty damned priceless was where it always was, that and the everyday silver. She’d be horrified at the mismatched place settings at Iron String.

The fridge was crammed full of the cheese, butter and meat he’d bartered reservations for, and there were some vases of greens on the counter that he could rinse later. The bag of rice was just dumped with the onions, but that all was fine.

“You’re gonna love these,” he announced, coming back into the kitchen with the other thing he’d been keen on finding-- “Real grits, and real white cornmeal, none of that yellow corn stuff.”

Jim half-smiled from where he was leaning against the back doorway, his mother apparently not having issued an invitation to sit. Leonard waved his hand at the table for Jim, then set the heat under the kettle before rustling out the teapot and some cups, and grabbing a lemon from the crisper to slice.

“Oh!” Jim leapt up. “Excuse me,” he nodded at Mama, then headed back out to the car. He was back in a jif, handing over a gift bag to Nora.

The tin Mama pulled out was wrapped in heavy paper, the writing a combination of silver and purple that Leonard had assured Sju Ni was his mother’s favorite stationery combination, despite it being rather over the top. “Darjeeling, lavender, chamomile and jasmine,” she read. “Nora’s Blend.” She didn’t even bother to take the lid off before saying tartly, “Can’t say as I’d want to drink something that sounds more like a perfume.”

Straightfaced, Jim said “See, Bones? I told you it was too much,” then smiled winningly at Leonard’s mother. “I thought the lavender was a step too far, but he was insistent that Janeway put it in.”

Nora’s frown flattened out as she looked over at Leonard. “Well, if Leonard had the idea, I suppose I could try it.” With that, she undid the wrapping and shook the tin for Leonard to take. “Just don’t brew it too strong.”

Leonard ducked his head meekly, stifling a chuckle. The tea had been Jim’s idea for a hostess gift, but he’d said on the plane ride, “I’m just not going to have any ideas of my own while we’re there, it’s all you this trip.” Jim likewise said nothing, just folded his hands in his lap, as Nora further inspected the wrapping, her lined hands smoothing the paper as pale as her skin. Leonard took the silence and filled it as best she could. At least the scandal of the tea being made by unmarried lesbians (unmarried!) would keep her going a while.

--

“I thought you said that boy ate,” Nora remarked as she craned her head to look out at Jim walking back and forth in the garden as he checked in with Winona.

“He does,” Leonard agreed. “Working the line’s sweaty work, and he keeps up the experiment garden-- even with the rototiller it’s a lot of manual work.”

“Well, clearly he’s not eating enough of your food, if he’s going to be a scarecrow like that.” Apparently what had invited that comment was the line of Jim’s shoulderblades under the sweater he wore. Since it was a wash, either defending Jim’s metabolism, or accepting the backhanded acknowledgment that Leonard’s food ought to put meat on someone’s bones, he didn’t respond, except to get the biscuits out of the oven. At least she hadn’t made a crack about manual labor.

“I invited your cousin Etta to dinner,” his mom offered. “She’s so busy with work that she can’t get up to Charleston to see her parents.”

Leonard nodded agreement. “Henny going to come, too? And should I order some pies?”

Nora clapped her hand to her throat. “You’re not going to make them?!?” Who knew if she was actually shocked or just stirring up shit.

“Mama, I’ve told you, I’m far out of practice. Winona does most of the baking, well, her and Pavel, now. Kid’s turning into a hell of a bread baker. Wouldn’t be surprised if he wants to spin off into his own operation sooner or later.”

Nora ignored the mention of Leonard’s mother-in-law the same way she’d ignored the wedding invitation, and bemoaned the lack of great-grammy’s Chocolate Pecan Pie if Leonard didn’t drop everything all at once and agree to make it before committing to anything else.

“I’ll make them,” Jim offered from the doorway.

“It’s a family recipe,” Nora objected. “Now, if you’re done running up phone bills, Leonard said he would run me down to City Market to pick up a special order.”

Since Jim had told them both to head off without him before he’d excused himself to talk with Winona, since he didn’t know how long he’d be on the call, Leonard didn’t see how Jim could’ve been holding them up-- much less running up a phone bill Nora wasn’t responsible for. He was about to open his mouth to say so when Jim shook his head and replied, “I’m sure there will be someplace downtown where we can get the pecans.”

The car ride was awkward. Nora pushed her seat all the way back, and as a matter of being able to drive at all he’d also pushed the seat back-- so Jim was crammed in the backseat with his knees practically up around his ears and Mama serenely pretending like she hadn’t done it on purpose. When Leonard found parking, she snapped at them both to hurry it up, like her and her cane weren’t the slowpokes-- and then stopped every ten feet to greet someone Leonard’d never met or whom he barely remembered from high school.

The whole time, she would reintroduce “Leonard, my son, did you know he was short-listed for his second James Beard this year?” Since it was Iron String’s amped up local vendor program that had been up for an award, and Christine and Geoff in particular for working with the Ag Bureau to redo the local foods tours in-state, he wasn’t much sure what Mama thought she was taking from Jim-- but the lack of any introduction for Jim raised more than a few eyebrows among folks Leonard had met before.

It didn’t get any better once they’d picked up her parcel from the basket artist’s shop-- Jim had already called Parker’s and had them set aside some pecans, that and the chocolate and cane syrup they were going to need. Mama didn’t want to walk the several blocks, and scolded Leonard for suggesting they go back to the car (“I’m not that frail, I just don’t see why you want to drag me hither and yon,”) which meant she insisted on sitting outside and having Leonard go fetch her an iced tea while Jim struck off with his phone’s walking directions.

Not a minute after Leonard got back with her tea, Mama declared that Jim was taking too long, and that she needed to get back to the house for some delivery she had arranged.

“I’m not leavin’ him here, there’s no cabs and the Ubers in town don’t have a good rating.” He leveled a glare at his mother. “Shame on you for even thinkin’ of it. An’ if you had a delivery comin’ then Jim coulda stayed like he said he would earlier on. You really think he’s gonna steal the silver?” He was coming to hate how he only got Southern when he was pissed off. He was trying to generally be less of an ornery asshole.

“Anything’s possible.” She took a long pull of her tea, then admitted “Your tea is better.”

“Sure it is.” Since it was. “They probably use corn syrup, the heathens.” As if some storefront could ever compete with Leonard's syrup made from organic cane sugar.

Mama lasted another four minutes of chit-chat before she checked her watch again and exclaimed at the extremely long time it was taking Jim to make the ten minute walk there and back. Leonard ignored it this time, remarking instead on the tatty espadrilles being worn by the man on the bench catty corner to them. “It’s like he doesn’t know this isn’t Ibiza.”

He then whiled away another three minutes having his mother recount the shocking amount of crime in the city at night-- “Half a year ago, Alma Masterson was approached by a dirty young man at 6 o’clock in the evening! She was so lucky there was a policeman nearby, who knows what might have happened…” as Leonard made noises of disapproval and alarm and thought to himself that Alma might have been confronted with one of the several homeless asking for money, like seemed to be happening now at the other end of the pedestrian concourse.

He was um-hmming his way through the recitation of his cousin Etta’s triumphs in medical school and her prestigous residency when Jim reappeared, not fifteen minutes after he’d left. He was a little flushed but not too bad, but Mama sprang out of her seat with a “Took you long enough!” and shooed at both of them to head back to the car.

--

It got worse. The two of them had gone out for a run first thing in the morning on Christmas Eve-- only two miles in and Leonard’s phone started blowing up with calls demanding to know when he’d be back. Jim’s dopp kit was “mistakenly” rearranged into the trash, even though Leonard knew perfectly well that Mama hadn’t had anyone in to do the house since they’d arrived. She turned up the heat under the pan of nuts Jim was toasting, but as he’d bought extra pecans just in case, she was thwarted in stopping Jim from making the pie she’d demanded in the first goddamned place. And then she threw a hissy fit when Jim declined to attend midnight mass.

“Since I’m Jewish, I don’t think Jesus will mind very much if I skip the service,” Jim said, eyes twinkling and smile half-quirked as Mama went on about what decent Christians apparently did about going to Mass. “Jesus was a Jew, too, after all.”

Well. Since Mama had never, in her whole life, they went off to Mass with Mama speechless almost until the invocation, at which point the priest started talking and even Mama had to hush herself. Leonard strongly wished himself back at the house with Jim and Henny, who were finishing wrapping guest gifts for tomorrow, since dinner had morphed from them and Etta to include several others Mama just couldn’t in conscience leave uninvited with nowhere to go.

He was exhausted-- two more days and they could go home, and then it’d be another year before he’d have to put up with her antics. It was no comfort that she was so livid about not being able to get a rise out of Jim that she’d hardly torn in to Leonard at all for not having a real career.

When they got home, there was a pitcher of some sweetened herbal tisane on the table, and Leonard poured himself a tall glass. The house was otherwise quiet, which meant Henny’d left and Jim had turned in for the night-- and the half dozen new presents they’d chased around for in the last several days were wrapped up nicely on the sideboard for distributing as people came in.

Mama turned in without anything more than a “Good night,” so Len drank his tea in the dark kitchen and worked hard at not wishing there was whiskey in his sweet tea instead.

--

Dinner was a disaster. The food was delicious, because of course he and Jim could cook dinner for a dozen people at the drop of a hat, but somehow Mama’d scraped up Jocelyn’s brother to stare at Leonard over the table, and every time Jim opened his mouth, his mother would start declaiming about how Etta’s medical career was going, and did Leonard remember how Daddy had always wanted Leonard to follow in his path as a GP?

Henny did his best to protest. “Nora, you haven’t let the boy get a word out, and I for one want to know how he marinated this ham, because it’s delicious,” but Mama insisted, “Anyone can cook a good ham, it’s foolproof” before she turned to Butch Darnell and asked him to recount all about the bank’s financial triumphs in the last year.

When Jim left to take a call from his mother-- after dessert and Jim’s very good pies, but before the coffee-- Nora took another sip of the sherry she’d made Henny’d pour her-- “Butch, do you believe it, he’s not only a faggot, he’s also a Jew? No manners at all, taking a phone call during dinner, but what do you expect? Those people just have no culture.”

The silence in the wake of this declamation-- Etta and Henny and goddamned Alma Masterson all sitting there with their jaws open fit to catch flies-- and even Butch blinking a little in the face of Mama’s ill manners to put her racism out on the table like that-- didn’t last very long.

“Y’all, I’m sorry to say but I think Mama’s had too much to drink, and I’m going to have to put her to bed. I do beg your pardon and hope you’ve safe travels. Henny’ll help you with taking food home.” He strong-armed his mother up from the table and out of the room, then shut the parlor doors behind them.

“This is my house!” she yelled. “You have no right! I’ll disinherit you, Leonard! See if I let you into this house ever again, and then where will you be?”

Since he’d never heard his mother once raise her voice, even with all her horrid behavior over the years, he did take a breath before saying calmly, “I’ll be in Iowa, with my husband and the rest of the folks who don’t judge me for the choices I’ve made.” He then couldn’t help but to add, “And if you’ll recall, y’all already wrote me out of the will, you sent me and Jocelyn a copy when we eloped and stayed up in New York. Which didn’t bother me then since I’d already disclaimed my share of the trust. You’ve been living pretty well on the family money, I’d say. I’m not sure why it’s some new bee in your bonnet at this point.”

“You belong here!” she replied. “A good son would stay nearby his Mama!”

Leonard shook his head. “I really, really don’t belong here, though. I’m not sorry you don’t like what I’ve done with my life, and I’m not sorry for making my own choices, even when they were the wrong ones, but you and Daddy were always so set on me doing what you thought was right that there was no space left for me. I feel badly that Daddy up and died on you so you didn’t have someone to set around and complain with, but even if I’d stayed and gone to med school, do you honestly think a third year student was going to cure his polycythemia when he’d been ignoring his own signs and symptoms for years?”

“Your father was a real gentleman, he didn’t indulge in weakness.” Mama was literally clutching her pearls, like she couldn’t decide whether to swoon or use them to strangle Leonard until he’d agree with whatever she said.

Leonard ignored the obvious shot at his manhood and gazed upon the impeccably dusted chandelier, praying to all the ministers of grace to give him strength. “That’s right, he just suppressed his feelings, lied about anything one whit unpleasant, and didn’t afford his colleagues the professional courtesy of following up on their diagnoses. For ten fuckin’ years. Don’t know what you think I coulda done in the face of that, but hey, you’ve always had faith in imaginary skills I’ve never had, much less wanted. Reality don’t work that way, Mama, sorry to tell you.”

“Doesn’t.” Eleanora was ruddy with temper, and the fact that she focused on Leonard’s grammar, in all of that, rather than the actual words. It was just. Crazy-- and not in a way that Leonard could sympathize with, like Winona. Winona’d broken under the shock and the strain of what’d happened, and Jim said his Grampa Ti’d had a sister there were rumors about, so maybe it ran in the family... but Winona at least had never deluded herself about Jim being anything else than his own person, with a right to make his own decisions. Jim might’ve gone back to the family enterprise because there was no practical choice, but Win had never tried to keep him back from New York when he’d tried to make a go of it for school. Eleanora, though-- she and his daddy had rock-hard ideas about what was Proper (even though the definition changed at their whim) and God forbid anything get in the way of how they’d decided things ought to be. He’d run off to New York for a reason. He’d been sick of being nothing more than some idealized Good Son, where none of his accomplishments mattered for him, but only because it was Proper to have a son who was raised right.

Leonard managed a smile. He’d been avoiding therapy, but Jim’d come home and talk about what he and Dr. Bashir had discussed. No doubt all that introspective shit had rubbed off on Leonard a little.

“Doesn’t matter.” It was true. It didn’t matter, not anymore. “I’m sorry you’re afraid of the world not doing what you want it to, and I’m sorry Henny has been looking for good in you all these years when I don’t know if there’s any left, and I’m sorry you’re so unhappy that all you can do is spread that misery ‘round. You do good works at the church, even if you’re doin’ it mostly to be seen and counted as good, and you’ve been real good to Etta, sponsorin’ her with Daddy’s old practice, but I’m not going to come back for something I just don’t miss.”

Poor Etta. She’d been mortified all dinner to have her virtues thrown up at Leonard, like she was a good match and Leonard’s husband wasn’t sitting right there, serving up the gluten-free mac & cheese Jim’d somehow known she would need and which Eleanora’d protested since she didn’t believe in food allergies.

“I don’t know where I went wrong,” Eleanora half-whispered, accusing.

Leonard had about a dozen examples he could give her, but he wasn’t going to make her believe any different from what she’d decided, so he didn’t bother. He could tell her loved her despite all of her disappointment, and that he wished she’d just say she loved him, but maybe it just wasn't something she was capable of, and maybe it was ok for him to not be ok with her behavior. It had taken him a little time to get it, if he was just getting it now.

“Let Henny clean up,” he said instead. “He’s a good man, and he wants to help you. Don’t let your ideas about what a proper husband is get in the way of him trying to make you happy.”

He let himself out of the room and headed toward the stairs; he could see Jim portioning out leftovers in the kitchen.

“Jim,” he called from the doorway. “I’m sorry. We can go now.”

His husband-- his husband in the eyes of Iowa and now the whole goddamned country, and thank heavens some folks had sense-- finished wrapping a foil packet of ham, then patted Henny on the back before saying “May the Force be with you, Henrik.”

“Your mama was real good to me when my Betty passed,” Henny offered.

“I know,” Leonard agreed. She had been. It wasn't always about her, she could be a delight and helpful if she was minded to be. But he was allowed to be bitter about the fact that she couldn't make it happen for her own son.

“She’s too set in her ways, and I’m sorry for that, but I don’t need her to change the same way it makes sense for you to need her to do.” He set his jaw just a bit, like he dared Leonard to disagree.

Since he didn’t disagree, and was just done with fighting about it for now, he just gave their next-door-neighbor a hug. “You take care now.”

Henny hugged him back, then ruffled Jim's hair. “You email me that marinade for that ham, or I’ll drive all the way to your house to get it from you.”

Jim pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket-- black ink bled through some of the butcher paper the ham’d been wrapped in, full of his mostly-legible notes for whatever Coca-Cola monstrosity he’d soaked the meat in. There’d been too much going on for Leonard to parse the rest of the flavors, but a shitload of nutmeg had been part of it too. Henny’s expression turned greedy as he pulled the paper out of Jim’s fingers.

“This, plus my cobbler, I’ll ribbon at the fair next year for sure!”

Jim chuckled, and Bones couldn’t help a guffaw. His poor mother was doomed to be surrounded by men who wanted to cook.

--

“Those creamed mustard greens were tasty.” Jim gazed out the window of the plane as it taxied into Des Moines. “How much garlic was there?”

“Half a head, I had to keep shooing Mama away so she wouldn’t have the vapors at my using such an exotic ingredient.”

“Do you think Janice might try to grow some for us? Maybe some kalelettes, too?”

Leonard gamely suppressed a fist pump. “I think that she might. I might’ve picked up some seeds.”

Jim looked at him sidelong. “I’m sure that you did. But I’ve got too much mutton hanging in the walk-in to re-do the menu right now. It’s not all bad, is it?”

“It’s really not,” Leonard agreed, rubbing his hand over Jim’s thigh. “I’m sorry I’ve been giving you a hard time about it, it’s all really good, it’s just…”

“A lot of the same.” Jim sighed, trailing his fingers through the condensation on the window.

--

Jim didn’t say much in the truck, since it was sleeting and threatening to turn the road into ice, but at one point after he’d turned the heat up again and sped up the wipers, he said “I can forgive her being mean to me because it means you’re not around and she’s tired and scared and you never know all of somebody's story. But I can’t forgive her for the way she treated you after Joss & Jo-Jo, or for letting you torpedo your life the way that you did. ‘I told you so,’ is not the answer when your kid is suffering.”

Since that was about what Leonard had thought for years but hadn’t quite gotten around to accepting, he grabbed Jim’s hand on top of the gearshift and squeezed it.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re the best?”

“Your mom said I’m the best.” Jim amended, smirking, “The best faggot kike.”

“She did not call you that,” Leonard gasped.

“She introduced me as James Kike to your brother-in-law.” Jim’s smile didn’t falter. “He looked super-offended, I think Etta told me he’s dating an African-American woman from their church.”

“Poor Mama.” And that was all that remained to be said while Paul Simon played on the CD player, and Jim’s hand stayed steady under his on the stick as they steered the truck home.

--

Tuesday night found most of them in the dining room, the tables all pushed together. Winona lit the fourth candle and started to sing the first blessing, everyone else joining in by the time she sang elohenu.

Leonard might never fully learn Hebrew, but he could sit around a table groaning with all the different root vegetable latkes and brisket, sweet and sour salmon, and some beet-cabbage slaw that Leonard could swear had pomegranate molasses in the dressing, and he could mutter along with the rest of their miscellaneous crew as everyone but Jim and his mom stumbled their way through the blessings. Well, and Spock, too, but he was an overachiever.

He’d expected their little family to be all thrown to the winds, but texts started pouring in mid-day Monday about how their pre-break Solstice meal hadn’t been quite enough, and could they have a Hanukkah family dinner?

Leonard knew full well what they were up to. Everyone had wanted Jim to have a good holiday, so on Tuesday bright and early, Leonard was more than pleased to find the kitchen full of all their cooks and house staff and all their ever-growing assembly vendors from Pike to Picard as everyone banged in and out of the doors, letting the heat out and carting ingredients in for their last-minute supper. Uhura had made a chevre cheesecake with a creamier version of Spock's usual stock, apparently an experiment before the FFS. For once, she’d managed to create something delicious, and he could hardly wait for dessert to get more than the taste he’d swiped off the top before Uhura had shooed him away.

“You know, we’re your family too,” Gaila said, leaning in to drop that truth not too loudly in Leonard’s ear. He could feel something crumble inside him that he hadn’t known still felt walled up, but time was a great eroder, he guessed.

“I’m starting to get that.”

Jim was sitting three seats down and nodding along to something Scotty was shouting about, while Janeway and Sju Ni made their way around the table with some new decaf herbal mixer thing they'd been working over with Gaila.

“I love you,” he mouthed, when he caught Jim’s eye not long after. Jim mouthed it back, right away, then mouthed “Are you ok?”

Leonard nodded yes vigorously. If he wasn't, completely, he would be. To reassure Jim, he blew him a kiss that Scotty pretended to snag, before blowing a kiss right back at Leonard. Jim blew his own, elbowing Scotty, and Leonard couldn't help but laugh. He wasn’t big on PDA, but he could couldn't find it in himself to be shy about saying it here, in an old barn full of folks who were strange but not strangers-- and who were family, too.