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Future Imperfect

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Leonard wins the kid in a hand of poker.

A hand of poker he plays in the dirty back room of a dive bar in East Bumfuck, Iowa, two weeks after his humiliating divorce is finalized, and on the sixth day of a bourbon-fueled bender that’s somehow taken him from his high-rise loft in Atlanta to a fleabag motel in the middle of nowhere.

This much he remembers when he wakes up in said motel still fully dressed (minus his shoes) with bright blue eyes peering down at him.

The rest of the night is pretty much a blur.

“Got any food around here?” the kid asks.

“Doubt it,” Leonard says. The very mention of food turns his stomach and he squeezes his eyes shut against the nausea. They snap open again when he feels a hand rooting around in his back pocket. The kid already has a credit chip – Leonard’s credit chip – in his hand. “Hey!”

“What?” the kid asks. “You’re supposed to feed me.”

Leonard blinks. Right, he guesses that’s true now. At least temporarily. “And what is it you’re supposed to do again?” he asks.

The kid leers and throws a leg over Leonard’s body, straddling Leonard’s hips. The soft denim of his ratty jeans clings to his groin in a way that’s practically obscene. He smirks down at Leonard. “You tell me.”

That he’s tempted by the offer, even for a moment, disgusts Leonard. He opens his eyes wide – though the added brightness hurts his skull – and shoves the kid away. “Get off,” he mutters.

The kid smirks again. “I’m easy,” he quips, “but not that easy.”

Leonard levels him with a glare and the kid finally removes himself from the bed. He’s still holding Leonard’s credit chip and it is way too early in Leonard’s hangover to think about this situation clearly.

“Look,” Leonard says, throwing an arm over his eyes, “if you’re going out, can you at least bring me back some decent coffee?”

He can hear the kid moving around, probably shoving his feet into a pair of shoes. “Aren’t you afraid I’m going to make off with all your money?”

“Believe me,” Leonard says, rolling onto his side when he feels his stomach start to churn again, “you wouldn’t get far.”

 

 

Once his stomach has calmed a bit, Leonard uses the kid’s absence to go over what he knows about the care and feeding of Non-mods.

De jure, there’s not all that much to know. They’re legally permitted to be born, but not covered under national health care. Most are registered like everybody else, but he’s heard about a few who live off the grid. Those living in mainstream society don’t have a lot of options. They’re only authorized to hold jobs classed as Unskilled Manual Labor, and there just aren’t that many of those these days, what with mechanization and computerization and all.

De facto, the birthrates of Non-mods hasn’t declined all that much in the last hundred years or so – despite the universal availability of free reproductive engineering – so a certain system has evolved. No one wants to use the S-word – it’s voluntary, after all, and it’s not like Non-mods have to be brought to term – so they call it ‘Patronship.’

A Patron feeds, clothes, and puts a roof over a Non-mod’s head.

The Non-mod is then responsible for making this worth the Patron’s while, however the two see fit.

Leonard thinks there’s usually some kind of initial payment involved, but his experience with the whole institution is limited. There’s not a lot of Patronship in the Old South, where the practice is haunted by an eerie air of familiarity. Plus, Leonard’s family has always been able to afford skilled labor when they needed help around the house. It’s been a matter of pride. Use of Non-mods stinks of new money and the middle class.

Leonard chuckles bitterly to himself. He’s guesses that’s him now.

The motel room door opens, interrupting Leonard’s thoughts with the blessed smell of coffee. He pushes himself into a sitting position against the headboard and takes the cup that the kid offers. The kid also sets a bag on the nightstand.

“Bagel,” he explains. Whatever he got for himself, he must have eaten while out.

“Credit chip?” Leonard asks.

The kid winks as he pulls that out of his pocket and sets it on the nightstand next to the bag.

“So,” the kid asks, sitting on the side of the bed in a way that totally invades Leonard’s personal space, “what’s your deal?”

Leonard scoots over to regain some distance, then takes a drink of his coffee. “My deal?” he asks hoping to stall the discussion.

The kid, however, doesn’t mince words. “You really don’t want to fuck me?” he clarifies, his expression labeling the claim dubious at best.

“I really don’t,” Leonard says without letting himself look the kid over. It’d make him a hypocrite, wouldn’t it? And anyway, his mama raised him better than to consort with Non-mods, issues of consent aside.

The kid studies Leonard for a moment, frowning. “You straight or something?”

Leonard snorts. “Of course not.” Too much heterosexual sex is exactly the kind of thing that results in a Non-mod – well, if you’re too careless to protect yourself and too sentimental for a therapeutic abortion. Safer to keep recreational liaisons homoerotic. “I’ve had my lovers.” Other sons of respected families, of course.

“Lovers?” the kid mocks. “Oh, you’re one of those.”

Leonard has no idea why he’s continuing to have this conversation, but he can’t help asking, “One of what, exactly?”

“One of those guys who thinks his appetites are…perfectly pure.” Before Leonard can retort, the kid moves on, sitting in the motel room chair and propping his feet up on the desk. “You got ripped off, you know.”

Leonard raises an eyebrow, both at the kid’s posture and his statement. “Excuse me?”

“Well, let’s see,” the kid starts ticking things off on his fingers, “I’ve got a bad attitude, I hate following instructions, I talk back a lot, and I tend to get in trouble. Oh, and at this point, with my record, I have basically no resale value. Plus, I eat a lot. So, since you don’t look like you have a lot of manual labor you need to get done and you’re too good to fuck me, you really should’ve made Lewis put up some credits or fold.”

Leonard studies the kid for a moment, weighing his words. “So,” he says finally, “is that little speech supposed to convince me I’m better off just cutting you loose?”

The kid studies Leonard for a moment, sizing him up. “Why not? Isn’t that what you secretly want to do anyway?”

It’s true. Leonard has pretty much no idea what to do with the kid and very little means of supporting himself, let alone a Non-mod.

On the other hand, it’s been a lonely couple of weeks, and this is the most interesting morning Leonard’s had in months, maybe longer.

“If I don’t feed and house you, who will?”

The kid laughs. “Right,” he says. “You wanna let me go and everything, but you’re gonna keep me around for my own good. How charitable of you.”

Leonard shrugs. “I’m a regular Mother Theresa.”

Long moments pass in strained silence as Leonard contemplates his next move.

“You like sports?” Leonard asks.

The kid doesn’t answer.

“Console,” Leonard orders, “play sports feed.”

Several live games are instantly projected onto the white wall. Leonard takes a glance at a few of the scores, then rolls off the bed and throws himself into the shower.

Fifteen minutes later, with his hair washed and his teeth brushed, Leonard feels almost human again. He steps out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.

There’s a news feed playing.

The kid shifts his eyes from the feed and makes no secret of checking Leonard out. Leonard doesn’t know whether to feel flattered or worried. The kid’s constantly smirking face is obviously a mask and it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on behind those blue, blue eyes.

Leonard tells himself he’s got nothing to be embarrassed about. He’s in charge here. This is his room. Hell, this is his Non-mod.

He lets the towel drop to the floor as he rummages around in his duffle bag. “What’s your name, kid?”

“What do you want it to be?”

“Very funny,” Leonard says, refusing to dignify the comment with eye contact. “How old’re you, anyway?”

It’s not hard to predict the answer.

“How old do you want me to be?”

Leonard pulls on a pair of jeans. “Okay, if you really haven’t got a name, I can give you one of mine. How d’you like ‘Horatio’?”

Leonard turns around in time to catch the face the kid makes at that. “Your name’s Horatio?”

“It’s Leonard, actually. Leonard McCoy.”

The kid makes another face. “I’m not sure that’s much better.” He sighs. “Jim.”

“Jim,” Leonard repeats. “So, Jim, you always this difficult just on principle?”

Jim shrugs and doesn’t look sorry. “I warned you. Also, I’m hungry again.”

“Already?” A terrible thought occurs to Leonard. “Christ, please tell me you aren’t a teenager.”

“I’m not a teenager,” Jim repeats dutifully, making it impossible to know whether it’s truth or falsehood.

“Christ,” Leonard says again. “Alright, let’s get outta here and find some food.”

 

 

The diner down the street is no frills but comfortably clean. Not too crowded, but the locals aren’t avoiding it either. The waitress comes and takes their orders, and once the distraction of the menus is gone, Leonard’s got nothing to do but stare across the booth at Jim and ask himself what the hell he’s thinking.

Jim winks at him.

Leonard scowls back.

He hears the sound of the diner door opening and closing and takes advantage of the distraction, turning his head to watch a couple walk in. He takes in their dress and demeanor and wonders idly what they are to each other.

A thought occurs to Leonard, and suddenly his heart is beating faster. His eyes dart around the rest of the diner, taking inventory of the other customers, before snapping back to Jim.

The smirk has returned. “I know what you’re thinking,” Jim sing-songs.

“No, you don’t,” Leonard snaps.

“The answer is ‘yes,’” Jim continues, unperturbed. “All the ones who’ve bothered to look know what you are. And what I’m not. And they all think they know why we’re here right now, sitting in a cheap diner down the street from a cheaper motel.” He leans further across the table, mock-whispering. “They don’t know that you have standards.”

Leonard ignores that last shot to focus in on the first thing. “But how?” he asks. “It’s not like you’re…I mean, you…” He waves a vague hand in Jim’s direction.

“Aw,” Jim says fluttering his eyelashes, “you think I’m pretty.”

“Well, you’re not hideous,” Leonard allows. “So, I mean, how would they know you weren’t…you know?”

Jim pauses for a moment, as if he’s not going to explain, and Leonard is only half-conscious of the way he leans in, willing Jim on.

“Let me tell you a little something about nature,” Jim says at last. “See, people think it strives for perfection. And people think that’s what makes it beautiful. So they figure, why not help it out? If green grass is prettiest, let’s make sure all the grass is green. Let’s make sure it never dies in the winter. In fact, let’s make sure it only grows to the perfect length and stays that way forever. No such thing as too much of a good thing, right?”

Leonard pictures the house, the neighborhood where he grew up. Well planned, well organized, well manicured. The kind of place that demands well behaved children who will grow into well mannered adults. Anything else, after all, would stick out like a sore thumb.

“But that’s not nature at all,” Jim continues. “Nature lives. It thrives. It experiments. Nature gives you variations on every little detail in every workable combination – and some unworkable ones too – and then lets you be surprised by the results. Some are hideous, sure, but some are breathtaking.”

Leonard’s pretty sure these are the first sincere words Jim has spoken since they met and those blue eyes are lit up by the force of his conviction. Speaking of breathtaking…

“People think they can predict what they’ll like, and yeah, maybe sometimes they can. Other times, though, something unexpected just grabs you.” Jim looks down at himself and then back at Leonard. “I’ve already told you what most people want from me, but why? I mean, look at me. I’ve got acne scars on my jaw, my eyebrows are too thick, and my hair sticks up.”

Leonard can’t help but chuckle at the truth of the description.

“And, yeah, I’ve got a helluva fine ass, but it’s sitting on these spindly little legs which are pretty much ridiculous.” Jim shakes his head. “These things should not work well together – no sane geneticist would ever come up with me, especially with my wicked crazy allergies – but somehow the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Leonard’s still listening, he really is, but he can’t help thinking that Jim’s left out the eyes…until he’s treated to yet another eerie demonstration of Jim’s mind-reading skills.

“Of course, I do have eyes any geneticist would kill for, but that’s all nature, too. Blue like this doesn’t come out of a lab.”

Ain’t that the truth, Leonard thinks.

“So anyway,” Jim says, circling back around to his original point, “they all know. And even the ones who won’t admit it think you’re one lucky bastard.”

Leonard shakes his head. He knows he’s really not lucky at all, but he does wonder if that’s starting to change.

 

 

“I’m bored,” Jim announces, approximately two minutes after they return to the motel room.

Leonard rolls his eyes. “Turn on a feed.”

“Feeds are boring,” Jim says.

And, fuck, Leonard really hopes Jim isn’t a teenager.

“I may have to feed and clothe you,” Leonard says, “but I sure as hell ain’t taking on the responsibility of entertaining you.”

“Do you have a PADD?” Jim asks.

“I’m not giving you my PADD,” Leonard says. “I’m not an idiot.” Even with the best security protocols, no need to hand a stranger the one item that contains all your personal information.

“Fine,” Jim says, heaving a dramatic sigh. “I’ll settle for witty repartee. Go.”

“Jesus, kid, didn’t anyone ever teach you how to relax?”

Jim shoots Leonard a skeptical look. “I know we’ve just met and all, but that strikes me as a pot calling a kettle black.”

“I’m relaxed,” Leonard grumbles.

“Except for your obsession with what other people think of you.”

“I’m not–” Leonard starts, and then stops. “Leave it alone, kid.”

And Jim does.

For about two minutes.

“Well, if you’re not going to entertain me, at least let me do something to help you relax.”

Leonard rolls his eyes. “No means no,” he says.

Jim snorts. “Well, someone’s got a dirty mind. I meant a massage. No happy ending.”

The offer, like most of Jim’s, is unexpectedly tempting. But still. “I’m fine,” Leonard says.

“Seriously? You’re gonna sit there and turn down a massage? Something I’m actually quite good at, I might add.” Jim shakes his head. “You know, if you can’t find any use for me, you really are going to have to let me go.”

“Fine,” Leonard says, way too quickly. He lies down on his stomach on the bed. “Do your worst.”

“Works better if you lose the clothes,” Jim says dryly. “Got any lotion around here?”

“In the bathroom.”

When Jim goes in search of it, Leonard strips off his shirt.

Jim comes back out and waves his hand in a little circle. “Keep going.”

He doesn’t even pretend to look away as Leonard ditches his jeans. Leonard gets back down on the bed before Jim can demand the removal of his boxer-briefs.

Jim crawls onto the bed and situates himself straddling Leonard’s hips. “Lights – twenty percent.”

The room dims and Leonard hears the sound of lotion being squirted into and then rubbed between Jim’s hands. Then those hands are on him, smoothing the lotion gently over his back before starting to apply more pressure.

Damn. Leonard had no idea how much his body was craving touch until this moment, his skin soaking up the warmth of Jim’s palms along with the lotion.

Leonard bites back a groan.

“Why are you so eager to do things for me?” Leonard makes himself ask before he can say anything more revealing. “Shouldn’t you resent me?”

“This is the easiest position for holding you down while carving out your kidneys,” Jim informs him, like he’s talking about the weather.

Leonard’s muscles seize and his heart starts to race. He can’t believe how stupid he’s been.

Then he hears Jim laughing above him, and there’s nothing maniacal about it.

It’s a joke.

“Actually,” Leonard says, willing his body out of fight-or-flight mode, “you’d get a cleaner angle if I were lying on my side.”

“Noted,” Jim says as he gets back to the massage.

He really is good at this, gently wooing the muscles of Leonard’s back into a pliable state before digging into the knots in his shoulders with paired thumbs. Six or seven vicious knots later, Leonard feels more like a puddle than a man. He’s drifting in some sort of liminal state between sleep and wakefulness, feeling freer than he has in years (maybe ever).

To his great annoyance, his conscience is drifting there with him, wondering what the hell he thinks he’s doing making a manservant out of some poor kid he won in a backroom card game.

Is it so wrong to be tired of being alone? he asks his conscience.

He knows he must be dreaming when he hears the soft, “No,” from above.

 

Chapter Text

The next night, they go to a bar to celebrate Leonard’s certainty that Jim is of drinking age.

The stupid thing is that the answers were on Leonard’s PADD all along. In among various messages from Georgia that he deletes without reading is a document from one Nicolas Lewis transferring Jim’s Patronship contract to Leonard.

The contract contains a number of details about Jim’s provenance (and genome), but at the moment, Leonard only cares about two.

The first is that Jim is twenty-two years old.

The second…

“So,” Leonard says, smirking across the table at Jim, “Tiberius, huh?”

“Shut up,” Jim says.

They’re both several drinks into their evening when the Starfleet cadets stroll in, looking like a series of very well oiled machines. The best of the best is a pretty high standard these days.

Leonard follows Jim’s eyes as Jim’s eyes follow the movements of a lithe young female cadet with perfect skin and a long shiny ponytail. She’s headed for the bar.

“I think I’ll go get us another round,” Jim says, standing.

Leonard should object – this is all going on his tab and his funds are limited at the moment – but there’s nothing like wondering if you’ll be sleeping on the streets next week to make you want to drink your cares away.

He waves Jim on and leans back to watch the action.

Jim gets to the bar and onto a bar stool before the cadet finishes making her way through the crowd. She catches the bartender’s eye quickly and rattles off her drink list while Jim sizes her up. The expression on Jim’s face as he leans closer to her has already become familiar to Leonard – full of charm that’s mostly surface, but also an underlying physical confidence, assuring you that if you accept his offer, you won’t regret it in the morning.

Still, whatever lines Jim’s trying to sell, the cadet isn’t buying. But she seems more amused than offended by Jim’s persistence, and is clearly giving as good as she gets. She’s waiting on her drinks, sure, but she’d walk away anyway if she felt threatened.

The trouble starts when her friend appears, a beefy male cadet determined to play knight-in-shining-armor whether the lady needs it or not. The sneer on the man’s face as he looks Jim over makes it clear that he knows what Jim is and that he doesn’t think Non-mods have any place talking to “his” women.

Jim shakes his head and holds up his hands, showing that he means no harm. (Being perceived as “uppity” is dangerous and Jim has to know it.) But the man clearly won’t be happy until Jim is bowing and scraping, humbly begging forgiveness for his transgression.

Leonard’s pretty sure Jim isn’t the bowing and scraping type.

Leonard sets down his drink and hurries to put himself between Jim and a near certain fistfight.

“I’m sorry,” Leonard says. “He didn’t mean anything by it.”

“It’s fine,” the woman says. “I’m fine.”

The man, however, doesn’t want to be placated. “This one belongs to you, then?”

The word isn’t comfortable on Leonard’s lips, but he manages to choke out a reasonably confident, “Yes.”

“He’s got no right to be talking to her,” the man insists, and by now three of his friends have come up behind him.

There’s no law against Jim talking to anyone, and Leonard can tell that’s Jim about to say so. He takes hold of Jim’s bicep and squeezes hard in warning. “We don’t want any trouble,” Leonard says, starting to tug Jim away from the bar. “Let’s all just go back to our tables and forget about this.”

The woman takes Leonard’s cue. “Yeah,” she says. “Our drinks are ready, let’s go sit down.”

“Fine, but you’d better keep an eye on him,” the man warns Leonard.

Pulling Jim is getting harder, but Leonard’s keeps at it. He wants to tell the asshole to shove it, but manages to hold his tongue. “We won’t bother you again,” he says.

Now if he can just get them both back to their table…

The asshole turns to one of his friends and doesn’t even try to keep his voice down. “Haven’t I told you? Things like that oughta be kept on a leash.”

Jim tugs his way out of Leonard’s grip at that, but Leonard hardly notices – he’s too busy spinning around, drawing back his fist, and punching the asshole right in the face.

As he and the asshole grapple, each trying get in another blow, Leonard’s vaguely aware of Jim taking on the rest of the friends. Four against two isn’t great odds in the first place, but before long Leonard finds himself in a full-blown bar brawl.

Drinks are spilled, bottles are shattered, and chairs are broken – at least one of them over Leonard’s back.

He and Jim do not win.

They end up side by side over a long, sturdy table with Asshole and Friends standing over them, waiting to deliver the final, purely punishing blows. Leonard rolls his head to look at Jim lying next to him. Jim is fucking smiling, showing the blood on his teeth, and Leonard’s pretty sure that within the next three minutes they’ll both be either unconscious or arrested, and he’s not sure which one would be worse. He squeezes his eyes shut…

…and then nearly jumps out of his skin as an earsplitting whistle pierces the air.

Instantly, all the cadets scramble to attention, looking pretty damn scared for guys who just won a fight.

“In case you weren’t aware,” an authoritative voice announces to the room at large, “this is not behavior becoming the future of Starfleet. Anyone who isn’t back at the barracks before I am doesn’t need to bother boarding tomorrow’s shuttle.”

The bar is empty in minutes – and Leonard’s pretty sure most of the people in it weren’t even cadets.

Well, almost empty. Leonard really can’t find it in himself to move.

He rolls his head toward Jim again. “I knew you’d be trouble,” he says.

“Actually,” Jim says, “I told you I’d be trouble.”

Leonard stares back at the ceiling and considers this for what could be minutes or maybe hours. His head is still a bit spinney. Of all the things he could add to his life right now, honesty isn’t the worst.

“Get up,” says a voice Leonard thought was gone, and there’s something about it that doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

He and Jim both push themselves up off the table.

A smaller table nearby has been turned upright again along with three chairs. One is occupied by an older but fit man in a Starfleet uniform. The tinges of gray in his hair only make him more imposing – few people imagine they can pull off graying temples anymore and no one has to. The man has a glass in front of him and two others have been placed in front of the empty chairs.

The invitation – or rather order – is clear. Leonard and Jim each take a seat. Leonard picks up the glass in front of him and tosses it back quickly for liquid courage.

He promptly begins to sputter and cough. “Good god, man, what is this?”

“I had the bartender mix it up. It’s an old-fashioned hangover cure,” the man informs him. “My great-grandmother’s recipe.”

The man turns an expectant look on Jim and, to Leonard’s great surprise, Jim picks up his own drink and downs it without complaint.

“Good,” the man says, “you should be sober for this. I’m Captain Christopher Pike.”

“Look, Captain Pike,” Leonard says, looking Pike in the eyes and trying to sound sincere, “we didn’t mean to start trouble with your cadets…”

“Oh?” Pike says. “Because witnesses have it that you punched one right in the face.”

Leonard looks down. “Well, uh…”

“It’s not his fault,” Jim pipes in. “Your cadets are assholes.”

“Jim!” Leonard hisses.

“It’s okay, Doctor McCoy,” Pike says. “He’s not wrong.”

Leonard’s head snaps up in shock. “Excuse me?” he says. Then: “What a minute – how do you know my name?”

“Well, the bartender’s the one who told me your name,” Pike explains as he takes another sip of his drink, “but your reputation precedes you.”

“Look, if this is about…” Leonard glances in Jim’s direction, hesitant to continue.

“Starfleet could really use more doctors of your caliber,” Pike interrupts smoothly.

“Starfleet?” Leonard’s head is obviously still fuzzy. He blinks to try to clear it. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? I looked you up while you were lying over the table. You have a remarkably successful record with your patients and a reputation for quick thinking and creativity. You’re not constrained by procedure.”

Leonard chuckles. “‘Not constrained by procedure,’” he repeats. “That’s one way of putting it. But trust me, it’s not the kind of thing that’s endeared me to employers.”

“Maybe you just haven’t found the right employer,” Pike suggests. “The field of medicine has become a bit…single-minded down here, but out there,” Pike gestures toward the ceiling and the sky beyond, “we still encounter quite a bit of the unknown and we could use a few sharp minds who are up for more of a challenge than continuing to perfect the wheel.”

Leonard has to admit, it sounds better than a kick in the head. But still… “That’s the other thing,” he says, waving toward the ceiling. “I’m not so into the ‘out there.’”

“It’s beautiful,” Pike says, and he obviously means it. “The first time you see the stars – hell, the Earth – from beyond the atmosphere, it’ll take your breath away.”

“Sure it will,” Leonard agrees dryly. “And then I’ll start to hyperventilate. I suffer from aviophobia. It means fear of dying in something that flies.”

Pike seems undeterred. “We can work with that.”

Jim snorts, drawing Pike’s gaze. “That’s funny,” he says, “I heard this rumor Starfleet operated in space.”

“Believe me, there’s plenty to do on land,” Pike says, turning his attention back to Leonard. “And that includes a fair share of xeno-medicine. You’d be a natural, Doctor McCoy, and with your medical license in hand, you’d get to jump straight into the interesting stuff at the Academy.”

Leonard thinks about learning things again; about throwing himself into new material and figuring out better ways to apply it; about saving lives.

Then he looks over at the kid who he just got in a fistfight for. He should cut Jim loose, he knows that.

Pike follows Leonard’s eyes. “The Academy makes accommodations for Patronship,” he says, his voice far too even. “Mr. Kirk can be housed and fed along with you for the duration of your program.”

“Alright,” Leonard concedes. “We’ll—I mean, I’ll think about it.”

“Fair enough.” Pike stands up from the table. “Shuttle leaves at 0700.”

Leonard watches as the man walks out the door without looking back. His head is swimming with the possibilities.

It doesn’t occur to him to wonder how the Starfleet captain knew Jim’s last name.

They walk back to the motel together, the cool night air clearing their heads. By the time they reach the room, they’re well and truly sober. The shuttle is leaving in five hours.

“So,” Jim says, “that happened.”

“I’m going to go,” Leonard announces. The words sound confident, even though it’s all news to Leonard as it comes out of his mouth.

“Okay,” Jim says.

“I won’t make you come with me,” Leonard continues. “It’s a long way. I mean, I don’t know, do you have family here?”

“No,” Jim says, but it sounds like, Not anymore.

Leonard nods, but isn’t sure what more to say about that. He stumbles on. “I’ll let you go. You were right, I wanted to before. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ll just…um…sign you back over to yourself or whatever I need to do.”

“Right,” Jim says, but it’s no sweet cry of Freedom!

Awkward silence ensues.

“I don’t have much to my name right now,” Leonard admits, feeling suddenly guilty for it, “but I’ll leave you everything I can. It should be enough to keep you going until you can find something else.”

“Sure,” Jim says. “Shouldn’t take long. There're plenty of assholes around. Bound to be one of them who gets off on putting me on my knees.”

The image makes Leonard feel sick. “Jim, I…I don’t know what to do here. I don’t know why I even… I mean, it wasn’t like I would’ve been able to afford keeping you anyway. I need a job and Starfleet’s the only one offering.”

“Of course,” Jim says, not meeting Leonard’s eyes. “Carpe diem and all that.” He looks around the room and then towards the door. “I guess I should get going. Thanks for…um…me.”

“You don’t have to go,” Leonard says. “Room’s paid up until noon tomorrow, and longer if you want.”

Jim looks unsure.

“At least stay and get some sleep.” Leonard pulls out his credit chip, programs it, and sets it on the nightstand.

Jim doesn’t move for a long, tense moment, but finally he strips down to his boxers and lies down on one side of the bed.

After another moment, Leonard does the same.

It takes nearly an hour lying next to Jim for Leonard to fall into a restless sleep.

It’s not the first night they’ve shared the bed, but it’s the most aware he’s been of the spaces that are and aren’t between them.

Leonard wakes up with Jim’s mouth around his cock.

Of course, it takes a bit for his mind to put this all together.

First, it’s just the pleasure, spreading through his body like molasses.

Then, suddenly, his focus narrows to his dick – hot and wet and, oh god, tight.

Next comes the urgency, the helpless thrusts of his hips that beg for more. His whole body is awake by the time his eyes open to take in surroundings that are far, far from any dream.

He looks down and…Ding, ding, ding!

Leonard remembers where he is and recognizes what’s happening a solid thirty seconds before he registers that he’s supposed to want to stop it.

Leonard grasps the need to put a stop to things a good minute before he gathers his wits, grabbing Jim by the shoulders and generating some space between them.

He watches Jim from arm’s length and waits for his own words to arrive.

“Jim…” is the first one on the scene, but it doesn’t bring any friends.

Leonard’s still staring dumbly as Jim’s tongue darts out to run over his own upper lip.

Fuck.

“Let me finish,” Jim whispers. “You know you want to.”

And of course he does – his dick is wired the same as anyone else’s – but Leonard is twenty-eight going on forty and he’s about to enlist. He can exercise some self-control.

“What are you doing, Jim?” he asks, not meaning to sound so damn patronizing

“Trying to show you a good time,” Jim snaps, “but I forgot you hate fun.”

It’s probably supposed to be derisive but comes off as…desperate. Leonard wishes he knew why.

“I told you I wasn’t looking for that.”

“Then what the hell are you looking for?”

Companionship, Leonard thinks. To remember what happiness feels like. “A fresh start,” he says.

Leonard watches the mask slip back down over Jim’s face.

“Right,” Jim says, climbing off the bed and pulling on his pants and shirt. “Best of luck with that then.”

He’s out the door before Leonard can wish him the same.

The credit chip is still sitting on the night stand.

Eventually, Leonard checks the chronometer. The shuttle leaves in less than an hour.

He goes into the bathroom and splashes some water on his face. He looks up into the mirror and figures he’d best spend his few spare minutes shaving. His shaving kit is still in his bag.

When he steps back out of the bathroom, his eyes land immediately on the nightstand.

On the credit chip.

From there, they’re drawn to the bed and Leonard finds himself replaying the last half hour in his head, trying to make sense of Jim’s actions.

Still thinking, he retrieves the kit and makes it as far as the bathroom again before it all clicks.

The shaving kit falls into the sink, forgotten.

Leonard barely remembers to pocket the credit chip and slip on his shoes as he grabs his bag and rushes out the motel room door. He’s so busy trying to figure out where to start looking for Jim that he almost trips over the kid.

The kid who happens to be sitting against the wall right outside Leonard’s door.

Oh, Leonard thinks, well, that was easy.

Of course maybe the next part was always going to be the hardest. Leonard decides not to mince words. “You wanted me to take you with me.”

Jim squints up at him. “No?” he says, the word coming out like a question.

“You wanted to make it so I wouldn’t want to let you go.”

Jim stares at a point somewhere past Leoanrd’s shoulder. “That’s dumb,” he says.

Leonard shrugs. “It was your plan.”

Jim scoffs as he stands up and brushes himself off. “You’re crazy, old man. Just figured it’d been awhile since you’d got some. Thought I’d give you a parting gi—”

“I don’t have time for this,” Leonard interrupts. “I have a shuttle to catch. You coming or not?”

Leonard starts walking away without looking back, but smiles a moment later when he hears a second set of footsteps join his own.

They get to the shipyard just in time. They’re the last ones to board the shuttle, slipping into the only two open seats together.

Which just so happen to be right across from their friends from last night. The instigator glares at them.

Jim winks back. “Hey, Cupcake,” he says, puckering up to mime a kiss.

‘Cupcake’ lurches forward but the seat harness snaps him back, and before he can undo it, the shuttle’s engines have powered on.

Leonard forgets about ‘Cupcake’ and turns to look at Jim, hands tight around the arm rests. “I may throw up on you,” he says.

Chapter Text

By the time they touch down in San Francisco, Leonard feels like Hell warmed over.

Or maybe more like Hell hit by a hoverbus and then dragged along a rocky road for a few kilometers before being dowsed in vinegar and lemon juice and roasted on a slow-turning spit over open flame.

“You really don’t like flying, do you?” Jim observes, and if Leonard’s hands weren’t still shaking (not to mention his still-bruised knuckles) he’d probably deck the kid one.

He settles for a glare.

“Doctor McCoy, Leonard H. plus one,” a woman’s voice calls from across the room.

Leonard snorts. It’s like he’s taking Jim as his date to a wedding. “Guess that’s us,” he mutters, “let’s go.”

When they reach the check-in area, Jim is ushered away by a large man in a gray uniform before Leonard even finishes giving his biometric ID.

“Hey,” Leonard says, catching Jim’s movement out of the corner of his eye, “where are they taking him?”

“He just needs to be registered and receive his physical,” the woman tells him. “Don’t worry, doctor, he’ll be returned to you in the same condition.”

Leonard doesn’t quite know what to make of that wording, but he decides to let it go for now.

The woman guides him into a small cubicle space and takes him through an intake interview. When she’s received all the information she wasn’t able to get from his government file, she issues him a fancy new PADD, much nicer than his own.

“The login is biometric. It’ll give you directions to your dorm and your apartment number. In your room, you have a stationary comm station, as well. Your login provides access to your class schedule – which has been set for you this first semester – and to your course materials. You also have access to the academy message server, the research library and the medical library, of course. When you first sign in, you’ll find a couple of forms waiting for you. One concerns your interest in earning practical credit and an increased stipend by taking hospital or clinic shifts. The other concerns your companion and his permissions. Please get them both filled out ASAP. Any questions?”

Whatever questions Leonard does have seem to resist formulation at the moment. The woman takes his silence as assent.

“Great,” she says, moving on. “You can head on down the hall for your physical. They’ll tell you where to go from there. Welcome to Starfleet Academy.”

In spite of his somewhat battered appearance, Leonard passes the physical with flying colors. (Such things are mostly a formality these days anyway – your DNA tells them all they really want to know.) Afterwards, the doctor treats his scrapes and bruises and even gives him a fast-acting anti-anxiety hypo to clear up the aftereffects of the aviophobia.

From there, Leonard walks through a sonic shower chamber on his way to a barber who provides a welcome shave and haircut.

When Leonard gets up out of the chair, he feels like a new man. Respectable again.

At his final stop, he’s measured for his cadet uniform and a few other standard issue pieces, which he’s told to expect the laundry service to deliver to his room by the end of the day.

Exiting into the back lobby, Leonard wonders how he’s supposed to find Jim again.

It turns out he needn’t have worried.

Jim is right there in the corner of the lobby, standing quietly with six other people, all of them dressed in loose-fitting cream-colored pants and tunics. Identical, generic, and almost inherently…humble.

They all look like they’re just waiting to do someone’s bidding.

Leonard feels a shiver in his spine.

Jim spots Leonard immediately and heads over to him without saying a word.

The silence is already starting to creep Leonard out when notices that, while Jim’s clothing has changed, his face and hands carry all the same cuts and bruises they had coming in. In fact, Leonard doubts Jim even got a shower.

He’ll be returned to you in the same condition.

This time, it’s more than a shiver.

Very aware of the other people in the lobby, Leonard bites his tongue and nods his head to Jim, indicating that Jim should follow him out the door. On the way, Leonard turns on his new PADD and pulls up the directions to their housing. Once out the door, he starts immediately in that direction, checking briefly to make sure Jim is still following.

What with the new arrivals from various recruitment points and the fall term about to start, there’s no privacy to be found in their walk across campus or through the dorm. It’s not until Leonard has pressed his thumb to the pad outside the door to their apartment and they’ve stepped inside that they’re finally alone.

“What the hell?” Leonard says as soon as the door swishes shut behind them. “I thought you were going to get a physical.”

“I did,” Jim says, his tone dry and flat. “You’ll be happy to know that, while still genetically imperfect, I am completely free of contagious disease.”

“They examined you for disease but didn’t bother to fix your face?!” The doctor in Leonard is outraged. Hell, the human being in Leonard is outraged.

Jim shrugs. “Why would they do that? For all they know, you like me this way. Fuck, maybe you did this to me.”

“Maybe I…? Jesus Christ.” Leonard shakes his head in disgust. “As soon as I can get my hands on a medkit, I’ll fix it all up right, but for now, come here.”

Leonard leads a somewhat bemused looking Jim into the bathroom and sits him down on the toilet. He wets a clean towel, takes hold of Jim’s chin to tilt his face upward, and sets to work cleaning up his cuts and scrapes.

Jim sits perfectly still and lets Leonard tend to him. Most people would close their eyes, but Jim keeps his open, watching Leonard, and somehow the moment feels more intimate than when Jim had his lips around Leonard’s dick.

Leonard really shouldn’t be thinking about Jim’s lips around his dick. Not in this proximity.

“There,” Leonard says, abruptly releasing Jim’s chin, “all done. Feel better?”

Jim chuckles around a still split lip and looks straight at – maybe into – Leonard. “I don’t know, but I bet you do.”

It’s disconcerting how the kid’s already got him pegged.

Leonard leaves Jim in the bathroom to have a sonic shower. Eager to get his hands on a med kit, Leonard sits down in front of his comm console and fills out the form requesting practicum hours at the Starfleet hospital. He figures he’ll get more interesting cases there than in a clinic full of spoiled (and perfected) cadets.

Once that’s done, he opens up the other form the woman mentioned – the one about his “companion’s” “permissions.” It’s as much a tutorial as a questionnaire.

The first thing the form tells him is that Jim has been injected with an Academy-issue tracker that will be routinely monitored by Academy security personnel and whose information can be accessed at any time by Leonard himself.

Security issues are cited as the reason for the surveillance, but the first set of questions seems a lot more concerned with Leonard’s preferences with respect to Jim’s movements than the Academy’s.

Leonard can choose whether or not Jim is allowed to leave campus. Furthermore, if he chooses to allow Jim to leave campus, he is asked to designate specific time periods (amounting to no more than three hours of the day and necessarily during daylight hours) during which Jim will be permitted to do so without penalty. He guesses that’s for running errands.

Having basically no idea how to begin having preferences on this, let alone specifying them, Leonard skips to the next set of questions.

Leonard can also choose whether or not Jim may roam freely about the Academy campus. This movement, too, Leonard can limit to certain times of day, but even if Leonard allows full freedom in this respect, all Non-mods are restricted to certain areas of campus, and none may be out of their housing facilities past a ten p.m. curfew (short of an emergency situation).

Leonard learns that he is responsible for determining whether a situation is an emergency and that it is Leonard who will be sanctioned should Academy security disagree with that determination. Leonard files that rule away and then selects the option allowing Jim to go where he likes within non-restricted areas before curfew.

It hardly feels like generosity.

In the next section, he learns that the apartment – and in fact their whole dorm – has been specifically designed as Patronship housing. This means the building has several common facilities designated for the use of Non-mods where they are allowed to gather and socialize at any time, including a small gym.

Apparently, Jim is allowed to have friends.

(And to stay in shape, though it’s hard not to see that as being for Leonard’s benefit.

Not that Leonard plans to benefit, but still.)

It also means that each “one bedroom” apartment comes with an additional bedroom located off of the kitchenette. Initially, Leonard is relieved to know that both he and Jim will have a little privacy.

Then he gets up and goes to look at the room.

There’s nothing in it except for a single bed and a small chest of three drawers, but it still looks crowded. When Leonard stands by the foot of the bed and stretches his arms out to the sides, his fingers touch both walls. He tells himself that it’s better than nothing – that at least Jim has somewhere to go where he can close the door behind himself – but the architecture still speaks volumes about Jim’s supposed worth.

When Leonard returns to the comm station he learns that while he would have to request special permission to lock Jim in his room (or the apartment), Leonard can check a box that would prevent Jim’s door from ever being closed.

Somehow that power strikes Leonard as the cruelest of them all.

He quickly checks the box allowing Jim complete control over his own door.

The last section he reads warns Leonard that he is to keep his PADD and comm stations locked whenever they are not directly in his use. Jim is never to have access to them. It also states that Jim is to wear his Starfleet issued clothing at all times on campus unless he is inside the apartment (where presumably he can dress as he – or more likely Leonard – pleases).

In other words, there is to be no confusion among the Academy at large at any time about who Jim is (or isn’t).

Leonard recalls with shame all the times he complained (in his head) about the restrictions of his own upbringing, about obligations and expectations and not getting to make his own decisions. Before he can dwell too long on the hundreds of daily decisions he did get to make, he hears the soft hiss of the bathroom door sliding open.

Leonard quickly scrolls up to the beginning of the form and grants Jim off-campus privileges from three to six p.m., the latest slot available. (Jim strikes Leonard as more of a nightlife type, but early evening will have to do.) He submits the form immediately and closes it before Jim makes it across the room. No point forcing Jim to see his new situation in black and white.

“This place isn’t bad,” Jim comments as he comes up behind Leonard.

Leonard turns, but can’t quite look at Jim. “Yeah,” he says, “you’ve got your own room over there off the kitchen.”

“I don’t cook,” Jim warns.

Leonard snorts. “I didn’t expect you to.”

Jim wanders over to his door and peeks inside.

“I’m sorry it’s so small,” Leonard says.

Jim shrugs and turns around to look at Leonard, who still isn’t meeting his eyes. “What?” Jim asks.

“What do you mean ‘what’? Nothing.”

“Whatever it is, just tell me.”

Leonard studies a spot on the knee of his jeans. “There are…um…a few rules.”

“No, really?” Jim mutters without the least sense of surprise. “Out with them, then.”

Leonard takes a deep breath and goes over the key points. He leaves out all the decisions he got to make.

“Exercise, friends, and the occasional afternoon jaunt around town,” Jim says when Leonard’s finished. “What more could a guy ask for?”

Everything, Leonard thinks.

That night he transfers the data from his old personal PADD to his new Academy one and then wipes it clean. He leaves it on the kitchen counter with a note on it that says, Jim.

The whole situation should be more awkward than it is.

The academy’s rules keep Jim’s status constantly on Leonard’s mind and make him feel guilty as hell. At the same time, he knows that Jim wants to be here. He may not know why, but he knows that Jim chose coming here under Leonard’s Patronship over having his freedom.

He knows, without a word exchanged on the matter, that Jim is willing to do whatever it takes to stay.

(Sometimes Leonard wakes up in the middle of the night, sweating with the memory of Jim’s lips wrapped around his cock.)

But even though Leonard knows the role Jim is willing to take, he can’t bring himself to step into his own part. It’s not that Leonard doesn’t have plenty of examples of Patron behavior. Their dorm has nothing but. Every day, Leonard walks through the halls with people who were born and raised in the Patronship system; people who’ve been served by Non-mods in one way or another their whole lives. He watches the steady strides of the sharp cadet red and the careful maneuvers of unassuming cream, and it’s like choreography.

Everyone knows their moves.

Everyone hits their marks.

Meanwhile, Leonard blunders through it all like a kindergartener in his first dance recital, tugging at an ill-fitting leotard.

Life with Jim should be awkward as hell, but somehow it’s not.

They don’t really hang out around campus together – Leonard’s not quite sure how Jim spends his days while Leonard is in class or at the hospital – but when it’s just the two of them in the room, it’s…comfortable.

Leonard scowls at his comm screen as he tries to figure out a class schedule for next semester that won’t completely fuck up his hospital shifts. As a first year, his registration priority is still low and the whole thing’s a much bigger pain in the ass than Leonard was expecting.

“Damn semester’s hardly begun, and they already want me to figure out the next,” he mutters. “And apparently they don’t actually want me to work in their hospital, because they sure as hell aren’t making it easy. You know what happen when doctors don’t sleep? People die, that’s what. Idiots.” Leonard pauses and sighs, gearing up to take another go at things. “Guess my schedule can’t get much worse,” he muses. His mandatory intros this semester are as grueling as they are boring.

Then Leonard hears Jim padding on bare feet from the couch to the comm station. He feels strong hands settle on his shoulders, kneading firmly. Leonard groans and lets his eyes fall shut, head rolling back into the touch.

“Oh, fuck. Thank you,” he moans, hoping too much gratitude won’t scare Jim off.

Sometimes Jim reminds him of his Aunt Edna’s cat, Maggie. The more attention you tried to pay Maggie, the scarcer she made herself, but if you ignored her and went about your business, it was never long before she was butting up against your calves or climbing into your lap.

Leonard tries not to picture Jim climbing into his lap.

Still, Jim’s favorite time to do something for Leonard is when Leonard hasn’t asked. The odd breakfast or pot of coffee here, some tidying or a foot rub there. Jim seems to have a sixth sense for when Leonard needs a little something most, but he’s not terribly keen on Leonard making mention of it.

Leonard groans again as Jim presses into a particularly tight spot.

The massage continues for long, delicious minutes, and Leonard’s almost forgotten about the whole scheduling thing when the hands stop suddenly. Jim leans forward over Leonard’s shoulders, reaching out a finger to manipulate the screen.

“What’re you—?”

“You really don’t want this protocol class with Olafsen,” Jim says. “He’s a total douche, boring as dirt, and a seriously hard-ass grader.”

Leonard blinks. “How do you know that?”

“Alex and Di told me. They live upstairs with those second years, Leonetti and Hastings, and they’ve been complaining about him all semester. Now Justin says that Lawson is a way better instructor and she’s scheduled to teach it next year. You’re not required to have it done until the end of your second year, so you should wait until then.”

“Okay,” Leonard says, “but then—”

“So if we chuck that,” Jim continues, flicking it off the screen, “you can fit these three courses around your shifts easily.” Jim swipes them into place. And then you put the lab here on Wednesdays – you’ll breeze through that anyway – and you can squeeze in Basic Hand-to-Hand with Augstein, who totally teaches the non-command and -security track cadets all the good dirty tricks, but is going on leave next year.”

Jim brings up Basic Hand-to-Hand in the search window and slides it into the last free slot in Leonard’s now perfect schedule.

Leonard stares at it, amazed. “Wow,” he says, “that’s actually really perfect. Thanks.”

Jim just shrugs and heads back over to the couch.

That’s the moment when Leonard gets his first inkling that, between them, Jim and the other Non-mods in the building probably know more about the ins and outs of the Academy than the goddamned Superintendent.

And that, for all their surveillance, the Academy isn’t paying any real attention to them at all.

Chapter Text

Leonard takes to telling Jim about his shifts and classes. It’s hard to tell whether Jim really follows or cares what Leonard is saying, but Leonard enjoys having someone off of whom to bounce ideas enough not to concern himself too much.

Jim listens, and that’s what matters.

Jim still doesn’t talk about his own days, but he does share more Academy gossip, recounting the action behind the scenes with just enough satire and sarcasm to make most of it hilarious.

The rest is still informative and helps keeps Leonard away from trouble.

Frankly, on these points alone, his relationship with Jim beats out at least two of his four years of marriage.

Hell, even the total lack of sex is better with Jim. At least with Jim there’s a fair amount of platonic touch and a healthy dose of sexual tension.

Plus, Jim isn’t cheating on him.

In actual fact, Leonard has no idea whether or not Jim is getting any outside their room. He knows from Jim that the building’s Non-mods do hook up with each other and that some have formed relationships, but Jim never positions himself in any of these conversations, and Leonard doesn’t ask.

One thing that is clear is that Jim spends no small amount of his time at the building’s gym. Not that he didn’t fill out his pants and tunic well before, but there have been discernible increases in definition.

Increases inversely correlated with Leonard’s ability to focus, not that he’s complaining.

Still, when the disaster that is Leonard’s Xenobio term paper occurs, he really has no one to blame but himself. It’s second semester and, yeah, he’s got a lot on his plate between challenging courses (that are actually interesting) and growing responsibility at the hospital, but Leonard knows he’s got a lot on his plate and he’s been through med school, for god’s sake. He knows what good time management looks like.

And it doesn’t look like staring at a bunch of notes two days before the paper is due and trying to figure out how to turn them into something respectable. He should be revising, not writing.

So it happens that Leonard pulls his first academic all-nighter in years and gets maybe halfway through the thing by the next morning. But the Academy isn’t the kind of place where you skip classes, so he goes and puts his body in the seat, even if his mind is still on the paper and his fingers are still jotting reminders about things he needs to cover.

You don’t skip hospital shifts either, and you can’t exactly have your mind on other things when patient care is at stake, but Leonard does manage a few more frantic bouts of writing during slow periods and on his breaks.

And then there he is, the night before it’s due, eyes dry and itchy, writing like his reputation depends on it. (Which it does – his instructor is sharp and quite influential in Starfleet Medical). By 0300, he’s actually got the body of the thing finished but not the conclusion.

He’s also well and truly brain-dead.

He jots a few notes about what he needs to say to wrap the thing up and convinces himself he’ll be more eloquent after a few hours sleep. He sets his alarm for 0600 and prays that will be enough time to reboot his brain for some sorely needed editing and a conclusion that’s more bang than whimper.

He passes out face-first on his bed, still fully clothed.

Leonard’s alarm does not go off at 0600.

Instead, he wakes of his own accord just before 0900, about three minutes before the paper is due. Doctor Lawlor is a stickler for punctuality (turning something in late is pretty much the same as not turning it in at all), so Leonard pulls up the paper and does the only thing he can do – he squeezes his eyes shut and hits send.

Then he drags his sorry ass into the shower and off to face the rest of his day.

He doesn’t bother looking at the paper again after that. He thinks it might make him cry.

A week later, his paper is sent back. Leonard pours himself a few fingers of bourbon, downs them in one long swallow, and opens the message on his PADD.

Doctor Lawlor’s words are pretty much a blur, as Leonard’s eyes fly straight to the numerical score.

Ninety-eight.

No, that can’t be right, he must be inverting a six. Now sixty-eight – that seems appropriate.

Leonard blinks to clear his vision and looks again, mouth open in shock as his eyes confirm their first reading. “Jim,” he calls, “could you come in here for a second?”

Jim emerges from his room, looking ready to deny whatever he’s being accused of.

Leonard barely notices. “Could you read this score for me?” he asks.

Jim comes to stand behind him, resting a casual hand on Leonard’s shoulder as he leans down to look at the PADD. “Ninety-eight,” Jim says. “Awesome!”

“But, I mean…I didn’t even…”

“‘Erudite analysis throughout, and an exceptionally incisive conclusion,’” Jim reads aloud, pride in his voice. “Sounds like you kicked that paper’s ass. We should celebrate.”

Leonard picks up the bourbon bottle and pours two more glasses on auto-pilot, still stunned. There is no way in hell a detail man like Lawlor would praise Leonard’s clearly substandard work. It doesn’t make any sense.

Still, he follows Jim’s lead and drinks. One drink turns into three turns into six and they end up sprawled half on top of each other on the couch, eating chicken wings, laughing and waxing philosophical about whatever happens to come on the entertainment feed.

At some point there’s a silence that lingers and Leonard cranes his head to look at Jim’s face.

It’s a rare, unguarded moment, and if Jim’s a cat in Leonard’s mental metaphors, then the smile on his face definitely speaks of canary.

The next morning, a Saturday, Leonard gives himself a hangover hypo and takes a look through the paper. It all looks a lot more polished than Leonard remembers leaving it. Also, it has an actual conclusion.

And it’s good.

Okay, then.

He goes into the kitchen and whips up a breakfast for two.

That afternoon, when Jim has gone off somewhere with friends, Leonard decides it’s time to get out of the dorm. He takes a slow walk downtown and, in his wanderings comes upon a small, old-fashioned bookshop.

Leonard’s great-grandmother on his father’s side always had an appreciation for the paper page and the printed word and she’s passed a bit of that on to him. As he scans the shelves, however, it’s not his own interests that draw his eye.

He doesn’t have a lot to go on in terms of Jim’s literary likes and dislikes, but certain topics seem promising. He ends up in the history section, picking out a few books on famous military campaigns and strategies. A naval history in particular catches his eye. He also grabs a couple of mystery and spy novels, and tries not to wonder if all this reading is going to make Jim dangerous.

The kid may try to hide it, but he’s got a hell of a mind, and Leonard is finding that he hates to see it going to waste.

Jim is out again when Leonard gets back to the room, and Leonard is a little glad. Wanting to respect Jim’s privacy, Leonard just sets the bundle of books in front of Jim’s bedroom door.

When Jim gets back, he sees it and takes them into his room, but doesn’t say anything.

Leonard is a little glad about that, too.

The next morning, it’s Jim who’s made a large breakfast for two. For someone who “doesn’t cook,” it’s really quite delicious.

A few weeks later, Leonard is surprised to come back to the apartment and find not only Jim, but another Non-mod that Leonard has seen around. She and Jim are sitting together on the couch. Jim’s never brought anyone into their apartment before – at least not to Leonard’s knowledge – and Leonard’s not quite sure what to do with this turn of events.

He has yet to figure out how to talk to the other Non-mods in the building, given that none dare to address him first in the hallways and Leonard, for his part, is constantly on guard against committing a major faux pas.

In the end, his Southern breeding kicks in and Leonard approaches the newcomer with a nod and a smile, looking her straight in the eye as he offers his hand. “Hi, I’m Leonard.”

She only hesitates for a moment before meeting the handshake. “Anneliese.”

“Nice to meet you, Anneleise,” Leonard says. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

Anneliese just stares, the question seeming to have rendered her speechless.

“Well, if you need anything, I’m sure Jim can get it for you,” Leonard fumbles as it suddenly occurs to him exactly why Jim might have brought a woman back to their place. “I, uh, didn’t mean to interrupt. You just make yourself at home. I’m gonna go to my room and, um… study.”

He makes it a couple of steps in that direction before he’s stopped by Jim’s laughter. He turns back to Jim and raises an eyebrow.

Jim shakes his head and tries (with limited success) to stop laughing. “You’re just so hopeless at this.”

“At what?” Leonard snaps. “Manners? Because I’m pretty sure that’s you.”

“This place is yours,” Jim says. “You’re supposed to chase us out, not the other way around.”

“If it’s my place,” Leonard counters, “I’m pretty sure I can do whatever I want.”

Jim laughs again and turns to Anneliese. “See, what’d I tell you? He’s different. Go ahead and ask.”

Anneliese looks at Jim like he’s crazy and doesn’t say a word.

“She needs a doctor,” Jim says, and really, those have always been the magic words.

Leonard snags his medkit from its place on the desk in the corner, and then goes to crouch down in front of Anneliese on the couch. “Don’t you worry,” he says gently, “I’m here to help. Tell me what’s going on.”

Anneliese still doesn’t say anything.

“Is it alright if I scan you?” Leonard asks, not moving to do so until she nods.

As the results come up on his tricorder, Leonard works hard to keep the muscles in his face loose, his expression neutral.

The first unusual reading he gets indicates sexual abuse.

The second says that she’s pregnant.

He hasn’t quite figured out how to ask her if she knows when Jim speaks up.

“She needs an abortion,” he says.

“I’m gonna need her to tell me that, Jim,” Leonard says. Suddenly, a thought occurs to him. “Wait a minute. Jim, you’re not—?”

“Of course not,” Jim snaps. “It’s her Patron.”

“Jim…” Annaliese says softly, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“What?” Jim says, showing obvious anger for the first time since Leonard’s known him. “Don’t cover for him. He’s an asshole.”

Leonard is torn between his relief that Jim isn’t implicated in all this and his worry about what it might be that’s finally made Jim lose his signature cool.

The whole situation is just so strange. It’s been hundreds of years since women had any trouble at all getting abortions on demand. Even a woman who plans her pregnancy and takes all the right steps to ensure a perfect genome and gestation environment for her fetus is allowed to change her mind. It’s not like that same perfection can’t be replicated for her at a more convenient time if she chooses.

In fact, as far as most of society and the medical establishment are concerned, it’s the women who refuse abortions that pose the greatest threat. In spite of all the improvements made to the process of conception, things still do go wrong on occasion and the recommended medical procedure in those cases tends to be starting over.

It’s the women who insist on carrying a “mistake” to term who face social ostracism.

Who can’t be protected no matter how hard you may try.

Leonard stops that train of thought right in its tracks. It doesn’t matter why. Jim can fill him in on all that later.

As far as Anneliese is concerned, Leonard only needs to know one thing.

“Is this what you want?” he asks her, looking straight into her eyes. “I’m going to need a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’”

“Yes,” Anneliese answers, soft but certain, only the second word she’s spoken to him.

“Okay,” Leonard says. “Is this a good time for you? Are you able to come back here at this time tomorrow?” She nods. “Alright, then. I’ll get what I need. Jim, why don’t you walk her home?”

Leonard can tell that Jim hates the idea of taking her back there, but also that Jim knows it’s for the best.

“So what was that all about?” Leonard asks when Jim returns to the apartment.

“Keller’s an asshole. That about sums it up.”

“He forces her,” Leonard says. Not a question, just a confirmation of what his tricorder told him.

“Yeah. He gets off on her not wanting it. It’s not that uncommon.”

“Christ,” Leonard mutters. He tries to pull up Keller’s face in his mind, and when he recalls the man’s easy smile and the pleasant conversations they’ve had outside the turbolift, it sends a chill through Leonard’s veins. “But couldn’t she…?”

“What?” Jim snaps. “Couldn’t she what, Doctor McCoy?”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Leonard knows that Jim’s never talked to him like that - shouldn’t talk to him like that – but he just shakes his head and looks down, away from Jim’s piercing gaze. Since Jim came into his life – since Leonard found himself in this building – he’s constantly disgusted by his former naïveté.

“But why does she need me?” Leonard asks. He really doesn’t want to hear the details, but he needs to understand his role in all this.

“Non-mods can’t just walk into a clinic,” Jim says slowly, like Leonard is very, very stupid – and, hell, maybe he is. “They’re not covered. Someone’s gotta foot the bill.”

“But what if she told him she was pregnant? Wouldn’t Keller want to fix that?”

“He might,” Jim says. “But then again, he might not. Brand new Non-mod in the world. His in more ways than one. Could be useful. Or, you know, lucrative.”

Leonard feels like he might be sick. He’s heard rumors of those sorts of black markets, but no one talks about them in polite company and he’d always told himself they probably weren’t real. Or at least not common.

Leonard wishes he could apologize. For being an idiot. For the world. But what good would that do here and now?

“Tell her she’s safe here,” he says instead. “And make sure she comes back tomorrow, no matter what she decides to do.”

Jim doesn’t blink. “I will.”

That night, Leonard only picks at his replicated dinner. On the other couch, Jim does the same.

Leonard tries to study for an exam he has the following week, but every time he hits the end of a screen, he finds himself staring at it for minutes on end, forgetting to scroll. Jim is sitting with an old-fashioned book that Leonard brought home for him the other day, holding it too far from his face as seems to be his fashion, but he rarely turns a page.

Jim looks up to catch Leonard looking at him. “Wanna watch Friday’s Child?” he asks, breaking the eerie silence.

“Sure.” Leonard gives an inward sigh of relief. He could use the mindless escapism.

Friday’s Child is a silly but popular entertainment saga that’s been running for almost a decade. It turns out they’re the only two people on the planet who hadn’t been watching it, so they decided to call up a back episode the other week, just to kill an hour.

They’d ended up watching half of the first season.

Sadly, Leonard has a busy schedule, so they haven’t watched more than an episode or two at a time since. But this night, they watch seven.

“How often is it like that?” Leonard asks out of nowhere, sometime around 0200.

Jim looks up from the other couch. “Like what?”

“Like Keller and Anneleise.”

“You mean Patron’s fucking their Non-mods?” Jim shrugs. “Not like there are published statistics or anything, but I guess it’s pretty hard to resist someone who can’t say ‘no.’”

Leonard cringes. “But, I mean, is it always…?”

“What?” Jim asks when he doesn’t go on.

Leonard doesn’t speak for a long moment, not sure how to put it into words.

“It’s just, when…” I won you in a card game “…we first met…you kind of…” tried to jump me “…acted like you really wanted me to…” do whatever I wanted with you “…um…take advantage of the situation…”

“Well,” Jim quips, “not like I was gonna get pregnant.”

“I’m serious, Jim. Why would you…?”

“Maybe I just like sex,” Jim says.

“Then I’m sure you could get it anywhere you wanted. Why some drunk asshole you didn’t even know?”

“You didn’t seem so bad,” Jim says. “And it makes things easier sometimes.”

“So what? You thought I’d treat you better if I was fucking you?” Leonard’s not sure whether to be offended or not. Then he remembers the blow job. “Or, no, you figured that was the best way to manipulate me…”

Jim shrugs. “Well, not only.” He keeps his eyes on Leonard, like he’s waiting for the shoe to drop, for Leonard to get pissed.

But Leonard finds he isn’t angry. It didn’t happen that way. And, honestly, who could blame Jim for trying?

Leonard settles back down into the couch and starts the next episode.

By the time the episode ends and the room falls back into silence, Leonard is half asleep, but not so far gone that he doesn’t here Jim’s quiet confession.

“It’s just my body. Sometimes if you give them what they think they want, they get distracted and leave the important stuff alone.”

Chapter Text

Anneliese may be the first, but she's far from the last of the building’s Non-mods that Jim brings home to Leonard for treatment. It becomes a regular thing. Fortunately, most cases are far less dramatic than Anneliese’s, but many are still troubling.

Like all the bruises and the occasional broken bones.

Even the mundane and genuinely accidental injuries and illnesses weigh on Leonard, knowing that they’d go untreated if not for his “kindness.” For the first month or so, Leonard is constantly on guard, half expecting to be cornered in the hallway by some blustering Patron demanding to know what the hell Leonard thinks he’s doing touching things that aren’t his.

But it never happens.

It seems that most Patrons don’t need their Non-mods not to be healthy, they just can’t be bothered (or imposed upon financially) to make sure that they are.

Antipathy or apathy – Leonard’s not sure which would be worse.

Overall, though, Leonard is surprised by the general health of most of his underground patients. For degenerates whose very existence threatens the ultimate survival of the human race, they’re actually in pretty good shape.

“Hey, Jim, looks like we’re done for the evening, could you—?”

“Everything’s cleaned up and there’s a list of the people who want to come in next week and why sitting on your desk.” They don’t keep electronic records, for obvious reasons. “I saw Antenor out and he promised to do those exercises, but I’ll check up on him tomorrow at the gym. Oh, and Simone came by while you were in with C.J., but she really just needed some dermagel, so I grabbed a packet from your kit. I hope that’s okay.”

Leonard nods. Dermagel isn’t hard for him to come by – nowhere near as difficult as most of the other supplies he’s been sneaking out of the hospital for unrecorded use.

Leonard looks around and realizes that everything really is all cleaned up. Jim has been serving as outreach, receptionist, nurse, and tech for their little medical operation and he turns out to be really damn good at it. As with any other time Leonard’s had a chance to work with the same smart and competant person in any of these positions over a stretch of time, he and Jim have developed a rhythm. Half the time, Leonard looks over his shoulder to ask Jim for something only to find Jim standing there with it already in hand.

The kid’s brain is like a sponge, absorbing information not only though verbal instruction and explanation, but observation and intuition. And he’s obviously found a cause that moves him to give it his best. It's a thing of beauty and Leonard feels privileged to bear witness, to know that he's had a hand in unlocking all this potential.

“Oh, sorry,” Jim says, “you were going to ask me something.”

Leonard shakes his head. “Nevermind, kid, you’ve got it covered.”

Of course, Leonard's great-grandmother taught him that any true blessing probably carries a bit of curse in it, too.

Like the fact that Leonard's always found competence to be huge turn-on.

Ever since they mentioned Jim's little seduction attempt back in Iowa, Leonard hasn't been able to stop fantasizing about having taken Jim up on his offer. Rationally, he knows that it would have been wrong to take advantage of Jim, and that he wouldn't want someone in his bed who didn't really want to be there or who was only making the best of a bad situation.

But at night, in Leonard's dreams, they each play their roles to perfection. Dream Leonard knows with certainty that he is entitled to Jim's body. He's forceful, but indulgent – a proud owner.

And Dream Jim is an equally proud possession. He knows more than fifty ways to please his lover, and he never passes up an opportunity to demonstrate one or more. He still possesses a touch of defiance, in some of the best dreams, but he’s always prettiest in capitualation, taking everything Leonard dishes out like he's made for it.

And loving it besides.

Waking life is getting very hard for Leonard. (No pun intended.)

The more skill Jim shows outside the bedroom, the more Leonard seems to fixate on the skill he might show in it. The better Jim anticipates and satisfies Leonard's needs as a doctor, or even a cadet, the better Leonard imagines Jim would serve his needs as a man.

Leonard hasn't taken a warm (or sonic) shower in over a week.

One evening, Leonard ends up picking up a second hospital shift to cover for a sick colleague. It’s no more than what he used to work all the time during his residency, but coming after a full morning of classes and a rather hectic first shift, this second one really weighs him down.

Leonard completes his colleague’s rounds without issue, and afterwards there’s a bit of a lull, so he slips into the doctor’s lounge for a quick nap.

When Leonard wakes up, the shift is basically over, so he changes out of one uniform and into the other and heads back to campus. Stepping through his door, Leonard finds Jim waiting for him and it feels good. He likes knowing Jim is there; he likes to be welcomed home.

He likes to see Jim’s bare feet against the rugs.

With the length of his day, words are all but beyond Leonard. He’s really only interested in three things, and one of them is a shower. He starts in that direction, but Jim stops him by placing a cool glass of bourbon in Leonard’s hand.

Leonard is taking his first sip (and blessing Jim’s apparent mind-reading skills, since bourbon was definitely on that top three list), when Jim drops gracefully to his knees in front of Leonard, reaching up to open Leonard’s fly and draw out his cock.

Blowjob – yep, that completes the list – and what a blowjob it is. Lazy, but not clumsy, coaxing Leonard's arousal without rushing it. Leonard manages another long sip of his bourbon before letting out a slow moan.

"Doctor McCoy."

It's a little formal coming from a man with his lips around Leonard's cock, but it’s not exactly a turn-off either. He thrusts a bit into Jim’s mouth and groans.

"Doctor McCoy."

This time the words come with the feeling of a hand on his upper arm, nudging, then shaking...

Leonard sits up with a start, eyes popping open to find himself not in his apartment, but still on a cot in the doctor's lounge.

And it's not Jim who's been calling his name. It's a rather embarrassed nurse, who, without meeting Leonard's eyes, reports that Leonard is needed upstairs for a surgical consult.

Leonard looks into his lap and sees that startlement and embarassment are working well to kill his ill-timed boner. Still, he pulls a pillow over it as he thanks the nurse and tells him he'll be right up.

By the time Leonard’s second shift is actually over, he’s just as exhausted as in his dream.

And Jim, when Leonard walks into the apartment, is just as barefoot and alluring.

Leonard doesn’t realize he’s staring until Jim starts staring back.

And smiling.

And moving towards Leonard with a look of intent.

Jim doesn’t speak, and Leonard remains rooted to the spot as he reaches out and starts unhooking the fastenings of Leonard’s cadet jacket one by one. As Jim slides the jacket down off of Leonard’s shoulders, Leonard wonders if he’s really back in the doctor’s lounge, if this is still all a dream.

“You smell terrible,” Jim murmurs as he untucks Leonard’s undershirt, pushing it up and off as well, and Leonard’s gotta hope that if this were a dream, his subconscious would leave that detail out.

Still, Jim isn’t in the habit of undressing him when he gets home. “Jim, what’re you—?”

“Shhh,” Jim says, guiding Leonard to the couch to sit down, before walking around back of it. “You don’t have to overthink this.”

And so Leonard sits, shirtless, as Jim stands behind him and slowly works the tension out of Leonard’s neck and shoulders. For the first ten minutes or so, it’s not so far out of the realm of their usual interactions – Jim has always responded most to Leonard’s moments of need – but then Leonard feels Jim’s breath brushing the back of his neck.

Jim’s breath is followed by Jim’s lips, which find a place right below Leonard’s earlobe that makes him shiver.

For someone who thinks Leonard smells terrible, Jim sure doesn’t seem to have a problem nosing at Leonard’s neck and throat and licking at the spots he finds of interest. Another minute of exploration of this area, and then of the same place on Leonard’s other side, and finally Jim makes his way around the couch and climbs straight into Leonard’s lap.

It’s literally a dream come true, and Leonard meets Jim more than halfway, their lips crashing together, too desperate to be gentle.

Or to be faked.

Jim may actually want him.

Despite the long day, Leonard finds himself very much in possession of a second wind. He reaches his arms around Jim, scrabbling for the best grip, running his hands down Jim’s back until they curl around Jim’s ass, pulling Jim closer.

The position presses Jim’s dick against Leonard’s and show’s Leonard that Jim is just as hard as he is. Leonard is probably relieved about that, somewhere in the back of his mind, but he’s really too turned on to notice. He squeezes Jim’s ass again and again, loving its firm feel beneath his hands and the friction against his cock. It’s been years since he’s come just rubbing up against someone on a couch – years since that seemed like anything but a waste of time and clean clothing – but he swears he would do it again right now and not be sorry.

Besides, any other option would require letting Jim go.

Jim, however, seems to be willing to make the sacrifice. At least if the way he’s shoving at Leonard is any indication.

Leonard resists at first, holding tight, and Jim laughs in frustration.

“I wanna see you,” he complains.

Leonard finally manages to loosen his grip and Jim slips off the couch, settling on the floor between Leonard’s legs. He wastes no time going for Leonard’s fly, opening it, and sliding Leonard’s cock from his boxer briefs with a suddenly gentle hand.

“There you are,” Jim whispers, stroking his thumb over the head and licking his lips in a way that looks more habitual than practiced. “Even better than I imagined.”

If Leonard weren’t already speechless, he would be now, just from the thought of Jim thinking about him. Leonard’s hands don’t know where to go without Jim’s ass in them, but they need to touch, so they settle on Jim’s head, fingers sliding through his hair.

“Oh,” Jim says with a smile in his voice, “is that what you want?” He starts to lower his mouth to Leonard’s dick.

Except that it isn’t what Leonard wants. Well, it is – of course it is – but it’s not. Not right now. He’s already using his hold on Jim’s head to pull him away and lead him back up onto the couch before Leonard even figures it out.

He doesn’t want to be serviced.

He wants to connect.

He pulls Jim into another kiss. Slower this time. Deeper. He gets his hands up under Jim’s tunic and releases Jim’s lips just long enough to pull it off over his head.

God, that’s good. So much more bare skin pressed against Leonard’s own. So much more heat. He can feel the beating of Jim’s heart.

“Bedroom,” Leonard whispers, and Jim laughs again. Leonard’s almost forgotten how good it feels to laugh during sex.

“How conventional,” Jim mocks gently. “You going to fuck me missionary, too?”

Leonard’s brain gets caught up for a moment on the whole fucking Jim part, and he surges to his feet, nearly knocking Jim on the floor in the process. At the last second, he catches hold of Jim. Words come back to him.

“I’m going to fuck you on every horizontal surface of this apartment, and maybe some vertical ones, too,” Leonard promises. “But we’re starting with the bed.”

Funny, but Jim seems to have run out of complaints.

He’s also leading the way to the bedroom.

They stop just before reaching the bed and divest each other of their pants as fast as fumbling hands will allow. As Leonard takes in his first complete and unobstructed view of Jim’s naked form, he thinks back to what Jim said about nature and its surprises and decides that Leonardo da Vinci grossly overestimated the value of symmetry.

He intends to take hours, maybe days, exploring Jim’s imperfections.

Leonard’s gaze makes it back up to Jim’s face and into Jim’s eyes, and he wonders if Jim is also thinking about the Italian Renaissance.

Jim blinks. “Where’s your lube?”

Apparently not.

“Nightstand,” Leonard says, and the next thing he knows Jim is flat on his back on the bed and Leonard is kneeling between his legs with slick fingers.

Leonard starts off gentle – he swears – but the sounds Jim makes and the way Jim rocks his hips trying to get Leonard’s fingers deeper…. Well, Leonard finds it impossible to hold back. Soon he’s pumping three fingers into Jim so hard he may end up with a repetitive stress injury he’s really not going to want to explain.

He thinks about trying for a forth finger.

He thinks about grabbing the whole bottle of lube and pressing further and further until he can tuck in his thumb and push his whole hand inside of Jim.

Leonard’s never actually given much thought to fisting before – other than to lament the idiocy of those who go about it without forethought or planning or sufficient lube and wind up in the emergency room – but just at this moment the idea of Jim laid so open for him, so far beyond conventions and secrets, makes Leonard’s heart stutter.

“Oh, god, Bones, come on, fuck me,” Jim moans, and suddenly Leonard’s focus is back on track.

Much as Leonard’s brain might like to see his hand buried in Jim’s body up to the wrist, his cock is urging a more traditional route. Leonard removes his hand, hitches one of Jim’s legs over his shoulder, and drives inside, eyes on Jim’s face the whole way in.

“Fuck,” Leonard whispers, because he can’t actually remember for sure the last time he did this, which means it’s been way too long.

Leonard has serious concerns about his stamina.

Jim, thankfully, doesn’t seem terribly interested in drawing things out. He’s already got a fist around his own cock and starts pumping himself in time with Leonard thrusts. It’s good. Leonard may not be able to keep himself from being the first to come, but at least Jim makes damn sure he’s following right after.

Afterwards, Leonard finds that he’s used up the last of his energy and accidentally nods off while still thinking about getting up and finding a towel for a bit of cleanup.

He wakes up in the middle of the night to find that Jim’s taken care of all that.

And that Jim has stayed.

Leonard rewards Jim by waking him up via blowjob for a second round. The second round also goes faster than Leonard would like, but it’s not their last for the night.

What Leonard lacks in stamina, he makes up for in resilience.

Leonard’s alarm goes off at the usual time. Leonard almost never wakes up in a good mood – he’s just not that fond of mornings – but when he feels Jim stirring beside him, Leonard actually smiles. One thing he could never get used to after the divorce was waking up alone.

He could really get used to not having to.

Leonard gets up quietly and goes to take his shower. When he comes back into the bedroom, Jim’s eyes are half open, following his movements as he drops his towel next to the dresser and puts on his underwear, then goes to the closet to get a fresh uniform.

Jim makes a sound of disappointment when Leonard is fully covered up and Leonard chuckles, walking over to the bed and bending over to thoroughly kiss the frown from Jim’s lips.

“I’ll be back for lunch,” Leonard promises, when he finally has to pull away.

He’s definitely looking forward to it.

Leonard daydreams through his first two classes of the day, most of his mental energy consumed with cataloging all the places, surfaces and objects and in, on and over which he can fuck Jim.

Further thought is also given to fisting.

He’s still working on figuring out which surfaces and positions he wants to tackle over “lunch” when his third class starts, but Lawlor has a deeply neurotic sixth sense for picking out people who aren’t listening to him. After being called out on a question a second year medical student could have answered in her sleep, Leonard’s pride forces him to keep his mind on the lecture.

He does actually learn something.

After class, Leonard automatically checks his PADD for new messages and finds one from a security-screened address. He frowns, but opens it anyway. A holo appears on the screen, showing a man, a woman and sixteen-month-old girl with the woman’s nose and the man’s eyes. Their location is impossible to identify from the background – and Leonard knows this is on purpose – but all three look healthy and perfectly happy.

Leonard’s ex-wife, his wife’s lover, and the beautiful girl he’d once tried to raise as his own.

Only two words of text accompany the picture: Thank you.

Leonard’s lungs tighten and his gut seizes and he feels like he might throw up, but he can’t stop staring at their faces.

He doesn’t make it back to the apartment for lunch.

Chapter Text

Leonard doesn’t make it back for dinner either. He’s way too busy drinking. And by the time he does stumble back through the door, he’s really fucking drunk.

He doesn’t remember much after that.

When Leonard wakes up the following morning, he’s been stripped down to his boxers and tucked into bed. He finds a hangover hypo and a cup of coffee waiting for him beside the nightstand, but doesn’t have time to administer either one. He rushes to the bathroom and empties the entire contents of his stomach.

And then some.

He stumbles back into his bedroom, presses the hypo to his own neck, and promptly falls back to sleep.

When he wakes up again, the coffee is cold.

He drinks it anyway.

He’s sober again, though he wishes he wasn’t.

Jim, he knows, is probably out in the living area awaiting Leonard’s return to the living, but Leonard’s bedroom door is shut.

He keeps it that way.

Time passes – could be hours – and Leonard grows hungry. He can’t hide out forever. Slow and quiet, he makes his way toward the kitchen clutching his empty coffee cup.

“Rough night,” Jim says from the couch, and Leonard jumps.

It’s an invitation, of course. An invitation for an explanation.

Leonard looks at Jim and he wants to give it. He wants to give it too much.

He shrugs instead. “Guess so.” He holds up his coffee cup. “Thanks.” He knows Jim did a lot more than make him coffee and that he owes Jim way more than a thank you.

He continues into the kitchen and fries himself a couple of eggs. Jim watches but doesn’t say anything.

The silence grows heavy.

“We could watch more Friday’s Child,” Jim finally suggests.

Leonard wants that, too.

“I’ve got to go to the library and study,” he says, even though both getting dressed and seeing the sunlight sound like his personal hell.

“Right, yeah, sure,” Jim says slowly. “Guess I’ll just hit the gym, then.”

The library is one place on campus where Jim couldn’t follow Leonard if he tried. Knowledge in the wrong hands has always been dangerous.

Leonard follows through on his library visit for lack of anywhere better to go. He even opens up a few files on his PADD to study, but ends up staring at the holo and composing letters in his head instead.

He looks at the man standing next to the woman who used to his wife.

Dear Jocelyn, You’ve not welcome. No love, Leonard.

He sees something in his ex-wife eyes he hadn't seen in years.

Dear Jocelyn, I’d be happier if you were miserable. Hard feelings, Leonard.

He studies the little girl, who looks both happy and healthy.

Dear Jocelyn, If I had to, I’d do it all over again. Always, Len.

He swipes the holo off of his screen and pictures Jim the way Leonard left him just the morning before.

Dear Jocelyn, You’ve got a hell of a sense of timing, but thanks for bringing me back to my senses. I needed it. Sincerely, Dr. L.H. McCoy, Starfleet Medical.

It’s late in the evening by the time Leonard returns to the apartment again, but at least he’s sober. Jim is still up and sitting on the couch. Leonard walks straight through the living area and into his bedroom without stopping, without daring eye contact.

He's a coward and he knows it.

“Night, Jim,” he mutters over his shoulder as the door shuts behind him.

There’s no sign of Jim when Leonard gets up Sunday morning, so he stays in the apartment to “study.” “Studying” consists of the occasional glance at his course materials, interspersed with memories Leonard doesn’t want to have, interspersed with Leonard’s attempts to banish those memories by means of day-drinking.

Every doctor knows there are some wounds you can’t make go away. You just have to leave them alone and let them heal.

Every doctor’s also had a patient who couldn’t resist poking that open wound just to feel it hurt again, wondering if this time it will feel better, or even just different.

Every hour or so, Leonard pulls up that holo and looks at it again.

Every hour, it hurts just the same.

Jim reappears a little past dinnertime and pauses just inside the doorway, taking in Leonard’s face, his PADD, his liquor bottle. Jim stands there for a long, quiet moment, offering Leonard another chance to explain himself, a chance to let Jim in.

Leonard doesn’t take it.

Jim goes to his room without a word.

Leonard wakes up Monday morning to a very different roommate.

When he gets out of the shower and returns to his bedroom, he finds his cadet reds laid out for him, along with socks and underwear. He stares at them for a minute or so and then, for lack of any better course of action, puts them on.

When he gets out to the living area, he finds breakfast laid out for him as well. Some oatmeal, a bowl of fruit, coffee and orange juice.

Leonard hates orange juice.

He sits down in front of the food for lack of anywhere else to sit, and is still staring at it when Jim appears.

“Good morning, sir,” Jim says, managing against all odds to sound completely earnest. “Can I get you anything else?”

Leonard blinks. Okay, so basically, he’s woken up to a manservant.

He shakes his head. “Jim, please, you don’t have to—"

“Give you whatever you want whenever you want it?” Jim interjects. “What else am I here for?”

Leonard rubs a hand across his face and tries to believe he doesn't deserve this. “Come on, you know I don’t think of you that way.”

“Don’t you?” Jim asks, a bit of an edge creeping into his voice.

“Of course not,” Leonard says, hurt that Jim would think that, even after everything.

Jim's nod is large and fake. “Right, because you would never just use me for your convenience. My mistake.”

Leonard’s mouth is open and he’s shaking his head. “No, that wasn’t what that was about. It was just—” He can tell from Jim’s face that this is the last chance he’ll have to explain, to change this stupid path they're on. “—a mistake, that’s all.”

“Of course,” Jim says, too quick and easy. “Thank you for explaining, sir. Can I get you some more coffee?”

Leonard hasn't touched the coffee he has. “Sit down,” he suggests. “Drink this orange juice.”

Jim sits down. Jim drinks the orange juice. Jim looks up at Leonard as if awaiting his next order.

Leonard doesn’t know what to say. He feels sick to his stomach.

“May I be excused?” Jim asks.

May I have the old Jim back? Leonard thinks, but he’s pretty sure the answer is no.

You can’t have it both ways.

Jim is just standing there, waiting, forcing Leonard to say something, to issue or deny permission.

Leonard tells himself this really is for the best. This is what he needs – what they both need. Some distance. Boundaries.

“Go ahead,” he says.

They still have their makeshift clinic operation.

It’s the only time with Jim that’s still bearable – the one interaction in which both their roles are chosen, agreed upon, and accepted.

The rest of the time, Jim persists in punishing Leonard with their parody of Patronship. He serves meals, answers doors, cleans up before Leonard even realizes there’s a mess. One weekend, Leonard gives in to an urge and visits the bookshop, leaving a small stack of novels for Jim on the counter. Not an hour later, he finds them shelved alphabetically on his own bookcase, spines uncracked.

If Leonard drops a stylus, Jim practically catches it before it hits the ground. If Leonard throws out a quip or joke, it falls flat.

Jim is always around, but he’s never there.

The afternoon things finally come to a head, Leonard is waiting in line for a flight sim of all things. He’s standing in the hangar staring at the simulator as his TA’s endless reiteration of instructions and protocols floats past his ears, unheard. Half of his brain is a buzzing beehive of terror. The other half is busy diagnosing the symptoms of his own phobia.

Increased heart rate. Shortness of breath. Excess perspiration.

If his fist weren’t clenched so tight around his PADD, he’s pretty sure the device would slide right out of his sweaty palm.

They never could find the right genes for phobias.

“It’s just a simulation,” a nearby classmate tells him.

Leonard’s head snaps around to find a kid who looks like he should still be getting recess. Leonard makes an expression of mock shock. “Wait a minute,” he says, “you mean this isn’t a real shuttle? We’re not actually going into space? Well, hell, no big deal, then. I’ll just tell this avio-what’s-its-face to fuck right off.” Leonard pauses and tilts his head. “Oh, wait, I remember. It’s called aviophobia. As in: irrational fucking fear of pretty much anything that feels like flying, including but not limited to, a simulator designed to make me feel exactly like I would feel if I were flying through the goddamn vacuum of space that you all can’t wait to rush off into.” Leonard knows he should dial it back, but the adrenaline is racing through his veins and he can’t stop himself. “Don’t pander to me, kid. Do you know how many cadets are hospitalized every semester during simulations? Because I do. And if you think things can’t go plenty wrong when—”

Leonard is interrupted by a sudden commotion in the hangar.

“Hey, you can’t go in there!”

“What do you think you’re doing here? Who’s your patron?”

Leonard looks up to see a figure in off-white running in his direction. As she gets closer, Leonard recognizes Anneliese.

“Doctor McCoy,” she calls, still several meters away, clearly out of breath.

“Cadet McCoy, do you know this woman?” the TA asks. “She is not authorized to be here.”

Leonard ignores him as Anneleise comes stumbling to a stop in front of him. “Anneleise, what are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

She shakes her head. “It’s Jim. You need to come quick.”

Leonard doesn’t hesitate. “Sorry,” he tells the T.A., even though he isn’t. “I’ve got to go.”

Anneliese is already running back the way she came and Leonard hurries to catch up. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Anneliese pants. “By the time he got to my door, he could barely talk. He just told me to find you. Said where you were supposed to be.”

Leonard’s heart is really starting to race now, but his training is also kicking in. “Why couldn’t he talk?”

“I don’t know. He was all red and I think maybe his throat was swelling. His hands were huge.”

“Anaphylaxis,” Leonard says. They’re nearly to the dorm now. “Do you know if he was eating anything?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Where is he now?” Leonard asks as they burst through the doors and into the lobby.

“I got him back to your apartment,” Anneliese says. “He wasn’t safe in mine.”

“And he was still breathing when you left?” They’re on the turbolift now and the seconds have never felt longer.

“Yes, of course.” Anneliese’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, you mean he might have stopped breathing?”

“He’s going to be fine,” Leonard says, even though he’s got no way of knowing if it’s true. He only knows that he doesn’t know what he’ll do if Jim isn’t fine.

The turbolift doors open and Leonard runs down the hall. His hands shakes against the biometric lock.

Finally, the door opens, and there’s Jim, lying on the couch, red and swollen and far too still for Leonard’s liking.

“Jim,” he begins calling immediately, even as he rushes for his med kit. “Jim, can you hear me?” He grabs hold of a hypospray and loads it with a vial of epinephrine. “Damn it, Jim, give me some kind of sign.”

“He’s nodding,” Anneliese calls. “He can hear you.”

“Thank fuck,” Leonard mutters as he rushes to Jim’s side.

He injects the epinephrine directly into Jim’s mid anterolaterial thigh. The tricorder comes out next and offers the expected readings: vasodilation, hypotension, tachycardia. Still, Jim’s chest is rising and falling, and Leonard holds his own breath as he keeps the scan running, waiting to see changes.

Nearly sixty seconds pass, but finally he starts to see a drop in the readings. Leonard takes a deep breath and sets the tricorder down for a moment to examine Jim with his own two hands. He runs his fingers over Jim’s eyelids, which are swollen shut, and along the tight skin down either side of Jim’s neck, thanking forces his doesn’t truly believe in for the fact that Jim’s airways didn’t close faster.

In truth, his movements are more caresses than a checkup, and when Leonard looks up to see if Anneliese has noticed, he finds her looking away, giving them privacy.

Leonard bites his lower lip and picks up the tricorder again. The readings have improved further, but they’re still far from satisfactory. Allergic reactions are extremely rare these days and Leonard has never seen one this severe. He moves back to his medkit and loads another dose of epinephrine.

Finally, a couple minutes after the second dose has been administered, Jim’s eyes crack open and his lips part gently.

“Hey, Bones,” he whispers. “Glad you could make it.”

“Just in time,” Leonard whispers back. “Give yourself a few minutes. I’m not going anywhere.”

And Leonard doesn’t go anywhere – except to show Anneliese out with his thanks and to get Jim a glass of water. Of course, once it’s just the two of them again and Leonard is no longer preoccupied with saving Jim’s life, things get kind of awkward.

As in silence.

As in staring at each other willing the other to speak, to somehow set the tone.

“Thanks,” Jim says finally, “you didn’t have to do that.”

But of course Leonard did have to do it. For anyone, but especially for Jim. Hell, saving Jim feels more selfish than anything. Leonard wouldn’t know how to be here without him.

And saying all that wouldn’t be awkward at all...

“Do you know what triggered the reaction?” he asks instead, slipping into doctor mode. “You mentioned allergies once. Have you been tested? Did you eat anything unusual?”

Jim takes a moment to consider the questions, but there’s something a bit off about the look on his face, like he's not so much trying to remember the answer as trying to come up with one.

“You know, I think I ate a cookie at lunch," he says. "It probably had walnuts in it or something.”

Leonard balks at Jim’s mild tone. “You think you ate a cookie that probably had walnuts or something? Are you out of your mind? Do you know how rare it is to be allergic to walnuts? Don’t you think you should – I don’t know – be a little more careful about what you eat?”

Jim shrugs. “Well, I’ve made it this far.”

“God only knows how,” Leonard mutters. "I won't always be around, you know."

"Believe me," Jim says, "I know."

Leonard scowls, still annoyed. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Jim’s studied indifference flips to irritation. "It means, stop fucking lecturing me on how to live. What the fuck do you care, anyway?"

Now Leonard’s really pissed. He’s a goddammed doctor, for god’s sake. “What do you mean what do I care?” he growls. “I’m a goddammed doctor, for god’s sake."

"And I'm flawed,” Jim says. “I thought you'd already decided not to waste your time. Why'd you even bother?"

"Bother? Jesus Christ, Jim, this wasn't a case of the sniffles. You could have died."

“And so what?” Jim pushes. “I’m just a Non-mod. No one would have blamed you.”

I would have blamed me.”

“You could have been rid of me.”

“I don’t want to be rid of you!” Leonard snaps.

The words practically echo in the ensuing silence and when Leonard manages to look up, Jim is looking down.

Finally, Jim lets out a soft snort. "Could've fooled me."

Leonard deflates. In this moment he can feel every one of his twenty-eight years and then some. "Do you like it here?" he asks.

Jim looks up at that and blinks. "Huh?"

"We both know I didn't make you come here. You wanted to. Do you wish you didn't? Do you wish I’d left you in Iowa?"

Jim can’t help cringing. "No, of course not."

"So you like it here?" Leonard asks again.

“So what?” Jim says. "You expect me to be grateful?"

Leonard shakes his head. “I just…I mean, if we both like it here and want to stay, then maybe we could just let…the other thing go. I made a mistake and I'm sorry, but can't we just go back to the way things were before? You want to be here. I want you here. We were...friends once, I think. Isn't that enough?"

Jim just looks at Leonard for a long time. “We’re not friends,” he says. “We can’t be.”

And he’s right, of course. You beat a friend at a card game, you don’t win one.

“Roommates, then.” Leonard knows he’s grasping at semantic straws.

"You know it's not that simple, right?"

Leonard does know. Maybe even more than Jim, he knows that it’ll never just be about the two of them. It’ll always be about everyone else.

"Can't we pretend it is? In here, where no one’s watching? No more serving meals. No more opening doors. A little Friday's Child on a Friday night. Would that be so bad?"

Jim thinks on this for a moment. “That’s what you want? You want to play roommates?"

Leonard wants so much more, but he nods. "Yeah, I really, really do."

“Okay,” Jim says after a moment, “would you mind grabbing me a beer, then?”

Leonard snorts. “You’re recovering from anaphylaxis. You’re not having a beer.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” Jim says.

“Then drag your own ass into the kitchen. I’m not going to help you fuck up your health.”

Jim rolls his eyes, but stays on the couch. “Fine. What episode were we on again?”

Chapter Text

Leonard’s sense of relief doesn’t last long.

After several more scans, he’s finally convinced that it’s safe for both Jim and him to go to sleep, and he does get a good night’s rest. And he does wake up feeling optimistic about their new understanding.

Then he checks his messages.

Starfleet runs on order, it reads. Cadets are advised to keep things in their proper places. When we don’t remember this, people are likely to get hurt.

Leonard stares so hard at the text that it starts to blur in front of his eyes. It’s not hard to recognize the careful wording of a thinly veiled threat, and suddenly Leonard is seeing yesterday’s medical emergency in a whole new light.

Of course it’s still vague enough that without the sender’s name, there’s not much Leonard can do. And even less that he can expect from Academy officials.

Leonard’s really starting to hate anonymous messages.

As he sits down to dinner with Jim for the first time in way too long, Leonard is still trying to figure out what the anonymous threat-maker actually knows.

And what Jim’s been hiding.

Does he or she know about the secret clinic? Is it the healing of Non-mods he or she hates? Or is it the way Jim acts as a partner in the whole enterprise?

Or worse, does he or she know about the night Jim and Leonard spent together? Sleeping with your own Non-mod is hardly a crime, but doing out of…affection isn’t exactly…seemly.

Still, all of this has happened behind closed doors and it creeps Leonard out to think someone’s somehow been watching.

“Hey, Kirk to McCoy? Hello? Are you there, Bones?”

The words snap Leonard out of his thoughts…and onto that name. He’s heard Jim use it a couple of times before.

“Wait a minute? Bones?”

Jim looks mildly surprised by the question. “Oh, right, that’s what I’ve been calling you in my head.”

Leonard frowns. “What? Why?”

Jim shrugs. “Leonard’s kind of lame. Doesn’t suit you.”

Leonard rolls his eyes. “No. I mean, why ‘Bones’?”

Jim grins. “It was in one of those books you gave me. It’s what they used to call doctors back in during the Civil War. They used to do a lot of battlefield amputations – you know, sawing through people’s bones?”

Leonard scowls. “That’s barbaric.”

Jim shrugs again. “They did what they could with what they had. It was a grisly job, but somebody had to do it. I don’t know. It just fits, is all.”

Leonard supposes that’s something like a compliment. And maybe some timely advice.

Any good sawbones will tell you – sometimes you just have to bite the bullet.

Leonard looks Jim in the eye. “What happened yesterday?”

Jim looks back at him like a person trying to be cautious without looking like he’s trying to be cautious. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Leonard repeats slowly, “what happened yesterday?”

“I told you. I ate a cookie.”

“Yeah, but see, I happen to know that you’re not a moron. So how ‘bout you tell me again – and this time, try the truth.”

Jim shakes his head and looks down. “It’s over. I’m fine. It doesn’t matter.”

“The hell it doesn’t,” Leonard retorts, heat coming into his voice. “Someone did this to you.” Jim doesn’t look the least bit surprised by this revelation. “I want to know who.”

“I don’t know who!” Jim whisper-yells, like he’s afraid someone will overhear him.

Which isn’t so crazy, after all.

Leonard drops his own voice. “What happened? Where did it come from? Was it even a cookie?”

“No,” Jim admits, “it wasn’t a cookie. I’m pretty someone dosed my water at the gym. I do think it was walnuts, though. Or maybe almonds. Extract, probably. I knew the water tasted funny when I drank it, but I couldn’t really place the taste until my hands started swelling. I haven’t had a tree nut since I was twelve.”

“Christ, Jim.” It terrifies Leonard that it happened so easily, so fucking quickly. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because it’s no big deal.”

“No big deal? Someone poisoned you!”

“I can handle it,” Jim insists.

Leonard shakes his head. Goddamn, this kid is a piece of work. “Handle it how? By never eating or drinking anything that’s ever been out of your sight again?”

Jim shrugs. “For starters.”

All at once, Leonard can feel the weight of the situation like lead in his veins, and he buries his head in his hands. “Fuck, Jim. I’m sorry.”

You’re sorry? For what?”

“For not knowing how to do things,” Leonard says, head still buried. “For putting you in danger.”

Jim still looks confused. “How’s that?”

Leonard sighs. “I got an anonymous message this morning. About keeping things in their proper place. Someone was trying to send me a warning, through you. I guess they don’t like the way I’m treating you.”

Jim snorts. “Well, clearly they should have been paying better attention these last few weeks, because you’ve been treating me like shit.”

“I’m serious, here,” Leonard says.

“So am I,” Jim retorts.

“Damn it,” Leonard snaps, “I don’t know what to do here. I don’t know how to make them happy so they’ll leave you alone.”

Jim shakes his head. “You can’t make them happy and they’re never going to leave me alone. You may be an ass, but you’re also a pretty decent guy and that’s exactly what they hate about you. Makes them feel bad about themselves.”

“But still,” Leonard says, “maybe if I just…”

“What? Gave me a public beating? Made an example of me in front of the other Patrons and their Non-mods? Invited some buddies over for a nice gangbang?”

“What? No. Of course not!” The images make Leonard want to vomit.

“Then face it – you’re not going to make them happy. Move on.”

Leonard wants to shake some self-preservation into Jim. “I can’t!”

“Why not?”

“They threatened you!”

Their faces are close now, eyes locked. “So?” Jim asks.

“So – I have to protect you!”

“Why?”

“I just do,” Leonard insists. He doesn’t know how Jim doesn’t see the obvious.

“Why?” Jim repeats.

“It’s my responsibility.”

“Why?”

“Because I couldn’t protect them!”

The words burst forth from Leonard before they’ve registered in conscious thought, but now there they are, right between him and Jim.

“Who?” Jim asks softly. “Who couldn’t you protect?”

Leonard sighs as he realizes there’s no backing away from it now. “Joanna,” he says. “My daughter. And Jocelyn, my ex-wife.”

Jim looks genuinely shocked. “You have a daughter?”

“Well, I…not exactly.” It’s hard to know where to start. “My ex, she had an affair…with a Non-mod.”

“Wow,” Jim says, “well that certainly explains some issues.”

Leonard shoots Jim a half-hearted glare. “Quiet, kid. I need to get through this.”

Jim shuts his mouth and nods.

“We were planning a pregnancy. We did everything the usual way. We’d seen the doctor and had the tests that confirmed what we already knew – we were both fit for reproduction. Hell, I’m pretty sure Joce’s parents had provided my parents with proof of that back when we were both about twelve. And vice versa.”

“Wow,” Jim says, “you’d known each other for a long time.”

Leonard nods. “Yeah, our families went way back and they’d probably started picturing us together since before we were even born. Luckily, we actually liked each other, too, especially when we were teenagers. She was never as prim and proper as our parents liked to believe, at least not when we were alone. We had fun together. And we understood what it was like to grow up in families like ours.”

Leonard glances at Jim, who seems to be listening intently, so he takes another deep breath and forces himself to move the story forward.

“Anyway, we’d been married a couple of years and our parents were starting to give us baby clothes for Christmas, so we went ahead and had Jocelyn’s ova harvested and fertilized. It was a good batch of embryos and we’d been assigned to have a girl, so they did their screening and came up with the best XX for implantation.”

Leonard pauses there, his eyes falling shut. “We were going to name her Caroline, after my father’s mother.”

Leonard opens his eyes again and looks at Jim, whose expression urges Leonard to continue. “We went through with the procedure as planned, and for the first trimester, the pregnancy was textbook. Then it came time for the first round of prenatal genetic testing. I guess maybe somewhere inside I knew something was up because I convinced the geneticist at the hospital – who was an old friend of mine from high school – to let me oversee the testing myself.”

Jim’s eyes widen. “Isn’t that…?”

“Totally illegal? Yeah. But I’d always been a bit of a control freak practicing medicine, so I think Andy just figured I didn’t want to trust my wife and future kid to anyone else. So there I was, all alone in the lab, running all the usual tests, and it turned out there wasn’t a thing wrong with our baby…except for the fact that she wasn’t mine.”

“Oh, shit,” Jim says.

“Yeah,” Leonard agrees, “that’s one way of putting it. I covered it up, falsified the test results, didn’t say anything to anyone. I told myself maybe they made a mistake in the IVF process, mixed up my sample for someone else’s…but once I really started paying attention at home, it wasn’t hard to figure out what Joce was up to.”

“That sucks, man. I’m sorry.”

Leonard shrugs. “It wasn’t even all that surprising. It was an unspoken understanding between us that getting pregnant was our last attempt at fixing a fading marriage.”

Jim snorts. “Well, that’s stupid.”

Leonard glares at him.

“Oh, come on,” Jim says.

“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was what we were supposed to do. I mean, there we were, living the lives our families had laid out for us, the envy of all our friends, and it just felt so…wrong. I was working all the time so I wouldn’t have to face how bad it felt to be at home – which was doing great things for my career. And…well, I guess Joce had already figured out her own coping mechanism. I just thought that if we had a baby at home, we’d both spend more time there and it would give us something to focus on, something that would bring us closer again.”

Leonard pauses and meets Jim’s eyes with a sigh.

“Yeah, alright, it was stupid. But anyway, it was what it was. I’m pretty sure Jocelyn had no idea what had happened. She just assumed it was the IVF embryo that had implanted, not whatever sex she had with her lover. I was still trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do about all of it – and still finally paying attention to her sneaking around – when I found out that the guy was a Non-mod. He was a gardener working at her parents’ house. He’d been working there for years, since they were both teenagers.”

Leonard leans forward and shoves his hands into his hair. “Christ, I still have no idea how long it was going on. I mean, afterwards she said it had only been a year or so, but maybe she just….”

Leonard stops for a minute to reign in the all-too-familiar sense of betrayal and regain his composure. He’s never told anyone this much before. He wants to finish it now, get it all out.

“Once I knew who – what – the father was, what could I do? I was already attached to this perfect little life and I couldn’t chance Joce – or anyone else – deciding she should get rid of it.” Leonard closes his eyes against the still horrifying thought. “I went to a lot of trouble to keep the information hidden. I took over all the genetic aspects of the pregnancy and even the birth. I abused my position in the hospital, falsified more and more test results. And I didn’t tell anyone. I acted like everything was going exactly to plan…except for one small thing: When I was standing there in the birthing room holding our daughter – well, their daughter, I guess – anyway, I told Jocleyn I’d changed my mind and wanted her to be called Joanna. Caroline was…she was someone else. But this was Joanna and I loved her like my own from the moment we touched, probably before.”

For the first time in the recounting, Leonard wonders if he can go on, how he can possibly tell this part of the story. He can feel the tears welling up behind his eyes.

And then he can feel Jim’s hand, coming to rest firmly atop his own.

“I loved her so much,” Leonard whispers fiercely, “and all I wanted was to keep her safe, to keep her with me.”

Jim hand is warm and steady and Leonard swallows against the tightening of his throat.

“I’m not sure when Jocelyn started to suspect something. Maybe she could tell I was keeping something from her. Maybe she could see her lover’s features in our baby’s face. God, I don’t know. What I do know is that she had a test done somewhere. And I’m pretty sure that’s how someone found out. And once one person knew, the secret started to spread pretty fast. The circles we travelled in, they run on scandal. Joce and I were considered a ‘perfect couple,’ and there were people who would’ve given almost anything to see us knocked down a peg.” Leonard releases a wry chuckle and shakes his head. “All that work to make everyone perfect and still people have to find a way to make themselves feel superior.”

“Yeah,” Jim deadpans, “because obviously an entire genetic underclass just isn’t enough.”

“Apparently not. And besides, if someone didn’t screw up every once in a while and suffer the consequences, where would all the parents get the cautionary tales to keep the next generation in line?” Leonard sighs. “It started with a few whispers, followed by the usual snubbings in the usual places. If Jocelyn figured it out right away – hell, she probably did – she didn’t say anything to me. Instead, a ‘friend’ came over to sit me down and break the news – you know, because she felt so bad about it and just thought I should know. Fucking sanctimonious bastards. I need a drink.”

Before Leonard can move, Jim stands up and gets the bottle of bourbon from Leonard’s desk, grabs a couple of glasses and pours for each of them.

“Thanks,” Leonard says before taking a hefty swallow. “Anyway, I thought maybe we could ride out the rumors and people might just drop it, but that’s never how these things go. It didn’t take long for questions to reach the hospital – how could all the testing have missed something so big? And pretty soon they realized how and I was being ‘asked’ for my letter of resignation.”

“Oh, shit,” Jim says.

“Yeah, pretty much. Of course, back at home, Jocelyn and I still weren’t talking about it.”

“But how…?”

Leonard snorts. “You’d be surprised how much you can avoid discussing when you’re busy taking care of an infant. I’d been against hiring any help with her for obvious reasons, and we certainly weren’t going to do it then so we could spend more time discussing the slow disintegration of our lives. But after my last day at the hospital, avoidance got a lot harder, and then one night when it had taken literally hours of both our efforts to get Joanna down to sleep, we just looked at each other and knew it couldn’t be put off any longer.”

Leonard picks up his drink and finishes it.

“The first thing Joce tried to do was apologize for the affair, but I cut her off proclaiming that I didn’t care and it didn’t matter because I was going to stand by her and by Joanna and we’d move if we had to, but I would find a new job. There are places you can go to buy the kind of documents Joanna would need to prove she was born under the right circumstances. We had savings, still, and I was ready to spend it all to keep our family together.” Leonard closes his eyes against the next memory. “I must have gone on forever – I was exhausted and practically delirious and I just needed her to believe in me – and then I finally stopped talking to let Joce respond. And that’s when she asked me for a divorce.”

Jim’s mouth drops open. “What? What the fuck?”

“Yeah,” Leonard agrees. “I offered her everything I had, but all she wanted was him. She knew she’d be ostracized, but she didn’t care.”

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? She was practically begging me. And it’s not like I could have forced her to stay.”

“But what about Joanna?”

“I begged right back, asking her to let me keep Jo with me, try to give her the best life, but Joce wanted them to be a family – the three of them – and whatever our friends or the rest of society or even judges think about those kinds of families, she had the law on her side. DNA is everything. Case closed.”

“But you….” Jim doesn’t seem to know how to finish the protest.

“So I gave her her divorce. And then, when it was all over, I gave her our savings. The judge hadn’t awarded her anything, but I couldn’t just leave them like that. Of course, I knew what she’d do with it. I knew she’d use it to take herself and her lover and…their daughter and get lost somewhere. So I stood outside the courthouse, transferred the funds, and kissed Joanna goodbye.” There, Leonard thinks, it’s done. He feels a lightness in his chest. “A week later, I got the hell out of Georgia. A week after that, I woke up with you staring down at me.”

There’s silence as he lets the story settle.

“So that’s it?” Jim asks. “That’s the last you saw of them?”

“Until a few weeks ago,” Leonard admits, picking up his PADD. “That’s when Joce sent me this.”

He turns the screen to show Jim the picture and message.

Jim studies them for a long time.

“Thank you,” he reads. Or maybe it’s what he says.

Chapter Text

After that, things are…cautiously optimistic.

The secret clinic continues and Leonard decides that if that were what someone was pissed about, it would all be shut down by now and Leonard’s ass would have been booted out of Starfleet. Since Leonard is not booted out of Starfleet – in fact, just the other day, Captain Pike stopped Leonard on the quad to tell him he’d heard excellent things and to keep up the good work – Leonard figures he should go right on doing the work he’s come to love.

And if he can see in Jim’s face and posture how much making a difference makes a difference for Jim, well that’s just a happy side effect.

Besides, Jim seems to be taking every possible precaution to ensure his own safety (and isn’t even groaning too much every time Leonard insists on asking Jim if he’s taking every possible precaution to ensure his own safety).

Of course, as paranoid as Leonard’s become, he’s a bit skeptical about whether “every possible precaution” need necessarily include avoiding the sonic showers available at the gym, such that Jim necessarily returns to the apartment most evenings around dinnertime glistening with sweat, his unnecessarily tight workout shorts clinging to his body, and no shirt deemed necessary at all.

Not that Leonard’s complaining.

Safety first, after all.

 

Best of all, Leonard doesn’t feel so damn lonely anymore. He’s not sure what exactly Jim made of his whole tragic tale, but at least he’s not treating Leonard with pity.

And he knows.

Someone besides Leonard knows and that makes all the difference.

He’s stopped compulsively pulling up the picture of Joce and Jo. He’s also started to write a message to Joanna, even though he may never have anywhere to send it. He needs to tell her that he never thought she was anything less than perfect, even if she never gets to hear it.

And it helps to put it down in words, even if he’s erased it and started over half a dozen times already.

He’ll get it right someday.

Leonard saves his current draft and sets down his PADD, shakes his head and wonders if he should have completed that PhD in Psychology after all. Physician, heal thyself.

He looks up toward the door just as Jim walks through it, all sweat and bare chest and clinging gym shorts.

“So,” Jim says, “I was thinking…”

Leonard raises an eyebrow askance and thinks it would be better for his blood pressure if Jim could think after showering and putting on some real clothes. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jim says, “so let me see if I’ve got this right: Your ex-wife took up with a Non-mod, got knocked up, got herself shunned, and you lost everything in the process.”

“Yeah,” Leonard drawls, “any particular reason you feel the need to pour salt in the wound?”

“I’m getting there,” Jim promises. “So, basically, you see this as a failure on your part and as some sort of cautionary tale about the bad things that can happen to the people you love if you don’t toe the line?”

Leonard’s not sure where Jim is going with this, but he guesses that about sums it up. “Yeah..?”

“Right. So when you look at that picture, you see the things that you lost,” Jim says. “But when I look at the picture, I see two people who didn’t let close-minded assholes and stupid rules get in the way of what they wanted, of what they needed to be happy.”

Leonard looks down and swallows against that familiar surge of residual jealousy – that little part of him that will always wish Joce could have been happy with him, even if he wasn’t happy with her either. When he looks up again, Jim is right there, leaning in.

“And when I look at you,” Jim is saying, “I see someone who thinks he wants to follow the rules, but always ends up following his heart instead. You’re a good man, Leonard McCoy.”

Slowly, the pieces of the story start to rearrange themselves in Leonard’s head. Rendered speechless, he just sits there and watches as Jim stands up straight and then turns toward the bathroom.

Jim takes one step, and then two, and then before his brain can even register the motion, Leonard finds himself surging to his feet, closing the space of those two steps, closing his hand around Jim’s bicep and spinning him around before slamming him up against the nearest wall.

Leonard can hear the humph of breath leaving Jim’s lungs and hesitates for a second, his face scant inches from Jim’s.

And then Jim smiles and whispers, “About time.”

And Leonard is lost.

Their mouths crash together, so hard it almost hurts, except that it’s nowhere near hard enough. Leonard presses Jim tighter against the wall.

“You’ve been doing this on purpose,” Leonard accuses gently when they’ve finally come up for air. He’s still pinning Jim’s shoulders. He leans in and bites at Jim’s neck.

“Doing what?” Jim asks, slipping his hands under the hem of Leonard’s shirt and pushing it up and off.

“Walking around half-naked as often as possible.”

Jim works on the fasteners of Leonard’s pants, until he can get one hand inside – a hand which curls around Leonard’s cock and squeezes. “Now why would I need to do that?”

Leonard sucks air in through his teeth and tries to hold onto the thread of conversation as his hips buck forward into Jim’s grip. “Maybe because I’ve been a stubborn and oblivious asshole,” he suggests.

Jim laughs. “Are you always this honest when you have a hand down your pants? Because I could definitely arrange to make that happen more often.”

“Do your worst,” Leonard offers, but slides his body out of Jim’s grasp as he drops to his knees. He takes hold of the gym shorts that have been tormenting him for so long and peels them off of Jim’s hips. “You have been doing this on purpose,” he repeats, right before swallowing Jim’s cock.

“Oh, hell, yes,” Jim gasps, and Leonard figures it’s the best confession he’s going to get.

He smirks around Jim’s dick for a short, satisfying second, and then focuses on giving Jim a blow job to remember.

 

“I like you,” Leonard says.

It’s a few hours and a second round later, and they’re collapsed across Leonard’s bed, letting the sweat cool their bodies.

Leonard has no idea how he kept from doing this for so long.

“Mmm?” Jim says, turning his head in Leonard’s direction.

“I like you,” Leonard repeats. “That’s what this is about. For me. I know there’s a lot of other stuff in the way, but I hope you know that you don’t have to stay. And I hope that you will.”

Jim snorts. “I’ve got nowhere else to go,” he says with brutal honesty, and Leonard’s heart tightens in his chest. “But I like you, too.”

Leonard’s heart keeps beating. He slings an arm over Jim’s stomach, closes his eyes and goes to sleep.

 

After that, things are…almost too good to be true.

You’d think with all the sex, Leonard’s grades would be suffering, but Jim loves to help Leonard study.

He actually loves it.

Which makes sense when Leonard stops to think about it. Jim is smart – really fucking smart – and a guy like that in a world like this would have to snatch up every opportunity he gets to learn.

It pains Leonard to think about how bored Jim must have been so much of his life.

But here, with free access to the comm console as long as Leonard’s in the room (it wouldn’t do to have log records showing console use in the room when GPS records showed Leonard at the hospital), Jim can apparently keep up with all of Leonard’s coursework and then some.

“This is good, Bones,” Jim says one evening, when he’s finished proofing Leonard’s take-home exam in Federation History, “but I think you went a bit light on the Andorians.”

“Damn it, Jim,” Leonard grumbles, “there is a word limit, you know. It’s impossible to say everything about everything.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re right,” Jim concedes, but somehow later that night Leonard finds himself hunched over his PADD tightening up his other points to make room for additional Andorian analysis.

His instructor is duly impressed.

The night after his grade comes in, Leonard thanks Jim with a long and thorough massage that winds up with a very happy ending.

 

Jim also masterminds some very creative study sessions. Like the time during the Vulcan unit in Xenoanatomy II when Leonard comes home to find Jim lying naked on Leonard’s bed with all the major Vulcan organs drawn onto his body with edible body paint.

After slowly licking it all off of Jim’s body, Leonard feels confident that he’ll never have trouble locating a Vulcan liver ever again, and Jim happily replicates this particular study technique for several other humanoid species, taking Leonard well into the syllabus for Xenoanatomy VI.

And that’s only in their first year.

 

Come summer break, it dawns on Leonard that Jim isn’t the only one with nowhere else to go.

At first it depresses Leonard to be one of very few cadets to have no home to go home to, but he soon discovers that summer on campus is actually a hell of a lot more tolerable than campus the rest of the damn time. He’s got no classes, just longer hospital shifts to cover vacations and an invitation to join a groundbreaking neural research project.

The Patronship dorm is closed for the summer, so he and Jim get moved to a suite in a regular dorm where Jim actually gets his own regular-sized bedroom. A security guy asks Leonard if he wants extra locks installed, but Leonard pastes on a sleazy smile and assures the man that Jim is well-trained.

Best of all, with fewer people around – and most of them people Leonard actually likes – he’s a lot less worried about Jim’s safety. Or about anyone catching him looking at Jim the way he’s pretty sure he might be looking at Jim sometimes.

The days are long and the weather is a lot less wet and suddenly Leonard is happier than he can ever remember being in his adult life.

The apartment feels like home.

 

One afternoon, Leonard gets sent home from the hospital early. He walks back to campus with a smile on his face, thinking maybe he and Jim can go downtown to ‘run some errands.’ (This, Leonard has realized, is the only acceptable explanation for hanging out with your Non-mod, and summer or no, Leonard is determined to uphold a picture of propriety.)

“Doctor McCoy!” a voice calls.

Leonard looks up to see Captain Pike striding towards him. “Good afternoon, sir.”

“You’re looking well, cadet. Aren’t we working you hard enough?”

“No harder than med school, sir. And easier than residency.”

Pike smiles. “Come a long way from Riverside, haven’t we?”

“Yes, sir. And I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually said, but thank you, sir. You saved my life.”

“Well, from what I hear from my friends in Medical, you’ve more than returned the favor.”

“Just doing my job, sir.”

“Speaking of that,” Pike says, “I hear you’ve gotten involved in some pretty interesting research, but no one’s been quite able to put it in terms I’d understand. Do you speak layperson?

It’s Leonard’s turn to laugh. “I can try.”

By the time he’s done giving Pike the project highlights, at least twenty minutes have passed and Leonard is eager to get going. He makes his excuses and Pike waves him away. When he gets back to the room, Jim is sitting on the couch with a book. Leonard changes and they head downtown to buy some new ones.

 

A couple weeks later, Leonard gets off work early again and runs into Pike again.

“And how’s that kid I found you with that night?” Pike asks this time, after a minute of polite chit chat.

“Jim?” Leonard isn’t sure anyone has ever asked him how Jim was, except for that one creepy time that another Patron asked how Jim was in bed. He assumes – hopes – that’s not what Pike is getting at. “Well, he’s doing alright, thanks for asking.”

“I trust you’re finding him a bit more manageable these days?” Pike’s lips show a hint of a grin.

Leonard can’t hold back a bit of a laugh. “We get by.”

For a second Pike seems to be sizing Leonard up, then he nods. “Glad to hear it.”

 

Leonard runs into him a couple more times that summer, but Pike never mentions Jim again.

 

Leave it to the start of a new academic year to bring Leonard down. With new students in the dorm and in his classes, it doesn’t take long to overhear a conversation that gets his thoughts going in the wrong direction.

A woman is shaking her head. “I just wish they offered some classes or something. You know like cooking, or massage, or spa therapy. Something useful. You know what they say about idle minds.”

“No kidding,” another woman agrees. “Back home there were enough of us in the house that if I didn’t need him for something, somebody else did, but here…I mean, I just don’t know what he does when I’m gone all day.”

A third woman heaves a dramatic sigh. “Yeah, I mean a little socializing is fine, but the way some Patrons act…well, let’s just say I don’t want Chelsea talking to the wrong people and getting any ideas.”

Leonard, walking just a few feet in front of them down the hall, feels certain that he is one of the Patrons in question, but that’s not the part that sticks with him as exits the building and walks between campus and the hospital. It’s not the thing he’s still thinking about as he walks home after his shift.

It’s the question of what exactly Jim does all day.

 

It’s like he thought he knew, but when Leonard thinks about it, he realizes he really doesn’t know anything.

The gym, sure.

Some socializing, obviously. Which doubles as covert outreach for their secret clinic.

But they don’t have enough patients for that to take all day.

Maybe some offline reading, though Jim reads books much faster than Leonard buys them, so it’s not like there’s a big stack to keep him busy.

Really, Leonard thinks as he walks into the apartment, Jim being Jim, he ought to be bored as hell by the time Leonard gets home.

But Jim looks just fine.

 

“How was your day?” Leonard asks over dinner, like it’s a normal question even though he’s pretty sure he’s ever asked it before.

Jim shrugs. “Fine.”

“Do anything interesting?”

Jim shrugs again, but it seems a little forced. “Same old.”

Leonard nods, takes another drink of his water, and asks, “And what is that, exactly?”

Jim eyes narrow. “If you really want to know, why don’t you take a look at my tracking data? I think I took a shit around 2:30, which is a little unusual for me, but feel free to double check.”

Leonard rolls his eyes. “Oh, come on. I can’t ask how your day was? We’ve been…” He waves a hand.

“Fucking?” Jim suggests. It sounds cheap the way he says it, but Leonard just keeps going.

“…for half a year and I haven’t earned the right to ask how your day was?”

“You didn’t ask how my day was,” Jim says. “You asked what exactly I do all day.”

“And you’ve been doing everything you can not to answer me,” Leonard snaps.

“Why should I?”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jim says, voice dripping with sarcasm, “maybe to hold on to the tiny vestiges of privacy and freedom I’ve still got in this world.”

“Oh, don’t give me that. I’ve never tried to control you. You want to hide shit from me, fine. But don’t fucking act like this is about me being a big bad Patron.”

“Oh, you mean the way you’re acting like this isn’t about your ex-wife fucking around on you? I’ve got news for you, Bones – we’re not married.”

Leonard can’t tell if he’s pissed because Jim brought up Jocelyn or…about something else. “So that’s what you do all day? Fuck?”

“Sure,” Jim says, “why not?”

“Who?” Leonard can’t help asking.

Jim shrugs. “Oh, you know, men, women, other humanoid species of variable gender – what d’you care?”

“I don’t care,” Leonard growls.

“Yeah,” Jim says, “you’re really giving off that apathy vibe.”

Leonard takes a deep breath and tries not to say anything stupid. “You could do better, you know,” he finally mutters.

Jim snorts. “Better than men, women, and other humanoid species? Do tell.”

“I mean with your time.”

“And again, I ask: what do you care?”

“You’re smart, Jim.”

“For a Non-mod.”

“For a human being.”

For a moment, these words seem to reach Jim somehow, but in the blink of an eye, the smirk is back in place.

“Aw,” Jim says, “am I wasting my potential? Gosh, maybe I should joint Starfleet. Oh wait….”

Leonard has no answer for that one.

They eat the rest of their dinner in silence.

 

Jim goes to his room afterwards and Leonard studies – or tries to study – on his own. He’s given up and is about to turn in when Jim emerges to use the bathroom.

“Come to bed,” Leonard suggests softly.

“Better not,” Jim says. “Fucking is a waste of my potential.”

Leonard watches the bathroom door close behind Jim and then puts himself to bed. Big fight, silent treatment, sleeping alone – feels a lot like marriage after all.

 

Leonard wakes up sometime around three a.m., and Jim is just there, lying next to him. And for someone who’s supposed to have all the power in this relationship, Leonard feels pretty damn helpless.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “You can do what you want...with whoever you want. I won’t ask again. Just…stay.”

“Where else would I go?” Jim asks. He rolls to his side to face away from Leonard, but then shimmies backward into little-spoon position.

Leonard wraps his arm tight around Jim’s chest. He hates that answer more every time he hears it.

Chapter Text

Following your heart doesn’t always make you a good man.

Sometimes the heart is strong and kind.

But sometimes it’s a needy, possessive, jealous thing that does what’s wrong to try to fill its own emptiness.

In his mind, Leonard knows that he owes Jim what little freedom of movement and action is left to him in their world. In his mind, Leonard knows that you can’t really own another person and that he doesn’t own Jim. In his mind, Leonard knows he should forget about what Jim does when they’re not together and focus on what Jim does when they are.

But his heart pounds when he thinks about Jim out there fucking god knows whom. It clenches when he wonders what those people are after, what they want from Jim. It aches when he imagines what they get from Jim.

Does Jim show someone else the parts of him he won’t show Leonard? Is there somewhere else, some other bed, where he feels at home?

The questions obsess Leonard.

Which is why he’s here in front of his console, pressing his finger to the biometric security pad, and pulling up Jim’s tracking data. And not for the first time either.

Every time he does it – every time he violates Jim’s privacy just like Jim goaded him to do and becomes exactly the asshole he swore he wasn’t – Leonard tells himself it will be the last.

But he hasn’t been able to stop himself yet.

 

“Hey, Bones, could you hand me that hull piece?”

Leonard looks at the variety of pieces laid out on his side of the table and basically has no clue which one Jim means. His hand hovers over two likely candidates as Jim looks up.

“The one to your left,” Jim says. “Yeah, there.”

Leonard picks up the piece in question and hands it to Jim, who slides it in place and applies the laser seal. This is the second model starship that Leonard has brought home and Jim is nearly finished with it. Leonard thinks maybe he’ll get the Klingon Bird-of-Prey next, see if it proves more of a challenge.

He doesn’t realize he’s staring until Jim looks up and smiles at him. Leonard’s flash of pleasure is immediately tempered by guilt. If Jim has any idea about the snooping Leonard has been doing, he hasn’t let on.

They haven’t fought since that night, and Leonard is doing his best to act naturally.

While constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And bringing home lots of gifts.

 

He doesn’t look up the tracking data every day. And it’s not even like it tells him that much.

Most mornings, once Leonard’s left, Jim seems to go for a run. The data shows rapid movement on running paths around campus and occasionally in the city. After that, he typically spends a few hours hanging around the dorm, visiting different common areas and private rooms. Leonard can know which other rooms Jim visits – and he can look up the occupants – but who’s to say what exactly Jim does inside them, who are his fuck buddies and who are just his friends.

It’s got to be other Non-mods, Leonard thinks. Jim’s not stupid enough to go around sleeping with other Patrons.

In the afternoons, Jim tends to head into the city. The data shows him mostly in public places, though it can’t tell Leonard whether Jim meets someone in these places or just wanders around them alone. Sometimes Leonard tries to picture Jim strolling through a park hand-in-hand with some lover or other, but it’s a bit hard to feature.

Then again, what does Leonard know?

The day almost inevitably concludes with a trip to the gym and finally Jim’s return to their room – to Leonard’s bed – for the night. In the end, there’s nowhere Jim spends more time than with Leonard and Leonard always tells himself to be satisfied with that.

And then a few days will go by, and there Leonard is in front of a console again, searching the data in vain for some clue to Jim’s hidden inner life.

And only ever finding coordinates.

 

“You know,” Jim begins (and Leonard is half holding his breath), “I’ve been reading a lot about warp engineering…”

Which is not the worst subject Jim could bring up, by far, but it’s not exactly Leonard’s wheelhouse either. Jim starts to expound on some thoughts and offer some theories and the words all blur together into one long stream of confusing non-meaning. Leonard tries to “hm” and “oh” and “ah” at the right moments, but he knows he’s not holding up his end of the conversation.

Suddenly he wonders if that’s what Jim can’t get here.

He wonders if Jim will go out tomorrow and find some engineering cadet to screw so that they can theorize as pillow talk.

“You know,” Leonard says, when it feels like Jim’s left an appropriate pause, “I was thinking I should teach you some field medicine. I could find you some texts to read and we could work on it in the evenings. That is, if you’re interested…”

As far as Leonard can tell, Jim’s never met a piece of knowledge he didn’t love.

“Yeah,” Jim says, “that’d be cool.”

 

By four weeks into teaching Jim field medicine, Leonard can tell he won’t be able to stretch the lessons past another four weeks.

Twenty-eight nights down. Twenty-eight nights left to figure out something new.

Leonard wonders how many nights he can fill with lessons, how many nights worth of things he actually knows.

One hundred?

Two hundred?

A thousand and one?

 

Leonard feels like an idiot when he finally figures it out.

Months have passed and the end of his second year at the academy – his second year with Jim – is in sight. In a move Leonard fully realizes is probably wildly opposed to his own self-interest, he’s begun teaching Jim psychology – the degree Leonard was just one little dissertation away from finishing back in his former life.

Of course Jim’s already a bit of a lay expert, having learned plenty about human behavior in his efforts just to survive, but Leonard tells himself that refining that knowledge will help Jim to protect himself in the future.

Leonard tells himself that Jim doesn’t need to protect himself from Leonard.

Anyway, it’s not like Jim needs lessons in psychology to wrap Leonard around his little finger. The more time they spend together, the more Leonard longs for those hidden parts of Jim that Jim would be a fool not to withhold.

But Jim is not a fool.

Even if Leonard is a fool for Jim.

The kind of fool who can’t see what should have been staring him face months ago.

Leonard’s not just a physician, after all, he’s a medical researcher. And medical researchers are trained to look for patterns in data. A medical researcher ought to be able to recognize a unique data pattern the second time he sees it. And this, Leonard realizes, as he stares at the tracking data before him, is at least the fifth time he’s seen this particular “day” of Jim’s.

A quick review of the records of Leonard’s own access confirms that Leonard reviewed this “day” on September 2nd, November 17th, January 4th, January 28th and, now, March 10th. Jim’s options for movement and activities may be limited, but no one’s routines are that exact.

Not being the computer expert Jim apparently is, it takes Leonard almost another two hours to get it all sorted out. What’s been passing for a daily record of Jim’s movements is, in fact, a series of twenty different days Jim lived last spring, whose tracking data is now being substituted in randomized fashion for whatever Jim has actually been doing with his days for the last year.

About which Leonard apparently knows far less than the nothing he thought he did.

 

“Hey, Bones, how’d that protocol exam go?”

The question confuses Leonard for a moment. Was it really just this morning he sat for that exam? It’s almost unfathomable. “Fine,” Leonard answers, not moving from the place on the couch where he’s been staring at the wall for god knows how long.

When he finally glances up, Jim looks as enticing as always, just back from the gym.

Or some other place – who knows? Maybe Jim ran all the way home from some other location, some secret liaison, just to work up a convincing sweat.

“Aw,” Jim says, taking the frown on Leonard’s face to be a comment on the exam, “I know how much you hate that kind of stuff.” He walks toward and then behind Leonard, laying his hands on Leonard’s shoulders and starting to knead at the muscles there.

Leonard can feel himself tense up at the touch and wills his trapezius muscles to relax the way they normally would beneath Jim’s hands. He can’t let on that anything is wrong. He needs time to think.

“Wow, you really are stressed,” Jim says. His voice drops. “I bet I can think of a way to help you unwind…”

Leonard knows it will be weird to say ‘no.’ He hasn’t said no to this from Jim – to Jim in general – in a very long time.

“I think I’m exhausted,” Leonard says, and it isn’t a lie. “I just need some sleep.”

 

A couple days later, once the feeling of idiocy wears off and the sting of jealousy dulls, a chill sets in.

Jim hasn’t just been taking advantage of Leonard’s trust to sneak around or sow his wild oats; he’s engineered a complicated hack of Starfleet Academy’s security systems. The level at which the whole thing has been executed is stunning and Leonard isn’t sure what level of access you’d have to achieve to pull it off, but he knows it’s high.

And he has to think Jim wouldn’t have been able to do it alone.

Leonard starts to wonder if he’s fallen in love with a terrorist.

 

Leonard spends days trying to figure out what the hell he’s supposed to do next.

Well, obviously, he’s supposed to report it. This isn’t just something a Non-mod’s done to a Patron. This is a security breach that could put the entire academy at risk. Hell, Starfleet itself could be vulnerable and that could mean danger to the whole planet, if not the Federation.

Except that Leonard can’t quite believe that of Jim, can’t picture him as a threat to the world.

But he knows if he reports Jim to anyone, that’s exactly how Jim will be seen. It won’t matter what Jim really was or wasn’t up to, he’ll be in the kind of trouble Leonard won’t be able to get him out of. His fate will be way out of Leonard’s hands.

And Leonard will end up alone.

On the other hand, he could confront Jim. He could ask Jim point blank what the hell is going on, and maybe Jim will be able to explain it all away. Maybe this is just the way a genius with too little power and too much time on his hands protects what’s left of his privacy. Maybe all Jim’s really after is to go where he wants, do what he wants, and fuck who he feels like without Leonard or anyone else keeping tabs on him.

Maybe that’s what Jim will tell Leonard. Or maybe something else equally plausible. And maybe the explanation will be true, or maybe it will be a lie.

Maybe Leonard’ll get one and wish it was the other.

 

Leonard is trying to act normal.

They’ve just finished the evening’s psychology lesson – operant conditioning – and Leonard tells Jim he needs to catch up on a few articles from the major medical journals. He reads on the couch for an hour or so and then takes the PADD with him to bed. Jim follows, settling into his own side of the bed with a book.

Leonard keeps his eyes glued to the screen until Jim gets up to use the bathroom. Then Leonard sets the PADD down on his chest, closes his eyes, and fakes having accidentally fallen asleep.

Leonard listens to Jim’s footsteps as they reenter the room and approach Leonard’s side of the bed. He feels the PADD lifted from his chest and hears the soft thump as it’s placed on the nightstand. He feels the covers pulled up over his body.

Leonard keeps his eyes lightly shut and his breathing even.

He feels the bed shift again as Jim crawls back in on the other side. “Lights out,” Jim whispers, and few minutes later, Jim is asleep.

Leonard, on the other hand, is wide awake, thinking.

Jim must know that something’s up – Leonard’s just not that great at acting normal – but he hasn’t said a word. And he still sleeps beside Leonard every night, even though Leonard’s been finding one way or another to beg off intimate contact for almost a week now.

Maybe Jim’s life has taught him to roll with the punches. Maybe experience has shown Jim that Patrons are moody and fickle sons of bitches whose fits and whims are to be waited out in silence.

Or maybe Jim never really wanted to sleep with Leonard in the first place.

The thought catches Leonard suddenly and won’t let him go.

Maybe all of this has been one long, involved seduction. Just a necessary step in Jim’s long-con – his slow, calculated infiltration of Starfleet. Maybe Leonard, with all his bumbling naiveté and earnest feelings of guilt and desire, has never been anything more to Jim than a convenient pawn.

Leonard lies awake the rest of the night, and by the time the morning comes, he’s forced to admit something to himself.

It’s not the security of Starfleet that’s had him tied up in knots. That’s not his job.

And it’s not the overthrow of governments that keeps him up at night. He could live with that.

But finding out that this thing between them meant nothing to Jim? Just might destroy his life all over again.

 

Leonard is sitting at the table with his PADD and a cup of coffee when Jim comes out of the bedroom.

“Morning,” Jim says, heading to the kitchenette to get his own coffee.

In a rush, Leonard is filled with resentment. Isn’t he supposed to be one of the lucky ones? The privileged? The elite? His genes are good. His parents are rich. He’s a fucking neurosurgeon, for Christ’s sake, and a brilliant one at that.

So why is it that he always finds himself clinging helplessly to people who will never be his?

It’s bullshit, is what it is.

“Bones?” Jim starts, sitting down across from him. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

Leonard freezes, his coffee cup halfway to his mouth. Jim can’t be about to confess. What will Leonard say?

“Have you heard of New Sheridan?”

It takes Leonard a minute to process the unexpected question. “You mean in Wyoming? That secret, off-the-grid compound they say is run by Non-mods? Is that even real?”

“It’s real. It’s a city, actually. Completely un-networked, completely self-sufficient. They grow their own food. They have their own medical facility. There are no records of its inhabitants. It takes months, sometimes years to earn their trust and be let in.”

It dawns on Leonard where all this must be coming from. “You’re leaving,” he says. He feels hollow. “You’re going there.”

“Huh?” Jim blinks. “No. That’s where Joanna is. And your ex-wife, her lover. They’re all there. They’re safe. And it sounds like they really are happy.”

“How on Earth could you know all that?”

“Let’s just say there are people here who owe me favors – who owe both of us favors. Beyond that, the less you know the better.”

“But I…I mean…” There are too many questions for Leonard to actually voice just one.

“I can send a message for you, if you want,” Jim offers. “I can’t guarantee that they’ll get it, but I think they get through most of the time. You probably won’t hear back, though. Communication is heavily restricted. It would have cost Jocelyn a lot to send you that picture.”

“Money?” Leonard asks.

“More like social capital,” Jim says. “You go through a lot to send one message out. You don’t get to send a message to the same person twice.”

Leonard frowns. “It sounds…oppressive. Are you sure they’re not…?”

“New Sheridan is a democracy,” Jim says, his words becoming clipped. “There are trade-offs, sure, but they’re freely chosen.”

“I’m sorry,” Leonard says. “It’s just, you hear things, you know? About cult leaders and child brides and stuff.”

“Yeah, well it doesn’t exactly serve government interests to let people think that Non-mods can function perfectly well in their own society, does it?”

Leonard nods, conceding the point and recognizing that he’s lost track of what’s important here. “I’m sorry, Jim. Thank you.”

“They still call her ‘Joanna,’ you know. They’ve both changed their names, but they haven’t changed hers.”

Leonard has no idea why that should mean so much to him, but it does. “Thank you,” he says again, and he’s almost overcome with the urge to reach out and touch Jim.

For a moment, Leonard resists, but a moment later, he gives in.

A few moments after that, they’re back in the bedroom. Together.

Leonard knows that if Jim could get this information it’s all the more likely that he’s some sort of threat. But he also knows that if Jim would risk giving this information to Leonard then he must actually care. Leonard knows that summer is coming, and that soon the campus will empty out again, leaving them in a world almost all their own.

Leonard wants that time.

He doesn’t want to be alone again.

Lying next to Jim with the sweat still drying and their legs still touching, Leonard decides that he isn’t going to say anything about what he’s discovered – not to Jim, not to anyone. He realizes that if – when – Jim goes down, he’s going to go down with him. He even realizes that other people might get hurt.

He just doesn’t care.

Sometimes the heart is a needy, possessive, jealous thing that does what’s wrong to try to fill its own emptiness.

Chapter Text

“Captain, we're receiving a distress signal from the USS Kobayashi Maru. The ship has lost power and is stranded.”

Jim looks over toward the communication station and nods. “Thank you, Lieutenant Pike.” He smiles a bit at the address, but Pike doesn’t smile back.

Right, serious.

It feels so good to sit in the captain’s chair that Jim almost lets himself believe it’s real – that such a thing is possible. He looks at the empty navigator’s station. “Ensign Pike, chart a course.”

Pike slips away from the communication station and into the navigator’s chair to respond. “Sir, the Kobyashi Maru is in the Neutral Zone.”

“Can we get close enough to evacuate without joining them there?” Jim asks, only because he knows he’s supposed to. He already knows what the answer will be.

“I’m afraid not, sir.”

Jim looks out at the imaginary ship on the imaginary viewscreen and imagines he’s supposed to give a shit about violating a Federation treaty.

It’s a bit of a stretch.

“Chart the course,” he says.

Pike moves to the mock helm, to guide their mock vessel into the Neutral Zone, then moves to the tactical station.

“Captain!” Pike says, with very convincing alarm. “Two Klingon vessels have entered the neutral zone and are locking weapons on us.”

“Shields up. Arm photon torpedoes,” Jim says, just like he’s supposed to, but it comes as no real surprise when, less than ten minutes later, both the Kobyashi Maru and the ship Jim is supposed to be captaining have been destroyed.

So, Jim thinks as he and Pike sneak back out of the simulation room and retire to their usual meeting place, that was the big nasty test all the command track cadets dread. Honestly, of all the simulations Pike has managed to put Jim through in the last two years – all of which Jim passed with flying colors – this is the one that makes the most sense.

This is the only one that’s felt true.

“You did well,” Pike tells him.

It seems unlikely.

“We all died,” Jim says.

Pike nods. “You stayed calm. You were decisive.”

“We all died decisively,” Jim says. “You’re right. That’s much better.”

“If you want to try taking it again, let me know.”

“Thanks, but I don’t really see the point,” Jim says. “Bones won’t be home for another three hours. Think you can get me back in the flight simulator?”

Pike looks disappointed, but Jim doesn’t really know what to tell him. He’s pretty sure he’s known what this test is trying to teach him since he was twelve.

 

That night, Jim dreams of the orphanage. He’s standing at the edge of the yard with his brother, Sam, watching a couple get in their car. They’ll be back soon. Probably tomorrow.

“You can’t go with them, Sammy,” Jim is saying. “We have to run away.” He doesn’t know how many times he’ll have to say it before Sam gets it, but however many it is, he’ll do it.

“Why not?” Sam asks, sounding just as desperate, but for other reasons. “They like me. They want to take me home.”

But Jim saw the way they looked at Sam and Jim knows that’s not how these things work. “Then why won’t they take both of us?” he asks. If he could go, too, he could protect Sam.

“They said they wanted to,” Sam insists, “but they can’t afford to feed us both right now. They said we’ll come back for you soon.”

“Yeah, right.” Jim’s pretty sure they could afford to feed two more kids. What they probably can’t – or don’t want to – afford is the two bribes they’d have to pay to the director. After all, why buy two servants when you can just make one do twice the work? “You have to trust me, Sammy. If we don’t leave together now, we’re never going to see each other again.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. You’re my little brother. I won’t let them forget about coming back for you. I promise.”

Jim wants to shake Sam for his naïveté, but he knows he only has himself to blame. As hard as Jim’s worked to understand the rules of this place, he’s worked twice as hard to make sure that Sam doesn’t.

“Look, Sammy, it’s not too late. You can make them change their mind. We can stay here together. In another year, I can get us out.”

He’s been working on a plan. He’d just been counting on a little more time to figure it all out.

“Jimmy, I don’t want to make them change their mind. I like them.”

Looking into his brother’s bright and earnest eyes, it’s not hard to see why he’s been chosen, in spite of his advanced age. Sam is tall and strong and so damned eager to please.

It’s always been worse for Sam.

Jim never knew their parents, but Sam was with them for at least a year, maybe two. Sam doesn’t have any conscious memories of them, but surely they held him, fed him, rocked him to sleep, and something deep in Sam’s body seems to remember this, to long for what it once had, to long for a family. Some nights he still crawls into bed with Jim like he used to when they were younger, and on those nights he sleeps heavier than Jim ever could.

Sam wants this so bad – he wants to be wanted – and Jim doesn’t know how to compete with that. He doesn’t know how to make Sam understand.

“Please, Sammy,” he begs. “Please. Please.”

But there’s nothing but confusion in Sam’s eyes. Then, suddenly, Sam is shaking Jim’s shoulder and calling his name. “Jim,” he says. “Jim, wake up. You’re having a bad dream.”

Jim wakes with a start to see a familiar face hovering over him. He blinks a few times. “Bones?” he croaks.

“Yeah,” Bones says, “just ‘Bones.’ You’re okay. It was just a dream.”

Jim shoves himself up into a sitting position, still trying to shake off the lingering sensation of panic. When he meets Bones’ eyes, they’re worried and far too kind.

“What is it? What happened?”

Jim looks away. “Nothing,” he says.

For a long moment, there’s only silence and Bones’ hand resting on his shoulder.

Then: “Who’s Sammy?”

Jim’s eyes snap back to Bones’ face. “No one,” he says, voice tight. “Leave it alone.”

“You were calling for him.”

Jim can read the helpless frustration in Bones’ eyes and he almost wants to give in and tell Bones the whole story.

But it’s not a nice story.

“Believe me,” Jim says, “you don’t want to know.”

He turns away, showing Bones his back, slows down his breathing, and pretends to fall back asleep.

Still, it’s not until an hour later, when Bones creeps closer and dares to wrap an arm around Jim’s chest, that Jim actually slips into unconsciousness.

 

“You’re off,” Pike says, extending a hand to help Jim up off the mat.

Jim doesn’t take it, standing up on his own and brushing himself off. “I’m fine.”

“Your head’s somewhere else. What happened? You and McCoy have another tiff?”

“Oh, fuck you.”

Pike just chuckles. “You know,” he says, “I could have a cadet kicked out of this place for talking to me like that.”

Jim isn’t worried. “Good thing I’m not a cadet, then. And I’m not here to chat about my personal life.”

“Well, we might as well chat about something,” Pike says, taking a seat at the side of room, “because you’re sparring is for shit today.”

“Fine,” Jim says, sitting down next to him. “I read an interesting paper on the Klingons the other day. Badami’s. You know it?”

“Really?” Pike asks. “You want to talk about Klingons?”

“I don’t want to talk about anything. I want to train.”

“Then you better find a way to clear your head. If you don’t want to talk to me, try talking to McCoy.”

“We talk.”

“About what? Your long days spent at the dorm gym? You’re gonna have to trust somebody someday, and I think he’s a good choice. Why not tell him what you’re really doing?”

“And what exactly is that, again? Because it’s starting to feel like a waste of time.”

Pike doesn’t rise to the bait. “You’re making sure that when an opportunity presents itself, you’re ready to take advantage of it.”

“And what if one never does?”

“Every system has its cracks, Jim. And every movement has its time.”

Jim feels Pike’s words like a spark inside his soul, but he brushes them off with an eyeroll. “I see we’ve reached the hackneyed philosophy portion of the session.”

“Actually,” Pike says, “I’m pretty sure we’ve reached the end. I know I’m done. Go home and talk to your boyfriend. Come back with your head on straight.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Jim says, automatically, but he does give a moment’s thought to talking to Bones before coming to the same conclusion he always does. He shakes his head. “And it’s not worth it. What Bones doesn’t know won’t get him prosecuted. He doesn’t deserve to be put at risk. He didn’t ask for this.”

Pike shrugs. “Seems to me he’s been asking for a while.”

Jim shakes his head again and heads for the door.

“Oh, and Jim? Badami’s full of shit. You want to know about Klingons? Read Mbembe.”

 

That evening, Bones start speaking the minute he walks through the door.

“I need to be clear about something,” he announces. “I do want to know.”

Jim looks up from Mbembe’s paper on the Klingons, confused. “Um, what?”

“About your life. About the things that have happened to you. About the things that you’ve done. I do want to know.”

Jim opens his mouth to respond, but Bones cuts him off.

“Now, you may not want to tell me, and that’s your choice. You have a right to your secrets. But if you’ve been telling yourself that I can’t handle reality because it’s too ugly and messy and brutal, you’re wrong. I had my hand inside a cadet’s chest today. I felt her beating heart. And I lost her. It was ugly and messy and real, and I’m still standing here, and I’m still going back to work tomorrow. So if you’ve had to live through it, I can damn well live through hearing about it.”

Bones pauses a moment to take a breath and to let Jim take in his words.

The thing is, Jim has been telling himself that Bones is too privileged, too naïve to deal with the gritty details of Jim’s existence. He’s also been telling himself that he pities Bones for his weakness. But suddenly, in light of last night’s dream, he can see what’s really been going on.

He hasn’t been keeping things from Bones because he doesn’t trust him. He’s been keeping things from Bones because he wants to protect him.

And not just from Academy security, but from all the world’s darkness and depravity.

Just like with Sam.

“Look, I’m sure you can handle it, but it’s okay. I’m okay. You really don’t have to—”

“I want to, Jim. I want to hear it because I want to know you. The real you. All of you. And if you haven’t been able to figure that out by now…well, you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”

Jim blinks. He isn’t sure what to say. He doesn’t know what he’s ready to say. He can only sit and stare.

“It’s not an ultimatum,” Bones tells him, quietly now, “it’s an offer.”

And then Bones walks over to the kitchen and fixes them dinner.

 

Jim spends most of that dinner lost in his own thoughts, and afterwards, too, but by the time they’re getting ready for bed, he’s come to a decision. If he won’t tell Bones about his present, at least he can share something of his past.

He pauses in the doorway of the bedroom and looks at Bones lying on the bed, reading something on his PADD.

“Sam was my brother,” Jim says. “And we grew up together in an orphanage.”

Leonard lays down his PADD and nods at Jim, reaching out a hand to invite Jim into the bed. But Jim’s not sure he can say what he needs to say so close up. He stays standing, wrapping his arms across this own chest.

“It seems weird, right? Non-mod orphanages? But I guess it’s easier to kill defective kids before they’re born than after. I mean, we wouldn’t want newsfeeds full of babies being suffocated and little kids getting lethal injections. People might start to wonder what’s wrong with the world. So the State’s gotta stick us somewhere. Only Non-mods who aren’t old enough to do all the dirty jobs no one else wants to do are pretty much useless to society, so the State can’t really justify spending much money on them. So you end up with a bunch of bitter, underpaid people taking care of other people’s defective children, which is still hard work, even when you’re just doing the bare minimum. It’s a great system.”

“Jesus, Jim, I…”

Jim shakes his head. “Hey, none of that. You wanna hear this, you can’t do the pity thing.”

Bones swallows hard, but nods.

“Right, so at some point, these people who ran the orphanages figured out that Non-mod kids weren’t so worthless, after all. People might not want them as family members, but they’d sure take them as workers if they came at a good discount. So they started charging a little extra ‘fee’ for the ‘adoptions.’ And if you paid it, you got full ‘parental’ rights over the kid until age eighteen, no follow up visits, no questions asked.”

Bones looks a little ill, but he keeps his mouth shut.

“Now, to maximize a purchase like that, you really want to buy between the ages of nine and twelve. That way you get a kid old enough to work hard, but young enough to give you good number of years before they can try to leave. Plus, you want ’em old enough to be desperate, but young enough not to be too jaded.”

Jim pauses to steel himself. So far he’s just been explaining. It’s about to get personal.

“I’m not exactly sure how Sam made it through the danger period without getting picked. Maybe it was because he always had me clinging to his side. He wasn’t smart about the system. He’d always tell me about how someday we’d have a home together. I think by the time I was eight or so, I’d stopped believing him. And by the time I turned nine, I knew enough to know I didn’t want to be ‘adopted.’ When people would come by to look over the kids, I always made sure I looked like more trouble than I was worth. By the time I turned twelve, I knew what things were all about. Sam still didn’t.”

Jim stops again. He realizes he’s never actually told this story. Not to anyone but himself.

“So one day this couple comes by. Frank and Alicia Roberts. I knew what Frank was about the moment I laid eyes on him – or, well, the moment he laid his eyes on me. They stopped in front of me, looking me over. I sneered at him, but I think he liked it. So I sneered at his wife, instead, and she moved right along. I was laughing inside – I felt good, like I’d dodged a phaser – until they stopped in front of Sam.”

Jim hasn’t felt the sensation of pressure welling up behind his eyelids since that year – the year he was twelve – but he’s feeling it now.

“He was almost sixteen years old. No one was supposed to want him. He should have been in the clear. I should have been paying more attention. I should have done something.”

“What could you have done?”

“I could have told him what the world was really like!” Jim snaps, angry at himself, not Bones. “I could have told him that no one was ever going to take him home unless they wanted to use him up and discard him afterwards. I could have told him that defective kids don’t get families or happy futures.”

“He was your brother. You were trying to protect him.”

“But instead I served him up like a lamb for the slaughter.” Jim can still see Sam’s face in front of him, so hopeful, so happy. “I begged him to run away with me. I pleaded. I told him if he didn’t we’d never see each other again, but he didn’t believe me. He wouldn’t listen. He was so happy to have been chosen. He felt wanted and special. And I…I don’t know, I just…I couldn’t bear to tell him that everything he’d dreamed of was one big lie. Maybe if I had sat him down and explained—”

“Jim, whatever happened to him there, it wasn’t your fault. There was no way for you to stop it. You were just a kid.”

Jim laughs, then, a harsh, bitter sound. If he was ever just a kid, that day was the last day of his childhood. “Oh, but I did. I did stop it.”

“Oh, god,” Bones whispers. “How?”

This, Jim thinks, is why Pike has nothing to teach him about no-win scenarios.

“The only way I could think of,” Jim says. “I took his place.”

Chapter Text

The revelation lies heavy in the air between them.

“Jesus, Jim.”

Bones looks stricken, but Jim still doesn’t want pity. He shrugs, not making eye contact as he finally steps out of the doorway and moves toward the bed.

“Thought I was so clever. Only I stuck myself with Frank and Alicia, and Sam never spoke to me again. Guess I learned my lesson.”

He starts to pull off his shirt.

“Don’t do that,” Bones snaps.

“What? Take off my shirt?” Jim quips, but he lets his hands drop to his sides.

Bones doesn’t laugh. “Don’t shrug off what you did,” he says, “what you sacrificed for your brother.”

Jim sits down on the bed, keeping his back to Bones. “Yeah, well, what am I supposed to do instead? Celebrate handing myself over to a pedophile?”

“Of course not,” Bones mutters and Jim can feel the warmth of Bones’ hand hovering over his shoulder, but it doesn’t come to rest.

Bones probably doesn’t want to touch him anymore. Jim understands.

“Or maybe I should wallow in it?” Jim suggests. “My huge, stupid sacrifice. Make my whole life about how I’m some kind of tragic victim.”

“You’d have the right,” Bones says softly. “But I don’t think those are the only options. Just because you acknowledge your past doesn’t mean you have to define yourself by it. Hell, I destroyed a perfectly good career trying to save a completely hopeless marriage and fell in love with a daughter who was never mine in the first place and who I’ll probably never see again.”

Jim feels his lips twitch into a small and brief, but genuine smile. “Yeah,” he says, “I guess you did.”

“And now look at me – I’m an upstanding member of Starfleet.”

“Guess you are,” Jim says.

The hand is back over Jim’s shoulder, and this time it lands lightly, squeezes slightly, makes Jim feel steadier.

“I owe a lot of that to you, you know,” Bones says. “Telling you about it helped.”

Jim nods, still looking away across the room.

“You can finish the story. If you want to.”

Something about the simple invitation tugs at Jim. Maybe he can do this, though he’s not sure he can turn around. He nods again, and takes a deep breath.

“Getting Frank to change his mind wasn’t hard. I knew what he wanted, and I knew with guys like him, the younger the better. So when he and Alicia came back to finalize things, I pulled him aside and let him know I was available. I told him I’d be a much better ‘son’ than Sam. Of course, when he told the director he wanted me instead, she immediately upped the price. Four more years don’t come cheap. Alicia was pissed, but Frank was practically salivating, so she gave in. She’d find ways to get back at me later.”

Jim can still picture the cold, hard set of her face. The way she would always look at him, except for those rare times she let her real disgust seep through.

“That part was easy. The hard part was when I looked at Sam – when I saw the betrayal in his eyes, the defeat in his body. He didn’t see a rescue or a sacrifice. He saw his little brother stealing his family – the family he was so convinced would be our family one day – right out from under him.”

That look, too, is burned in Jim’s memory, chased him for years in his dreams.

“Everything went pretty quickly after that. Sam was sent out of the room, credits changed hands, and pretty soon I was sent after him to get my things. I knew I didn’t have long and I wanted – needed – to explain, but Sam wouldn’t even look at me. I had a small emergency fund stashed away on an untraceable credit chip. I tried to tell him about it, whispered the hiding place, how to get to it, but I couldn’t even tell if he was hearing me. I promised I would come back for him.”

It’s these last moments with Sam that haunt Jim most. He can’t help thinking there must have been something he could have said to make things different, to make Sam wait for him.

Then again, maybe he just took too long.

“Anyway, the director was there, snapping at me to get downstairs and get in the car. It was only an hour’s drive from the orphanage to my new ‘home,’ but it might as well have been Mars for all the means I’d have to sneak back there. No one spoke. Alicia was driving. Frank was watching me. I was thinking, trying to make plans.”

Jim thinks there was someone talking on the radio – maybe about food or music – it was nothing Jim had ever had time to care about.

“I knew I couldn’t just run away. They’d have sent someone after me. I couldn’t just be awful, either. I didn’t want them going back to the orphanage and demanding Sam in my place. I’d have to play nice and bide my time, figure out how things worked, get inside their heads. Anyway, I’m not sure what I was expecting from their home, but the really fucked up thing was how perfectly normal they were. Pretty neighborhood, clean house, cute kids. Andrew, age seven, and Beth, age four, fresh faced and smiling in all the family holos hanging all over the walls. Sam would have fucking loved it – at least at first sight.”

All Jim remembers feeling was out of place, dirty, like some kind of mark that ought to be wiped up, swept away and carried off with the trash.

“I guess it wasn’t all bad, though. For the first time, I had my own room. And I got enough to eat, every day. Alicia kept me busy around the house with cooking and cleaning and babysitting, but even she couldn’t do as much as she wanted to make my life miserable. This was an ‘adoption,’ after all, and we had to keep up appearances. Especially for the kids, who were so excited to have a big brother around.”

Not that Jim knew anything about being a big brother in a place like that.

“And then there was Frank.” Without thinking about it, Jim finds himself back on his feet, arms wrapped around his own body. “Would you believe he actually courted me? There I was, holding my breath at night, just waiting for him to walk through the door, and instead he starts leaving me gifts. Clothes, candy, a PADD with all these games and books. Things a real kid would get. Things Alicia didn’t think were necessary for keeping up appearances.”

Jim’s half aware that he’s taken up an erratic sort of pacing, but he doesn’t know how to stop it.

“And I would tell myself I didn’t need anything from him, that I’d never had any of this stuff before and I didn’t need any of it now, but I just couldn’t make myself throw it all away. Mostly I ended up stuffing the things in the back of my closet. It’s like…growing up the way Sam and I did, you never had anything of your own. Books, toys – when we had them at all they were always shared with a bunch of other kids and usually came in second hand in the first place. Things real kids didn’t want or need anymore. And, you know, you start to hoard little things – it didn’t even matter what they were – you just want something to be yours.”

Jim stops in his tracks for a second, shakes his head. “God, that must sound so stupid to you…”

“Jim, no…” Bones says, sounding so sad. He looks like maybe he wants to stand up, but he doesn’t. There’s a short silence and then Bones must figure out where the story is going because his next words are stronger, more insistent. “Jim, whatever he did to you, it’s not your fault. I don’t care how you think you acted, or reacted, it’s all on him.”

Jim can’t meet Bones’ eyes. “I could have said ‘no.’ I could have made him force me. I didn’t have to give him what he wanted, especially not for a few stupid toys.”

“You had to do the best you could to survive.”

“That’s what I told myself,” Jim agrees, though he’s not sure he believes it, even now. “I figured he was going to get what he wanted either way, so why shouldn’t I get something out of it, too? And what did it matter, right? It was all just an act.”

The restless pacing resumes.

“Only it wasn’t enough just to find me when no one else was home or to sneak into my room at night. He wanted to talk, too. To confide in me. He’d tell me how much he hated his job, how his boss was a dick and his coworkers were snobs, how Alicia never really listened to him and she didn’t understand him, and the only good things in his life were me and his kids because weren’t they so beautiful and brilliant and perfect?”

Jim feels the resentment rising in his throat like bile.

“And yeah, I guess they were good kids. Shit, I know they were. Only I could hardly stand to look at them anymore. They loved having me around, begged me to play with them and read them stories with funny voices and things. And Andrew was smart, and so sensitive, and innocent, and he looked up to his father. And sometimes I actually thought, ‘Better me than him,’ you know? Just like, ‘Better me than Sam.’ Because Andrew and Sam wouldn’t be able to take it, but I could.”

Jim thinks he might be talking too fast now, or too loud.

“Except other times I would see Andrew and be filled with rage. Sometimes I fucking hated him because Frank was his fucking father and I didn’t even have one, so how come I was the one who had to shield everybody from everything?”

“You shouldn’t have had to do any of that,” Bones whispers, or maybe it’s just a normal voice. Jim’s lost perspective.

“But then I thought maybe there was some reason, you know? I mean, there I was letting Frank pay me off. Maybe I was just born to be a whore.”

Bones draws a sharp breath, but Jim pushes on before he can register a protest.

“But, hey, why fight it, right? I could use it. It was all supposed to be about Sam in the first place, and I was supposed to be getting back to him. It had only been a few months, so I wasn’t going to be able to get away for good yet, but I thought maybe I could convince Frank just to take me back for a visit. I could wait until he wanted something…special from me and then trade for it. Only the first time I tried to ask, Frank put me off. I waited a couple of weeks and tried again, but that time he got really pissed off.”

Jim remembers the shock of Frank’s sudden and sharp anger, so different from the solicitous seduction.

“I mean, I knew he wasn’t a great guy, but I’d never seen him like that before. And it scared me. So I just…stopped asking.”

The admission brings the worst of the guilt flooding back, and Jim knows Bones can hear it in his voice.

“You were just trying to survive,” Bones repeats, like he knows anything about it.

Jim shakes his head. “You don’t get it. I didn’t have any way to communicate with Sam. Convincing Frank was my only shot and I just gave up. It took me almost a year to figure out how to actually get out of that house for good, and by then it was too late. When I finally made it back to the orphanage, Sam was long gone. He’d taken off a few months earlier. I spent years trying to find him, but I never could. I haven’t seen him since.”

This shocks Bones into a short silence.

“Maybe he found a good life somewhere,” he says at last, but Jim can hear the doubt behind the words.

Jim doesn’t allow himself false hope. “He wasn’t ready to go out on his own. He didn’t know enough about the world. I mean, fuck, he didn’t even take the credits I left him. I found them, still in the same hiding place. Obviously, he was still pissed at me for ‘betraying’ him and didn’t want to take anything from me, but principles like that don’t get you shit on the streets.” Jim looks down at the floor. “The last thing he said to me before I left was that he’d never forgive me. I guess he kept his promise.”

Another moment passes. “God, Jim, I’m so sorry.”

“You said you wanted to know,” Jim reminds him, finally turning to look at Bones, who’s still sitting on the bed.

“I’m sorry you had to live through it,” Bones says, “but I’m not sorry you told me.”

Bones looks very intent, intense, and suddenly Jim feels deeply exposed. There will be emotional fallout here, but Jim isn’t sure what it will be, the bitter confidence that he knows people’s actions and reactions all too well suddenly replaced by almost unbearable uncertainty.

“Yeah, okay, thanks,” Jim says, nodding, backing towards the door. “I…um…maybe I should sleep in my own room tonight.”

Even with his desire…need…to escape, Jim half expects Bones to ask him to stay.

Maybe more than half, because it comes as a shock when Bones just nods back and says, “Yeah, I guess that’s probably best.”

But, then, of course Bones would say that. He knows now that Jim is a whore, and not just his personal whore like so many men fantasize about. No, just a dirty, used-up kid who left his brother to die on the streets.

“Right,” Jim says, “yeah.”

He’s almost through the door when Bones says: “Sorry.”

“Yeah,” Jim says without turning around, “I got that.”

“No,” Bones says, “I mean I’m sorry for taking advantage of you.”

Jim turns around at that. “What?”

“I told myself it was okay, that I wasn’t forcing you, but who am I kidding? You had nowhere else to go and didn’t I just jump on that? Buying you gifts, giving you things you could only get through me – I’m no better than Frank.”

Jim started shaking his head halfway through Bones’ lament and he hasn’t stopped. “No, Bones, you’re nothing like him.”

Bones scowls. “Aren’t I?”

“No! You’re a good guy. A little naïve sometimes, but you care about people. You want to fix things.”

“I’m in a position of power. You’re dependent on me. You said it yourself, you have no place else to go.”

“Oh, please, I knew within a week of us getting here that you’d never kick me out. I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to. And besides, I fucking threw myself at you. Not like I gave you much choice.”

“There’s always a choice,” Bones mutters, looking down.

And of course Jim knows what Bones is talking about himself, but it feels like he’s talking about Jim. “I chose Frank,” Jim whispers.

“What?”

“I chose Frank,” Jim repeats. “I could have pushed him to try to get back to Sam, but I didn’t.”

“Jim, you can’t blame yourself for that. You were young and scared and you had every reason to be. You didn’t know what Frank was capable of.”

“No, see, that’s just it,” Jim whispers, pushing the words past his tight throat, “I wasn’t afraid of what Frank was capable of. I wasn’t worried about what he would do to me. I was afraid he’d get mad and stop paying attention to me. Alicia hated me. She never spoke to me except to give me orders. She didn’t care about how I was doing. She didn’t want to know me.” Jim stops and swallows. “But Frank did. And I was afraid to lose that. I was afraid to be alone.”

“Jesus Christ, Jim…”

“I know,” Jim says. “I don’t know what was wrong with me. How could I choose a monster like Frank over my own brother?”

“You didn’t, Jim. You chose survival.”

“But how do you know that?” Jim blurts. “Maybe I did it on purpose. I was so angry at Sam for making me take his place with Frank. For getting off scot-free while I was.... Which doesn’t even make sense because Sam didn’t make me – he didn’t even know – and if I hated Frank so much then how come I didn’t want him to stop talking to me?”

Jim looks at Bones and he thinks he must look wild-eyed, desperate, and suddenly Bones is standing up and opening his arms.

“Jim, come here.”

Jim steps forward and the moment Bones’ arms close around him, the tears start to fall.

He starts to pull away, embarrassed, but Bones holds tight and eventually Jim just gives in.

Time passes.

Eventually the tears dry up.

“You were isolated and abused,” Bones says softly. “Not just by Frank; by Alicia, too. Alicia blamed you for the faults of her husband, and Frank took advantage of your vulnerability to make himself the most important person in your life so he could take what he wanted and you wouldn’t be able to say no. And with all that, you did the best you could to survive long enough to get away. And you did.”

“But Sam…”

“Sam was your older brother. Anything you knew and understood about the world, he could have known and understood, too. He let you shield him. He let himself not know. And he let you pay a terrible price for his ignorance. Maybe what you did was a shock to him, but he must have woken up after that. And whatever he did then, that was his choice. You gave up your choices so he could have his. And he made them.”

Jim shakes his head against Bones’ shoulder. “You don’t know what it was like for us growing up...”

“You’re right – I don’t. But I know that whatever he had to live through, you had to live through it, too. And you were younger and you were braver and you did everything for him that you possibly could. It’s not your fault.”

“But I—”

“It’s not your fault,” Bones repeats. “I know it’s hard for you to believe, but maybe you can just trust me on that for now?”

Jim doesn’t answer but he doesn’t try to object either.

He stands in the circle of Bones’ arms for long minutes.

Finally, he moves, but not for the door. He takes Bones’ hand and pulls him toward the bed.

They lie down together, but Jim can feel the tension in Bones’ body that tells him Bones is having trouble letting go of his guilt, too.

“I chose to be with you,” Jim says softly. “Not because I had to. Not because I wanted something. Not because I’m damaged. Because of you. Can you trust me on that? For now?”

After a few seconds, he feels Bones relax ever-so-slightly against him.

Jim lets himself relax, too. Just a little.

Chapter Text

Jim wakes up sometime in the early morning hours. He and Bones have moved apart in their sleep, which isn’t unusual, but as Jim lies there, he feels a spark of fear rising in his chest.

But it’s not about looking back this time; it’s about looking forward.

Bones was a good listener – no, a great listener – and Jim knows (like he’s always known) that he has a place here as long as he wants it.

What he doesn’t know is how Bones will see him now, knowing where Jim has been, what Jim has done.

Even if Bones really doesn’t blame him (and there’s a part of Jim that still finds that almost impossible to believe), it doesn’t guarantee that Bones will still want him.

It’s been a long time since Jim wanted to be wanted.

 

Jim is still lying awake who knows how long later when Bones rolls over and reaches for him in the darkness.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Jim slides closer, pushes his body into Bones hands.

He needs to know.

With everything he lost to Frank – everything Frank took from him – Jim needs to know he’s got something left. Jim needs to know there’s something that’s still his to give.

And he needs to know that it’s something someone like Bones could desire.

Jim’s breath is caught in his throat as Bones begins to stir, becomes aware of what’s happening, what Jim is seeking.

He doesn’t pull away, but… “You don’t have to…” Bones begins in a raspy whisper.

“I choose to,” Jim says.

“I don’t expect—”

Jim stops the words with fingertips over Bones’ lips. “I know, but if I don’t get to choose now, then he really did take everything.”

Bones is still for a second, then he reaches out and tugs Jim over top of him, letting Jim know that Jim’s the one in charge here.

But even as Jim is opening Bones up, even as Jim’s moving inside of him, it feels less about taking and more about giving.

Giving as freely as he’s ever been able.

And Bones – somehow Bones takes in everything Jim has to offer and then gives it all right back again.

And then some.

 

Pike advances. Jim feints.

“I want to take the test again,” Jim announces. It’s been a couple of days since he opened up to Bones and suddenly things are starting to feel…possible.

Pike overcommits. Jim catches his leg in a sweep and brings him down, pinning Pike to the mat with no small sense of satisfaction.

Pike’s smile is something Jim’s always imagined you might see on a father’s face. Jim grins back before he can think better of it.

He offers Pike a hand up and then turns away to grab a bottle of water and collect himself.

Shields, he thinks. His are definitely not operating on full power. And yet…

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Pike says. “You and McCoy kiss and make up?”

Jim downs a few gulps of water. “Maybe you should get a love life of your own,” he suggests. “Keep your mind off of mine.”

“A ‘love life,’ is it now?” Pike teases. “Not an ‘arrangement’? Not an ‘understanding’?”

Jim turns around to shake his head at Pike, but it’s a mistake. Pike’s eyes widen at whatever he sees on Jim’s face.

“Wait a minute,” he says. “You and McCoy didn’t just kiss and make up. You actually talked to him, didn’t you?”

“Not about this,” Jim says, and feels a twinge of regret for all the secrets that still stand between them.

“But about something,” Pike counters with far too much certainty.

Jim looks down, embarrassed. “I thought you wanted my mind on practice,” he points out, but he can’t seem to stop smiling. He feels…lighter than he has in years.

“Knowing how to fight is only half the battle,” Pike says. “The other half’s having something to fight for.”

“You know, if you were getting laid, you probably wouldn’t have as much time to spend watching inspirational holovids…”

“Brat,” Pike mutters. “I’ll find a way to make you an officer someday, if only so you’ll have to show me some respect.”

“You wouldn’t like me nearly as much if it was that easy,” Jim says, and isn’t that half the reason he’s learned to trust Pike? Or Bones for that matter? They’re two of the only people he’s ever met who’ve actually tried to earn his respect. “Now, about that test…”

 

About that test.

Well, one thing Jim can say for his second attempt at the Kobyashi Maru is that it lasted longer.

Everyone still died, but much more slowly.

Yay?

Pike seems pleased, though, and praises Jim’s creativity.

Not creative enough, Jim thinks, but it’s followed by: Not yet.

 

“What are you doing, Eleen?” McCoy snaps. “Can’t you see she still loves you?”

“Oh, come on, she’s pregnant with Akaar’s child. What’s she going to do?”

Bones heaves a sigh of disgust and stands up to pour himself another drink. “Want another beer?” he asks from the kitchen.

“Yeah, thanks,” Jim says. “Pause playback.” The holo stops.

They’re already on their tenth episode of Friday’s Child this weekend, it being summertime and all, and the show is either getting really good or really bad.

Jim’s pretty sure he’s lost all perspective.

There’s a part of Jim that wishes the summer would never end. Bones doesn’t have to study and Jim doesn’t have to sneak off to meet up with Pike (because he’s traveling). They’re out of the Patronship housing again. It feels like they’ve got all the time and space in the world to pretend they’re not who they are.

To be nothing but together.

It’s the closest to happy Jim’s ever felt.

Bones returns from the kitchen, stops in front of Jim to hand him the beer. And stays.

“Hey,” Jim says, “you’re blocking the show.”

“Mmm,” Bones murmurs, “am I?”

Bones seems close to happy, too. Lighter, more playful. That raw sort of need has faded from his eyes.

Sure, Jim imagines Bones still has questions about Jim, and frustrations, but apparently one big, dark secret goes a long way because Bones hasn’t pressed him for anything since.

“Of course, the new view isn’t half bad,” Jim observes as he stares directly at Bones’ crotch. “A bit…obstructed.”

“I could fix that,” Bones says, reaching down with the hand that isn’t holding his bourbon and deftly unfastening his own fly. “Better?”

“Almost,” Jim says. “Just let me…” He uses the hand not holding the beer to draw Bones’ cock out through his boxer briefs.

He takes a moment, then, contemplating the dick in his one hand and the beer in his other. Licks his lips.

“Tough choice?” Bones asks.

Jim smirks. “Not really.”

He brings the beer bottle to his lips, tilts it back, and downs the whole thing in one long swallow, watching Bones watch the movements of his throat.

Bones chuckles, low and warm.

Then the chuckle turns to a gasp as Jim sets down the beer bottle and slides out of his chair, drops to his knees and swallows something else entirely.

 

The start of a new year at the academy (their third now) is another rude awakening. Back in the Patronship dorms, it’s another batch of entitled cadets, another group of ill-used Non-mods, and a steady flow of patients for their secret clinic.

Bones’ new class schedule is a bitch, though, and Jim knows enough first aid now to handle most of the basic cases. Which means he’s running the operation on his own as often as not.

He misses watching Bones work, but it gives him a chance to get to know the patients away from Bones or any other prying eyes.

Jim takes the opportunity to learn what they’re capable of.

Or, in some cases, to teach them.

 

Eventually, Jim meets a new arrival whose hacking skills put his own to shame.

He decides it’s time to take one last shot at the Kobyashi Maru.

 

Jim allows himself a small smirk as the power in the simulation room flickers off and back on again.

“Arm photons,” Jim says. “Prepare to fire on the Klingon warbirds.”

Captain, their shields are still up,” Pike points out, his tone dry.

“Are they?” Jim asks.

Pike double checks his monitor. “No,” he says, almost to himself. “They’re not.”

Jim nods his satisfaction. “Fire on all enemy ships. One photon each should do it,” he can’t resist adding, “so don't waste ammunition.”

Pike rolls his eyes, but carries out the order, seeing the simulation through. “All ships destroyed,” he announces.

“Begin rescue of the stranded crew,” Jim orders, and then, by way of victory lap: “So, we've managed to eliminate all enemy ships, no one onboard was injured, and the successful rescue of the Kobayashi Maru crew is underway.”

Pike just shakes his head and chuckles. “Well, it’s a creative solution, Kirk, I’ll give you that. Care to let me in on your secret?”

“Let’s just say I’ve learned to tap into a hidden talent pool.”

“I’m impressed,” Pike admits, “and I don’t need any names just yet. Just remember to be careful, okay? We don’t want to raise suspicions before we—”

The sudden beeping of the security lock is their only warning.

Their eyes lock for a fraction of a second and then they’re both in motion.

They have maybe three seconds before somebody walks in and catches the illustrious Captain Pike in the very illegal act of training a Non-mod for revolution. Jim springs from the captain’s chair and starts tearing off his shirt. Pike quickly follows suit. When they’re both bare-chested, Jim pushes Pike into the chair he just vacated, straddles his lap, and starts kissing him.

They pretend not even to have heard the door open, only breaking apart when one of the two security personnel clears his throat.

Pike’s expression conveys authority and annoyance. “The door was locked for a reason. Can I help you ensigns with something?”

Jim doesn’t speak, but he doesn’t move from Pike’s lap either, letting the intimate position continue to serve as a distraction.

“Excuse us, sir. We received an alert that an unauthorized simulation was being run.”

Pike’s expression shifts from annoyed to sheepish. “Unauthorized? Aw, come on, a grounded captain can’t run a simulation when he feels like it now?”

The ensign’s eyes flicker over Jim and then away. He looks off at a point in the corner. “With all due respect, sir, we would leave right now if you were alone, but you can’t have a Non-mod here. This is a restricted area.”

As well they both know. Jim also knows that it was most likely his hack of the test that overrode the blocks Pike had in place to ensure their secrecy, setting off the alert. He wants to kick himself.

“You’re right, of course.” Pike lowers his voice to take on a conspiratorial tone. “I didn’t think it would hurt. I just had this little…scenario I’d been wanting to try out. Been missing the chair, is all.”

A moment of silence greets the comment, as all sorts of kinky “scenarios” no doubt flash through the two ensigns’ minds. Still, they don’t budge. Though obviously uncomfortable, they’re clearly dedicated to doing their job.

“Sir,” the second one says, trying hard to keep her eyes on Pike’s face and away from any naked torsos, “we appreciate your desire for, uh, privacy, but I’m afraid we can’t let you stay here.”

Pike waves a hand. “Yes, yes, fine, we’ll finish up and get out. Thank you for your diligence.”

It’s a clear dismissal, but it has no effect. The woman speaks again. “I’m afraid we’re going to need to file a report and clear the room, sir.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“The first incident report is already registered, sir,” the man says, apologetic but firm. “We have to follow up.”

The woman approaches Jim and holds out a small PADD. He reaches out and presses his thumb against the surface. It beeps and the woman turns it back to face her.

“James Kirk,” she says. “Registered to Cadet Leonard McCoy.”

Jim nods.

“Is he aware that you’re here?”

Jim would do anything to leave Bones out of this, but there’s only one right answer to that question and it isn’t ‘no.’

“Of course,” Jim answers, with his best imitation of deference. “Well, not here here,” he adds, feigning shame. “He wouldn’t want us to break the rules. But he does offer Captain Pike some of my time on occasion.”

“The doctor and I have an understanding,” Pike adds.

Jim looks down like he’s embarrassed. He hates how creepy this story makes Bones and Pike sound, but it’s far from a far-fetched scenario, and right now they really just need a way out of this that won’t get all three of them thrown out of Starfleet.

Or worse.

“Are we done here?” Pike asks, calm and authoritative, like he’s inconvenienced but not panicked.

The woman shakes her head. “I’m afraid not, sir. We’re going to have to speak with Cadet McCoy.”

 

The security personnel insist on returning Jim to his – well, to Cadet McCoy’s – apartment. (After all, the word of a Non-mod is worse than useless on an official report.)

Pike insists on accompanying them there – “Just to make sure everything gets cleared up.”

Of course, Bones isn’t actually home this time of day, which means he has to be commed and asked to come back.

Which means waiting.

Which means a whole lot of awkward silence.

“Can I get anyone a coffee? Tea? Light snack?” Jim asks, because he only ever feels like playing subservient at the least appropriate times.

Pike shoots him a glare.

No one else bothers to respond.

 

Bones arrives after half an hour, out of breath and obviously freaked out.

Jim catches a brief instant of relief sweep over Bones’ face when he takes in Jim’s form, which it isn’t red and puffy or otherwise near death. But the panic returns half a second later as Bones takes in the security personnel flanking Jim. In a moment the rest of the room probably misses, Jim watches Bones put aside that panic and paste on a poker face.

In keeping with protocol, Bones acknowledges Pike first, “Captain,” then nods to security, “Sirs.” He keeps his eyes on them and away from Jim. “Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner. I hope there isn’t a problem.”

“We found your charge in a restricted area,” the man informs him, “but Captain Pike has claimed responsibility for that breach. We will expect that not to happen again.”

“However,” the woman continues, “we must also confirm that your charge was, as he has stated, in the company of Captain Pike at your request.”

The woman looks at Bones and Bones looks back at her. Jim can feel the tightness in his chest that must mean he forgot to keep breathing somewhere along the way.

“Yes,” Bones says, “of course.” Then, when neither security ensign speaks: “I don’t really need his…services during the day, so I’m happy to let the captain borrow him for a bit.”

It almost frightens Jim how credible Bones sounds, how much he’s learned about the kind of thing that’s expected from people like him. But at least the security ensigns are nodding and moving away from Jim, heading for the door.

Still, Jim doesn’t dare breathe yet.

The door shuts, leaving Jim, Bones, and Pike in the room. Pike opens his mouth to speak, but Bones cuts him off.

“Get out,” he says.

“Doctor McCoy, if you’ll just give me a moment to—”

“Get. Out.”

Cadet…” Pike begins, but Bones is having none of it.

“I said, ‘Get out,’ and I damn well meant it. Write me up for insubordination if you have to, but do it from somewhere that isn’t my fucking room.”

Pike closes his mouth and nods. On his way out, he casts Jim a final look and Jim knows exactly what Pike is worried about – that Jim isn’t going to use this opportunity to come clean with Bones.

Jim’s fear is just the opposite – that he will come clean. That he won’t be able to make it through this conversation without confessing it all, thereby making Bones a co-conspirator to whatever reckless, rebellious thing Jim eventually does that will probably get him (and then maybe Bones) killed.

Meanwhile, Bones isn’t saying anything, doesn’t seem to know what to say now that he’s thrown Pike out, so Jim starts with the truest thing he can.

“I’m sorry about that. Thanks for covering for us.”

“Us,” Bones repeats, slowly, like the word is sinking slowly into his soul. “You and Pike.”

Denying it would require an alternate explanation. Jim shrugs instead.

To his surprise, the first thing Bones does is jump to Jim’s defense. “What did he do, Jim? Did he use his position? Threaten you? Offer you something? Because I swear, if he—”

Jim shakes his head and watches Bones’ face fall.

“It isn’t like that,” Jim says.

“Then what is it like?”

“It’s not a big deal,” Jim says, knowing it’s not a real answer.

Bones just stands there for a moment, then: “How long?”

The thinness of his voice is all hurt and vulnerability, and this is the hard part, because Jim may be all about a just cause and doing what needs to be done, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.

He swallows back a dozen declarations and reassurances, shrugging again instead.

Another silence, and then:

“The whole time, right?” But Bones isn’t really asking, just thinking it through out loud. “That first summer, whenever I was about to come home early, there was Pike crossing my path, stopping me for a chat. That was all about giving you time to get back before me, right?”

Jim doesn’t say anything.

Bones doesn’t stop.

“Certainly explains how you were able hack your tracking data. A captain must have good clearance. Lot of trouble to go to, though. I mean, you two must have been spending a whole lot of time together.”

(If he’d thought about it, Jim would have thought he was too cynical to be shocked anymore. Jim would have been wrong.)

“You’ve been monitoring my tracking data?” Jim’s voice is shaking.

Bones looks guilty and self-righteous and sorry and betrayed.

Jim knows the feeling.

It’s his turn to whisper, “How long?”

It’s Bones’ turn to shrug.

Maybe they should be screaming at each other by this point, but instead they’re just staring and finding nothing left to say.

 

It’s been a long time since Jim slept in his own room.

He remembers the bed being small, but he doesn’t remember it feeling so empty.

Chapter Text

It’s all too familiar. This feeling that everything Leonard cares about is slipping through his grasp. This feeling of not being enough. This feeling that he’ll never be enough.

He remembers offering Jocelyn everything he had, offering to forgive her every transgression, only to be asked for a divorce. He remembers thinking he’d have done anything to keep them with him – Jocelyn, but especially Joanna. Only there was nothing to do. Jocelyn was free to walk out of Leonard’s life and entitled to take Joanna with her.

Jim, though. Leonard doesn't have to let Jim go.

Leonard could keep Jim.

All he has to be is utterly selfish.

The thought keeps Leonard up all night.

 

When Jim gets up in the morning, he finds Bones sitting at the table in front of a cup of coffee. Lying on the table in front of at Jim's usual place are a PADD and a credit chip. Jim doesn't even have to see Bones' face; he understands immediately. He starts to shake his head.

"Bones..."

"I'm sorry," Bones says, and he sounds it. He won't look at Jim. "I know it's been...useful for you to stay here, but I can't...I just can't."

Bones pauses and Jim opens his mouth to speak, but then Bones rushes on.

"I put what I could into the account for the chip, but I didn't have as much as I wanted. It should keep you a little while, but I'll add more when I can. I figured you and Pike might want to...but I didn't want you to have to rely on him in case...I mean, you could probably get to New Sheridan or something, if that’s what you want to do. I just...I'm sorry."

Jim's heart clenches in his chest. He knows what this is. This is Jocelyn all over again. This is Bones reliving the worst time of his life and still managing to be stupidly noble and self-sacrificing.

This is Bones giving up.

Jim sits down in front of the PADD but he doesn't look down at what he knows will be the dissolved Patronship contract. He doesn't reach for the credit chip.

"Bones, look, I need to tell you something..."

He can't stand to hurt Bones like this, not even to protect him.

Bones looks up at him – finally – but before Jim can say more, an alarm goes off on Bones' PADD. It's sitting right in front of Jim and he looks down automatically, starts to read what turns out to be an official summons.

"Shit," Jim mutters. "Shit, shit."

"What?"

Jim pushes the PADD across the table. "They've convened a disciplinary hearing. They’re accusing you of—”

“Bribing Pike,” Bones finishes, looking down at the message. “They think I’ve been…loaning you to Pike in exchange for special treatment. They want me to report immediately.”

“Fuck. You have to tell them you lied yesterday,” Jim says. “You have to say you didn’t know anything about…” It hurts more to lie when he was just about to tell the truth “…me and Pike.”

Bones shakes his head. “No, I can’t.”

“They could kick you out.”

Bones stands up and gets his uniform jacket. He slides it on, still shaking his head. “They’d do worse to you.” He checks his PADD again and then starts for the door. He turns back. “Hey, you were going to tell me something.”

But there’s no way Jim’s dropping a secret like this on Bones right before he has to face down the brass. “It can wait. Please,” he tries one more time, “don’t do anything stupid.”

“I’ll be just as stupid as I want to be,” Bones says and walks out the door.

 

Pike is waiting outside the hearing room when Leonard arrives and it takes all of Leonard’s self-control not to let his seething jealousy surface. There’s only one thing that’s important here and that’s keeping Jim safe.

He just hopes Pike’s a good enough man to have the same priorities.

Leonard is ushered in immediately, but Pike remains. Of course they’ll be questioning them separately. Leonard decides to stick as close as he can to the truth and hopes like their stories will line up enough.

Pike recruited him three years ago, Leonard says.

He’s always admired the man, he says.

Pike seemed to like Jim and Leonard only shared as a kindness, not expecting anything in return.

No, he didn’t realize that Pike already had him slated to serve aboard the Enterprise.

No, he had never asked for it.

No, he had never so much as hinted about wanting it.

Well, yes, it’s obviously an enviable assignment for most people, but honestly Leonard could do without space travel altogether and would have been just as happy with a starbase or ground posting.

Well, if he had to venture a guess, he thinks it might have been his skills as, you know, a doctor that got him the post.

Yes, he understands that his sarcasm is neither appropriate or appreciated in this forum

The disciplinary board still seems skeptical. They’re just gearing up for a second, more probing round of questions, starting to ask him for specific dates he’s probably not going to be able to give, when several comms and PADDs go off at once.

“We've received a distress call from Vulcan,” announces Admiral Sheth, the head of the inquiry panel.

Leonard’s own comm beeps. “Excuse me, sir. I’m ordered to report to Hangar One immediately.”

“Hold on, Cadet,” Sheth says, just as Pike bursts into the room, “you’re on academic probation pending the result of your hearing. That means you’re grounded.” She looks over at Pike. “I’d ground you, too, but with our primary fleet engaged in the Laurentian system, we’re a little short on captains.”

“Admiral Sheth,” Pike says, obviously making an effort to remain calm, “Cadet McCoy never asked me for anything. I wanted him on my ship because he’s an outstanding doctor. And that’s the same reason I need him there now. This is being reported as a possible humanitarian disaster. Do you really think this is the time to be grounding doctors?”

Sheth considers for a moment, then nods. “Fine. Report to the hangar, Cadet. The inquiry will resume when you get back.”

Leonard nods back. “Yes, sir.”

He starts out of the building, not looking back, but as he rounds the corner, a tight grip on his forearm pulls him into a stairwell.

“What the—?”

He finds himself face to face with Pike.

“Listen, we don’t have much time,” Pike whispers. “You need to go get Jim, get that tracker out of his shoulder, and get him on board the Enterprise.”

Leonard just gapes for a second, then: “Are you serious? You can’t go a couple of days without your…boyfriend? And you expect me to help?”

It’s Pike’s turn to take a moment, but his involves less gaping, more exasperated disapproval. “Okay, look,” he says, finally, “I get it. You’re in love with the last person you ever expected, you have no idea how your relationship could even work, let alone what you can do to make it work, and you’ve been hurt before, so you’re all kinds of insecure. It’s understandable. And it’s not like Jim’s been helping matters any. But, on the other hand, you know Jim. You know him. And this is an emergency, so I’m gonna need you to pull your head out of your ass. Right now.”

Pike’s been speaking quickly and softly – even though Leonard feels like he’s just been yelled at – so it takes a moment for everything to sink in.

When it does, Leonard feels like an asshole.

“You haven’t been sleeping with Jim,” he says.

Pike just looks at him and waits.

“But you have been meeting,” Leonard continues, thinking out loud, and suddenly the lights bump up to full power. “Jesus Christ, you’ve been tr—”

“Careful now,” Pike interrupts, “I’d hate to hear you accuse me of sedition.”

Leonard looks down at the ground, sighing as he rakes his fingers through his hair. “Fuck, I can’t believe I—”

“We don’t have time for any of that,” Pike says, cutting off Leonard’s lament. “Jim isn’t safe here, so we need to bring him with us. But once we have, it will be even less safe for him to come back. That’s why you’ve got to get the tracker out. Can you do that?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Be quick about it. Meet me at my office when it’s done.”

Leonard nods. “You know, if it’s really as bad as it sounds over there, having Jim to help out could save lives.”

Pike allows himself a brief smile. “I’m counting on it.”

 

When Leonard gets back to the room, Jim looks like he’s been pacing.

“Are you okay?” he asks, before Leonard’s even through the door. “What did they—?”

“Sit down,” Leonard interrupts, because there’s way too much to talk about and absolutely no time.

He retrieves his medkit while Jim takes a seat at the table. He opens it, loads a topical anethestic into the hypospray, and grabs a laser scalpel.

Meanwhile, Jim is misreading his silence. “Look, if you told them the truth, I understand. I never wanted to get you in trouble.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Leonard mutters. “Take off your shirt.”

The weird thing is that Jim actually does it, before looking at Leonard like he’s crazy. Clearly something in Leonard’s voice is conveying his urgency in spite of Jim’s confusion.

“Besides,” Leonard walks around behind Jim, “how was I going to tell them the truth, when no one ever bothered cluing me in?”

He dispenses the hypo while Jim is frozen in shock.

“Fuck,” Jim says, “Pike told you, didn’t he?”

“What Pike told me,” Leonard says, as he makes the incision along Jim’s shoulder blade, “was to get my head out of my ass.”

He picks up a pair of tweezers and extracts the chip, and yeah, Jim’s gonna feel that.

“Ow, fuck!” Jim exclaims, right on cue. “What the hell was that?”

“Your tracking chip,” Leonard says, reaching over Jim’s shoulder and opening the tweezers so the chip falls on the table. He’s got no to time for regen, so he (gently) slaps on a sealant.

Jim still flinches. “Geez, warn a guy next time.”

“Hurts more when you’re expecting it,” Leonard says.

“I wanted to tell you,” Jim says.

And Leonard wants to believe that.

But there’s no time.

“Just put on your shirt, okay? We have to get to Pike’s office.”

“Pike’s office? Why’re we—?” Jim breaks off. “You’re taking me to Vulcan?”

“How did you hear about Vulcan?”

Jim snorts. “I hear everything.” He frowns. “Does this have anything to do with that attack on the Klingon prison planet?”

“What attack on the Klingon prison planet? No, it’s an earthquake or something. Come on, Pike can’t wait on us for long.”

 

“Here,” Pike says, shoving a cadet uniform at Jim, “put this on and let’s go.”

“Wait a minute,” Leonard says, still standing by the door they’ve just walked through. “That’s it? That’s your plan for sneaking Jim onto the Enterprise? A change of clothes?”

“We don’t have time for anything else,” Pike says. “He can pass. People see what they’re expecting. If he walks like a cadet and talks like a cadet, they’ll see a cadet.”

 

“There is no Cadet Kirk listed on the crew manifest,” the Vulcan standing at the door to the boarding shuttle informs them.

Too bad Pike forgot to come up with a plan that was Vulcan-proof.

And where is Pike, anyway? He was supposed to be coming right behind them in case of this very issue.

“There must be some sort of mistake,” Jim says. “I was assigned to the Enterprise.”

It frightens Leonard how good Jim is at this, managing to sound very worried, but completely guileless.

“We need to get on this shuttle,” Leonard insists, possibly for the first time in his life. “Good god, man, it’s an emergency.”

“The correct address is sir, Cadet McCoy, and you are welcome to board the shuttle as your name appears on the manifest. Mr. Kirk, on the other hand—”

“Commander Spock, are we ready to go?” Pike asks, appearing from around the back of the shuttle and coming to stand over the Vulcan’s – Spock’s – shoulder.

“Affirmative, Captain. Cadet McCoy was the last crew member to report.”

“Good.” Pike smiles and looks up like he’s just noticed Leonard and Jim standing there. “Then why are he and Kirk still standing here? We’re in a hurry, you know.”

“I am well aware of the urgency of our mission,” Spock assures him in a voice utterly lacking in urgency. “However, Cadet Kirk is not assigned to the Enterprise.”

“Huh, must be a glich,” Pike says. “Just let him pass, Spock. We’ll sort it out later.”

Spock stands his ground. “Captain, with all due respect, I am unfamiliar with Cadet Kirk’s record.”

“I wasn’t aware you kept tabs on the nursing track, Mr. Spock.”

“I do not. However, I am familiar with most cadets who possess exemplary records, at least by name. Are you certain Mr. Kirk is meant to be assigned to the Enterprise?”

“Don’t be a snob, Spock. I can assure you, Mr. Kirk is an excellent nurse, and we’re going to need all the help we can get. Now let’s close this shuttle up and get to my ship.”

Spock steps aside and Leonard and Jim hurry past him. As they find seats, Leonard plays back Pike’s words and is impressed to realize that Pike never actually lied.

“Who was that pointy-eared bastard?” Leonard asks under his breath, once they’re out of even Vulcan earshot.

“I don’t know,” Jim whispers back, “but he doesn’t seem like the type to let things go.”

 

They head directly to medical bay, avoiding further contact with Spock (for obvious reasons) or Pike (for reasons of discretion). They both change into medical blues and, for a moment, when he first catches sight of Jim, Leonard can’t help but stare.

It’s not just what the blue does for Jim’s eyes, either. Standing in a uniform and taking in his surroundings with his head held high, Jim is just....

Well, maybe Pike was onto something, after all, because Jim has never seemed less out of place.

Really, the only thing out of place is Leonard nearly overwhelming to kiss Jim. Not only is this the worst possible place, but Leonard’s not even sure if kissing is on the table for them anymore.

Honestly, he has no idea where they stand.

Leonard’s thoughts are interrupted by a shipwide announcement: “May I have your attention please. At 22:00 hours, telemetry detected an anomaly in the neutral zone. What appeared to be a lightning storm in space. Soon after, Starfleet received a distress signal from the Vulcan high command that their planet was experiencing seismic activity. Our mission is to assess the condition of Vulcan and assist in evacuations if necessary. We should be arriving at Vulcan within three minutes. Thank you for your time.”

“Good,” Leonard mutters to himself, because the sooner they’re away from Earth, the safer he’ll feel. He steps in closer to Jim and keeps his voice low. “Stick by me and try not to draw too much attention to yourself, okay?”

Only Jim doesn’t seem to be listening, staring off into the distance of his mind.

“Jim, are you…?”

“Shit!” he exclaims, making Leonard jump. “A lightening storm in space!” He lunges for a computer terminal.

“What are you doing?” Leonard hisses. “I wasn’t kidding. You really need to lay low.”

“We gotta stop the ship,” Jim says. “Computer, locate crew member Uhura.”

Leonard is sure people are staring. “Damn it, Jim, keep your voice down.”

“We’re flying into a trap,” Jim says in a voice that really isn’t down.

Of course that’s nothing compared to the way Jim turns and bolts, flying out of sickbay.

For a second, Leonard just stands there in shock. The whole of sickbay seems to have fallen silent. He tries to think of something to say to the people staring after Jim, some way to explain away his behavior, but comes up empty.

So he does the only thing he can think of. He takes off after Jim.

 

He catches up with Jim just as Jim locates Uhura.

“Uhura, Uhura…” Jim pants, out of breath.

Uhura frowns. “Excuse me? Do I know you?”

“The transmission from the Klingon prison planet - what exactly did it say?”

“Wait – how do you know about the transmission? Who—?” When Uhura catches sight of Leonard, she makes the connection. “Oh my god, you’re that non-mo—“ she breaks off, lowering her voice, “that guy from the bar. What the hell are you doing here? If anyone—”

“Look,” Jim says, “who was responsible for the Klingon attack? Was the ship Romulan?”

“How do you—?”

Was the ship Romulan?” Jim repeats.

Uhura looks to Leonard, but Leonard can do nothing but shake his head. He has no idea what’s going on, but he guesses it must be important.

Jim is vibrating with impatience. “Was the—?”

“Yes,” Uhura says. “The ship was Romulan.”

“Damn it,” Jim swears and takes off again.

This time Leonard and Uhura chase after him, and less than a minute later the three of them burst onto the bridge.

Everyone starts speaking at once.

“What’s going on?” Pike asks.

“Captain, I have not yet been able to confirm that Mr. Kirk is cleared to be aboard this vessel,” Spock begins.

“Sir, I’m sorry, we just…” Leonard starts, but he’s not sure how to finish the sentence.

“I am certain, however, that he is not cleared to be on the bridge,” Spock continues.

“Captain!” Jim is saying, “Captain Pike, sir, we have to stop the ship.”

“Nor is he authorized to be issuing orders with respect to this mission.” Still Spock.

“Spock, please,” Uhura interjects, voice calm yet firm, “I think he may have something important to say.”

“I’m not trying to issue orders,” Jim insists. “I’m…”

Everybody stop talking.” Pike voice breaks through the cacophony, and yeah, you can see why they’ve given the man a ship.

Everyone does stop talking.

Except for Jim.

“…trying to save the bridge!”

It sounds like shouting in the sudden silence.

So much for laying low.

Chapter Text

The carnage on the viewscreen before them is straight out of Leonard’s nightmares. The black vastness of space strewn with debris, with the decimated remains of half a dozen starships. And somewhere out there amongst the floating hunks of torn metal, thousands of bodies that will never see burial.

No, not just bodies.

Leonard’s classmates and teachers. People he saw and spoke to every day. People he treated.

Leonard’s not sure how exactly Jim convinced Pike that they were heading into an attack, but he knows that Jim has saved them.

He stood his ground and just kept repeating the words “Romulan” and “lightening storm in space” like they were supposed to mean something. And apparently, to Pike, they did, because he ordered the shields raised before they reached Vulcan.

And now the Enterprise is being fired upon, but it hasn’t been destroyed.

Not yet.

The blasts rock the ship and Leonard thinks he might be sick – for so many reasons – but then, just when it seems like the Enterprise might go the way of the others, the attack simply stops.

“Hi Christopher, I’m Nero.”

When Pike agrees to board Nero’s ship, it sounds crazy to Leonard just like it would to any sane person, but he can tell it scares the hell out of Jim.

Like Jim knows something the rest of them don’t.

Leonard doesn’t have time to wonder why, though. He’s too busy watching Pike volunteer Jim for a space jump that sounds more like a suicide mission, watching Jim walk off the bridge without hesitation.

A part of Leonard wants to go chasing after him, but there are injuries now, and Leonard has to get back to sickbay.

As it turns out, Leonard has to run sickbay. Which is no easy task.

 

Jim follows Pike from the bridge to the shuttle bay, listening as Pike explains his plan. This, Jim thinks, is what Pike has been waiting for. The chance to send a Non-mod to do a genetically engineered person’s job. To prove that it’s possible.

Jim thought he would be up for it, but now the stakes seem impossibly high, and he thinks maybe Pike should just go with a sure thing. Find his best actual cadet and send that person instead.

“Captain, I must register my objection,” Spock says, like he’s living inside of Jim’s head. “I have found no record of a Cadet Kirk in the Starfleet databases. His status is unconfirmed and his qualifications, if any, are unknown. It is unwise to entrust him with a mission of this importance.”

“Spock,” Pike asks, “how long have you known me?”

“Four years, seven months and twenty-three days, sir,” Spock answers promptly, offering what Jim can only assume is a rough estimate.

“And have you familiarized yourself with my command record?”

“Of course, Captain. As your intended first officer, it was my duty to—”

“And, in your assessment,” Pike continues, “am I an adequate leader?”

“Indeed, your record suggests that your leadership skills are well above the Starfleet average.”

“Careful, Spock, you’ll make me blush,” Pike quips. “Now, would you say that the ability to accurately judge character and capabilities is a necessary quality for an above average leader?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“So, if I tell you that, in my professional opinion, there is no one on this ship more likely to carry out this mission successfully than Kirk here…?” Pike prompts.

“Then logic dictates that I withdraw my objection,” Spock concedes.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Jim says dryly, but inside he’s glowing at Pike’s praise.

“Mr. Spock, I'm leaving you in command of the Enterprise,” Pike says, which is more or less stating the obvious. “Kirk, I'm promoting you to first officer.”

That? Not so obvious.

“What?” Jim says.

“Captain, I must register my objection—”

“Sorry, Spock, no time to walk you through this one,” Pike says, “I’ve got a shuttle to catch.”

“Sir,” Jim asks, “after we knock out that drill, what happens to you?”

“I guess you have to come and get me,” Pike says. “Careful with the ship, boys. She's brand new.”

 

The destruction of Vulcan shocks Jim. He’s known plenty of senseless violence and suffering in his life, but he’s never witnessed such meaningless destruction on such a massive scale.

It sends a chill deep through his body.

And he doesn’t have any connection to the planet. It’s hard to even fathom what Spock must be feeling beneath the surface.

On the surface, though, Spock is really pissing Jim off.

Rendezvous with the rest of the fleet in the Laurentian system? It’s like signing a death warrant for the human race.

Not that Jim’s particularly fond of the human race. Honestly, he’s ambivalent at best. But Pike has risked everything trying to rescue Jim. The least Jim can do is return the favor.

And so Jim is arguing with Spock. Very publicly. And Bones is on the bridge looking on and looking like a vein in his forehead might explode at any moment. (Jim’s not sure if that’s because of how spectacularly Jim is failing at laying low or if it’s because Spock is about to let Earth be destroyed.)

Jim isn’t sure who calls Security to the bridge – Spock is too busy arguing – but suddenly there they are and when Jim turns to look at them, he knows he’s screwed.

It’s Hendorff (or the asshole formerly known as Cupcake). “You,” he growls, eyes locked on Jim. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

“Captain Pike promoted Cadet Kirk to First Officer before surrendering himself to Nero,” Spock answers, always forthcoming with the facts – even the ones he clearly disdains.

Hendorff scoffs. “He’s no cadet. He’s a Non-mod and a troublemaker and he doesn’t belong on this ship.”

Suddenly, Jim can feel the whole bridge staring at him. Then, as one, everyone turns to look at Spock, awaiting his verdict.

But Spock doesn’t speak.

And then Hendorff and the other security officer are on either side of Jim, seizing him by both arms, and starting to drag him off the bridge.

Spock remains silent.

“Don’t just stand there, you green-blooded hobgoblin, stop them!” Bones shouts, and Spock finally speaks, but not to the security officers.

“The use of xenophobic slurs is both insubordinate and ineffectual, Doctor McCoy. We have entered a state of war and Security is within their rights to remove anyone not cleared to be aboard this ship. I would ask that they remove you as well, but Doctor Puri is dead and it would be illogical to continue on our mission without the most experienced doctor available to us.”

“I’ll show you illogical—” are the last words Jim hears before the turbolift doors shut behind him.

 

Jim really isn’t expecting to see anyone when he lands on Delta Vega (Class M Planet: Unsafe), least of all an older, alternate version of Spock.

A version of Spock that actually wants to help him.

A version of Spock that claims to be his friend.

Jim’s not expecting the mind meld that Spock performs, either. Or the world that it shows him.

A world in which people aren’t divided by the circumstances of their birth.

A world in which Jim captained the Enterprise.

 

“You wanted to see me?” Leonard grinds the words out, barely managing to approach a civil tone.

“Yes, Doctor.” Spock nods. “I have been made aware that Jim Kirk is under your patronship and that you were under investigation for bribing Captain Pike before this mission began.”

“Is that a question?” Leonard asks.

“It is a request for your assurance that these facts and recent events will not prevent you from doing your duty.”

“I’m a doctor. I took an oath. I’m not going to stop saving lives, if that’s what you mean.

“Yes, Doctor. Thank you. You are dismissed.”

Spock starts to turn away, but Leonard so isn’t ready to go.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“I welcome it,” Spock says.

“Do you?” Leonard doubts that, but who’s he to pass up such an opening? “Okay, then. I may keep on doctoring and doing my best, but the fact that you just threw one of the most capable assistants – hell, men – I’ve ever known off of the ship is going to make my best a whole lot worse.”

“Kirk was not authorized to be aboard this ship.”

“Maybe not, but Pike wanted him here.”

“Captain Pike was clearly manipulated or deceived. His decisions cannot be trusted.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Leonard snaps. “Pike’s no fool and he’s Starfleet through and through. He wouldn’t have placed a mission – placed lives – in the hands of anyone unless he knew that person was up to the task. You said it yourself – he named Jim First Officer.”

“A position Kirk’s status precludes him from holding,” Spock snaps back.

“Screw genetics! I’d put my money on Jim’s intuition and instincts over your dogmatic logic every day of the week and twice on Sundays.”

Spock nods. “Perhaps you would, Doctor, but that does not mean you would not lose your wager every time.”

Leonard watches as he turns on his heel and walks away.

 

Only slightly less surprising than Older Alternative Spock’s presence on Delta Vega is the presence of an eccentric engineering genius named Montgomery Scott, who was apparently destined to postulate the theory transwarp beaming.

And who will now best testing that theory a few years ahead of schedule.

On Jim.

Well, and himself. Old Spock, it seems will not be coming with them.

“To stop Nero, you must convince my counterpart of your tactical acumen,” Old Spock says.

Because, yeah, that sounds simple. Jim’s not even sure he’s convinced of his own tactical acumen.

“Are you sure I couldn’t just knock him unconscious?” Jim asks. “Don’t you guys have some kind of magic nerve pinch?”

“It is not magic,” Old Spock says. “However, given the injustices of your reality, it is unlikely that the crew would accept your leadership. Your plans will need his endorsement.”

“And how would you suggest I go about getting that?” Jim asks. “My approach isn’t exactly logical.”

“His refusal to recognize your capabilities regardless of your status is not logical either. His response to you is obviously emotional.”

“Huh,” Jim says. “I’m guessing that emotion isn’t sympathy.”

“In fact,” Old Spock says, “it is a staunch denial of a deeply engrained empathy.”

“Empathy? He thinks he’s like me?”

“I am a child of two worlds, Jim, and I cannot say that either of those worlds has always been kind.” Old Spock pauses, letting those words sink in. “You will prevail, Jim. You need only trust your instincts.” Before Jim can think to answer, Spock turns to the man standing next to him. “Carry on, Mr. Scott. You do not have much time. May you both live long and prosper.”

The next thing Jim knows he’s back on the Enterprise.

Mr. Scott, unfortunately, is in a water turbine.

 

Their arrival on the bridge might have been more impressive had Mr. Scott not been dripping.

Not that Spock was going to be pleased about it either way.

“We're travelling at warp speed. How did you manage to beam aboard this ship?”

Scott looks like he’s about to answer, but Jim interjects with an insolent shrug.

“What does it matter? I’m the First Officer and I’m back.”

“You are not the First Officer,” Spock says. “You are a stowaway.”

“I received a field promotion.”

“You are not a member of Starfleet.”

Jim shrugs again. “Guess it was kinda a big promotion. Desperate times and all that.”

Spock is not amused. “Captain Pike obviously made an error. He did not know who you were.”

“I’m James Tiberius Kirk,” Jim says. “Pike definitely knew that.”

“Then he did not know what you were.”

“What I am,” Jim repeats slowly, as if it’s possible not to know what Spock is talking about. “You mean the fact that my parents, who were in love, just went ahead and decided to have a baby, without letting any doctors or scientists get involved?”

“Advances in human genetics—” Spock begins, but Jim cuts him off.

“I’m curious, Spock. Did your parents – did your human mom – consult a geneticist before having a half-Vulcan hybrid?”

“My mother’s decisions are none of your con—”

“I mean, I’m guessing that’s pretty rare. Not a lot of data to go on.”

“If you are attempting to imply—”

“Maybe she should have thought twice,” Jim continues. “Who knows what defects might be hidden in your genetic code? Who knows when they might manifest? Hell, maybe you’re not even capable of being fully logical.”

“I am perfectly capable.”

“Oooh,” Jim says, “or maybe it’s that you’re not capable of real human emotions. Now I bet that would have disappointed your mom. I may have allergies and I think I’m a little far-sighted, but at least I know how to feel.”

He can see the stiffening of Spock’s features, like the slow, steady countdown of a self-destruct sequence.

“Your understanding of Vulcan psychology is deeply flawed.”

“Flawed,” Jim repeats. “Yeah. Do you think your mom regretted being so impetuous? Creating something so unpredictable? Unreliable? Maybe she—”

Jim breaks off as he finds himself seized by the throat and slammed down over a console.

“My mother was always proud of me!” Spock growls, proving himself completely capable of feeling.

Capable of grief and rage.

His grip is tightening and Jim’s pretty sure he should probably shut up now, but that’s just never been his style.

He looks Spock straight in the eye, instead. “Maybe so,” he wheezes, “but would she be proud of you now?”

 

The bridge is so quiet Leonard thinks he could actually hear a pin drop.

He knows he has to try to stop Spock before Spock actually squeezes the life out of Jim, but he feels frozen in place.

Everyone seems to be.

And then, suddenly, Spock simply lets go.

“No,” he says softly, “she would not be.”

Spock steps back and Leonard rushes forward, pulling Jim upright, bringing the pads of his fingers up to run lightly over Jim’s neck, checking the damage.

“We will need a plan if we are to pursue Nero and prevent him from destroying another planet,” Spock declares, seeming to regain his calm as quickly as he lost it. “I welcome any input. That includes yours, First Officer Kirk.”

Spock’s first admission was shocking enough. The new announcement renders the rest of the bridge speechless.

Well, almost.

“Can I help?” asks the dripping man with the Scottish accent. “This ship is exciting!”

 

Watching Jim’s mind work has always been a thing of beauty. And he only seems to be upping his game to match the higher stakes.

The instant Spock was won over, Jim had extracted himself from Leonard’s ad hoc medical exam and started leading the rest of the crew in a brainstorming session. Now Jim and Spock stand shoulder to shoulder working for their common cause.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s been hanging back, trying not to remind anyone that Jim was supposed to be excluded from all this, was marked as inferior and relegated to the role of indentured servant. Leonard’s indentured servant.

Leonard’s been hanging back because he doesn’t want to get in Jim’s way.

Leonard’s been hanging back because he’s pretty sure this has been Jim’s destiny all along and maybe Leonard has no place in that destiny and, if he doesn’t, he’s going to have to find a way to be okay with that.

Eventually, as their crew of mismatched, misfit geniuses is finalizing their crazy plan, Leonard walks quietly off the bridge and back down to sickbay, where he knows he can actually be of help.

 

When Leonard gets there, he tries to focus on their many patients – human and Vulcan and otherwise – and not on what Jim might be doing or getting ready to do.

Still, it’s hard.

Leonard tells himself he’d feel a lot better if major parts of the plan hadn’t been masterminded by a seventeen-year old, or if he wasn’t supposed to be relying on Spock to watch Jim’s back, but the truth is he’d be scared as hell either way.

He makes it through one patient – barely – before slipping over to a computer terminal and demanding the location of First Officer Kirk.

“There is no record of a First Officer Kirk aboard this ship,” the computer informs him.

Right, stowaway.

“Computer – location of Commander Spock,” he tries instead.

“Commander Spock is in Turbolift B en route to Transporter Room 1.”

Before he can even form a conscious intention, Leonard finds himself running for the transporter room as fast as his legs and the damned turbolift will carry him. He arrives just as Lieutenant Uhura is stepping away from the transporter pad where – thankfully – Jim and Spock still stand.

“Jim,” Leonard pants, out of breath, “oh good...you’re still…I just…” He breaks off, feeling foolish and awkward as hell.

Jim, though, just looks back at him with complete and utter calm. “Don’t worry, Bones, everything is going to be okay.”

And, somehow, Leonard almost believes it.

“Okay,” he says.

Half a second later, Jim and Spock disappear.

 

Against all odds (and possibly a few laws of physics), Jim and Spock manage to save the world.

They even avoid destroying the ship in the process.

Afterwards, it’s Leonard’s turn to try and save Pike.

He does it because he’s a doctor, of course.

But he also does it for Jim.

Chapter Text

A lack of a warp core makes for a long trip home and, overall, things are kind of a huge mess.

Literally.

It would be easy for anyone to keep busy, to keep distracted, to keep from dealing with tricky things.

It’s especially easy for an Acting First Officer and an Acting CMO.

For his part, Leonard spends much of his spare time keeping tabs on Captain Pike’s post-operative progress. It’s peaceful, in its way. The larger sickbay is still overwhelmed and often noisy, but Pike’s only been conscious for short intervals, so most of the time it’s just Leonard and the computer readings in the private, sound-blocked recovery room.

Sometimes Leonard just pulls a chair up to Pike’s biobed and sits a spell.

It’s the perfect escape…until Jim walks in.

“Oh, um, hey, Bones.”

Jim looks for a moment like he might bolt. This isn’t Leonard’s usual time and Jim must have been expecting Pike to be alone. After a second, though, he unfreezes and approaches Pike’s biobed, moving through the space in a way that lets Leonard know Jim’s been spending some time in here, too.

“How’s he doing?” Jim asks.

Yes, Leonard thinks, Pike’s health is a safe topic between them. “Well, it’s early yet, but things are looking good,” he says. “His readings get stronger by the hour.”

Jim nods. “He tells me you pulled off a medical miracle.”

Pike has told Leonard that, too, and privately, Leonard thinks they might both be right, but he shrugs and looks down. “Just doing my job. Anyway, it’s not all down to me. Pike’s a tough bastard.”

“Yeah,” Jim agrees with a small smile, “he really is.”

Leonard’s not really sure what to say next.

It’s Pike – voice is still weak from disuse – who breaks the silence that’s starting to stretch between them. “It’s not polite to talk about a man like he isn’t there.”

“Captain,” Leonard says to cover his startlement, “nice of you to join us. How’re you feeling today?”

“Bored,” is Pike’s usual answer, along with, “restless.” He turns his head slowly to look at Jim. “Kirk, you taking good care of my ship?”

“Yes, sir,” Jim says. “We’re nearly done with the cleanup on Deck Six, all the Vulcans have been assigned to quarters, and power’s been restored to even a few of the non-essential systems. Oh, and Scotty’s managed to soup up the impulse engines.” Jim pauses, almost imperceptibly. “Might save us a few hours on the ride home.”

“Good,” Pike says. “How about you and Spock? Staying away from each other’s throats?”

“What’s a little choking between friends?” Jim smiles again. “We’ll be besties in no time.”

Pike rolls his eyes.

Seeing an opening, Leonard stands up from his chair and steps closer to Jim. “Speaking of throats, Jim, you really ought to let me look you over while you’re here. You went through a lot and it’s been a few days. Also, you look like hell.”

“Thanks,” Jim says, “but I’m sure you have more urgent patients.”

Leonard scowls. “You’re the First Officer. That makes your health and ability to function pretty damn urgent.”

“I’m functioning fine, Bones.” Jim pauses for a second, shifting his weight from foot to foot like he’s got something more to say…but doesn’t. “Anyway, I should get back to that.” He looks down at Pike. “See you soon, Captain. Later, Bones.”

Jim makes a quick exit and Leonard stares after him, wondering what he could have said or done differently.

Meanwhile, Pike is looking at Leonard like he’s trying to see inside Leonard’s soul.

Leonard would prefer to keep his soul to himself, thank you very much. “Well, everything looks fine here,” he says, picking up his PADD and tricorder and backing towards the door. “I’ll let you get some rest.”

“I get plenty of rest,” Pike says. “Have a seat.”

Leonard knows an order when he hears one. He sits back down.

Pike doesn’t mince words. “So tell me, are you avoiding him or is he avoiding you?”

Leonard wants to say, ‘None of your business,’ but he also knows a futile struggle when he sees one. “Hard to say,” he answers instead. “Things have been busy.”

“You both seem to find plenty of time to hide out in here.”

“I could definitely change that,” Leonard mutters. Then: “There’s just…a lot to talk about. Hasn’t seemed like the right time.”

“You know, you’re right,” Pike begins, voice dry. “I mean, why talk here and now when you could wait until we get back to Earth? I’m sure things will be a lot less complicated then.”

Leonard sighs. “Point taken.”

 

“How are the communication systems?” Pike asks almost first thing when Jim comes to visit the next day.

“Long range, not great. We have sporadic communication with headquarters on a delay, but no live communication and nowhere near the capacity we’d need to start allowing the crew and passengers to send personal messages. We’re working on it.”

Pike nods. “That should be good enough. Look, I have some people in place that I need to contact, but we’re gonna want to keep it pretty quiet.”

“Can I tell Spock?” Jim asks.

“Yeah,” Pike says, “I think he’s proven himself by this point.”

“Good, we’ll set it up.”

“Good,” Pike echoes. “Now, speaking of communication, have you talked to McCoy yet?”

“Subtle segue,” Jim mutters, looking down. “Don’t we have more important things to talk about?”

“It’s all important, Jim. You think I want to be lying here giving relationship advice? But you two could do great things together. You have done great things together. He just needs to know where he stands with you.”

“Yeah?” Jim’s head snaps up. “Well, how the hell am I supposed to tell him that when I don’t even know where I stand in life?”

The words burst forth without Jim’s permission, threatening to crack him open and release all the tension, fear, and anger that have been simmering just beneath the surface since the Enterprise started on its way back to Earth. Jim swallows hard and pushes it all back down.

It’s useless to think about going back. The best Jim can do up here is focus on his job while he still has it.

“I don’t know what comes next, Jim,” Pike says softly, “but good or bad, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hard. So ask yourself if you really want to do it alone.”

 

Leonard is in the CMO’s office trying to get a handle on their very limited inventory and how best to allocate it when his comm beeps, paging him to Pike’s biobed.

Leonard leaps out of his chair.

In these long days of constant monitoring, Pike has never once called Leonard to his side, and Leonard has no idea what could be wrong. All his readings were strong just a couple of hours ago.

He all but runs to Pike’s room. The door slides open and Leonard opens his mouth to ask what’s wrong, but then he catches sight of Pike holding a finger up to his lips in the intergalactic sign for Shhhh!

Further examination of the room reveals Jim, passed out in the chair at Pike’s bedside.

Pike catches Leonard’s eye again and casts a significant glance between the tricorder in Leonard’s hand and Jim’s sleeping form. Leonard gets the message and wastes no time tip-toeing over to Jim and running as full a scan as he thinks he can get away with without waking Jim up.

According to the tricorder, Jim is battered and bruised (of course), but healing pretty well on his own in most respects. What really worries Leonard are Jim’s stress hormones, which are all out of whack. It’s a miracle the kid fell asleep at all with all that shit coursing through his system, but he’s still in desperate need of some serious rest that Leonard is sure he can’t be getting.

With a grateful nod to Pike, Leonard leaves the room to prepare a hypo that should balance Jim out a bit and finally allow his body to relax. Before he can get back to administer it, though, he spots Jim, very much awake, leaving Pike’s room and starting on his way out of sickbay.

“Jim, wait a minute,” Leonard calls, holding up the hypospray, “I need to give you something.”

Jim stops and turns to face Leonard, but shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

Leonard snorts. “You’re better than I expected, but you’re far from fine.”

Jim frowns. “Better than you…? You scanned me in my sleep?”

“Damn right, I did. I’d have hypo’d you in your sleep, too, but you had to go and wake up on me. Speaking of sleep, when was the last time you actually got any?”

Jim lack of an immediate answer is answer enough. Here, at least, as a doctor, Leonard feels like he’s on solid ground.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Leonard says. “You’re getting this hypo and then you’re heading to your quarters and getting some sleep. Doctor’s orders.”

“I can’t,” Jim says.

“Don’t be an infant,” Leonard says. “You’ll barely feel it.”

“I always feel it,” Jim says, “but that’s not what I mean.” He pauses and then sighs before admitting: “I don’t have any quarters.”

Leonard is taken aback. The way Jim’s taken to his newfound authority makes it hard to remember that he wasn’t actually supposed to be on this ship. “You’re the first officer now. Surely you could have assigned yourself some.”

Jim shrugs. “There are people on board who need the space more than I do.” He straightens. “Besides, I’m fi—ow!”

Leonard nips that nonsense in the bud by injecting the hypo straight into Jim’s neck.

“Chapel, I’m going off duty,” he calls over his shoulder.

“About time!” Chapel yells back.

Jim is scowling at him. Leonard finds he doesn’t care.

“Come on,” he says, taking hold of Jim’s arm and no letting go until they’ve reach Leonard’s assigned quarters.

“Bones, for fuck’s sake,” Jim protests, “I’m not even that tir—” He breaks off into a yawn as the hypo takes effect, dissipating the adrenaline that’s been coursing through Jim’s system. “Did you drug me?”

“Your body drugged you,” Leonard says as he guides Jim to the bed and pushes him to lie down. “I just sorted things back out again. Now, just shut your eyes and take a few deep breathes, okay? Now that it’s been taken off high alert, your body will let you know when you’ve had enough rest to function normally again.”

Jim slumps against the mattress, signaling his acquiescence. Leonard starts to step back, but now it’s Jim’s hand reaching out to grip Leonard’s arm.

“Stay,” Jim says.

The word slams straight against Leonard’s heart, but he decides not to ask exactly what it means. He just lies down beside Jim instead, shuts his eyes, and breathes deep.

They’re both asleep in minutes.

 

When they wake up, their bodies are pressed together. The bed is small, but Jim knows the bed’s not to blame.

They’re both still dressed, but it doesn’t matter. They don’t speak and they don’t bother with much more than unfastening each other’s pants, pushing troublesome fabric aside.

Their breath comes in harsh pants, mingling between them.

It feels like ages since they’ve touched, since they’ve moved against each other. It seems as if the whole world – more than one world – has shifted in the meantime. And yet, somehow, this is as natural as breathing.

Jim thinks this may be as close as he’ll ever come to a home.

 

Leonard knows they should get up. Leonard knows that they both still have a lot of work to do to get all the souls onboard back to Earth safe and sound.

But Leonard doesn’t want to get up, he doesn’t want to do anything, and he especially doesn’t want to get back to Earth.

He only cares about one soul.

“We should go,” he whispers. The first words either of them has spoken since Jim asked him to stay.

Jim groans. “I know. Just a few more minutes.”

Leonard shakes his head, pulling Jim closer. “No, I mean, we should just leave. Take a shuttle. Abandon ship. Find some quiet corner of the galaxy where none of this matters and we can just…be.”

Jim is quiet for a long time, and when Leonard looks at him, he can see the longing in Jim’s eyes.

“I’d better get back on shift,” Jim says finally.

“Yeah,” Leonard says, releasing his hold, “me too.”

 

Jim finds Bones in the CMO’s office later that day. Bones looks up from behind his desk and when he sees Jim he smiles, just a little.

“Scotty’s got the synthesizers running better, though most of the improvements seem to be focused on sandwiches. So I synthesized a couple, figured I’d see what all the fuss is about. You want one?”

Bones nods. “Yeah, thanks.”

Jim sits down across from him and passes a sandwich over. They eat in silence for a few minutes.

The sandwich is surprisingly good.

“You know,” Jim says, after a bit, “Pike thinks we could do great things together. He kind of won’t shut up about it.”

“Yeah,” Bones agrees, “with me, too.”

Jim examines his food. “It’s just…I don’t think us running away together is what he has in mind.” He looks up again.

Bones meets his gaze. “What does he have in mind?”

“Revolution,” Jim says plainly. “He’s put a lot of effort into training me.”

“You don’t owe Pike anything,” Bones says.

“You don’t know what I owe Pike,” Jim counters. “But it doesn’t matter. I want it, too. What good was saving the planet if we don’t help the people on it? All the people.”

Bones takes another bite of his sandwich.

Chews it.

Swallows.

“Okay,” he says.

“Okay?” Jim asks.

Bones nods. “Okay.”

 

When Leonard goes to look in on Pike several hours later, Jim is already there. Leonard starts to go through his usual check of Pike’s readings and doesn’t realize he’s smiling stupidly at Jim until Pike is smirking at them both.

“I’m fine,” Pike says. “Get out of here, both of you. Get some sleep. Or whatever.”

They opt for ‘whatever.’

 

They lie together afterwards. Jim’s eyes are closed and his breathing is even, but Leonard can’t drift off. There’s something he needs to get off his chest.

(Not Jim’s hand, though. Leonard lays his own hand over it to hold it tight against his suddenly racing heart.)

He knows he’s going to speak, but he kind of wishes he wouldn’t.

He’s tried telling himself that this shouldn’t matter. He’s tried telling himself to get over it. He’s tried telling himself to let it go.

He’s begged himself not to ruin whatever fragile thing they’ve recovered here, but in the end he knows there’s no getting past it – the only way out is through.

The words on his lips are an angry question: Why didn’t you tell me? But he’s never walked in Jim’s shoes and he knows there were a million reasons not to tell.

(And only one reason in favor. And maybe it doesn’t even apply.)

Leonard’s not really angry, though. He’s hurt.

Hurt sounds like: You could have told me. Plaintive. Pleading. But it still feels unfair, like he’s making it all about himself.

He doesn’t want a fight. He just needs an answer.

When he looks at Jim, Jim is looking back, eyes pushed open by the pounding in Leonard’s chest.

“Bones?”

Leonard opens his mouth and the words fall out like this: “I’m sorry you didn’t think you could tell me the truth.”

It’s true. He is sorry. Hurt. But sorry, too.

Breath caught, he waits for Jim to respond.

After a moment, Jim does the last thing Leonard expects – he huffs a little laugh, the air pushing across Leonard’s chest.

Leonard’s heart clenches and he starts to pull away, but Jim holds tighter.

“No,” Jim says, “I’m sorry. It’s just…that’s so you. Trying to make everything your own fault.”

Leonard scowls. “I’m not—”

“You’re allowed to be pissed at me, you know. That’s part of treating me like a real person. Holding me responsible for my actions.”

“I’m not pissed,” Leonard grumbles.

“You’re a little pissed,” Jim insists.

“No, I’m not…”

“Yes, you are.”

“Fine,” Leonard snaps, “I don’t love that you were sneaking around behind my back and that you obviously trust Pike more than you trust me, okay? But I get it. You were in a difficult position. If you had told me and I had turned you in—”

“You would never have turned me in,” Jim says. “Never. And that’s why I couldn’t tell you. And maybe it was the wrong choice, but I’d probably do it the same way again, and that’s why.”

Leonard is confused. “What’s why?”

“To protect you, you self-sacrificing idiot. I made a choice to take a risk, but you didn’t. If I’d told you, it wouldn’t have been just my risk anymore. If they caught me and found out that you knew, you might have gotten in serious trouble…” Jim shakes his head and laughs softly again. “I mean, think about it, even without knowing what I’d been doing, you were ready to lie your ass off covering for me and maybe get yourself kicked out of Starfleet. Who knows what you would have done if you thought it was for a more noble cause.”

“Oh, come on, I wouldn’t—” Leonard starts to protest automatically, but then he finds his own laugh rising in this throat. “Okay, yeah, I might have a bit of a martyr problem.”

Jim rolls his eyes. “Ya think?”

It’s not even that funny, but a few seconds later they both start laughing like idiots.

And they can’t seem to stop.

They laugh and laugh and Leonard can feel himself letting go.

 

Leonard is checking Pike’s readings. Pike is absorbed in whatever is on the PADD Jim has given him (against the recommendation of the CMO). Leonard knows better than to try to get the thing out of Pike’s hands, but he can’t help himself from offering a warning as he gets ready to leave.

“I know you’re bored, but you need to keep getting rest. It takes more energy than we think for the body to heal. Whatever it is, it can probably wait.”

“It’s me reminding some key people that Jim saved everybody’s ass,” Pike informs him dryly. “I think it’s fairly urgent.”

“My medical judgment stands,” Leonard says. “But my personal judgment says give ’em hell.”

Pike chuckles. “I’ll be finished in a few minutes anyway.”

Leonard starts toward the door, but then turns back. “About that, though. I mean, Jim saving the world. How did he figure out what was going on? How did you know to believe him?”

Pike looks at Leonard for a moment. “I think that’s Jim’s story to tell,” he says.

Leonard shakes his head. “Yeah, of course, I—”

“That’s okay,” comes Jim’s voice from the doorway, “it’s probably easier if we tell it together.” Leonard turns and Jim meets his gaze. “That night at the bar in Riverside – it wasn’t Captain Pike’s first time meeting me.”

Leonard didn’t think he could still be surprised like this. “You knew him before?”

“Not exactly,” Jim says, looking to Pike.

“He was a bit too young to remember me,” Pike says. “See, I met Jim on the day he was born.”

Chapter Text

“I was still a cadet,” Pike says. “It was my final year at the academy and I had a practicum posting on the USS Mendel during the winter break. We were in Gamma Hydra system collecting data when we received a distress call from the Kelvin saying that they were under attack by an unknown Romulan vessel with extremely advanced weaponry that seemed to appear from a lightning storm in space.”

“Nero,” Leonard whispers.

Pike nods. “By the time we got there, the Kelvin was gone. Between our ship and a few others that arrived at the same time, we picked up all the survivors. One of those survivors was Winona Kirk, an engineer who’d given birth in the medical shuttle during the evacuation. Her partner, George, had been the First Officer, promoted to Captain, and he’d sacrificed himself and the ship so that his family and the crew could live.”

“Shit,” Leonard says. He vaguely remembers hearing about that now, though not a lot of details.

“If I’m being honest, we were all pretty scared to approach Commander Kirk. I mean, she had a newborn and she’d just lost her partner and what the hell are you supposed to say to someone on the worst and best day of her life? Unfortunately for me, they’d given her my quarters. Not that I minded, I was fine to bunk down elsewhere, but I really needed my PADD and a change of uniform…”

 

Chris Pike is nervous as he chimes at the door to what used to be his quarters. He seriously considers turning around and leaving, but he’s a Starfleet cadet, for fuck’s sake, and on the command track. If he can’t face a grieving person, he’s not going to make it on any truly interesting assignment. So he stays where he is and waits.

When he’s finally let in, he approaches woman and baby cautiously.

Commander Kirk graces him with a half-smile that doesn’t meet her eyes. “Guess you drew the short straw, huh?”

“Sir?” Chris asks.

“I can’t imagine you volunteered to come comfort the hormonal widow.”

“No, I, um…” Chris swallows. “These used to be my quarters, sir. I just need to grab a few things, if you don’t mind, and then I’ll be out of your way.”

“Please, call me Winona,” Winona says. “As long as you’re here, though, would you mind holding James for a second? He fusses if I set him down and I really want to grab a quick sonic.”

The baby is in Chris’s arms before he even has a chance to think about an answer. He looks down at James, who isn’t doing much, just sleeping really. He doesn’t weigh much, either. Chris remembers someone saying he’s premature.

He figures you’re supposed to rock babies, so he starts swaying a bit.

He’s still standing there, swaying and staring down at James, when Winona emerges from the bathroom.

“I think he likes you,” she says.

Chris smiles politely and goes to hand the baby back to its mother, but Winona brushes past him and heads for the bed.

“It’s been such a long day,” she says (Chris imagines it’s been more like two). “If you wouldn’t mind staying a few minutes longer, so I could grab a brief nap…?”

Chris looks down at the baby again, trying to figure out a polite way to refuse. When he looks up, Winona is already curled up on the bed, fast asleep.

Resigned to giving up another hour of his off time, Chris takes a seat in his own desk chair and waits for Winona to wake up.

Which she does… about five hours later.

“I can’t believe he slept so long,” Winona says. “You’re like a miracle.”

“Look,” Chris begins, “I really need to be—”

“I know,” Winona says, “I tricked you. I’d like to say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I needed help and you were stupid enough to walk in here.”

“It’s no problem, but I—”

“Look, you don’t need to worry that I’m going to break down on you, okay? I’m just not the type. But it would really help me out if you could stay. We can sleep in shifts or share the bed. I promise not to take advantage.”

Chris can’t help but be charmed by her honesty. And moved by her need.

He stays.

 

“I’ve never met anyone quite like Winona Kirk before or since,” Pike says, and even though Leonard’s sure the story can’t end anywhere good, he sees Pike smiling at the memory.

Jim, he sees, is smiling, too

“Over the next couple of days, I helped her out or just kept her company whenever I wasn’t on shift,” Pike continues. “And during that time – in between the breast feeding and the diaper changes – she told me her life’s story…”

 

Winona Davis is eight years old when she and her third grade classmates see one of the school janitors have a heart attack on their way back in from recess.

He collapses right in front of them and the teacher calls for paramedics, but no one seems very upset when they arrive to take him away. No one seems in much of a hurry.

“Yes,” the principle says, looking down at a PADD, “the risk of heart attack was nearly 60 percent.”

“Come on, kids,” the teacher says, “let’s get back to class.”

Winona asks her mother about it when she gets home.

“This is why people ought to take more care about whom they bring into the world,” she says sharply.

“They’re still people,” her father tells Winona later. “They just lead harder lives.”

For years Winona can’t see a Non-mod without worrying he or she might drop dead in front of her.

 

When Winona turns eighteen, she gets on the first shuttle to Starfleet Academy and doesn’t look back. She’s going to miss her father, but she and her mother haven’t gotten along in years. Winona is through trying to please her; she’s going to work on pleasing herself.

 

George Kirk pleases Winona very much.

He’s a fellow cadet who starts off as a one-night stand, but then he makes her breakfast, and Winona figures there are worse things to build a relationship on than sex and food.

George’s version of their beginnings is much more epic. Winona teases him mercilessly over his romantic tendencies.

They get married because it means they can be assigned together.

Or because they’re madly in love.

 

Winona wouldn’t say she’s given a lot of thought to children. But George has. And George is the sort of guy who can make you believe in his dream, without even trying.

She walks into the clinic for the initial round of testing with a bright vision of the future.

She walks out an hour later questioning everything she thought she knew about her past.

She hadn’t told George about her appointment, planning to surprise him. She doesn’t tell him now. She comms her dad instead.

“You should have told me you were going,” her father says.

“And you would have what?” Winona demands. “Told me my entire life was a lie?”

“Tell me the name of the doctor,” her father says. “I’ll send enough credits to make her forget your visit and misplace your results.”

But that’s the last thing on Winona’s mind. “Dad, where did I come from?”

From an affair, apparently. With a Sioux woman whose tribe didn’t believe in genetic testing or modification and who would have been happy to raise Winona.

Except that she died when Winona was less than a year old.

Her father had convinced her mother to take Winona in and raise her as their own. He’d also convinced her mother to spend most of the couple’s small savings falsifying Winona’s identity.

He’d be spending more of that savings on this doctor.

No wonder her mother never really seemed to like her. She probably resented the hell out of Winona.

Winona resents the hell out of life.

 

She tells George everything the following night. Their whole courtship feels like false advertising to her now and she figures the least she can do is offer him an out.

A full refund, minus a few taxes and fees.

He doesn’t take it.

Instead, they lie down together on their bed and he holds her tight.

“Nothing has to change,” he whispers, just before falling asleep.

But Winona lies awake all night knowing that everything already has.

 

Listening to this story, Leonard keeps sneaking glances at Jim’s face, can’t help but wonder how Jim felt hearing it for the first time. Such a vivid picture of a mother – of parents – that Jim never knew.

Does it make him feel closer to them? Or farther away?

“I was so young back then,” Pike is saying, “and so stupid. I couldn’t believe she was telling me she was a Non-mod. And I really didn’t get it...”

 

“He was right, though, wasn’t he?” Chris interrupts, confused. “Couldn’t you just go back to the clinic and get the IVF? I mean, okay, sure, you’re a Non-mod, but they’d catch any defects and fix them, right? I mean, that’s why reproductive engineering is free to anyone – so everyone has a chance to have normal children.”

“I do have normal children,” Winona says, glancing over at the bassinet in the corner where James is actually sleeping without being held for once.

“So you did go back to the clinic,” Chris concludes with a sense of relief. He smiles.

Winona doesn’t. “No.”

“But you—”

“I thought about it. Of course, I did. But then I wondered, what would I be saying about myself if I did everything I could to make sure my children didn’t end up like me? I’d always been happy with who I was. Was I supposed to start hating myself just because of one little test? So I talked it over with George and we agreed to stop taking birth control and see what happened.”

Chris’s eyes widen. “Wait – are you saying James wasn’t…?”

“Both my sons are exactly who they were meant to be,” Winona says, voice firm. “Have you ever thought about what it means that the clinics are free and available to everyone?”

Chris doesn’t hesitate. “Yeah, it means the system is fair.”

“It means that we’re supposed to think the system is fair. We’re supposed to believe that everyone’s been given the same choice so that we’re allowed to blame people who make the wrong choice – or people whose parents made the wrong choice. We get to say, ‘They deserve what they got,’ and wash our hands of their problems. Only that’s not really choice at all. It’s just, ‘Do what you’re supposed to or suffer the consequences.’ Real choice would be offering more than one livable option. Real choice would be, ‘Engineer your children or not – you’ll be supported either way.’”

“But why should all the people who cared about having healthy children be forced to support the children of people who didn’t care enough about their kids or the public welfare to go to a clinic?”

“Because they’re children. And because any one of them, all of them, could be amazing. I happen to think I turned out pretty damn well.”

Chris can’t exactly argue. Honestly, he’s been half in love with Winona since the night they met. “You were lucky, though,” he says.

“Sure,” Winona agrees easily. “Lucky to be healthy and smart. Lucky to have found a job that I loved doing. Lucky to have met George. Unlucky, too, though. To have lost the mother who loved me. To get stuck with another mother who didn’t. To have lost my partner on the day of my son’s birth. There’s no escaping luck – good or bad.”

“Okay, things happen,” Chris admits, “but still, why shouldn’t people try to give their children the best shot in life?”

“Of course they should, but not by trying to control everything. Have you ever read classic literature? Or watched really old movies? The best stories are never about following a precise plan. They’re about the unexpected. The surprises you love and the ones you hate, too. The shifting paths and the unforeseen destinations. Taking risks. Making the best of what you’ve got. Absolute control is a myth. And so is absolute responsibility.”

Chris looks over at the bassinet as he thinks over Winona’s words, and Winona, following his gaze, walks over and lifts James into her arms.

“We’ve lost some things,” she says softly. “An openness to the unbidden. Our capacity for unconditional love.”

Chris’s eyes rest on James. “But aren’t you afraid for him?” he asks.

“Terrified,” Winona says.

 

“I think about that conversation all the time,” Pike says. “It completely changed how I saw the world.”

Leonard frowns, because he knows it doesn’t end there. “I don’t understand. If she loved Jim so much, what happened to her?”

Pike takes a visible breath. “When I came off shift a couple of days later, I found her lying in the bed. Jim was crying and she wasn’t moving, and I think I knew it the moment I saw her face.” His words slow and stiffen, like each one has to be coaxed from his throat. “She wasn’t breathing. Her skin was cold. I commed medical, even though I knew it was too late. I picked up Jim to comfort him and that’s when I noticed Winona’s PADD flashing. She’d left a vid message with detailed instructions for taking Jim to her father, where they’d left Sam when they shipped out on the Kelvin. And then, at the end, her last words: Sorry I didn’t tell you. I didn’t tell George, either. And, yes, it was worth it.

“Wait.” Leonard focuses on his confusion instead of the tragedy. “What was worth it?”

“The CMO did an autopsy. When I told her that I was taking the baby to Winona’s parents, she decided I counted as family and told me what had happened. It turns out Winona had an extremely rare genetic mutation that made pregnancy very hard on her body. The doctor was surprised she’d managed to survive the first one. It was probably what killed her biological mother.”

“And she knew? There wasn’t a treatment?”

“No one had bothered trying to develop one. They just added the mutation to the list of reasons to discard an embryo or pursue a therapeutic termination.”

“Sorry, Bones,” Jim quips, a slight quiver to his voice, “guess we can’t get me pregnant, after all.”

Leonard huffs out a helpless laugh, sharp and short and totally inappropriate to the moment. He gropes for something better, something to say or do, but comes up with nothing.

It doesn’t matter. Pike isn’t finished.

“So we got back to Earth and I took Jim to his grandfather, James. I met Sam, who was almost four and seemed active and happy. And I met Candace, the woman who’d raised Winona. She was mostly quiet. I told them what had happened with the Kelvin and after, and then I left. I was due back at the academy and everything seemed fine, so I just left.” The last words ring bitter with self-recrimination.

“Stop it,” Jim says like he’s said it a hundred times. “You didn’t know. You couldn’t have known.”

Pike shakes his head. “I thought about you. I could have checked in.”

“You thought I was fine.”

“Or I was too scared that I might discover you weren’t fine.”

“It’s in past, Chris. Leave it there.”

A look passes between Jim and Pike, and now Leonard finally understands this intimacy between them. The last of the jealousy he didn’t even realize he was holding onto drops away.

“What happened to your grandfather?” Leonard asks after a moment, drawing the attention of both men back to him.

“What do you think happened?” Jim asks without malice. “Haven’t you noticed the theme?”

“He died,” Leonard surmises.

Jim nods. “Transport accident, apparently.”

“Less than six months after I left Jim there,” Pike adds. “When I discovered you two in the bar, I looked it all up. I think it’s safe to assume that with James gone, Candace decided to wash her hands of Winona once and for all.”

“Jesus,” Leonard mutters.

“Not that you weren’t a great recruit,” Pike says, “but when I saw Jim and found out what had happened, I knew I needed a way to get him to academy and give him at least some of opportunities Winona and George would have wanted for him.” Pike smirks. “Also, I figured if he was half the person his mother was, we could take down the whole system together.”

Leonard nods. “How can I help?”

Jim lays a hand on Leonard’s arm and squeezes. “You already have.”

 

“That must have been something,” Leonard says later, when they’re lying together in his bunk. “Finding out who your parents were after all those years.”

“Yeah, it was…yeah,” Jim says. “I wanted to tell you about it…”

“I know you did, kid.”

“So,” Jim says, after a minute of silence, “turns out my mother actually loved me. Can you believe it?”

Leonard snugs Jim’s shoulder tighter underneath his arm. “I could never have believed anything else.”

 

 

Leonard’s not naïve (anymore). He knows that a society like theirs doesn’t just transform overnight.

But it kind of feels like it has.

They’ve been back on Earth for over a week and Leonard’s head hasn’t stopped spinning. It still feels like he’s trying to catch up.

At the moment, Jim’s role in the revolution seems to be ensuring that it’s televised. Half the time Leonard turns on a holofeed, the first thing he sees is Jim’s face, wearing a charming smile as he recounts the dramatic tale of how he helped the Enterprise save Earth, or somber-faced as he tells an abridged version of his heart-wrenching backstory.

Honestly, Leonard’s more likely to see a projection of Jim lately, than Jim himself. Not that he’s complaining.

He’s proud.

(If still ever so slightly insecure about what use a hero and revolutionary poster child will have for a grumpy old doctor like him.)

Even more exciting (and unsettling) are the other stories currently dominating the holofeeds. Stories of citywide strikes of unskilled workers. Stories of Non-mod janitorial staffs occupying buildings and businesses around the country. Stories of patrons waking up to find their Non-mods have simply walked away during the night.

It’s not everyone or everywhere (yet), but the movements seem to be spreading every day.

Still, nothing Leonard sees on a holofeed hits him quite so viscerally as the sight he’s faced with every time he steps out his door.

An empty hallway.

So many empty hallways.

And not just because almost all the cadets in the top two classes are dead. (Though Leonard’s already been to three group memorials.) The most notable absence is all the bodies in identical cream-colored pants and tunics who used to move quietly and efficiently through the dorm, avoiding Leonard’s eyes.

The Non-mods.

There’s virtually no one left for them to serve, but they haven’t simply abandoned the Academy.

In fact, they’re running it.

The abrupt departure of nearly all official personnel had left some gaps – gaps everyone soon knew would never again be filled by those who left them. But luckily for Starfleet there were still a few people on hand who actually knew how to do all the things that needed doing – even if they’d never been allowed to actually do them before.

By the time Leonard and the rest of crew of the Enterprise had set foot back on solid ground, a major percentage of the Academy’s daily functions were being managed (and managed well) by Non-mods.

Non-mods who’ve made it clear they have no intention of returning to their former positions.

Non-mods Starfleet can ill afford to do without.

After their conversation about Winona Kirk, Leonard had learned that integrating the Academy and Starfleet was always the first and most important goal on Pike’s (and Jim’s) list. Who knew it would already be half done by the time they arrived?

While Jim’s been out on his press junket, Pike’s been meeting with members of the brass all week, working out the details of making it official.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s been waiting, watching the chips fall, wondering what it’s all going to mean for him (and feeling like a selfish asshole for wondering about that at all).

 

As if in answer to Leonard’s thoughts, Jim staggers in, looking exhausted…and slightly manic.

Also, handsome as fuck.

(Pike had suggested that Starfleet issue him a uniform for his press appearances and Starfleet decided they could use all the recruiting help they could get. Jim wears it extremely well.)

“No more interviews,” Jim announces as he drops heavily onto the couch and starts to pull off his boots. “Ever.” He tosses his hat in the direction of a small table by the front door, but misses by several feet.

Leonard walks over and picks it up. “Seems like you have the PR thing pretty well covered by this point. Surely Pike could figure out something else for you to do.”

“He has actually.” Jim jumps to his stocking feet and starts pacing. “Several things. My choice. Could tour the country, maybe internationally, recruit other Non-mods, give speeches, et cetera. Small risk of assassination, but Pike would send along some security.”

Jim flashes a quick smile, but Leonard doesn’t think it’s funny.

Jim goes on.

“Could stay here, help sort out the practicalities of this whole integrated Starfleet thing in some sort of official capacity. Kind of like half-instructor, half-union rep.”

Leonard nods. “A lot of people here already think of you as their leader.”

Jim pauses for a moment, then resumes his pacing. “Or Pike says I can go back out with the Enterprise when she’s ready.”

“Yeah?” Leonard asks. “What kind of commission are they offering?”

“Captain,” Jim says.

“Oh, that’s ni—” Leonard does a double take. “Wait a minute, did you just say captain? They’re offering you captain of the flagship?”

“Apparently so. What? You don’t think I can handle it?” There’s a laugh in Jim’s voice, but it rings a bit hollow.

“I know you can handle it,” Leonard says before there can be any misunderstanding. “It’s just…holy shit, Jim. You’ve come a long way from ‘nowhere else to go.’”

Jim laughs again. “Yeah, I guess I have.” He looks down at the movement of his own feet. “It would be hard, though. Everyone would be watching and scrutinizing my every move. There’d be all these people back here counting on me to succeed to prove that we can do it. And then there’d be all these other people just waiting for me to fail and prove that we can’t. I wouldn’t just be a captain, I’d be a symbol.”

“You would.” Leonard nods as he studies Jim’s face. “But you still want to do it, don’t you?”

Jim looks up. “Yeah. I do.”

Leonard swallows. “Then go for it,” he says. “Don’t let anything...” or anyone “…hold you back.”

Jim gives a brisk nod, then starts speaking rapidly. “Pike thinks it would be best if they let people volunteer to serve on the crew. He doesn’t want me stuck out there with a boatful of people trying to challenge my authority, so he’s giving everyone who was onboard – everyone who’s seen me in action – first shot at retaining their positions, including battle promotions. Well, except for Spock, since he was promoted to captain and now I’m captain, so he’s back to first officer, if he even decides to come back out which I’m not sure about because of the whole Vulcan thing and all…” He trails off.

“Jim…?” Leonard asks, not quite certain Jim is saying what Leonard thinks he’s saying.

“So, um, you could keep your field promotion to CMO.”

Leonard’s eyes widen. His mind races. Jim’s right, it’s going to be like living under an old-fashioned magnifying glass. And it’s going to be dangerous, and Jim, with so much to prove, is probably going to be trying to get himself killed every other day, and it’ll be Leonard’s job to make sure he doesn’t succeed. And it’s going to be weird, suddenly having to share Jim with an entire starship full of people. And their relationship is going to have to change, at least a little, maybe a lot, because it’s time to start rebuilding on a foundation of equality.

And it’s going to be breathtaking, watching Jim finally able to fulfill all his potential.

It’s only when Jim starts talking again that Leonard realizes he’s forgotten to answer.

“You can take some time to think about it,” he’s saying. “I mean, I know you really hate space, so I’d understand if you didn’t fe—”

Leonard holds up a hand to cut Jim off. His smile feels too big for his face. “When do we leave?”

 

FIN.