It doesn’t matter how often he’s been here. He has never adapted to the sweltering heat of it, the way it wraps around you like a fucking fist and doesn’t let up. Even a Georgia boy, steeped in heat from the cradle, would flounder in the desert world of Vulcan.
But Jim asked, and he’s here, because in all the long years of knowing him, he’d never been able to deny Jim anything.
It was damn annoying, too.
But he followed the kid into the stars, followed him into the black abyss, and it wasn’t too bad, to follow him to the red hot heat of Vulcan.
Spock is lurking somewhere nearby. Jim will still be sleeping--he’s a lazy son of a bitch, when he’s not responsible for an entire starship, but Spock doesn’t understand the concept of sleeping in and so Leonard is awake, poking through the kitchen to assemble something that passes for breakfast.
It doesn’t matter how many times he does this. How many times he’s found himself here, and considered all the things that brought them here--every time he finds himself alone in this fucking kitchen, it hurts.
Jim Kirk came into his life like a force of nature. It wasn’t the gentle rain of a summer afternoon--it was the fierceness of an ion storm in space, the fury of a tsunami slamming into the shore, the devastation of a volcano erupting.
Later, years later, when he’d learned that letting Kirk wander off on away missions without him or Spock always ended badly (bloody), he went with them on an away mission. It was an M-class planet, so unremarkable that he couldn’t remember why they were in the system or even it’s name.
But he remembered the storm.
It had been him and Spock and Jim, one of those rare occasions they weren’t accompanied by any else. Spock was curious about something-- a mineral reading or something equally science-y that Leonard promptly forgot. Jim put the shuttlecraft down in a wide empty clearing and Spock spent the day happily (though of course he would deny that) scanning rocks and grass and muttering under his breath.
Jim dragged Leonard to forest, almost a kilometer from the shuttlecraft, and they traipsed through it, while Jim poked things and Leonard snarled at him for it.
It was idyllic, in every sense. Peaceful.
And then, because the laws of the universe insisted that Jim Kirk be fucked with on away missions, everything went to hell.
The storm ripped up from nowhere, an acidic rain so savage and torrential that it ate through the grassy meadow in seconds, and was burrowing into the trees before either Jim or Leonard really understood it.
Spock, bless his curious Vulcan heart, understood it fastest, running ahead of the storm, snagging Jim’s arm and dragging him along in his wake. “There is a cave, in point two five eight kilometers.”
The mists from the rain were already stinging Leonard’s skin and he snarled at the Vulcan, “We won’t make it.”
Spock didn’t even look at him. “I suggest, Doctor, you run faster.”
In the end, they made it.
Of course they did.
Laws of the universe be damned, Jim Kirk wrote his own destiny, and it wasn’t dying on some M-class planet so forgettable Leonard couldn’t remember it’s name.
What stuck with him over the years wasn’t that distant planet, or even the fucking storm that left them stranded in a cave for four days, unable to call to the Enterprise because of course the storm interfered with the communicators--it was the second night of the storm, when he woke up in the back of the cave, near the fire Spock had built. Jim and Spock weren’t there, and McCoy sat up, concerned for a moment.
And then he saw them. Spock, a step away from Jim, who was standing on the very edge of the cave’s protection, the wind buffeting him, grinning into that destructive rain.
As wild and destructive as it was.
Later, they’d emerge from the cave and find the planet changed. Stripped bare, to pitted rocks and the rotting corpses of trees and a few very large animals. As unrecognizable from the idyllic paradise he’d wandered through as Vulcan was from Earth.
That’s what Jim Kirk did to Leonard. He was the storm, brilliant and devastating and unstoppable, and when he swept through, Leonard didn’t recognize the landscape left behind.
Sometimes, he wanted to hate Jim for that.
But most of the time he couldn’t help but love the kid for it.
The problem was, Leonard knew, that he did love Jim
Jim was his best friend in the Academy, when he was still reeling from losing his wife and his hometown, his practice, and (the thing that devastated him, because he could handle the rest all the rest, he didn’t care about that, but this--this destoryed him) his baby girl. Jim was the one who drank with him, who dragged him from the bars, who made him smile. He was the one who teased and badgered and made a general annoyance of himself until Leonard pulled himself from his rage and depression and started living again.
He was the person who needed Leonard just as much as Leonard needed him.
And he fell in love with Jim. He fell in love with the way he laughed at his mother’s messages, the way Jim stole his coffee. Fell in love with the big dreams and small town manners, the cocky smile that hid a mountain of issues.
He fell in love with boy who woke up shaking from nightmares and who looked so invincible in his Academy reds, the one who waltzed through life like nothing could touch him and trusted Leonard to know the truth--that everything did.
He knew it wouldn’t end well. He was a country doctor from Georgia, a grumpy old man in a sea of fresh faced brilliance. He was as different from Jim as a roadside daisy was from the sun.
He’d follow Jim to the edges of the known universe, follow further, if that’s where the kid wanted to go, but he always knew that the sun can’t love a wildflower.
If Jim was the wild fire that rewrote the path of his life, Spock was the shadow that followed him. The creeping dark he didn't expect and was barely aware of until it was wrapped around him like a blanket.
For a long time, Leonard disliked Spock. It was hard to like someone who was so antagonistic toward Jim. Spock argued like it was a past time, countered Jim's orders, and worked with a tireless efficiency that was almost offensive in its industriousness.
And Jim bitched for months, over late night drinks, about how his First was undermined him, and how it was so helpful Jim couldn't even do anything about it.
The kid sounded so pissed off and bewildered that Leonard couldn't help but laugh at him.
And then the nights of playing chess began, and Jim dragged Leonard along behind him to join Spock for meals in the canteen more times than not and somewhere along the way, Leonard stepped onto the bridge, saw the Captain and Commander standing shoulder to shoulder, facing a Romulan warlord and he realized--they were a team.
It sat strange in his chest, and he drank himself stupid that night, alone in his medbay.
But it didn’t hurt , not until the time he walked onto the observation deck to meet Jim and found him laughing at Spock, his eyes bright with the smile that Leonard knew too well--the one Jim gave to people who were his family. The ones he trusted implicitly.
It wasn’t even that, though. What hurt was the way Spock’s lips twitched and his eyes were bright and amused as he watched the illogical human giggling at him.
Leonard could handle them being a team. That was bigger than him, bigger than being Jim’s best friend and family, it was for the good of the ship and Leonard could put aside jealousy for that.
But for years--since the Academy--he had been the one to make Jim smile like that, the one he turned to when life was shitty and he need to be a person and not the Captain of a starship.
Sharing that with Spock terrified him. And it hurt. But then, Jim did what he was so apt to do.
The Ilyrian slave trader wouldn’t have been their problem, except for the part where they stole a little girl in a park.
A little girl who happened to be the granddaughter of a pretty powerful Andorian ambassador.
The thing Leonard loved about Kirk is--he would have gotten involved anyway. He had no tolerance for hurting children. But the orders came and that made it easier.
The plan was Jim’s. Of course it was Jim’s. If Leonard had actually heard it before the Captain pulled rank and shut his protesting First Officer down, he’d have been fight a battle on two fronts, because no way in hell would Leonard have ever allowed Jim Kirk to waltz into a slave auction, on the wrong end of a fucking chain.
It was the worst two weeks of Leonard’s life, as Spock and the crew scrambled to follow the Captain, and he prayed to every god he believed in and a bunch he didn’t that they’d get him back alive and not completely broken.
And he found himself, more often than he liked, sitting in Jim’s room, with Spock, not bothering to fill the silence that stretched between them. Just sharing space and the weight of the worry that was choking them.
Spock understood his fear. Because Spock loved Jim too.
They got him back. Bruised and bleeding, with a broken wrist and fractured ribs and carrying new scars he refused to share even with Leonard, the light in his eyes a little dimmer than it had been, but they got him back. Carrying a little Andorian princess in his arms, to boot.
And if Jim noticed the way Spock’s hands trembled when he reached for the captain, or the way Leonard ooked away, unable to even yell at him as he set about putting his best friend back together--he didn’t mention it.
He didn’t mention the way they occassional looked at each other, after that, and whole conversations seemed to pass without a word being said and every one was about Jim.
Leonard didn’t always like Spock, but he respected him.
And he couldn’t hate someone that Jim needed. Who loved Jim with a devotion that sometimes frightened Leonard.
Jim was a wild fire, a brightly burning sun, and Leonard was the tiny wild flower that reached for him. And Spock--Spock was the shadow cast moon that reflected Jim’s brightness.
Leonard could believe that Spock was his ally. That they worked together to keep Jim safe. And it was easier, to like him, because anyone who loved Jim couldn’t be all bad.
Spock was logic and calm and reason, and McCoy was rage and quick passion, all gruff rumblings to hide how deeply he cared. They fought and snapped at each other, a familiar call and refrain on the bridge and in the ready room and over Jim’s too often bleeding body in the medbay.
It was, despite the hostility, easy to believe that Spock was his ally.
The night it changes is almost a year after the Ilyrian slaver.
It’s after Jim beams up into a mirror universe where Sulu was trying to kill him and Spock brings him back.
It’s after they meet Spock’s parents and both Jim and Leonard realize that he’s as damaged as they are.
It was after the planet where Spock and Leonard were happy and the entire crew almost mutinied.
It was after Edith.
It’s after all of that, and somehow that doesn’t feel significant. It just feels like life, like the history they collect, nothing special. The extraordinary stopped feeling strange after six months of knowing Jim.
The night is like so many others. Chess and drinks, on the observation deck. Jim invited him because Jim invites him any time he meets with Spock off shift.
Jim isn’t stupid, and he knows Leonard is threatened by Spock, and he tries to soothe that.
But Leonard got caught up treating a case of Rigelian fever, and setting up to inoculate a crew of four hundred plus, so he’s late, and he almost doesn’t go.
They’ll be playing chess, and more often than not, when that happens, he’s forgotten, a leftover thought in the corner to provide commentary and the bourbon.
He’s tired . But something makes him go, maybe just the need to see Jim, because he hasn’t in almost two days, and that’s unusual in itself, but they’ve been busy, with a problem in engineering and the fucking fever, and Jim’s new orders from Command.
So he goes.
They’re there, the chessboard forgotten and it hurts him.
Jim is pressed against the open viewfinder, glass all that separates him from the stars and he belongs there, has always belonged in the star streaked black. Leonard has known that for years, has known anything but the universe is too small to hold James T.
Spock leans into him, one hand holding Jim’s face still, cradling his jaw, fingers splayed open, the other catching Jim’s hands above his head, their fingers twisted together as he kisses him.
For a moment, as Leonard watches, he can’t breath. He can’t move. He can only watch, as Jim arches into Spock and Spock kisses him, mouth wide and open, flushed greener than normal and it is so right that it doesn't even surprise him to see. It occurs to him, as Jim’s fingers strain against Spock’s, as he pulls away to nip at his neck, that he should leave. This--this isn't meant for him.
He has no place here.
Jim makes a noise that’s broken and wanting and Spock murmurs to him, something Vulcan and unbearably sweet.
And something in Leonard shatters.
Spock enters the kitchen as Leonard finishes breakfast. It’s simple, which should surprise exactly no one--Leonard doesn’t like to cook and he’s not good at it--cutting fruit and mixing yogurt with honey for Spock, scrambling eggs and tossing in some vegetables for Jim--because god knows the kid should eat them--is about as fancy as he’s going to get.
He pours a cup of coffee for himself, nudges Spock’s tea toward him and hunches over the table.
They eat in silence born of years in each other’s company. Jim never liked silence--it made him nervous and he would talk, about nothing and everything, just to fill the silence that he hated.
But Leonard and Spock never needed that. They fought more than they didn’t, and sometimes, Leonard was sure that the only peace they had was in the silence.
So they sat across from each other, and they listened to nothing and enjoyed the quiet peace of the other’s presence.
Nothing changed. And everything changed. They were discreet, hiding from the crew but Leonard knew that kiss on the observation deck changed everything. Jim valued Spock too much, as a friend and an officer, as a brilliant mind he respected, to risk all of that on a stolen kiss and quick affair.
Leonard wasn't sure Vulcan even had casual sex in their language and knew Spock didn't.
The Vulcan didn't do anything by halves. When he gave himself to something--an experiment, his position as First Officer, his friendship, his heart--he gave everything he had, gave himself with an intensity that left Leonard shaken.
Sometimes, Leonard thinks that it’s Jim. He inspires that kind of love and devotion--he has it from his whole crew, had it from Leonard since the day they met, and somehow wins over the coolly logical Vulcan as well.
But as time slides by and he actually gets to know Spock, he realizes it’s not a Jim thing--well, not when it comes to Spock.
The rest of the universe is something else entirely.
But for Spock--it’s merely who he is.
He appears cold and aloof because of that damn Vulcan emotional reserve, but it’s all a mask. Just like Jim’s Captain’s smile is a mask, and Leonard’s bitchiness is--Spock hides behind Vulcan stoicism.
But if you can slip past that, or learn to read him--it’s easy to see just how deeply he cares. How much of himself he gives to the ship and to Starfleet and to Jim, wholeheartedly and without reservation.
When Leonard realizes that, it’s easier, to accept. To like Spock, because there is something incredibly vulnerable about knowing the truth that lies beneath a mask.
So nothing changes. And everything changes. They’re discreet, hiding from the crew. But never from Leonard. Jim flushed, the first time Spock reached for him in front of the doctor, hissed Spock’s name in protest.
“The doctor is your friend. And mine,” Spock said. “If we cannot trust him, then who?”
It is a bittersweet ache, to be trusted with this thing between them that is precious and jealously guarded. To be forced to witness a love that will never include him.
He smiles a scowl and grumbles, “Y’all better control your urges. I don’t want to witness Spock in his altogether.”
Jim bats his eyelashes and smirks, “But you wouldn’t mind seeing me, would you, Bonsey?”
Leonard shoves the annoying kid out of his face and he laughs, falling into Spock.
And he tells himself that it doesn’t hurt.
He adjusts. Learns how to live with this. Jim and Spock explore the universe, their love story written small and large across the black, and Leonard is there, but an afterthought. A step away and removed. He tries, sometimes, to find his own love story. There’s Carol, but that goes badly when he realizes they’re both pining after the same unattainable man.
There’s a brief fling with Christine Chapel. That ends when she explains she would rather work as his partner than leave the ship when she got tired of being second to Jim.
There’s the ambassador here, the diplomatic aide there, but none of them ever stick. Nothing ever touches what he feels for Jim.
He doesn’t even know if he wants it to. His divorce broke him, and losing his daughter left him so shattered he sometimes still wakes up amazed that he’s on a starship and not a slab in a morgue.
He did his level best, trying to drink himself into an early grave, before a recruitment ad caught his eye and he did what was both the smartest and stupidest thing he’d ever done.
Loving Jim, he thought, could destroy him just as much as losing Jo had.
This. Loving something he could never have--it was a strange kind of safe. It hurt, but it was a half healed wound, a dull ache that became almost comforting as years slid by and he grew used to it.
He thought he might miss it, if he ever stopped loving him.
Jim shuffles out if the back of the house as they finish breakfast.
“Morning, sweetheart,” Leonard drawls, lazily, and Jim groans pitifully.
“Why aren't you hungover too?” he whines.
“Tolerance and age.” Leonard smirks.
Jim glares at him over his coffee.
“Why did you let me drink so much?” he grumbles and Leonard laughs outright at that.
“I did advise you, ashayam,” Spock says serenely. “You disregarded my concern.”
Jim levels a glare at him. “It's cruel to point that out, Spock.”
Leonard hides his grin in his coffee as Jim and Spock bicker gently, and he doesn't let himself dwell on the sharp slice of pain when their fingers brush or when Spock pauses to brush his lips across Jim’s forehead before he leaves, going to his labs and assistant for a few hours.
After so many years, he doesn't allow it to linger. And if Jim’s gaze is too knowing in the aftermath--he doesn't dwell on that either.
“What the hell do you wanna do today?”
And Jim grins, bright and mischievous and familiar.
He becomes the centerpiece of their arguments. If he thought that sleeping together would ease those, Leonard quickly realizes how wrong he was.
Jim swings between broody silence and bitchy drunk. “He doesn't trust me!”
“You know as well as I do the hobgoblin adores you.”
A face, part accepting, part grimace. “Doesn't mean he accepts that I know what's best for the ship.”
“Jim, his job is to question you when you. It doesn't mean he doesn't trust you.”
Leonard bitches and drinks too much and eventually sees reason because he does know, he just hates when duty puts them opposite each other.
If Jim finds him when he's off duty and drinking, Spock comes to him in the Med Bay, stiff and formal behind his title and position.
“I know damn well you aren't behind on your inoculations so tell me, Spock. How did Jimmy hurt your feelings today?”
Spock frowns. “My feelings are not the concern, Dkctor.”
“Because you don't have them. I know. Why are you here Spock?”
Spock never dances around the subject. “The Captain is being irrational and is knowingly putting himself at risk.”
“He does that. Often. It's why we love him.”
Spock doesn't roll his eyes but his expression goes a little stiffer and Leonard sighs, his feet dropping to the floor, amusement fading. “Spock, he will always be irrational when it comes to this ship. He will always put himself at risk for the crew. If he didn't, he wouldn't be Jim.”
“It is illogical to find such a characteristic endearing,” Spock says, his expression troubled. Leonard smiles, sympathetic. “Love is rarely logical. Especially when Jim is involved.”
The thing is, he always knew he'd love Jim. It was impossible to not love him. He fell in love with the kid when he was the brightest thing in the perpetual dark that McCoy lived in, and he followed Jim out of that dark.
What he never expected was to love Spock.
Spock was the immovable stone that he battered against, the sharp argument that met him on the bridge and at Jim's side, that so often made him feel small and insignificant.
He was the one that Jim chose to love.
Leonard wanted to hate him.
Spock was the not quite smiling eyes when they argued, the stoic support when Jim was doing something insufferable, the one who brought Jim home, every time he was hurt.
He couldn't hate Spock, because he loved Jim too much.
And then Spock died.
It wasn't even Jim’s devastation, although that hurt.
It was his own. He stumbled to his quarters and threw up, picturing him, stumbling behind that glass.
Spock was coiled strength and unconscious grace, poised at Jim's shoulder and bent over his science station. It had been that way for so long that Leonard just assumed that it would always be that way.
Seeing him stumble, swaying before he slid to his knees--it broke something in Leonard. It hurt to see, the kind of hurt that losing Joanna had caused.
And then he was gone and Leonard had something silent and alien in his head, and he was pretty sure he was going crazy.
He knew that Jim was.
And he realized why this hurt so damn much, why he clung to that silent presence in his mind, with almost desperate determination.
Jim, he always expected to love.
He was the sun and burned through all of Leonard’s pitiful defenses.
But Spock. Spock was the shadowy moon, and he crept in where Bones never expected, stole all the corners that Jim didn't already own, filled him up in ways he never noticed until he was gone and it was too late.
Too goddamn late.
He was the only one of the crew there. Not because of trust--after stealing the Enterprise, after risking court martial and imprisonment, there was never a lack of trust.
But this. This was different. Spock was different. He tried not to be, and maybe some of the others didn't notice.
Jim did. So did Leonard.
They just didn't care. They had him back, even changed, and that was enough. That was more of a miracle than either had ever dared hope for.
T’Pau is speaking, her voice a low steady chant, and Saavik shifts beside him.
Leonard McCoy always knew he’d be the one to stand and witness his best friends getting married.
He always knew that when he did, it would break his heart.
He never thought it would also make him happy.
But seeing the wonder in Spock's eyes and hearing Jim laugh as T’pau stepped back, and her hands fell away.
He smiled. Because this. Them, with him watching. Was right.
He stays for a month. A month of late nights with Jim and early mornings with Spock, of consulting the healers on Vulcan while Spock waited, patient, nearby.
They take a small spacecraft out and drift for a week, chasing space dust and nothing and it feels like home.
It's familiar and comforting, something he's done twice a year since they all retired and Jim moved with Spock to Vulcan, leaving him alone on Earth.
He stays a month, as the old familiar pain sharpens with exposure, and the comfort of their presence is outweighed by the pain of constant wanting what will never be his. So he stays a month. And then he says, “I'm going home. Jo wants me there for her anniversary.”
Jim's face falls. His mouth opens and Spock reaches for his hand. They exchange a quick glance and Jim sigh. He nods. “Ok, Bones.”
It takes a little time. To secure passage on a ship, and wrap up his studies with the Vulcan healers, and to say goodbye.
It always feels like he’s losing something, when he leaves them. It hurts.
Jim is quiet, almost subdued, and he wonders if this will be the time that he breaks down and asks McCoy to stay. Spock is his usual pragmatic, efficient self, presenting travel options and when they will next be on earth--Jim will be guest lecturing at the Academy in the fall, and they plan to meet then. It’s only a few months, but after a lifetime of living in each other’s space, it feels like a small eternity.
The day before he leaves, he wakes up and goes about making breakfast. Spock and Jim have both tried to convince Leonard that he isn’t a houseguest, that their home is just as much his--and he knows they mean it.
But he was raised in southern Georgia and his mama would never forgive him for being anything less than perfectly polite, so he grumbles his way through preparing breakfast and ignores Spock’s small smile when he slumps, grouchy, at the table.
Jim, it would appear, is hiding.
“He hates this.” Spock says. “Every time you leave, he hates it a little more.”
Leonard glances at him, startled to find that deep brown gaze trained on instead of the research that he had been studying.
“I do have a life on Earth,” he drawls, and Spock arches an eyebrow.
“Indeed. But there is always hope.”
Hope, Leonard thinks privately, is a dirty bitch. “He’s never said.”
Spock watches him sadly. “It hurts you to be here. He would never hurt you, for his own happiness.” A slight pause and then, “Nor would I.”
Leonard stares at him, at the Vulcan who he’s loved for years, and says, softly.
Spock smiles, but it’s gentle. “Of course, Leonard.”
Something sweet and sharp and painful spreads in his chest. He wants to turn away. Wants to hide behind his sarcasm and grouchy mood, behind sharp words and arguments.
But Spock is staring at him, eternally patient and--
“Is Jim the only one? Who wants me here?”
Something flashes briefly in the dark brown gaze, before Spock schools it. His voice is very stern when he says, “Leonard. Your place is, as it has ever been, with us. If I had my wish, you would be here. Always.”
That thing that feels sweet and sharp and painful explodes, a silent bomb detonating in his chest and changing things. He closes his eyes, and Spock looks away, giving him a moment of privacy.
Finally, he nudges the Vulcan’s wrist. He nods, once. Acknowledging the words.
Four months later, he stands on a street in San Francisco. Across from him is a cozy, two story house. Upstairs, Jim will be unpacking his library, and stopping to read favorite bits of books. Spock will be unpacking their bedroom, having already finished his office and kitchen.
It would be easy, to cross the road and go in. So easy to slip into their lives.
It feels impossible and as easy as taking his next breath.
He stands there, a wildflower watching silently, as the sun begins to set and the moon rises over the bay.