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"You know, most people only get up this early when they're going on vacation," Jim had grumbled, quite reasonably, he thought, when he had been unceremoniously dumped out of bed by an alarmingly chipper Hikaru. At least he had made coffee, had shoved him into the shower almost clothed but left a mug for him for when he got out. Good thing it was totally normal for two colleague-slash-roommates to be that comfortable with each other's nudity.

 

Perfectly normal.

 

It was slightly less normal for another colleague to be sitting at their kitchen table, working diligently at the crossword in an actual newspaper. Jim may have shrieked and clutched his towel more closely around himself.

 

"Good morning, Captain."

 

"Spock, when I am literally naked you can call me Jim."

 

"Currently, you could be said to be wearing a towel."

 

"Don't!" Hikaru attempted to cut in, too late. Jim had dropped the towel. He wasn't the sort to let such an insignificant factor as acute personal shame get in the way of proving a point. He met Hikaru's eyes, grinned in the face of the glare he was receiving as he sat at the table and sipped at his coffee. It was the perfect temperature.

 

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Jim asked Spock then, shifting a little on the smooth, sticky plastic of their dining chairs.

 

"I was informed it was tradition to imbibe food and beverages with a soon-to-be co-pilot."

 

Jim blinked. Sipped. Mentally translated then turned huge, outraged eyes on Hikaru who had the decency to look a little sheepish, "You're flying together? I've been out for what, three days? And you already have a new co-?"

 

"The time elapsed hardly seems relevant, rather the likely duration of your absence."

 

Wow, that one had almost been tactful. It was learning.

 

"You're the one who got himself put on suspension." Hikaru was less kind, although he did thrust a plate of French toast in front of Jim as he spoke, which softened the blow a little. Jim picked at it, pouting.

 

"That wasn't my fault."

 

"Yes it was," Hikaru and Spock replied in unison. Spock's eyebrow twitched, Hikaru looked suitably perturbed and Jim glared at them both. They were going to leave him out, he could just feel it. As though it wasn't bad enough that he was going to be left alone in his and Hikaru's apartment while all of his friends flew his regular routes without him.

 

He really needed a greater range of friends.

 

Oh! Scotty would still be around. Jim would finally have the opportunity to quiz him on his surprisingly active love life. That man had to have some serious skills somewhere, to have two of Jim's most outrageously gorgeous cabin crew fighting for scraps of his attention. Fortunately there hadn't been any tension yet at work beyond the usual playful banter, neither Gaila nor Pavel inclined towards making a scene and their flight manager Uhura more than capable of keeping things under control.

 

Shit, Hikaru had been talking, was looking at him expectantly. Spock still hadn't taken his eyes off his crossword.

 

"Uhh, what?"

 

"Don't you need to be at the school for eight?"

 

"Shit!"

 

Man, tearing the bare skin of his ass off that chair really hurt.

 

 

 

Jim fell onto his train with seconds to spare, to the soundtrack of doors beeping before they slid closed and someone on the platform swearing at him for making them spill their coffee in his hurry. Whoops. Thankfully, there wasn't any on him, or the crisp white shirt he'd borrowed from Hikaru's closet because he wasn't about to get the iron out for any of his. Not for this. Not for some stupid "training need" that had been identified as part of his suspension assessment. He knew what he was doing, better than any of the other pilots out there except maybe Pike, and he was ex-military with more than a few years on Jim.

 

And it wasn't like Jim thought he'd deserved a commendation for his actions, or anything. But it would have been nice to get some credit for not only creating some of the most challenging flight simulations their commercial airline had ever seen (with the help of Scotty and Pavel) but then also beating them. And if he had landed his hypothetical plane in a hypothetical field full of hypothetical baby bunnies while being observed by the very real director of the company and his daughter, whose pet rabbit had died that morning, well. He had saved almost all of his passengers. Ninety seven percent was pretty much the highest possible rate, accounting for the irregularities programmed in for various foreseeable crises. But that hadn't exactly been the most appreciated argument with a vomiting, sobbing twelve year old drowning him out.

 

The breath test that had showed him not entirely sober from the previous night, well, that was his fault. Although he hadn't been scheduled to fly for another two days, had just been getting his sim hours up with very unfortunate timing. He wouldn't fly drunk. Not ever. And Pike knew it, as surely as he knew Jim's father had been George. It was probably the only reason he still had a job at all.

 

Jim sank into the first available seat just as the train began to move, landing heavily with a huff of breath and earning a half-hearted glare from the man opposite. Wow, and Jim thought he was bad in the mornings. His seat-mate looked about ready to murder the next person who disturbed his attempts to snooze. He was hot, though. Even half-leaning against the window with a broad hand shielding his eyes from the sun, hunched in on himself and half-asleep, he exuded a sort of simmering presence. Jim beamed at him, received a huff and a roll of -holy shit, were those green?- eyes in return.

 

Well, maybe his journey wouldn't be so bad. At the very least, he could enjoy the view. Even with conversation out, he could imagine and observe.

 

The man wore comfortable clothing, but it wasn't particularly cheap. It fitted too well for that, or maybe everything just looked like it had been artfully draped across that frame. Because if Jim wasn't very much mistaken -he wasn't- those were some perfectly shaped shoulders, broad and strong but not artificially inflated by too much time in the gym. The jeans, a quality brand but well worn, were wrapped around strong thighs. A blue plaid shirt strained over biceps.

 

None of that was useful, though. Jim forced himself to look closer, not to meet the -actually, hazel- eyes that regarded him with a sort of lazy curiosity.

 

So, the clothes told Jim he had a reasonable salary but also some sense with money. And comfortable shoes, so his workplace had a casual dress code. The hair, trimmed neatly, and the five o'clock shadow despite it being so early in the morning were conflicting. And yet, judging by that wonderful smell, he was freshly showered.

 

He was clearly exhausted, too, but he held no coffee. He could have afforded it, probably lived on the stuff. No, that was speculation. Probably accurate, like the rest of Jim's instincts, but not based on anything he could express, so not useful. He'd drink it black, too. The type who wanted to punish his body into wakefulness. Except, at 7am , he suffered, with bloodshot eyes and lax posture. It didn't fit.

 

The man held his gaze, steady and relaxed, almost anticipatory. He knew what Jim was doing, not that he'd exactly been subtle. But he didn't flinch. Accustomed to being watched. Judged, even, by people who mattered far more than Jim. Government, maybe?

 

Oh!  There was no dress code. The train wasn't that busy but there was a bag in the rack above them, a bulky rucksack. So he wore a uniform and changed at work. The beard was still unexplained. What man shaved the previous night when he knew he had to be at work in the morning?

 

None of them. That would be insane. And this guy was travelling in the wrong direction, maybe, for logic, but everything else fit. He worked nights, was on his way home. Jim was slightly annoyed with himself for not noticing that sooner, considering the number of times he had all-but-staggered onto a train after a flight landed in the early hours. He should have recognized the signs.

 

Anyway, not government. They worked pretty much nine to five . And it was Monday morning, so he'd worked Sunday night. Emergency services, then, most likely. Firefighter? Jim would buy that calendar. Definitely not a cop, despite the impressive repellent aura. Jim was being regarded with curiosity, not suspicion. And his hands were smooth, Callous-free. Soft and broad and warm, probably, although that was sending his mind a little off track. Could be a paramedic. Might start a shift, shove his bag in the back of an ambulance and rummage around in people's insides all shift. You'd get strong arms throwing one of those vans around sharp corners at speed all night.

 

Jim didn't know many paramedics. He wanted to say that the guy looked too young to be a doctor, but Jim had to be a couple of years younger than him and he was a pilot, which was sort of the same thing if you considered it in terms of career progression. Needing technical knowledge, steady hands and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

 

God, Jim needed to get laid. He bet that train bathrooms were much more spacious than airplane ones. And that there was no way such a gorgeous, exhausted man would go for that idea.

 

Instead, he met those lovely eyes, narrowed his own in challenge and took a deep breath.

 

"Paramedic," he said, and the smile he received was almost worth the failure, all slow and benevolent, "Goddamnit. Should've gone with doctor."

 

"Not far off."

 

Oh and that voice, all low and gravely, had just ruined Jim for everyone else. This was it. His soulmate, his one true love. It was destiny, them meeting there, where Jim shouldn't even be.

 

"I am a doctor. In the ER."

 

Jim grinned. He was a genius. In celebration, he didn’t bother to hide the suggestion in his tone, "Okay, now you do me."

 

The stranger's gaze traveled over him just once, but slowly, made Jim shiver and preen just a little. Then he thought, staring out of the window but not seeing the view.

 

"Pilot."

 

"Oh, come on! How the heck did you get that?"

 

The smile he got that time was just as slow but far less sweet. Jim still wanted to lick it.

 

"Your suit is expensive, but it's designed for evening wear, not daytime. Yes, there is a difference. The shirt's not yours. It buttons the wrong way. It's a women's shirt… and you didn't even notice. So you're used to wearing a uniform. Your coordination's off and you're overtired for a Monday, feeling a little nausea and anxiety. Jet lag. And you're tanned. Didn't get that round these parts. Not the watch, either. Breitling. Huge cliché."

 

Jim gaped, open-mouthed for a moment before: "Your accent is fucking amazing. Seriously. You should read audiobooks or something."

 

"You're somethin' else, kid."

 

"Kid? What are you, like four years older than me?"

 

"Feels like a lot more."

 

"Yeah, night shifts'll do that to you." Jim bit his lip, contemplating going all-in before he saw the flicker of hazel gaze tracking the movement and his mind was made up for him, "I'm Jim. Kirk."

 

Oh, there was the suspicion. And yet- "McCoy. Leonard McCoy."

 

"Well, I think your name might be more than four years older than mine."

 

"Yeah, not too many men named James throughout history." Leonard -no, that didn't sound right- snorted, then seemed to catch himself and frown. Jim wondered who had convinced him he shouldn't do it.

 

"So, how was your shift? Take anything out of anybody's butt?"

 

"Why is that always the first question anybody asks? No. Nothing. Not unless pumping the stomachs of two fifteen year old girls who drank a bottle of whiskey each counts."

 

Jim grimaced at that. "Good whiskey?"

 

"Not by the time I saw it."

 

"They're okay though, right?" Jim felt a little guilty for finding it amusing, suddenly, even though he knew it was just a coping mechanism, likely one Leo -ugh, no- understood well.

 

"They'll be fine. Put it this way, it's not put me off craving a glass when I get home."

 

"Day off?" Jim asked with barely concealed disappointment. Not at all concealed, in fact, judging by the raised eyebrow he received in return.

 

"Yeah. Four off, then back in on an early shift."

 

Jim frowned once he'd worked it out. that was Friday. They wouldn't see each other again, not unless one of them pushed for it and as much as it felt like they knew one another, one short train journey was hardly enough to get a feel for a person. It would just have to be a short-lived fantasy. Jim was plenty used to those.

 

"Where are you going, anyway? No airports on this line."

 

"Just some additional training." Jim shrugged, hoped he came across as breezy rather than evasive but wasn't really sure why it mattered, "I may have- made the Director's daughter vomit and cry when I demonstrated one of my personally designed flight simulations."

 

"How graphic are your simulations?"

 

"This one was- pretty brutal. I didn't kill any people! I mean, well- a couple died anyway, because medical emergencies are built into the scenario, but you don’t see those. Just- bunnies."

 

"Bunnies."

 

"Baby bunnies. Crash landed in a field where they were pretty much wall to wall. Fence to fence? Think we might have overdone the duplication algorithm. And the- gore. Flying limbs and fur and fluffy tails."

 

Jim did feel a little bad. It had just been for fun. It certainly hadn't been for torturing twelve year old girls who were recently traumatized by the loss of a beloved family pet. As though Carol hadn't suffered enough with Director Marcus for a father.

 

Holy shit. McCoy -closer, but still not there- was laughing. A restrained, wheezing sort of laughter, but laughter nonetheless and Jim could do nothing but join him, managing to keep the volume low but unable to prevent his grin from stretching his face wide. It could not have been attractive. Jim didn't care.

 

They were both simmering down, wiping helpless tears from their eyes when a woman approached them, approximately twelve year old daughter in tow. Shit. Jim frowned. Len -fuck, okay, he was going to work on that- frowned too, although for a different reason. After a moment, Jim noticed what it was; the woman did not look at all well. Pale, clammy and shaking, she looked like she could barely get out the words without vomiting.

 

"I am so sorry to bother you, but would you mind watching my daughter for me? I just need a few minutes in the bathroom and you just seem like a nice couple."

 

"Uhh, we're not-" Doctor McCoy -because that was definitely who Jim found himself looking at in that moment, all poise and focus- attempted to interject, only to have it waved away.

 

"Oh, it's okay. She's had a very liberal upbringing. It's absolutely fine. I'll just be a minute, really."

 

With that, she dashed off in the direction of the train bathroom, leaving a thoroughly baffled two men and a surprisingly unperturbed little girl behind. Jim could see the doctor itching to follow the mother, but she had been upright and coherent, more than capable of looking after herself. He wasn't going to give the other man the opportunity to sneak off.

 

"So, I'm Jim. This is Leonard." Jim reached across to clap a hand down on Leonard's -yeah, that’s what he was going with for the time being- knee and gave him a pointed look and a hard squeeze in warning at the outraged expression he received in return. A very hard squeeze. Leonard visibly squirmed, a muscle ticking in his jaw, before he relented with a nod.

 

The girl smiled shyly, not appearing to notice the exchange. "Hi, I'm Sarah. So you guys are boyfriends?"

 

"Yup," Jim answered, with a beaming smile. He was going to avoid traumatizing this girl if it killed him and, judging by his face, Leonard just might. Time to do what Jim did best. Talk. "We met right here on this train. Hit it off straight away, didn't we, babe?"

 

"We sure did." To be fair, Leonard's rumbling growl could have been mistaken for affection and his features did soften when he looked at Sarah.

 

"So how come you call him Leonard? My mom calls my dad sweetheart, or darling. He calls her princess."

 

Leonard frowned at that, while Jim racked his brains, "So what does he call you?"

 

"Angel. Like- Seraphim."

 

"That makes sense. Well, Jim is a nickname. It's short for James." Leonard glanced sideways, eyeing the man himself, "And to be honest, I'm pretty bad with names. I call everyone kid, or buddy, or something like that. But Jim's just Jim. You know?"

 

Jim knew he was going to cream his fucking pants if there were any more ridiculous romantic utterances escaping those plush, smiling lips in that low, rumbling drawl he felt right down to his- wait.

 

"Bones," Jim announced pointedly enough for  both man and girl to look at him, "I call him Bones. Because- I just knew. That first time we met, that I liked him. you know when you feel something so strongly it's like it's always been a part of you, deep inside. It kind of aches, in your bones. That's what he makes me feel."

 

The present tense had been intentional, the slight crack in his voice entirely accidental and Bones -God, yes, that was it- was staring at him, literally open-mouthed. Frankly, a very good look on him, but Jim remembered the trauma and managed not to say it. Sarah -or Sera, maybe- was already a little flushed. How long did it take a woman to vomit enough to collect her kid?

 

"Is it hard?" Sarah asked next, a little anxiously, picking at the sleeve of her blouse. "Being gay? Because my mom says it's okay and I don't know for sure if I like boys or girls, but the kids at school- and some of their parents. They say some pretty bad things."

 

"That's a really good question." Bones stalled far more effectively than Jim, who was busy wondering if maybe Bones had just been friendly and Jim had pushed him, forced him into a game he was entirely uncomfortable with. He just focused for a minute on trying not to hyperventilate and almost missed Bones' words. "But you know you don't have to pick one. You can like boys and girls and everything in between if you want to. You don't have to put a label on it, either. You don't have to be gay or straight or anything else. Maybe you want to be, and that's okay, but… it's okay to just be you, too."

 

Jim felt as though he had spontaneously sprouted ovaries and they were ready to burst with the love for Bones' paternal instinct,  but he had to interject there, too, "It's hard sometimes, yeah. I would tell people I'm bisexual. Do you know what that means?"

 

"You like both?"

 

"Yeah. But I know some people don't like it. And I would actually identify as pansexual, which caters for people who are- undefined. Like Bones said. But most of the time, people just laugh and make jokes about cookware. And it took me a while, and I had to talk to a lot of different people before I figured it out. Those people who laugh at you for being who you are- they're not your friend. And you don't need to worry about what they think, because one day you'll be able to choose exactly who you have in your life.

 

"Anybody who tells you that these are the best days of your life, they're lying to you. The best is yet to come. You'll be able to decide it for yourself."

 

Well, that had not been the plan, although almost crying himself was better than making Sarah cry, and Jim thought he saw a little shine in Bones' eyes too.

 

"You guys are pretty smart."

 

"Well yeah. He's a doctor, you know."

 

Sarah's eyes lit up. "Wow, really? What's the weirdest thing you ever found in somebody's butt?"

 

Jim cracked up laughing and Bones rolled his eyes, although it was with affection.

 

"The weirdest thing was the head of a Barbie doll."

 

"Oh, ow!"

 

"It had the most tangled hair I'd ever seen."

 

"The hair was still on?"

 

"How d'you think I knew it was a Barbie doll?"

 

Sarah giggled at that, then looked to Jim, "Are you a doctor too?"

 

"No, I'm a pilot. I fly planes."

 

"That must be lonely."

 

Jesus fucking Christ, what was happening? Was it Poke Violently at Jim's Emotions Day?

 

"I have a co-pilot. His name is Hikaru. And the cabin crew. Pavel is maybe your age."

 

"No he isn't!"

 

"Uhh, he is! Although possibly not as grown up as you. Girls definitely mature faster. You're like, sixteen, right? Be driving soon? Thinking about prom? You know my friend Gaila looked so good at her prom. She had this beautiful sparkly purple dress, all floaty, like clouds."

 

"I'm twelve."

 

"What! No way. Bones, did you know about this?"

 

"She certainly is a very grown up young lady."

 

"And I don't like dresses. I wanna wear jeans."

 

"You can't wear jeans to prom! What about a tux? Like a jacket, with tails and a bow tie? It could still be purple."

 

"Why does it have to be purple?" But Sarah was laughing and Bones was smiling indulgently, Jim suspended between them in their respective rays of light and colour. He didn't want to return to his own grey, drab life.

 

"Purple is the best colour." Jim nodded something decisively, though, because he didn't have it in him to reject any ovation from this sweet little girl. Instead, he pulled his -Hikaru's- purple silk tie from his pocket and looped it around his neck, throwing one end back over his shoulder like a scarf, "See? Don't I look dashing?"

 

"If anybody actually said the word dashing any more, sure," Bones allowed.

 

"Uhh, in England they say it all the time."

 

"You've been to England ?" Sarah asked, "Is it nice there? Did you meet the Queen? Was it raining? I heard it always rains."

 

"Okay, I did not meet the Queen but it was nice, all the same. And it doesn’t always rain. Sometimes it snows."

 

"It snowed while I was there." Bones nodded then looked a little bemused at Jim and Sarah's immediate rapt attention. "There was a- conference at the Royal London Hospital on a breakthrough surgical procedure."

 

"And your hospital flew you all the way out there?" Jim marvelled at the money in medicine, before Bones gave a sheepish little grin.

 

"Not much of a conference without the keynote speaker."

 

"Holy shit, Bones, that is awesome!" the words burst out before Jim could stop them, to Bones' horror and Sarah's amusement, "I mean, uhh- well, heck."

 

"I've heard swearing before, Jim!" Sarah nudged Jim, who was sure he was blushing scarlet. Damn pale skin, "And that is really awesome, Doctor."

 

There was a slight flush on Sarah's cheeks then, too, and Jim somehow resisted the urge to haul her bodily away from Bones. Not that he had anything to be jealous of, except clear affection and adoring looks. He'd only known Bones for less than an hour, but Sarah had had half that and Jim sort of wanted to pout and rage about how unfair it was.

 

Still, when Sarah's mother came back to retrieve her, still pale but much less shaky and emphatically thankful, something tugged a little at Jim's heartstrings. She was a nice kid. And he was fully prepared to be mocked mercilessly for his suddenly thriving breeding instinct, but when he looked at Bones he saw that he seemed even worse. Just for a moment, though, before he snapped his gaze back. Something else twinged inside Jim, then, and not even where he might have initially thought. Somewhere close to his heart.

 

"You were really good with her," Bones said instead of what he had actually wanted to say, but Jim would run with it for as long as he kept that slightly awed edge to his tone.

 

"I like kids. They're-" Jim struggled for the right word. "Worthwhile."

 

It made no sense but Bones nodded anyway, then gave him a searching look, then unlocked his phone and handed it over. Jim stared at it.

 

"That's my Jo. She lives with my ex-wife. I get some weekends. Holidays. She is- the most worthwhile thing I have ever done."

 

"She's beautiful," Jim said, and it was true but she wasn’t the one who had him captivated. In the picture, she was sitting on the shoulders of a clean-shaven, smiling, energised Bones and fuck, he was actually going to cry- abort, abort. He handed the phone back with a surreptitious sniff and the realisation that the train was pulling into its final destination. Yup. Definitely going to cry. Time to deflect.

 

"I did wonder about that crazy DILF thing you had going on."

 

Bones' expression was one of sheer disbelief in the moments before he stood to grab his bag.

 

"What's a DILF?"

 

Oh, shit. Sarah and her mother had caught up with them in the queue for the train doors.

 

"It's- uhh. A dad I'd like to- friend. Yep. That's what it means. We are using friend as a verb. In this entirely child-appropriate abbreviation. Acronym?"

 

"Acronym." Bones nodded, falling into step beside Jim and Sarah, and her mother who looked as though she might explode with suppressed laughter or possibly more vomit. Bones had taken up the outer position, a clear defensive move, returned Jim's significant sideways glance with pure innocence.

 

Then they got through the ticket barriers. As Sarah and her mother walked away with just a wave and no backwards glance, Jim was struck with an inescapable urge to take Bones' hand. So he did.

 

Bones looked down at it, then up at Jim, then rolled his eyes, "Damnit, come with me."

 

"You said a bad word!" Jim didn't bother to hide his glee as Bones tugged him into a corner, out of the way of the sea of commuters that had been parting around them so far. He raised his hands to Jim's shoulders, made his heart skip a beat before he took hold of the tie, slipping it from around Jim's neck and fussing with his collar.

 

"Can't believe you're putting more clothes on me. My charm is so off today."

 

Bones just gave him a chastising look, focused on his task with steady hands. They were warm, just like Jim had imagined.

 

"Thanks, Bones," he said when they were done, to an expression of pure exasperation. Bones was actually pretty animated, once he got going.

 

"That nickname's gonna stick, isn't it?" He adjusted Jim's tie then, too, pulling it off perfectly straight and settling it back again like there was a chance he might be as desperate for the touch as Jim was.

 

"You gonna give it a chance to?" Jim ventured, meeting Bones' wide eyes and covering those hands with his, keeping them to his chest, "Preferably multiple times in quick succession, interspersed with vowel sounds."

 

Bones laughed. And he didn't pull away. Instead: "How about dinner?"

 

Jim bit his lip. "And dessert?"

 

Bones' eyes were dark, his gaze heated when he leaned in, that broad chest the faintest pressure Jim could do nothing but yield to, "If you're good, I'll order you a cheesecake."

 

"I love cheesecake!"

 

They exchanged numbers and Jim managed to keep his hands and lips and tongue off the body of the man he definitely wanted to spend forever with, but who was maybe a third date rule sort of guy. That was okay. Jim could wait. He could.

 

They went their separate ways across the concourse, Bones out onto the street and Jim to the subway to continue his journey. It didn't feel quite so heart wrenching when he knew it wasn't forever, that the butterflies in his stomach were more than justified. It was a good feeling. Excitement. Anticipation.

 

He sent a jumble of smiley, star and heart emojis -just the purple ones, they weren't engaged- off in a message to Bones in an attempt to express the overflow of emotions he was feeling. As he reached the steps down to the subway, his phone beeped. Bones had sent one back!

 

"Did you know there's coffee down your shirt?"  

 

"God fucking damnit!"

Chapter Text

Jim lasted until he sat down at a desk in the training classroom before texting again.

 

"Bones. They've put me on customer service training. This afternoon I have a seminar on sexual conduct in the workplace. The whole of next week is dedicated to cultural sensitivity. I'm going to go insane."

 

"Well, that was never going to be a long journey. You'll be fine. Make the most of your evenings, have a social life while you're on a regular schedule."

 

Jim wrote then quickly deleted his immediate response: "The only one I want to see is you." and went with the slightly more ambiguous: "Think I could find it in me to make dinner plans sometime this week."

 

"I'll inform the press. Going to sleep. Behave."

 

Jim snorted, then glared at the trainee cabin crew and front desk staff who were all staring at him as he slid his phone into his pocket. He did have to admit, aside from the mind-numbing boredom, there were advantages to being there. The cafeteria food would be far better than the in-flight stuff. There was something about eating at altitude that changed how things tasted, to do with the constriction of blood vessels or something.

 

Bones would probably know. Jim's fingers ached to text him again but he had already made his overtures for the day. Couldn't come across as too desperate. No, he was going to wait until he had at least finished for the day. So- eight hours. That was nothing. New York to Heathrow. He'd flown it a hundred times.

 

Although at least then he'd had Hikaru to talk to; Gaila to idly flirt with; Pavel to tease light-heartedly. He wasn't alone in a room full of strangers who all seemed very wary of him, the only one not in a uniform.

 

Still, he was James Kirk. He thrived under pressure, did his best work when challenged. And he had a gorgeous, witty, paternal man interested in him. One who would never have to witness anything Jim did that day. He was going to be fine.

 

 

 

 

The screen of his phone wasn't at its clearest when he sent his next message to Bones: "You have the worst ideas."

 

"I put it to you that the idea was good, just lacking in the execution. What did you do?"

 

"I'm on the train again. I miss you."

 

"It's ten o'clock at night!"

 

"Kinda thought it was later."

 

"How drunk are you right now?"

 

"Like… 6?"

 

"Out of 10?"

 

"Out of 12, but once you get past 10 the numbers become impossible to express."

 

There was a pause then, after a few immediate responses. He hoped Bones was laughing rather than speechlessly appalled.

 

"Did you have fun?"

 

"I don't know. Maybe. I don't know why I didn't. I tried so hard but it was like none of the people got me. They just want a job and a house and a car but that's it. Flying is a means to an end. I couldn't relate."

 

"Not everybody is like you, Jim. I said you were something else and I meant it. Try not to be too hard on those people. They've been told not to look directly at stars."

 

Jim groaned, let his head drop back against the seat. How was he supposed to compete with that?

 

"God I want to suck your dick so bad."

 

"Romance is dead."

 

"It would be a super romantic blowjob. I'd lay you down among rose petals, take my time and make you scream."

 

"Christ, Jim."

 

"Not until the third date though, right?"

 

"How did you know that?"

 

"You're a man with a lot to lose. Can't go rushing into anything, not with your job, not with Jo. I get it. I do. And. I'd wait as long as you wanted. Seriously. Don't let me push you. It's what I do, but it's just words."

 

There was a long pause before he got a  reply to that one: "Thank you. Get home safe."

 

 

 

 

Jim did, staggered in through his front door and managed to lock it behind him. He even downed a glass of water and stripped off his suit before collapsing into bed.

 

Getting up in the morning wasn’t easy without Hikaru to ease the way. That bastard was -Jim paused to calculate the time difference- somewhere approaching Russia by then. Pavel would be almost unbearable for the duration.

 

There was something green all down the sleeve of Jim's suit jacket that was probably best left for the attention of his dry cleaner. The pants were salvageable, but they didn't go with either of the waistcoats he pulled out of Hikaru's closet. Now those buttoned the right way, but it didn't necessarily mean they weren't Gaila's. After a moment of consideration, he borrowed a pair of pants, too, although he did concede to ironing one of his own white shirts. Maybe the dry cleaner would be able to do something about the coffee stain on the last one, too.

 

It had been a long time since he had ironed anything. He sent all of his uniforms off because there was a place right at the airport that gave him a discount. So yet again, he found himself running for the train. He skirted extra wide around anybody holding coffee and made it onto the platform just as the train was pulling in, already laughing breathlessly at himself. God, he was trusted to fly planes but he couldn't even be on time. Millions of people did it every day.

 

The journey seemed to take a lot longer without any company. He contemplated texting Bones until he scrolled upwards through the previous night's messages and nearly hyperventilated himself into a panic attack. God, what had he been thinking, offloading his outrageously self-centred melancholy onto a complete stranger? And Bones' clear dismissal at the end, the abrupt end to the conversation. He didn't dare broach that without any caffeine in his system.

 

In the end, he passed the time with some inane block-matching game he was still vaguely mesmerised by when he got through the ticket barrier. He was looking down, trusting his own spatial awareness but mostly that of the people around him to stop them from bumping into each other. He'd just levelled up when he had to stop halfway across the concourse because somebody stepped directly into his path holding not one, but two cups of coffee.

 

"Shit, sorry," he said, and stepped to the side only to find his steps matched by the other- "Holy shit, Bones!"

 

"Thought you could use this." And Bones, who Jim knew at that moment he would marry someday, held one of the coffees out to him. A huge cup of strong, black ambrosia. Jim quickly slipped his phone into his pocket and cradled the cup in both hands. He couldn't bring himself to speak, though, so sure the wrong thing would come out if he tried to offer thanks.

 

After a moment, Bones arched an eyebrow, "Well, if you're not going to promise me any inappropriate sexual favors I might just take it back."

 

Jim was sure he flushed scarlet at that, an outrageously uncharacteristic move for him. Usually he had so much confidence, would say whatever he was thinking but it had been so long since anybody had actually mattered. Since he had thought that maybe he wouldn't be able to take the rejection. And Bones had come to meet him, had woken up early on his first real day off after night shifts just to bring him coffee. How could he possibly live up to that?

 

"I mean, if it helps, I like your tendency to blurt out whatever you're thinking. Never been any good with subtext. Good to know where I stand."

 

Jim wrinkled his nose, couldn't summon up quite his usual charisma but tried anyway, "In front of me, while I'm on my knees?"

 

Bones chuckled, clapped him on the back so hard Jim had to struggle not to spill his coffee. His gifted coffee, which he would keep forever or until shortly before it got cold and undrinkable.

 

"You got some spare time, or you gotta get going?"

 

"I wish I could stay." Jim pouted, but with the timings of the trains he was cutting it kind of fine as it was. Ideally he'd get the earlier train, but that was never going to happen. "Thank you for my coffee," he added belatedly, taking a blissful, scalding sip that hurt all the way down and contemplated asking Bones to kiss it better before he realised, "So, wait, do you live around here?"

 

Bones grimaced, "Yeah. Long story, but I signed a year-long lease when circumstances were different. Hence the weird reverse-commute. I can barely afford it, but-" he gave Jim an undeniably appraising look with bright, clear eyes, "I'm glad I stuck with it."                             

 

"Me too." Jim couldn't help it, he beamed. Then, holding his coffee carefully aside, he leaned in to peck a quick kiss to Bones' cheek. "Don't feel like you have to do this again tomorrow, but I'd love it if you did."

 

Bones bit his lip but Jim didn't have time to stick around and find out what it was that he didn't want to say. Much as he wished he could stay.

 

"See you, Bones."

 

And that was that. Jim retreated, waving a little sadly as he headed for the subway, feeling lighter and happier than he had since the previous morning. God, how had he got so lucky?

 

When he got above ground, there was a message waiting for him.

 

"Looking forward to it."

 

 

 

 

Jim was not the most hungover person at training that day. He was, however, the only one not inclined towards a repeat of the same escapades that night as well. It was only by promising to join them on Friday and, okay, maybe Thursday, for more drinks that he got everyone off his back. At least they weren't treating him like an outsider any more. A few of them were even flirting with him, but for once not one of them was who he wanted.

 

Was that what growing up felt like?

 

 

 

 

"Has anyone ever told you that you're a fucktard, Jim?"

 

Jim sipped his scotch before responding, quite honestly, "No, can't say they have." He slouched back, comfortable on Scotty's sagging couch among countless mismatched cushions, Scotty an arms reach away while some terrible movie involving myriad unlikely explosions played in the background.

 

"They should."

 

"So you don't think the duplication issue needs tweaking?"

 

"If I never see that simulation again it'll be too soon."

 

"Scotty, I spent hours of my life on that sim. I'm not abandoning it."

 

"It's not a baby! It nearly lost you your job!"

 

"So I'll take out the bunnies. How do you feel about cats?"

 

"I can't believe I'm having to say this, but no mass slaughter of adorable fluffy creatures. You're a fucking genius, Jim. You could design a sim they'd buy over at the training school if you weren't so busy messing around."

 

Jim groaned. "But they have so many rules! All those guidelines and procedures. It's not even a challenge."

 

"This coming from the man who refuses to do it."

 

"Are you daring me to play by the rules? Damn, you're devious."

 

"I'm not, Jim. I'm just older than you and stuck in the same job I was doing when I left school. I want you to have better. I'll even help, any way I can."

 

Jim feigned a sudden interest in the movie for as long as it took the irrational, defensive anger to subside, his logical mind finally catching up. Hadn't he just been thinking, those last couple of days, that maybe he didn't want to be in the air quite so constantly any more? Even if he was getting ahead of himself in this thing with Bones, it couldn't hurt to cultivate his options.

 

"I'll think about it."

 

Scotty stared at him, torn between alarm and suspicion for a full car chase scene. He had the same expression on his face when he offered Jim the couch for the night and Jim waved the offer away, citing a need for clean clothes and a shower, both of which he knew perfectly well he could have borrowed.

 

But on the off-chance that Jim was going to see a gorgeous, hazel-eyed doctor at the station in the morning, he couldn't risk changing his commute.

 

He wasn't really sure why he didn't tell Scotty the truth. Maybe he just didn't want to risk bursting the bubble of the fantasy he had already built. Just a little longer, he promised himself, and he would let reality test them. But until then, he was going to avoid lectures about falling too hard, too fast for someone he barely knew. He just wanted to believe, for a while longer, that such life-altering goodness really could happen to him. 

 

 

 

 

 

He spent the whole train journey the following morning panicking over how to handle the walk across the station. If he was staring down at his phone again, there was the risk that Bones might not see him. But if he was fully aware, then he wouldn't be able to keep himself from desperately scanning the crowds, looking for someone who might not even be there. They'd exchanged a couple of light-hearted messages the day before but made no concrete plans.

 

Jim had even been on time for his train, pacing the platform for a full ten minutes without a coffee in his hand because what he really wanted was one Bones had brought him.

 

In the end, as the train pulled into the penultimate station, Jim cracked and started composing a message.

 

"Okay, the uncertainty is driving me nuts-"


Someone sunk into the seat opposite him and he knew it had to be him. Nobody boarded the train at that station because the subway was so much quicker. And there were plenty of seats that didn't involve sitting near a stranger. Still, the terror that came with the threat of disappointment after such a rush of hope paralyzed him for a moment before he dared to look up.

 

"Bones," he breathed, taking in the soft expression on Bones' face. God, he'd forgotten how gorgeous he was. Either that, or he was looking better every day he had a routine and proper sleep, the flecks of green in his eyes so vivid, the scowl lines faded just enough to frame handsome features.

 

There was only one thing to do, by the time the train had reached a steady speed. Jim slipped out of his seat and down onto his knees and reached for Bones' fly.

 

"Jim!" Bones hissed, but he was grinning and flushed, both his hands occupied with cups of scalding coffee so he couldn't do any more to fight back. Still, Jim rolled his eyes, huffing out his disappointment and rose up with no more than the slightest brush of his fingertips across denim-clad thighs.

 

They were so close as he straightened, closer still when he leaned in because he had never felt so happy to see anyone in his life and he would die if he spent one more moment waiting. Bones had to like him, was making an effort to spoil him and care for him, had a confused and terrified look in his eyes that Jim knew was reflected in his own. What they had was so fragile, but nothing had ever steadied him more than the moment when he dived in and their lips met, hot and soft. Bones tasted like coffee when Jim just touched the crease of his lips with the tip of his tongue, when he pressed back for just an instant and breathed Jim's name.

 

Jim sank into the seat beside him before he could say anything ridiculous and entirely true about his own emotions, met wide and surprised eyes and braced himself for admonishment. It had been too fast, he knew, too direct and worsened by Bones' temporary inability to push him away. It hadn't been fair.

 

"I'm sorry," he said, and Bones frowned. Jim wanted to touch the lines in his face, smooth them away with his fingers but there was no way that would be welcome at that moment.

 

"I'm not."

 

"I-" Jim's heart felt like it was going to burst, "You're not?"

 

And Bones just smiled and shook his head, and handed Jim his coffee, and wrapped an arm around him when Jim rested his head on his shoulder. His commute really was far too short.

 

As they pulled into the station, Jim straightened and sipped his coffee with a possibly slightly gratuitous groan. Couldn't have Bones thinking he wasn't grateful, after all. 

 

"Are you doing anything Friday night?"

 

Jim nearly choked on his second sip, looked up to see Bones smirking about his petty revenge. Thankfully his shirt remained unsoiled, although he did suddenly notice he had something sticky on the knee of his pants after his little stunt earlier and fuck hold on was Bones asking him out?

 

"I finish training at four."

 

"How about dinner?" Bones actually looked a little nervous and uncertain, how adorable was that? As though there were any chance of Jim saying no.

 

"I'd love to."

 

The answering smile spread slowly and was something to behold. Jim had no idea how he was going to manage to eat without getting distracted by that face.

 

People were starting to file onto the train as it prepared to head back in the other direction, both of them too caught up to notice the change. They got out onto the platform and began to walk, slowly, ignoring the commuters flowing like water around their relaxed little island.

 

"There's a place round here I've wanted to try for a while. How about I text you the address?"

 

"Sounds good." Jim was floating, his heart pounding, butterflies in his stomach. They were actually going on a date! Meeting up outside of their bizarre little ritual.

 

"It can't be a late one, I'm at the hospital for seven on Saturday."

 

"That's fine."

 

"So I won't be able to drink much, either."

 

"Bones! It's fine. I just want to spend some time with you. No pressure. Although I believe I was promised cheesecake."

 

Bones' unimpressed gaze dropped briefly to Jim's knees. "This is what you call behaving?"

 

"Uhh, have you looked in a mirror lately? I should be given a medal for not tearing your clothes off in public."

 

That earned him a strange sound and a twisted expression, as though Bones wasn't sure whether to be offended or flattered. Then, he sighed. "Sorry. I haven't done this in a long time."

 

"Neither have I." Jim shrugged, not asking even though he really wanted to. "We'll figure it out together."

 

That fucking smile. Somehow, Jim kept walking.

Chapter Text

When Jim got home, Hikaru was sitting on the couch watching TV. He leaned his head back to grin at Jim and wave.

 

"How's training?"

 

Jim just groaned and threw himself onto the couch, resting his head in Hikaru's lap and staring up at him, legs hanging over the other end of the couch.

 

"That bad, huh?"

 

"Worse. Today, the instructor used Bing in Internet Explorer to search for Google so he could find Youtube."

 

"I flew eighteen hours with only Spock for company."

 

Jim had to laugh at that. Hikaru and Spock rarely spent any time together. There was no animosity or anything, just a complete lack of things in common.

 

"What did you talk about? The weather? Ideal altitudes?"

 

"We actually killed an hour with organic gardening. He has a greenhouse. If I'd known it was the only thing we had to talk about, I would have dragged it out. Did you know he's never read a comic book? I mean, not ever. And he doesn't own a TV. He named maybe thirty authors he liked and I'd never heard of any of them."

 

"Missed you too, buddy." Jim flailed an arm in an attempt to clap a hand reassuringly somewhere on Hikaru's body. He was not successful. 

 

"And Pavel was driving me nuts when we got close to Russia."

 

That was unsurprising. Adorable though Pavel was, there were few who could keep up with his boundless energy and enthusiasm, particularly that he had for his home country.

 

"I was on the verge of intentionally hitting turbulence so everyone'd have to go back to their seats."

 

"Yeah, a few hyperventilating, vomiting and generally panicking passengers usually calms everything right now." Jim reached up to bat at Hikaru's face, grinned as he was slapped away, "So, I have a question."

 

"The duplication algorithm was not the problem."

 

"It was one of the problems. But this isn't about that."

 

"Well, when a man and a woman love each other-"

 

"What do you wear on a date?"

 

Hikaru frowned, apparently confused by the question, "Like, a hook-up? They're not gonna care what you wear."

 

"Like an actual date."

 

"Why would you be- who's your date with? You only know us. Is it someone on your course? Like, an actual date?"

 

"I am capable of dating."

 

"Apparently not, if you're asking me for advice."

 

"On clothing. Nothing else."

 

Hikaru considered Jim's outfit, then frowned.

 

"Are those my pants? Where have you been kneeling in my pants?"

 

"I'll send them for cleaning."

 

"Were you on your knees for this date person? Because that changes the game."

 

"I wasn't- it was just a joke. I didn't even get his flies undone."

 

"His, huh?"

 

"He's not on my damn course, 'Karu. No gossip."

 

"It's not Pavel, is it?"

 

Jim ran a hand through his hair. Why was this so hard? "It's not fucking Pavel. Where would I take him on a date, laser tag?"

 

"He's not a kid."

 

"No, I didn't- it was just a- holy shit Hikaru you have a crush on Pavel! Why did you not tell me about this?"

 

"I don't have a crush. I just- maybe wouldn't mind getting to know him better."

 

"Better like, where did you grow up, or better like, take off your pants?"

 

"Both. At separate times." Hikaru emphasised at Jim's raised eyebrows before he shoved him bodily off the couch. Laughing, Jim clambered up next to him again, although he sobered when Hikaru put his head in his hands.

 

"It's not gonna happen anyway, Jim. He's got a thing for Scotty the size of a fucking Airbus."

 

Jim sighed. That was true, and there was nothing he could say to argue it, but, "He may not be a kid, but you really think Scotty would go for it? That's a pretty big age difference. And he's a simple guy."

 

"You ever see anybody say no to Pavel when he puts on those damn puppy dog eyes?"

 

Jim said "Spock" at the exact moment Hikaru added, "Except Spock."

 

"You just gotta give it some time, man. If Pavel has a crush on Scotty, either he'll get over it or they'll work out. Unless you want to push it."

 

"I don't want to push it, but what else can I do? Sit around and wait, on the off-chance? What if I try really hard to move on and then it turns out he wanted me all along?"

 

"You've really thought about this."


"It's all I've fucking thought about. To fucking Helsinki and back. For weeks. Forget it, I shouldn't have said anything. I don't want anything to be weird and I definitely don’t want you to try and help."

 

"Uhh, okay…"

 

"God, I don't even know why I told you. This is such a fucking mess."

 

"'Karu, if you don't want me to say anything then I won't."

 

"You don't need to say anything. You'll just wink constantly or grab his ass and blame it on me or put up mistletoe in fucking July until he freaks out and never speaks to me again."

 

"Okay, I acknowledge that I have done all of those things, albeit separately, but the grab-assing thing actually did help Gaila and Gary."

 

"They hooked up in the Vegas hotel."

 

"And realised they weren't sexually compatible! How is that not helping?"

 

"Not everybody wants to just hook up, Jim. Some of us need a little more meaning than that."

 

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

 

"Just- oh, you know what you do, don't give me that look."

 

"Okay, you're tired and stressed out. So I'm going to discount everything you've said and only be, like, halfway mad at you."

 

"You're just allergic to commitment or something."

 

"Oh, you're still talking."

 

"You don't know what it's like to want that with somebody. I can't believe you're even giving me advice when I've never seen you with the same person more than once."

 

"I'm just trying to help."

 

"Well, don't. If I want meaningless sex I'll make sure you're the first one I call."

 

"You're gonna feel like an ass for this in the morning."

 

"And I need those pants for the weekend."

 

"You're flying to Orlando over the weekend."

 

"And I need the fucking pants!"

 

"Okay, I'll wash the damn pants."

 

Jim had never been inclined towards hiding in his bedroom but with Hikaru in a terrible mood, it wasn't like he had much of a choice. He grabbed an apple and a bottle of water from the kitchen before retreating, resisting the urge to petulantly slam the door behind him.

 

The worst thing was, just the previous week everything Hikaru had said would have been entirely true. Jim hadn't seen anybody more than once in all the time Hikaru had known him, and maybe he could have claimed that he just hadn't met the right person, but even Jim himself wouldn't have known if that were true. He'd never given himself enough of a chance to find out.

 

And in the end, he hadn't needed to. He'd known, from almost the first moment, that Bones would hold his interest. It felt wrong, to be justifying his own faulty behaviours -he was under no illusion that his perpetual avoidance was healthy- but whether it was luck or destiny or coincidence that had brought them together, he was just grateful that he didn't seem to have fucked it up yet.

 

Although his best friend expressing such open disbelief in his capabilities was hardly helping. Hikaru would recover from his mood, Jim knew, and he'd grovel and apologise, but it wouldn't erase what he'd said. And then Jim would deny it had affected him, of course, but he couldn't help dwelling. He really didn’t want to let it get to him, and Bones might not have been that much older than him but he had a stable job and a kid and a three-date policy. They were worlds apart.

 

They had just worked so well together, so far. Despite Jim's motor-mouth and Bones' moods. Jim found that hopelessly endearing and could only dream that Bones felt the same.

 

Didn't change that he had no clue what he was going to wear on Friday, though. Asking Hikaru for advice had clearly been ruled out as an option. And if he texted Gaila, then soon everyone else would know. He wasn't ready for that, just yet. He would have to figure it out on his own. Or maybe some of the trainees would have ideas. He could at least ask for opinions, since he was already abandoning them to drink without him that Friday. He had technically been lying to Bones about having had no plans. But they would understand.

 

That problem successfully postponed, Jim opened up his laptop to contemplate his simulation. He could salvage most of his existing programming, he thought, with the unnecessary adornments removed. The flight physics were already hyper-realistic, drawing from the existing training school software but with a few extra tweaks here and there for variables that Jim, Hikaru and even Spock had contributed to.

 

He texted Scotty, too, seeking engineering know-how, general experience and a friend who wasn't going to insult his life choices.

 

His video chat rang maybe fifteen minutes later and Jim grinned at the screen.

 

"Hey, buddy. You up for some simulation talk?"

 

"As long as no fluffy creatures are harmed in the making."

 

Jim felt relief suffuse his body at the humour, feeling a little more able to accept that than a direct confrontation of his errors.

 

"If I remove their programming, does that count as killing them?"

 

"Have you not got a farm simulation you can transfer them across to?"

 

"If I'm on this training course for much longer, I'll get a self-sustaining ecosystem up and running."

 

"It's going well, then?" Scotty grinned, then looked off to the side and frowned for a moment. "What? Oh, the birds will stay in. They form part of the official crash statistics."

 

Jim had enough of a sinking feeling that he grabbed his headphones and plugged them in before asking, "Who's there with you?"

 

"Just Pavel. We're offending his delicate sensibilities with all our animal murder."

 

Jim managed a snort as Scotty was hit in the head with a pillow clearly thrown in his direction. Hikaru's flight hadn’t landed that long ago so Pavel must have gone straight there. It did not bode well for Hikaru's situation. Maybe he knew, and that was why he was so pissed.

 

"What've I gotta do to get this to comply with the training school regs, Scotty?"

 

"They've got some standard menus they use, just to make it a bit more user-friendly for anyone who isn't an underachieving genius. And some options for the regular protocols."

 

"Perhaps a feature for an instructor to demonstrate simultaneously?" Pavel piped up, pulling a chair up to Scotty's desk so he could be seen when Scotty tilted the screen in his direction.

 

"Can we include a protocol for overly distracting flight crew?" Scotty added, more than half teasing and earning himself a pout from Pavel and a slightly alarmed expression from Jim he thankfully schooled before it was noticed. Although, since Scotty wasn't paying him the slightest bit of attention in that moment, it wasn't that difficult. He was rubbing Pavel's back, too, through the tattered and thin T-shirt he wore, and muttering about just teasing.

 

Jim sort of felt like a third wheel, remembered how long it had taken Scotty to respond to his message when usually one came immediately. Surely they wouldn't have let him intrude if they were so intent on privacy. They were both more than capable of telling him to shove off, although it had taken a little pushing for Pavel to realised that Jim didn't expect to be treated as anything but an equal outside of work.

 

He had no idea whether he should say anything to Hikaru. His input had not exactly been appreciated so far. And Jim wouldn't have known himself if he'd been allowed to just sit down and watch Dog Groomers of Interstate 25 or whatever trash they'd settled on. Maybe it wouldn't come up.

 

Between the three of them, since Pavel was a decent little programmer himself even if he had to argue over the keyboard with Scotty, they managed something resembling progress by the time Jim's eyes were threatening to close of their own accord. Pavel, jet-lagged to fuck and back, was black-eyed and drooping even while enthusiastic and full of suggestions. Some of the suggestions were terrible, but at least he was trying. Jim made sure to thank him as sincerely as he could. Scotty too, although he'd retreated to the couch with a whiskey and his tablet to search for potential disaster scenarios they might have missed by that point.

 

Jim couldn't help but notice that Pavel showed no signs of heading home. It wasn't necessarily a big deal; Jim had slept on Scotty's couch tons of times and it was deceptively comfortable, soft and big enough for him to lay flat without his feet hanging over the edge. But he didn't know if Pavel would be on the couch. And Hikaru had told him pretty specifically not to ask. Maybe he'd be able to subtly slip it into a conversation with Scotty while he was half-drunk and unsuspecting.

 

God, his life was a mess. Fuck it.

 

"Oh, since you guys are- well, here. Please don't tell anyone, because I'm not sure how it's going to go, but I have a date Friday night. What the fuck do I wear? Do I bring anything? Should I pay? Or let him pay? I could offer to pay the next time, but is that presuming too much? What if-"

 

"Jesus, calm down!" Scotty called over, and Jim half-heartedly laughed as he put his head in his hands. "He's agreed to go on a date with you, so the hardest part's done. Where are you going?"

 

"A restaurant. Il Vezzo. North side of the river."

 

Scotty looked expectantly at Pavel, who obediently tapped away at the keyboard. Jim couldn't see their screen, just knew, saw Scotty lean in -fuck, so close to Pavel- and raise his eyebrows while Pavel frowned.

 

Yeah, it didn't have a website. It was in a couple of directories, but there were no pictures of inside the place, or any menus. Jim would be going in blind.

 

Pavel looked personally insulted by the lack of information available, "How are there no pictures? I don't understand."

 

"Ambiguously named, too." Scotty tapped away with his tablet, presumably translating. Pavel leaned -God, did none of Jim's friends have any concept of personal space?- and his frown deepened. Jim knew. He'd looked, too. The Habit. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

 

Pavel was texting, then, maybe knew someone who might have heard of it. Scotty was watching Jim. Fuck. What had he seen?

 

"You really like this person?"

 

Jim cringed, "Can- can we maybe have this conversation after I know how the first date went? We haven't really had a chance to- totally fuck the whole thing up yet. I don't know how it's gonna go."

 

Scotty contemplated that for a moment before nodding, "Alright, lad. I'll want to know all about it on Saturday though."

 

"How about Friday night? After I'm done." Jim was unable to help his telltale glance in the direction of his bedroom door as he contemplated coming home to any more doubts after a night that had maybe ended badly. And then both Scotty and Pavel were frowning at him although he didn't know if it was that or his words.

 

"Not anticipating a sleepover with your fancy man?" Scotty asked, waggling his eyebrows when Pavel shot him a dirty, sideways look. Sort of like a kid embarrassed by a parent, Jim's brain supplied unhelpfully.

 

"No, he, uhh- It's just- Fuck. Neither of us are looking to rush this. It's just dinner, for now."

 

"No dessert?" Scotty grinned, and Jim rolled his eyes.

 

"I've been promised cheesecake if I behave."

 

Pavel's lip twitched. "So, maybe no dessert?"

 

Jim really, really fucking wished he hadn't had that conversation with Hikaru. His face fell before he could stop it. Pavel looked distraught. Scotty hauled him out of his chair.

 

"Pavel, go change. I need to talk to Jim for a minute."

 

Pavel's slim little shoulders slumped, "I am sorry. I didn't mean to. I am sure it will go well, Jim."

 

"Thanks, Pavel. I'll be okay. Just nervous." Jim managed the ghost of a reassuring smile that Pavel returned before leaving the room. It was all too much. Jim had to at least ask, "He staying with you tonight?"

 

"Yeah. Couple of issues at home." Scotty's expression creased in sympathy, Jim's too.

 

"I hear that," he said, with a snort. He could understand any teenager not wanting to be around his parents all the time, and until Pavel had six months of experience he'd still be on probation at work. He wouldn't be able to afford rent anywhere else in the city, "If there's anything I can do…"

 

"I'll tell him. Jim. Where did you meet this guy?"

 

Oh, right, yeah. "On the train."

 

"So he's not in the industry?"

 

Ah. That was the issue. A pilot's schedule was unreliable at best. It was difficult to maintain any but the most trusting of relationships when one party was away all the time, back only sporadically and often exhausted. Another pilot might understand, but their schedule would conflict and compound the issue if anything. It was a difficult job to balance with any sort of social life.

 

"He works shifts, too. I'll make sure I explain the deal. How it all works. I- fuck. I really like him, Scotty."

 

"It's always scary, you know. The first time or the tenth. It doesn’t mean you can't do it. You're a good man, Jim. If he's got any sense he'll see that."

 

Jim thought he was maybe going to cry. It was possibly the most reassuring thing anybody had ever said to him and he really wished that was exaggerating. He didn’t think he could have expressed in that moment just how grateful he was that somebody thought he could do it. And that he was worth trying for.

 

"All that charm, Scotty. Maybe I should be taking you instead." Jim's smile was soft, though, and returned by Scotty. "Seriously. Thank you. I think most people have their first date crisis much earlier than this."

 

"Well, you need anything, you call me, alright? Any time."

 

"You're the best."

 

"Yeah, yeah. Come stay with me on Friday. We can drink and talk about your date. I'll make sure Pavel behaves."

 

"Try cheesecake."

 

"Oh, is that the secret?"

 

"I'll let you know. Love to Pavel."

 

"Night, Jim."

 

Slightly too late, Jim realised that nobody had actually answered any of his practical questions.

 

 

 

 

"Jesus fucking Christ!"

 

"I'm so sorry, Jim. I shouldn't have said any of that stuff, I was just upset and tired and I shouldn't have taken it out on your. You're my best friend."

 

"Be a better friend if you let me sleep," Jim grumbled, but he pressed against the warm body wrapped around his, that had crawled between his sheets to do so. "The fuck time is it?"

 

"Two. I couldn't sleep. I just felt terrible. You're amazing, Jim. Anybody'd be so lucky to have you. I'm just a dick. Forgive me?"

 

Jim groaned and let him stew a few seconds before offering his terms, "I want coffee."

 

"Done."

 

"And waffles."

 

"Gaila broke the iron. Pancakes?"

 

Jim contemplated that as best he could while refusing to entirely wake up, shivered as warm lips pressed to the back of his neck and Hikaru's voice slipped into a lower register.

 

"Want me to suck you off?"

 

Oh, God, yes, so much. Jim was already relaxed and pliant, would have loved to guide his cock into the wet heat of Hikaru's mouth, so easy and uncomplicated. He was half hard just thinking about it. But, fuck, he knew he couldn't. Some part of his brain was trying to justify it to argue that he had made no commitment elsewhere, that the purchase of three shared coffees was hardly an agreement of exclusivity, that Bones could at that moment have a gorgeous man in his bed offering to suck him off, too. And maybe he was saying yes.

 

Okay, like ninety percent hard just thinking about that. But Hikaru's hand was already straying downwards, sliding over his stomach. With an audible whimper, Jim grabbed the hand and held it still. He could imagine Hikaru's frown as he nosed against his hairline.

 

"No, 'Karu. Go to sleep."

 

"If it's about what I said-"

 

"It's not." It sort of was. "I just wanna sleep."

 

When Hikaru sighed, his breath ruffled Jim's hair, "Okay. Offer doesn't expire. I owe you."

 

"Noted." Jim snorted. He never knew, he might need it after Friday, once Scotty had helped him calm down a little. He had good friends. Maybe if he were a little more honest with them, they'd be able to support him more.

 

He traced patterns on the back of Hikaru's hand with a finger until he drifted off to sleep again.

 

 

 

 

Pavel texted him at about lunchtime the next day.

 

"Nyota has been to Il Vezzo. She says it is tasteful and intimate but not uncomfortably so. Very good food. Jeans would be acceptable if worn with a shirt and shoes. Hope that helps."

 

Jim adored that boy, although he had to ask the first question that came to mind given the content of the message: "Who the fuck is Nyota?"

 

"Uhura! Shit, don't tell her I told you that."

 

Jim smiled. It was strange to read Pavel's messages but still be able to hear his accent.

 

"Kind of feels like cheating to find out this way anyway. I'll keep trying to get her to tell me, don't worry. Thanks for you help. Sorry I was a grump last night."

 

"I do not know this word, but you have nothing to apologize for. If anything, I should say I am sorry. I will try harder not to make judgments in future."

 

"You do great, Pavel. See you Friday."

 

And are you fucking Scotty? Jim really wanted to follow up with, barely managed to resist. That was not subtle. He needed to be subtle.

 

Although Bones had so far seemed mostly amused and a little flattered by his brazen overtures, so maybe it was time to follow his instincts on that one. After training, he stayed for one -maybe three- drinks with the trainees, because apparently Thursday was the new Friday but also Friday was still Friday, and then got the train out to the airport. It was strange to do it alone, since he and Hikaru made a point of synchronizing their routes whenever possible, usually through selecting the least popular dates and destinations that only the junior pilots would volunteer for. But he put headphones in and listened to music and thought about life.

 

He was pretty proud of himself for resisting Hikaru's offer the previous night, didn't really know if it was an achievement in the context of a person without his myriad issues, but it was certainly a step forward for him. And almost entirely without any chance of thanks, because it was hardly something he could bring up in conversation. He wouldn't deny it if it somehow came up organically, but he was conscious it hardly created the right impression of him.

 

He couldn't remember the last time he had said no to anything like that. He had turned down people and things he didn’t want, of course, but his standards had been notoriously low at a few points in his life. He didn't regret anything he had done, had always kept himself and his partners safe, as best he could. And he had been honest about it too, but where had that left him? Surrounded by friends who were all too happy to pass judgment in a moment of weakness. He couldn't even imagine telling Bones about half of his sex-related escapades.

 

Shame bloomed in his chest at the thought, too, and that was a startlingly familiar feeling, if not one overly present in his recent memory. Jim wondered if he would have acted differently had he known he was just waiting until the right person came along. Hindsight was a bitch.

 

He dashed off three quick messages as the train was pulling into the station for the airport, quickly ducked out the door in front of all the families struggling with cases and headed for the terminal. He needed a store he wouldn't find anywhere else in the city, even if his lack of a plane ticket meant he couldn't take full advantage of Duty Free.

 

The replies to his messages trickled through as he wandered.

 

The first, from Gaila: "I am so fucking proud of you! I'm off Tuesday, let's talk!" followed by a mess of emojis he hadn't even known existed, made him smile.

 

The second came through from Pike as he stopped to grab a bottle of Hikaru's favorite cologne and Scotty's preferred mid-range whiskey. He thought about buying Pavel something, too, but the kid had indecipherably specific taste and Jim was by no stretch of the imagination a rich man.

 

"That's an excellent idea, Jim. I'm glad you've made that decision. Looking forward to hearing how it goes, as much as you feel you'd like to share. Everyone misses you here."

 

Jim pasted on a smile and flirted aggressively with the girls behind the counter to keep from crying. They giggled and made jokes about seeing him out of uniform that made him feel a little better as he strolled through the terminal building dodging screaming kids and adults with eyes only for their phones.

 

The last message came as he was paying for his final purchase. The severe woman behind the counter at Fortnum and Mason didn't recognize him.

 

"Thank you for messaging, Jim, I'm glad to hear from you. I have a free space on Wednesday at 6. I'll see you then."

 

He'd had the number saved in his phone for a while, but that was the first time he'd sent anything to Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, his airline-designated counselor.

 

Jim stared at the words for long enough to nearly walk into someone also transfixed by their phone screen, then stopped by the terminal bar for a final drink before heading home.

 

 

 

 

Friday. Jim tried to focus on his work, he really did. He had hoped that it would be interesting enough to keep him distracted, but he was far too tense and the subject matter entirely too boring to hold his attention. He fidgeted so much that he kept receiving glares from the people sat on either side of him, couldn't sit still during his breaks so went to walk circuits around the campus instead in an attempt to suppress the energy. It was probably a good thing that Bones had been on an early shift that day, no matter how much Jim would have loved to see him. That extra coffee might just have pushed him over the edge.

 

Thankfully, the lectures finished early for the day, since it was Friday for the instructors as much as the students. Tempted though he was to take the edge off his nerves, Jim excused himself from drinks and got the train home. He felt sick and shaky by the time he got in, forced himself to eat a banana to level out his blood sugar a bit after feeling too tense to really eat lunch, and stood in front of his open wardrobe for a full fifteen minutes before caving and pulling out his phone.

 

"Gaila. I need a smart casual date outfit by 6. Help me!"

 

She called him back and just squealed down the phone before hanging up. That was probably a yes. Jim got in the shower, contemplating backup options. For his outfits, not his life, although fleeing to Canada was sounding sort of appealing. He could really have gone for some poutine.

 

Gaila arrived at five thirty with shopping bags, a bemused Hikaru trailing behind her. Jim was still wrapped in a towel, although his hair was as good as it was going to get and he had broken out the expensive cologne that, surprisingly, Spock had recommended. It had all-natural ingredients, was vegan and had cost him half his holiday overtime payments but he smelled fantastic.

 

Confused and desperate though he was, he wasn't totally sure about Gaila's choices.

 

"Yellow?" he asked, as she pulled out a button-down shirt and handed it to him with a roll of her eyes.

 

"Gold. And trust me. You'll look great."

 

"What's the occasion?" Hikaru, leaning in the doorway as Jim fumbled with the buttons, had to ask. Jim ignored him, went hunting for underwear while Gaila removed the tag from a pair of black jeans.

 

"Jim has a date."

 

Jim didn't have to look to know Hikaru's eyebrows shot up. "Like a hook-up?"

 

"Like an actual fucking date, Hikaru, so if you’re gonna be a dick about it, get out."

 

Gaila actually took a step back at Jim's tone, and he grabbed the jeans out of her hand without meeting her eyes.

 

Hikaru's voice was quiet when he promised, "I'll be good," and Jim managed to give him a grateful nod, his shoulders losing a little tension as he stood in front of a mirror. He had to concede that Gaila had been right about the colour. It suited him. How she had possibly known that, he had no idea. She looked pretty damn smug about it though.

 

"Okay, it does look good. How long have you had this? Why are you buying me clothes?"

 

"Too long to return them. And because I knew this day would come." Gaila was rummaging in another bag, pulling out a shoebox with a flourish, "My baby boy's going on his first real date. I'm so proud."

 

Boots. She had produced black leather ankle boots, and just smiled, all teeth, when Jim eyed her doubtfully. After a moment, he sighed and took them, sitting on the edge of his bed to pull them on.

 

"'Karu, can he borrow your black coat?" Gaila bit her lip as she asked, wary of the strained atmosphere that lingered as the two men just looked at one another.

 

"I can just wear my leather jacket." Jim shrugged, after a short pause, sort of wishing he'd kept that cologne.

 

"No, I'll get it."

 

As Hikaru turned around, Gaila looked to Jim with her hands outstretched, eyes wide and mouth open, silently questioning. Jim just shook his head. He'd have to figure it out later, had quite enough to worry about that night. Fuck. The second he let it, it all came flooding back. Bones was gorgeous and funny and an actual adult, what the fuck was he thinking? He felt like a fraud, a child playing dress-up and expecting the world to go along with him.

 

He only realised how badly he was panicking when Gaila drew him into her arms, muttering reassurances in his ear.

 

"I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing," he confessed, breathing in the smell of her shampoo, savouring the solidity of her body beneath the soft curves, steady and reliable.

 

"Well, when they see  you looking like this, your date will be plenty nervous, too. It's important to have balance."

 

"Will you come and hold me up, then?"

 

Gaila laughed as she pulled back to look at him. "You'll be fine. You're Jim Kirk."

 

If only that felt like enough. Jim was mostly composed by the time Hikaru returned with his black trench coat, holding it up so Jim could shrug into it with a grateful smile. Completely unnecessarily, Hikaru straightened the lapels, smoothing them down before touching the underside of Jim's chin so he'd look him in the eye.

 

"You'll do great, Jim. They're lucky. You look fantastic."

 

"Borrowed some clothes off my douchebag of a roommate." But despite the words, Jim was smirking.

 

Hikaru flicked him on the nose. "That douchebag loves you. Will you be back tonight?"

 

"I'm, uhh- staying at Scotty's tonight."

 

A flash of hurt crossed Hikaru's expression, but he nodded, resigned. "Let me know how it goes."

 

"Yeah, I'll text you." Jim curled a hand around the back of Hikaru's neck, pulled him in to kiss his cheek. "Fly safe," he added, because everyone would be leaving before he got back on Saturday and, tension or not, he couldn't ever bring himself to break the habit.

 

Hikaru kissed his cheek, too, brought him in to press their foreheads together and the cracks in Jim's sanity suddenly didn't seem quite so wide. He was ready.

 

"Thanks again, G. Send me the bill for all this." He gestured to his outfit, already dreading to think what he owed her, but she waved it away.

 

"You only pay if it works."

 

"I'll do my best." Jim grinned, then took a deep breath, then began to fill his pockets. Phone, wallet, small gift that made Gaila squeal again, keys. He thought that was everything. "Wish me luck!"

 

"Good luck, man."

 

"You won't need it." Gaila stuck her tongue out at him, slipped an arm around Hikaru's waist as Jim made his exit and heard her add: "Our boy's all grown up."

 

"You gave him the safe sex talk, right?"

 

"Maybe I want to be a grandmother!"

 

Jim was laughing as he slammed the front door to their apartment and headed out into the night.

Chapter Text

Jim was ten minutes early to the restaurant, took a lap around the block to try and work off some of his apparently endless restless energy. It was a busy part of town, but the place itself was tucked away, apparently the only thing worth visiting on a quiet street accessed through an alleyway between buildings. If he hadn't been looking for it, he didn't know if he would have noticed it was there, just a shop front with very heavily darkened windows and a nondescript sign.

 

Bones was not similarly early. He wasn't even on time. Jim thought he might actually be sick from the nerves by the time he was ten minutes late, toyed with his phone and wondered what the acceptable response would be, if he should text or call or just take the hint and go home to wallow in his singularly fucked up life.

 

"Excuse me, Jim Kirk?"

 

Jim turned to meet the gaze of a slightly anxious-looking waitress, could imagine he wasn't looking like the most approachable person in the world at that moment.

 

"That's me."

 

"Doctor McCoy just phoned-" Jim had to blink for a moment to remember that Bones had an actual, real name and title. "-and said he's very sorry, but a complicated surgery overran. He should be fifteen minutes, and if you can bring yourself to forgive him, he's paid for a drink while you wait."

 

Okay. That, Jim could handle. He'd been on plenty of flights that had run late, had altered plans at the last minute and expected others to go along with it. Probably hadn't even bought them an apology drink. It was just part of the deal when you were dating -fuck, dating!- a doctor.

 

"Alright. On one condition." Jim gave the waitress -Laurie, according to her name badge- his best charming smile, saw her contain a raised eyebrow because of course it made no difference to her whether he stayed or not. "How did you know it was me?"

 

She flushed and glanced back into the restaurant, so the answer had to be good. And she wasn't obliged to tell him, of course, but he really, really wanted to know how Bones had described him to a stranger.

 

"He said you'd be the impossibly gorgeous one who couldn't stand still." Laurie had a little pout, as though it had been the last thing in the world she wanted to admit, but Jim beamed and her lips twitched, just a little, into a smile.

 

"Then lead the way. I'll wait as long as he wants."

 

Laurie turned away to lead him, but he was watching her reflection in the front window and saw her roll her eyes. It didn’t matter. Bones thought he was gorgeous. And he was late because his hands had been inside of someone, which Jim was sure he could work with. He'd created something of an expectation for quality innuendo and he didn’t intend to disappoint.

 

Apparently, neither did Bones. Jim was shown to a table where Laurie took his coat to hang up somewhere and thankfully didn't pull his chair out for him because he hated that. It was always so awkward. She returned with a bottle of champagne.

 

"Christ, what would a half hour get me?" he muttered, as she poured, saw the glass wobble slightly when she bit her lip, expression determinedly steady. She left him the bottle in an ice bucket, retreated as Jim just stared at the glass that must have cost more than he had previously paid for entire bottles of alcohol.

 

Finally, he managed to actually take in his surroundings. From outside, the restaurant had barely been visible so he hadn't been sure what to expect but the space had been realistically converted into something resembling European style, from Jim's experience. It had exposed stone walls, a tiled floor and low lighting. Uhura had been right about the atmosphere. There were maybe ten tables for between two and four people, mostly occupied since it was Friday, but it didn't feel as though anybody was in a hurry or being rushed to make way for the next customers. It was… nice.

 

And nobody was paying Jim the slightest bit of attention for sitting alone, either, which helped enormously, all caught up in their quiet and respectful conversations. Wholly determined not to check his watch, Jim took the first sip of his drink, savouring the cool, light burst of bubbles on his tongue, the fruit sweet and mild. Amazing. He drank it slowly, let it settle his stomach a little, maybe cast a longing eye over the steak that was being delivered to one of the other tables and thought that, maybe, he would be able to eat by the time Bones arrived.

 

He rested his chin on his hand and stared out the front window at the occasional passers-by with small sips of his drink, relaxing despite everything. He could do it. He could date. He could eat and drink and talk, all of those things, only it would feel better than it did with anybody else. And there would maybe be sex, with the most attractive man he'd ever met. It wasn't the most important thing, of course, but Jim couldn't deny the thought sent an anticipatory shiver down his spine.

 

Movement caught his eye, a flurry of motion outside that heralded the arrival of his date. He wasn't alone, a blonde woman trailing after him and making rather courageous attempts to fuss over his hair considering the clear annoyance being broadcast in return. Bones had to stop outside, or she would have followed him through the door, and she dove in for another effort until Bones took hold of her forearms to hold her still. Jim could see them talking, couldn't hear the words, was sort of reminded of Gaila helping him get ready. He wondered if the woman had come all the way from the hospital. Or maybe she was a roommate, or lived locally. She was pretty enough, if not exactly striking.

 

He saw Bones very clearly finish speaking with the phrase, "Now go away," and suppressed a snort. When he released her, though, she made a final push to smooth the fabric of a rather soft-looking blue sweater before escaping. Bones ran a hand through his hair, visibly steeled himself and walked in the door. Jim just watched him, took in every possible detail, saw him approached by one of the wait staff and directed to Jim's table.

 

Jim's lips moved entirely without his consent, twitching into a smile when Bones met his eyes, expression apologetic. He raised his glass in a toast, realized with a strange sort of thrill that it was the first time he had ever seen Bones walk towards him, all steady, calm confidence and understated muscle shifting beneath very flattering clothing. Bones caught him checking him out, of course, but Jim thought he was sort of owed a little favor. Instead of looking away, he just bit his lip then licked it, watched Bones go through the stages of chiding, involuntarily aroused then settling on vaguely irritated.

 

That last one was pretty much the same expression he'd had when they'd first met -holy shit had that been less than a week ago?- and Jim had broken through it well enough then. He wasn't worried.

 

"I am so fucking sorry. I knew this would happen, the only night I had plans, like the universe just knows. There was a freak accident on a construction site right as I was leaving and two workers had their spines crushed by falling masonry. They couldn't wait and Puri's the only other doctor at the hospital who can do such complex surgery. I couldn't even text you before I had to scrub up, and I thought I'd be out in time but there was a complication and- long story short, his bowel ruptured and we have an opening for a new nurse. By the time I'd dealt with that it was already almost seven so I asked Chris to phone the restaurant and after a long lecture about her not being my secretary I just did it myself, although she called me a cab and I got changed in the back seat, which was an experience I never want to repeat and- what?"

 

Jim's smile had been slowly broadening throughout what could only be described as a rant, increasing at a similar rate to the flush that was spreading across Bones' cheeks, not that he was going to tell him that, and at Bones' suspicious glare it reached its peak.

 

"Impossibly gorgeous?"

 

There was a brief frown before the realization hit. "Jesus fucking Christ. Sure, why would they not tell you that?"

 

"I asked. Wanted to know how you'd described me."

 

"Well, you found out." Bones reached for the champagne, poured himself a glass and held it out to top up Jim's. "It's still more subtle than maybe forty percent of the stuff you've said to me, though." He contemplated his glass for a moment, then lifted his glass in a toast Jim met with a smile and a pleased flush. "I'm glad you're here. Thanks for- not being angry. I know this is hardly the best start."

 

Jim had to scoff at that, reached for Bones' free hand over the table and squeezed. "How could I be angry? You just spent hours putting some guy's spine back together like the hardest jigsaw puzzle in the world."

 

"Oh, sure, if you had to study for years to complete jigsaw puzzles soaked in myriad bodily fluids and then solve them in a room full of people screaming and bumping into you." Bones rolled his eyes.

 

"See? You're amazing. I am amazed. You think they'll be okay?"

 

Bones grimaced, and Jim sort of wished he hadn't asked, would remember that for next time. "They'll live, I think. Maybe won't walk again. We'll find out, couple of days, when we can bring them out of their induced comas." With a slightly larger sip of his drink than before, Bones took a deep breath, maybe mentally counted to ten. "But enough about me. How was your day?"

 

Jim took a breath, preparing to answer, then realized he had no recollection whatsoever of what he'd supposedly studied that day. Just a vague impression of tension and nerves and fidgeting, so anxious about that night. Sat there opposite Bones, his raised eyebrow and bemused smile, it seemed ridiculous.

 

"Fuck it," he muttered, not entirely intentionally, "I have no idea. I spent all day thinking about this, and I learnt nothing. That probably sounds ridiculous." He was still holding onto Bones' fingers, resisting the urge to pull away, to hang his head and hide, maybe under the table. His hands shook and he couldn't help feeling vulnerable. It was not a familiar feeling. "I have never done this. Like, an actual date." With a sudden realisation, though, Jim smiled, because, "I'm glad it's you."

 

It was too much, too soon. Even Jim knew that. They were on their first date, but the last thing he wanted was for his nerves, his defensiveness, his completely inappropriate reactions to be misinterpreted. He didn’t want to waste time dealing with faulty expectations, or- well. Any more than the entirely necessary lies by omission. He wasn't about to confess his darkest secrets just yet.

 

If he'd been worried that would put Bones off, though, the other man seemed to have a similar concern and to be gearing up for a confession of his own. Whatever it was, they would deal.

 

"I was married by the time I was twenty."

 

"Holy shit. Really? I mean- I'm not surprised, who wouldn't want to get you tied down -probably a conversation for another time- but- twenty? Before you could drink, you were married?"

 

Bones' expression was a strange combination of relief and confusion, as though he was struggling with equal amounts of disbelief over Jim's response and the fact that he had mentioned it in the first place.

 

"Yeah, it seemed like a good idea at the- actually, no. It seemed like a good idea to everybody else, including her. By the time I'd come around, it was already going downhill and- well. The divorce papers were filed beginning of last year and anybody I've had even the slightest suggestion of flirting with has pretty much run away screaming when they found out about Joanna, so- Not that I've really been looking, I just- The point is, I'm not sure that what I did could really have been called dating, so we're in the same boat."

 

Jim internally squealed a little, just maybe. "Happy to pop your dating cherry, Bones."

 

"Jesus fucking Christ." Bones looked over for a member of the wait staff, raised a hand. "You're a degenerate and a disgrace to humanity."

 

"Pet names? Really? We're in public," Jim retorted gleefully, accepting a menu from a bemused Laurie before she reeled off the specials he was not at all listening to because Bones' eyes were dark and sparkling even when he was glaring at Jim for not listening to what the specials were. Poor Laurie held her composure despite all that, then stalked away with the promise of bread for the table.

 

"You have been in a restaurant before, Jim? You know how it works?" Bones was teasing, and his unimpressed stare was hot, his tone a little too serious for the faint of heart but Jim was understanding him more with every moment that passed and he had no doubts that he would know, for certain, if Bones were genuinely annoyed.

 

He smirked. "I already know the specials. I had twenty minutes to read the board before you got here."

 

"Gonna hold that over me, huh?"

 

"Yeah. I think twice more. Maybe three if you're this sassy throughout the meal."

 

"I am not sassy. Stop making my deep-seated misery sound playful."

 

"But it's so adorable."

 

As far as Jim was concerned, Bones' steady glare over the top of his menu only proved his point. God, he loved this. It was so rare to find anybody who could really keep up with him, and who actually wanted to. And who, entirely coincidentally, was outrageously gorgeous. That was a welcome bonus.

 

"What are you getting?" he asked, topping up their glasses with champagne after a questioning glance in Bones' direction was met with a nod.

 

"I've been craving steak all day."

 

"Is that what you think about when you're cutting into people?"

 

"I actually rarely cut people. Usually I'm treating the wounds they already have… or holding a basin so they can vomit."

 

"What's it like? Not the vomit thing. I've done that. The- being inside someone thing, and that actually wasn't an innuendo although I could make it one if you like."

 

Bones put his menu down, paused to consider his words. "It's- humbling. Unpredictable. Rewarding. Mostly routine and occasionally life-affirming. But people have been practicing medicine since the dawn of time. What I don't understand is what you do."

 

"It's not that hard. Press a few buttons. Follow instructions." Jim shrugged, but Bones was not so easily diverted.

 

"You ride tons of metal through the air, thousands of feet above the ground at hundreds of miles an hour. It shouldn't even be possible."

 

"It's like driving a car, only in three dimensions instead of two."

 

"It really isn't."

 

"It is! Okay, maybe a bus, because of all of the passengers, but once you know what all of the dials mean it really comes naturally."

 

"You're way more intelligent than you let on, aren't you?"

 

He couldn't have missed the way Jim looked anywhere but at him for a moment, toying with the stem of his flute, "I didn't even finish high school."

 

"Not the question. But we don’t have to talk about this if you don't want-"

 

"I don't want."

 

"Okay."

 

Jim looked up, frowning. "Okay?"

 

"Okay. I'm sorry I pushed."

 

"Well, I'm sorry I put up a wall. I'm working on that. Thanks for understanding."

 

They smiled at one another until it was time to order food. Neither of them went for an appetizer, Jim saving room for dessert quite unashamedly and Bones seemingly satisfied with bread. Jim picked at it too, conscious of his alcohol intake combined with a mostly empty stomach.

 

"Oh, I don't have to be in 'til ten tomorrow, after this afternoon, so we could split a bottle of wine if you like?" Bones suggested.

 

"Yeah, let's do it. Glad you don't have to be up so early."

 

"Me too. Surgery is a bit of an adrenaline rush. It might only be nerves keeping me going at this point. I'm gonna crash hard later."

 

"I'll try not to wear you out too much." Jim promised, to the by-now familiar response of eyes dark with heat and yet narrowed in warning. He still got a little rush every time he remembered that Bones seemed to want him just as much as he did Bones. How long was an acceptable time between dates? He wanted to put his hands on warm, tanned skin so bad.

 

"Jim?" Bones was raising his eyebrows, and Jim blinked.

 

"Sorry." Jim grimaced, because he was. He didn't mean to be putting any pressure on, but he knew he could come across that way. "I remember what you said, I promise. I'm not looking to change your mind, I'm just thinking."

 

Bones' expression was a little sad and, fuck, Jim had caused that. He never wanted that, would do anything to bring the light back into those eyes and a quirk to those lips.

 

"I just need you to understand. And not be disappointed. It's been a long time since I've- wanted anyone like I want you. You're- rewriting a lot, making me think about things I haven't considered in a while. But I need to keep to that rule. It's a deal-breaker for me."

 

God, even hearing the phrase made Jim's heart feel like it would shatter into a million pieces, but he had to pull himself together. Had to get the words out in the moment he knew was really fucking important. "Bones, I'm not some sex-crazed lunatic. I swear I can wait. I'm just- not used to it, and everything I say is probably coming out wrong because you are just- everything that I never knew I wanted. Can you please try and trust that I'm enjoying the anticipation? I'm not suddenly going to snap."

 

"It's not you I'm worried about."

 

Jim's breath caught in his chest. Fuck. Bones wanted him. Enough to contemplate breaking his most important rule. That was-

 

"Wow. Okay. Well, then it's a good thing that you told me. Because I am going to make sure we get to that third date. No matter how much you beg, or plead, or grab my ass. Please grab my ass. I mean, like, not right now, because that'd be awkward with the seating arrangement, but maybe after dinner."

 

"Thank you, Jim."

 

"That's okay. I mean, it's not exactly a sacrifice. I bet you have great hands. And I have a great ass. You might not have taken the time to appreciate it yet-"

 

"Oh, I have."

 

"Aww, Bones. We can totally do romance. It'll be okay. You'll see."

 

Bones bit his lip, mid-smile. "I guess I will."

 

 

 

 

Fuck. Just, holy fuck.

 

The first date had gone so well. They'd just talked and smiled and flirted for hours without delving too deep into anything that might end up being hurtful. Jim hadn't asked about Bones' family, since he hadn't wanted to be asked the same questions in return, and by mutual agreement they'd successfully skirted the issue. He had heard about Bones' hospital family instead, his nurses and fellow doctors and the drama that resulted from spending more time with your colleagues than anybody else, most days. Bones told stories that could have been gossip from anybody else, but entirely without judgment other than a roll of his eyes accompanying particularly exasperating moments.

 

And in return, Jim told him about a few events in his own life. He even managed to grumble about the weird love triangle that had been taking shape between his friends and it felt so good to get it out there somewhere.

 

The food had been fantastic, if secondary to the company, the wine perfectly selected and suitably loosening the collective tension without any messy side effects. Jim's heart still squeezed whenever Bones smiled at him. He'd got that cheesecake, too, convinced Bones to take a mouthful off his fork before he rolled his eyes at his own behaviour and set to drinking his coffee with a flush across his cheeks.

 

And when they'd left, and Jim had shrugged back into his borrowed coat, Bones had fussed and straightened the fall of the fabric before actually grabbing his ass and feigning innocence when Jim stared, wide-eyed. He was fucking perfect.

 

He even agreed to let Jim walk him home, although the Bones version of agreement involved a lot of directionless complaining despite not pulling away when Jim tangled their fingers together. He seemed to live in a nice enough block, set a little way back off the main street and they paused on the step just outside the communal door.

 

"I'll just grab a cab back to Scotty's. Its not far." Jim shrugged as they drifted closer to one another, gravitating like they had been all night.

 

"Well. No sense in you waiting out here. Anything could happen."

 

Jim snorted, looked pointedly up and down the deserted street and pulled out his phone, tapping through the app until a car was safely en route to his location. Six minutes. Nobody had ever really managed to get themselves into trouble in six minutes, had they?

 

Bones led him inside, up two flights of stairs to the lone door at the top. Private enough. Jim reached for Bones' wrist as he fumbled with his keys.

 

"I'll say goodnight here. If I come in I honestly don’t know if I'll ever leave."

 

Bones stared at him with something like wide-eyed wonder before smiling ruefully, twisting his wrist so he held Jim's and pulling him in for a perfect, hard kiss. He framed Jim's jaw with his other hand and laid claim to his mouth, and it was all Jim could do to -God, finally- slip his hands under sweater and shirt until he had a palm flat across the small of Bones' back, urging the strong body against his closer still. He met the tongue that delved shamelessly into his mouth with his own, savored the slick slide of it, put up a token fight for dominance he didn't care if he lost. Bones could have him, he was already gone, given over to the passionate firework of a man who saved lives and loved his daughter and still wanted Jim, somehow. 

 

He heard the car pull up outside and gentled his kisses, slowing everything down until they could bring themselves to stop, still so close they were sharing the same air, both breathing a little heavily.

 

Jim delved in his pocket, then, pulled out the box he had brought and saw Bones' expression melt into some soft, vulnerable emotion he couldn't quite place.

 

"I kinda suspected you wouldn't be a dessert guy. So these are Napolitains, just individual squares of Italian dark chocolate."

 

Bones was staring at the box Jim had placed in his hands, but Jim just touched his chin and it was all it took for him to tilt his head up so Jim could kiss him.

 

"For when I'm not around, but you need something a little sweet," he murmured against soft, swollen lips as Bones' thumb traced his cheekbone. He was so relieved it had gone well, everything about the evening amazing and this, the gentle and passionate exchange just ended it perfectly. He could feel that swell in his chest, the surge of emotion from way down deep where he buried so much. He had never thought the possibility of pain would be so clearly worth it.

 

Bones kissed him gently just as back with his own hushed reminder, "Impossibly gorgeous," and released him with a relaxed smile. "Goodnight, Jim."

 

"Night, Bones." and Jim backed away before he could reconsider his efforts at being sensible and just beg Bones to take him inside and fuck him. Bones would do it, too, he knew, would be strong and solid and they would both regret it in the morning. No, there was too much to risk for that and the cab driver was already glaring at him for how long he'd made him wait. Jim adjusted his pants slightly, releasing some of the painful pressure of his fly against his very interested cock and wondered how the hell he was supposed to explain any of that to anybody else.

 

 

 

 

"Well, I'm sorry Scotty. You're just going to have to get over your very blatant, frankly embarrassing crush on me, because Bones has ruined me for other men. That's it. I'm going to marry him or die alone."

 

"I will do my best to contain my emotion," Scotty deadpanned, holding up an empty tumbler. "Refill this, would you? And what kind of name is Bones?"

 

"Uhh, one I gave him so shut your fucking mouth." Jim hung his -Hikaru's- coat up by the door and crossed to the couch to take Scotty's glass as bid. Then he froze. "Scotty," he began warningly, to a glare he wasn't sure he had earned because laid out on Scotty's couch with his head pillowed on Scotty's thigh was a sleeping and shirtless Pavel. Worse, the fingers of the hand Scotty had not been using to drink were buried in his curly hair, rubbing and scratching at his scalp.

 

"No comments from the peanut gallery. He needs this, and I can give it to him without taking advantage. It's more than some," Scotty muttered darkly at the end, somewhat cryptically, and Jim was in no way sober enough to translate it.

 

"Fuck it. Scotty, are you fucking him?" Jim grabbed the scotch bottle, came to sit on the coffee table opposite Scotty, handing over a glass containing a generous measure.

 

"He's eighteen!"

 

Jim shrugged, "That's not necessarily an issue, in of itself."

 

"Jim- don't. Can you imagine?"

 

"I sort of can, actually."

 

"Well don’t, that's incredibly creepy."

 

Yeah, Jim could concede that. "What are you going to do?"

 

"I'm going to let him stay here, unmolested, for as long as he needs. He's so young. Do you remember being his age?"

 

"I don’t remember anything about being his age." Jim took a sip of his drink, a bizarre reflection of how he would have spent most of that year, actually, ignoring attempts to push him into getting his shit together and stealing from Frank's liquor cabinet. That, Frank hadn't actually minded. Said the drink kept him quiet.

 

"Well, that sort of proves my point. Fact is, he needs friends right now, and I'm going to be one."

 

"Then he's lucky to have you." Jim hadn't forgotten how kind Scotty had been to him when he had been worrying, was glad he had an opportunity to return the favour. And he wouldn’t push. He had to trust that Scotty knew what he was doing. Hell, he knew way more than Jim did.

 

"So your date went well?"

 

"Insanely well. Like, now I'm wondering what the catch has to be, sort of well. He's fucking perfect, Scotty. I couldn't have built a guy better."

 

"I'm so glad." And fuck, those were the beginnings of tears in Scotty's eyes, weren't they? Jim was so lucky to have a friend who cared so much. "You deserve it, lad, you really do. I'm proud of you for taking that risk. You made plans to see him again?"

 

"Not yet, we- uhh. It was a pretty heated goodbye. Shit-" Jim suddenly went cold, all over, because he had no idea how he hadn't thought: "He invited me in but I said no, do you think he feels like I rejected him?"

 

"I don't think you're physically capable of leaving anyone in any doubt about how attractive you find them."

 

Jim considered that for a moment. "I'm just gonna text him."

 

Scotty just laughed at that then, a little hesitantly, said, "You might as well take the spare room, tonight. We're not using it."

 

That tested Jim's ability to trust, but he steeled himself and settled for asking, "You sure you know what you're doing?"

 

It wasn't overly reassuring when Scotty just snorted and laughed, before adding, "If you jerk off on my sheets I expect you to wash them."

 

"How about we agree I'll wash them regardless and nobody has to think too much about it."

 

Scotty's spare room wasn't small, exactly, but there was no space to move around. Essentially, it was exactly large enough for a double bed and a multi-screened, fully decked-out flight simulator setup. Jim slipped inside, closed the door and threw himself onto the bed with a relieved sigh.

 

It was a little difficult to text with his left hand while he worked at the button and zipper of his pants with his right, but somehow he managed. It wasn't even just a mess of smut that he typed, either. Quite respectable, really.

 

"I had a great time. Can't wait to do it again. You're amazing."

 

He told himself he wasn't expecting a reply. As much as he would have loved one, as much as he would have loved Bones to phone him and talk him through what he was about to do. He'd be so good at it too, that low, rumbling purr of a voice murmuring compliments, encouragements, orders. Jim shuddered at the thought, dropping his phone and unbuttoning his shirt while he wrapped his other hand around his cock. He let out a long, low sigh, conscious of the noise but fuck, he was so ready. Just thinking about Bones, those dark eyes on him; big hands encompassing Jim's hips; pillowy, soft lips just teasing at the head of Jim's cock, pink tongue lapping at the pre-come that leaked out. Fuck, he wanted that man. He didn't think he'd ever gone so long thinking about one person before, had always either finished with them or dismissed them as too much effort.

 

But Bones was worth the wait and more. And that moment, that anticipation and desire flooding through him, making Jim's heart pound and his cock twitch in his hand as he stroked slowly to thoughts of a broad, strong body on top of him. That moment was good, too, sharper somehow with the knowledge that his fantasizing wasn't futile, that he wasn't imagining something he couldn't have. It was within his reach, he just had to be patient.

 

That night, he was all out of patience. Lust and desire had been building for so long, he quickly progressed to just stripping his cock hard and fast, tearing towards the finish line, the sensations still competing with the alcohol in his system and the knowledge that he was just biding his time until Bones would touch him.

 

It had been a long time since his hand hadn't felt like enough. But even he drew the line at lubing up his own fingers and fucking himself on them in Scotty's spare room, whether he was going to clean the sheets or not. God, his brain was a mess, flitting from thought to thought without letting him build up to a release. 

 

Fuck it. He'd come back to it. Tucking himself back into his briefs -because Scotty had very few house rules but no nudity in the simulator was one of them- he slid into the chair and booted up the computer. The latest update was affectionately titled "bunnypocalypse", presumably by Pavel since Jim knew Scotty would have gone with a Monty Python reference and Spock's filenames were all just variations on "Sim18.3". Still. If Jim didn't land in a field, he couldn't kill any bunnies and there was nobody around to cry about them anyway.

 

The scenario was an engine failure of randomly chosen cause. Not that it mattered, really, to the skills required, but Jim thought it would be a good way of teaching trainees how to filter the relevant information from the deluge that seemed to come in the midst of a catastrophe. The disastrous sim that had been the cause of Jim's suspension had been a technical fault with the engine components. This one was an attack by an alien warship, Jim's co-pilot lovingly voice-acted by Uhura, who had glared at him with every increasingly bizarre scenario. She still read them, though.

 

Jim managed a controlled glide into a river on his third attempt, after an attempt at changing course too abruptly on the first caused him to collide with a skyscraper and he force quit when he realised he was going to come down in that damn field again. There were a few fish that bounced harmlessly off his screen -harmless for him, probably not for the fish- and he only lost the three passengers who had pre-existing medical conditions and a member of his cabin crew.

 

For some reason, that was worse than the bunnies, losing someone he theoretically knew. Even Gary, who was kind of a dick. Jim wanted to keep them safe. He tried again, fought the randomized weather through a tropical storm and landed in a thankfully bunny-free field, killing all of the crew and a few horses, but saving a handful of passengers.

 

Again. Pavel's voice, that time, telling him a bird had been sucked into the engine. Damnit. He really needed to put in a few more rivers. Who had programmed in the mermaids?

 

Gaila telling him that all the instruments had failed. He collided with another aircraft on its way out of JFK.

 

His own voice, bizarrely, and a collision with a drone that damaged a wing. Needed to work on the physics of the forest trees, because the craft ploughed through a hundred or so before bouncing off the next.

 

Then Uhura, saying they'd lost cabin pressure. Hit another skyscraper while coming too low, too fast.

 

The alien warship came up again, landed cleanly in the river. Still lost two passengers. Maybe he needed a provision for having a doctor on board. At least a first aider, someone who knew CPR and could work a defib. Survival rates weren’t good in the air but they were better than nothing.

 

Earthquake. Didn't bother the plane itself but it meant the runways were damaged and flight control were understaffed and panicking. Jim missed hitting a taxiing courier plane by practically nothing -4.8 meters, when he checked- and ended up with more passengers than he'd left with, thanks to a pregnant woman flying against doctors' advice.

 

Fire in the cockpit. The programming for the fire extinguishers didn't work properly. Everybody died.

 

Break in the fuel line. Lots more dead bunnies. Forty dead passengers.

 

Alien warship. Needed to work on that randomization, as much as Jim loved Uhura's deadpan delivery. Somehow killed himself in that landing, but nobody else. Sort of scared himself with how acceptable he found that outcome. 

 

Thunderstorm. Pavel's voice. Jim hit the quit button before he could collide with the mountain, leaned back in the chair and sighed. Yeah, he really needed that counselling. Like that was news.

 

 

 

 

He was in the kitchen, staring into a mug of coffee -decaf, he wasn't a total psychopath- when Pavel got up for his early flight. Dressed in his uniform, freshly showered and shaven, he was a good-looking kid, if apparently not inclined towards taking advantage of that fact in the same way Jim had been. Maybe there would have been a time Jim would have been interested in seeing just how far down that blush went, but as it was he just sort of wanted to cuddle him and keep him safe.

 

"Are you up early, or late?" Pavel asked, voice low so as not to wake Scotty, as he set about making his own coffee.

 

"Late." Jim tried to summon up more words, but they wouldn't come.

 

"Did your date not go well?"

 

"No, it went fine. Good. Great. I just think this Monday to Friday routine is driving me a little nuts."

 

"It is a shame that Director Marcus suspended you. You are a good pilot. A great pilot. I think you'll feel better when you are being challenged again, not just sitting in a classroom."

 

"Yeah, you're probably right." Jim shrugged, because it made sense. He was bored all day, no matter what perks his new routine had for his personal life. "But how about you? You doing okay?"

 

Pavel snorted, rolled his eyes, hopelessly adorable and not at all aware of it. "I spend so much time with you, and Gaila, and Hikaru. You seem- happy with yourselves. Like you can be honest, at least with your friends and your family."

 

"Oh, Pavel." Jim sighed, knew where that was going.

 

"I am no longer welcome in my parents' house, for as long as I- partake in alternative sexual practices and encourage others to do the same. I think that is the best translation of the phrase they used."

 

"Think they'll come around?"

 

"Of course. I am their only son. But for now- Scotty has been amazing. I am lucky that he- to have such a kind-hearted friend with no ulterior motive."

 

Jim smirked a little at that, despite himself. "You're too pretty for your own good."

 

"It is a curse." Pavel waved airily, sipped his coffee with a smile, sat at the table across from Jim, "I know I should be grateful. And I will be, when I am looking for…"

 

"Sexual practices?"

 

"Right. First I want a life I can call my own. And then, I can start to think about sharing it."

 

"Okay, I'm genuinely not propositioning you, but what about casual sex? While you get your life together?"

 

Pavel frowned at that, although Jim was relieved to see it seemed thoughtful rather than offended. "I think maybe if I could be sure of an arrangement, but I have heard you all talk. I would rather- well, help myself than suffer through all the drama."

 

"Probably wise," Jim conceded, as he thought of arguing his case only to have his mind wander to the many, many dramatic episodes of his life that had stemmed from his inability to resist an offer of short-term pleasure. God, Pavel was so much more mature than him, it was insane.

 

"You should get to sleep."

 

There he went, proving Jim's point. "Tell me a story?"

 

"Once upon a time, there was a member of cabin crew who did not have time for your shit. Go to sleep, Captain."

 

"Mm, call me that again."

 

"Ai! Off with you!" Pavel actually came around the table to shove Jim and, laughing, he went.

 

"Fly safe, Ruski Restoran."

 

"You are a fucking imbecile." But Pavel leaned up to kiss Jim's cheek and Jim affectionately ruffled his hair back before staggering off to bed. Such a good kid.

 

 

 

 

Jim was woken up by his phone ringing, with no idea what time or even what day it was and an erection so insistent it hurt. Eyes screwed shut against the sunlight streaming in through the gap in the curtains, he fumbled until he could find the damn thing and make a stab at finding the right area on the screen to press to answer.

 

"'lo?"

 

"Did I seriously just wake you up?"

 

"Bones? 'm I dreaming?"

 

"No, Jim, so don't you dare start jerking off."

 

"I'm not- oh, wait, I am." Jim let out an emphatic groan at the loss of contact when he removed his hand from his cock, then grimaced as he realised how that must have sounded. "Shit, sorry. Okay, I'm good. Everything alright?"

 

"Yeah, aside from the dirty look Chris is giving me- Don't listen in if you don’t want to hear it! Just wanted to see if you wanted to do something later in the week. I'm on awful shifts but I could do Thursday or Friday."

 

"But that's so far away." Jim had kicked the blankets aside, was looking down his body at his own cock, flushed red and leaking as he contemplated almost a whole week without Bones. He was going to be sore by then.

 

"I know. I'm sorry. I wish it were better too."

 

"Jim, are you awake, there's something wrong with your phone-" Scotty began as he opened the door, too quickly for Jim to either warn him or put his dick away, before ducking behind it again with a wince. "Jesus Christ!"

 

"Have you ever heard of knocking?"

 

"Put some pants on! I wasn't joking about those sheets!"

 

"Okay, fuck, I have pants on."

 

Bones was still there, too, talking in his ear, "You sleep in pants?"

 

"No, he's- Scottish, pants mean underwear. Scotty, what do you want?"

 

"I want you to stop jerking off in my spare bed!"

 

"Okay, in what world would I still be hard after jerking off- Oh my God I'm so sorry you have to hear this-" But Bones was laughing, so Jim just let him get on with it for the moment. "And there's nothing wrong with my phone, I'm using it. What's the problem?"

 

"Pike rang, because he can't get a hold of you."

 

"What does he want? This about Dehner?"

 

"Who? No, they've had a recall of some of the new craft so they've had to substitute seven-two-sevens."

 

"Yeah, so?"

 

"So, Walker is still out sick and Graham's on maternity. They need to run twice as many flights to keep up with demand."

 

The significance of that was finally beginning to dawn on Jim. "I'm off suspension?"

 

"Pike's sending a cab."

 

"Fuck yes! Best day ever," Jim announced, then remembered his involuntary eavesdropper. "Yesterday excepted, of course."

 

"What happened yesterday?" Scotty was asking.

 

"I'm on the phone!"

 

"Jesus, alright, I'll let you get back to it. At least put the sheets in the machine before you go."

 

"Why is everybody so obsessed with me jerking off?"

 

"I think it's your infallible dignity and poise." Bones had a smile in his voice, and wasn't that just the best sound ever. "So that sounded like good news."

 

"Such good news. I- uhh. Shit, I don't know what route I'll be on. I should be back for Thursday but I'll try and call you, if I can. Or at least message. We do a Mumbai route and the signal can be a bit temperamental."

 

"I'll be here, waitin'."

 

"You have no idea what it does to me when you go all Southern."

 

"I think I have more of an idea than I did at the start of this phone call."

 

"Yeah, sorry."

 

"Don't apologize. I'm just a respected medical doctor at work in a hospital with the beginnings of an erection. It could be worse."

 

"Oh, you fucking tease."

 

"No worse than you. You should get dressed."

 

"Yeah, that is not going to happen just yet. In fact, Doctor, it's almost like the problem is getting worse with you drawling in my ear."

 

"Well, I'm mighty sorry for that."

 

"Fucking Christ."

 

"I'll leave you to it, Jim. Get home safe, y'hear?"

 

"Oh, I will. Got something real worth coming back to."

 

"That so?"

 

"Yeah, I got Hamilton tickets- fuck, no, don't hang up! I can't wait to see you, Bones, really."

 

"I'll see you real soon, gorgeous."

 

Oh, God, yes. Jim's hand was wrapped around his dick the instant Bones hung up and it only took a few hard strokes before he was coming hard, finally, painting stripes up his stomach with a soft gasp. He took a moment to just breathe, smiling to himself. His life was kind of coming together.

 

Ha, coming. Jim wiped his hand and stomach off on the sheets because he was going to wash them anyway, and began the hunt for his clothes. He had an overnight bag in his locker at work, and a spare uniform, and that would have to do until he got home. It would be worth it. He was flying again!

Chapter Text

Jim had to concede Hikaru’s point, though. It was nowhere near as fun when it wasn’t the two of them, had been a very lengthy flight over to Lagos. Without enough of their regular pilots to cover the adjusted roster, they’d drafted in a couple from a partner airline.

 

By the time Jim got to the check-in desk at their designated hotel he was exhausted, Pavel his only familiar crew member and looking rather worse for wear himself. Of course, that didn’t stop them from making for the bar to meet Spock, who was due to fly out the next morning and more than ready to sympathise in his own stoic, expressionless way.

 

“She did not stop talking the entire flight,” he said of his own co-pilot, his personal worst case scenario.

 

“At least you had Uhura! My flight manager kept all of the crew away from my cockpit until they fed me, exactly halfway through, and I didn’t even get any of the spare desserts! It was a nightmare.”

 

“I find Attendant Burnham to be a very efficient manager.”

 

“Efficient is one word for it.” Jim cast a dark look over at the temp crew, who were sharing some joke or other on the opposite side of the room. “And I could have dealt with her if I didn’t have Lorca trying to undermine me at every opportunity.”

 

“He does have the greater wealth of-“

 

“I know, Spock! And he’s good. But not as good as me. And he’s an ass.”

 

Next to him, Pavel sighed. “He’s so hot, though.”

 

“I know, how is that fair?”

 

“I tried to sneak you an extra dessert. Profiteroles.”

 

“Did Burnham lock you in the staff toilet as punishment?”

 

“Only until I had cleaned them.”

 

“Ah, well. Couple of days to recover before the flight back.”

 

Pavel’s expression of wide-eyed alarm was not reassuring. Jim glared at him until he explained. “They are using the smaller craft for the less popular flights. We leave on Friday.”

 

‘Well, when does that have us getting back?”

 

“Twenty two hundred.”

 

Jim let his head drop onto the bar with a groan. “Being a pilot is the worst.”

 

Even Pavel, who had been cleaning toilets during the flight, knew better than to respond to that. He just patted Jim on the shoulder.

 

 

 


“Food poisoning?” Jim repeated, incredulous despite the clear evidence in front of him, the sour smell of vomit making him wrinkle his nose as he paused in the doorway to Lorca’s hotel room.

 

“I can still fly.”

 

Considering that was weakly croaked from the shivering, foetal carcass of Captain Lorca, Jim did not agree.

 

“Can you even stand?”

 

“There is nobody else.”

 

“I fucking know that, Lorca! Goddamnit. Okay, you’re gonna be co- for every part of that trip except my necessary breaks. We’ll get you a stock of sick bags and one of your crew is going to be cleaning the staff toilet when you’re done with it, that clear?”

 

He took the pained groan as a yes, and messaged Pavel to have a doctor meet them before they got to airport security. Maybe they could at least settle Lorca’s stomach enough to let him cover Jim on a quick nap. None of it was ideal, but he couldn’t let them cancel that flight. Couldn’t leave all those passengers stranded.

 

It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that he and Bones hadn’t been able to connect properly all week. They’d exchanged a few messages, so at least he knew for sure that he hadn’t been forgotten entirely, but they’d been short and kind of mundane, almost messages for the sake of messages because they knew the internet wouldn’t hold for long enough for them to have a proper conversation. Jim felt like there was an itching beneath his skin that he just couldn’t scratch. No, he needed a doctor for that.

 

Not the Nigerian one who gave Lorca some injection to counteract the parasite in his system, though. Jim resisted the joke about it destroying Lorca from the inside, because he was just that sensitive and professional a guy, but he thought he saw one of Lorca’s crew biting his lip at the same moment, too. Which made him feel a little better. He winked at the guy, who glared back. Yeah. That made sense.

 

“You’ll basically be running the flight on your own, you know.” The same guy accosted him on his way through security, while Lorca was having yet another bathroom break.

 

“Managed on the flight here.” Jim snapped back, a little unfairly. Lorca had covered him for long enough for Jim to get some sleep, but it had not been a relaxing trip. Honestly Jim found it difficult to trust anyone else to fly a plane. Probably another thing that would need to come up in counselling, once he managed to schedule an appointment he could actually attend.

 

“Well- look. I’m doing cabin crew to put myself through flight school. If you need someone just to watch him while you take a break, let Burnham know. She’ll call me.”

 

That’s entirely illegal, Jim should have said. “Thanks,” he said, instead. Could never have too many backup plans. And that might just give him enough security to have an actual bathroom break, rather than unbuttoning his pants en route and not even bothering to lock the door. “Think you could convince her to give me an extra dessert, too?”

 

“Don’t push it.”

 

Lorca caught up with him, then, actually looking a little better. Maybe only one-third dead, instead of the whole way there. “What did he want?”

 

“To be a more reliable pilot than you, apparently.”

 

“This is not my fault! Fuck you, Kirk.”

 

Yeah, it probably hadn’t been fair. Jim’s head was already pounding. He hit up the doctor for some aspirin before he left, chugged one of the godawful electrolyte drinks he’d left for Lorca.

 

“You didn’t try the food at that cafe down by the river, too, did you?” Lorca eyed him doubtfully as they were doing their pre-flight checks, which meant Jim had to look like shit.

 

“No, I stayed in the hotel and only went where they recommended, because I’m not an idiot.”

 

“Anybody ever tell you you have control issues, kid?”

 

“My mother.” Jim mock-sobbed. “She always wanted a girl.”

 

“You’re such a dick,” Lorca muttered, which was kind of rich, Jim thought. Thankfully he was saved from having to respond by Lorca doubling over in pain with stomach cramps, fumbling for a sick bag.

 

Jim didn’t get his extra dessert but he did swipe Lorca’s, since he was clearly in no condition to eat it. And eight hours into the flight he did call Burnham. Lorca was a little more settled, but still sweating and shaking.

 

“Five minutes,” he promised the almost-pilot, who eyed Lorca doubtfully before giving a brusque nod and sliding into Jim’s vacated seat like he belonged there. He checked all the levels with clear competence, and Jim went to use the bathroom and stretch his legs as much as he could in the tiny service corridor.

 

Another of Lorca’s crew, who smiled despite how harried she looked, took one glance at him before grabbing a handful of the biscotti they gave First Class with their coffee and thrusting them at him. He pocketed them with a hushed, “I adore you,” which made her flush scarlet. Jim hoped she was keeping an eye on Pavel, too.

 

“Nice work, Captain,” Jim said, on his return to the cockpit.

 

“Don’t patronise me, Captain,” was the only reply he got before Paul -according to his name badge- walked out.

 

“I can’t believe you got me a babysitter,” Lorca grumbled, although the effect was lessened somewhat by the fact he was actually resting his cheek on the console.

 

“Dude! Salt! Water! Sensitive instruments!” Jim shoved him, grabbed a wipe and threw it in Lorca’s general direction.

 

“You’re cranky when you’ve flown a plane basically alone for eight hours.”

 

“Don’t forget I also had to drag your ass here and lie about my opinion of your condition.” Jim adjusted a couple of things, just slightly. The weather was shown clear but he knew better than to take any chances.

 

“It wouldn’t have been that big a deal if they cancelled the flight, you know. Minor inconvenience for a few hundred people, probably the brass gets a bit passive-aggressively shitty because they’re not technically allowed to tell us to fly while we’re sick. What’s the rush?”

 

“Maybe I just didn’t want to be stuck in Nigeria with you for another week.”

 

“We would’ve found a way to entertain ourselves.”

 

Jim was beyond being surprised when he was propositioned at entirely inappropriate moments. That probably said something about him. “Maybe I have Hamilton tickets.’

 

“Nobody actually has Hamilton tickets. I don’t think the show even exists. It’s just a conspiracy invented to drum up business for Ticketmaster.”

 

“Maybe I want to get home to my boyfriend.” Jim threw that out there way too casually for what was very possibly the first time he had ever said that word in a non-ironic sense. God, maybe he was sick and the whole conversation was a hallucination. That was the only possible explanation for why he was talking about it with Lorca. He shuddered.

 

“Oh, now we’re getting somewhere. He hot?”

 

“I am not talking about this with you, but yes. Incredibly.”

 

“Got any pics?”

 

“Oh my God, no.”

 

“Then how do I know if he’s hot?”

 

“You’ll just have to take my word for it.”

 

“So- gorgeous man left all alone at home for a week with nothing but his hand for company while you travel the world wholly unaccountable in a profession with its own infamous sex act. How’s that working out for you?”

 

“You are such a shit stirrer.” Jim refused to let the creeping doubt set in. He refused. “Why did I help you again?”

 

“We’ve come to the conclusion that you were actually helping yourself.”

 

“I preferred you when you were vomiting.”

 

“So it’s not that adorable Russian boy on your crew?”

 

“If you touch him I swear to God I will fucking stab you.” Jim turned his most furious glare on Lorca, who just grinned and licked his lips, infuriatingly and unapologetically sexy.

 

“What with?” Lorca looked around, then let his gaze track down to Jim’s crotch, just for a moment. Jim contemplated pulling the plane into a nosedive.

 

“I’ll improvise,” Jim growled, hadn’t wanted to play his trump card quite so early but fuck, Pavel. “Or I’ll just tell Burnham.”

 

Lorca’s face fell. “You wouldn’t.”

 

“Try me.”

 

“Fine. No pretty Russian jailbait.”

 

Jim wondered how far he could embed a pen in Lorca’s leg if he stabbed it down hard enough.

 

“What about that hot co-pilot of yours?”

 

That was it. “What was it you ate in that cafe? Maafe? Kilishi? Suya?” JIm glanced sideways and noticed with some triumph that Lorca had gone distinctly green. “Suya! Good choice. I love how they mix the gizzards in with the meat so you never know exactly what you’re biting into. The contrasting textures of the fat and tendons. And the smell of the meat grilling, all those spices, mm, so good.”

 

“Fuck you, Kirk.”

 

Yep, Jim definitely preferred him when he was vomiting.

 

 


“Jim?”

 

“Bones.” Jim groaned in relief, because he had been a little worried he would already be asleep, but he had answered his phone on the second ring. “God, it’s good to hear your voice. I changed my mind. Flying is the worst. Can you catch food poisoning?”

 

“Not without some very questionable hygiene practices. Do you have food poisoning?”

 

“God, I hope not. My co- uhh, took a bit of a turn in the air. He didn’t vomit in my mouth or anything, though.”

 

“Small mercies. Just wash your hands before you eat.”

 

“Oh, God. I never want to eat again. I’m just gonna sleep.”

 

A short pause, before, “Just sleep? It’s still Friday, if you could manage a drink before you do.”

 

“A drink with you?”

 

“Yeah, Jim. A drink with me.”

 

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up and leave after that drink. Fair warning.”

 

“But you just want to sleep.”

 

“I really, really want to sleep. I could go home?” But even Jim knew he sounded pitiful, and Bones with his big heart would be unable to resist. Not that Jim was capable of pushing the limits of anything at that moment. He was exhausted.

 

“Come and stay with me. If you’re good, I’ll make waffles.”

 

“You’re the best, Bones.” Jim was sat on the floor, leaning against the wall and he raised a hand to knock awkwardly on the door beside him.

 

Moments later, an unimpressed Bones was standing over him. “What if I’d said no?”

 

“Knew you wouldn’t.” Jim shrugged, attempted to get to his feet and happily accepted Bones’ hand when he nearly fell on his ass. “Or, hoped you wouldn’t. Are you sure it’s okay, I just really wanted to- oh.”

 

Bones had kissed him. Was still kissing him. God, it was everything Jim had been waiting for and more, somehow both soft and solid, warm and soothing, sending shivers down his spine. He clutched at Bones’ shoulders like a lifeline, felt Bones smile against his lips and bit, just a little, in retribution. Bones nosed at his cheek as he pulled back, and they both smiled dumbly at each other for a moment before Bones jerked his head in the direction of the open door.

 

“Come in. While you can still stand up.”

 

“I’m not totally convinced I can,” Jim mumbled, but allowed himself to be tugged inside by the hand wrapped gently around his wrist. He wriggled it free so he could link their fingers, just smirking when Bones had to lock the door with his left hand instead.

 

There was the briefest suggestion of a hallway, one door opening straight into the living room, a nondescript and somewhat tattered couch in the centre, facing the TV. A few bookshelves. A small but uncluttered and clean kitchenette, separated from the room by a breakfast bar. Jim was reminded abruptly why he hadn’t rented an apartment in the centre of the city, why he stayed out towards the airport and shared with Hikaru.

 

Bones showed him around, sort of. Raised their linked hands and pointed. The door off the hallway was the bathroom. Next to the kitchenette was the main bedroom. And the final room between that and the outside wall was Jo’s room. A two-bed, technically, despite the tiny size. It had to have been costing a fortune. Jim wasn’t really sure how much doctors made but it made his heart clench to see Bones sacrificing so much for his kid.

 

“You want a beer?” Tour done, Bones raised Jim’s hand to his mouth to kiss his fingers before disentangling them. Sort of squealing internally, Jim let him.

 

“Sure,” he said, trying to convince his body to obey him for a while longer, to let him have the moment. “You been making the most of your days off?”

 

Bones snorted as he pulled two bottles from the fridge, then rummaged in the drawer for a bottle opened. Imports, Jim noticed. German, or Belgian maybe.

 

“Well, today I caught up on the latest medical journals. I went grocery shopping. I did laundry. How was Nigeria?”

 

“Hot.” Jim shrugged, accepted his beer with a grin, leaning on the opposite side of the breakfast bar to Bones. There were stools, but he thought if he sat down he would just drop off. “But not humid, like it is here, just- hot. Lagos is like nothing else, the sights and the smells and even the sounds. To be honest, I spent most of it with Pavel. Everybody else was temp crew they’d drafted in to cover the shortfall and we don’t really know each other that well. Bit of shopping, bit of beach time. I don’t tan. Bet you brown perfectly, don’t you?”

 

“It’s been said, not in so many words.”

 

“Well, hopefully I’ll see, one day. It was- well, it should have been relaxing, except none of us had chosen to be there and we all just wanted to go home. Hardly a vacation. The conservation centre’s worth a visit but I did that the last time I was there. God, this sounds terrible. I’m not usually this ungrateful, I swear.”

 

“You were in a foreign country with hardly anybody you know, without any options to leave. I get it.”

 

“Still. Some people will never even see it, you know? We only got that route a few years go, it should still be exciting. I should feel lucky.”

 

“And I have no doubt you are, when you’ve had a good night’s sleep and not been stressing yourself out about an unfamiliar crew.”

 

“Yeah. The flight back was not fun. Although-“ Jim looked down at himself, conscious he was still wearing his uniform pants if not the jacket, and delved in his pockets to pull out the remaining few biscotti. “They weren’t all bad.”

 

“Every cloud,” Bones mused as he accepted one offered packet, opening it to take a tiny bite while Jim stuffed one in his mouth whole. “Thought you couldn’t eat.”

 

Jim glared, mouth too full to speak for a moment until he managed to swallow. “God, Lorca was vomiting the whole way home. And- from the other end, too, although that wasn’t in front of me. Doctor thought he maybe had some parasite. I think he is a parasite. Asshole.”

 

“Not your best flight ever?”

 

“Yeah, you could say that. And then the system had gone down at Toronto so all their flights were delayed and the knock-on effect meant we had to taxi for like forty minutes. You think flying a plane is hard, try driving one.”

 

“Hard pass. You’d be lucky to even get me up the stairs.” Bones sipped his drink, then frowned at Jim’s wide eyes. “What?”

 

“You hate flying? How did I not know this about you?”

 

“There’s actually a lot you don’t know about me.”

 

“But how did that never come up?”

 

Bones sighed, “Maybe it’s a little embarrassing. It’s certainly not logical.”

 

“So it’s a phobia. Irrational. It’s not a big deal. If it bothers you that much, why not see a therapist?”

 

Bones snorted, then held up a hand to stop the objections that were coming, “Nothing a therapist can tell me that I don’t know already.”

 

“Is this a Doctor thing, like psychology’s not real medicine?”

 

“Well, that’d be mighty hypocritical of me, considering my Doctorate is in psychology.”

 

“Fuck off.”

 

“I wrote a paper on aviophobia. Thought it would help.”

 

“I guess it didn’t.”

 

“Not for me. It was published, though, and if I went to see a therapist and they just started quoting it I think I’d lose my shit.”

 

“Sorta sounds to me like your shit’s already lost. What’ve you got to lose?”

 

“There’s this thing called pride, Jim, maybe you’ve heard of it.”

 

“Oh, sure, I love lions. Oh hey, like you!”

 

“You are impossible.”

 

“That your medical opinion, Doctor?”

 

“Oh I am far too tired for role play right now.”

 

“Okay, firstly- noted that you may not be too tired later, which is awesome, and secondly- does that mean you don’t want to see my cockpit?”

 

Jim had never seen anybody roll their eyes so hard he was concerned they might strain themselves before. He felt inappropriately proud of himself as he sipped his beer, pretended not to watch Bones watching him. The itch under his skin was back but it felt almost pleasant, warm and soothing. And a little wobbly. The room listed to one side before Bones could reach him and steady him with strong hands on his forearms.

 

“Bedtime, Captain. Doctor’s orders.”

 

He was guided into the bedroom and half-pushed, half-dropped into a sitting position on one side of the double bed. Plain, charcoal grey sheets, the faint scent of cologne and mens’ shampoo. Bones’ bed. Fuck.

 

“You sure this is okay?” He murmured, letting his head drop forwards onto Bones’ shoulder, sure there was something else he should have been saying or thinking or doing with a gorgeous man kneeling at his feet but unable to place it. Bones just unlaced his boots, pulled them off and set them aside, calm and steady in Jim’s blurred vision.

 

“I’m sure. If I lend you sweats, will they stay on?”

 

“Whatever you want.”

 

“Oh, Jim.” A little rueful, a kiss pressed to Jim’s temple, hands on the buttons of his shirt. He wore a tee underneath, since stupid airline uniform shirts were cheap, thin and almost transparent.

 

And then Bones’ hands were on his fly and he whimpered softly, twitched his hips forwards without conscious thought and grabbed tightly onto warm wrists that had frozen at his reaction. “Fuck, sorry. Habit.”

 

“My fault. Shoulda warned you. Wasn’t thinking.”

 

“Me neither.” Jim blinked a few times, summoned up his last reserves of energy. “Okay, you said something about sweats?”

 

Bones nodded, retreated to the closet, let Jim work his own pants off and vaguely fold them. Politely, he kept his gaze above the waist when they made the exchange, Jim quickly dressing in the soft fabric when Bones turned his back. It was all very civilised.

 

“You wanna be the big spoon or the little spoon?” Jim asked around a yawn.

 

“If you make a joke about forking you’ll be sleeping on the floor.” Bones shot back, which sort of answered the question Jim had really been asking. He hadn’t platonically slept in the same bed as anyone since -okay, since the previous night when he’d snuck into Pavel’s double to hold his hand and let him know somebody cared. But he hadn’t been dating Pavel. Was this allowed? Not that he’d be in any condition to even comment on the matter in about thirty seconds. And he trusted Bones not to do things to his unconscious body. Probably wouldn’t mind all that much if he did.

 

Another issue for Dehner to work through, he thought, vaguely, as Bones gave him a push, encouraged him to lay down on what was clearly a designated side of the bed, pulled the blankets up to cover him.

 

“Sweet dreams, Jim.”

 

What would I dream of, when I have everything I want right here? Jim thought, heard the probably unrelated sharp intake of breath and felt the soft brush of a kiss to the corner of his mouth before he was dead to the world.

 

 

 


He woke up with no idea where he was and to find hazel eyes regarding him curiously, felt his brain kick in fast enough for him to think fuck and yet not say it. The eyes were familiar and technically the seven year old owner was too, if slightly outdated photographs counted. Jim wondered just how long it had been since Bones had smiled like he had in that picture.

 

“Who’re you?” She asked him, and instead of the question he wanted to ask -where the fuck are your parents?- Jim gave her a lazy smile.

 

“I’m Jim. Friend of your dad’s.”

 

“Why’re you in his bed?”

 

“We had a sleepover.” Jim technically didn’t lie, pulled himself up into a sitting position, wholly glad he was dressed respectably. “You’ve had sleepovers with your girl friends, right?”

 

Fortunately she -Jo, Jim remembered- seemed reasonably convinced by that, and why shouldn’t she? It was exactly what had happened. Then, she frowned, and after a moment he heard why. There was hushed shouting coming from the hallway.

 

“You’re four hours early, Joss!”

 

“Well excuse me for doing you a favour!”

 

Well, that explained why that premature crossover had been allowed to happen. Jim snorted.

 

“They think you can’t hear that, huh?” He said, climbing out of bed and stretching as Jo nodded. “Yeah. My parents were the same.”

 

The fact that it had been his mother and his step-dad seemed like an unnecessary distinction at that point, and it made Jo take a step further into the room.

 

“Did they get divorced too?”

 

Jim scoffed. “Uhh, no. They stayed together and argued like this every day.”

 

“I guess that’s worse.” Jo pouted, though, stared sadly in the directions the continuing argument. It was strange to hear Bones raising his voice in genuine anger, something Jim had never been party to. He guessed he’d been right, there was a lot he didn’t know about the man.

 

One thing he did know: “Well, I was promised waffles, so how about I make some while they finish up their discussion?”

 

“I like waffles.”

 

“Everybody likes waffles.” Although after a sniff of yesterday’s shirt, Jim conceded he might have to change first. “Think your dad would mind if I borrowed a shirt?”

 

“You’re already wearing his pants, I think he’ll manage.”

 

Note to self, seven year olds noticed everything. Jim opened a random door to the closet before, with a huff, Jo crossed the room and opened another, pulled open another internal drawer and produced a shirt, which she handed to him.

 

“Thanks.” Jim was thankfully saved from having to figure out he could acceptably change his shirt in front of her when she stalked out the room, presumably to await him in the kitchen. Quickly, he swapped shirts, leaving the dirty one on the bed for lack of better options, and followed. She was sitting at the counter, perched on one of the stools Jim had avoided the night before.

 

“The waffle maker’s in there,” Jo said, pointing to the end cupboard. Sure enough, Jim found it. She was not similarly helpful when it came to finding ingredients but she could google up a storm on her phone and with a little guessing of weights and quantities, Jim soon had a fairly respectable waffle batter. Even Jo looked begrudgingly impressed, and a quick inspection of her phone revealed no allergies other than penicillin recorded on her Medical ID, so Jim considered all the fruit in the fridge fair game. Ten minutes and some hastily assembled berry compote later, Jo was munching happily and Jim was contemplating how well it would go down if he suggested a bib, because her dress was very pretty and he didn’t see any spare clothes around.

 

The argument in the hallway seemed to have cooled to a genuine discussion at least and Jim put on a second batch of waffles with the vague ambition of feeding himself before he was summarily evicted. That had clearly been Bones’ intention.

 

True to comedic timing the world over, though, Jim had just raised the first forkful to his mouth when he heard-

 

“Jim?” spoken in the vaguely panicked tone of a parent realising they’d left their child unaccompanied in the presence of a largely untested potential boyfriend and they could smell burning.

 

“You promised me waffles!” Jim called back, stuffed his fork in his mouth because he couldn’t possibly be asked to respond, surely, around all that food. Bones’s panic settled when he walked in to see Jo picking at the last of her fruit and Jim chewing happily.

 

His ex-wife did not react similarly. “Who are you?” She asked, with not even thinly veiled outrage. She would have been pretty, Jim thought, if she’d been smiling, but he tried to give her the benefit of the doubt for the sake of her daughter.

 

“Joss. This is Jim, a friend of mine.” Bones’ warning tone just made her eyes narrow. She took in the food, the empty beer bottles on the side that awaited recycling, Jim’s borrowed clothing. He sort of wished Jo had picked a less threadbare shirt and that he’d had a chance to drink some of the coffee he’d put on. He did not feel ready for the interrogation he was sure was coming.

 

“Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m glad Leonard has somebody he can spend some time with. Gets him away from that hospital. I’m Jocelyn. Darnell.”

 

“Jim Kirk.”

 

They shook hands. Something was up, Jim could see it in the suspicious look in Bones’ eyes and the way Jo ducked her head. Still, he had spent his life trying to avoid family drama and he wasn’t about to stop now.

 

“Interest you in some waffles?” He asked, then as she shook her head with too much of a laugh for something that hadn’t been a joke, he tried again. “Bones?”

 

“No thanks, Jim.”

 

“Bones?” Jocelyn’s tone was incredulous and Jim noticed Bones tense. Thankfully Jim planned for every eventuality with unhealthy compulsion. He certainly wasn’t going to explain the true story, thought ‘Oh, I declared the inappropriate depths of my feelings for him when we were mistaken for a gay couple on the day we met’ was probably not the best explanation to give over breakfast.

 

“Yeah, you know, an old fashioned doctor. Sawbones.” Jim winked at Bones over Jocelyn’s shoulder, saw her turn too late to catch him flush slightly before he covered it with a vague smile.

 

“Didn’t think you were one for nicknames, Leonard.”

 

“I wasn’t exactly given a choice about this one. It just sorta stuck. Jim, you want coffee?”

 

“Please.”

 

When Bones circled around to the coffee machine, Jim felt the ghost of his hand at the small of his back, the touch that would have been there had they not had an audience. Jim felt on edge, missed the tender intimacy of their moments together, knew that the situation they were in had a whole different kind of vulnerability inherent. Bones wasn’t just trusting him with his heart, but with his whole life. The most important part of it. He wished there was some way he could express his thanks, didn’t even dare risk an overly-long brush of fingers as he accepted his coffee. Only so much could be explained away by his affectionate nature and the last thing he wanted was to have any part in accidentally outing Bones to his daughter and ex-wife.

 

“You got to fly out again soon?” Bones asked then, and Jim racked his brain for his schedule.

 

“Not right away. Tuesday. Madrid, I think. Maybe Lisbon. Barcelona?”

 

“You’re going on a plane?” Jo piped up, then, giving up on chasing a last blueberry around her plate with a fork and pushing it aside. Bones moved it to the sink without a thought, collected Jim’s too when he sat to savour his coffee. Jocelyn watched and listened.

 

“Yeah, I am. I was on one yesterday too, from Lagos. You know where that is?”

 

Jo shook her head. It was Jocelyn who answered, but also questioned: “In Nigeria?”

 

“That’s right. In Africa.”

 

“Did you see lions?” Jo asked, and Jim turned his delighted gaze on Bones, who stared stonily back.

 

“No lions, but I saw elephants and monkeys. You like monkeys?”

 

Cautiously, as though concerned he might produce one in the flesh, Jo nodded and Jim pulled out his phone to scroll through the pictures until he found the ones he had taken at the conservation centre. With Jocelyn looking over her shoulder, Jo flipped through, squealed when she got to the final one.

 

“It’s in his hair!”

 

Jim grinned at the memory. One of the monkeys had taken an exceptional liking to Pavel and climbed up on his shoulder before one of the locals could lure it away with food.

 

“Oh, you’re a steward?” Jocelyn asked then, clearly having noticed Pavel’s airline-branded jacket.

 

Jim could feel Bones tensing behind him, ready to take offence on his behalf. But he just smiled pleasantly. “Pavel is cabin crew. I’m a pilot.”

 

“You fly the planes?” Jo nearly dropped the phone in her excitement. Clearly she had not inherited her father’s aversion to flying.

 

“Yeah, I do. With a co-pilot. I couldn’t do it all on my own. And my cabin crew are really important too. I couldn’t do my job without them keeping everybody safe.”

 

Yeah, he got a little defensive when people acted as though the rest of his crew were less important, somehow, or they didn’t work as hard, or maybe their jobs weren’t as valid or respectable. Fortunately, Jo didn’t seem to notice the resultant guilty slump in conversation.

 

“So you’ve been all over the world? Like to Europe? And India? And the North Pole?”

 

“Okay, not the North Pole, because the plane would get too cold and so would I. But Europe, and India. The other week I flew to Sydney, and we stopped over in Singapore. Which is a great place. Very clean. And the food is amazing.”

 

“What’s African food like?”

 

Jim grimaced. “Well, it’s difficult to describe. Lots of spices and strong flavours, some very questionable meat. Like, the menu will just say meat. You don’t know what sort. But it actually tastes pretty good, and they make this paste out of yams, which is like mashed potatoes but better.”

 

“Mom, can we go to Africa?”

 

“Maybe when you’re older, honey.” Jocelyn laid a hand on her daughter’s back, then looked to Jim. “Did you boys have any plans for today?”

 

Uhhhhhhh… “Nothing set in stone. Bones?”

 

“Well, after all that I think we’d better go to the zoo. How’s that sound, baby girl?”

 

Jo’s squeal of joy was the only answer, and Bones smiled that smile that made Jim feel like he’d spontaneously sprouted ovaries and they were melting. Could anyone be more of a doting father?

 

“Well, you all be careful, it’ll be busy out there on a Saturday.” Jocelyn kissed Jo’s cheek and was gleefully hugged in return. She smiled at Jim and Bones before strolling out with promises to be back on Sunday night. Jim guessed that was the usual arrangement, from the lack of surprised faces. Non-surprised, but actually pretty shifty. As Jocelyn’s heels echoed with each step away from the door, both father and daughter seemed to relax a little.

 

“Okay, go get changed, baby girl.”

 

Jo clattered away into her room, already fighting the fastenings on her dress, Jim watching in some bemusement before he sagged against the counter with a sigh, running a hand through his hair. His heart rate was gradually returning to normal, the adrenaline subsiding. Then the door to the bedroom slammed shut and his gaze fell on Bones, although he wasn’t sure what he was expecting in their first moment of privacy that morning. It made his heart stutter to see that he was being regarded with resigned eyes.

 

He thought Jim was going to leave.

 

Or he was about to tell him to. Bones hadn’t planned for any of it, after all, had intended to keep those parts of his life separate at least for a while longer, until Jim had shown up at his door at some ridiculous hour of the night looking too pathetic to send home. He’d had an argument with his ex-wife over it, and who knew how many weekends it had been since he had spent time with Jo? Maybe he just wanted to be alone with her, instead of having his one-date-not-even-a-relationship-yet hanging around.

 

There was only one thing to say.

 

“You know, that DILF thing really works for you.”

 

Despite his best efforts, Bones smiled, although it didn’t meet his eyes just yet. “Some asshole said that to me on a train once.”

 

“He sounds like a good guy. You should stick with him.”

 

Another twitch of the lips, but still sad eyes, like he was waiting for the ‘But-’. Jim could hardly stand it, had no idea if he would be welcome or not but took the step forwards anyway, pressing into Bones’ personal space. He had been sort of worried he’d be immediately shut down or pushed away, but the only response he got was an eyebrow raise and, if he wasn’t very much mistaken, a shift from sad to hopeful. While he still could, still had the privacy and the nerve, Jim kissed him, felt the soft warmth suffuse him, a little of the collected tension bleeding out, and wished he could do more. He just wasn’t sure what was needed.

 

“Do you want me to say?” He asked quietly, conscious of the noise carrying. It wouldn’t have been fair to let Jo object to his leaving before her father had a chance to.

 

“You don’t have to.”

 

They’d still hardly moved, so Jim leaned in enough to kiss him again, to bite softly at a bottom lip in warning.

 

“Not my question. If I’m ruining private time with your daughter, just tell me. But I’d love to stay.” He only got the slightest nod in reply, though, so he pulled back enough for a stern look. “Words, please.”

 

The open vulnerability in Bones’ expression was heartbreaking, the way his voice cracked on the single word even more so. “Stay.’

 

Jim beamed, hauled him in for another kiss with hands wrapped around the back of his neck, then did it again and again until the sadness had faded and he was being vaguely batted away, but with a smile.

 

“Yes! We’re going to the freaking zoo!”

 

There was an answering shriek of excitement from Jo, too, who emerged from her bedroom to find her dad and his ‘friend’ standing a respectable distance apart, sipping coffee. Instead of the dress, presumably chosen by her mother, she wore purple jeans and a well-worn T-shirt. Which must have been bought by her father. That was adorable.

 

“Looking good, Jo.” Jim grinned, then remembered abruptly that he was the only one not yet dressed. “Oh. Where are my pants?”

 

“I hung them up. Does your roommate clear up after you too?”

 

Jim wisely chose not to answer that one and followed Bones into the bedroom where it suddenly hit him they had both spent the previous night. He was just sorry he’d been too exhausted to really enjoy it, to earn any more than a couple of admittedly wonderful kisses. He thought they could have managed at least a little light frottage, living on the edge of pushing those boundaries a little.

 

Bones shoved his pants into his hands with a warning look that made Jim realise he had been staring wistfully at the bed. Thankfully Jo was also confident of the local boundaries and had remained in the living room, so Jim could strip off his shirt with only one set of eyes on him. Bones threw his button-down at his head in retaliation, but he was slightly flushed.

 

“Actually, do you mind if I shower real quick? I’ll be five minutes, I promise.”

 

According to Jo, he took eight. His forfeit was buying them milkshakes at the train station. Cherry for Jo, vanilla for Jim, even though apparently that was boring. Bones declined his own, although he did steal a few sips of Jim’s while Jo was staring out of the window. Jocelyn had been right, even the train was busy, but Jo nabbed a seat and Jim maybe took the opportunity to stand, swaying a little closer to Bones than was entirely appropriate with the movement of the train.

 

 

 


“I’m sorry about this morning,” Bones said, later, while Jo was distracted by an enormous furry spider one of the zookeepers was holding for children to see. Jim wasn’t scared of spiders. He was just standing back to let the kids have a better look. Yup.

 

“You should meet my family,” he replied with a snort, “And by should, I mean really, really shouldn’t.”

 

Thankfully Bones seemed satisfied with what was heavily implied and didn’t push for Jim to tell him any more. He did shift a little closer in the crowded Insect House, though, his fingers briefly brushing Jim’s in the relative darkness.

 

 

 


“She’s a good mom, right? Jocelyn?”

 

“She’s always been a good mom. Even when we were basically kids. It’s the wife thing she had trouble with.” A little bitterness crept into Bones’ voice and Jim looked at him curiously. He hadn’t heard that before. They had been watching Jo running from the fence of one enclosure to the next, chasing meerkats.

 

 

 


She was mesmerised by a slithering boa constrictor -thankfully not held by any of the staff- when Bones continued as though there hadn’t been a break in the conversation.

 

“She’s still with the guy I caught her cheating on me with, though. She seems happy. And- it wasn’t all her fault. Probably shouldn’t even have lasted as long as we did. Jo was the only thing we had in common, some days.” Bones smiled, then. “Aside from the fact we’d both rather be in bed with other men.”

 

Jim choked on his soda and Bones thumped him on the back, his touch lingering for a moment afterwards.

 

“Jesus, warn a guy.”

 

“Next time I come out to you, I’ll be sure to do that.”

 

Jim took a moment to wave off Jo’s wide-eyed concern, apparently well enough that she could go hurtling towards the lizards on the other side of the room.

 

“Does she know? Uhh- Jocelyn, I mean?” He asked, next.

 

“No. I’ve hinted, but she won’t see it. It’s not exactly a- preferred lifestyle, where we’re from. I honestly think she’d believe you were my friend until she walked in on something- irrefutable.” Bones frowned, suddenly. “Do you mind that?”

 

“That you’re not telling your ex-wife about our hypothetical future sex?”

 

“You have such a way with words.”

 

“I guess I’m not anticipating spending too much time with her. This is still new. We’re not exactly sneaking around. I know you’re not ashamed of me, or of this. And I guess there’ll come a time when people will ask. Can we just agree to talk about it then?”

 

“Your friends know?”

 

“Some of them may have been very explicitly shown. I- God, okay. You’ll find out anyway, no sense in hiding it. I’ve kind of- been around. Safe, always, I swear, and I’ve never cheated on anybody, because I never promised anything. I never saw any reason not to take pleasure where I found it, I guess. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

 

“It does.” Bones’ eyes were faraway, and Jim just looked at him, remembering how gorgeous he was. “I’m not here to judge you for what you did before.”

 

 

 


Jim had been drawn in by Jo, and together they were making faces at the monkeys when Bones leaned over.

 

“You know, I brought you along because I thought it’d be nice to have some adult conversation, not because I was signing up for a second kid.”

 

He was very close, hand on Jim’s shoulder to steady himself. Their eyes met, and they both smiled.

 

“Look, daddy, there’s one in the tree!”

 

“I see it, baby girl.”

 

“Can we go see the penguins next, daddy?” Without waiting for an answer, Jo was setting off.

 

Jim leaned into Bones as they stood to follow, spoke directly into his ear in a low purr. “Yeah, daddy, can we?”

 

Bones shoved him into a display of flyers. Jim laughed all the way to the Arctic Zone.

 

 

 


Later again, Jo had discovered the play park and was ascending a webbed pyramid of ropes with impressive and slightly alarming speed. Bones watched her like a hawk, from a careful distance that wouldn’t let her know just how closely he was looking out for her, and Jim watched three women -friends, or sisters maybe- as they watched Bones. They sighed, giggled and cooed amongst themselves, and they weren’t the first, that day. Not even close. But Bones didn’t so much as glance in their direction.

 

Of course, that only added to his charm and did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of those involved, so Jim could do nothing but suffer through it, alternately possessive and baffled that he, of all people, could have been the one Bones chose to spend his day with.

 

It all came to a head when Jo needed to use the bathroom. She was old enough to go inside alone, of course, but Bones waited by the door and Jim took the opportunity to text Hikaru.

 

SSB 2nite, Hikaru-chan?”

 

“Fuck you, and yes.”

 

“Kawaii!”

 

“I will chemically castrate you. Bring beers.”

 

He was so suitably distracted that it took Jo approaching in full princess pout mode to make him look up. He followed the direction of her sulky stare and found Bones cornered by the three women.

 

“Your dad’s popular,” he said in a strained attempt to sound far more casual than the growing anger in his chest might allow. Okay, so he and Bones hadn’t been flaunting their technically-not-a-relationship-yet, but that didn’t mean he was fair game. He was clearly already deeply uncomfortable, but Jim knew first hand how attractive that blush was. Stupid, gorgeous Bones.

 

“One of them said their daughter had a tomboy phase too,” Jo grumbled, still pouting. “You’re a grown-up, can’t you make them leave him alone?”

 

Jim considered that for a moment. “Well, I could. But I might make him mad. It’s kind of inappropriate.”

 

“Just tell them you’re his boyfriend before they find out he’s a doctor, or we’ll be here all day.”

 

“You’d-“ Jim coughed against the sudden lump in his throat- “be okay with that?”

 

Jo shrugged, “Better you than them.”

 

And with that rousing endorsement, Jim relented. “Okay, but if he’s mad, no ice cream for you.”

 

“I want doughnuts.”

 

“You want doughnuts, what?” Because manners were important.

 

“I want doughnuts, and I know you do, too.”

 

“I do want doughnuts.” Jim signed, and then one of the women put her hand on Bones’ arm and he couldn’t suppress his growl. “Okay, I’m going.”

 

He approached with well-practiced and not-unfounded confidence, drew the eyes of the two less persistent women for a moment and preened under their appraisal before cutting in. “Hey, Bones. Ladies. Sorry to interrupt but we did promise Jo doughnuts on our way home and she’s getting pretty hungry.”

 

 

 

Jim had been right. Bones was mad. After pasting on a grateful facade and allowing Jim to help him escape his admirers, he regressed to clipped words and a scowl. The only saving grace was that Jo seemed accustomed to it, rolling her eyes behind her dad’s back and sneaking Jim one of her doughnut holes once they made it to the coffee shop. She was an amazing kid, and an amazing person. Jim hated to think that he might lose her, but a part of him couldn’t help but believe it had only been a matter of time before he pushed too far, like he always did.

 

When Jo went to the bathroom, Jim only had a couple of moments to try and parse the “Good luck!” She mouthed at him before he found out what she had meant for himself.

 

“What the hell, Jim? What was all that back there?”

 

Oh, shit. Jim really wished he had been ready for the conversation, rather than just accepting the passive-aggressive reaction as his due. “Okay, I’m sorry, I- actually don’t know what I’m apologising for. I know you’re mad, and I hate that I caused it, but I don’t know how I did it. Please tell me.”

 

“I just don’t understand how you think this is going to go anywhere when you can’t trust me to even talk to women.”

 

“Oh, shit, Bones, that’s not what it was! You looked uncomfortable. I was just trying to help. Of course you can talk to anyone you want, I’m not that guy. I just thought maybe you wanted an excuse to get away.”

 

“Well, maybe I didn’t.”

 

Jim took a deep breath. He could not be upset about that. He had no right to be, had resisted temptation of his own since getting involved with Bones. He could be offered pleasure and decline for the sake of something bigger, but it didn’t stop receiving the offer from being a flattering prospect, the attention from being a boost to his ego. He was grateful to each and every person who found him attractive. He could understand that Bones felt the same.

 

“Then I’m sorry for misreading the situation.”

 

Bones glared at him for a moment more, unfaltering. “It’s really unsatisfying arguing with you. I feel like I’m kicking a puppy.”

 

“Now that, I won’t apologise for.” Jim felt a fragile hope blooming in his chest.

 

“I hate that- I wasn’t the one to tell them to back off. And that if you hadn’t swooped in and rescued me, maybe I’d be there now.”

 

“Bones.” Jim’s heart ached. “What happened to you?”

 

Bones’ expression shuttered completely, and Jim rushed to correct it.

 

“Wait, no, shit. I don’t mean tell me. I just- whatever it was, it’s made the most attractive, gorgeous, intelligent man I know feel like he’s not worthy. It must have been awful, was all I meant, and I’m sorry for that.”

 

“I don’t need your pity.”

 

“Oh, God. This is all coming out wrong.” Jim let his head drop onto the table then immediately regretted it when it stuck a little. “It’s like no matter what I say, it’s wrong and I can’t apologise- oh. Oh!” That was it! The light-headed rush that accompanied a breakthrough, his heart lifting, his breath coming faster because he knew. He knew what it was. “You’re self-sabotaging. And that is a classic Jim Kirk manoeuvre so I know how it goes. You feel vulnerable, so you get defensive and you hurt them before they can hurt you. But what that means is that you care, and you’re scared because that’s always led to pain before and they always left you eventually, so you might as well get a headstart.

 

“So back there, with those fucking harpies, I did exactly what you wanted me to do, and it just pushed you over the edge, made you realise that this is important. You don’t want to lose what we’re becoming, because it would break your heart and you don’t know if you can go through that again. Well, me too. So I’m not letting you go. You can be as much of an ass to me as it takes, because the smile you give me when there’s nobody around or you’re too happy to care is worth all of it. You could be in this mood every day, hardly say a word to me, but there’ll be a time when you’re glad that I stuck around. And maybe you’ll give me that smile.”

 

With a deep, cleansing breath, Jim sank back in his seat. He hadn’t realised how tense he had been, how badly he had taken Bones’ mood to heart, but everything made sense. He was sweating, and his heart was pounding, and he was so scared of what might happen next, but he was going to fight for what he wanted.

 

And Jim Kirk didn’t lose fights.

 

 

 

When Jo returned, it was to find Jim starting on his own celebratory helping of doughnut holes and her father just staring at the table. He wasn’t scowling any more, at least. Jim offered her a doughnut hole in exchange for the one she’d sneaked him, smiling, and she relaxed a little.

“Did you break him?” She asked Jim, because she knew about her father’s way of bottling up his feelings before letting them explode, but that was new.

“He’s just rebooting, I think.” Jim shrugged. She liked the way he looked at her dad, sort of fond. He was nice. And he didn’t treat her like she was a little kid, or her dad like he was something to be scared of.

“Dad? You okay?”

He looked up at her and smiled, or tried to manage it. “I’m okay, baby girl. Just thinking.”

But you’re not sad?”

He looked at Jim, then, for the first time in ages, got that fond smile in return. “No. I’m not sad.”

 

 

 


In true seven year old fashion, Jo sugar-crashed on the train home and fell asleep curled up against her dad’s chest. Her breathing was low and steady when Jim shifted in his seat, just touching his fingers to the ones not bracing Jo’s back, cautiously watching Bones’ reaction from beneath long eyelashes. Bones had been quiet the whole journey, not angry like before but thoughtful, and Jim didn’t want to leave when they reached the station without clarifying how they both felt.

 

When Bones sighed and covered Jim’s hand with his own, Jim thought his heart would leap out of his chest. God, he was actually doing it, having a moderately successful relationship despite all the odds against them. He turned his hand over to thread their fingers together, resting on the seat between them, stroking the back of Bones’ hand with his thumb and unable to help feeling lucky.

 

“I really want this to work,” he confessed, voice low so he wouldn’t disturb Jo or anybody else who might be listening. He didn’t dare meet Bones’ eyes, stared down at the contrasting tones in the touch of their skin instead until Bones pulled his hand free. Jim flexed his fingers experimentally, should have felt freed but was just detached, floating. Lost.

 

He was aware of Bones shifting, getting comfortable with a child on his lap he thought, until the fingers of that freed hand touched his cheek, the one further away, so he turned his head to look Bones in the eye and met his lips instead.

 

A wholly embarrassing whimper left him then, escaped without conscious thought and Bones hushed him with a whisper Jim felt as much as heard. But he kissed him again and again, until he realised he was trembling and managed to stop. Just soft, chaste kisses that took his breath away and gave it back, like a promise.

 

Jim couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t at least a curse word, so he didn’t say anything at all, just found the hand that had dropped from his cheek to rest on his thigh and squeezed it hard.

 

With a quirk of his lips, Bones squeezed back. 

 

Chapter Text

"Doctor McCoy?"

 

"Is it urgent, Chapel?"

 

"Well-"

 

"No, sorry. I know you wouldn't have bothered me if it wasn't. What's wrong?"

 

"Just the latest patient."

                                                                                                                                                          

"They badly injured?"

 

"Not really. A few contusions, split lip, black eye. He probably needs a CT, but that's your job, and I- it's just that the cops brought him in. Some sort of bar brawl. They said that- he has a history. A violent one."

 

"Is he under arrest?"

 

"Not yet, they said. Whatever that means."

 

"Great." Leonard sighed, had treated more than enough suspects-slash-victims to know that if there was the Police would want to know the extent of injuries before they made any progress in any investigation and were likely to hang around in his ER until they did so. "Put him in for a CT and an MRI, on a rush if he's- lost consciousness, or- vomited. Who the hell is that?"

 

Nurse Christine Chapel rolled her eyes, more vaguely irritated than upset or offended by the raised voices they could hear from the ER waiting room. "One of his friends. Wants to be in there with him. Says he gets phobic around doctors."

 

"Great. You put this guy's details in the system?" Leonard took a step towards those voices, where he could see his newest nurse was quailing beneath the pressure of the patient's friend.

 

"Yes, Doctor. Insurance already came back."

 

"Well, that's a start. I'll deal with this one first." Leonard nodded towards the waiting room and Chapel nodded, marching off to do as she was told. Wholly wasted as a nurse, that woman. He knew she was as frustrated as he was that her career choice and gender meant that she couldn't always deal with some things effectively herself.

 

He took a deep breath, drew himself up to his full height and channeled the best and worst of his suppressed irritation. "There a problem here?"

 

The friend turned on him. He was only young, dark hair and eyes a little unfocused with drink, although his movements were steady enough to suggest some tolerance.

 

"Who're you?"

 

"Doctor McCoy. There any particular reason you're harassing my nurses? Or is that something you just get off on, pushing around people you know aren't allowed to fight back?"

 

"I- no, God! It's just that my friend is in there, he got set on by four guys and then hauled away by the cops but nobody will even tell me if he's okay!"

 

"Probably because the only person currently in the building capable of establishing an answer to that question is busy dealing with his patient's ignorant friend." Leonard saw that hit home in a small grimace and a step taken back, away from him. "Now I can assure you, if your friend were likely to die in the next few hours, you'd be seeing a damn sight more activity around here. He'll be getting a scan of his head to check for anything we can't see, but otherwise he's fine.

 

"But he's not my only damn patient. So if you keep runnin' your mouth I'll have those cops escort you out, injured friend or no. This is a hospital, damnit. Show some respect."

 

"Sure, you got it, Doc. Just-"

 

Well, it would have been too much for the guy to let him walk away. Leonard shrugged off the hand that had come to rest on his forearm and it was withdrawn immediately. He stared down the man who had dared to hold him back and his eyes were met with stubborn apology.

 

"My friend- he's not a bad guy. The cops might try and tell you that he is, but it's a juvenile record. And today, he was just trying to stand up for a girl who was being harassed. Just- please."

 

"Don't matter to me who he is, or what he's done. I treat 'em all the same." Leonard scowled. "Unless they touch me without my permission. Then I let 'em bleed out on the floor."

 

"I'll just sit here quietly."

 

"Yes you will."

 

That time, Leonard got away without interruption, only coming to a halt when he met the two officers in front of his newest patient's door. He didn't dislike cops, necessarily, but having them in his hospital meant one of two things; he would be treating either suspects or victims of crime. Sometimes both. The results were never pretty.

 

"Be careful with this one, Doc." Officer Arkwright, a pretty brunette with a cold, dead heart and no soul, warned him as he approached.

 

"I rarely have the same antagonistic effect on our mutual customers as you do, Officer."

 

She smiled at that, loved a man who appealed to her dark humour. "This one's got a rap sheet as long as my arm. Been a brawler since he was a kid."

 

"He's your suspect today, then."

 

It was Arkwright's unfamiliar, taller colleague who replied, "Sure, if the guys he took on feel like telling us about the fight they lost. Long as he's healthy enough, we'll leave him with you."

 

"And I didn't get you anything." Leonard was about to open the closer door -that way for the security of his patients or because the cops were bored with making conversation with their potential suspect- when Chapel almost ran at him with a printed file.

 

"Doctor, that file for the patient with the- uhh, personal problem. You might want to take a look at this."

 

"Be right back, Officers."

 

They both shrugged. Worse things to get paid for doing than standing around, even if the coffee was terrible. Leonard followed Chapel into a spare consultation room, raised an eyebrow as she clutched the file to her chest. There was no patient with a personal problem, of course. It was their code for when they needed a quiet word with one another.

 

"What's up, Chapel?"

 

"His file came back. It's bad."

 

"What, you don't think I'm safe, with two cops right outside the door?"

 

"No, that’s not- That’s not it at all. His medical history is long, goes back years. And yeah, there're a few brawls but nothing recent. Nothing at all in the last four years. And before that- Leonard."

 

"Tell me, Chris."

 

"He's got history. Going back all through his teenage years. The reports all say brawls, but- well, if I saw a teenager coming in with those injuries today, I'd be calling Protective Services. No way that kid got his injuries fighting someone his own size."

 

"Jesus."

 

"There's a few comments on his file. They needed an adult to sign off whenever he needed scans. They're all the same guy. Stepdad."

 

"Four years isn't so long ago. This kid isn't local, is he?"

 

"Last address is Riverside, Iowa."

 

"Never heard of it. Alright. His friend calmed down?"

 

"Good as gold."

 

Leonard was at the patient's door again by the time he finally thought to ask, "What's this guy's name, anyway?"

 

In the end, the answer came a second too late. He met startled, bright blue eyes, had time for a surprised inhalation before instinct kicked in. Jim's breathing was a little fast but within limits, skin colour good, some bruising but-

 

"Ow! Hey, calm down!"

 

"Any loss of consciousness? Loss of vision? Nausea?"

 

"I'm not concussed."

 

"You get a medical degree in the last week, Doctor?"

 

"No, but I feel fine. Bones. I need you to know this wasn’t my fault. These guys got really pushy with my friend Gaila and I tried to talk them down, I really did, but things just escalated. I'm not that kind of guy, the one the cops think I am, God they probably told you-"

 

"Jim." Leonard took Jim's face in his hands, looked him in the eye. "I believe you."

 

"You- you do?"

 

"If that's what you say happened, then that's what happened."

 

He had apparently rendered Jim speechless, pushed him to staring at him, mouth hanging slightly open. With what he knew about Jim's medical history -God, he shouldn't know about any of that, what a fucking mess- he could see that there were not a lot of people who would have taken Jim at his word. The thought broke his heart, that the man who had been so kind to him had learned how to do it all on his own. It made him all the more remarkable.

 

Something was thrumming inside of him and it threatened to expand into full-blown panic if he didn't get it under control. He traced Jim's bruised cheekbone with a thumb, tender and assessing, then his bottom lip where it was swollen and split. His mind screamed at him, all the things that could have gone wrong, that could still go wrong and there was only one way to quiet it.

 

"I need you to let me do this," he urged, or confessed, maybe. He couldn't think of anything else, couldn't contemplate the impact it might have on them. If Jim never spoke to him again, it would be worth it, as long as Leonard knew he was safe.

 

And Jim, wonderful, sensitive Jim with his easy smile that actually couldn't be, must have seen some of that in his face. He ran his tongue over his bottom lip, the same path Leonard had traced, and nodded. "Alright, Bones. Whatever you need."

 

Leonard's breath left him in one long, shuddering exhalation and he got to work, cataloguing bruises and contusions by sight and by touch, some part of him only vaguely acknowledging that it was the first time he'd touched Jim's bare chest, fingers skating over the ridges of bone and curves of muscle more than was strictly necessary to fulfil his professional obligation. If Jim noticed he didn’t let on, just watched with those gorgeous eyes, only relaxing in tiny increments under Leonard's care.

 

"I'm gonna need you to take off your pants." Leonard cursed the hoarseness of his voice, the resulting quirk in Jim's brow. "You can put your shirt back on if  you feel more comfortable."

 

Jim contemplated for a moment, shrugged and unbuttoned his pants, kicking off his shoes before he worked them down past his hips and let them drop. Then he sat back on the bed, apparently wholly unselfconscious, with a wince.

 

Leonard's eyes narrowed. "Where does it hurt?"

 

"I think I maybe just bruised my tailbone. You don't have to-"

 

"Stand, and turn."

 

"Fuck." But after a couple of deep breaths Jim did, steadying himself with hands on the bed, careful to keep his posture straightened and unsuggestive. Leonard remembered what his friend had said about being phobic, warned him with murmured words whenever he was going to touch and press, just beneath the waistband of black briefs. Wouldn't allow himself to want any more than that, if it would even have been possible to enjoy seeing Jim's spine tense and rigid, his fists clenched, jaw tight with the effort of suppressing his negative reaction to the whole situation.

 

"Clothes. I'm sending you for a CT and an MRI, your insurance can take it."

 

"Bones, please-"

 

"Jim. I need you to be my patient right now. When the scans come back, we'll talk." Leonard hadn't phrased it like a request but Jim nodded anyway. "No food or liquids until they're done, but it shouldn’t be too long. Will you be okay if Nurse Chapel takes you? I trust her. And- your friend can be in the room with you if you like."

 

"Friend?"

 

"Tall, dark, obnoxious?"

 

"Shit, Hikaru's here? He'll be worried, can I talk to him?"

 

"As long as he's left off badgering my nurses, sure."

 

"He'll apologize. He's a good guy."

 

Leonard snorted. "He said the same about you. I have other patients. I'll be back as soon as I can. I-" he had to say something, couldn't bear being the one to have put that false, blank expression on Jim's face, even for the little while it would take him to claw what was left of his sanity back together. "I don't want to lose you."

 

He saw the cracks in the façade, the shaky smile, hesitant and unsure at first but settling, and his heart swelled. He walked out of the room before he could feel anything else, to speak with the cops.

 

"He's coherent enough but he's taken a few blows around the head. He'll get a CT and an MRI, we should have the result back in about an hour."

 

It would be sooner than that, but Leonard had learned to always under-promise and then impress rather than the other way around. Only as he went to find Chapel, muscle memory taking over his movements, did he realize he hadn't been wearing gloves. He had never touched a parent with bare hands, had never needed to feel their skin beneath his fingers to really believe they were unhurt and safe. But Jim could never be just his patient.

 

"Hey," he greeted Jim's friend -Hikaru, fellow pilot and roommate, he recalled belatedly- who stood up to meet him. "Jim's going to be fine. A few bruises, nothing a bit of rest won't solve. I'm sending him for some scans of his head but they're just precautionary."

 

"You think there could be something wrong with his head?"

 

"Aside from whatever made him get into that fight in the first place? It's unlikely, but possible. We're just being safe. You can go in and see him now if you- wait. Did you say four guys?" he suddenly remembered, brain kicking in where he hadn't totally been listening before to what hadn't been important.

 

"Yeah. Assholes really laid into him."

 

"Where'd they end up?"

 

"Home, I guess? Can I, uhh-" Hikaru gestured towards Jim's room and Leonard nodded, letting him go, reeling with the knowledge that Jim hadn't volunteered to be a brawler, but just a punching bag, enough to divert attention away from the original target of the group. He didn't doubt Jim could handle himself, but had chosen not to inflict any more damage than was necessary. He had barely more than a scuff on his knuckles, all of his other wounds clearly defensive. Nothing that would implicate him in an unprovoked assault. Nothing that would risk him losing his job.

 

He was trying so damn hard and Leonard hated everyone who had ever tried to stop him.

 

While he was waiting for the scan results, he checked on his other patients. A couple of accidental trauma cases; one elderly female who had been stuck on the floor for two days after a fall. Her vitals still weren't great. Leonard had their porter, Janice, mark her up for a different room, further from the front desk. It wouldn't help to have her rest disturbed, and he didn't want her on a ward until the morning when she could be more reliably monitored.

 

He was on the verge of hunting Chapel down for the results when he found her, maybe lurked in the corner to avoid interrupting. She was in the waiting room, by the reception desk, a pretty flush across her cheeks, talking to Hikaru. He was laying the charm on thick, all flirtatious smiles and winks. Good God, Leonard hoped that wasn't how he and Jim looked when they were engaged in one of their not-quite arguments.

 

And on that disturbing parallel, Leonard cleared his throat pointedly and took not a little joy in watching them spring apart, looking guilty.

 

"Did you get those scans back, Nurse Chapel?"

 

"I- I'm sorry, Doctor. I'll just go check."

 

Hikaru didn't say anything and Leonard just looked at him for a full five seconds before departing. he had a reputation to maintain, after all, and he didn't doubt that once Hikaru knew about his relationship with Jim, he would lose that fear. Not that he wasn't looking forward to seeing the expression on his face when he found out too.

 

If he and Jim recovered from whatever happened that night, of course. Leonard stopped walking with the realisation that he had gone delving into Jim’s past without permission or restraint and he wasn’t ready to offer his own secrets in exchange. It could throw them hopelessly off-balance and so early in their relationship he didn’t know if it was something they would survive.

 

Chapel found him there in the hallway, approached with some trepidation. “The results are here, Doctor.”

 

“Thank you, Nurse.”

 

They were clear. Leonard’s knees felt weak with relief and he took a few long, slow breaths to calm his racing heart. He really didn’t think he could have coped with that development on top of everything else.

 

He waved Chapel away, despite her hovering, knew she would be dwelling on his catching her flirting earlier, but it would have to wait. He dismissed the cops, who took his name for their records and departed without attempting to engage with Jim. He guessed he was supposed to be the messenger, then.

 

Jim wasn’t in his room, or in the attached bathroom. Leonard frowned and went searching, eventually followed the sounds of laughter and conversation to Mrs Matthew’s room. Chapel was adjusting her IV, Janice locking the bed into position, both of them trying their best to remain professional and detached in the face of Jim’s animated storytelling and Hikaru’s occasional sarcastic interjections. Mrs Matthews was smiling and she looked tired but there was some colour in her cheeks like there hadn’t been since she’d arrived.

 

Leonard leaned in the doorway, smiled at Chapel when she caught his eye and saw her relax, leaning against one of the trolleys full of equipment to listen to the rest of the story.

 

Jim was detailing his last-minute rescue from a night spent in a Taiwanese jail cell when he noticed Leonard.

 

“Oh, hey. Judging by your lack of robust interruption I guess my scans came back clear?”

 

“They did. You’re free to go once you sign your discharge paperwork.”

 

“Thanks. Uhh…”

 

“You can finish your story first.”

 

Jim beamed. “So there I was, in nothing but a dish towel, and Spock…”

 

Leonard needed a few moments to recover, left them to it and retreated to his office to pretend to complete paperwork. They were well into the lull of when late night had become early morning, and the worst of the drunks were closer to the City General than their little hospital. He was left alone for long enough to start to feel like he could make it through the night without a stiff drink before there was a knock at the door.

 

“Yeah?” he said, picking up a pen he quickly abandoned when Jim stuck his head around the door.

 

“Hey, I’m sorry, I got Hikaru to distract your nurse and snuck back here. You got five minutes?”

 

Leonard nodded, got out of his seat and came around to lean back on his desk instead. He didn’t have anything like the right words, instead held his arms out and let Jim wrap around him, just breathing each other in for a moment. He was warm and solid and real, and Leonard hadn’t realized just how badly he’d needed the confirmation of that until he was trembling. Jim’s hands were on him, scanning all over as though he had been the one injured.

 

A hysterical laugh bubbled up out of his chest in the form of a sob and he had never been so grateful for anyone’s lips on his as in that moment, Jim murmuring, “I’m sorry, Bones, I’m so sorry,” over and over again until Leonard’s hands found the soft skin beneath his shirt. He didn’t know what possessed him to find the warmth of the bruise etched across a tailbone and press his fingers into it, but Jim arched against him with a gasp and Leonard swept his tongue into Jim’s mouth, across a hot and swollen bottom lip and further, swallowing the groan that resulted. He cradled the back of Jim's head with a hand to hold him close. It was the physical embodiment of what he couldn’t say, of what had been brewing between them, and it was all he could do to feel and just hope Jim understood.

 

It took several moments of heated kisses, Jim’s hands tangled in his shirt, before he realized what was being mumbled against his lips had changed.

 

“I’m okay, Bones. I’m here. As long as you still want me, I’m not leaving.”

 

I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything, Leonard tried to say, with the slide of his tongue against Jim’s, the hot crush of their mouths, his hands mapping a lightly muscled frame without hesitation.

 

“I didn’t want you to find out like that. I never wanted to have to tell you about what I’d done- not in the present tense. I tried so hard to put it behind me but I can’t let anyone get away with what they were doing, not when I had the power to stop them. I would never- I’m always careful but I’d never risk anybody else, and if you want to keep me away from Jo then I understand, I’m not the sort of guy-“

 

“Jim, stop.” Leonard had to urge, couldn’t stand the idea of that thought continuing a second longer. “I hate that you got in a fight. But I don’t blame you. And as for the sort of guy you are- you’re the safest, kindest, insane son of a bitch I know. You are good, even though you could have so many reasons not to be. If Jo grows up to be anything like you, I’ll be pretty damn proud. Don’t you ever doubt that.

 

Jim sighed, hung his head, too far gone for kisses to bring him back although Leonard itched to try. “You saw my records, Bones. I just seem to invite trouble. No matter what I do. Maybe you’d be better off without me.”

 

“No.” Leonard gripped Jim’s shoulders tight, was not going to let that be it, not after they’d come so far. “You’re everything I never even knew I’d been missing my whole life. And maybe you did a few stupid things when you were a kid but you’re so far past that. The fact that you care so much just proves that to me. And as for those records- I’m a damn good doctor, Jim. I’m guessing the ones where you grew up weren’t. Or else the step daddy who was beating you had some clout around the hospital.”

 

Jim’s eyes were huge and heartbreakingly guilty. “He was a cop.”

 

“He was a scumbag.”

 

“I drove his car off a cliff.”

 

“Good.”

 

“I was a- a difficult kid. Probably deserved at least some of what he dished out.”

 

“You got a therapist?” Leonard asked, and Jim nodded. “I think you should tell them that you think that. See what they say.”

 

“I will.” Jim nodded again, then shifted, deeply uncomfortable, desperate to flee. Leonard wanted so much of him in that moment, settled for touching the bottom of Jim’s chin so he’d look up and meet his eyes.

 

“I still want you.”

 

When Jim left, he stopped as his hand touched the door handle. “Goodnight, Bones.”

 

“Goodnight, beautiful.”

 

Pretty blue eyes shone in his direction for a moment before Jim was gone.

 

 

 

 

When Jim got back to his apartment, it was just starting to get light outside. That was nothing unfamiliar and neither was the way that, by mutual silent agreement, he climbed into Hikaru’s bed alongside his friend. They laid at arms length from one another, and Jim was used to sleeping anywhere at any time but that morning even exhaustion and the steady cadence of familiar breathing couldn’t drag him under.

 

He kept thinking, instead, about what sort of behavior Jo would need to display in order for him to feel that reacting to her in the way Frank had so often reacted to him was appropriate. There was nothing.

 

Over lunch, after some hours of fitful dozing, he asked Hikaru, “Your parents ever hit you?”

 

It was a credit to their friendship that Hikaru didn’t ask where that had come from. He was used to Jim’s sudden segues and apparently unrelated comments, and he just frowned thoughtfully for a moment. “Not really. Got a smacked ass a couple times when I was really little, like, more for the shock of it than the pain. You alright?”

 

Jim just nodded.

 

 

 

 

“No, never.” Gaila just shrugged, but he’d sort of expected that answer.

 

 

 

 

He didn’t ask Pavel. Tried not to think too hard about why that was.

 

 

 

 

“Oh, all the time.” Scotty was elbow-deep in an engine in the corner of an aircraft hangar when Jim asked him, so he didn’t see Jim’s expression, torn between outraged and reassured. “I mean, I didn’t grow up in the best area. All the estate kids had parents who just wanted them out of the house. They did whatever they wanted, you know? And I thought that was exciting. Sort of got halfway involved with what they were doing. My mum knew about the staying out, the back-talk. She didn’t know about the drugs. The guns. Until she did.

 

“She didn’t touch me that time. Not the slipper, or the belt, or the hairbrush. It’d never bothered her I was too big for any of that before. She just cried. When she thought I wouldn’t notice. Got my shit together after that. Why?”

 

Jim was reeling from the information overload. It didn’t occur to him not to reply until it was too late. “My stepdad beat me so bad he put me in the hospital four times. He said I’d been getting in fights with other kids. And everyone believed him.”

 

He was staring down at his own hands, didn’t notice Scotty’s shock so much as the sounds of work suddenly ceasing, looked up to meet a grave expression he’d never seen on Scotty’s face before. And the fear flooded back, that he’d be treated differently, that he’d be encouraged to talk about his feelings, that maybe he still wouldn’t be believed.

 

But, whether consciously or not, he’d chosen Scotty for a reason.

 

“Well, I reckon you win that one, lad.”

 

Jim gave a watery snort, blinked back tears and almost managed a smirk.

 

Scotty nodded, once. “Drinks after work?”

 

God, Jim loved him. “Yeah. Alright.”

 

 

 

 

“I am going insane, can we please just spend some time together sometime that isn’t wholly about personal drama? Not that I’d object to you getting all Doctorly with me again.”

 

“I get off at 4 on Friday.”

 

“So I should get there, what, 10 minutes before then? I wouldn’t want to miss it.”

 

“You are a child.”

 

“Not sure what that says about you. Meet you in the parking lot?”

 

“No… come and collect me.”

 

“There is no way to explain the sound I just made. But Hikaru is looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. Don’t worry, I’ll repeat it for you when I pick you up.”

 

“My response may contain strong language.”

 

 

 

 

The look Bones gave him was worth every moment of the effort he had made. Jim was pleasantly surprised to find him pretty much as he walked through the door to the hospital, leaning against the reception desk filling out some paperwork, rolling his eyes hard and groaning. With a smirk, Jim held his arms out and twirled. He looked good, he knew -he had been told many, many, many times- and although he did usually take off the hat when he was inside, his Captain’s uniform wasn’t complete without it.

 

“I promised Chapel,” he said, leaning on the counter an appropriate distance from Bones. There were still a couple of patients waiting and he knew Bones would value his professional reputation too much to let Jim greet him with a kiss. As much as he wanted to, as good as Bones looked with his hair in disarray like he’d been running a hand through it, as much as the tension in his frame made Jim want to work it out with his hands on Bones’ bare skin.

 

Whoops. Spaced out for a moment there, and he was getting a significant eyebrow raise from the object -subject?- of his affections. He grinned, glad that he had been able to for the last day or so without his lip splitting open again. Unintentionally -really!- he ran his tongue over the newly-healed skin, watched Bones track the movement then scowl.

 

“She’s in with a patient, Captain. But she should be out any moment.”

 

“Well, ah sure do ‘ppreciate that, Doctor.” Jim couldn’t resist mocking back, because Bones’ voice had dropped into that gorgeous lower register, the exaggerated drawl he had so far only displayed when he was that strange combination of irritated and aroused by Jim’s actions. Jim was really looking forward to exploring that.

 

“I’m almost done here. Give me ten minutes to change and we can get going.”

 

Jim really couldn’t help the soft smile that spread across his face at the thought. He’d missed that simple anticipation of Bones’ company, untangled from their personal drama. And maybe they would have to talk about some of that but there would be no urgency, no diversions and hopefully no requirement for medical intervention.

 

Wow, his standards for an enjoyable night were low.

 

But Bones smiled back for just a moment before he caught himself and stalked away, so who cared about anything else?

 

“Sir, if you require medical attention I’ll need you to fill out this- oh.”

 

Jim turned to smirk at Chapel, who had actually stopped moving, staring at him open-mouthed.

 

“Good afternoon, Nurse Chapel. Didn’t think I’d forgotten about my promise, did you?”

 

“Well, you did have a head injury.” Chapel recovered, a little flushed, “You look good, Captain.”

 

“You could probably sound less surprised.”

 

She had a sweet, melodic laugh and Jim suddenly remembered just how easily he’d been able to distract her with Hikaru’s presence during his previous hospital visit. That was kind of weird. He should probably mention to his best friend that it was Bones he had been seeing, since it would potentially come up in any further conversations they might have and, as far as Hikaru knew, Bones was just the terrifying doctor who had torn him a new one. Maybe he could introduce them in a less-fraught situation, since Hikaru seemed to have come to terms with Jim’s attempts at monogamy.

 

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Captain.”

 

Jim narrowed his eyes. “Are you calling me that because you low-key have a kink or because you’ve forgotten my name?”

 

“Can it be both?”

 

“Depends. What’s my friend’s name? You know, the tall, dark, handsome one who has a uniform just like this one.”

 

The scarlet flush that spread across Chapel’s cheeks answered that one for him, and she busied herself with paperwork in an attempt to avoid looking him in the eye.

 

“Look. I know we didn’t exactly create the best first impression. But we are good people. Professionals, with full-time jobs, who pay our rent. Really. The proof is right in front of you.”

 

He heard Bones behind him, then. “It proves either that you’re a pilot or a man who had forty dollars to spend in a costume shop.”

 

Chapel made an effort to bury herself even further in her work, looking unbearably guilty for a moment before she seemed to realize that had been a joke. She eyed Bones with some trepidation, taking in his civilian clothing, the refreshed neatness of his hair.

 

“I can in fact be both,” Jim shot back, and Chapel’s frown deepened. “I’ll let you guess what I spent the forty on.” He gave Bones his most blatant appraising once-over, saw Chapel actually take a defensive step backwards out of the corner of his eye and had to be impressed at the reputation Bones had cultivated. Was it really only Jim who got to enjoy the softer side of him?

 

“Whatever it was, you wasted your time.” Bones reminded him quite seriously, before adding, “I’m not interested in the packaging.”

 

Jim gaped at him. Chapel’s mouth fell open in a silent scream. Bones winked, leered, and went to walk out, only turning to call over his shoulder, “Jim, you coming?”

 

“Bye, Chapel!” Jim waggled his fingers in a wave, grinning gleefully and unrepentantly before hurrying after Bones. He caught up with him as they left the building, glanced around for spectators and saw none, grabbed Bones’ forearm to haul him sideways, shove him up against the wall and take his mouth in a bruising kiss.

 

“You just claimed me, Bones, do you have any idea how hot that is?”

 

Bones just growled, put both hands on Jim’s hips and pulled him in closer, getting his words out between Jim’s repeated efforts to draw him into hungry, vicious kisses. “If it’s anything like- how hot you look- in that damn uniform.”

 

“You are every one of my fantasies come true,” was a confession spoken against Bones’ lips, Jim’s hands cupping Bones’ face, his thigh pressing tightly into the junction between Bones’ legs so the resulting friction made them both gasp. Their kisses gradually slowed to long, lazy and deep, and Jim let out a contented sigh at the simple pleasure of it, Bones strong and warm against him, the smell of his cologne, the damp strands of hair at the back of his neck, the caress of his soft lips. The need to get him naked was less intense, just an underlying current to their tentative exploration, a tingle of anticipation. Like the all-consuming need had gone long-term, spread out by trust and promise, without the pressure that came with risking regret the following morning.

 

He could never, ever regret a single moment spent with Bones.

 

The act of meeting him after work had created an illusion of lateness, though, and when a passing car beeped and the occupants jeered good-naturedly, they both suddenly seemed to realize they were in public in broad daylight. Jim snickered, and Bones let his head drop back against the wall, although he was smiling lazily.

 

“Buy you dinner?” Jim offered, with a final chaste peck he loved that Bones chased, just a little, when he pulled away.

 

“I think you’d better, unless you just want us both coming in our pants like teenagers.”

 

Jim’s grin went feral. “Do I have to choose just one?”

 

Bones took hold of his jaw and drew him in for a final kiss and a growl of promise. “Tonight you do.”

 

 

 

 

It was too early for dinner proper, but the perfect time to get coffee and a pizza and sprawl on the grass in the park. They talked about their respective days: Jim had binge-watched half a season of some competitive baking show and Bones hadn’t removed anything from up anyone’s ass but he had reattached a severed finger. Jim’s instinctive reaction to the imagery warred with his admiration for Bones, for his steady hands and clear skill.

 

He wondered out loud if that would translate to the bedroom, but only earned a quirked eyebrow in return. Goddamnit. His pants suddenly felt a little tight.

 

They shared their weeks, too. Jim had spent two days in Lisbon; somehow managed to eat no fewer than four Portuguese steak dinners; explored the surrounding countryside and acted as a buffer between the thankfully less-awkward-but-not-by-much Hikaru and Pavel. He still had no idea what had happened between them and, judging by the numerous baffled glances he’d exchanged with Gaila, neither did she. He was hoping to spend the following night at Scotty’s, to see what progress he might have made with that situation and to tweak some of his sims. Mostly, he just wanted everyone to get along.

 

“You think they’ll get along?” he asked, meaning Hikaru and Chapel.

 

Bones was doubtful, not that they would work well together, but that Hikaru would be able to devote his full attention to any new relationship when his heart was still elsewhere. 

 

Jim had to concede that point, “But how is he going to get his mind off things?”

 

“Find some other woman -or anyone, in fact- to distract him. I need my best nurse working, not busy pining. And,” Bones sighed, “She was engaged, last year. But it didn’t work out. It’s why she moved to this city and it’s why I don’t want your friend messing around with her. It’s also where that sweater I was wearing on our first date came from. She bought it for him but it’s been in her locker ever since and I didn’t have to time to go home and change.”

 

“It’s a great sweater.” Jim smiled at the memory. Their first date. “You look good in blue. I called Gaila in a panic at the last minute and she brought over clothes she’d secretly been buying for me.”

 

“Well you looked amazing.” Bones sounded a little wistful himself. “You always do.”

 

It had been building for a while, and Jim covered his face as he flushed. “You’re so good at that. All the compliments. I’ve never felt- God-“ he rubbed a hand over his face and sighed, wished he could express himself as well as Bones did. He took a deep breath and tried again. “Before, I could only judge how much someone wanted me by how quickly they got my pants off. But what you do, it’s deeper. It means more. Thank you.”

 

He thought he heard, “You’re welcome,” in the moment before Bones kissed him.

Chapter Text

Jim got the message as he strode through the airport terminal, having just landed after a twelve-hour flight with Spock. He was exhausted, but hearing Bones’ voice made him feel a little less so. He hadn’t been left a voicemail he’d actually wanted to listen to in years.

 

“Jim, God, I know we were supposed to meet tonight but something’s come up-“ Well, that was less promising. Jim sighed, “Phil- our head surgeon- he’s not able to make a medical conference so they’re sending me in his place. It means a week. In London. My flight leaves at nine-thirty. I hope you can call me before then. I’ll see you real soon, darlin’, I promise.”

                                                             

Jim barely registered the affectionate address. He was already setting off at a run for the Enterprise check-in desk, scanning the row of uniformed staff for anyone he knew.

 

 

 

 

Fuck.

 

It had almost been a blessing, the last-minute nature of the trip, because it hadn’t given Leonard too long during which to panic about any of it. But after the dash through security with his hastily packed bag and a brisk walk through the terminal to find the right gate, he could actually see the damn plane through the windows. He was one of the last to arrive, only a couple of stragglers behind him, and it all seemed to hit him at once. He was too busy focusing on putting one foot in front of the other while remembering to breathe to notice the slightly knowing look he was given by the young man who checked his ticket and wished him a pleasant flight.

 

Yeah, like that was going to happen. But he could do it. The conference was important, related to a surgical technique their hospital couldn’t currently offer. He could change that. He could save lives.

 

“Oh, Doctor McCoy,” he was greeted entirely too cheerily and too specifically by a red-headed member of the cabin crew -he still remembered how unimpressed Jim was wherever they were referred to as stewardesses- and eyed her suspiciously, not without good reason. “There’s been an issue with your booking so we’ve had to change your seat. Please follow me.”

 

And she ducked through the curtain towards First Class, holding it aside and looking at him expectantly. Numbly, Leonard followed and was led to his own little pod containing a seat that actually reclined, a tablet for his own use and various reading material. After a moment, though, he was more drawn to the contents of the pod next to his.

 

“I called you less than an hour ago!” He exclaimed, quickly lowering his voice because people had paid good money for First Class seats and the last thing they needed was him causing a fuss. Jim didn’t seem to care. He grinned unrepentantly despite the dark circles under his eyes and raised his glass -an actual glass, not economy-level plastic, containing a generous measure of amber liquid- in a toast.

 

“Could’a done it in half that. Thanks for the assist, Tilly. You want a drink, Bones? Calm your nerves before takeoff? How about a scotch? He’ll have a scotch.”

 

“Coming up.”

 

That… kind of helped, actually. Not having to make any decisions. And a glass of scotch could hardly make him feel any worse. Jim -God, how the fuck was he on this flight, First Class, with an hours notice?- stood up to divest him of his laptop bag and case, stowing them easily. He guided Leonard into a seat, snuck a quick kiss to his forehead, then slipped back into his own seat, leaning across the not-inconsiderable distance between them to take Leonard’s hand. He wasn’t shaking, but it was a close thing.

 

“Will it help if I tell you about the plane, about the flight?”

 

Leonard managed a jerky nod, relaxing a little despite himself. Take-offs and landings were the worst, the clearest changes and the times during which the plane was most likely to crash. He could worry about everything else once he got up there. Tilly -amazing woman- returned with his drink as Jim began to murmur soothingly, the steady cadence of his voice seeping into Leonard’s senses. He really had the most beautiful eyes, bright and soft, and he smiled like nobody else.

 

“They did the pre-flight checks. Didn’t miss anything, I saw the records and they double-checked when I asked with only minimal eye-rolling. Scotty serviced the engine for this plane just over a month ago. Everything’s running fine. Weather looks good over the Atlantic. The pilot’s up to date with all his training and his physicals. He knows this route, this plane, this airport and Heathrow better than almost anyone. He’s still a huge asshole, but he is a good pilot. I trust him. With my life.” Jim raised his free hand, then, to brush his knuckles across Leonard’s cheekbone. Leonard leaned into the touch, earned himself a hum of approval. “And with yours. I owe him now, too. He got me on this flight, got you the upgrade. I thought this’d be better than suffering in economy. I hope you don’t mind.

 

“I don’t know what you want to do once we get there. We’re on the same flight back, too. But I can entertain myself if you don’t want to spend the whole four days with me. I know you’ll be busy, a lot of it. With doctor stuff. But I’d like to do some sightseeing with you. We could walk through Hyde Park, holding hands. Would you hate the London Eye? Maybe see something in the West End. Go for dinner. I've been craving fish and chips.

 

“Did you eat yet? I am starving. Got off my flight and got your message, came straight here. The food’s way better for us than in economy. Real plates and everything. And free booze. I’ll be here to make sure you make it to your hotel. I’m sorry, I sorta hacked your booking and found out where you’d be staying. Booked another room. Thought it would be outrageously presumptuous of me if I didn’t. As much as I’d love to be sleeping alongside you, since I missed the finer details the last time.

 

“I’m sorry I sort of invited myself along. I wanted to be here for you during the flights and it was the only way I could think to make it work. I’m just glad I caught you, and you don’t have to go through all this alone.”

 

Leonard squeezed his hand, offered him a shaky smile. Jim’s voice had sustained him through the anticipation, through taxiing, but then they were at the end of the runway, with the engines building up to a muted roar of power. Jim was trying so hard, had done so much for him and he wanted to say something equally reassuring, heartfelt and personal.

 

What came out instead was, “I may throw up on you.”

 

 

 

 

Thankfully, he didn’t. The takeoff was smooth, Jim providing a running commentary of all the sounds and shifts of the plane until Leonard could see straight enough to take a sip of his drink. It was an excellent scotch, and it helped to settle his stomach enough that he felt like he could make an attempt at the food that was brought round, food that only vaguely resembled the airplane fare he remembered. And it was indeed on proper plates.

 

It was strange to sit so far from his neighbor, although he appreciated it on all sides but Jim’s. A couple of the well-dressed executive types had eyed him warily while he had been on the verge of panic but they had since lost interest. Some of them had even settled down to sleep, the seats folding down all the way into flat beds. Leonard felt wired, adrenaline still coursing through his system, let the cabin crew take his tray and settled for distracting himself for a while with the entertainment system.

 

He was vaguely aware of Jim watching him, but it felt like he was being guarded rather than examined, gave him a small smile Jim returned. He was offered another drink, which he accepted but took his time with, knowing the altitude would reduce his tolerance. The slow sips to the soundtrack of some terrible film masquerading as a comedy marked the passage of time, and at some point when he glanced over at Jim he found him asleep, curled up on his side as much as the narrow bed would allow.

 

Leonard watched him, the rise and fall of his chest, the dark shadows under his eyes, the subtle pout of his lips and his heart ached. It was already too late, he knew, to stop himself from falling for the man. It possibly had been from the moment they’d met, Leonard exhausted and jaded while Jim was energetic -and also a little jaded- while they bonded over their fabricated relationship. Jim was sunshine and brightness where Leonard was cracked open and dark, but they seemed to fit. Seemed to balance one another. It had been a long time since Leonard had thought about letting anyone in and he knew that step into the bedroom, as little as it might mean to Jim could be his breaking point.

 

There was no way he would be able to hide how he felt once Jim was naked beneath him. Or on top of him. He wasn’t fussy about that, but from the sounds of things, Jim had never had meaningful sex before. It had always been short and sweet and selfish. Leonard was worried they wouldn’t mesh, that they would be too different, that the fire that consumed him with every touch of Jim’s would pull one or both of them into something they weren’t comfortable with.

 

But Jim was so willing to try, even after all he had been through. Leonard refused to define him by that but certainly couldn’t forget it, could never discount the amount of trust that was being placed in him. And Jim made it fun, made Leonard grumble and smile and forget that he was supposed to be terrified of everything Jim represented. He was perfect.

 

Leonard only hoped that Jim was strong enough to pull them both into his light, rather than Leonard dragging them both down. He could never forgive himself if those beautiful bright eyes dimmed because of him.

 

 

 

 

When they got to Heathrow, Jim was well-rested and almost unbearably chipper. Leonard had barely let him hold his hand and murmur nonsense in his ear throughout the landing, as overtired and testy as his scant minutes of sleep had allowed. Still, it helped. And Jim didn’t seem to hold it against him, although he kept the chatter to a minimum when they wound their way through the terminal.

 

He brought Leonard a coffee and a sandwich, too, as though he’d known exactly what he needed. Not that Leonard didn’t, being a doctor and all, but he was feeling unsettled and the symptoms weren’t connecting in his mind. Jim also lent him a spare travelcard and bundled him onto the Underground, unceremoniously stealing Leonard’s phone to check his itinerary.

 

“We’ll get there in about forty minutes if you wanted to nap.”

 

It took Leonard less than three minutes to fall asleep with his head on Jim’s shoulder.

 

 

 

 

They checked in at the hotel and Leonard admitted defeat. He had to go for a nap in an actual bed. Taking only a moment to fondly chide him for messing up his sleeping patterns, Jim went wandering happily enough.

 

He returned around four to bully Leonard into reluctant wakefulness and hold up a brown paper bag full of food with a grin.

 

“Cheeky Nando’s?” He offered, and Leonard stared at him blearily for a moment before shutting himself in the bathroom with a slam of the door. He heard Jim laughing through the thin walls.

 

As it turned out, Leonard was starving and once he felt clean and almost human he was grateful for what turned out to be vaguely Portuguese-style spicy chicken. Between them they polished off a sharing platter advertised for four people and a few beers besides.

 

“So I found the hospital while I was wandering. There’re loads of independent coffee shops on the way so I thought we could maybe walk down together, and then I’ll go exploring. Were there any museums you wanted to visit? The V and A’s pretty good, or the Natural History. The Science Museum’s sort of up the same way and they’re all near Harrods, so we could do them all on one of your days off, or there’s the British library which has a History of Magic exhibit at the moment. Or the British Museum, which isn’t far from here actually, or the Imperial War, south of the river. I was gonna do the Tate Modern, because I suspect that’s not really your deal. Oh, we should do the Tower of London! And they don’t let you go round much of Buckingham Palace, but Windsor Castle is only maybe an hour away on the train, if you’re into all that royalty stuff.

 

“You don’t have to decide now. But I was going to go up near Regent Street tomorrow so I could meet you up there once you’re done for the day. We could go for a walk down Oxford Street, maybe Soho. Oh, we could do the theater! I wonder what’s on. Did you see Hamilton yet? Although maybe we should see something British. Did you want to do one of the walking tours? Maybe a ghost tour, or Jack the Ripper?

 

“Oh, and I know you have a day off after the surgery tomorrow. The guys fly back on the day after that so they’re going out the night before to a comedy club if you wanted to join them.”

 

Jim shrugged, then, and shoved half a custard tart into his mouth while Leonard frowned to himself.

 

“What was the first thing you said?”

 

Jim threw a scrunched up napkin at his head. “Coffee. Tomorrow morning. You don’t start ‘til nine. We could get a full English breakfast if you’re up early enough.”

 

“I cannot think about food right now.”

 

Jim was still chewing the other half of his custard tart and seemed confused by that concept. “Text me in the morning?”

 

Of course. Separate rooms. Jim’s was just a few down the hall, a respectful distance away and much appreciated while Leonard was overly full of food and jet-lagged.

 

“I will,” he promised, unable to offer any more than that. Jim seemed satisfied anyway, and was carefully considerate of Leonard’s space when they sprawled together on his bed to watch some nature documentary on the BBC.

 

Leonard tried to tell himself he wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

 

 

They managed the full English breakfast. Or a slightly abbreviated one on Leonard’s part, since he couldn’t bring himself to tackle the black pudding, a sort of thick sliced sausage apparently primarily composed of cooked pigs’ blood. Jim took it off his plate more than happily enough and gleefully watched Leonard dissect the remaining components, the Canadian-style bacon and strange triangular hash browns. Leonard was just grateful that it was more than acceptable to drink coffee, although they had to pay for refills of strong, small cups of the stuff.

 

They shared a relatively chaste kiss goodbye outside Great Ormond Street Hospital and Jim strolled away with a casual wave. As well he might, since his trip was basically a vacation.

 

Leonard watched a presentation; discussed theory; viewed a surgery with a number of equally jet-lagged foreign doctors and a couple of local ones who looked even more exhausted, if anything, and then had a predictably terrible lunch. Hospital food was awful the world over, it seemed. Then they discussed some more. They pulled apart the footage that had been taken; marvelled at the advances in medicine even in the comparatively few years he’d been practicing and drank horrible -even by hospital standards- coffee.

 

He had a couple of messages from Jim by the time he managed to connect to Wi-fi, mostly picture messages of him posing with increasingly enormous toys in Hamleys. The last one took his breath away, Jim standing tall in front of a full-length mirror in a beautifully tailored suit, the geotag showing he was on Saville Row.

 

Leonard’s gasp did not go unnoticed, and while he had been a little concerned about mentioning the nature of their relationship to strangers, all he had to endure was good-natured if somewhat excessively persistent teasing and the occasional wistful glance.

 

There were a number of offers to help him navigate the Underground once they were finished for the day, all of which he declined. After squinting at the multicoloured map for a while he established it was only two stops on the red line anyway, and he made it with no issue beyond overheating in the sweltering tunnel despite the relative chill of the day.

 

Unfortunately, Jim was not still wearing the suit, having left it for final alterations and shipping home, although he still looked outrageously handsome in the white T-shirt, jeans and leather jacket he had been wearing that morning. Leonard told him as much to watch him flush, frankly proving his point. 

 

Oxford Street was packed with tourists and locals alike, and by mutual unspoken agreement they drifted more towards the backstreets. They ate pie and mash at a place close to Carnaby Street and Leonard wondered aloud if British people were so solemn because every meal left them uncomfortably full. Jim laughed, shrugged and ordered dessert, eating happily before steering them in the direction of Soho. Mostly vibrant and social if a little seedy, they found a relatively uncrowded bar and claimed a small table in the window so they could watch the world go by.

 

Steadily, they worked their way through shared half-pints of a selection of local real ales, some of which had an alcohol content that was deeply concerning, and analysed their fellow tourists. Jim’s hand was warm on Leonard’s knee, his eyes hypnotic, his smile soft and relaxed. The tension of the day bled out of Leonard’s shoulders, replaced by satisfaction and contentment he couldn’t even find it in himself to feel disconcerted about. He leaned in to kiss that smile, and if he shifted a little closer while Jim’s hand remained in the same position, well, he couldn’t help that.

 

The bar was playing music that, as the night went on, grew gradually louder. Having Jim close was necessary to sustain conversation, not at all a bad thing, and Leonard rested one hand on Jim’s hip with his beer held in the other, let his lips brush the shell of the ear he spoke into until Jim was practically vibrating with tension.

 

Maybe it was cruel to tease him after making him wait for so long. Jim could take it for just a little longer, though. He had been so good, so far, and Leonard told him so. 

 

Jim rolled his eyes, darkened as they were with the same desire Leonard could feel coursing through his own veins, “You are such a tease.”

 

“Can’t help it. You blush so pretty.” Leonard bit his earlobe, felt the resultant gasp ruffle his hair.

 

Jim’s laughter was a low rumbling against his chest. “Bet you say that to all the girls.”

 

“Not any more.”

 

He’d meant to wait, he really had. But they were thousands of miles from home, Jim’s eyes wide and trusting, and they had been through so much that he could hardly remember why he had been denying them both.

 

They walked back to the hotel, not quite holding hands but their fingers brushing as they stayed far closer together than was entirely necessary. The cool air and time sharpened Leonard’s focus, washed away the fuzziness of the alcohol to leave behind a pleasant buzz and a newfound resolve. He had no idea what Jim had sacrificed to be there with him, but his devotion to their budding relationship was clear. Leonard had been keeping him at a distance, but once they were outside his hotel room, he knew it was time to wrap his arms around a trim waist, kiss Jim soundly and murmur in his ear.

 

“Come in, Jim.”

 

And to his immense credit, Jim leaned back, looked at him and asked, “Are you sure?”

 

There was no hesitation in the hand that wrapped around Jim’s wrist to pull him inside or the deep, hot kiss he initiated with a hand cupped around Jim’s jaw. He hadn’t been expecting him to melt, to cling to Leonard’s shoulders and just give, but it worked. He was being trusted to take the lead, and he intended to earn that trust. It was nothing like a chore, Jim’s body slim and wiry, every touch a moment to be savoured.

 

“Take off your shirt,” he urged, looking into eyes darkened with lust and watched Jim’s tongue run across his bottom lip. He was nervous, but he did as he was told with no sign of reluctance. Leonard had seen him without a shirt, had touched his skin while checking for injuries. It had been nothing like watching a flush spread across his cheeks, knowing that he’d be able to press his lips to every exposed inch of beautiful, fair skin. And when Jim shrugged his shirt from his shoulders, Leonard did, starting with the hollow at the base of Jim’s throat.

 

Jim’s head tipped back, his fingers working to untuck Leonard’s shirt from his waistband, eager to get underneath. Busy sucking a bruise above Jim’s collarbone until Jim trembled gratifyingly in his arms, Leonard let him struggle until he gave a soft groan of frustration.

 

“Bones, c’mon, I wanna touch you.”

 

Leonard quashed his first reaction, which was to bite down and growl at him to say please. Plenty of time for that later, to have Jim whimpering and begging beneath him. That night, he wanted them on an even footing. Frankly, he wanted whatever he could get. It had been such a long time since he had touched anybody with such intent, having been interested neither in one night stands nor introducing anyone only vaguely-dated to Jo. But Jim had smashed through all of that, had leapt in at the deep end of Leonard’s baggage-strewn life and done more than stayed afloat. He had been utterly, unerringly perfect.

 

And he was so stunningly beautiful when Leonard’s compliments made him blush. As he worked on the buttons of his shirt, Leonard told him that too, maybe pushed a little too far because Jim dropped his pretty blue gaze to the floor.

 

He brought it up again when Leonard slipped out of his shirt, and then he stared.

 

“Holy shit, Bones. Do you bench press all your patients when you’re done with them?”

 

“It’s just a few body-weight exercises. Press-ups, pull-ups, that sort of thing.”

 

Jim ginned, seemed to have gained a little of his confidence back with Leonard’s continuing commitment to getting naked. “Squats?”

 

Leonard couldn’t have him getting cocky, though, could he? “You want me to ride you, Jim?”

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“You thought-“ Leonard pulled Jim in by his hips, savouring the first crush of their chests with no barrier to separate them, Jim matching up perfectly with their similar heights- “that I’d be all shy and retirin’ because I wanted to wait?”

 

Jim swallowed audibly, each heaving breath pushing the curves and lines of his upper body further into Leonard’s. Hot and taut and a little slick with sweat, he felt incredible. “I have no idea what I thought.”

 

Leonard began to guide him towards the bed, carefully but not gently. “You think about me, fuckin’ myself on my fingers while I imagine your cock?”

 

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Jim was stunned and breathless as Leonard shoved him back to sit at the edge of the bed.

 

“You said once,” Leonard crawled after him, to straddle his hips, take Jim’s face in his hands and draw him into a kiss, “that I was every one of your fantasies brought to life. Well, you’re everything it didn’t occur to me to want. Until now. An’ I want you to lay back and let me do all the work.”

 

“Well,” Jim’s hands explored Leonard’s torso, crept down to his belt buckle, “this is the best day of my life, so I think I’ll cope.”

 

“The best, huh? It ain’t over yet.”

 

“God, I’d hoped you’d talk.”

 

Although having Jim’s tongue in his mouth prevented him from doing so for the immediate future, Leonard was all-too happy to revisit that. They kissed until the friction of too-tight pants got to be too much, when Leonard reluctantly pulled back to kneel at Jim’s feet, pulling off his shoes and socks. Then he reached for Jim’s fly, was rewarded with an abbreviated version of Jim’s instinctive reaction from before. It seemed like so long ago, when Jim had pushed his hips forward with an embarrassed flush and his hands holding Leonard still.

 

There was no such reluctance then, Jim watching Leonard’s every move but with no suggestion of stopping him. He lifted his hips helpfully when Leonard slid his jeans down to reveal skin-tight boxer briefs gratifyingly tented at the front. Unable to resist, Leonard pressed his lips to the obscured head of Jim’s cock, made it twitch and Jim’s breathing stutter.

 

“Fuck, Bones,” Jim gasped when Leonard licked at the salty, damp patch and then spread his hands over Jim’s hips to ease his briefs down too. “You look good down there.”

 

With Jim’s briefs off, Leonard could shove Jim’s knees apart and insinuate himself between them, one unimpressed brow arched even as he pressed wet, open-mouthed kisses to the underside of Jim’s cock, made him shiver and hiss through his teeth.

 

“Next time,” Leonard promised, easing himself to his feet to unbuckle his belt and slip it from his jeans, tossing it aside to begin on his pants while Jim watched appreciatively, unselfconsciously naked. And why shouldn’t he be? It was all Leonard could do to strip off his own clothing before pushing him back and crawling over him, both of them clutching and clinging, desperate to feel uninterrupted skin on skin for the first time.

 

“So fucking hot. God,” Jim groaned against his mouth before they kissed, hot, wet and dirty, pressing and grinding against one another. It had been so fucking long that Leonard had almost forgotten how good it could feel, like there was nothing in the world aside from them. Jim never stopped moving, his hands mapping Leonard’s shoulders, his biceps, the muscles of his back with grateful reverence even as his pelvis moved to thrust his cock into the curve of Leonard’s hip. As much as he shifted, though, he let out a long, low moan when Leonard gripped his hips and held him still.

 

“Slow down, beautiful. We’ve got all night.”

 

Jim whimpered at that, stomach muscles twitching with the effort of pushing against Leonard’s hold. “I need you now, Bones, please.”

 

Leonard had to bury his face in Jim’s neck, breathing deeply for a moment to quell the spike of arousal that shot through him at the sound of that plea, a fact that did not go unnoticed.

 

“Oh, is that what you want? C’mon, just take the edge off. I want to come with your ass wrapped around my cock but I’ll never make it as long as you want. Just touch me, let me come once, I can go again. Bones-” Leonard knew it was coming, but it didn’t have any less impact when Jim moaned in his ear- “please?”

 

The high-pitched, desperate whine that left Jim’s throat as Leonard wrapped a hand around his cock was like nothing else. It was gorgeous, unrestrained, Jim entirely unconcerned with how needy it made him sound. Telling him that only made him gasp and beg harder, and Leonard watched him, awed. Jim’s eyes were unfocused, his lips parted, cheeks flushed with exertion and his pretty, pink cock was perfect, leaking to slick the movement of Leonard’s hand, wrapped hard and tight around it.

 

“So beautiful.” Leonard sucked on the lobe of Jim’s ear, bit a path along his jaw and claimed his mouth, feeling his body shudder, straining for release, fucking into Leonard’s grip, “Want to see you come, Jim. Do it for me. Just let it go.”

 

Jim sobbed when he came, harsh and desperate, the sound making arousal pool in Leonard’s belly as Jim’s come pulsed across them both. Seeing it made something instinctively animalistic rise in him too, enough that he drew slick fingers across Jim’s bottom lip and delved into his mouth to lick it off before Jim had a chance to react. After a moment he did, with a groan that vibrated around Leonard’s tongue, fumbling with shaking hands until he could grasp Leonard’s and raise it to his mouth. He sucked and lathed his fingers with his tongue, licking them clean.

 

He opened brilliant, shining eyes with pupils blown wide to take in Leonard’s reaction, and Leonard was all-too happy to oblige, although not before a swipe of his tongue through the heady, arousing taste of Jim’s mouth.

 

“Should’ve known you’d be filthy,” he murmured with affection, reached down to gently trace his fingers along Jim’s softening cock and make him twitch, oversensitive, pressing the come he collected down onto Jim’s tongue before chasing it with his own. Jim shuddered against him, clutching at his biceps and persistently rocking his hips up, encouraging Leonard’s erection to slide against his stomach. Clearly, he hadn’t been kidding when he said he’d be able to go again. Even post-orgasm, Jim’s body was no longer relaxed and languid but poised and ready.

 

“I know you promised to do all the work,” Jim panted, breath hot against Leonard’s lips, “but if you don’t let me finger you open I think I’ll cry.”

 

Fortunately for him, Leonard was feeling benevolent. “You may help.”

 

“Bones,” Jim whined at the loss, reached down to dig his fingernails into Leonard’s thighs in objection. “Please, I wanna be inside you so bad. You’re so fucking perfect, wanna make you mine.”

 

“I’m already yours, Jim.” Leonard’s kiss was soft and gentle, soothing as best he could as Jim whimpered and shuddered beneath him. “Just let me get things started, then. It’s been a while.”

 

That made Jim blink, pause a moment. “Bones? How long? We don’t have to. I don’t wanna hurt you.”

 

“Then do as I say. And- a long time. But I want it to be you.”

 

“So fucking hot,” Jim breathed as Leonard straightened, shuffling forwards on his knees to straddle Jim’s stomach and reach across to the bedside table where he had stashed his lube and condoms. A little calmer, Jim traced patterns up and down his thighs, watching him carefully, pupils still blown wide but gaze focused and appraising when one hand drifted higher to tug on one of Leonard’s nipples, teasing it to a peak and making Leonard groan softly. Jim licked his bottom lip with a soft smile, then scraped a fingernail over the sensitive spot to pull a wholly involuntary noise from Leonard’s throat.

 

“Tell me how long, Bones. Please?”

 

Leonard braced himself on a hand next to Jim’s head, reached back with the other to circle an experimental, lubed finger around his hole, let his eyes slip closed and felt Jim’s soft touch across his cheekbones, over his brow, reverent and awed. He took a deep breath. “Not since- oh fuck, not since college.”

 

“But you’ve missed it.” There was no judgment in Jim’s tone, and Leonard ducked his head, touching his brow to Jim’s while gentle fingers curled in his hair.

 

“No feelin’ like it.” Leonard pushed his first finger in, just to the first knuckle, marvelling as always at the thick, velvety ring of muscle, so tight and unyielding to start with; the explosion of sensation along closely-packed nerve endings; the tight, hot pain he almost couldn’t believe would shift into unimaginable pleasure.

 

Almost. He found it in himself to glare half-heartedly down at Jim, who was unapologetically teasing at the edge of his rim with one finger alongside Leonard’s. His fingers were a little slimmer, but not by much, and the hint of a stretch burned.

 

“Tell me again,” he urged, needing something else to focus on, adoring Jim in that moment for knowing what he meant.

 

“You’re mine, Bones. I knew since the moment we met, and I declared my feelings for you in front of complete strangers for reasons I don’t even remember. You’re perfect. You prove it more every time I see you, with every word you say. Everything you do. And you look so fucking good doing it. Some days I have no idea what I did do deserve you. Bones-“ Jim’s voice cracked, and Leonard forced his eyes open to see Jim’s shining with unfallen tears he longed to kiss away- “I never want to let you go.”

 

“Then don’t.”

 

They kissed, and Leonard blamed the surge of emotion for the sob-like sound he made when Jim’s finger slipped in beside his own, stretching him wide, that intoxicating sensation of bone-deep exposure making him push back against the intrusion, encouraging more. Jim obliged, gently coaxing, sucking on his bottom up and lathing it with his tongue every time Leonard whimpered, like an apology.

 

“Relax, baby, I got you.”

 

Leonard gave him the slightest nod, felt him smile, sighed when Jim replaced his finger with two of his own, penetrating and scissoring gently, pressing deeper to just graze at his prostate and make him gasp, driving his hips back before his brain could allow him to reconsider.

 

“Yeah, that’s it. Not too much more, Bones, then I know you’ll take my cock like you were made for it.”

 

Fuck, how did Jim know? How could he send arousal sparkling through Leonard’s veins with every well-chosen word or maybe just an instinct that told him exactly what was needed? Nobody had ever pinpointed his desires with such unerring accuracy, or had been so willing to indulge them.

 

His arms were shaking where he was braced on them, and he sank to his elbows, burying his face in Jim’s hair and panting, grateful for whatever nonsense Jim was murmuring in his ear. His fingers were still working relentlessly to ease him open, to pull him apart, so send waves of pleasure straight through him. The rhythmic, slick sound made him shudder and Jim groan. Jim, who had three fingers buried inside of him up to the second knuckle and was hard again, the heat of him occasionally brushing the back of Leonard’s thigh, making him rock back involuntarily because his body knew what he wanted even if his mind couldn’t quite make sense of it all.

 

“That’s it. You ready for me?”

 

Thankfully, Jim seemed to accept Leonard’s broken, “Please,” in the affirmative, used his free hand to clench a fist in Leonard’s hair, pull him into a kiss and then ease him upright. When Leonard managed to focus, Jim actually winked and he groaned, appalled at them both until Jim’s fingers were pulled free and it was all he could do to cope with the loss of that fullness.

 

“Jim.”

 

“I know, baby, let me just-“ Jim’s attention was on the condom he was unwrapping and rolling on, a reassuringly well-practiced option before he applied more lube and, with a mischievous glint in his eye, wiped the excess across the crease of Leonard’s ass, catching teasingly on his sensitive and loosened rim. Hands steady, he pushed at Leonard’s hip, guiding him back with one while the other brought just the head of his cock to press bluntly at Leonard’s hole. He didn’t push in, just gave him a hint of the stretch and then waited, patiently, thumb rubbing soothing circles into the skin of Leonard’s side. Giving the control back.

 

Leonard’s legs shook from the awkwardness of the position, but the strain and tension only seemed to ratchet up his arousal, bringing it to the front of his mind where it had been simmering before. His erection had flagged slightly with the pain and anxiety of preparation, but he truly had missed the overwhelming sensation of being filled and he pressed down and back with a heartfelt moan. It was hot and hard and thick, splitting him open as he let gravity do the work, his well-prepared body relaxing through the worst of the pain and the generous lube taking the edge off the burn. Only vaguely, his eyes unfocused, he was aware of Jim’s tiny, aborted thrusts into him. Leonard clenched around him to hear the gorgeous, choked-off moan and breathless curse.

 

The following thrust was not aborted, Leonard groaning through the pain of the stretch and the blissful completeness of being filled, only the slightest movement required to bring his ass flush with Jim’s hips, that moment with the full length of Jim’s cock inside him making him whimper and shift around the thrum of his pulse.

 

“You’re so fucking gorgeous.” Jim sounded wrecked, his breathing uneven and choppy as Leonard rotated his hips to bring blissful pressure against his prostate before rising up, savouring the drag of heated flesh, incomparable against his sensitive opening.

 

Inquisitive fingers brushed gently against his cock, made him grind into it and down as Jim thrust up into him, driving deep.

 

“Fuck. Jim.”

 

“That okay?”

 

“More. Please.”

 

It had been so damn long, far too much time since Leonard had felt like he could fuck himself on another man’s cock and feel nothing but pleasure, the back and forth between the hand wrapped around his cock and the satisfying slick slide of flesh inside of him. And through it all, Jim watched him with dark, wide eyes, guided his movements with a hand on his hips, met each rise and fall of Leonard’s body with his own, without a hint of shame or judgment. The world had narrowed to just the two of them, intimately connected in body and mind, the steady building of sensation not entirely comprised of pleasure but better, somehow, harder and deeper.

 

Leonard’s rhythm stuttered when he was close to coming so Jim just held him still, his legs shaking as Jim pounded into him hard, somehow still jerking his cock, pressing the knuckle of his thumb underneath the head with every pass of his hand and sliding relentlessly against his prostate. 

 

“C’mon, Bones, you’re so close, can feel you getting so tight around my cock. Wanna make you come, wanna taste it, want you falling apart because of me, ‘cause you’re being fucked for the first time in years and it’s my cock you’re riding. God, you should see yourself, how well you open up for me and take it. How much you want it. You’re so fucking gorgeous, Bones. Please come. Please.”

 

It had never occurred to him to come on command, but that whimpered little plea sent a shivering down his spine that arched his back and pulsed from his cock, set his muscles to clenching hard as Jim gave a final few thrusts and buried deep inside of him with a groan. His cock swelled just slightly as he came, coaxing a final, weak spurt from Leonard’s with the stretch before he sagged, breathing heavily, meeting the eyes of the sated man beneath him.

 

“Thank you.” Leonard traced the line of Jim’s cheekbone with a finger, the skin hot and flushed with his exertion and release. “So damn beautiful.”

 

The flush deepened but Jim was too satisfied or lazy to look away, just lowering long eyelashes for a moment. Leonard leaned down to kiss him and was welcomed, Jim’s tongue sliding against his until his softening cock slipped free of Leonard’s body and they both grimaced, despite everything. With some difficulty, Leonard collapsed on his back before Jim ducked into the bathroom to clean up.

 

He returned with a smile on his face and a warm, wet washcloth he handed over and watched Leonard run it over his own chest, his thighs, his cock before his expression turned questioning. Leonard narrowed his eyes for a moment before he realised what was being asked.

 

“Jim.”

 

“Please, Bones. I’ll be gentle. Just roll over. Let me.”

 

And well-fucked and aching, Leonard couldn’t resist. He turned over, spread his legs with a shiver of self-consciousness. True to his word, Jim cleaned up all traces of the lube, sweat and spilled come from his ass and thighs with gentle swipes of the soft cloth. Leonard could feel his hole still gaping open, twitching as he clenched instinctively. He groaned when Jim thumbed at the fluttering muscle, pulling to hold him open with a noise of appreciation.

 

"You can't possibly be ready to go again," Leonard panted, but didn't shift away, although the slight rasp of Jim's stubbled cheek against the back of his thigh made him gasp.

 

"With inspiration like this, I think I could." Jim pressed a kiss to the crease between Leonard's ass and thigh, trailed gentle fingers down Leonard's perineum and balls before pushing at Leonard's hip, urging him onto his side, facing Jim. "But not tonight. I want you a little sore tomorrow with that reminder of how much you wanted my cock, not cursing me every time you sit down."

 

"Romantic," Leonard muttered, shuffling forward for a long, slow kiss, drawing Jim into his arms and holding him close.

 

"C'n I stay here t'night?" Jim slurred after a while, already curling into Leonard's side, resting his head on his chest, one arm thrown across Leonard's body.

 

Leonard pressed a kiss to his hair, allowed himself to hope for a moment that he would never have to say no to that again. "Of course, darlin'. Sweet dreams."

 

Jim just grumbled and clutched him tighter.

Chapter Text

Leonard woke to the unmistakable sensation of being watched, opened bleary eyes to see Jim, showered and fully dressed and holding two takeout cups of coffee. How he’d managed to do all of that without waking Leonard was beyond him.

 

“How long have you been standing there?”

 

“Couple of minutes. You’re so cute when you’re sleeping.”

 

Leonard contemplated throwing something at him, but didn’t want to risk spilling precious coffee.

 

“Oh, these are both for me.” Jim grinned when Leonard made grabby hands in his direction and didn’t even dodge the pillow that was launched in his direction but fell short of the mark. “Alright, grumpy bunny. You can have coffee.”

 

He came to perch on the edge of the bed, didn’t even bother pretending not to watch as Leonard sat up, the sheet draped across his waist. And after a sip and a deep breath, Leonard had to ask. “You have plans for today?”

 

“Just the Science Museum. Or the Victoria and Albert Museum. They’ve got an exhibit on the evolution of feminism. I thought we could see it and maybe you could get Jo a present.”

 

“That sounds good.”

 

“Oh, and since it’s mid-week we could get in somewhere nice for afternoon tea, if you want. There’s a great place by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Well, not the original one. The one they built to replace the one that burned down. Twice. Did you know they used to fire live cannons during performances?”

 

“Should I wear a jacket?”

 

“No, shirt, shoes and pants should be fine. Want me to leave while you get dressed?”

 

“Sorta late for that, don’t you think?” And Leonard had the twinge in his lower back to prove it.

 

Jim grinned, eyes roving appreciatively as they stood. “Want me to join you in the shower?”

 

“Not today.” But Leonard pressed a kiss to Jim’s cheek, slapped half-heartedly at the hand that came up to grab his ass and stumbled into the bathroom. It actually didn’t hurt as much as he’d expected. Jim’s patience and careful hands had made all the difference. He showered quickly, eager to get out before his coffee either cooled or was stolen by Jim.

 

“I don’t know if you were worried-“ Jim began, as Leonard emerged still dripping with a towel around his waist- “that I’d find you less attractive after we had sex. But I can tell you that now I know what’s under there, I want you more than ever.” He reached out to snag the towel, too, when Leonard passed by the edge of the bed he was lounged on to pick up his coffee, groaning in appreciation when he successfully pulled it off. “Did you jerk off thinking about me in the shower?”

 

“I did not.”

 

“Me neither. So- please can I suck you off before we go out? It’ll be quick. I’m really good.”

 

Jim was already sinking to his knees on the carpet, and Leonard told himself it was the challenge he couldn’t resist.

 

 

 

 

“You were right, he is hot.”

 

“Fuck off, and also fuck you.”

 

“Wow, did you get some new material?”

 

Jim just glared at that, a fact that seemed to amuse Lorca immensely, before turning back to watch Bones as he ordered drinks at the bar of the comedy club. He was beginning to wonder why they’d even bothered to come, would much rather have been back at the hotel, naked, watching gritty BBC drama in between unrestrained sessions of lovemaking.

 

Yeah, that was what he was calling it. Not out loud, or anything.

 

“He- well, we both need to spend some time with people outside of our social circle. Do me a favor and don’t put him off the idea before he has a chance to try it.”

 

“I’m honestly the one you’re most worried about?”

 

Jim cast an eye over Burnham, who had yet to crack a smile although there was a certain softening around her eyes; Tilly who was laughing uproariously at something nobody else seemed to have heard; Paul who was staring at his phone with only a vague acknowledgment for the conversation going on around him and Ash, who was outrageously pretty but, well, something about him just put Jim on edge. Lorca’s usual co-, Phillipa, had gone to the opera instead. Smart woman.

 

“How are you all friends?” Jim wondered out loud.

 

“We’re more of a ragtag bunch of misfits.”

 

“That is- surprisingly accurate. You should commandeer a spaceship and travel the galaxy hunting bounties or something.”

 

“You’re just trying to get us as far away from you as possible.”

 

“Burnham could be the captain.”

 

Lorca was laughing when Bones returned with beers and stood an entirely friendly distance from Jim. With the first sip, Jim shifted a little nearer, got a sideways look but no objections.

 

Lorca, however, rolled his eyes. “Gonna ask him to prom too, Kirk?”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“Not in front of your boyfriend. He looks like he’d know exactly how to kill me and make it look like an accident.”

 

“I do have access to a number of undetectable poisons.” Bones shrugged and Jim was so, so glad they’d gone straight to threats of murder and sort of skimmed over the use of the word boyfriend, which he hadn’t raised at all beyond that throwaway comment to Lorca. He had no idea if three dates plus myriad catastrophically intimate family drama scenarios were sufficient for him to use the term.

 

“Well, then I hope you’re a doctor and not just a guy with a basement.”

 

“Can’t I be both?”

 

Jim’s eyes widened a little at the devious smirk on Bones’ face, while Lorca laughed.

 

“And more besides, I’m sure. Relax, I’m not the type to touch without permission.”

 

When Lorca went off to sink into the seat alongside Burnham, Bones looked to Jim and asked, “So, how long’s it been?”

 

“Since what?”

 

Bones just arched a brow. Fuck.

 

“Maybe four years. He, uhh, was one of the instructors at the flight school.”

 

“You are such a cliché.”

 

Jim snorted. “I know. But he was- good. Most people are focussed on their own pleasure. But he was kind. I-“ Jim bit his lip- “kind of thought that was as good as things got, back then. For me, anyway. And he’s offered, since, but- it’s never felt like the right time. Might not ever be.”

 

Bones muttered something along the lines of “damn straight” around the neck of his beer bottle as he took a sip, but Jim watched him for another moment and he didn’t make eye contact. And if he rested a big, warm hand on Jim’s thigh under the table when they sat down, well, who was Jim to complain?

 

 

 

 

Distracted though he was by his own slow death through stress and anxiety, Leonard noticed Jim was anxious on the flight home. He still managed a litany of reassuring words and sounds for Leonard, but he couldn’t keep still, his grounding touches made with unsteady hands and nothing like the slow reverence he had managed while they had been in bed together. At first Leonard wondered if it was the public setting, but even in front of strangers in bars and on the street he had managed a relaxed, casual affection.

 

When Captain Georgiou made an announcement that their landing would be delayed, though, things got worse. Jim could barely sit still, and although Leonard was hardly better following that little development, it still made him think. It had been an amazing week, but of course he had wondered what would happen when they returned home. Whether Jim would want to continue, after getting what he had wanted. Whether he’d even be capable of doing so, after so long spent without even the thought of commitment.

 

And as much as he’d sort of expected it, Leonard could’ve help but feel a little sad. The previous few weeks had felt different to anybody who had come before, almost effortless even when they both had baggage to contend with. He had wanted to believe that they could continue, that he and Jim could really make something out of their progressing acquaintance.

 

A logical part of his mind was telling him that, if Jim wanted to put distance between them so badly, there would have been other signs. It didn’t make sense to have Jim holding his hand as the plane took off, to have worked his magic and arranged two seats for them in Club Class. To have leant in and pressed his forehead to Leonard’s as the plane touched down, the juddery rumbling of tiny, fragile wheels not dissimilar to Leonard’s uneven breaths. He wished he could have found it in him to savor the contact, the warm press of skin, but it was all he could do to drag air into his lungs and force it out again.

 

They were allowed to disembark fist, Jim still jittery but unrelentingly positive, what Leonard thought was a genuine smile on his face as he tangled their fingers together during the walk onto blissfully solid ground.

 

Just before security, there was a member of the cabin crew waiting for them, captain’s hat and jacket in hand, smiling when Jim greeted him with a wave. Leonard’s brain was still working through the situation when Jim pulled him aside and kissed him, as passionate as he had ever been, edged with desperation.

 

“Bones. I’ve had an amazing time. Thank you for trusting me. I’ll call you as soon as I possibly can, okay?”

 

He was already reaching out for the jacket, shrugging it on over his white shirt, the crew member -Pavel, wasn’t it?- just looking torn between amusement and anxiety, although he did cast a couple of curious glances in Leonard’s direction.

 

“You have a flight now?” Leonard had to ask because of course that was it, was exactly the sort of ridiculous planning Jim would do, to be flying a plane less than an hour after being a passenger in one. Part of him was still a little irritated, his temper made short by the stress, that Jim hadn’t said anything, hadn’t stopped him from doubting what they shared. But he could also see it for what it was, an attempt to enjoy as much of their remaining time together as possible before the real world came surging up to meet them, “Where are you going?”

 

Jim had pulled a tie from his jacket pocket and was tying it when he paused, wide-eyed, looking to Pavel. “Shit. Where are we going?”

 

“Istanbul, Captain. Captain Sulu is carrying out pre-flight checks but we will begin to taxi in ten minutes.”

 

Jim kissed Leonard again, hard and fast and more than desperate, unheeding of the curious passengers filing past them to join the queue for security. Leonard wished he had the time to soothe him, could only press back, wrap an arm around Jim and hold him close for a short moment.

 

“You made my week, sweetheart. Get to work. I’ll be waiting.”

 

The relief in Jim’s expression was clear and undeniable, and Leonard pressed a kiss to his cheek too, trying to convey as much affection as he could in the brief touch. It seemed to help, Jim melting in his embrace and wrapping arms around him to squeeze him tight.

 

But it couldn’t continue. Jim grabbed Leonard’s ass as he pulled away, winked and then grinned at the rolled eyes he got in response. “I’ll see you soon, Bones.”

 

“Captain.” Pavel was looking deeply concerned by that point, must have had his own job to consider as well.

 

With a final, frustrated sound, Jim yanked Leonard into a final kiss, only his gaze lingering before he raised a hand in a wave and set off running, Pavel in tow.

 

Leonard watched him go, suddenly feeling a little lost, like a part of him was absent. They had been together so much during the previous days that it felt like a wrench, to be facing time without Jim. He hoped he’d at least be able to get signal in Istanbul so they could talk, so he’d know when Jim would be back. So they could find out whether their latent chemistry would carry over into evenings when they were tired or hungry or cranky, with more to consider than one another.

 

He really hoped so.

 

 

 

 

“Nice of you to make it, Captain.” Hikaru grinned, glared at Jim as he hurled himself into his seat, scanning the instruments for any issues. He had made it with only moments to spare, managed a slightly flushed saunter through First Class to the cockpit in an attempt to convey an intentional, casual lateness under Uhura’s watchful eye. He had no idea if it had worked.

 

“Fucking Lorca,” he muttered, entirely aware of how uncharitable it was. He knew as well as anybody that it wasn’t the captain’s fault when a flight was delayed. With a frown, he adjusted something, only to have Hikaru slap his hand away and change it back.

 

“I’ve compensated for that, make the announcements while I finish up.”

 

Jim mocked him in a high-pitched babbling mimicry of his voice for a moment before hitting the button for the intercom and sliding effortlessly into- “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking...”

 

 

 

 

 

“So, how’d it go?” Hikaru asked later, when they were steady over the Atlantic, still some distance from the weather he’d been compensating for in his checks, Jim knew once he had actually read the pre-flight reports.

 

“It was fine. I like London.”

 

Hikaru just looked at him, openly unimpressed.

 

Jim sighed. “Okay, it was amazing. He’s amazing. I actually think I may have done the right thing going with him.”

 

“Impressive. Did you- get to know each other a little better?”

 

“We had sex, Hikaru. You and I have done it too, you can say the words.”

 

“Just sex? Not-“

 

“If you say the word lovemaking I will vomit all over you.”

 

Hikaru laughed at that. "Okay, fine. And the- non-sex stuff went well too?”

 

“Really well. We went drinking, we had dinner, and we just walked, and we saw the V and A and he bought presents for his daughter. He even held his own with Lorca and, God, that was a potentially awkward conversation. Is it that obvious I’ve fucked him?”

 

For a long while, Hikaru just stared out at the sky ahead, a blank expression on his face, and Jim grimaced.

 

“Wait. I told you about that. Didn’t I?”

 

“That’s not- Hikaru rolled his eyes, his jaw set and Jim stared at him. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was mad. But what could be possibly- “You introduced him to Lorca before me?”

 

Oh.

 

Fuck.

 

Even Jim knew that was really bad, that it wasn’t anger he was looking at but a deep-seated hurt. And he had no idea how to fix it. Whatever he said, the fact would remain that he had thought nothing of it at the time. He hadn’t even considered his best friend. And he looked like he was about to cry. Jim felt terrible. Even after their recent disagreements, the cautious distance between them, it shouldn’t have happened that way.

 

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. It just sort of did. And-“ Jim pulled a face, because he was about to make it all way worse- “You actually have met him.”

 

That made hard, dark eyes focus on him. “What?”

 

Jim swallowed. “You remember that night those guys started on Gaila?”

 

“When you ended up in the hospital?”

 

“I couldn’t say anything at the time. He would have ended up in trouble and- I told him. About my past and- Frank. I had no idea if he’d even want to see me again. Especially with his daughter.”

 

“Jim.” Hikaru’s expression had creased in unwilling sympathy, and he reached across to squeeze Jim’s shoulder. “This sucks. All of it. What the fuck is happening to us?”

 

“I don’t know. I want to fix it.”

 

“Me too.”

 

“I’ll invite him over when we get back.”

 

“You don’t have to.”

 

“I want to. You’re a huge part of my life, ‘Karu, I don’t want to lose you. I’m sorry I’ve been distracted.”

 

Hikaru sighed, ran a hand through his hair. “I know. I should be happy for you. And I am. I just- I miss my best friend.”

 

“I’m right here.”

 

They just looked at each other, smiling, until the plane hit an air pocket and the floor dropped out from beneath them. They both reached for the controls, adjusting what they could. 

 

“Did I mention he’s terrified of flying?” Jim asked, almost without thinking, his attention mostly on their work.

 

“What the hell was he doing flying to London then?”

 

“It was a work thing.”

 

“And his work paid?”

 

“Uhh, they paid for economy. I got us bumped up. There was space.”

 

“And you’d fucked the captain.”

 

“Maybe it was fate that I did.”

 

“This boyfriend of yours know about you and me?”

 

“Uhh-” Jim’s voice went shrill.

 

“Jim.”

 

“I haven’t said anything but he figured Lorca out in about two minutes of unrelated conversation, so…”

 

“Was he alright with it?”

 

“Uhh, sort of? I mean, he didn’t make a fuss at the time but he got pretty intense later.”

 

“Was it weird?”

 

“I mean, it was weird, but it was also awesome. He got sort of possessive but in a sexy way, not in a domestic violence sort of way.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“He basically told me I was welcome to my memories and my thoughts, as long as he was the only one I was with physically.”

 

“Sounds reasonable. Wouldn’t go so far as to say awesome.”

 

“He took a little time to, uhh, overwrite what I did with Lorca. Y’know. With sex.”

 

“What does he look like?”

 

“Don’t picture it.”

 

“He’s hot, though, right?”

 

“So hot.”

 

“And I’ve met him?”

 

“His hotness may have been overshadowed by the fact that he was telling you off for being obnoxious in his ER.”

 

“In his- you hate doctors! And- it was not overshadowed but I promise to stop thinking about that.”

 

“I didn’t meet him at the hospital, that was just a weird and terrible coincidence. I met him on the train going to those stupid training sessions.”

 

“That’s such a cliché. Meeting on public transportation?”

 

“A woman left her child in our care because she thought we were a gay couple.”

 

“Are gay couples intrinsically more trustworthy than any other couples or single people?”

 

“Yeah, I thought that was weird too.”

 

“Well, I can imagine him being intense, now. That accent’s nice, too.”

 

“Yeah, it is.”

 

Hikaru looked over him then and must have seen something in his face -Jim had no idea when he’d got so easy to read- because his expression softened. “You really like him, huh?”

 

And suddenly Jim could do nothing but flush and nod, looking away because there were tears pricking at him eyes and what the hell was wrong with him?”

 

“Jim.” Hikaru sounded hesitant, and he was one of the least tactful people Jim knew, so what was coming had to be bad. “Do you love him?”

 

That seemed like as a good a time as any to get reacquainted with what a panic attack felt like.

 

Distantly, he was aware of Hikaru telling him to breathe, which he knew, thanks, if it were that easy he’d be cured, and that everything was okay, which of course it wasn’t. He was terrified, because he was doing something he’d sworn he would never do, and while he could no longer justify that with a childish selectivity, the instinct remained to flee, to stop whatever was happening before he was stuck with cold, dead eyes like his mother’s.

 

Hikaru’s voice was a familiar hum that wouldn’t resolve into words, Jim’s breathing choppy and gasping because nothing was getting through, no oxygen to his brain and he was going to die there, loving Bones with no idea how to tell him or how he could possibly feel the same way, but he would be sad. Jim couldn’t leave him like that, with no explanation or resolution to the relationship after what he had been through, struggling to explain his dead boyfriend to Jo. God, his heart was going to explode. He didn’t understand how he’d even made it so far, surely the human system couldn’t take it, kind of wished his body would just get it over with if it was going to give up on him just when he had thought things were going well.

 

“Jim!”

 

Pavel’s voice. It was unusual for him not to call Jim Captain. Jim reached for him and held, just to feel something that was warm and alive when nothing else made sense. With slim, wiry fingers, Pavel forced him to release his grip and he almost flinched back, stunned and rejected before Pavel just redirected his hold. Jim wrapped his fingers around a delicate wrist, pushed the pads into a slow, steady pulse point and laid his palm over the dip of Pavel’s sternum. His chest rose and fell beneath Jim’s touch, slow and steady.

 

“Focus on me. Breathe with me. Trust me. You will be fine.”

 

Jim sobbed, but did his best. He couldn’t possibly make things any worse. He breathed, long and slow, and he imagined the steady pulse beneath his fingers was his own.

 

“You’re doing well, Jim. Just a little longer.”

 

His eyes started to sting at that, because he wasn’t, couldn’t possibly be, curled up and unable to handle the realities of life when everybody else managed just fine. But Pavel only made a sympathetic sound and pulled him in, to rest his head on a slim chest, ear pressed against that steady heartbeat.

 

“Do not worry. I have you.”

 

Jim really wanted to believe that, hoped Pavel wouldn’t be hurt that he couldn’t. He managed a weak squeeze of a tiny wrist. God, he should really not have been the one receiving cuddles in that situation.

 

Eventually, the world filtered back through into his senses, some of the weight lifted off his chest. He heard Hikaru making an announcement about turbulence, requesting everyone take their seats, and managed to reconcile the shaking of his body with that of the floor.

 

“Sorry, Pavel,” he muttered as soon as he could spare the oxygen, straightening his back to rest his head on a bony shoulder and hug, rather than cling.

 

“You have done so much for me. I am glad I can help.”

 

“Ugh.” Jim forced himself into a sitting position to give Pavel a grateful if watery smile that belayed his tone. “I’m okay. Just- kind of embarrassed now.”

 

“You don’t need to be.” Hikaru’s voice, although Jim couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact just yet. “My fault, I shouldn’t have pushed. Definitely not here. And probably not at all.”

 

“It’s a reasonable question.” Jim tried to tell himself. Why was he on the floor? He levered himself back into the Captain’s chair he didn’t at that moment feel like he deserved.

 

“You are messed up from all your travel.” Pavel stood at his shoulder ran a hand through Jim’s hair to correct it and reassure him. “I’ll get you some food and some coffee.”

 

Hikaru pulled a face at that, shot Jim a look. “Maybe no caffeine right now. Could you nap?”

 

“Maybe ten minutes.”

 

Pavel nodded and he and Hikaru exchange conspiratorial looks Jim didn’t have the energy to decipher. “Then I will bring them in a while. You both take care.” He squeezed Jim’s shoulder, nodded to Hikaru and left the room, steady on his feet despite the movement of the floor.

 

The nap question had been appropriate. Jim suddenly felt exhausted. “You good for ten?”

 

“Hey, it’s not like you’re vomiting. I’ll wake you up in forty-five.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Are you at home?”

 

It wasn’t an entirely unusual message for Jim to receive. He could, after all, be anywhere in the world at any given time. The sender, however, was a number he didn’t recognise. He didn’t imagine that would bode well.

 

At least he was at home, he thought, accepting the bottle of beer Hikaru brought him and taking a sip before he wedged it between his legs and picked up the console controller. He texted with his left hand while he navigated the game menus and waited for it to load.

 

“Depends. Who is this?”

 

The response came almost immediately: “Its Jo.”

 

Jim choked on his beer. He could only imagine she’d stolen her dad’s phone at some point to grab his number, and although he admired her initiative there was something inside him that made him feel a bit uneasy about texting a seven year old. That was not something that men his age should really be doing. He wondered if Bones knew.

 

The screen indicated Jo was typing more, so he shot off a quick, “You okay?” To show he was paying attention then waited, absently going to sip his beer before pausing with it lifted halfway to his mouth. If texting a seven year old was bad, doing it with alcohol in his system was worse. He set the bottle on the coffee table as he waited.

 

“Were okay but my dads not here and hes not answering his phone but mom needs to drive home were you coming over tonight?”

 

“Shit,” Jim said out loud, grimacing when Hikaru eyed him curiously. “Bones’ daughter is at his place but can’t get hold of him. And her mom needs to get back.”

 

“Can’t you go over there?”

 

“He was coming here.”

 

“Then bring her here. She can sleep alone or with her dad and I’ll take the couch.”

 

“What about Scotty and Pavel? They’re coming over for dinner.”

 

“He’s got an air mattress. We’ll have a sleepover.” Hikaru shrugged, then pulled a face. “I’ll hide the booze.”

 

“Alright.” Jim sighed. “Worst comes to worst we can take her back to Bones’ in a cab.”

 

He texted Jo his address and asked if she could be dropped off, running through plans in his head. “Is it okay if she takes my room? It’s probably more familiar.”

 

“Sure. I’ll change the sheets. Needed doing anyway.”

 

“Thanks, man.”

 

Provisionally texting Scotty, Jim nearly dropped the phone when it began to ring, the call from another unknown number.

 

“Hello?” He answered, just in case.

 

“Jim. It’s Jocelyn.”

 

“Oh, hey, Jocelyn.” Okay, now his boyfriend’s ex-wife had his phone number, nothing weird about that at all, never mind the deeply alarmed look Hikaru was giving him. “Bones had some emergency surgery his boss couldn’t do for some reason and he’s in early tomorrow so he was gonna stay with me tonight. Is it alright for you to drop Jo off here?”

 

“Do you know anything about children?”

 

“Uhh, I mean, I’d probably be a bit lost with a baby, but I can stay sober, hide the tide pods and not feed her after midnight as well as the next guy. And my roommate’s here too, so between us I’m sure we can handle anything Jo might throw.”

 

“Where would she sleep?”

 

“In my room. Hikaru’s just changing the sheets and I promise there’s nothing unsavory stuffed beneath my mattress.” No, it was in his bedside table, which he would be emptying before Jo arrived because he had no desire to explain lube or condoms or any of the other anal penetration paraphernalia he had in there.

 

“She needs to have dinner.”

 

“We were going to order takeout. Maybe pizza or Chinese. Ooh, or Thai. We should get Thai.”

 

In the background of the call, he heard Jo clap. “I want Pad Thai!”

 

“Something with vegetables too, please.” Jocelyn added.

 

“Not a problem. So we’re on for a sleepover?”

 

Jocelyn sighed, tired but apparently good-natured. “We’ll see you in half an hour.”

 

Jim doubted it, unless she was a rally driver with an immunity to city traffic, but he let her dream. “Sure, see you then!”

 

“Does she know you’re boning her husband?” Was the first thing Hikaru asked when Jim joined him in the bedroom to empty his drawers of anything questionable. Along with his aforementioned paraphernalia, a box of caffeine pills and his laptop went into a bag to be stashed on the top shelf of the hall cupboard, behind piles of ski gear.

 

“She does not. Bones made it sound like even if he told her, she wouldn’t believe it. Not really a consideration in Georgia.”

 

“Bizarre.” Hikaru pulled out the two bottles of scotch that Jim had thought he’d hidden pretty well and added them to the pile. “What about Jo? You just her daddy’s friend?”

 

“At the moment, yeah. I mean, I wasn’t here the last time Bones saw her, so it’s not like I’m always around. Maybe if we moved in together or something.”

 

“He go back to see her in Georgia?”

 

“I-“ Jim paused, frowned. “No. He doesn’t. She always comes here. I wonder why. I mean, Jocelyn’s nice enough but that’s pretty accommodating, doing that drive every few weeks for a couple of days. Maybe she’s got a new boyfriend or something.”

 

“Maybe.” Hikaru sounded unconvinced, but he knew better than to pursue any stepfather related topic with Jim and just threw the dirty sheets into the laundry hamper. “Can you see if Scotty’s got a spare fitted sheet?”

 

“Sure.” Task at hand, Jim reminded himself. Mysteries of Bones’ personal life later. It wasn’t like he’d exactly overshared either. He certainly wouldn’t be taking Bones back to Iowa anytime soon. The thought made him shudder.

 

They spent the next forty five minutes just cleaning, taking out the recyclables, hiding anything vaguely pornographic. Basically making it look less like an apartment occupied by two guys who were rarely home, barely cooked and drank a bit too much.

 

Entirely too much, Jim corrected as Hikaru’s own stash of Japanese whiskey joined his in the closet. Where had he been hiding that? 

 

The effort felt entirely justified, though, when Jocelyn arrived. Jo gave Jim a hug, which was adorable, and stared with wide eyes at Hikaru, uncharacteristically shy, which was hilarious. Jim showed them both around, did his best not to flinch when various cupboards and drawers were opened, their contents examined critically and ignored Hikaru’s many and varied expressions of general discomfort with proceedings.

 

Thankfully, Jocelyn really did have to be going and although her departure left a moment of potentially awkward silence, it was nothing a few energetic rounds of Mario Kart couldn’t fix. For two people who regularly displayed impressive hand-eye coordination and dexterity, Jim and Hikaru were both embarrassingly easily beaten by Jo who, in true seven-year-old-only-child-of-divorced-parents fashion, was not a gracious winner. She wouldn’t even consent to playing any other games until Jim had fetched her a drink. He made lemonade mixed with grenadine so it was pink, in some bizarre bowl-shaped cocktail glass he thought had been in the cupboard when they moved in, and stuck an umbrella in it, must to her enormous delight. She let them play Tekken after that.

 

By the time Scotty and Pavel arrived, she had cycled through all the female characters and roundly kicked Jim’s ass -sorry, his butt- although at least Hikaru was holding his own. Until Pavel threw himself down on the sofa between the two of them and began coaching her, anyway. At that point she just became unstoppable.

 

“Millennial kids are insane.” Jim shook his head, exchanging a look with Scotty from where they stood at a safe distance, Scotty sipping on his first beer and Jim with a larger glass of the grenadine lemonade. It actually wasn’t bad, and it meant he had something to keep his hands occupied. He was well aware that he had been given a huge responsibility and any errors might really affect his chances with both Jo and her father. He had no intention of making any errors.

 

Of course, nobody did. That was why they were errors and not deliberate acts. And wasn’t that just endlessly reassuring?

 

She didn’t like broccoli either, which sort of scuppered his plans for convincing her to eat vegetables. In the end, she picked the butternut squash out of a mild yellow curry and shared the sauce with the rest of the table, who got through it quite happily. Jim kept his eye on her throughout. Although of course he wasn’t concerned about the behavior of any of his friends, he knew the crowd of them could be overwhelming. But she held her own, even if she had better table manners than anybody else and she seemed baffled by their propensity to eat off one another’s plates.

 

Amidst all that, Jim tried not to worry that he hadn’t heard from Bones. He’d sent a few texts to update him but knew his phone would be in a locker during surgery. He wasn’t concerned enough to ring the hospital directly and risk him being distracted while operating, so he just waited.

 

Well, he didn’t just wait. He maintained order and prevented a food fight when Pavel kept picking at Scotty’s food. He fetched drinks and kept track of alcohol levels. He made sure food was packed away and he gathered ingredients for Scotty’s dessert production. He also confiscated half of them again, because he was aware that deep fried Mars bars were not a treat to be dished out in large portions.

 

Jo enjoyed her smaller pieces anyway, although she had turned her nose up at the idea while Scotty was preparing them, watching the whole process from her perch on the dining table, swinging her legs. She had been chattering away, happy and social.

 

Which was why Jim was deeply concerned when she fell silent, suddenly coming to curl up beside him and only vaguely engaging with the others. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and felt her curl against his side.

 

“You tired, Jo-hannesburg?”

 

She still had the energy to pull a face in his direction at the nickname, which he counted as a win, but she didn’t reply. And it was a little late, but Jim didn’t think that was it. If anything, he thought she was tense and guarded, although he couldn’t imagine why. There was nothing that anybody had said -and he’d been listening carefully- that would obviously have upset her, but Jim knew better than anyone that a child saw and heard more than anybody thought. She could easily have picked up neuroses throughout the mess of her parents’ divorce.

 

“C’mon, you wanna see where you’ll be sleeping?” He asked, and hauled her up into his arms at the first hint of affirmation to carry her through the hall. “This is my room.”

 

She still peered around curiously at his fairly standard room while he plopped them both down on the bed. Glad to smell the clean sheets and see nothing contentious, he let her sprawl out on top of the covers and sigh.

 

“What’s wrong, huh?” He asked, laying back himself across the bottom of the bed, by her feet, and staring up at the ceiling. He was aware of her examining him, considering whether or not to speak. He wouldn’t blame her if she chose not to, although it would drive him insane until Bones got there and could talk to her himself. It went against some strong impulse in his mind to leave her stewing, stressing. A seven year old should have nothing to worry about. He wanted to get his phone out to make a note of his thoughts, like Dehner had told him, but didn’t want to convey disinterest. In that moment, Jo's issues came first.

 

“I don’t like it when people drink.”

 

Jim’s heart squeezed and began to pound. Alarm bells rang in his head. He wanted to punch something.

 

He took a deep breath. “We can stop drinking now, if you like. Would that help?”

 

“No, it’s not-“ Jo made a frustrated sound, curled on her side to face Jim so he looked back at her. His heart broke at the sadness in her expression. “It’s just- beer is okay. And wine. And, like, nice drinks. Pretty ones. Just not…”

 

Yeah, Jim knew plenty of people who got much less fun after drinking spirits, too. “Just spirits? The strong drinks,” he explained at Jo’s confused frown, and she nodded, pressing her face into his blankets. Vaguely Jim realized that Scotty must have brought a bottle, poured himself a glass while he was doing what apparently passed for cooking in Scotland. It was hardly enough to get him drunk, but Jim knew that the association could remain nonetheless. “You know someone who drinks?”

 

He was struggling to keep his voice steady by that point, had to tell himself that losing his cool would do nothing but alienate her. The best thing he could do at that moment was to listen. That was all he had wanted someone to do when he had been young. Someone to listen to him, to believe what he had said.

 

Jo’s expression had shifted to deeply guilty, though, and he knew he had asked the wrong question. Culturally, especially the way she had been brought up, children were told not to tell tales, to only say nice things about people. So he tried a different tack.

 

“Scotty drinks sometimes. Maybe a few glasses in a night. When he drinks, he talks more, and his accent gets stronger. Sometimes he hugs people, even when he wouldn’t usually.” Jim saw a bright eye peering at him and did his best to smile reassuringly. “Hypothetically- I mean, if you pretend you know a person. And they drink too much whiskey. What happens to them?”

 

Jo frowned, but thoughtfully, eyes watery, “They get- quiet. They don’t talk anymore. They just sleep. And then they wake up and drink some more. They smell funny. And even when- when you ask really nicely, they don’t want to play with you.” She was crying then, and Jim wasn’t a psychologist but he felt like he had to let her, shuffled around on the bed until he’d wormed to within arm’s reach and let her reach out, holding her in his arms once it no longer felt like his idea. She was so tiny. Without shushing her, because emotional release was healthy and they were in a safe space, he muttered his best efforts at reassurance into her hair until she quieted on her own. All he could think was that he was so glad nobody had hurt her any worse than that.

 

Jim spoke, when Jo showed no signs of doing so. “What you’re talking about sounds like they’re an alcoholic. Maybe they’re depressed. It means there’s something wrong with their brain that makes them sick. It’s not just regular drinking.”

 

“He was sick?” Jo sniffled, wiped her nose on Jim’s shirt and he tried his best not to grimace. “Why didn’t he see a doctor?”

 

“Well, I don’t know who you’re talking about, okay, so I’m just guessing. But when your mind’s all wrong, it’s really hard to talk about it. Especially for men, who are always told they have to be strong and tough. Depression makes you feel like you’re the worst person ever. You get worried that nobody’ll listen to you. And you feel like nobody cares. Including doctors.”

 

“I didn’t know that. It sounds awful. What- what makes it happen?”

 

“There’s not always a reason. But maybe something really bad happened.”

 

“Like his dad dying?”

 

Jim sighed. “Yeah, that’ll do it. Not always. But if there are other things as well...”

 

It was with a very small voice that Jo asked, “Was I one of those things?”

 

“No. Never, Jo. It is never your fault if somebody else feels that way. Only if you tried to hurt someone would it ever be anything like that, and I know you wouldn’t.”

 

“Okay.” Jo pulled back. Her eyes were red, her face damp and blotchy, but she wasn’t nearly as snotty as Jim had been worried about.

 

“Does your mom know about all this?” He had to ask, had to know somebody was doing something if he was going to convince himself not to push.

 

Jo’s little quirk of a smile was already world-weary. “Yeah. They used to argue a lot. When they thought I wasn’t listening. She said it wasn’t his fault. But she asked him why he couldn’t try harder for her and for me.”

 

“What happened after that?”

 

Jim’s utmost relief at the continued use of the past tense was short-lived, because Jo’s answer was a snort and: “She divorced him.”

 

 

 

 

Well, shit.

 

Jim had no idea what to think. His brain had apparently decided on everything, but he couldn’t pin any of it down for long enough to resolve any of it. He managed to get Jo into sleep clothes and through the bathroom, then back to bed where she smiled gratefully at him before passing out. It had been a long day for her, with all of the travelling.

 

Of course, then there was the added anxiety about whether Jim had done the right thing having her over. He couldn’t help wondering if maybe he should have just taken her to Bones’ apartment where she had her own familiar space and privacy.

 

“She okay?” Scotty asked when Jim wandered back through to the living room. He was, indeed, sipping on a tumbler of scotch, and Jim pushed down the rising emotion that felt like anger, because that wasn’t fair. He didn’t know. None of them had known. And it wouldn’t help to chastise anyone for living their life. He just had to explain without betraying the confidence Bones had unwittingly placed in him.

 

“She’s got some- association issues with the whiskey.” And if Jim hadn’t been entirely reconciled to his friend’s good intentions, his suddenly horrified expression proved it. “Not your fault, just sounds like she saw someone go through a pretty bad stage in their life. I’ve told her it’s not just about that, but no idea if I helped. Fuck-“ Jim put his head in his hands for a moment. “How do you explain depression and alcoholism to a seven year old?”

 

“Well-“ Scotty was still eyeing his glass guiltily- “If she’s sleeping, sounds like you did a pretty good job.”

 

“Maybe this was too much for her.” Jim sank onto the couch, pulling his legs up beneath him, leaning against Scotty’s side. God, he was supposed to be the adult, there, not the one angling to be held, but he felt like he was going to fall apart and the arm Scotty slung over his shoulders was the only thing keeping him together. “The hell am I going to say to Bones? I’ve overstepped so much.”

 

“You haven’t, Jim. It came up and you dealt with it. No way you would have been anything but honest with that girl.”

 

“But- aren’t there lies you’re supposed to tell kids? To protect them, or something?”

 

Scotty sighed. “Sounds like it’s a bit late for that already.” He paused to consider his words for a moment. “Did you do what you would have wanted somebody to do for you at that age?”

 

He squeezed Jim a little tighter when he saw the tears in his eyes, beginning to fall as he nodded, a couple just silently slipping down his cheeks because it was awful that Jo had seen such terrible things but sometimes life worked that way. More than anything, Jim was just glad she had somebody to help her through it. It almost made him feel grateful for everything that had happened to him, if it had taught him how to help her.

 

Hold up.

 

“Where are ‘Karu and Pavel?” He suddenly realised why everything felt so quiet, although he was glad not to hear arguing at least.

 

“Kitchen. Just catching up, I think. They’re friends, before anything else.”

 

“Anything else?”

 

“Maybe.” Scotty shrugged, aborted a sip of his scotch then rolled his eyes at his own behavior and downed it.

 

“You okay with that?”

 

“Ask me in a week, when we see how long it lasts.”

 

“Maybe a sleepover wasn’t the best idea.”

 

“No shit.”

 

Jim nudged him in the ribs. “And yet you came anyway.”

 

“Somebody has to be the grown-up here. You can invite Gaila next time. She’s much better at this sort of thing.”

 

“She’s coming over for dinner soon with Spock and Uhura. Although I’m kind of hoping for a lack of drama. Are all relationships this hard?”

 

Scotty snorted. “Every single one. Did you ever wonder if it was worth it?”

 

“No,” Jim said without even having to think about it. Sure, he would have liked things to be easier, for them to be able to spend more time together with less competition for their attention -Jo wasn’t a competitor of course, just a bonus- and fewer shadows hanging over their pasts. But there had never even been a moment when he had considered not trying not continuing to build on what he had with Bones. Even this latest revelation, the unimaginable grief and despair that had driven Bones to drink himself into unconsciousness every night, made him think about nothing but how they’d get through it together.

 

He hadn’t even known Bones’ father was dead, had no idea if Bones had read far enough into his own records to know find out that his was, too. It made him wonder how he would have reacted if his father had died when he was old enough to drink, whether the endless years of rebellion and pushing boundaries might have come upon him all at once.

 

He was racking his mind for memories, for hints that Bones’ relationship with alcohol wasn’t as healthy as it could have been and drawing a blank when his phone rang. He regarded Jocelyn’s name and number with some trepidation before answering, keeping his voice low.

 

“Hey, Jocelyn. We got her to bed a little while ago. Sorry, should I have called?”

 

“No, I just wanted to check up. Has she behaved?”

 

“She was great. Put away so much dinner she hardly had room for dessert. Kicked all our butts at video games. Was she born with a controller in her hand?”

 

“Not quite, although thank you for imagining my daughters birth. I’m glad you’re getting along. I’m- glad Leonard has someone to help him. I was worried about him, all alone in that big city.”

 

“Well, he’ll have me for about as long as he can stand it.” Jim reassured her, then suddenly thought. “Oh, how long is she staying for? I’m free tomorrow, while Bones works, but then I’ve got like a week in South America.”

 

“She’s just a little early for two weeks vacation. Leonard has the time off after tomorrow, don’t worry. Plenty of time to recover from your little sleepover.”

 

Jim laughed, hopefully a bit less nervously than he felt. “To be honest, I think I’m the one who needs a break. I spent the whole night terrified I’d do something wrong.”

 

“I’m sure you did great. She likes you. Kids are funny that way.”

 

“Uhh, thanks?”

 

Jim was so busy trying to figure that out that he started when his phone trilled to tell him he had a call waiting. He glanced at the screen. “Oh! That’s Bones, I better go. I can call you back?”

 

“No, that’s fine-“ was there something strange in Jocelyn’s tone, or was that just him? “Thanks again, Jim.”

 

“Not a problem, bye. Bones!”

 

“Is Jo with you?”

 

“Yes, don’t panic!” Although it sort of sounded like it was too late for that particular warning. “She’s in bed at my place, she’s fine.”

 

A long, slow, calming exhalation sounded overly loud through the microphone before Bones spoke. “Thanks, Jim. I swear, Jocelyn usually drops her off when she’s supposed to, you shouldn’t get drafted into babysitting duty again anytime soon.”

 

“It’s fine. We had a good time. Are you coming back soon?”

 

“Just leaving the hospital. God, Jim. I saw all those missed calls and thought something had happened.”

 

“I promise she’s safe, Bones. Sorry we scared you.”

 

“If I’d known Joss might come early I would have left my phone with Christine.”

 

“I thought about calling the hospital. Should I have?”

 

“No, its- sorry, I’m tired. I’ll see you soon.”

 

“Can’t wait.” Jim replied before he could say anything more ridiculous, then hung up. He leaned against Scotty for a moment, received a tighter squeeze then went in search of the others, cautiously opening the door to the kitchen only to find them talking calmly from seats on opposite sides of the table, both with Scrabble open on their phones. Pavel was drinking a mug of the horrendous Russian tea nobody else could stand, and Hikaru had a beer by his elbow that looked mostly untouched.

 

“Hey, guys. Bones is on his way back. And there’s only like a forty percent chance he’ll report me for kidnapping his child, so odds are in our favor.”

 

Hikaru grinned at that. “Isn’t there supposed to be money in kidnapping?”

 

“Knew I’d forgotten something.”

 

“Is she alright?” Pavel asked, then, once he was done rolling his eyes.

 

“Yeah. Turns out she didn’t like seeing Scotty drink whiskey, and I need you both not to tell Bones about that, because I have to talk with him first.”

 

“She’s alright though?” Hikaru frowned, and Jim nodded.

 

“Yeah. It’s all past tense. Misunderstanding. Now c’mon, if you’re playing Scrabble I want a chance to beat you both.”

 

Jim grinned, then excused himself to the bathroom while Hikaru grabbed the Scrabble board, because he had forgotten. Throughout that conversation with Jocelyn, and the one after with Bones, he hadn’t even thought about what he had discovered. It hadn’t made him act or think differently in any way, as though it didn’t matter.

 

But it did. Didn’t it? Shouldn’t it have changed his opinion of two people, to know that they had done those things, that they had been through those experiences and been changed by them. Except they were still the same way he had always known them to be, and he couldn’t convince himself it had changed anything, just because he knew.

 

He was so confused.

 

And, of course, Bones’ first words when he walked in the door were: “I need a drink.”

 

Thankfully he was leaning up against the front door with his forehead pressed to the cool wood, so he missed Jim’s flinch. Even though he knew what Bones meant, that he was wired from hours in surgery and needed to relax, it still touched a nerve. Still, looking at the man, he couldn’t see any trace of the depression that would have driven him before. He’d never even seen Bones drunk, only moderately tipsy when he had been battling the same nerves as Jim on their first date. And even then he’d been darkly witty, a little aggressively affectionate. Jim had never felt concerned about him.

 

“Get you a beer, Doc?” Hikaru called over his shoulder, then, resolutely ignoring Jim’s glare at the address.

 

It didn’t seem to affect Bones, though, who responded with, “Thank you, Captain, I’m more than capable. Anyone else?”

 

“No, thank you.” Pavel offered a smile before returning to contemplating his letters and kicking Hikaru in the shin when he suggested he might do better if he turned his R backwards.

 

“No, ta.” Scotty raised his full bottle with a vaguely guilty expression, Bones unaware both of that and the magnitude of that concussion, since he despised -“that pisswater you lot drink”- American beer.

 

The kitchen felt safer once Jim had closed the door behind them, sure he was the recipient of many sets of rolled eyes at the attempt at privacy. Bones eyed him doubtfully too, but grabbed a beer out of the fridge, popped the cap and took a long swig before meeting Jim’s gaze.

 

“What did you do?” he asked, and Jim wanted to be offended but it was an opening and he was going to take it.

 

“It's just- Jo asked some really tough questions. And I answered them as best I could but I’m not sure if I helped. I think she’s going to need her dad and maybe her mom too when it comes to the many complicated follow-up questions. That’s all.”

 

Bones took another long sip without breaking eye contact, expression contemplative. “Jim. Did you try and explain sex to my seven year old daughter?”

 

“Oh God, no. I mean, we’ve still got another couple of years before that one comes up, right?”

 

“Then, what?”

 

Jim cringed, because it was awful but he was no good and beating around the bush and he hoped Bones would remember how much he liked that about him. “Your brief spiral into depression and alcoholism following the death of your father.”

 

Bones sunk into one of the dining table chairs, closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. When he spoke after long moments, his voice was low. “That’s not how I wanted you to find out.”

 

“It wasn’t ideal for me either, although I recognise it never exactly came up.”

 

“Still, it can’t have been pleasant. How much did she say?”

 

How much is there? Jim managed not to ask. “Just that after your father died, you sort of- stopped. You just drank and slept and- argued with Jocelyn. ‘Til the divorce.” Jim swallowed, because Bones was nodding with resolute calm and appeared to be considering his next words. “Is there more?”

 

Bones nodded again. Jim pulled his own chair out and, on second thought, grabbed them each another beer. It seemed like that sort of conversation and he wasn’t about to get the scotch. He sat within touching distance of Bones, but neither of them reached out. Bones just stared into the depths of his bottle.

 

“My daddy had- well, it’s not really important what, but it’s debilitating. Basically erodes your bodily functions one by one until you die slowly and painfully. It’s treatable, now. Wasn’t then. I was just out of medical school, doing my residency when he was diagnosed. We went round to visit every Sunday for dinner, but suddenly- each of those weeks was like counting down to something.

 

“I- all but checked out of my life, I was in the lab so much, trying to find a cure myself. Jo was maybe three. Old enough to notice her daddy wasn’t around much, too young to understand why. By the end- he was hooked up to every machine there was, just trying to keep him alive. That brilliant mind, trapped in a shell unable to move or breathe unassisted, staring at the wall and shittin’ himself.

 

“The night he went, I was at the hospital.” Bones took a deep breath, downed the last of the bottle and picked up the next one. “It was- not unexpected, but too soon. Too sudden. The autopsy found an overdose of pain medication in his system. All prescribed to him. He’d been siphoning it off, planning. But- of course he wouldn’t have had the strength to do it on his own.”

 

“Bones,” Jim breathed, had to reach for Bones’ knee and suppressed the stab of rejection when he pulled away. “They thought you-“

 

“They didn’t think, Jim. They knew I killed him. They just couldn’t prove it.”

 

It took everything Jim had not to reach out again, still reeling from those words. “You saved him, Bones. Gave him what he wanted. Let him have that choice.”

 

Bones gave a vicious snort at that. “I kept it together, sort of, for a couple of months. They were waiting for me to screw up, at the hospital, so they could get rid of me but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Even- my mama wouldn’t speak to me. She blamed me, said I should’a hung on, that I’d made him worse. Someone keyed Jocelyn’s car. Spray painted ‘Killer’ on our front door. Small town stuff.

 

“They found the cure less than three months after I-“ Bones covered his mouth to suppress a sob or the urge to vomit, squeezed his eyes shut against the unfallen tears. “He could’a made it. They were right. All of them.”

 

“No!” Jim would no longer be denied, pulled his chair up directly next to Bones’, close enough that he could muscle his way in for a tight hug that was finally returned, strong, broad shoulders shaking with emotion. “You didn’t know, Bones. You couldn’t have known. He’d already made up his mind. You loved him, would’ve done anything for him, I know it. I’m so sorry.”

 

Jim apologized because he knew he could say all he wanted, but he hadn’t been there. It was easy for him to comment, to explain it away, but knew better than anyone that guilt wouldn’t respond to logic, especially not one so painfully raw and deeply entrenched. His words and his body and his comfort were all he could offer, but they might not be enough. 

 

Still, he pressed kisses to Bones’ temple, squeezed him as though he could stop the violent sobs by force and endured the cold, heartbreaking tears that soaked into his shirt. He didn’t fidget, or reach for his beer, or even breathe deeply for fear of fracturing the moment, of offering anything but the absolute most comfort he could possibly provide. And eventually, Bones relaxed in his arms, even went so far as to delve exploratory fingers beneath his shirt and tilt his head to kiss Jim’s neck.

 

“Thank you,” he murmured against damp skin before pulling back, beautiful hazel eyes bloodshot and focused stubbornly on the table.

 

“Anytime, Bones. Really. No matter what.”

 

That earned a shaky almost-smile but still no eye contact. Jim managed to take a still-steady hand in his and lift it to press a kiss to the fingers.

 

“Thank you for telling me. I know we haven’t talked about that stuff.”

 

“With good reason.” Bones muttered, watching the tangle of their fingers, then, so Jim raised them to his lips again, willing Bones to look at him, to see how sincere he was.

 

“You’re still everything I want, and more.”

 

“Much more.”

 

“Bones. Stop it. I’m not leaving.”

 

At that, Bones covered his eyes with his free hand and grimaced. “Why the hell not? I shouldn't even have told you. If it ever comes out you’ll be thrown under the bus right along with me. Even Joss- I never told her. She just knew. Could always have denied it.”

 

“That why you never went to therapy?”

 

“One of the reasons.”

 

“I just don’t think it changes anything for us. To know that you did that, before. I trust you to have done the right thing. And if there were ever any doubts, you’ve suffered more than enough.”

 

“Every year they petition the state to have my medical licence revoked. On the anniversary of his death. Over a hundred people.”

 

“That’s not that many. Like, half a plane-ful.”

 

That got a wry, lopsided smile that Jim treasured, even if it didn't quite reach Bones' eyes. “That a standard unit of measurement, Captain?”

 

“It’s good for perspective. How many lives have you saved, Bones? How many people are having a chance at something they would otherwise have lost? I bet they wouldn’t fit on a plane. Not even one of the Dreamliners.”

 

Bones let out a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob, but he let Jim take both his hands and met his eyes readily, if a little guiltily. Jim blazed on, way past caring about propriety.

 

“And you know what? If there’s a fucking miscarriage of justice and you lose your licence, I still have mine. We’ll go abroad and get you a new one. I’m sure those guys at the Royal London would jump at the chance to have you on the team.”

 

“What about Jo? I couldn’t leave her.”

 

“We’ll fly her out. She could go to school there. She’ll have a uniform, it’ll be adorable.”

 

“You’re insane.” But Bones’ voice was warm and his big hands were, too, when he cupped Jim’s cheek and drew him in for a kiss that made Jim’s heart swell fit to bursting with affection for this sensitive, strong man. He whined, entirely pathetically, when Bones drew back, chasing his lips until they met again. He’d been worried after everything and despite everything else that he might lose him. It wasn’t like he knew anything about kids, could easily have screwed up on some tiny little-

 

Bones was frowning, why was Bones frowning?”

 

“Jim have you been feeding my kid deep-fried chocolate?”

 

“A Mars bar is actually mostly nougat.” Fuck, no, abort, “She didn’t have a whole one! Not even half. And British candy bars are tiny. Practically funsize.”

 

“If it makes her sick-“

 

“It’s been hours. And she hardly had any room left after picking all of the squash out of my curry.”

 

“You got her to eat squash? She hates squash.”

 

“Uhh, not as much as she hates broccoli, apparently. Oh, there’s some left, did you want any?”

 

Yes, the smile was back. “What about dessert?”

 

Jim shrugged, grinned. “I can have Scotty start up the fryer.”

 

Bones leaned in to bite at Jim’s lip, viciously, as though that were any sort of punishment.

 

 

 

 

Thankfully Jo wasn’t sick, because the thought had sent Jim into panic spirals that could only be quelled by Pavel threatening to smother him if he didn’t stop fidgeting and go to sleep, and then holding his hand and stroking his hair until he did.

 

Yeah, because Jim really hadn’t thought the whole sleepover thing through. In the end, they had dragged the air mattress into Hikaru’s room and played human Tetris. Bones had gone to share Jim’s bed with Jo but not before glowering fiercely at the suggestion Jim share with Hikaru. He seemed to have been alright with Pavel, though. Jim hoped he hadn’t been misreading that. As little intent as he had towards any of his friends, his relationship was still new. He didn’t want to cast any doubts. So Hikaru and Scotty took the bed, Scotty actually a considerate if somewhat disturbing bedmate, since he generally slumped on his side and didn’t move an inch until breakfast. Meanwhile, Jim and Pavel contemplated whether it might actually have been more comfortable to sleep on the floor rather than a steadily deflating balloon masquerading as a mattress.

 

Still, it was cosy and emotionally comfortable, if not physically. And Bones made breakfast before what he promised would be an abbreviated shift at the hospital, bacon and eggs and coffee that went down a treat.

 

For her part, too, Jo seemed recovered, although Bones’ bloodshot eyes were a testament to the unfamiliarity and excitement of a new place that had ensured they were both awake at a wholly unreasonable hour. Jim had grinned at the helpless affection in his tone despite all that and snuck a brief kiss before sending him out the door.

 

He and Hikaru -who remained unglowered at during daylight hours, apparently- took Jo to the park after that, watched her make friends with other kids and contemplated the bizarre twists in life that had brought them to that moment.

 

“I’m still sort of worried your boyfriend’s going to smother me in my sleep,” Hikaru confessed, as they sat on a park bench nursing lattes.

 

Jim wrinkled his nose. “He wouldn’t do that. He’d make it look like an accident.” He shrugged, suppressed the instinctive unease that role in him at the poor taste of the joke but knew he couldn’t explain it.

 

“You’re- okay, right?”

 

“We’re a couple of months into our relationship, ‘Karu. I think it’s reasonable that he doesn’t want me sharing a bed with my gorgeous, long-time friend with whom I have had a great deal of satisfying casual sex.”

 

Hikaru preened at the compliments, which had been Jim’s intention, but would not be deterred. “If you phrased it like that, it’s no wonder he hates me.”

 

“I actually never told him. He just has a weird sixth sense.”

 

“Well. That’s disturbing. Although he doesn’t seem to have picked up on that one-time thing you had with Scotty that you think I don't know about.”

 

Oops. “What the fuck, man? How am I giving myself away, here?”

 

Hikaru snorted at the innuendo and Jim elbowed him in the ribs, spilling coffee down his own jeans in the process. Damnit.

 

“Can I have a hot chocolate?” Jo, genius girl that she was, saved Jim from having to expand any further on that topic of conversation with huge eyes and an innocent smile.

 

“Not if you’re gonna go back out and run around. If you’re gonna sit and drink it with us then I’ll get you one.”

 

Jo contemplated that. Hikaru stared at Jim as though he’d grown an extra head.

 

“Can Nancy come and do coloring with me while I drink?”

 

“Ask her parents first, and find out if she can have a drink, too.”

 

Jo sped off, Jim making a note of who she approached and watching them closely, trying to appear mild and friendly as he leaned over towards Hikaru. “They’re going to come and talk to us, aren’t they?”

 

“Almost definitely,” Hikaru replied with a similar composure marred by his smirk. “She’ll be calling you daddy before you know it. Those are some negotiating skills you have there.”

 

Jim stared at him for a moment. “She’s a person, Hikaru. I’m just talking to her.”

 

“If you say so. Now, are we an adorable gay couple or hot bachelor roommates, because Nancy’s mom is giving me the eye.”

 

“Just be honest, I don’t wanna confuse Jo.”

 

“Uhh, so you’re her dad’s good friend?”

 

“Shit, I guess so. Wonder how much longer we’ll get away with that.”

 

 

 

 

As it turned out, almost the full two weeks of Jo’s vacation. Sort of.

 

They were at Bones’ apartment, Jo engrossed in writing in her journal about their day spent out at a farm, sprawled out on her bed surrounded by sparkly pens and stickers. Jim and Bones were cooking dinner, moving around one another almost seamlessly in the small kitchen, occasionally pausing for teasing brushes of hands and bodies in the tight space. They had forgotten themselves a little and Bones had Jim pressed up against the counter, kissing him deeply when a little voice piped up.

 

“Gross.”

 

Jim froze. Bones cringed, pulling away slowly, although there was no censure apparent in his daughter’s tone beyond what would be expected of any seven year old stumbling upon two adults kissing.

 

Bones turned and knelt, bringing himself down to Jo’s eye level and she watched, chewing on her lip. “Listen, Jo, sweetheart. I’m sorry we didn’t say anything before, but this is kind of new and scary for us. We didn’t want to worry you, or confuse you. But, Jim and I, we’re friends, and we’re more than that. Jim’s my boyfriend.”

 

For a moment, Jo just blinked, then she pulled a face. “Duh. Is there any more apple juice?”

 

Jim laughed, his grin so wide he thought it might split his face in two, and he got her a glass of juice with her favorite purple bendy straw. She nodded her approval and clambered up on the stool at the counter to drink it, since she wasn’t allowed to take it to her room. Bones was still down on a knee, thoroughly shell-shocked, so Jim received the question.

 

“Did you tell my mom yet?”

 

“No, not yet. We wanted to tell you, first. And- I wanted to get to know you. Without you feeling like you had to like me. Is that okay?”

 

“I like you. It’s okay. Do I- have to keep it a secret?”

 

“No, of course not. We’d never do that to you. Just- okay, you remember when Anna stopped being your friend? And even though you didn’t want to be her friend, it still hurt to see her playing with Lorna instead? Well, maybe when your mom finds out, she’s gonna feel a little sad. You know that’s not anybody’s fault, right?”

 

Jo’s nod was thoughtful, but she slurped down the rest of her juice with a smile and clambered down off her stool. Bones was sitting on the floor by then, and she gave him a hug that was gratefully received before trotting off. Jim watched her with his own soft smile, only vaguely aware that he must have looked ridiculously giddy.

 

“I love you, Jim.”

 

That snapped him back to reality with an involuntary gasp, and he turned to Bones with wide eyes, not sure he could have heard correctly until he saw. It was in the open vulnerability of Bones’ expression, in his relaxed posture, in every tiny gesture every day and each kiss they shared. Holy fuck. That was terrifyingly amazing.

 

“Thank you,” he breathed, because something was swelling in his chest and it had to escape in the form of mundane, meaningless words because he couldn't find the ones that really mattered. And Bones, gorgeous, wonderful, perfect Bones gave him a heartfelt smile that made warmth spread through him, even though it couldn’t have been what he had wanted to hear in return. He seemed satisfied, anyway, with what broken vestiges of emotion Jim could give him, even as he stepped in to brush steady fingers across Jim’s cheekbone.

 

“Don’t panic. I don’t need you to say it. I just couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. I think the world of you. And if it were just us, it would be amazing but the way you are with Jo- with my daughter ever since she was a stranger to you. You’re everything I never dared to dream I could deserve.” His hands cupped Jim’s face, made him meet his eyes and see the happiness and love in them, fierce and undeniable.

 

Jim wanted to stay there forever in that moment, safe and protected, but had to keep moving forwards. He took a deep, steadying breath, and did what he could. “I- do, too. I don’t think I’ve ever said those words. To anyone. You make me want to.”

 

He tugged Bones in by his waistband, hoping the kiss would serve for the moment as an expression of all the things he couldn’t put into words, and was passionately welcomed.

 

They were laughing when they broke apart, to the soundtrack of over-exaggerated retching from the bedroom. While they salvaged dinner, it was an unspeakable relief, a weight off their shoulders to touch freely, although they did avoid all but the chastest of kisses until Jo was definitely asleep and unable to offer comment or criticism.

Chapter Text

Jim loved having Jo around, of course he did. She was amazing, but with her bedroom right next to Bones’, it was difficult for them to ever feel like they were really alone. He missed their quiet intimacy, whether it was likely to result in sex or not, and it only got worse throughout the two weeks she was with them. And as much as Bones tried to hide it, it was getting to him too. He was just a little more tense, pulled away a little too quickly from any lengthy kiss, avoided any threat of conversation about the topic. At least Jim had spent a couple of nights in South America, catching up on sleep and alone time, his most challenging activity playing chess with Spock. He lost, of course, but it was nice to dream.

 

So, Jim did the only thing he could think of. While Bones was in the shower, he swiped his phone and accessed his online banking to check for a time frame and a budget. Then he started looking for apartments. Even a little further out of the city center, they were much cheaper although it was almost impossible to find one with two bedrooms, even tiny ones.

 

Factoring in the outrageous cost of an annual season ticket, too, though, he managed to find a couple along the same train line they both already used. He didn’t think Bones was particularly attached to living in the middle of the city.

 

On a whim, he ran a quick search on what they would be able to afford if they combined their incomes and had to slam the laptop shut in a hurry. There was no point thinking about that so soon. Maybe at the end of a six or twelve month lease, he could consider it again. He couldn’t leave Hikaru to find something else with so little notice anyway.

 

He said goodbye to Joanna a few days ahead of Bones, since he had a flight, and, exhausted though he was, he still found himself tearing up a little at the thought of how much time would pass before they saw one another again. Bones watched them with a fond expression on his face before sending Joanna off to her bed and taking Jim to his to show his appreciation in slightly more graphic detail. While it was a struggle for them to manage penetrative sex without noise that would be violently alarming to a seven year old just one city-wall-thickness away, it was such a relief for both of them to just have hands on one another than Jim doubted they would have made it that far anyway.

 

 

 

 

He and Hikaru got back late, all-but staggering home and collapsing in their respective beds. So when he woke to the smell of breakfast being cooked, even though he was entirely sure that there had been nothing in the fridge except an empty pizza box and a bottle of hot sauce, Jim was briefly disoriented. He could hear conversation, the tones masculine and friendly, too deep and regular to be either Pavel’s or Scotty’s accents. Since when did Hikaru have other friends? He hadn’t mentioned having plans during their long and also delayed flight back.

 

There had better be coffee, he thought as he hauled himself to his feet, vaguely scrubbing at his hair and face and pulling on a clean shirt and sleep pants before emerging into the -Jesus, who opened all of the curtains?- bright, painful, profoundly baffling light of day.

 

Because it was Bones who was sat at the kitchen table with Hikaru, both of them nursing coffee and picking at bacon and eggs, sharing a view of Jim’s laptop screen and he really should have deleted his internet history. He’d been looking for apartments on that thing. Although apparently he hadn’t been the only one keeping secrets.

 

He just watched, for a little while, too tired and sleep-slow to make much sense of the scene before him. His best friend and his boyfriend, who had got off to such a bad start -yes, almost entirely Jim’s fault- were smiling, bumping shoulders, conversing companionably. It was really, really nice.

 

“Oh my God you guys, I have told you both so many times that a threesome just isn’t going to work for me.”

 

Bones rolled his eyes as Jim flung himself into a chair; got up as Jim suffered sudden and vivid flashbacks to the day he had met Bones, sat at the same table with Hikaru and Spock with no idea how much his life was about to change. How much he was going to adore the man who had always known to bring him coffee. He accepted his mug with a grateful smile and pressed against the hand Bones affectionately ran through his hair, noticing Bones took the seat halfway between his and Hikaru’s, rather than where he had been before.

 

Jim narrowed his eyes. “Is this an intervention?”

 

Bones said “No,” at the same time Hikaru said “Sort of,” so Jim turned his suspicious glare on his friend, who had the decency to at least look a little guilty.

 

“It’s not a bad thing.” Hikaru started, had to know about the doubt creeping through Jim’s veins, the way his heart beat faster and his brain tried to tell him to run. “I, and Len, would just like to know what you think about this?”

 

“Who the fuck is Len?” Jim muttered, although he looked obediently at the laptop screen when Hikaru turned it to face him. It was a picture of a house. A big one. All red brick and huge windows. With a doubtful glance at Hikaru ,Jim scrolled through the gallery of photos. An enormous, modern kitchen. Expansive living room with gorgeous fireplace. Bathroom with claw foot tub. At least two more living-slash-bedrooms, one with an en-suite. Two more bathrooms. Loft room. A huge deck overlooking a beautiful green lawn. And a pool.

 

“What the hell am I looking at?” He had to ask, then. Bones was watching him but Jim could only bring himself to meet Hikaru’s eyes.

 

“It’s three stops out, on the train. Really near Spock and Nyota's. Five bedrooms. We’ve always talked about maybe sharing a place with Scotty and Pavel. This could be our chance.”

 

“That’s only four.” Jim pointed out, his mind somehow blank so he couldn’t find the words he needed, because he knew what was happening. He did, and- “This still sort of feels like an intervention.”

 

“Jim, no-“ Bones began, but Hikaru just touched his arm to stop him and he did. Jim didn’t understand when they’d had a chance to become such good friends, when Bones had convinced himself to accept that Hikaru knew what best to say in the situation.

 

“We’re not trying to put on a united front against you, I swear. This is just to prove that we can work together, that we can get along and that’s not something you need to worry about. If you say no, then we’ll look at something else. But it’d be cool, right? The five- and a half of us. All together.”

 

Jim looked to Bones, then, could see nothing but love and concern in his eyes and had no idea why.

 

“You want to live with me?” He had to ask, because it was a big step, wasn’t it? A commitment. Nobody with any sense went after anything of the sort with him, not with his habits and his reputation. It just made no sense.

 

“God help me, I do.” Bones’ wry smile made his eyes light up. “And with the rest of your- ow, damnit!” He shot a warning glare at Hikaru, who had apparently just kicked him under the table and beamed in wholly unrepentant response. “With our insane friends. You’re all away so much I reckon I’ll hardly notice the difference with all the time we spend sleeping over. My day’s that bit brighter when I’m coming home to you, sweetheart. If it’s what you want, too, then I’d like to do it every day.”

 

Jim took a long, deep breath before asking, “Can I think about it?”

 

“Of course.” Bones reached for his hand, and Jim squeezed back as Hikaru grimaced.

 

“There is one condition.”

 

Apparently both Jim and Bones were blindsided by that one, simultaneously turning to eye him suspiciously.

 

“You both have to come to the viewing I’ve arranged for an hour from now. Okay, let’s go!”

 

Despite his confusion, or maybe because of it, Jim couldn’t do anything but laugh. They had never done anything conventionally, the strange mismatched group of them, and he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that they weren’t going to start then. It was sort of the opposite of what they were supposed to be doing as they got older, wasn’t it? Moving into some bizarre child-friendly frat house together? He kissed the bemused expression from Bones’ face and smiled at him.

 

“You heard the man. Let’s go.”

 

 

 

 

Fuck. He loved the house. The house! It was huge, and light and spacious and utterly perfect. Jim was standing in the loft room, his back to the stairs and the en-suite, staring through the doorway into the dressing room that he knew Jo would love for her bedroom when he heard footsteps and hurriedly wiped his eyes. Bones came up behind him and wrapped arms around his waist, as though he knew Jim couldn't have faced him at that moment, kissed the soft spot of skin behind his ear. He hadn’t shaved that morning and his stubble grazed deliciously at Jim’s neck, made him melt into the strong, solid arms.

 

“I was thinking-“ Bones murmured, fingers tracing the gap between the waistband of Jim’s jeans and the hem of his shirt- “That if we put a proper door in, and Jo’s bed was full-size, we’d always be able to get privacy from each other, if we needed it. If either of us was up early, or back late.” He laughed, then, rumbling and low, against Jim’s throat, “That’s in the few moments in between thinking about waking up and coming downstairs to find you, half-naked and wet and dripping on your way out of the pool.”

 

Jim groaned, then let his head drop back onto Bones’ shoulder and shivered at the teeth worrying at his skin. God, he’d missed him so damn much, but- “Half-naked? What’s the point in having my own pool if I still have to wear shorts?”

 

“Depends whether you want to swim in the pool or goad your boyfriend into fucking you next to it.”

 

“I’m pretty sure I have the stamina for both.” Jim couldn’t deny the warmth that still spread through him every time Bones used that word to describe their significance to one another. He turned for a proper kiss, loved every moment but had to make the most of his opportunity to say what he needed to. “I want to find out.”

 

He only had a moment to savour the flood of relief and affection through Bones’ expression before he was shoved up against the wall and kissed hard. In their necessary caution around Jo, who did not need any more mental scarring, they had been holding back. Jim had forgotten how much Bones loved to cage him in and possess him, consume him, was remembering how helplessly arousing it was to be the subject of such passionate attention.

 

“I think they like it.” Hikaru was grinning at the poor realtor, who flushed redder even than Bones in that moment, while Jim laughed.

 

“We like it.” He confirmed, arms still slung loosely over Bones’ shoulders, since neither of them could move just yet without obscenely revealing exactly how much. “Hikaru, would you mind if we met you in the kitchen momentarily?”

 

“Why, of course, James. I would be delighted.”

 

Boned groaned, less sexily, into Jim’s neck as Hikaru and the realtor descended the stairs. “You are a terrible influence.”

 

“I’m going to make you come in every room of this house.” Jim couldn’t hide his grin or resist a final grinding press of his hips against Bones’ that made them both gasp before pushing Bones away and shifting awkwardly to adjust the borderline-painful bulge in his pants. 

 

Doing the same, Bones frowned. “Even the utility?”

 

“Even Scotty’s bedroom.”

 

“If you’re trying to kill my erection, it’s working.”

 

“Not while he’s in it! Unless…” Jim gave Bones a mostly-joking leer, only to gasp as Bones winked and slapped his ass before leaving him standing there alone.

 

He only momentarily considered quickly jerking off to relieve the pressure, really he did. As much as he would enjoy Bones’ horrified eye-roll, he did want the realtor on their side. Who even knew how she would feel about letting the house to five separate men. Who knew what she thought they’d be doing there? Especially after his and Bones’ little display.

 

Thankfully by the time Jim joined their little group on the patio- no, wait, their huge group, what the hell were they thinking, all five of them living together, that was insane- the realtor had been distracted by Scotty’s accent and was engrossed in a conversation about aerospace engineering that even to Jim was mostly indecipherable.

 

Pavel was texting, but he glanced up for long enough to give Jim’s crotch a significant look and then grin when Jim refused to take the bait and look down. He was fine. He had checked on his way down the stairs.

 

“You like it, right?” Hikaru sidled up beside him to ask, then, and Jim stared over at Bones. The wind ruffled his hair where it had been hurriedly neatened after Jim’s fingers had been twisting in it. His skin was clear and golden in the sun, his eyes bright and sparkling. When he caught Jim looking, he frowned briefly and his lips parted in a question.

 

Jim just smiled, warm and fond, and after a moment it was returned.

 

“This was a mistake. You guys are disgusting.” Hikaru mattered, rather uncharitably Jim thought for someone who had brought Gary Mitchell home three times. “You’re not fucking in my room.”

 

Jim grimaced. “You heard that?”

 

“Heard what?”

 

“God, nothing, Hikaru, why are you so tense, do you hear that? I think Bones is calling me. Gotta go, okay bye.” Jim slipped away to Bones’ side, was careful not to touch. He was being good, really. “So I realized something.”

 

“Did you, now?” With probably reasonable suspicion and a raised eyebrow, Bones regarded him, also tense with the effort of keeping his arms at his sides when they were so used to showing their natural affection freely. That was what made Jim pause, because they were in public, basically, and they might have been unconventional but it wasn’t fair to either of them to choose that moment.

 

“I’ll tell you later.” Jim grimaced apologetically as he hedged, tried to explain when Bones’ eyebrow arched further. “I just want you to know it’s not a spur of the moment thing.”

 

Bones looked at him like he was insane, but even that was hopelessly endearing, just another part of Jim’s life sliding into place.

 

 

 

 

Somehow, later, Bones had a completely different expression on his face when once again he looked at Jim like he was insane. They were on Bones’ couch, safe and alone away from prying eyes and judgment. Jim was glad he’d waited, but it felt like a dam had burst in his chest and he couldn’t resist saying it again as he leaned in for a kiss.

 

“I love you,” he said against Bones’ lips, the softest brush of a kiss before he was hauled into a far harder, more demanding one by the man he loved. “God, Bones, I love you so fucking much, thank you for waiting for me,” he choked out between the press of their mouths, barely enough room to breathe, strong hands hauling his body into Bones’ lap before Bones took hold of his jaw and just claimed his mouth, delving deep with his tongue. Jim sobbed as he melted, clinging to Bones’ shoulders and swallowing the wordless rumble of approval that resulted.

 

“So beautiful, darlin’. An’ it’s never felt like waiting.” Bones gave Jim a slow satisfied smile that only spread when Jim traced it with his tongue. “I’ve always known you were mine. Could see it in your eyes and in everything you did for me, for us. Feel it in the touch of your lips, your fingers on my skin, like you were brandin’ in into me.”

 

“Can you feel it now?” Jim bit his lip as he ground down, dragging the hard bulge of his cock against Bones’, yelped and almost drew blood when Bones grabbed him by the ass and hoisted him up, standing with a grunt of effort. “Fuck, Bones, take me.”

 

“Plannin’ on it, sweetheart. But we ain’t making love for the first time on the damn couch.”

 

Jim maybe swooned at that point, or it might have been the way he was suddenly dropped onto the bed. Either way, he felt light-headed and absurdly turned on as Bones stripped out of his shirt, watching him with a focused intensity that made him shiver in anticipation.

 

“You’re fallin’ behind, Jim.”

 

Well, they couldn’t have that. By the time Jim welcomed Bones back into his arms, groaning at the weight of his body pressing him down into the bed, they were both naked. Hot skin collided and slid as they both traced lines and curves with their hands, rocked their bodies together in search of friction. Bones set his teeth to Jim’s neck in deep, blooming bursts of pain that made him whimper and writhe and beg for more.

 

It wasn’t enough. Bones growled in Jim’s ear, “Say it again, darlin’, want to hear you.”

 

“Ah- God-“ Jim’s hips twitched helplessly against the bruise being sucked into his pectoral. “Bones. I love you, please.”

 

“Please what?”

 

“Please, fuck me, I- oh, no, alright!” Jim whined, squirming into the teeth suddenly clamped around his nipple. His cock was so fucking hard against the crease between Bones’ groin and thigh, the building arousal lending a deeper cadence to his voice and shattering his inhibitions. “Make love to me. Be the first.”

 

He flushed scarlet when he realised his own words, but Bones was reaching across to the bedside table for lube, the muscles in his shoulders rippling, his chest heaving with the effort too. It helped to know they were both frantic and desperate, as needy as each other. There was still no urge to run and hide, just to watch the shifting colours in Bones’ eyes as his pupils dilated. With a whimper, something occurred to Jim.

 

“Say it back,” he managed to demand or plead, at a whisper, and Bones’ expression softened. 

 

“I love you, Jim. Never doubt it.”

 

Somehow, without taking his eyes from Jim’s, he was pressing lube-slick fingers inside of him, making him shudder and moan and just watching him as though there was nothing else in the world. Jim writhed against him, body begging for more and taking it in incremental little shifts of his hips, but it wasn’t enough. Bones kissed him before he could voice any objections and, tangling his fingers in sweat-damp hair, Jim let him. He could work with that pace. He could do anything for Bones, just moaned and opened his legs wider and let him gradually stretch him. Having Bones’ eyes on him was heighteningly arousing too, each glance leaving a tingling sensation on his skin.

 

He couldn’t believe so much had changed, just with the utterance of those three words. It felt like nothing could possibly satisfy him but getting closer, having mor skin contact, taking in every detail of Bones’ shifting body and expression and committing it to memory. God, he was gorgeous. A gorgeous, perfect man who was pulling his fingers out, making Jim keen with the loss before thumbing at his loosened hole and smiling fondly at the shuddering wail Jim let out.

 

“Love you like this, Jim. Love you always, but this, here-” Bones paused to push more lube inside of him, stroking his insides with impressive calm. “This moment when you’re on the verge of begging for my cock. So damn beautiful, so needy. You’d do anything for me right now, wouldn’t you?”

 

“Anything, Bones, anything.”

 

“So damn perfect,” Bones rumbled, low, in his ear as he positioned his cock and slid, slowly and smoothly, into him.

 

Jim honestly thought he was going to cry as he was filled, stretched open and vulnerable, so full of love for the man inside of him that he thought he would burst with it. Impossibly, he still wanted more, more sensation or more words to express the depth of his feelings. He settled for hauling Bones closer, clutching him to his chest with his fingernails in his back and kissing him hard and wet. In response, Bones drove deep just as he tangled their tongues together so Jim couldn’t bite down on the whimpers and gasps that escaped him.

 

Not that he could even consider his own pride and decency by the time Bones was thrusting into him, long and slow, the drag of his velvet skin against sensitive nerves almost too much. How Bones was still so calm, Jim would never know, his own body acting without any conscious input from his brain despite his best efforts.

 

“I’ve got you, darlin’, let go.” Bones’ eyes, so full of love and compassion bored into Jim’s, the intensity overwhelming. Jim was floating on a wave of sensation, all good and pure, and Bones held him together until he shattered apart with a sob, hazel-green gaze on him all the while, seeing him at his most vulnerable. His weakness was rewarded with kisses, swiftly becoming vague and unsteady against his lips, his jaw, his throat, the rhythm of Bones’ hips similarly erratic until he groaned, low, and heat pulsed from his cock, that gentle caress and the final, brief swelling inside of Jim making him keen and clutch tighter.

 

Coherency threatened to return but was still a distant memory as Jim managed to roll them sideways and press his mouth to Bones’ in a leisurely kiss that stretched past the moments of getting their breath back, of Bones softening cock slipping free, of Jim’s come cooling and beginning to dry on their skin.

 

“That was amazing,” Jim murmured, after a while, because it had been, Bones was and they could be.

 

“I wanted to take it slow.” Bones sounded a little guilty. “Worship every inch of you and sink into you when you couldn’t stand it another second.”

 

“This is what I needed, tonight. Just you. God, I love it when you bite me. Drives me crazy, Bones.”

 

Bones responded by latching onto his neck, sucking at the skin there until Jim groaned and shifted his hips.

 

“Fuck, I love you. I thought saying it would- release some of the pressure, but I still feel like the words could never be enough, that I can’t put into words how I feel. Is it always like that?”

 

The suction of Bones’ mouth had gradually lessened, as he spoke, but it was only when he stopped that Jim could truly mourn its loss. Gentle kisses were pressed to the skin instead, Bones’ face buried in his throat.

 

“No, darlin’. Not always.” When Bones lifted his head, his eyes shone and Jim wondered for a moment if he’d said something wrong in his ignorance. “But that’s how you know it’s real.”

 

“Oh, Bones.” Jim wrapped his wondrous, sensitive man in his arms, both of them grimacing at the squish of fluids between them. “Doesn’t this feel real to you?”

 

“Any chance it could feel real in the shower?”

 

“No. I want us stuck together forever.”

 

Bones grumbled and shifted, then winced, as well he might with the greater density of chest hair causing him the more immediate discomfort. Jim persevered, until- “Get us clean and I’ll put some more bruises on those pretty, pale thighs of yours.”

 

Jim had hauled them both to their feet before he’d even finished speaking, frankly a victory for them both.

 

And Bones held true to his word, later that night, on both counts, licking, sucking and biting a pattern of purple on soft, sensitive skin until Jim was squirming and incoherent before swallowing down his cock and making him scream.

 

“So damn beautiful,” he murmured against Jim’s hip, his lover pliant and soft beneath him, so different to his usual boundless energy. He got up on his knees to wrap a hand around his own cock, close to finishing already with Jim’s gorgeous, uninhibited moans to inspire him. Jim watched him intently, following the movement of his hand, pink tongue darting out to lick swollen lips.

 

“C’mere,” he rasped, apparently too lazy to move any more than to jerk his head invitingly and open his mouth, warm and welcoming when Leonard crawled over him with cock in hand to guide it between plush lips. Jim moaned like he was the one ring pleasured, then just relaxed his throat and took it, beautiful blue eyes wide and watering while Leonard slowly gained momentum.

 

Close to climax, though, he slowed, daring to ask, “Can I come on your face?”

 

If he hadn’t already managed it twice, he thought Jim might have come from those words alone, they way his back arched and he let out a heartfelt groan.

 

“Yes, please, Bones, do it. Fuck, you’re so fucking hot.”

 

He licked greedily at the come that Leonard painted across his lips, moaned softly when some landed across his cheek, closed his eyes in defense against what lingered on his lashes. Just the sight of him made Leonard’s groin ache gamely, becoming worse when he brushed fingers through the streaks across Jim’s face and Jim opened his mouth to receive them. He licked them clean, lazy and indulgent, half asleep by the time Leonard had kissed him and cleaned him softly with a couple of wet wipes, sinking down onto the bed at his side.

 

“I love you, Jim.” Leonard said, so Jim’s soft smile was the last thing he saw before he fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

Jim really wished Joanna hadn’t been there when it all went to hell. Well, if he was wishing, it would have been best if it hadn’t happened at all. In fact, he probably could have gone back a few more years for good measure. 

 

He didn’t know if he wished Jocelyn hadn’t been there. Bones was at work, and it was still two weeks until they were due to move, so she was picking Jo up from Jim and Hikaru’s apartment, making small talk while Jo packed up her coloring pens. 

 

That was when the banging started. Heavy fists pounding at the front door, followed by shouting. A voice that still made Jim freeze, unable to react even after so many years.

 

“I know you’re in there, Kirk, open this damn door! You’ve ignored your mother’s phone calls for long enough, we are going to have words!”

 

It was a credit to Hikaru, or maybe just how much shit Jim had put him through, that after startling initially he just sighed. “Oh, no.”

 

Jo, of course, looked terrified, as well she might. Jocelyn clearly hadn’t made up her mind just yet, gaze ticking between Hikaru, jaded, and Jim, frozen in shock and panic. He just needed a minute, he did, and then he would sort everything out if only that banging would stop so he could think.

 

“Should I call the cops?” Hikaru asked with enough doubt to suggest he knew the answer before Jim shook his head.

 

“No point.”

 

“Surely your neighbours’ll call them soon enough.” Jocelyn sat down beside Jo, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, and for a moment they all waited.

 

“You can’t avoid this forever, Jimmy!”

 

Jim shuddered at the hated nickname, pushed just a little into the hand Hikaru laid on his shoulder. “They won’t. Guy upstairs is deaf. Girls downstairs used to be illegal. They hate cops. They’d just force the door anyway. I’ll go and talk to him.”

 

He got as far as standing up before Hikaru grabbed his wrist. “No way, man. He’s got no right to do this.”

 

“I know, but- if he gets what he wants, then he’ll stop.”

 

“He’ll take you back to Iowa.”

 

“I know, ‘Karu!” Jim didn’t raise his voice, knew he couldn’t, but it was pretty damn close because of course he knew. He’d lived with it for years.

 

“It doesn’t have to be this way! If you’d just call once in a while!”

 

“Is that your dad?” Jo asked, then, eyes wide and terrified and God, Jim was a terrible person for letting that happen. How was he going to explain to Bones? He was such a fuck-up, should have known better than to try and escape it.

 

“That’s Jim’s step-dad. He’s not a nice person. And he’s a cop, so if we called them, he’d know what to say so he didn’t get in trouble.” Hikaru explained as levelly as he could, while Jocelyn’s lip curled in disgust. Jim wasn’t surprised. He wouldn’t want anything to do with him either, in that situation.

 

“You boys move in two weeks, were you plannin’ on tellin’ your mother?” She asked Jim, her accent sharpened in the same way as Bones’ when he was angry. Or aroused, but somehow Jim doubted that was it.

 

“Yeah. I’d text her. And we talk sometimes. It’s not like we never speak,” he added, unable to help the defensive walls that came up around talk of his so-called family. “And if I call, that’s not enough either. They want me back home, playing the devoted son, getting married, having kids. All that.”

 

Jocelyn’s expression was somehow calculating but also a little sad, “So has he been in here before?”

 

“Hell no.” Hikaru shook his head. “When he’s- been before, Jim’s met him outside. By the car.”

 

“At which point he kidnaps you?” Jocelyn arched a brow, a stark reminder that she had been Bones’ wife for years and his best friend before that.

 

“He gives me a ride back home.”

 

“One you had no intention of taking?”

 

What the hell could Jim say to that? He sighed and shook his head.

 

“Right. Joanna, honey, give me your coat.”

 

“You can’t ignore me forever, boy, you think I’m just gonna give up and go home? Think I’m more stubborn than you?”

 

“What are you doing?” Jim had to follow as she strode out into the hallway, critically examining it. She took the canvas prints off the wall, moved Jim’s leather jacket out of sight and set Jo’s coat on the hook instead, rearranged the shoes so her heels and Jo’s sneakers were the most prominent.

 

“Go back inside, honey,” she told Jim, who physically reeled at the pet name. “I grew up in a small town, too. An’ you don’t get through five years of marriage with Leonard McCoy without learnin’ how to argue. Go on, I got this.”

 

Jim couldn’t move. It had to have been Hikaru who hauled him away, pulled him out of sight as Jocelyn set her jaw and rolled her shoulders and yanked the door open while Frank was mid-rant.

 

“‘Scuse me, but who in the hell do you think you are? You need to get your facts straight, sugar, because I’ve been living here for two weeks, so if you want your boy to call you, maybe try keepin’ track of his address.”

 

“I- well, I’m sorry, did you say two weeks?”

 

“Yeah, two weeks. Just me an’ my daughter an’ my husband, who is due home from work any minute, so you know, so I suggest you take your leave. Because your language and your attitude are not appreciated ‘round here, not ‘round my little girl!”

 

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, ma’am, I think I’d know if he’d moved.”

 

“You callin’ me a liar?”

 

“No, ma’am, not at all, but I keep track of the paperwork for our boy Jimmy, you see. I would’a known if he’d moved somewhere.”

 

“Well, sounds like your boy’s old enough to take care of himself, now. An’ where I come from, keepin’ track of someone old enough to get their own place is illegal.”

 

“Oh, no, ma’am. I’m an officer of the law. But our Jimmy’s a little troubled owing to the loss of his father, early on. I’m just doing my best to take my responsibilities seriously. And maybe I bend a few rules, but it’s all for the best, sweetheart. You’re a parent, you understand. You’d do the same for your kid. Bet she’s just as beautiful as you.”

 

“She’s a driven little thing, that’s for sure. Can’t decide if she wants to be a doctor like her daddy. Or a lawyer. Like her mother. Now I don’t know what sort of agreement you have with this boy you’re looking for, but unless you wanna find out which one of us knows the rules better, you won’t come around here again. Because I’ll bury you so deep in legislation you’ll still be wading when you retire. Oh, and do me a public service, Officer. That boy didn’t leave a forwarding address, so here’s his damn mail. I trust you’ll deliver it.”

 

The door slammed, there was a long sigh, and then bare feet padded back into the kitchen.

 

“I sorta thrust a bunch of junk mail and catalogs at him, hope you weren’t saving ‘em.”

 

Jim probably would have appreciated the joke more if he weren’t on the kitchen floor with his knees drawn up to his chest, busy remembering how to breathe. Hikaru was at his side, arm wrapped around him, Jo leaning her head on Jim’s other shoulder as she held his hand.

 

Bones came back from work to find them still in similar positions, although Jocelyn had stolen cushions from the couch for her and Jo to sit on before she sank gracefully onto crossed legs opposite the others.

 

“What the heck’s going on- Jim! Hey, you alright?”

 

“I’m okay, Bones.” Jim waved away his concerns somewhat ineffectually, vaguely aware that he should have been more conscious of his proximity to Hikaru but too frazzled and exhausted to bring himself to care. “Frank showed up. He’s gone now. Was amazing.”

 

“What? Amazing?”

 

Jocelyn had a bright, melodious laugh. “Not to toot my own horn, but I think that was meant for me.”

 

“She really told him where to go.” Hikaru contributed, as Bones also took a seat on the floor, grunting in discomfort but happily accepting Jo as she crawled onto his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.

 

“Mom was so cool! That man was scary, way scarier than you-“ for a moment Bones looked affronted before seeming to remember exactly what was scary about Frank and reconsidering his position. “But she just talked, an’ she made him go away.”

 

“Well, you should always try for a non-violent resolution.” Jocelyn was smiling, slightly flushed with the praise she had frankly earned. Jim had just enough sense left to remember to be terrified of her, and a little sorry for Bones, who had of course borne the brunt of that vicious force more than once. Mostly, though, he was grateful for that moment. All of them together, surviving against the odds. He sniffled a little, attempted to hide it by burying his face in Hikaru’s shoulder, could feel the burning gaze of Bones’ concern on his side. He needed to hang on, just a little longer.

 

“Alright, sweetheart. Your daddy’s here to look after Jim, now. Time for us to go.”

 

“Alright, mom.” Jo reluctantly untangled her limbs from Bones’, unaided by his unwillingness to let her go. A little sheepishly, he handed her off to Jocelyn, dropping a kiss onto her forehead and making Jim want to cry all over again. Hikaru held him a little tighter, as though he knew, made no effort to help him to his feet or even encourage him to make eye contact. He knew better. Jim was so lucky to have such an amazing friend. One who would take care of him after the argument he knew was coming.

 

Bones offered to walk his favourite ladies out to their car, as though anybody present believed they wouldn’t be discussing what had happened.

 

“He’s gonna be angry.” Jim breathed against Hikaru’s chest.

 

“If he is-“ Hikaru kissed the top of his head- “then he will talk to you like a reasonable person. He won’t hurt you.”

 

Jim knew that was true, he did. So why couldn’t he stop shaking?

 

Bones took some time to come back, crossed to the fridge and poured- what?- juice, which he brought when he knelt in front of Jim. 

 

“Jim, please look at me.” It wasn’t a request. Jim did as he was told, was grateful to see only concern in Bones’ expression, free of censure. “You’re in shock. I need you to drink this.”

 

Oh. He was in doctor mode. Somehow, that was easier. With trembling hands, Jim accepted the small glass and sipped obediently, something inside him warming at the smile Bones gave him as a reward. He didn’t even seem to mind that Jim was still pressed up against Hikaru’s side, which was a relief, because he didn’t feel like he had the strength to move. He felt warm and safe, where their bodies were connected, supposed he had always sought comfort in physical attention. That same part of him wanted to crawl into Bones’ arms and beg for life-affirming sex.

 

It was a little easier to keep his hands off Doctor McCoy. At least it was simple to just do as he was told.

 

“We’re going to get you to the couch-“ Bones touched Jim’s knee at the first sign of resultant panic, his skin hot through Jim’s jeans. “You can sit just like you are now. But this floor is too hard and too cold. I need you to move. Can you stand?”

 

Fortunately, Hikaru had plenty of experience with moving a staggering and limp-limbed Jim, knew how to haul him to his feet and get him where they needed to be. At least he wasn’t also drunk and having to compete with Jim’s usual recalcitrance, that time. Soon, they were curled on the sofa together, and Jim did have to admit it was much more comfortable. Bones retrieved one of the blankets from Jim’s bed, too, draped it over them with a brush of his hand through Jim’s hair before disappearing back into the kitchen.

 

“Your boyfriend is so fucking hot.” Hikaru murmured, then yelped as Jim found the strength to jab him in the ribs. “Oh, come on! The Doctor thing, taking care of you. He hates me way less now, too, think he’d go for a threesome?”

 

Jim had never thought of himself as a possessive person before, but- “If you touch him I will fucking castrate you.”

 

Ooh.” Hikaru just grinned and winked at him, though. “I wouldn’t have to. You could be the filling in our sandwich.”

 

“Fuck, I am starving.”

 

“Good thing your hot doctor’s making you some food, then.”

 

“He is?” Jim craned his neck to peer into the kitchen, where he could hear Bones clattering around, preparing something for him, even though he’d had a long day at work and come home to find his ex-wife and daughter camped out on his boyfriend’s kitchen floor. He hadn’t asked for any of it, and yet rolled with the punches every time, kept coming back for more, for Jim. It was absolutely insane.

 

“He loves you.”

 

“I have no idea why.” Jim nuzzled into Hikaru’s throat, inhaling the comforting scent, relaxed into the hand rubbing long, soothing lines into his back.

 

“Because you’re at the tail end of an emotional roller-coaster. You’ll see it again, tomorrow.”

 

“If he’s still here.”

 

“Oh, he will be. If he leaves you, I’m keeping him.” Hikaru gave Jim’s shoulder a tight squeeze to belay his words. “He knows you. Maybe he didn’t know exactly why you are the way you are, but it doesn’t change how he feels. He wants to live with you. He wants to share your room and your bed and your life, Jim. Please trust in that. Don’t freak out.”

 

Actually, Jim wasn’t sure he had the energy left to freak out, which was probably for the best. He could manage very few words by that point, accepted the plate Bones handed him with an exhausted smile and a soft murmur. “I love you.”

 

He felt Hikaru stop breathing beside him but only had eyes for Bones’ beautiful, soft hazel gaze and adoring smile. 

 

“I love you too, darlin’. Please don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. Now don’t you dare pick the green stuff out of that sandwich.”

 

They put something mindless on the TV while he ate, gradually unfurling from Hikaru’s side to settle comfortably between the two of them. Jim nudged his thigh against Bones’ until a large, warm hand covered it, and he sighed happily, uncaring about Hikaru’s amiably rolled eyes in the face of Bones’ pleased smile. Clearly he hadn’t shaken the possessive urges completely.

 

But it was getting late. When Hikaru got up to use the bathroom, Jim had to ask because he was not in any condition to parse subtext or subtle visual clues.

 

“Can I sleep with you?” He asked Bones, mentally readying himself for disappointment but allowing himself to hope that he wouldn’t be relegated elsewhere pending an argument.

 

“Of course. If you want to.”

 

“I want to.”

 

“Good. You ready now?”

 

Jim considered that. “Carry me?”

 

“No. If I’m putting my back out taking care of you it’ll be doing something too dirty to tell people about.”

 

As little as Jim wanted to move under his own power, he appreciated that he wasn’t being coddled. That would almost have been worse than an outright rejection. So he dragged himself to his feet and welcomed Bones’ arm around his waist, but held most of his own weight as they made their way to his bedroom. Hikaru had left his door slightly open, a message that Jim was welcome if he needed him. For once, Jim wasn’t worried that he would.

 

After both of them had used the bathroom, he slipped into bed alongside Bones, leaning over for a kiss and only hesitating in panic that it might not be welcome at the very last instant. Gently, Bones closed the gap, coaxing until Jim sagged against him with relief. He brushed fingers across Jim’s cheekbone, movements becoming lazy as they both finally relaxed. Jim pressed as close as they could get, tangling their legs together, met the eyes sparkling at him in the darkness.

 

“You wanna talk about it?” Bones asked.

 

“Tomorrow,” Jim promised, watched those eyes close and Bones’ breathing even out as though he’d just been waiting for that moment, kept awake by his love for Jim.

 

Pushing down the anxiety about that promised conversation, the worry that they were just delaying the inevitable argument, Jim closed his eyes too, still as much physical contact as he could manage, and let himself sleep.

 

 

 

 

He woke first, forced himself not to go back to sleep once he saw the light shining through the gaps in the blinds, slipped out of bed to make coffee as quietly as possible and brought two mugs back to their room, leaving the pot out for Hikaru. He would be up soon.

 

Setting the mugs down well out of the way of any potentially flailing arms, he slipped back into bed. Bones didn’t stir, and God but he was gorgeous in sleep, so warm and unguarded, trusting Jim absolutely. Unable to resist, he trailed gentle fingers down a strong, broad chest, unconsciously licking his lips. He thought maybe he should stop, that they had never discussed it specifically, but he had seen the light in Bones’ eyes when he had mentioned it in passing, testing the waters without creating expectation or spoiling the surprise. 

 

His own heart was racing, anticipatory, when he eased Bones’ briefs down just enough to take his cock in his mouth. He was gentle at first, just coaxing it to hardness with his lips and tongue, only the lightest suction. Bones’ breathing had quickened but he wasn’t fully awake yet, and Jim wanted to drag out the loose somnolence of his body for as long as he could, sweetly building the tension and savoring the velvety hardness that swelled to fill his mouth.

 

He was hard himself, let out the slightest little moan as Bones’ hips rolled, the first hint of pressure at the back of his throat. Bones panted but didn’t wake when Jim gradually eased his way down, taking him deep, indulging his own enjoyment of hot, hard skin sliding against the sensitive nerves of his lips, his tongue, the stretch of his throat. He’d sound wrecked, hoarse, and abused for a while, but he loved that, too, the ache of the evidence.

 

When he set hands firmly on Bones’ hips and swallowed, he woke with a gasp and a shuddering groan, the buck of his hips fighting Jim’s hold, forcing his cock a fraction deeper before he quickly recalled himself, slipping back against the bed and letting Jim work.

 

“God, you’re tryin’ to kill me.”

 

Jim couldn’t say that there were far more effective ways in which to do that with his mouth so occupied, so he just looked up. It was very satisfying to feel the resultant twitch of Bones’ cock when he looked back, could only imagine how he appeared with his lips stretched wide, his cheeks hollowed. Gentle fingers traced his throat as though they could feel the bulge there, and being caressed on the inside and out made Jim shudder, his eyes fluttering shut.

 

“So fucking gorgeous, Jim, love how eager you are to get my cock down your throat.”

 

Jim moaned his approval of that, adjusted his posture so he could wrap a hand around his own hard and leaking length, Bones’ words propelling him ever closer to the edge. He gave a little whimper and bobbed his head, taking Bones’ cock impossibly deeper, each thrust stealing his breath and a little more of his composure, certainly his rhythm. Bones did his best to keep up, though, just gentle pushes of his hips, enough to force his cock further so that Jim came with a long, low moan, sinking deeper until there was nowhere further to go than Bones’ cock swelling and pulsing down his throat.

 

Jim couldn’t breathe, held it anyway until he had milked the last from both of them and then lifted off with a gasp, panting. He felt light-headed and sated, allowed Bones to wipe his hand clean with a tissue and manhandle him so he was leaning on that broad chest, listening to his slowing heart rate. He lifted his head to press a kiss to Bones’ sternum, the solid protector of the wonderful heart underneath and felt one pressed to his hair in return.

 

“Please tell me you did that because you wanted to, and not because you feel the need to compensate for something.” Bones said, first, and Jim’s eyes widened. Shit. Was that what he had been doing?

 

“I don’t- think so?” He replied, sitting up to lean across and grab their coffees before meeting Bones’ eyes. He was sure he looked guilty, had no idea if he felt it, could only reconcile that he shouldn’t, because his own behavior was not the problem. Right? Feelings were so complicated.

 

Bones accepted his own mug with what was somehow both a frown and a raised eyebrow. “You know you didn’t do anything wrong?”

 

Jim grimaced at that, did his best to explain. “I know that it’s not my fault that Frank is a full bag of dicks. I just- if I’d done something differently maybe he wouldn’t have had to do it in front of Jo.”

 

“She doesn’t blame you either. She’s worried about you.”

 

“Well, I guess I feel a little guilty for that. And bad that maybe I didn’t fully disclose all of this to you. I should’ve given you the opportunity to keep her away, if you’d wanted.”

 

“How often does he do that?”

 

“Oh, once, twice a year. Thought I had a while yet, he usually doesn’t show up until the holidays.” Jim shrugged, and Bones sighed, ran a hand through his hair. Jim hardly dared to look at him, was unspeakably relieved to see him pensive rather than irritated. Made the guilt -oh, okay, so there was some guilt- a little more bearable.

 

“Joss said- he keeps tabs on you?”

 

“He must know one of the local cops if he is. My address and phone number are about all I tell mom, for Christmas cards and stuff. And we text, intermittently, talk if I can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, or- in January.”

 

“Your birthday?”

 

Oh. Yeah. Shit. “And the anniversary of my dad’s death. Same day. Really puts a damper on the festivities, lemme tell you.”

 

“Jim.”

 

“Yeah, sorry I never mentioned that before now, kinda seems like something you should know about the guy you’re moving in with.”

 

“Well, I know now.”

 

“He was killed by a drunk driver when he was driving my mom to the hospital to give birth to me.” Jim deadpanned it, just had to. Any signs of emotion and some aspect of his control would snap, so he kept his jaw tense and his teeth gritted as he bit his way through the words.

 

“Lord.” Bones sighed, but seemed to sense Jim didn’t want sympathy. “We’re a right pair, aren’t we?”

 

“Yeah, I sorta wish I’d saved the blowjob until after the depressing conversation.”

 

“I don’t.” Bones’ eyes darkened with intent and Jim felt his body respond, despite everything. “Thought I was still dreamin’ for a minute after I woke up, but-“ he leaned across for a dirty, coffee-flavored kiss Jim met with enthusiasm- “my imagination’s no match for you.” 

 

Their coffees went cold while Jim set about living up to his reputation.

 

 

 

 

Their first real argument was about something ridiculous. Or rather, Jim thought it was ridiculous and Bones didn’t, which was the argument. But Bones was paranoid, having suffered a saturation of negative outcomes that warped his perspective.

 

He was also less than appreciative of Jim’s explanation of his behaviour.

 

“It doesn’t change the damn facts!”

 

“No, it just ignores most of them. I’m not like those people you see!”

 

“What, overconfident and ignorant of danger?”

 

“I would argue those are the same thing.”

 

“Would you argue they don’t describe you?”

 

“I know what I’m doing.”

 

“You’re proving my point!”

 

“No, I’m competent, not overconfident.”

 

“You understand what the word means, don’t you?”

 

“Uhh, do you understand what the words condescending and asshole mean?”

 

“Really, Jim? Resorting to name calling? And you’re not gonna distract me when the fact remains that I don’t want you on that damn machine!”

 

“That’s not up to you!”

 

“What, my opinion makes no difference to you?”

 

“Your opinion matters, your demands don’t.”

 

“I’m not demandin’. I just want you to think! The hell would I do if I lost you?”

 

“You can’t think like that. It’s target fixation. If you think you’ll crash, then you will.”

 

“So the alternative is a stubborn denial of reality?”

 

“That’s not my reality.”

 

“Of course it it. More yours than most!”

 

“What. The hell. Does that mean?”

 

“I just thought you of all people would be more aware of-“

 

“Me of all people? Bones, you say one more fucking word about that and I swear to God-“

 

“You’ll what, risk your life on a daily basis?”

 

“Okay, for a start, it’s maybe weekly at most. Just when I need to get to the airport or back when it’s late. The roads aren’t even busy. And I wear a helmet, and boots, and a jacket so I’d have to be pretty damn unlucky to get killed. You’re catastrophizing. It’s not a big deal!”

 

“Will it be a big deal when I have to identify your body at the morgue?”

 

“Okay, stop! I can’t think like that. Look, we’re going in circles here. I’m going out.”

 

“Jim-“

 

“I’m not taking the damn bike!”

 

 

 

 

Jim wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when he came home, but it wasn’t finding Bones in their half-furnished living room playing an aggressively competitive game of beer pong with Scotty. For a moment he just stood in the doorway and stared. Bones was off-balance, disheveled and uncoordinated, entirely unapproachable. Still gorgeous though, the bastard.

 

Somehow Jim managed to remain silent when he was snagged around the waist and hauled backwards by Hikaru who manhandled him into the kitchen. Pavel was perched on the counter and waved, grinning before passing over a beer, contorting to retrieve it from the fridge without moving from his seat.

 

“Your first fight?” He asked, when Jim accepted the bottle.

 

“You heard that, huh?”

 

Hikaru snorted. “You were shouting and we were in the next room. Can’t believe you guys got into it on our first day here.”

 

“Yeah.” Jim sighed, took a fortifying drink. “Sorry.”

 

“You should do it more often, he is very funny.” Pavel smiled over the rim of his glass, bizarrely filled with the same beer everyone else drank straight from the bottle.

 

“He and Scotty are wasted. They actually get along pretty well. Although, uhh-“ Hikaru rolled his eyes at the sounds of good-natured jeering from the next room- “there’s still shouting. This is gonna be fun.”

 

“Well, they’ll be alone when we’re all off flying, so I guess that’s good?” Jim hadn’t realized how much it would hurt to share, as impossible as it was that he could have kept his boyfriend away from his friends. They weren’t competing with him, he knew, and it was important for Bones to have people he could spend time with in Jim’s absence. Still- Jim had been walking for over an hour, just trying to figure out what to do about the newfound rift in their relationship. It would have been nice to know Bones had been thinking about it, at least as much, rather than playing around at drinking games.

 

“So you gonna keep the bike?” Hikaru nudged him out of his stupor on his way past as he unpacked the selection of kitchen equipment from three separate residences and attempted to find a place for it all.

 

“I’m not giving up the fucking bike. You know why.” Jim shot him a brief glare, met Pavel’s curious gaze and sighed. “That bike got me out of Iowa. It brought me here. It’s not just a vehicle. It’s a part of my freedom.”

 

Pavel nodded, and for a moment Jim thought he had successfully finished talking about it, until- “Maybe you should have said that to Leonard.”

 

“Did I not?”

 

Pavel gave him an odd look and shook his head.

 

“Whoops. So- should I tell him now? While he’s drunk? Or in the morning, after we’ve gone to bed without a resolution?”

 

At that, Hikaru and Pavel exchanged a look, and Jim narrowed his eyes. Had Bones said something to them? What did they know that he didn’t?

 

“What?” He asked in the end, when they both avoided speaking, each waiting for the other. 

 

It was Pavel who didn’t look at him as he said: “You will have rough sex and then smile at one another unbearably over breakfast while we take bets on which of you has the most bruises on their neck.”

 

“I- wait, how do you predict that?”

 

“Usually it is whichever of you feels the most guilty. Tonight it could be either of you.”

 

“Why would I feel guilty?”

 

That made Hikaru roll his eyes. “Not about the bike thing. Although, let’s not go nuts. There needs to be some sort of compromise there. Because his last relationship ended terribly and that’s how it started, with ridiculous arguments until one or both of them walked away.”

 

“Shit.”

 

“Yup.” Hikaru left off contemplating their five -somehow- cheese graters to fetch Jim another beer that was accepted in something of a daze as he sank until he was sat on a box of pots and pans. He had no idea if he was grateful to know what he had done wrong, but surely he should have figured it out for himself. He couldn’t believe someone had needed to tell him, that he’d been so caught up in his own side of the argument, so defensive that he’d ignored something that had to be hurting Bones so much.

 

He saw the games with Scotty for what they were, then, an effort to pretend everything was fine because Bones would be so wary of driving Jim away with his persistence.

 

Well, that wasn’t happening. Jim grabbed another four beers -after a moment marveling at their truly bachelor-esque fridge, which contained countless bottles and nothing else- and headed through to the living room. Ignoring Hikaru and Pavel trailing after him like curious puppies and the way Scotty eyed him over the glass of scotch he still impossibly had on the go, he strode up beside Bones to hook an arm around his waist and kiss his cheek. The suspicious look he got in return hurt, but he persevered. He had to earn it.

 

“Anybody up for a game of strip doubles?”

 

“Ah, Christ.” Scotty rolled his eyes, but didn’t move from the table.

 

“Oh, me!” Hikaru leaped up, though, which Pavel waved a dismissive hand in their direction and settled down to watch, folding long legs beneath his body on the massive beanbag everybody had so far denied owning.

 

“What do you say, Bones, you wanna be on my team?”

 

Bones smirked, and Jim pushed the pang down when it came again. “Depends. You wanna win?”

 

The chorus of “Oooh”s settled him a little. They were all still there, all together. There was still a chance.

 

“That’s fighting talk, Doc.” Hikaru was already filling cups, gave Jim a wink as he did. Jim guessed that meant he had to be doing something right. Giving it some time, maybe, wrong though that felt to him.

 

“I’ll back it up, Captain, don’t you worry.”

 

Bones and Hikaru glowered at one another, leaving Jim to roll his eyes and fill his own cups.

 

It was a close match, Bones’ steady hands compensating for Jim’s tendency towards trick shots that paid off just often enough for him to keep trying despite Bones’ increasingly emphatic objections. They played the next round barefoot but won when Jim sank three balls in a row, leveling the playing field. Hikaru won the following round almost on his own, Scotty having slipped just past the requisite drunkenness level himself.

 

He was the one who suggested they take the games outside, taking advantage of their new yard. Jim maybe resisted Bones pulling him away from the barbecue for the sake of the resultant skin contact and didn’t get away with it at all, judging by the vocal but affectionate complaints. Those, and the hard, biting kiss he was dragged into while the others ducked into the garage in search of- something. Jim wasn’t really clear on anything except the smooth planes of Bones’ back beneath his palms, the strong thigh shoved between his own.

 

“Told you,” Pavel muttered to one or maybe all of them on their return, Hikaru wielding a basketball and ushering them towards the hoop at the side of the house. With a groan, Jim disentangled himself and went where he was led, giving Bones a playful shove when he grabbed his ass. Clearly his coordination hadn’t suffered for the games they’d played, although Hikaru was the only one in enough of a state to comment on it.

 

With a deep, rumbling laugh, Bones stepped up, holding out a hand for the ball. 

 

“The more you win, the less you drink. You sure you wanna play this game, Captain?”

 

“I don’t think the skills carry over.” Hikaru shrugged, apparently unaffected by Bones’ arched brow. “Wanna play horse? I’ll let you go first.”

 

He handed the ball to Bones, who had his back to the hoop, turned only his head to look at Jim and the others before musing. “You know, they say you don’t really know someone until you’ve lived with them. You can find out all sorts of things. Like-“ he paused, rolled his shoulders and in one, quick throw, launched the ball into the hoop without even hitting the rim- “they used to play for their college sports team.”

 

“Motherfucker,” Hikaru said, before he caught the ball Pavel had retrieved and considered the distance to the hoop in a new light. He took a moment to shoot a glare at Jim, who was laughing uproariously. “Don’t know what you’re so happy about. This isn’t a team game.”

 

Bones got them all down to their underwear before conceding, claiming no desire to see his new housemates utterly humiliated so early on. Hikaru objected, with true drunken petulance, ignoring all logic until Pavel wrapped him in a blanket and coaxed them all inside to eat pizza and watch the TV that Scotty had been in the middle of connecting. Even drunk, he made short work of the remaining electronics, ate four slices of pizza then fell asleep sprawled across the couch with his head pillowed on Pavel’s thigh.

 

On the floor, Jim watched Bones watch them, trying to place his expression and settling on faintly melancholic, nostalgic, almost like he was missing something that could have been.

 

“I can’t promise we’ll never argue.” He leaned over to speak into Bones’ ear when the action on the screen was suitably distracting the others. “And we’re too drunk to resolve this, but-“ he took a deep breath, prepared to compromise. It wasn’t losing, he told himself and tried his best to believe it- “I promise I won’t take the bike out until we’ve talked and we’re both decided.”

 

Without looking at him, Bones hauled him close, lounging back against the beanbag so Jim’s head rested on his shoulder, Bones’ arm comfortably around his waist.

 

“Thank you, Jim.”

 

He ducked his head to bury his face in Jim’s hair when Hikaru brought them more beers and Jim squeezed his thigh. He didn’t move, even when he felt the dampness against his scalp or when he realized how uncomfortable it was to drink in that position, waited until they fell into bed to kiss the salt from Bones’ cheeks.

Chapter Text

It was parent-teacher night at Jo’s school. That was okay. She liked her teacher. Miss Ambrose was nice, and pretty, and she always explained things properly when Jo asked, unlike Mrs Foster, who had just seemed kind of annoyed. Still, she knew her mother was a little strange about some things, the way a lot of parents were, and some of the kids, too, so she tried to say something while they were in the car on the way there.

 

“She’s really nice, mom. I know you’ll like her. She always has flowers on her desk, in a purple pot, and you know that’s my favorite color, and she has a picture of her partner, who’s so pretty, mom, she looks like a movie star. Her hair is so long, Miss Ambrose says it’s all the way down to her waist but you can’t see that in the photo.”

 

“Oh, what’s her business?”

 

“Her what? Mom! No. She’s the best teacher so I need you to be nice. So you can’t go askin’ her about no boyfriend or nothin’-“

 

“Manners, Jo.”

 

“You’re not listening to me!”

 

“I’m listening, I don’t understand what’s got you so upset. She doesn’t have a boyfriend but that’s not the end of the world, she’s still young and focused on her career.”

 

“She doesn’t want a boyfriend.”

 

“Well, that’s fine too. She’s independent-“

 

“Because she has a girlfriend. Her name is Emily.”

 

“Everybody needs girlfriends.”

 

“Mom! You are so embarrassing. They’re datin’. Goin’ steady. Courtin’, whatever. Doin’ that stuff grown-ups do, like kiss, like you an’ Clay, an’- an’ that’s okay because they’re in love and not hurtin’ anybody, and it’s no-one’s business anyhow!”

 

Jo sagged back into her sear, quietly fuming because she was the kid, she was not supposed to be the one explaining this stuff to grown-ups who should already know it. Wasn’t like it was hard, but grown-ups had a way of making things way more complicated than they needed to be, with quiet comments and funny looks and trying to tell other people what to do even when they were other grown-ups. It was stupid.

 

“Well-“ her mother spoke, pausing to think before she did, for a dang change, “If it comes up, I will be sure to ask her about her partner. Is that the right word?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Okay. Thank you for telling me.”

 

“She’s really nice, mom.”

 

“I’m sure she is.”

 

Well, that was a start. Jo did her best not to sigh. It was no wonder her dad hadn’t said anything about Jim when her mom was so weird about things.

 

Miss Ambrose really was super nice. She always smiled when she was talking, and she stood at the front of the classroom to tell all the parents about what they had been learning, the plans for the rest of the semester . Jo was kind of bored, because she already knew that stuff, but she did her best to sit still and be quiet and respectful, only frowning a little at the two moms at the back who seemed more interested in gossiping than listening. She guessed not everybody grew out of everything.

 

At least her mom was listening. And well-dressed, too, in her pantsuit and her case for her papers. Jo wouldn’t have anything to be embarrassed about, provided her mom had listened.

 

“It’s good to see you, Ms Darnell,” Miss Ambrose said when they were called up to speak about Jo’s progress. That was the other good thing about her. She wasn’t from Georgia originally, had moved there maybe two years ago and Jo’s class was only her second one. She didn’t know any of the story about Jo’s dad, and if she had heard anything it didn’t make her any less nice.

 

“Likewise. My daughter speaks very highly of you.”

 

“I do, Miss Ambrose, you’re my favorite teacher ever.”

 

“Well, good, Jo, I’m happy to hear that. You’re a great student too. She’s been keeping up very well, pretty much top of the class in math, and she’s had no problems with any of the other students. She’s a pleasure to teach.”

 

Jo got the feeling her part in the conversation was over, and while she knew neither of the grown-ups would ignore her, they were saying good things about her. She didn’t want to interrupt. The flowers on Miss Ambrose’s desk were orange, that day, bright with big floppy-looking petals, although she didn’t dare touch. Then she noticed something, and although she didn’t comment, Miss Ambrose noticed her frown. She was good like that. 

 

“Something wrong, Jo?”

 

Kind of cautiously and a little sad, because she already thought it was just one of those grown-up things she had no hope of understanding, Jo said, “You put the picture away.”

 

And Miss Ambrose shifted uneasily, with a nervous look at Jo’s mom, and it was a grown-up thing, an awful one. One that made Miss Ambrose have to hide the fact that she had someone special to her. Grown-ups were jerks. 

 

“Well, people sometimes ask questions about my life when they see it, and I don’t want anything to distract from talking about my students. You’re what’s important today.”

 

“Have you had any trouble from any of the other parents?” Jo’s mom asked then, half friendly concern, half questioning lawyer.

 

Miss Ambrose looked at her for a moment, then at Jo, who did her best to smile reassuringly. “Not trouble, as such. The occasional comment. A lot of questions about when I’ll find a nice man and settle down. But most people just see us as close friends, kind of wilfully ignoring any evidence we’re more than that. Even now we've started living together, people insist on believing we're only roommates. It’s not usually a problem.”

 

“I can imagine that must be- difficult…” Jo’s mom’s eyes went wide, then, and she trailed off even though there had clearly been more that she wanted to say.

 

“Ms Darnell? Are you alright?” Miss Ambrose asked, staring for a moment before she looked to Jo, who shrugged.

 

“It’s okay, Miss Ambrose. She’s just realized my dad has a boyfriend now.”

 

At that, Jo’s mom turned horrified eyes on her. “You knew?”

 

Jo had meant to smile and be gentle, she really had, but what came out was, “Mom. C'mon.” before she managed to control herself. “You’ve always been really nice to Jim. You like him. An’ he’s good for dad.”

 

“I’m really very sorry,” Miss Ambrose said, looking redder than Jo had ever seen her. Jo’s mom waved her apology away, managed a weak and shaking smile in her direction just for a moment. Jo vaguely wondered if she’d be able to text Jim and warn him without anybody noticing.

 

“It’s okay, mom. You said you didn’t want him to be alone, and now he’s not.”

 

Jo’s mom’s eyes went wide again as she suddenly realized. “They just moved in together!”

 

“We should get them a present,” Jo agreed, since her mom was clearly too far gone for manners. She did her best to remember what Jim had said, that it was hard sometimes to know your friends were playing with someone else, maybe even the same games you’d played with them before, and to be sensitive. But she also didn’t want Miss Ambrose to feel awkward. Or- more awkward. What would Jim do?

 

“Okay, mom, I think it’s time we were going, don’t you? I’m sure Miss Ambrose has plenty of parents to see and we’re taking up her precious time. Thank you so much, Miss Ambrose this has been delightful but we really must be going. Let’s do this again soon.”

 

Through the power of brazen desperation, she got her mom out to the car before their linked hands were separated. She thought that was pretty good, and Miss Ambrose hadn’t looked offended, just like she was sort of trying not to laugh. Maybe they could get her a present too. Her mom climbed into the driver's seat but didn’t move, instead resting her hands on the top of the steering wheel and her forehead on top of them.

 

“It’s okay, mom. I know it’s hard when somebody you liked moves on to someone else. At least you and dad are still friends, it’s not like he went off with Jim and started ignoring you suddenly.”

 

Her mom sighed and turned her head to look to Jo, although she didn’t lift it from her hands. “It’s not quite that simple, honey. It’s- well, when you’re a grown-up, you know that usually you choose whether to date boys or girls.”

 

“It’s not a choice, it’s a biological impera- imperative.”

 

“Oh, Lord. Your daddy teach you that phrase?”

 

“Jim did!”

 

“Alright, I’ll rephrase. You choose to present yourself in a certain way. And I thought your daddy only liked girls. He never told me otherwise. So I don’t know if he felt that way before, or if maybe- I did something. To make him not like girls any more.”

 

“Well- didja ever ask him? He told me he’s bisexual, which means he likes both. That’s what I wanna be. Or like Jim, he’s pansexual. Which means he also likes people who are both genders or neither or something in between. I think that’s pretty cool but I’ve never met anyone without a gender before. But- I thought no matter who you love, as long as you’re happy and you’re not hurting anybody, that’s okay? Isn’t it?”

 

“Of course,” Jo’s mom said in that quick way that mean she hadn’t really thought about it at all, and was just agreeing. Jo sighed a little. It was hard talking to grown-ups sometimes.

 

“I think you’ll feel better when you talk to dad. Y’know- without shouting. Or maybe I can go out with Jim or something and you guys can shout all you want.”

 

Slowly, her mom straightened up, nodded and drove them home. Except-

 

“Mom. Where are we going?”

 

“To go and see your dad.”

 

“But I have school!”

 

“Only tomorrow before the weekend. I’ll tell them we had a family emergency.”

 

Jo wasn’t totally sure what that phrase meant, but she knew that wasn’t it. “Shouldn’t we at least call first?”

 

“It’ll be fine. We’ll stop on the way.”

 

“What about work?”

 

“I’ll take a personal day. I have my laptop. Ryan can handle the rest.”

 

“I-“ Jo sighed. “Okay, mom. But dad’s gonna be mad.”

 

Her mom’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel in a way that said that makes two of us. Jo settled in for a long and silent drive.

 

 

 

 

It was late by the time they got to her dad’s. Like, really late. Way later than Jo would have been allowed to stay up otherwise. She was too nervous to be tired, stared out of the window at the new neighbourhood. She hadn’t seen her dad’s new house yet, just the pictures he’d sent and the ones Jim had shared of the purple sparkly furniture he’d wanted to buy her. When they pulled up onto the drive and her mom shut the engine off, her mom let out a long, shaky breath.

 

The lights were on at least, so somebody was up. Jo didn’t even know if Jim would be in the country, or if her dad would be working late. They both stepped out of the car and that was when she heard the music. Just quietly, so they didn’t disturb the neighbours, she guessed, and there were voices coming from the garden, just at a regular volume. Were they having a party?

 

Her mom marched up and rang the bell. It was only a little while before the door was opened by a man Jo had only met a couple of times. Her mom actually took a step back, like she was scared, keeping Jo behind her. Still, Mister Spock’s gaze met hers after her mother’s, and she waved with her best attempt at a smile.

 

“I was not aware we were expecting you this evening,” he said, sort of to both of them, although Jo’s mom was too busy eyeing him suspiciously to respond.

 

“It’s a surprise. Are you having a party?” Jo answered instead, trying to skirt around her mother’s protective arm. She didn’t know him that well, but he was a good friend of Jim and Hikaru. She knew she could trust him enough for a polite conversation, at least. “Is it okay if we come in?”

 

“Of course. Although your father and Jim are both somewhat inebriated. More than they would ordinarily be, had they been expecting your company.”

 

Jo didn’t like that. She swallowed and pushed down the panic, because her dad had friends, he had Jim. They wouldn’t let him get like that again.

 

Her mom was frowning too. “Is anybody in this house sober?”

 

“I am perfectly sober. And nobody is so far gone as to lose control of their senses. They may just be a little boisterous.”

 

“And who exactly are you?”

 

“Mom!”

 

“Considering you are at my door, would it not to prudent and polite to introduce yourself first?”

 

Thankfully, Jo’s mom was saved from having to respond, their conversation interrupted by one of Jo’s favorite women in the whole world, who made it impossible to be sad.

 

“Jo, sweetie, is that you?”

 

“Gaila!” Jo slipped past her mom and Mister Spock to fling herself into Gaila’s arms, inhaling the sweetness of her perfume and pressing her cheek against her soft curtain of red hair. Gaila was so squishy and curvy and comfortable, always smiling. With her pale skin and green eyes, she looked like nobody else Jo knew. “I missed you!”

 

“I missed you too, honey! I’m glad you’re here, there are way too many boys in this house tonight. And you must be Jocelyn. I’m Gaila, I work with Jim.” Gaila shifted her hold on Jo to hold out her hand for Jo’s mom to shake. Jo’s mom looked her up and down, made Jo frown because maybe Gaila didn’t wear very many clothes but she was super nice and that was what mattered. But at least she shook her hand with a smile and Gaila didn’t seem to mind the pause.

 

“Can I get you a drink? We’re just having a little get-together. Spock and his girlfriend Nyota have had some problems with their landlord so they’ll be living here for a while. We all helped to move their furniture today.”

 

“That’s very kind of you.”

 

“Well, we’re all good friends. I’m just waiting for an invite myself. Maybe I could share your room.” Gaila beamed at Jo, who smiled back, although she was beginning to feel warm and sleepy, cosy as she was in Gaila’s arms, head on her shoulder.

 

“I’d like that.”

 

“Me too. Start dropping hints to your dad, okay?” Gaila brought them into the kitchen where there were countless beer bottles empty on the counter. Jo’s eyes widened. She had never seen so many.

 

“You want a beer or a glass of wine?” Gaila offered Jo’s mom as she rummaged in a cupboard for a juice box she passed to Jo. It was grape. Her favorite.

 

“I’d better not. I’ll still have to find us a place to stay for the night.”

 

“Well, we could set you something up here. Let’s see- if Scotty could share with Pavel-“

 

“Oh, Lord.” Jo’s mom shielded her eyes with a hand for a moment. “They’ve been sharing a bed this whole time.”

 

Gaila blinked and Jo did her best to speak quietly. “Mom just figured out that my dad and Jim are dating.”

 

“Well, that sounds like a lot to take in. And it’s late, everybody’s tired. So how about you share your room with your mom tonight, and I’ll take your dad and- uhh, your dad’s room. The boys can figure out something else.”

 

“It’d be nice to stay in my own room, mom,” Jo ventured, a little cautiously, sipping on her juice. Her stomach rumbled and Gaila poked her in it, making her squirm and giggle despite herself. When she looked at her mom again, something in her face was softer.

 

“Alright. We’ll stay here.”

 

“Yes! So-“ Gaila opened the fridge to reveal lots more beer bottles and some boxes of wine. “Red or white or rosé? You strike me as a rosé girl. Oh! No, wait,” she leaned right into the fridge, so Jo shrieked and clung but Gaila never came close to dropping her as she retrieved a bigger, green glass bottle. “Sparkling! Nyota! Do you have flutes?”

 

‘Yes, and they’re staying in my room because they won’t last five minutes around these- oh. Hello.”

 

“Hi, Nyota.” Jo waved and Nyota smiled back, then looked to Jocelyn expectantly. Jo didn’t always know whether to take her seriously. Mister Spock always did, and Jim almost never. Somehow Nyota still liked both of them.

 

“Ny, this is Jocelyn. Jo’s mom,” Gaila said after a moment.

 

“Oh! I’m sorry about the mess.”

 

“It’s alright.” Jo’s mom was beginning to look a little dazed. “I’m sorry, what was your name?”

 

“I’m Nyota. You look like you could use a drink. I’ll get us some flutes.”

 

“And pizza!” Gaila called after her.

 

“Pizza?” Jo brightened. She liked pizza. A lot.

 

“So much pizza.” Gaila assured her, setting her down on the kitchen table so she could sit while Gaila cleared away some of the beer bottles. It meant they could all sit at the table when Nyota came back with pizza boxes and pretty, tall wine glasses she set out. To Jo’s delight, she got one too, and although it was filled with lemonade it looked just the same as everybody else’s and they all clinked glasses with smiles.

 

Then Gaila leaned forwards, speaking in hushed tones like they were sharing secrets. “So you used to be married to Leonard? What was he like growing up?”

 

Jo looked a little warily at her mom, but she seemed to be coping alright, helping herself to a slice of pizza and giving up on her resistance.

 

“I met Leonard when he was eight years old. He was exactly the same as he is now, only smaller.”

 

“I always imagined him being kind of precious, wide-eyed and curious.” Nyota took a sip of her drink, picked delicately with manicured nails at the green peppers on a slice of pizza crammed with vegetables. She had brought Jo one with just cheese. It was really nice that she remembered.

 

“Honey, that boy was born at forty years old.”

 

Gaila laughed. “Did he have a sweater vest stage? Do you have pictures?”

 

“As a matter of fact, I was going through some old photos the other day.” Jo’s mom pulled out her phone, tapped a few times then passed it to Jo. “That’s your daddy when he was your age, just a while before we met.”

 

It was weird to think her dad had once been as small as Jo was. Gaila leaned over her shoulder to see and squealed. “Oh, he’s so cute!”

 

Jo’s mom leaned over her other side to scroll through the pictures. They were a little grainy and unclear but they clearly showed her dad and in some cases her mom, especially as they got older. They wore some strange clothes and had some awful hairstyles, particularly her dad’s blond stage when she had been just a baby. That just looked terrible.

 

“I know, I tried to convince him to change it for so long.” Her mom sighed but she was smiling. It was good to see her saying nice things about Jo’s dad. Most of their family back home weren’t interested in hearing it, or they twisted what was said so it sounded bad even when it wasn’t. Jo tried not to be around for those conversations any more. But Gaila and Nyota were just teasing, it was different.

 

It had to be hard for her mom, she realized then, to have nobody to talk to or just laugh and spend time with, like her dad had with Jim and all his friends. It must be really lonely. It was much better to see her having fun with Gaila and Nyota. And it seemed like it was making her less mad at Jo’s dad, too. Maybe they wouldn’t even shout that much.

 

 

 

 

They sort of shouted. Well, her mom did. After three glasses of the sparkling wine she marched out into the yard to, “give him a piece of my mind, dangit, I do not appreciate being kept in the dark.”

 

Jo was scooped up into Gaila’s arms and they trailed after her, to see her step into the rather boisterous, shirtless game of basketball the men were playing. They couldn’t heard exactly what was being said, but she jabbed Jo’s dad in the chest with a finger a few times, to his intense alarm, before snatching the ball off him and hurling it over his shoulder into the basket. Hikaru and Pavel clapped and whooped. Jim looked bemused and a little guilty and Scotty retrieved the ball, throwing it back into Jo’s mom’s hands.

 

Somehow, it descended into a full-on match, nobody with anything like the coordination required for contact sports and far more shouting and insults than was at all appropriate.

 

Jo stared, open-mouthed. “I think you broke her.”

 

“I think I fixed everything.” Gaila shrugged, dropping a kiss onto the top of Jo’s head, watching with a smile on her face while Nyota slipped away to join in, on her mom’s “team” as much as anybody could be said to have any alliances at all. Jo’s mom shrieked like a little girl when Hikaru picked her up by the waist and lifted, allowing her to dunk directly into the basket, then they both nearly fell when he tried to set her down again.

 

“Ready for bed, honey?” Gaila asked distantly. When had Jo closed her eyes? Vaguely she was aware of being carried inside, up some stairs and gently set down on a huge bed with soft purple sheets. Gaila kissed her forehead, and then her arms were full of the familiar soft fluffiness of her favorite stuffed animal.

 

 

 

 

Leonard awoke when his alarm went off, set for the previous day’s reminder of his 0700 hospital conference call, feeling surprisingly awake and hangover-free. He hadn’t actually had that much to drink, switching to water when the sports had started and steering clear of the bourbon he might have indulged in towards the end of the night, for Jo’s sake. He crept out of bed, leaving Jim still sleeping with an appreciative glance for the long line of his back, sprawled as he was on top of the covers.

 

He showered quickly, brushed his teeth and applied enough cologne to mask the remaining alcohol smell without being cloying. Clean and dressed, he wrestled with the blankets on the bed enough to at least cover Jim to the waist, and entered Jo’s room to find her exploring her new room, still in the previous day’s clothes.

 

“Good morning, sweetheart,” he said, low, conscious of Jim still sleeping not far away. “I’m sorry I wasn’t around much last night.”

 

“It’s okay.” Jo was going through drawers. “I was with Gaila and Nyota and mom. An’ it’s nice. You should have friends.”

 

“I should, huh?” Leonard smiled at his beautiful, perfect angel -somehow- of a child, sat on the bed and smoothed the blankets out. “Well, I think they’re all still asleep, so you want to come and get pancakes for breakfast with your dad?”

 

“Just you and me?”

 

“Yeah. You can tell me how your parent-teacher night went.”

 

“Oh, Lord.” Jo rolled her eyes, looking so astonishingly like her mother in that moment that Leonard almost reeled. “It was a disaster.”

 

“Well, I can’t wait to hear about it. Pick some clothes, baby girl. We don’t have a bath up here, but if I help you with your hair, think you can shower?”

 

“Of course.” Jo assured him, confidently.

 

Somehow he ended up almost as wet as she did, and had to change his shirt before they left the house, jeans sticking uncomfortably to his thighs. They’d dry quickly in the warm weather. They walked, Jo chattering all the way and Leonard doing his best to keep up before his first cup of coffee.

 

It wasn’t far to the diner, Leonard’s jeans almost dry and Jo’s hair settling into its habitual curls by the time they arrived. They found a booth and gradually Leonard gained some sense with each mouthful of coffee. It made him feel a little more qualified to answer the question, “Where’s mom?”

 

“Catching up on a little sleep. I think she and Gaila took Hikaru’s room and he shared with Pavel.”

 

Jo giggled a little at that. “Do you guys just sleep wherever you want?”

 

Leonard could understand her confusion, as every house in Georgia she had ever been to had at least one guest bedroom, would have been designated its own towels and linens and products. Probably had its own color scheme. He was lucky, so close to the city, to even have a room permanently for Jo, who was there only part-time, and luckier to have friends who didn’t mind footing their share of the resulting bill.

 

“Well, when we have guests, we have to shuffle it around a little bit. Especially with Spock and Nyota staying now.”

 

“I like Mister Spock.”

 

Leonard had always taught his daughter that if she had nothing nice to say, she shouldn’t say anything at all. So he stayed silent.

 

Jo chattered on, unaffected. “And Scotty says he’s going to show me how his flight simulator works, so we can see if I can fly a plane!”

 

Christ. Leonard would have to have a few words with Scotty. At least Jim had assured him that the graphic animal slaughter had been wholly removed from the programming. He’d been working on it quite a lot, recently, sat at his computer with Pavel and Scotty adding their own contributions to wholly baffling exchanges.

 

“So you want to be a pilot someday?” He risked asking, accepting a refill of coffee and able to hear Jim’s laughter in his head when the waitress eyes him with interest. His frankly untested ability to care for a child aside, he couldn’t imagine he had anything to offer, in her eyes.

 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t distracted enough by that to miss Jo’s reply, her interest in about the only job worse than being a pilot.

 

“I wanna be an astronaut!”

 

Oh, great. So he’d be sending both of his most-loved people into the terrifying abyss above them. The delivery of their food- his pancakes with eggs and bacon, Jo’s waffles with cream and fruit- saved him from having to immediately respond. By the time she had drowned her plate in syrup and begun digging in, he had managed to compose himself sufficiently.

 

“Well, if you get good grades you can do anything you set your mind to.”

 

It didn’t have quite the impact he’d been hoping for. Instead of Jo gaining a newfound determination, she just shrugged and kept eating.

 

“Miss Ambrose says she’s gonna put me forward to skip a grade if I’m still ahead at the end of the year.”

 

Leonard paused with his fork lifted halfway to his mouth, dripping syrup onto his plate. Why the hell hadn’t Joss told him about that? He was exceptionally proud, of course, had always known Jo was a smart girl, but for her to be so far ahead of her peers was mind-blowing. With emotion choking him up, he had no words, not that Jo seemed to expect any, blissfully unaware that she had said anything out of the ordinary. He missed Jim, suddenly, knew he would have known exactly what to say, that he would have reassured both of them effortlessly. 

 

He probably couldn’t get away with texting him an SOS message under the table, though, so he knew he’d have to rally and deal with it himself.

 

“That’s great news, sweetheart. Always knew you were smart.”

 

“Thanks, dad.” Jo smiled at him over her food.

 

 

 

 

“I think she should come and live with you, go to school here,” Jocelyn said, when Leonard asked her about it later, Jo suitably distracted by the flight simulator. And a good thing too, because it wouldn’t have done her any good to see the spectrum of emotion that crossed her father’s face at that moment.

 

“Why?” He managed to choke out without vomiting, breaking into hysterical laughter or bursting into tears. It was what he wanted, more than anything, had wanted for so long but it just didn’t feel right.

 

Jocelyn was sprawled on a sun lounger by the pool, barefoot and dressed in shorts and a too-big T-shirt that could have belonged to anyone in the house. She seemed impossibly relaxed for the subject matter, the one that had been a bone of contention between them for years. The one that had started more arguments, provoked more shouting and crying than any other. And yet she could suddenly yield? Nothing was ever that easy.

 

“You have a good thing here. There’s always someone around. They’re all security checked. If she skips a grade, she’ll be getting used to a whole load of new kids anyway.”

 

“And…?” Leonard prompted, was glared at for just a moment before it subsided.

 

“Well, you know how kids are. As she gets older, she’s understanding more and the bigger kids are old enough to remember what it was like. Just after your daddy died.”

 

“They been giving you trouble?”

 

“Oh, just the usual. I don’t want her growing up like we did, Leo. Surrounded by that toxicity. It’s not good for a child.”

 

“It’s not good for anyone,” Leonard insisted, trying not to let on just how shaken he was, hearing that nickname in that voice again after so many years. She called him Leonard, always, had been civil but never affectionate. “Maybe you could move, too.”

 

“You know I can’t leave my parents.”

 

“Jo comes to live with me, things’ll get worse before they get better.”

 

Jocelyn smiled, a twisted and bitter thing. “At least then it gets better.”

 

“Jesus, Joss.”

 

“There’re a couple of schools near here. Will you at least take a look?”

 

“Of course.”

 

 

 

 

“Well, what does Jo wanna do?” Was Jim’s first question, over a much maligned lunch of salad, because they might have lived in a glorified frat house but that didn’t mean they needed to live off take-out.

 

“She’s seven.”

 

“So?”

 

“So she has no idea what any of it means.”

 

He saw Jim take a long, slow breath, as though he was holding something back. “I think you should ask her.”

 

“And put the pressure of that decision on her?”

 

“I think it’d make her feel like she has some control over her life.”

 

“What if she wants to stay?”

 

“I don’t think she will. But if she does, then it’ll be a chance to explain it all to her. Your reasons. And Jocelyn’s. I think you’ll be surprised by just how much she already knows, though.”

 

“What are you doing right now?”

 

“I’m not her parent, Bones. It’s not up to me.”

 

Leonard just looked at him for a moment, saw the tension in his frame, the way he only picked at his food, wouldn’t meet Leonard’s gaze.

 

“You’re not your step-dad, Jim.”

 

That got resigned blue eyes to lock with his. “Nice work, Doctor.”

 

“Doctor, or Concerned Boyfriend?”

 

Jim thought for a moment before conceding that with an apologetic grimace. “You’re right. Sorry. But- maybe I’m projecting. I just think Jo should get a say. It’s her life.”

 

“You’re probably right.”

 

“I am?”

 

Leonard nodded. Of course he was. But- “I just don’t want to have her say she wants one thing before we do another. Won’t that be worse? Her opinion being asked for but ignored?”

 

“Not ignored, considered. And whatever her objections are, whatever course you choose, it’ll give you a chance to address them. Maybe make any- hypothetical transitions easy on her.”

 

“You’re right. Of course you are.” Leonard pushed his plate aside to put his head in his hands. “When did I start being so terrible at this?”

 

“Yeah, caring so much really makes you a huge asshole.” Jim rolled his eyes then met Leonard’s unimpressed stare with one of his own, effortlessly. “You want to do the right thing for her. That’s why we’re having this conversation. It’s a good thing.”

 

“I spent a lot of years not having these conversations.”

 

Because wasn’t that the crux of it? He felt like he had spent so much time being selfish, caught up in his own problems that he’d missed a hugely important period of his daughter’s formative years. How could he possibly hope to have any idea what was best for her? Why the hell would she listen to him anyway? Some days he could barely even believe she still spoke to him.

 

“Well-“ Jim was flushed, shy, hesitant all of a sudden and Leonard reached for his hand, squeezed until beautiful, sad eyes met his. “Maybe you weren’t having your conversations with the right person.”

 

The sudden swell of love within his chest eclipsed the guilt, and Leonard rounded the table to pull his gorgeous, perfect partner into his arms. Jim squeezed back, rested his chin on Leonard’s shoulder and sighed.

 

Leonard murmured in his ear, “I’m with the right person now.”

 

Jim shuddered and clutched him a little tighter, buried his face in Leonard’s neck. When he had control of his breathing, Leonard pulled back just enough to kiss him, cradling his jaw, trying to remind him how strongly he was loved in soft touches and muttered words.

 

“Oh, Lord.”

 

Of course Joss would choose that moment to walk in on them.

 

Jim grimaced apologetically. “We have got to stop doing this in the kitchen.”

 

That was true. Leonard apologised profusely, as much as he might have revelled in getting his revenge for walking in on Joss and Clay all those years ago, so much time had passed since then. It wasn’t something that bothered him any more, because he saw so clearly that it had been a symptom rather than a cause of their dysfunctional marriage.

 

Still, they weren’t the only couple in the house any more. Spock and Nyota were far less naturally affectionate and Leonard didn’t think he’d ever seen them do more than brush fingers in public. So when Jim crawled into bed one night complaining that he’d walked in on them kissing, it was still disturbing.

 

Not nearly as disturbing as finding Scotty and Pavel making out on the couch, which was what Leonard did after finishing a late shift an hour early. Exhausted and stunned, he just stared open-mouthed for a moment, before beginning to get a hold of himself.

 

“Something you need help with, Len?” Scotty had a protective arm around Pavel’s waist, the boy- Jesus, no, the young man straddling his lap letting out a whispered curse of indeterminate language and flushing scarlet.

 

There were many things Leonard could have appreciated help with at that moment. Knowing how long that had been going on for, what the hell he was going to say to Jim, how Hikaru was going to feel about the whole situation. But it wasn’t really the time. Every second he noticed a new detail; Pavel’s shirt untucked and unbuttoned; the light flush across Scotty’s cheeks although his gaze remained steady; just how close they were pressed together. Nope. He was done.

 

“Nothin’ at all. Night.”

 

It was always going to happen, he told himself on the way upstairs to the safe haven of the room he shared with Jim. All of their resident pilots were away, Nyota with them. Clearly he hadn’t been expected home so soon. And he and Jim had probably been guilty of worse, in front of a bigger audience. It wasn’t a problem. Natural, almost, in a house-share like theirs.

 

Some days he really felt too old for that.

 

Other days he had no idea how he would manage without them.

 

 

 

 

“We’re not fucking.”

 

“Oh, I thought we’d silently, mutually agreed not to talk about this.” Leonard ran a hand through his hair, looking sidelong at Scotty at the other end of the couch. The couch where they had both avoided sitting towards the middle, when Scotty and Pavel had been- well, apparently not fucking. Small mercies.

 

“Just so you know.”

 

“I don’t want to know.”

 

“You’re not worried?”

 

Leonard snorted, sipped his bourbon. “That we’re going to have to have this conversation?”

 

Scotty’s expression was chiding. Leonard probably deserved that, sort of wanted to giggle drunkenly at the state of his life, resorting to high-school-esque gossip. At least he didn’t have to do it sober.

 

“Alright, fine, I’ll bite. So you haven’t fucked yet.”

 

“We’re not going to fuck at all.”

 

“You’re- not?”

 

“He doesn’t want to.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“I would never-“

 

“Okay, not what I meant. And I think you know that.”

 

“It wouldn’t be right.”

 

“Jesus.” Because that was as good as yes, wasn’t it? How long could any- arrangement sustain that kind of conflict?

 

“You have seen him, right?” Scotty asked, then.

 

“Not as much of him as you have.” Leonard couldn’t resist, was kicked in the shin for his troubles. “Okay, if you tell anyone I said this, including him, I will threaten you with something terrible, but yes, he is a gorgeous young man, with an amazing mind and I can objectively see what you see in him.” He held himself back from making the Jim-influenced innuendo that came to mind. “And- yes, he is a little young. But he’s trying to figure himself out, better with you than some asshole his own age who doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.”

 

“Right?” Although Scotty’s expression was doubtful as he stared into the swirling liquid in his glass. Leonard knew better than anyone that he wouldn’t find any answers there.

 

“He’s lucky to have you. And he’s got all these people looking out for him, you don’t think they might have said something if they thought you were taking advantage of him?”

 

 

 

 

“He is not taking advantage of me.”

 

Leonard lifted his head from where he had been resting it on his arms just for a moment, slumped across the kitchen table with a now-cold cup of coffee within reach. “Jesus Christ. You people just insist on having all of these awkward conversations, don’t you?”

 

But Pavel would apparently not be deterred, sat across from him with his gaze steady and far more energy than anyone had a right to at- shit, ten o’clock in the morning. He really needed to get to bed.    

 

“I need you to understand.” Pavel began, but Leonard waved at him vaguely, dismissively.

 

“I understand it’s very little of my damn business. You’re both consenting adults and as long as any- alternative practices resulting in injury are properly treated, you can really do whatever the hell you want.”

 

“We’re not- it’s not like that.” Pavel actually flushed, then. It made him look unbelievably young.

 

“Well, that’s good, if it means you won’t be waking me up at ungodly hours to fix any damage. Get enough of that at work.”

 

“We are not having sex.”

 

“That doesn’t preclude the other stuff-“

 

“It’s just- I don’t feel like I want to.”

 

“Then why-“

 

“With anyone.”

 

Oh. “Well, then I admire you for standing by your convictions. It’s difficult. With what’s expected, culturally, of someone your age.”

 

Pavel gaped at him. Leonard couldn’t help but wonder what sort of reaction he had expected, and why he had said anything to him at all in that case.

 

“You are not going to tell me that I should get therapy? Consider medication? Fake it ‘til I make it?”

 

“Who the fuck said that to you.” Leonard growled, outraged, and Pavel gaped some more before bowing his head, shoulders hunched.

 

“Nobody,” he said, almost a whisper, but Leonard was more awake than he had felt all night. He didn’t initiate contact but leaned across the table with an arm outstretched in case Pavel wanted to.

 

“Pavel. Anybody who suggested non-consensual sex to you as a solution to a non-existent problem has some severe issues of their own. Now- I would recommend therapy to anyone, regardless of whether they feel like they need it. Everybody needs someone to set them straight sometimes, help them get a hold of thoughts and feelings that could grow into something dysfunctional.

 

“And as for the medication, or any form of medical intervention, well that’s up to you. Do you feel like there’s something about you that needs altering? Maybe there is something unusual about your, your mind or your hormones or your psychology that could be brought back in line with what is considered to be the average. And if you want that, then I know people. But there’s nothing wrong with the way you are. And I’d say anybody who disagrees has to answer to me, but I think you’re more than capable of setting them straight on your own.”

 

Pavel just stared, less gaping that time than shell-shocked, tears in his eyes until Leonard stood with a grimace for his stiff joints and held out his arms. Then he accepted the offered hug and began to sob, silently, into Leonard’s shoulder. Okay, so maybe he was a little glad they were having the conversation. He wrapped his arms around Pavel’s back and held him close. He had expected to be reminded of Jo, but the body against his was strong, slim but muscular, Pavel actually only a few inches shorter than he was. Hardly a child.

 

Tired as he was, he couldn’t resist pressing a kiss to Pavel’s curls, was relieved when he only received a red-eyed shrewd look rather than an objection. Pavel slipped back into his seat after that, so Leonard did too. He got the impression there was a little more to their discussion and after a moment Pavel confirmed it.

 

“Do you think I am taking advantage of him?”

 

“Of Scotty?” Leonard knew better than to dismiss the suggestion, considered it for a moment. “He knows how you feel? Understands your boundaries?”

 

Pavel grimaced as he hissed through his teeth. “I am trying. He knows I am not- seeking sex. But I do not know my own boundaries. Some days I want to be alone and he understands. Or he will allow me to crawl into bed with him, or he will just hold me. The kissing is new. I like it-“ he flushed again, deeper than before- “especially with him. Too often it has felt like a precursor to something I don’t want. But he is not like me. He is always respectful but I have felt him- react, to me. How can I make such demands of him when I am unable to offer a compromise?”

 

“If you’ve been honest with him -and it sounds like you have, as far as you can- then you have to trust him to be honest, too. Maybe- what you have isn’t conventional, but you just have to keep talking about it.” It wasn’t exactly an answer, but it was all Leonard had. “And if you need someone to listen, or talk to, anytime, come find me.”

 

“Thank you, Leonard.” Pavel gave him a small but genuine smile, relaxed a little in his seat. “You can go to bed now, if you like.”

 

“I might just do that. See you for lunch?”

 

Pavel beamed, and Leonard left the room before he did anything ridiculous like hug him again.

Chapter Text

“We should go on vacation,” Jim said, apropos of nothing while they lounged in bed, contemplating sleep. 

 

Looking up from a medical journal, Leonard raised eyebrows in his direction. “What?”

 

“I mean, we should go away together. It’s Jo’s birthday soon, it’ll be fun.”

 

Leonard pinched the bridge of his nose because he’d tried very hard over the years to avoid spoiling his little girl, and- “exactly how many presents have you bought her already?”

 

“They don’t count, they’re just souvenirs from work trips.”

 

Leonard’s expression didn’t change.

 

Jim pouted. “Thirteen. But a vacation isn’t really a present, it’s just something you do in summer.”

 

“Whatever you had in mind, I doubt it’s anything I have ever considered doing in summer.”

 

“I was just thinking Disney.”

 

“That’s actually not as bad as I-“

 

“In Tokyo.”

 

“If you say one more word on the subject before I’ve had some sleep, I will go and stay in Joanna’s room.”

 

 

 

 

He really should have known Jim would only take that as a challenge. Sort of wondered whether he’d subconsciously encouraged that, because Jim set on persuading him was confidently, insistently sexy. Leonard woke up the next morning to the sensation of a second lubricated finger sliding into his ass, buried his face in the pillow and groaned. He had always been a light sleeper. How Jim had even got that far was beyond him.

 

He heard a light chuckle before Jim kissed the back of his neck. “This okay?”

 

“You’re a fucking degenerate.” Leonard was relaxed, warm and soft, shifting only vaguely into the motions of slim fingers, more letting Jim work and appreciating the sparks of pleasure that shot up his spine than chasing his release. The stretch was deep and satisfying and he let out a long, low groan that rather gratifyingly made Jim’s breath catch.

 

Jim breathed hotly into Leonard’s hairline, delving deep with only the lightest brushes against Leonard’s prostate, making him whimper before he started murmuring, “You’re so gorgeous like this. Should have done this months ago. Wonder how many mornings of practice it would take for you to wake up just as I was sliding my cock into you.”

 

“Jim, please.” It had been meant to sound exasperated but just came out desperately needy. Jim shifted behind him and Leonard spread his legs further apart only to whine a complaint when Jim pulled his fingers out.

 

“God, Bones, I love you like this. You’d do anything to get my cock inside you right now.”

 

Leonard could feel the hot, hard press of him into the crease of his ass, gasped and pushed his hips back, still too sleep-fuzzy to care about anything but the thrill that shot through him when the head of Jim’s cock caught at the edge of his loosened rim, teasing him with the incomparable sensation of being stretched wide around it.

 

“Jim,” he growled, when that tease continued, Jim circling, just pressing against the resistance, surely torturing himself as much as Leonard.

 

“How about Paris? That’s not nearly as far.”

 

Leonard got as far as pushing his weight up onto his forearms in order to get up and out of the bed, but Jim pounced, driving his cock deep in one, long press, fingers strong against Leonard’s hips to drag his ass back. As though that had been the plan all along. Dropping down onto his elbows, Leonard rolled his hips back, seeking that final fraction of a stretch.

 

“Love you,” Jim said, with far more composure than anyone had a right to at that time of the morning.

 

“We’re not going to fucking Paris.”

 

“I think you’d love it.” Jim set a leisurely pace, thrusts long and deep enough to make Leonard shudder at the constant dragging pleasure. He rested his head on his forearms and let Jim decide their rhythm, arousal slowly building despite Jim’s other efforts. Jim’s palm flattened covetously across the small of Leonard’s back, warm and steady. God, Leonard loved him.

 

“I’m not getting on another damn plane.”

 

“Not even in First Class? With a bottle of good wine? They serve slow braised short ribs on the European routes. I’ll hold your hand the whole way. Tire you out beforehand so you sleep through.”

 

Leonard was far too turned on to interpret that in any way but the one intended. Having Jim fuck him into exhaustion was sounding pretty good right about then. Which was of course his plan. Damn it.

 

“Jo’s never been on a flight that long.”

 

Jim let out a little pleased huff of a laugh. “She wants to be an astronaut. I think she’ll see it as a challenge.”

 

“You’re both insane.” Leonard ignored Jim’s little warning murmur of his name to reach and grasp his cock, hard and leaking, then made a deeply embarrassing keening sound as Jim pulled out in response.

 

“No, Bones. Hands back on the bed. I won’t leave you hanging, I promise. No matter what we decide.”

 

“This is deeply unfair,” Leonard grumbled into the pillow, but after a final, torturous squeeze -he was so fucking hard- he set his hand back down on the bed. Jim pressed his thumbs into the crease of Leonard’s ass, holding him open and exposed for a moment before pressing freshly-lubed fingers inside with a thoughtful hum.

 

“Would you let me fist you?”

 

Leonard had to be half-asleep. That was the only possible explanation why he didn’t tense immediately and pull away, instead pushing back against Jim’s fingers with a shiver.

 

“Not now, obviously,” Jim continued, as though nothing had happened, pressing what had to be four fingers inside of him despite his words. “But one day. When we have plenty of time. Love to see you stretched around my wrist. There’s nothing like it.”

 

“It’s- dangerous,” Leonard choked out, already overwhelmed by sensation and craving more, although Jim made no effort to push towards the widest part of his hand, just twisting and stroking.

 

“We’ll go slow. Whatever you need. I’ll get you through it. It’ll all be worth it, the nerves and the build-up. I think you’ll like it. If you can just get past that anxiety.”

 

“Oh, damn it, Jim.” Because of course Jim wasn’t talking about sex any more, or not just about sex. “If you ever tell Jo this is how you convinced me-“

 

Jim’s cock slid into him, loose and slick and so very easy. It felt so fucking good, slow and relaxed with none of the pain, just the caress of silk-wrapped steel against his insides, stroking his prostate so his arousal mounted inexorably. Jim scraped his fingernails lightly up Leonard’s thighs, made him shiver and keen.

 

“So- you’re convinced?”

 

“I will consider- Oh, God, please-“ Jim had pressed a experimental finger into him alongside his cock, curled it so the pressure on his prostate was relentless and unpredictable with his thrusts. Leonard wanted to scream and sob with how stretched and full he felt, how his world had narrowed to just the two of them. “I will consider Paris. And provisionally agree to Orlando.”

 

He actually did sob when Jim wrapped a lube-slick hand around his cock, so hard and sensitive it was only moments before he came with an animalistic sound torn from his throat without any awareness on his part.

 

“Fuck, you’re so fucking hot. Love it when you let go for me. Love you, Bones,” Jim rambled with his final few hard thrusts before he was coming too, the tension in his muscles bringing him down to mouth kisses at the space between Leonard’s shoulder blades. “Love you so fucking much.”

 

It still made Leonard warm inside whenever he heard it. “If your solution is to fist me prior to that flight, then think again because I am not sitting down for ten hours feeling your come leak out of my loosened asshole.”

 

Jim hadn’t quite got around to pulling out yet, so Leonard felt his cock twitch hard at the image. Jesus. That was a notion best left to be explored another day. Slowly and gently, Jim eased out, slipping free and leaving the disconcerting sensation of not being able to clench completely to prevent himself from leaking. Leonard slumped to the side that allowed him to glare balefully at an unrepentant Jim.

 

“We could always plug you up.”

 

Leonard sighed. “And where does that fit into your already over-extended metaphor?”

 

“The booze or sleeping pills I was going to ply you with, probably.”

 

“Not sure I’d volunteer for that now I know what you’d do to my unresponsive body.”

 

Jim almost managed to look guilty at that, although Leonard didn’t exactly achieve a tone beyond sleepy satisfaction either, so he considered them even. He curled into Jim’s arms, happily welcomed, and floated on the edge of dozing for a while until the stickiness and discomfort got too much. He dragged himself out of bed with a kiss to Jim’s throat and a groan, then went to shower. 

 

“Stay in bed with me all day?” He asked once he felt a little more human, impressed despite himself that Jim had changed the come and lube-spattered sheets, even if the replacements were a wholly unsubtle Mickey Mouse design. He knew the answer to his question, of course. Jim was already rummaging through the work end of his wardrobe, although he cast a wistful glance over his shoulder at Leonard.

 

“Wish I could.”

 

“Another meeting?”

 

Jim sighed and sagged, head down, allowed Leonard to approach and wrap arms around his waist from behind, kissing his neck. “I’m going nuts. And it counts towards my work hours for the month but if I’d realized I’d have to jump through so many hoops I would have just kept the upgraded simulation to myself.” He pushed back into Leonard’s arms, tilted his head and hissed when Leonard bit him low enough it would be hidden by his shirt, bringing a hand up to tangle his fingers in Leonard’s damp hair. “It wouldn’t even be so bad if what they wanted made sense. But it’s just- make it look more generic, or make the controls easier, or make the colors better. Most of those- God, yes, just like that- people haven’t flown a plane in years. I’m just spending most of my day waiting to come home to you. Is that weird?”

 

Leonard’s heart ached for him and he hated anything that could have dulled Jim’s enthusiasm for what he did. He held him closer, until he huffed out an amused breath and batted at Leonard’s arms, squirming. He just felt so damn good, and Leonard told him so to make him smile.

 

“You don’t have to do this,” he said, too, and Jim sighed.

 

“Yeah, I know. I want to- or I want the end result. It’ll help a lot of people and it’ll mean I can- uhh-“

 

He stopped. Leonard’s eyes narrowed. “You can what?”

 

“I can- shit.” Jim squirmed, with real intent that time, and Leonard released him. If Jim wanted to run, he would let him, he told himself. He was entitled to his own mind, his own secrets, even if the idea made Leonard’s skin crawl and his heart sink. But Jim only turned to face him. “I didn’t want to tell you because maybe it won’t happen. They haven’t decided on what they’ll pay me or anything, but- Spock’s worked out an estimate and I think it’d be enough for me to go part-time for a while.”

 

“Jim, that’s great news.”

 

“Well, it’s not exactly news yet, so please don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.”

 

“It’s worth working towards, though. You have so many amazing ideas, you could really make a difference.”

 

“Oh, yeah, sure.” But Jim looked away, scratched the back of his neck before settling his hand on Leonard’s waist, just above his towel. “I just, uhh, thought that it’d be really nice to be around a little more for you- and for Jo.”

 

Leonard went cold. “I haven’t agreed to have her here, yet.”

 

“I know! I know. And I can always just take the money and maybe- invest it or something.”

 

“Jim, you can’t just-“ Leonard had no idea what he was trying to say, other than no. He sighed, frustrated and not sure who with. “Don’t build your life around mine.”

 

Well, that had been the wrong thing to say. Jim flinched back as though he’d been burned, hurt clear in every aspect of him for just a moment before he schooled it with limited success.

 

“Uhh, noted, I guess. You done in the bathroom?”

 

Then, he ran. Even locked the door behind him. Leonard hated knowing he was wrong almost as much as he hated having no idea what to say in order to put it right. But what else could he say? They had been dating almost as long as they had known one another, approaching a year come the end of the summer. Leonard knew better than anyone that no relationship was infallible, that it could all begin to come tumbling down at any moment and that it was impossible to extricate from co-dependency without significant pain and suffering.

 

 

 

 

“You are familiar with the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy?” Spock asked him later, while he was sat in the kitchen eating an unsatisfying dinner.

 

“Don’t recall asking for your advice.”

 

“Perhaps that is why you need it.”

 

 

 

 

Jim wasn’t home by the time Leonard left for work that evening. He tried to tell himself he wasn’t worried, that he went out for drinks after work all the time and didn’t always text right away. He was just doing what Leonard had told him to do, if anything.

 

So why did it hurt so much?

 

“Goddamnit, Spock,” he muttered to himself, much to Chapel’s alarm before stalking off to the break room to call Jim. He just wanted to know he was safe, he told himself. It wasn't because they rarely went a day without at least hearing one another’s voices. His heart sank when the call was cut off without being answered and he put his head in his hands, attempting to keep the threatening bone-deep chasm of emptiness away. He was terrified he had done it again, had pushed away when he needed to pull closer, lashed out when he had been given so much, so freely. Maybe Jim was better off without him.

 

His phone vibrated with a text and he nearly dropped it in his shock, had to steady his breathing before he could bring himself to read what Jim had sent him.

 

“I don’t want to talk tonight, like this, on the phone. I’m okay, I promise, just at a friend’s having some barbecue. I think we both need a little time and space, so I’m going to stay here a few nights. How about dinner Tuesday? We could go into town together. I love you.”

 

Jim wanted to talk face to face at a neutral location. Leonard stared at the words through the blur of his vision, because he knew what that meant, didn’t he? And he was so far gone he couldn’t imagine a life without Jim in it anymore. It would break him, was already threatening to as he sat in the staff room, hunched over, staring at his phone with tears spilling down his cheeks. He didn’t know how long it was before Chris found him, only that every moment made him feel like something was tearing free of his chest.

 

“Holy shit! Leo, what’s wrong?” She came to sit beside him, reached out to touch him but stopped herself at the last moment, let out a small “oh” of surprise when Leonard leaned against her, his side to her chest, and allowed her to wrap her arms around his shoulder. She held him close, stroked his hair and he shuddered with the urge to begin sobbing in earnest.

 

“I think Jim’s leaving me.”

 

The words made something break apart inside of him, then, and he turned fully, burying his head in Chris’ shoulder, arms tightly around her waist.

 

He wasn’t sure what he had expected her to do, but it wasn’t to laugh. Her grip was surprisingly strong when he attempted to pull away, flushing with shame and anger but despite everything he didn’t want to risk hurting her.

 

“What the fuck, Chapel?”

 

“No, no, I’m sorry, that came out wrong. But if you were in your right mind, you’d laugh at yourself too. That man is never going to leave you. He looks at you like you hung the stars. He loves you, endlessly. Whatever you did, he’ll come back. For as long as you’ll have him. That’s why I laughed. I’m sorry.”

 

“I said something terrible.”

 

“Well, did you apologize?”

 

Leonard’s heart squeezed guiltily, even as his mind insisted, “It was terrible but it wasn’t untrue. He can’t- he’s made huge changes in his life, all for me. I can’t- match that. What am I doing?”

 

“You’ve made huge changes, too. You live together, for God's sake.”

 

“It just makes sense. With city rent prices, and the shifts, we’d never see each other otherwise.”

 

“And don’t think I haven’t noticed you sneaking off at all hours to make your little video calls.”

 

“They’re only short.”

 

“And you trust him with your daughter.”

 

“She likes him. He’s security checked.”

 

“Leo, listen to yourself! You’ve rationalized it because it comes naturally to trust him but you were a- shell of a man when you came to work here. It took me months to get anything out of you that wasn’t completely medical-related. I didn’t even know you had a daughter. You never smiled. And you were a competent doctor, but not a passionate one. You were just going through the motions.

 

“Do you remember your first date? It was the first time I’d ever seen you want something. And now- this? Isn’t this because you want to keep him? You’re so worried you don’t deserve him that you can’t see he’s already decided you’re worth everything. And look at you. He’s everything to you, too. Just tell him that.”

 

Leonard let out a long, shaky breath and nodded. Chris let him hold her a little longer, taking comfort in her solid warmth, gave his hair a final stroke and smiled at him when he managed to pull away.

 

“You’re a good man, Leo. Jim sees it. Now are you going to call him?”

 

“He doesn’t want to talk. He just texted.”

 

“May I see?” Chris accepted his phone when he handed it to her and read the last message, expression neutral until she got to the end, when she smiled. “He loves you.”

 

“Maybe he doesn’t want to.”

 

“I think you’re upset and reading this wrong. To me, he sounds like a man who’s trying to fix a problem before it gets worse. And he’s taking responsibility. Even though he didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

She handed the phone back and, reading it again, Leonard could maybe begin to see what she meant. He flushed, already feeling as though his reaction had been excessive, or at the very least unprofessional.

 

“It’s okay.” Chris squeezed his shoulder, eyes huge and earnest and, God help him, Leonard believed her. “Now, come on. What are you going to send back?”

 

“I should apologize.”

 

“Well, let’s start there.”

 

Together, they composed a message that made Leonard feel like he might actually get through the night shifts without panicking himself into an aneurysm.

 

“I’m so sorry, Jim. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking when I said what I did. I can’t wait for us both to spend more time together with Jo, whatever happens. Dinner sounds amazing. Save room for cheesecake? I love you.”

 

 

 

 

“You were right,” Jim admitted, with a soft smile for his phone screen. He traced the words with a finger, hardly able to believe he was really seeing them. They really were going to be okay.

 

“Sometimes you just need to take a step back.” Pike shrugged. He had his own smile for the young man curled against the arm of his couch, fond and proud and only to be broken out when Jim wasn’t fully paying attention.

 

“Thank you. There’s- there isn’t anybody else I could ask about all this. I really appreciate it. You’ve already done so much for me.”

 

He was already lowering his eyes with a flush across his cheeks. Pike took pity on him, clamped his hand down on Jim’s knee to squeeze it with a brusque nod. “Anytime, Jim. Really.”

 

Every time he said it, Jim looked just a little less confused by the offer. He would count that as a victory.

 

 

 

 

It felt strange to be meeting Jim. Leonard didn’t think he’d done it since Hikaru’s birthday drinks some months previously. Usually they just mutually gravitated towards the same space. The intent was a rush and for a while Leonard thought he almost understood why Jim had suggested they take a break. It tore down the walls of security, made him nervous and excited all at once, thrilled at the idea of seeing his boyfriend for dinner, doing something special.

 

He had been a little concerned Jim would be worse for wear having been given his freedom for a couple of nights, but clearly he had been sneaking home at least to raid his wardrobe and, Leonard suspected, reassure their housemates of his mental state. Aside from Spock’s little intervention, they’d largely left Leonard alone, although he suspected Pavel had been secretly switching his coffee to decaf. He hadn’t had so much trouble with night shifts for a long time.

 

Jim looked amazing. Gorgeous at the worst of times, he was wearing the jeans Gaila had bought him, and the boots, with a dark green button-down that made his eyes shine, intensely blue. His looks weren’t the only thing Leonard appreciated, of course, and even on the sparsely populated station platform he could see he wasn’t the only person doing any appreciating, but it did create a sudden and jarring realization that he could still lose that. He had to do everything he could.

 

Jim -God, he smelled amazing, Leonard wanted to bury himself in that scent and never leave- accepted his embrace with palpable relief, was the one to close the final distance between them when Leonard hesitated to complete their kiss.

 

Leonard felt a rush of love and affection surge up inside of him, releasing in frantically whispered apologies and the desperate clenching of his hands on the fabric around Jim’s waist. Jim kissed his lips, his cheek, his temple and his brow then smiled at him, pure and unspeakably beautiful.

 

“I love you so fucking much,” Leonard breathed. Somehow Jim’s smile shone even brighter.

 

“Well it’d be a pretty awkward date if you didn’t.” Jim beamed when that made Leonard roll his eyes. “I missed that. Missed you.”

 

It was your damn idea, Leonard wanted to say, managed not to because he was trying, damnit, he was. “Missed you too, sweetheart.”

 

“Good. Let’s never do that again.”

 

“Oh thank God.” Leonard sagged as Jim laughed, pulling him in once more to kiss his cheek, nuzzle his throat just briefly, far too intimate for their public setting. But the train was coming in, everybody else suitably distracted. Leonard slipped his hand into Jim’s back pocket and relished the gasp of mock-outrage he got in return when he squeezed hard. With the noise of the train providing the illusion of privacy, Leonard also leaned in to speak directly in Jim’s ear.

 

“After dessert, I’m gonna take you home and fuck you so hard you forget your own name.”

 

When he met Jim’s eyes, they were lidded and dark, set in an expression of something like resolve.

 

“God, I hope so.”

 

They weren’t much of a hand-holding couple but Jim tangled their fingers together and pulled Leonard with him, passing numerous empty seats until he found a cluster of four that was empty. He guided Leonard into one seat and took the one opposite. At first, Leonard’s pointedly curious expression only earned him the response, “I just wanna try something.”

 

Confused and a little anxious, although the lack of tension apparent in Jim was reassuring, Leonard settled into his seat, seemingly gazing out of the window but actually watching Jim’s reflection. Just like the day they met. God, Leonard had almost forgotten. He had been exhausted, heading home from his final night shift and only one stop into his journey when Jim, flustered and gorgeous, had fallen into the seat across from him. He had been so vibrant, full of life, felt like a flash of color in Leonard’s previously dull existence.

 

Having that curious, assessing gaze on him had made his skin tingle with its intensity, the appraisal flattering, the mismatched nature of Jim’s appearance hopelessly appealing. Though of course it didn’t exist, Leonard could see why people could describe falling in love at first sight.

 

Leonard felt more like he had fallen in love at every moment since then. Including the one where Jim’s smile had gone soft and fond, and that intense gaze was on him once again.

 

“You remember.” Jim said, and it hadn’t been a question but Leonard nodded anyway. Jim bit his lip, licked it and took a deep breath before he went on. “You’re scared of this. Us, or me, maybe. Because you’ve been hurt before and you have a lot to risk. You feel so much more than anybody I’ve ever met. You love like it’s everything that matters. You’re inspired and passionate, so ready to give everything you have that sometimes you don’t keep enough for yourself. It’s paradoxically the most selfish thing you do. You don’t value yourself. You don’t believe anybody else could value you, either, so you try and convince them not to. Which, in your mind, proves your point.

 

“You deserve to be loved. And every day you struggle to believe that, you’ll have me, and all those other people you’ve let into your life. It’s hard for you, but you’re coming around to the idea that people love you. Even Jocelyn, which you accept but don’t fully understand. And Jo, who means more to you than anybody. You don’t need to feel bad about that. You’re the best father I’ve ever seen and maybe you had to go through a lot to get there but you wouldn’t be the person you are today without all of that. Sometimes, you almost realize that. You’ve lived through things that most people don’t even have to think about, and you’re still standing and you still care, even when you pretend you don’t. And you trust me with all of that.

 

“You mean the world to me. You inspire me and you care for me and you don’t put up with any of my shit. You are… the one.”

 

Neither of them had broken eye contact except to blink -to hold back tears in Leonard’s case- but at that, Jim faltered, looking away then down with a flush across his cheeks before he could gather his resolve and force his gaze back. He smiled, small but undeniably genuine, nostalgic and hopeful. “Okay. Now you do me.”

 

It was only at that moment that Leonard realized exactly what he had been doing. It seemed like so long ago, that first time they had met, that silly little guessing game they had played. He couldn’t believe Jim had even thought of it, was astonished that it seemed to be working.

 

“You’re insane,” he blurted without even thinking, unintentionally playing along and making Jim laugh out loud then raise his eyebrows so Leonard would go on. Well, what the fuck did he have to lose?

 

He had to focus on each word as he said them, trusting his subconscious to help him make some kind of sense, because if he thought too much about the sentiments there was no way they would ever pass his lips.

 

“You’re the light in my life.” Leonard almost lost his nerve when Jim’s expression creased in something resembling pain, but already he was feeling like there was a weight off his shoulders. He couldn’t stop the words. “You show me the best side of everything and you lead me to it, even when I thought it was lost. Or when I thought I was. You taught me to want things when before I only needed. You were the first of those things. You have this presence that fills a room. You could have your pick of a crowd and yet you’ve chosen me. You can’t imagine how that makes me feel.

 

“You show me every day that life is a game that can be won. And you’re not the prize in that metaphor, although I know you think you are.” Leonard’s heart swelled at the sheepish quirk of Jim’s lips. “You’re the reason to compete. You’re my reason.

 

“Reason meaning justification, not reason meaning sense. You have no sense. You make no sense. And yet you make every possible outcome feel like a win. You work so hard. You try. And you care beyond any reasonable comprehension. You always know what to say. You’ve had a lot of practice. But you’re never dishonest. 

 

“You’re a mess of contradictions. You’re both the most childish and most mature person I know. You are the strongest and the most fragile. The safest and the most dangerous.

 

“You’ve come so far since I met you. And you were amazing before. You are constantly improving. You’re proving yourself. You make me so proud, with everything you do. And someday you’ll see why.”

 

For long moments, they just stared at one another, lost in thoughts and memories and the settling warmth of praise. It was Jim who levered himself out of his seat to close the distance between them and -God, Leonard remembered their first kiss, all breathless surprise and wonder and the exhilarating terror of the new- their kiss was as startling and perfect as Leonard had ever experienced. He cradled Jim’s jaw, savored and treasured the perfect moment with his perfect person.

 

“So goddamn beautiful,” he murmured without thinking as Jim pulled away just enough to examine his face. His expression softened at Leonard’s words, eyes searching. Apparently he found what he was looking for. Everything in his features and his posture hardened with resolve.

 

Their first kiss had happened while Jim had been in the process of standing up. Leonard didn’t think he would ever forget the moment when Jim, so sincerely delighted to see him, had sunk to his knees between Leonard’s spread legs and made his breath catch with his effortless, brazen humor. Knowing Jim so well, then, though, meant he could better appreciate the moment where that motion happened in reverse. With no idea what he was planning, Leonard just took in the view as Jim slipped gracefully down onto his knees.

 

No.

 

Onto one knee.

 

“Holy shit.”

 

Jim just smiled, delved in his pocket and then let the hand containing the -Jesus fucking Christ- velvet ring box rest on Leonard’s knee, cracked it open with a twist of his fingers. If Leonard’s heart had been pounding before, it was nothing compared to the moment when he saw that platinum band.

 

“Bones. I never, ever want to let you go. Will you marry me?”

 

Leonard closed his mouth. Forced himself to take a breath. He felt light-headed. The ring was a perfect, clean, soft-edged band, engraved on the inside. 07:04 - always. The time of that first damn train. Leonard wanted to reach out and touch the words, the ring, Jim’s fingers, anything to convince himself that it was all real, but he couldn’t move. It was all he could do to drag air into his lungs.

 

Jim’s hopeful smile stuttered a little as the silence dragged on. “Bones, please say someth-“

 

“Yes.”

 

“Yes?”

 

Leonard had never felt more sure of anything in his life. “Yes.”

 

Jim set the ring on the seat next to them, to Leonard’s immense and immediately forgotten distress as Jim surged up to kiss him. Their teeth clashed and Jim’s fingers caught on a knot in his hair. Leonard’s lip was maybe bleeding. He gasped and hauled Jim closer, licked into his mouth and spanned as much of Jim’s body with his hands as was humanly possible. He had his whole world in his arms. His perfect, beautiful Jim. His sunshine and his reason for being. The only man who could make him feel all those things people wrote in Hallmark cards and sang love songs about.

 

The man who wanted to be with him, forever.

 

Their kiss became gradually less frantic, reality creeping in around them in the form of beeping train doors and alarmed glances from passers-by. Jim was straddling Leonard’s lap, somehow, his throat the ideal place for Leonard to press his forehead for a moment, satisfying both his need to hide and to feel as close to Jim as he could. Jim just glared back at anybody who stared, snatched up his ring and handed it over for Leonard to examine.

 

“It’s beautiful.”

 

Jim’s confidence seemed to leave him all at once. “You like it?”

 

“I love it.” Leonard gave him the warmest smile he could muster, petted Jim’s sides, nosed at his cheek.

 

“I was so fucking scared.”

 

“I know. I’m sorry. You surprised me. I never thought I would ever hear those words.”

 

“Never thought I’d say ‘em.” Jim gave a long, low sigh, then a whimper as Leonard handed him the ring, then raised his left hand. “I was so terrified you’d say no,” he confessed. He was trembling violently when he slipped the ring onto Leonard’s finger, silently sobbing by the time it came to rest where it belonged. Leonard wrapped him up in his arms, held him close, kissed his hair, whispered reassurances as best he could. His words a few days previously took on a whole new significance when he knew what Jim had to have been planning.

 

“How about,” Leonard murmured into Jim’s hair, “Instead of you building your life around mine, we just build one together.”

 

Jim had tensed, then relaxed, then clutched him tight. “I’d like that.”

 

“Means no more secret planning for you.” Leonard didn’t need to see Jim’s face to know he grimaced at that. “What?”

 

“I, uhh- sold the bike to buy that ring, took a tutoring job at the flight school and already booked Paris.”

 

Leonard could have sworn his heart stopped. “You sold the bike? Jim.”

 

He gripped Jim’s forearms, held him at arm's length to meet bloodshot, beautiful eyes. Jim gave him a watery facsimile of a smile. “I don’t need to escape any more.”

 

“Oh. My darlin’.” Leonard kissed him, sweet and gentle. When he stroked Jim’s cheekbone, he caught sight of the glinting metal adorning his finger, felt a whole new surge of adoration and anticipation. His gorgeous Jim had sacrificed so much. So he sighed. “And I think we both know I was going to agree to Paris eventually.”

 

“I’m so excited.”

 

It was hard to kiss Jim when he was beaming, but Leonard made a valiant effort. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.” Jim kissed him back, brief but deep, tongue delving warm and wet into Leonard’s mouth, before- “I always wanted my picture taken with Mickey.”

 

Leonard wrestled him down on the neighboring seat and tickled him mercilessly until someone a few seats down threatened to call the cops.

 

Chapter Text

Breakfast was generally carnage in their house, never more than when, by some miracle, they were all present at around the same time. That next morning they were, Jim knew, because he had planned it that way. Spock and Uhura were generally up first, Pavel and Scotty a little after. Jim had thought Hikaru would be there, too, when he and Bones emerged from their room, but he’d be down shortly in any case, at least to ask why he had so many missed calls from Jim. He had to be the first to know, of course.

 

Bones was aware of that, retreated and busied himself making coffee with his back to the rest of the room. Jim slid into a seat with a poorly-concealed wince, made Pavel snicker but just beamed shamelessly back. Pavel wrinkled his nose. Uhura glared good-naturedly at them both over a cup of the expensive coffee she wouldn’t share. Jim wondered if he could convince her to part with a bag as an engagement present. 

 

Over what was only his first cup of coffee judging by his level of function -barely above zero- Scotty raised an eyebrow, a wordless “you alright?” In Jim’s direction. Of course his absence the previous few nights had been noted. Jim nodded and his smile was so genuine and bright that Scotty actually cringed away from it, rolling his eyes.

 

Jim’s plan was derailed slightly when Hikaru shuffled into the room.

 

And Christine Chapel trailed in after him in sweats and a T-shirt, hair not yet brushed, face free of make-up. Jim was unsurprised enough that he could check the reactions of the room- Uhura’s mild surprise and Pavel’s wide eyes. Neither Spock nor Scotty even looked at her, engrossed in their respective crossword and coffee.

 

Jim announced, “Good morning, Chapel.”

 

Rather unsatisfyingly, Bones, with his back to this new development, just said, “That’s not funny, Jim.”

 

Chapel -awesome woman- shrugged. “It’s sort of funny.”

 

“Ah, Christ-“ Bones startled and spilled a glug of coffee before he turned, took her in with a scowl. She shifted only minimally under the scrutiny. “You want coffee?”

 

“Yes please.” Chapel sank into a chair with visible relief, gave Jim a sidelong look. “You two talk about me?”

 

“You’re our safeword.”

 

Hikaru slapped him around the head, although he then sank into the chair next to Jim. “Why did you call me fourteen times last night?”

 

“What? I called you eleven times.”

 

“Why did you drunk-call me fourteen times?”

 

Jim just laughed and looked at him, meeting his increasingly suspicious expression with a smile. When Bones set a mug full of coffee down in front of Hikaru, he almost knocked it straight over when he made a grab for Bones’ hand.

 

“You guys got engaged?”

 

Spock looked up from his crossword. Chapel shrieked, then clapped a hand over her mouth, flushing scarlet. Pavel and Uhura both looked mildly but pleasantly surprised. Scotty reached across to take the coffee pot from Bones’ other hand and poured himself another cup.

 

“Yesterday,” Jim confirmed, pulling his chair around to face his best friend. “Holy shit, are you crying?”

 

“Of course I’m crying, you asshole!”

 

“Bit embarrassing, bro.” Jim smirked, catching Hikaru as he launched himself at him in a violently intense hug, teary and shaking.

 

Bones stood by, bemused and then disgruntled when he, too, was pulled into a tight embrace, although he loosely wrapped his arms around Hikaru’s back and patted. His eyes begged for help from Jim, who just beamed back.

 

Jim accepted a hug from Uhura, who had rounded the table to approach him, lips curled into a pleased smile.

 

“Thanks, Uhura.”

 

She sighed, as though he’d done something incredibly exasperating. “It’s Nyota.”

 

Squeezing her tight, Jim squealed before holding her at arms length to meet her eyes as he said, “I know.”

 

She pouted, then rolled her eyes and laughed, stepping aside for Spock to shake Jim’s hand with a practically heartfelt, for him, “Congratulations, Jim.”

 

“This is great news!” Pavel hugged him tightly, kissed him on both cheeks.

 

“Let me guess, you won the pool.”

 

Pavel had the decency to flush a little when he nodded. “I knew as soon as you sold the bike.”

 

Scotty was not a public hugger. He smiled and nodded at Jim from across the table, his approval clear in his eyes and expression.

 

When Jim looked over, Chapel was hugging Bones, and he could have sworn there were tears in his eyes as she cupped his face in both hands, pressed their foreheads together -she on tiptoes, his head tilted down to meet her- and said, “I told you so.” She nearly lifted Jim off his feet with the force of her hug, next.

 

Nyota and Pavel were fussing over Bones’ ring, enough that he took it off and let them pass it around, not without keeping a sharp eye on it at all times. Jim sidled up beside him to wrap an arm around his waist and pass him a mug of coffee. That, at least, made him smile. Surrounded by their friends, loved and accepted, they shared a kiss.

 

“Still no idea what I’ll say to Joss.”

 

Jim bared his teeth. “Finders keepers?”

 

“Sorta implies she misplaced me rather than royally screwing me over.”

 

“Ask me again after coffee.”

 

“How about we just consider the question rhetorical?”

 

Jim helped himself to a sip of Bones’ coffee. “You think she’ll be mad?”

 

“Mostly just confused. But she does not like being confused. It makes her angry. So maybe.”

 

“You wanna tell her in person?”

 

“Well, apparently if she finds something like that out on her own, she ends up here anyway?”

 

“We could go to Georgia.”

 

“The Eastern European country? Sure.”

 

“Bones.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll think about it.”

 

“There isn’t anyone else you wanna tell?”

 

Hiding behind his appropriated coffee mug, Jim watched the gears turn in Bones’ head as he mentally translated Jim’s words. He did his best to stand tall and remain stoic when Bones’ shoulder slumped in defeat.

 

“We’re going to Iowa, aren’t we?”

 

“We’re both off this weekend.”

 

Bones’ eyes were on Jim, searching and scanning for- what? Clear reluctance? Years of unspoken emotion? The resolve of a man spending an hour a week in therapy?

 

After too many moments of silence, Jim added, “You don’t have to come.”

 

“Jim.” Bones looked exasperated, then tugged Jim in by the neck of his shirt for a kiss. Jim hummed happily. “I’m coming with you, like it or not. I just want to know you’re doing it because you want to. And not because anybody thinks you should. That’s all.”

 

 

 

 

Jim hadn’t known what it was, then, and he didn’t know, still, when he stood at the end of the drive, looking at a house, surrounded by fucking cornfields with Bones behind him, leaning against the side of their rental car with his arms folded. He didn’t rush Jim. He, of all people, knew what it was like to have a difficult relationship with family. He had actually been supremely patient the entire trip, which made Jim feel even more guilty about how anxious and snappish he was.

 

It was mid-afternoon, the time Jim had wanted to be arriving, the best of many terrible options. They had been standing there for many minutes, but Bones only rolled his eyes when Jim looked at him over his shoulder, seeking the confidence to carry on and make it all the way to the front door.

 

In the end, he was saved from having to need it. The gate down the side of the house opened. 

 

“Jim?”

 

In his peripheral vision, Jim saw Bones blanch. Clearly he had not been prepared for the extent of the family resemblance. Sam was older, shorter than Jim but a little broader across the shoulders, hair cropped short where Jim’s fell in his eyes occasionally. He looked good, tanned, a little sweaty and dirty as though he’d been working outside all morning. In a white tee and plaid shirt with jeans, he could have fronted an Iowa farm boy calendar.

 

“Hey, Sam.”

 

Jim could feel Bones’ gaze burning into the side of his head but kept his gaze on his brother. He hadn’t announced his visit, had felt the build-up would create too many expectations he wasn’t ready to pile on top of the already existing ones. He also had maybe not mentioned that particular fact to Bones.

 

“You never call, you never write.” But Sam was grinning, pulled Jim into a hug, instantly familiar and making something prickle at Jim’s eyes. “Who’s this?”

 

“Oh, this is-“

 

“Leonard.” Bones cut in, leaning across to shake Sam’s hand, preempting the spread of the nickname. “Leonard McCoy. Pleasure to meet you.”

 

“Didn’t tell you he’d be arriving unannounced, either, did he?”

 

“He did not.”

 

“That’s our Jim. Come in, both of you. Let me get you something to drink.”

 

Sam let them in the front door and immediately almost tripped over a selection of children’s toys.

 

“Aurelan’s at her parents’ with the boys. She’ll probably be back around five.”

 

Jim saw that for what it was- an out if he needed it. And if he had noticed, chances were that Bones had too. “It’d be good to see her.”

 

“If it’s not too much trouble.” Bones added. Jim sort of wanted to glare at him for making him look bad with the contrast in their manners, didn’t quite dare until, in the doorway to the kitchen, Bones’ hand found the small of his back under cover of the narrowing space. Hopefully the glance Jim shot him conveyed both his gratitude and his displeasure.

 

Judging by the smirk Bones hid behind a pleasant smile, he did. “Lovely home you have here.”

 

Sam snorted. “It’s a mess right now. But thanks anyway. Beer alright?”

 

“Sure.”

 

Jim nodded, too, accepted the bottle thrust at him. Bones shot him a wink over his own, lifted his confidence levels a little. Being back always made Jim feel like a kid again, constantly wrong-footed and unsteady. Bones was his lodestone, keeping him grounded to a life outside the vortex of cornfields and thinly-veiled criticism.

 

“I spent all morning gardening, so if you want to tell me that looks good, feel free. Come on, we’ll sit on the terrace.”

 

The garden did look good, a huge expanse of well-maintained lawn surrounded by shrubs and flowerbeds. Even Jim managed to say so, and Sam eyed him with an expression of intense alarm that made Bones stifle a laugh. They all sat in individual wicker chairs, enjoying the view.

 

“How’s work?” Sam asked after a while.

 

“Good. I- uhh. I’m actually tutoring trainees now. They’re good people. Not nearly as over-entitled as I thought they’d be.”

 

“Just regular entitled?” Sam grinned. Jim tried not to watch Bones cataloging the similarities between the two of them. Some irrational part of him felt weirdly jealous. Sam was so much more stable than he would ever be.

 

“I’ve had to have strong word with a couple of them. Just about not giving up at the first hurdle. It seems to be working out.”

 

“I’ve always thought you’d be a great teacher.”

 

Jim did his best to rationalize that as the compliment that had been intended, not the criticism he had expected. He mostly succeeded.

 

“It helps that they’re not kids, you know? They’re most of the way along and once they’ve had some sense drilled into them they’ll be ready to go. And fly planes. That’s not terrifying at all.”

 

“Please don’t say that.” Bones was grimacing and Jim shot him an apologetic look.

 

“It’s fine, Bones. They won’t have qualified by the time we go away.”

 

If Sam thought anything about the fact that they were going away together or the unexplained nickname, he didn’t say it, just watched them with a carefully neutral expression.

 

“I take it you guys didn’t meet at work.”

 

Bones shuddered visibly, and Jim laughed. “Bones is a doctor.”

 

“Oh, God, please tell me you didn’t meet in the ER.”

 

“We didn’t! I only got admitted after our second date,” Jim said, without thinking about exactly what he had given away, but Sam seemed unsurprised.

 

“He was injured after the date, not during.” Bones felt the need to point out.

 

“Separate night and everything. Wasn’t even totally my fault.”

 

“Wasn’t your fault at all, Jim.”

 

Jim felt unexpected affection bloom in his chest at the gently insistent interjection, reached out to brush his fingers against Bones’ in thanks.

 

“Okay, you two are adorable.” Sam was smiling at them, then. “So how long has this been going on? Must be serious, if you’re coming home to meet the family.”

 

“‘Bout a year,” Bones said, when Jim’s words caught in his throat. He was suddenly on the verge of panic, violently aware that he had never done anything of the sort before. For a moment he just had to focus on breathing. “It just seemed like the time.”

 

“Your family alright with it?” There was something beneath Sam’s curiosity that Jim might have noticed, had he been able to pay more attention.

 

“The ones that matter.” Bones shrugged. “My daughter loves him. Hell, I think my ex-wife does, too.”

 

“You been divorced long?”

 

“Comin’ up two years. Separated before that.”

 

“That accent is fantastic, where is it you’re from?”

 

“Georgia.”

 

“But you live near Jim? So far from home?”

 

That, Jim couldn’t miss. “Sam! Man’s entitled to his private life. Stop interrogating him.”

 

“I just want to know he’s good enough for my little brother.”

 

“Well, ask him about his life, his work, his ambitions or something. I don’t live where I was born either, doesn’t make me a bad person.”

 

Jim studiously avoided both sets of eyes that fell on him after his frankly blatant projection of his own emotion. Bones -who technically might not have known him better but certainly knew him the most recently- was the first to recover.

 

“So what is it you do?”

 

If Sam thought it was weird that Jim hadn’t already said, he gave no indication of it. “I’m an engineer. Might not look like it but we have a pretty big manufacturing plant just outside of town. Does a lot for NASA.”

 

“Oh, Lord.”

 

Jim smiled. Bones had expressed, many times, that about the only things worse than planes were spacecraft. It had done nothing to dampen Jo’s enthusiasm for the idea of going into space. Jim had already been secretly looking at summer camps where she’d be able to learn more.

 

“We’ll have to bring Jo up, sometime. Maybe show her around,” he ventured, not without caution.

 

“She’d love that.” Bones nodded, and Jim grinned.

 

“Almost as much as you’d hate it.”

 

“Well,” Bones sighed, “I’d better start gettin’ used to the idea. An’ don’t think I haven’t seen those summer camp brochures you’ve been hiding in flight manuals, either.”

 

“Oops.”

 

“Probably a good thing she didn’t inherit my irrational neuroses anyway.”

 

“There’s still time. She’ll develop her own.”

 

Bones rolled his eyes, and Sam laughed. “How old is she?”

 

“She’ll be eight in a couple of weeks.”

 

“You must’ve been young.”

 

“We both were. It’s a miracle she turned out as well as she did.” Bones took a fortifying slug of beer then looked vaguely guilty at the reminder of his failings, so drenched in alcohol. Jim watched Sam notice and store it away for later.

 

“How are the boys doing?” He asked, in what he thought was a pretty artful segue.

 

Sam’s expression instantly softened, deep with paternal affection Jim couldn’t imagine ever expressing. “They’re great. Will’s just started school. He hates every subject and would rather play sports. A true Kirk. Harry’s three. He’s at the stage where he wants to do the opposite of whatever his brother does. Aurelan’s taking him to ballet next week. He, uhh- hasn’t quite mastered the word archaeologist so at the moment he wants to be a dinosaur hunter.”

 

“That’s awesome. Aurelan’s good?”

 

“Uhh… yeah. She’s good. Not on speaking terms with mom at the moment. Mom’s pretty tough on the kids whenever they stay, and they got into an argument and mom took offence because her tried and tested parenting apparently turned out two- I think the phrase she used was perfectly reasonable boys. And then Aurelan reminded her just how little that actually had to do with her, and then mom stormed out.”

 

“What else?” Jim knew when his brother was hiding something. The false start had given him away instantly.

 

“Can you just trust me when I say you don’t want to know?”

 

Jim let out a sigh that was more like a growl, missed the casual touch that Bones would usually use to reassure him, did his best to find solace in his quiet, solid presence instead. “Fine.”

 

He could pretty much guess what it was about anyway, and it was enough to know Bones both approved and would allow him to vent later. He just had to keep it together for a while longer. Like being at work. Just had to navigate his way through and come out the other side.

 

 

 

 

His conversation with his mother did not go well. Jim didn’t even want to think about it, but suffice to say she had not consented to attend his as-yet-unnamed important event without Frank. 

 

 

 

 

The evening was far more relaxed than the afternoon had been. After dinner with Sam, his wife Aurelan and their two children, Sam disappeared to get the kids bathed and in bed while Jim caught up with Aurelan. She was a lovely woman who had given Leonard an exceptionally warm hug in greeting and he was glad he had chosen well with the wine they had brought as a gift because she immediately cracked it open and offered to share. Having been craving something stronger than beer but feeling justifiably wary of spirits, Leonard accepted gratefully. 

 

It was good to see her and Jim getting along, especially after the with his mother that he refused to talk about. Aurelan was friendly and made efforts to include Leonard, too. He liked her.

 

Which was fortunate, because Jim was drafted in to read the boys a story before bed and didn’t return for some time, even after an exhausted Sam sank back onto the couch beside his wife. Thankfully they showed no intention of warning Leonard away from Jim. Not in the long-term sense, anyway. They did caution him against approaching once he established Jim had retreated to the yard to finish his drink in the relative peace and quiet.

 

Leonard almost heeded them. It was their home and he was outside of his comfort zone so it was instinctive to allow that they might know better. Then he remembered who they were talking about.

 

“No harm in tryin’, right?” He brushed off their concerns, knew Jim better than they did, damnit. Found him leaning on the railing, sipping a beer and staring out into the darkness of the garden, up at the stars. There were more to be seen than in the city Leonard approached, making enough noise that he knew Jim had heard him even though he didn’t acknowledge his presence, leaned on the freshly white-painted wood beside him, idly rolling his wine glass in his hand and watching the liquid shift.

 

“She hates how much I look like dad,” Jim said, with a sigh. “Sam does too- look like him, I mean. But she had them both, for a while. She’s only ever had me, or dad. She feels like she made a trade. The wrong one.”

 

“I don’t think it’s that simple. Sounds like your mom has a lot to work through.”

 

“I don’t understand why -and I know this sounds awful- she’s not over it yet. It’s been the same amount of time for her as it has for me and Sam, and we were just kids. Neither of us would ever say anything like that to anybody.”

 

Leonard nearly dropped his wine glass when he realized exactly what that meant. “She said that to you?”

 

“Not recently. And- she has a lot to work through.”

 

“That’s no excuse.”

 

Jim smiled at him then, his grin shadowed by darkness and emotion. “You’re biased.”

 

“By my PhD, MD and life experience? Damn straight.”

 

“Well, I meant by your love for me, but your thing’s probably better.”

 

Leonard sighed. “You angling for a punch or a hug, darlin’?”

 

He saw Jim’s eyes go faraway, in thought or fantasy about one or both of those options for a few long moments before he twisted and held out his arms for Leonard to step in close. Of course he did, wrapping Jim up and holding him tight, feeling the vibrating tension underneath the deceptively calm exterior. Jim was only moments away from falling apart, he knew. He had done the right thing, coming to join him.

 

A long, shaky exhalation heralded the first of Jim’s tears. The night was warm and Leonard felt the dampness on the shoulder of his shirt, adjusted his hold and pressed kisses to blond hair. Jim cried silently, the hitching rise and fall of his shoulders giving him away while he was so close.

 

“Would you believe me, Bones? If you hadn’t- if you hadn’t seen those x-rays, if all you had was my word. Would you?”

 

“Of course I would. Haven’t I always believed you? Haven’t you always told me the truth?”

 

“Not right away, not always.”

 

“And that’s a little odd, sometimes, so we’re gonna keep talking about it. You have a lot of things you don’t want to share. I just hope one day you’ll feel able to trust me with them.”

 

Jim’s voice was muffled slightly as he pressed his face into Leonard’s shoulder, but he still just about managed to decipher, “Maybe I lied about so much so effectively that you don’t even know about it yet.”

 

Unable to help his grin, Leonard pointed out, “If you were that good a liar, you would have managed to deny fucking Lorca.”

 

“Maybe I love him secretly.” But Jim was smiling, too, sank his teeth into the meat of Leonard’s shoulder through his shirt. “Maybe it’s all a ploy he and I cooked up to steal your money.”

 

“Then you’re dishonest and stupid. All my money is tied up in Jo’s trust fund and the deposit on that damn city apartment.”

 

“The landlord was pretty pissed about the couch. And the bed. And- the juice Jo spilled on the carpet that we covered with the lamp.”

 

Leonard laughed at that. “Yet another surprise you spring on me.”

 

“One day there’ll be some good ones in there, too.” Jim attempted to burrow to avoid Leonard’s eyes, but he was held at arms length and deeply uncomfortable with that position until Leonard brought his hand up between them.

 

“What do you call this?” He asked, twisting his ring, the bond between them, around his finger. It felt smooth and soothing, warmed by his skin. He had caught Jim staring at it a few times, like he couldn’t quite believe where it was, on the finger of the first and last man who would love him like Leonard did.

 

Jim took his hand, lifted it to his lips to kiss the precious metal and the man beneath it. “All part of my nefarious plan?”

 

“Your nefarious plan to be loved, wholly and eternally, by a bitter and broken man who can’t believe how lucky he is?” Leonard pulled his hand away just to replace it with his lips, pressing against Jim’s with the by-then familiar but no less amazing rush of affection, love and hope. “It’s working.”

 

Jim’s eyes shone. “You really want to marry me, Bones? When- even my own family can’t stand me?”

 

“Oh, darlin’. I don’t think that’s true. They hardly even know you. That was decided long before you had a chance to do anything about it. But if you hadn’t- been through the struggles and the pain and the rejection, then you wouldn’t be you. I’m sorry it hurt so much for so long. But it wasn’t a waste. They made you into the man I love. Endlessly. If one small detail of any of this-“ he gestured widely to the general area around them- “had been different, maybe we would never have met. Now that,” a soft kiss, Leonard tracing the lines Jim’s tears had tracked down his cheeks, “I could never have forgiven them for.”

 

There had been more words, but none were allowed to escape before Jim pushed him down to sprawl in one of the wicker chairs, clambering into his lap to kiss him thoroughly, desperately. Even fully clothed and likely to remain that way, the friction was painful but gratifying, Leonard feeling a thrill shoot up his spine to crackle at the point where Jim had a fist clenched in his hair, tight and demanding. Leonard ground his hips upward to collide with Jim’s, made him hiss and mutter dirty compliments into and against his mouth.

 

“So fucking gorgeous. I cannot believe you’re mine. All mine. Can’t believe you said yes, can’t believe I even got up the nerve to ask, do you have any idea how terrified I was?”

 

“Terrified enough to avoid me for two days beforehand?”

 

Jim slowed a little, pressed closer if anything, spoke with his eyes squeezed shut against judgment and his lips on Leonard’s. “I’d bought the ring just the day before, when you scared the shit out of me. I thought- I felt like my heart had been torn from my chest. Thought you hadn’t been thinking, the way I had, about the future. I could never- can never- imagine it any way except with you.”

 

“I’m still scared I’ll bore you.”

 

“I’m terrified I’ll frustrate you. Antagonize you. Get you hurt. I’m going to try so hard, Bones. Harder than I’ve ever tried at anything. I’ll be worth it. All the trouble. All the lies. All the fucked up emotions and the terrible memories.”

 

Too late, Leonard realized Jim was spiraling, could only distract him with countless feather-light kisses and a hold on his hips so tight it would have to bruise. He had to say the right words, had to get his message across.

 

“I love you, Jim. You would be worth any trouble, but all I have ever seen you be is human. I don’t take this lightly. When I said yes, I knew it meant forever. And even in the worst-case scenario, I want to be with you.”

 

It wasn’t anything like enough. Leonard felt like he could have talked for hours about how much Jim meant to him without even coming close to encompassing the depths of his feelings. Still, his efforts made Jim let out some of his tension with a sigh and settle more heavily on Leonard’s lap. Made him stay where he was when before he might have run.

 

“Still wanna marry me?”

 

“Yeah, Jim, I do.”

 

“Wanna run away to Vegas and do it without all the family drama?”

 

“Some days.” Leonard kissed him, lips quirked in a half-smile. “Other days I remember Hikaru would kill me if I denied him the change to read a wholly embarrassing speech.”

 

“And I did promise Jo a sparkly purple bridesmaid dress.”

 

Leonard rolled his eyes, had been present for the video call during which that particular set of demands had been made. “You spoil her.”

 

“It’s my day. I can do what I want. And I want an eight year old, sparkly purple bridesmaid.”

 

“Just one?”

 

“I think so? You want Chapel to be one?”

 

“She’s already bought her dress.”

 

“We haven’t even set a date.”

 

“She very emphatically does not care.”

 

Jim laughed, just a little, expression softening into wonder as he stared into Leonard’s eyes. “We’re really doing this.”

 

“You’re not getting away that easy.”

 

When they made it back inside, to the kitchen, they were about as relaxed as it was possible to get, Jim’s security and confidence restored sufficiently to make it through the rest of the evening.

 

 

 

 

They opted to get a motel room that night, thought that everybody would appreciate the space, but agreed to meet up again for brunch after the kids had finished at Sunday school.

 

Both of them way over the limit to drive, they walked.

 

“I guess I expected the shouting. There’s always shouting. At least this time it was shouting with purpose. I- feel like we made some progress. Can’t remember the last time I- can’t remember ever feeling like that in this town before. Closest thing was realizing I had enough money to buy the bike and get out.”

 

It sort of made sense. Leonard forced himself to be satisfied with that, anyway, conscious of putting any more pressure on Jim.

 

As it turned out, there had been one other reason why Jim had suggested they sleep somewhere outside of his brother’s home. Leonard nearly stumbled, taken aback by the desperation with which Jim flung himself into his arms, kissing him the moment the door closed behind them. Regaining his balance, and sure his lip was bleeding, Leonard held Jim tightly, kissed him back with all the love he could muster, aware of shaking hands fumbling at the buttons of his shirt and raising his own steady ones to help. He could understand the urge to be close, to get rid of any barriers between them, broke their deep, biting kiss to pull Jim’s shirt over his head, both of them sighing with relief when they pressed back together, bare skin to bare skin.

 

Already Jim’s hands were yanking at Leonard’s belt, though, and Leonard slowed them gently. 

 

“Don’t want you to hurt yourself, darlin’,” he murmured, and Jim’s answering whine sounded a lot like disappointment. He vibrated beneath Leonard’s touch, frantic and emotional, seeking an outlet. Leonard would give him one, if not the one he craved then in a way he thought would be no less intense. His method, though, would lack the potential for permanent damage.

 

“You want me to hurt you, sweetheart?” He gripped Jim’s chin to ask, watched him close his eyes, swallow, bite his bottom lip and nod. He knew if he didn’t, then someone else would be more than willing to, once Jim had his way. And he wasn’t exactly averse to the idea himself, with one condition. “I need to know why, first.”

 

JIm’s eyes went wide with both relief and fear that he had been accepted. He struggled to articulate, but Leonard stayed steady, waiting for the answer he needed. He wouldn’t do it if Jim felt like he needed to be punished, wouldn’t compound that process when Jim was finally beginning to heal, even if the day had him temporarily regressing.

 

“I just want-“ Jim began, then stuttered, dropping his gaze. Leonard stroked his cheek with a thumb, praising and encouraging until Jim took a deep breath and tried again. He was shaking more than ever. “I want the rush. The pain- reminds me I’m alive. It takes me somewhere my mind is quiet. Where all that matters is the present.”

 

“Good,” Leonard murmured, saw him flush at the praise. It had been Jim’s lip that was bleeding, and he leaned in to press a soft kiss to the split skin, made Jim sigh contentedly. He lathed it with his tongue then took it between his teeth and sucked hard. Jim’s knees nearly gave out and he whined, clutching Leonard’s shoulders. For the first time in a long, long time, Leonard let the rush of power go to his head.

 

When he kissed Jim again, he tasted blood. The split in his lip wasn’t bad, just a few drops welling up as he watched, the surrounding flesh pink and swollen, deep and dark against the paler swipe of Jim’s tongue.

 

“Take off your boots, your pants- everything. And get on the bed.”

 

Jim’s eyes widened and his breath came quicker but he nodded and set to his task. Taking a step back, Leonard just watched him bend and twist to pull off his boots and socks, was transfixed by the slow reveal of skin as Jim unbuttoned his jeans and slid them down his thighs. He wasn’t wearing underwear. Leonard let his smile show his approval, saw Jim’s resulting pleased flush.

 

Naked, Jim crawled into the bed and sprawled out, although he propped himself up on his elbows to look at Leonard and ask, “Aren’t you going to join me?”

 

“Just enjoyin’ the view, sweetheart. You’re so damn beautiful. Hard to believe you’re all mine.”

 

Jim flushed deeper, but his gaze didn’t falter. He was getting better at accepting the compliments that came with Leonard’s affection, and for that he deserved a reward.

 

“You ever been spanked before, Jim?”

 

“Oh Jesus fucking Christ I love you,” Jim breathed, his head falling back, his cock already perking up, beginning to fully harden. “Please, Bones.”

 

Leonard gave him a stern look. It had been a while since he had played the role but he had apparently not forgotten how to do it well. “When I ask you a question I expect an answer.”

 

“God, you’re so fucking hot. Yes, I have. Not, uhh- by anyone as strong as you. Nobody as good at it as I think you’re going to be.”

 

Leonard considered that particular piece of flattery. Jim’s fists clenched in the sheets.

 

“Do you want me to tie you up, or will the pain be enough?”

 

“It’s enough. For now, if- maybe you’d like to do this again sometime.”

 

“Let’s get through this one first, okay sweetheart?”

 

Jim bit his lip in that way he had to know was hopelessly erotic. He stared as Leonard unbuckled his belt, slipped the leather through the loops and tossed it aside. His cock twitched when he met Leonard’s eyes and he wondered what Jim saw there, if all his intentions were laid bare.

 

When he knelt on the bed, roughly between Jim’s splayed legs, Jim asked, “Aren’t you going to take your pants off?”

 

“I think it’s important that you remember who’s in charge here.” Leonard told him, in lieu of an answer, crawled up Jim’s body to kiss him, soft and slow. “I love you, darlin’. I only want to hurt you as much as you need. You can say stop, anytime, I’ll always listen.”

 

Jim ground his hips up so the head of his cock stabbed at Leonard’s stomach and let out an expressive whine of impatience. It earned him another kiss. A long one. Leonard really was in control and he wanted Jim to submit to it, to have the intensity dialled up so much higher than he could achieve on his own or at the hands of some stranger he goaded into fighting him.

 

He mouthed at Jim’s neck, lavishing attention on the sensitive skin beneath his jaw, making him whimper and squirm. Jim made gorgeous noises, was generous in showing his appreciation. Leonard could hardly wait to hear his voice crack and break when he was finished with him, wanted to find out how beautifully warm and soft he would be while he pieced him back together.

 

He spent time teasing Jim’s nipples to hardness with suction and teeth and tongue until they were reddened and puffy, and Jim was keening with the over-sensitivity. He never stopped moving. Leonard wanted to bite him, to suck claiming marks into his sternum and pectorals, the soft and fragile pale skin beneath his arms. But he was conscious of causing too much damage. All bruises, no matter how erotically inflicted, were wounds, of a sort. They would need time and energy to heal, and Jim didn’t have too much of either of those to spare.

 

He settled for a few sharp nips of his teeth, scattered across the gorgeous, flawless canvas of Jim’s ribs and, drifting downwards, one small patch that bloomed purple with long, gentle suction in the hollow of Jim’s hip. Somewhere he could see it, if he needed to.

 

Finally satisfied with his handiwork, Jim panting but watching him with somewhat glazed eyes already, he gave Jim’s ass cheek a sharp pinch and the ghost of a smack.

 

“Turn over.”

 

Jim whimpered just at the sound of his voice, squirmed and shifted until he was laying on his stomach, legs still splayed around Leonard. For a moment, Leonard enjoyed the view, but he didn’t want to keep Jim waiting for any physical contact and long, lean thighs were hard to resist. He ran his hands up them, made Jim shiver, his eyes half-lidded and lazy as he watched over his shoulder. Good boy that he was, he barely shifted his hips to get the pressure and friction of the sheets against his hard cock. Leonard kissed his tailbone, then up his spine to his throat.

 

“You know you have all the control here, sweetheart. I’m doing this to make you feel good, so I need you to talk to me about how it feels.”

 

Jim’s expression twisted for a moment, as though those words were the scariest thing about their situation. “I’ll try. I’m- not used to-“ he trailed off, and Leonard gave him a moment, pressing kisses to his neck all the while, but no more came.

 

“I need you to tell me, darlin’. We haven’t talked about this nearly enough, and I know we both want it. But if you go non-verbal I will stop. I won’t risk hurting you.”

 

“I want you to hurt me. I trust you.”

 

Leonard sank his teeth into Jim’s skin, just in warning. “It’s not that simple. The sort of pain you want is specific. I could easily stray from that if I don’t have you to guide me. I could make you feel worse. I’d never forgive myself.”

 

“I- I’ll try.”

 

“I’ll tell you what I need to hear, alright? How’s that?”

 

Jim nodded his agreement, and with that mostly resolved, Leonard set to coaxing out all the tension that had built up during their conversation. He massaged Jim’s back, pressing hard on the knots until Jim was gasping with the pain and relief, loose and pliant underneath him. Then he let his hands rest on Jim’s hips.

 

“Ass up, beautiful.” 

 

A little unsteadily, Jim rearranged himself so his weight was on his knees and shoulders, arms cushioning his head.

 

“Fuck,” Leonard breathed without even meaning to, saw the flash of blue and the twitch of a smile in response. Under the guise of getting comfortable, Jim shifted, the muscles in his back pronounced, just a hint of tension in his thighs making the shape of them tight and and taut. Leonard traced the outlines with a finger, earned another shiver. It took him a moment to get his thoughts back on track.

 

“I’m going to need you to count each blow.” Because he needed to hear that Jim was coherent, and because having to speak would force him to breathe through the intensity, stop it from taking over. And, because he was only human and kind of an ass- “And then you’ll thank me for each one.”

 

Jim let out a long, juddering sound that might have been a laugh. “Oh, fuck. Okay.”

 

Leonard kissed the shapely cheek of Jim’s ass, rubbed his cheek against the soft, warm skin, soon to be sensitive and reddened by his own hand. Oh, how he’d missed this.

 

“If you say stop, I’ll stop. If I ask you if you want to keep going, you can say ‘yes’, or ‘keep going’. None of this ‘don’t stop’ mess, alright? That’s just asking for a miscommunication.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Tell me what I just said.”

 

“Oh, Christ.” Jim shuddered violently as Leonard scraped blunt nails down the back of his thigh. He was beautifully exposed, legs far enough apart to clearly show his heavily hanging balls, a hint of the darker furl of his hole. Leonard brushed against it with his thumb, feather-light, made Jim gasp and press back only to find the pressure gone. “God, okay. If I want you to stop, I say ‘stop’. In any context. If I want you to keep going, I need to say ‘yes’, or ‘keep going’.”

 

“Good.” Leonard touched his lips to that unmarred cheek a final time. “You still want to do this?”

 

“Yes, please, Bones. I can’t wait any more.”

 

“Well, I disagree. But since you asked so nicely-“

 

He added the first blow soundly on the center of Jim’s right ass cheek, the softest, roundest part, just to warm up. Quite literally; he knew that keeping his hand on Jim’s skin would intensify the feeling for him, could feel blood beginning to rush to the surface.

 

He had expected Jim to react with maybe a cry, or a curse. He’d expected to need to remind him to count. But the first words driven from Jim’s lungs with the force of that blow were an emphatic- “Thank you. God. That’s one.”

 

“Good,” Leonard murmured, saw that gorgeous body shiver all the way down, ran his hand covetously over Jim’s rear. “Now, on a scale of one to twelve-“ he heard Jim snort breathlessly at the old joke- “ten being perfect, twelve being too hard, how was that for you?”

 

Jim whimpered and hid his face.

 

“There’ll be no more ‘til you tell me.”

 

“I-“ Jim peeked with shame-filled eyes and Leonard just raised an eyebrow expectantly. “Maybe a four?”

 

“Okay. Good.” A little lower than Leonard had expected, but still within the boundaries of his comfort and available strength. Ever-so-gently, he ran the back of a knuckle down the inside of Jim’s thigh, brushed against his balls and felt Jim’s cock twitch in response.

 

He let the second slap fall on the left side, the same fleshy spot but fresh, unmarred skin, felt his palm tingle with the impact so knew Jim felt it more intensely.

 

“Fuck yes.” For all his shame in talking about the mechanics of it, Jim made no effort to hide his reactions, unreservedly responsive and gorgeous doing it. “Two. Thank you. That’s like an eight, Bones, please, just a little harder, you’re perfect.”

 

That strange contradiction aside, Leonard was pleased Jim was still managing to use his words as he had requested. He struck on the right side again, a little lower, half-overlapping his already-fading hand print from before.

 

“Fuck. That’s it, just like that. Oh, God. Three. Thank you.”

 

Okay. Leonard’s cock was hard, pressing up against his jeans and he paused to adjust it. Jim was beautiful, submissive and desperate. Leonard promised himself he would manage at least ten blows before he even considered coming, Jim’s pleasure and release the priority after the day they’d had. Everything else could wait.

 

He trailed fingers softly over the reddened skin -at his own hand, fuck- before preparing for the next blow.

 

“Four, fuck, thank you, please.”

 

“Five, Bones, thank you.”

 

“Oh, thank you. That’s six.”

 

After seven, there was no response, just Jim’s violent shuddering and panting, although at least that confirmed he was still breathing. Leonard paused to run pain-warmed hands up and down Jim’s back, leaning in to kiss that perfect, pink ass.

 

“I need your words, darlin’.”

 

“It’s- just- a minute.”

 

“Of course, darlin’. I’ve got you. You need to lie down?”

 

“Not yet. Will you stop if I come?”

 

Leonard’s mouth fell open although he caught himself quickly, laying down alongside Jim to better meet his eyes, hands on his skin all the while for both their sakes. Jim’s silence made more sense, then, his body tense in an effort to bring his rising climax under control. And wasn’t that just the most gorgeous, erotic thing Leonard had ever seen. To know he had hardly touched him to bring him so close spoke deeply to the sense of power that was mired in his fierce protective instinct. If he could hurt Jim properly, when nothing else would bring his racing thoughts under control, then he wouldn’t need to go looking for it elsewhere ever again.

 

“I’ll keep going if you want me to.”

 

“I do. Please. It’s perfect. Why didn’t I know this about you?”

 

Leonard leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth, felt Jim’s lips twitch in response. “I’ve been rough with you before. I’m always a little- dominant. I guess it all just built up to a peak today. For both of us.”

 

“Lucky for me.”

 

“For both of us,” Leonard repeated, and Jim hummed his agreement, eyes a little less glassy when he wiggled his ass, looking hopeful.

 

“I think we were at seven.”

 

“And?”

 

“Thank you, Bones.” The ‘for everything’ was unspoken, unnecessary.

 

“You really think you can come from this?”

 

“The tension’s been building all day. And the pain, combined with being here, spread open and exposed for you- yeah. I can. If- I may?”

 

“Oh dear God, Jim,” Leonard groaned, his cock swelling with renewed interest at the very idea of Jim asking his permission to come. “One thing at a time, sweetheart. You come whenever you like, an’ I’ll be honored for havin’ caused it. One day I’ll keep you on the edge so long you’re screamin’ for it, but tonight I just want your pretty pink ass under my hands.”

 

“Will you fuck me, after?”

 

Jim’s question was as innocent as it could possibly be, given the circumstances. Kneeling behind him again, Leonard massaged the globes of his rear, spreading them thoughtfully to get a better look at the tight, twitching hole he was being offered. “Not tonight. Maybe in the mornin’, before brunch. You can go out there with my come inside you, knowin’ you’re mine.” He gave Jim’s hole a last, longing caress with his fingers, knew there was no way he’d be able to make it through sufficient preparation that night as much as he wanted that tight heat enveloping him, to thrust between the hot, abused mounds of Jim’s ass and take. He wouldn’t risk hurting him like that. “How ‘bout I come over your ass when I’m done smackin’ it raw?”

 

Jim’s pronounced shudder of arousal was enough of an answer, and with a quick reminder- “Remember to count.” Leonard slapped down hard.

 

It took a few more blows to build up to where they had been. Leonard’s arm was beginning to ache when Jim sobbed, then pressed into the pain. “God, eighteen, I’m so fucking close, Bones. Thank you.”

 

“Twenty’s a nice round number, if you think you can make it that long.” Leonard idly pinched at sore skin, made Jim whimper before soothing it with soft caresses. He aimed his next slap for the left side, the paler join between ass and thigh.

 

When Jim keened, it was through gritted teeth, his posture tense and contained. “Nineteen, fuck, thank you, please.”

 

He wasn’t kept waiting for the twentieth blow, sobbed and -fuck- he was actually coming, whole body juddering with the force of it while Leonard pressed hard into the marks he had left, rubbing and squeezing to coax a couple more weak pulses from Jim’s cock as it emptied untouched onto the sheets.

 

“You’re amazing, Jim.” Leonard gentled his touches, conscious that, while Jim had been raring to go, previously, his climax would have sapped his energy and willing. He wouldn’t continue until he heard the right words. “So damn beautiful, you take my breath away, darlin’. Never had anybody react to me like that, so perfect, so sensitive. I love everything about you, sweetheart. You were so good.”

 

“Bones?” Jim was trembling slightly when he spoke, his voice small and unsure. “I don’t think I can keep going.”

 

“Thank you for telling me, sweetheart. Come on, lie down beside me.” 

 

“What about you?” Jim asked, plaintive even as Leonard manhandled him with care onto his side, avoiding the wet patch and wrapped an arm around him, cautious to keep his denim-clad groin away from Jim’s sensitive skin.

 

“I’m alright. We can go again, later, if you like.”

 

“But I want-“ Jim shifted, wriggled to face him, hissing as his ass touched the rough sheets. “Want you to come on me. Like you said.”

 

He seemed sincere, a little needy even, and Leonard was chafing uncomfortably but he hadn’t yet taken leave of his senses. It seemed like the right thing to do, to indulge him, but- “Can you lie on your back, sweetheart?”

 

Jim’s face lit up at the implied agreement. “Yeah, it’s not so bad. Gunna claim me, paint my chest with your come?”

 

“Gunna paint the inside of these jeans if you’re not careful.” But Leonard soon had obliging and reassuringly steady hands helping him out of them, and he knelt naked over his prone Adonis of a lover, hard cock in hand, gamely leaking. Jim’s eyes were fixed on it and he licked his lips so Leonard traced fingers through the sticky trail and then held them out to watch him arch and whimper.

 

“My perfect filthy comeslut,” Leonard murmured affectionately as he pressed those same fingers onto Jim’s tongue to have them enthusiastically licked clean. He did the same with his other hand, then, his fingers in the soft, wet heat of Jim’s mouth while he began to work his cock, intrigued blue eyes on him all the while. He tried to meet them, couldn’t quite manage it, instead groaned and tensed and shook as he watched his come stripe Jim’s chest. Jim arched into it with a muffled moan, a little shrill at the end from the friction on his ass, and then slumped with lidded eyes, turning his head to pull Leonard’s fingers free.

 

“So fucking hot when you come, Bones, all dark-eyed and intense. I love you.”

 

“Love you too, Jim.” Leonard stared down at him with satisfaction and a vague sense of wonder, leaned in for a messy, lazy kiss that was enthusiastically returned. “I’ll clean us up.”

 

And if Jim’s murmured thanks sent a short, sharp thrill of visceral memory to his cock, well, he only had himself to blame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim didn’t crash like Leonard had feared he would, although that could possibly have been because they spent the whole night curled tightly around one another, snacking on fruit Leonard had brought with him and candy Jim had procured from a very questionable-looking vending machine. In his idea of a concession to their health, he had bought the kind with peanut butter inside.

 

Not that Leonard much cared when Jim had traced fingers stained with chocolate across Leonard’s chest and licked him clean again. Leonard practically purred under the attention, hadn’t realized how much tension he’d been carrying from that day until Jim had fingered himself open and sunk down with a satisfied sigh onto Leonard’s cock.

 

Leonard fucked him with long, slow, deliberate thrusts, kissing him endlessly with the taste of chocolate on his tongue, both of them uncharacteristically silent. It could have been hours they spent grinding into one another, nothing but gasps, soft moans and heavy breathing to guide them. Jim came first, arching with a sigh, relaxed and utterly stunning in his release, expression rapt. Leonard loved him so acutely in that moment he felt like his heart would burst out of his chest.

 

He found his voice to murmur it, over and over, against Jim’s neck at he rode out his own climax into tight, wet heat.

 

Then, as Jim lay pliant and half-asleep, he spent some time indulgently smoothing aloe into the pink patches of his ass. He’d meant to do it before, but there was a certain dirty satisfaction to being able to watch his come leak slowly back out of Jim’s loosened, swollen hole while he did it. Unable to resist, Leonard probed gently with a finger, made Jim groan contentedly. His fingers were still coated in the aloe, so it was medical, really.

 

He couldn’t go again, but he had all the patience in the world when Jim was panting and writhing beneath him, too lazy and comfortable to push back in an attempt to pick up the pace, just willing to let Leonard massage his prostate until he came breathlessly.

 

“Love you, Bones,” he’d muttered as Leonard moved him to wipe him clean of what little come he’d had left in him. “You’re gonna be the best husband.”

 

He was asleep by the time Leonard muffled the first of his sobs in the back of Jim’s neck.

 

 

 

 

On the drive home, Jim suddenly slammed both hands down on the steering wheel and announced, “You know what, fuck it. She can bring Frank. I have a plan. A really good one.”

 

Leonard sighed. “You have to know that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Chapter Text

Paris was overwhelming.

 

Not the place itself. That was lovely, saturated in history and elegance, aside from the myriad cultural differences that made Parisian people seem impossibly rude by Leonard’s standards.

 

Just everything else. The plane journey had been awful, if familiarly so, Jim’s presence reassuring in its consistency and Jim himself more selflessly attentive than ever. He really seemed to be gaining confidence in their relationship; Leonard had caught him staring at his ring, lost in thought but smiling to himself more than once.

 

As promised, Jim had made the most of the previous day, coaxing Leonard apart from his nerves and anxiety to leave him thoroughly well-fucked and sated before they began their overnight flight. He had offered sleeping tablets, too. Leonard had accepted half of one just to take the edge off, since he had resolved never again to drink spirits around Jo.

 

Not that she was paying much attention to him. While Leonard didn’t delve too closely into Jim’s methods of procuring favours, he was aware that it was far more than coincidence that left them in the capable piloting hands of Captain Lorca. He and his co-pilot were more than happy to let Jo visit the cockpit, accompanied by Pavel.

 

“Oh, did I not mention that?” Jim had asked,when they had all assembled in the living room. “Scotty and Pavel are coming too.”

 

He had not mentioned that. Although, Jim reminded him in hushed tones, it would mean they would have some willing babysitters and therefore alone time in the most romantic city in the world. He had practically purred it in Leonard’s ear, too, made the anticipation difficult to deny.

 

“Any other surprises?” Leonard asked later, half-dozing while Jo slept, Pavel read his book and Scotty watched some terrible film.

 

Jim had shrugged. “Nothing bad.”

 

“Great.”

 

Jim had booked everything. Their hotel -or hotels, as it turned out. One in the center of Paris for a couple of nights, small but clean and with a continental breakfast to die for. Leonard had spoken to the staff after the first morning heralded the delivery of six hot, buttery croissants between the three of them and Jo had sworn never to eat anything else ever again. The next morning they had delivered bread instead.

 

“Those things are literally fifty percent butter,” Leonard had grumbled to Jim while Jo was occupied.

 

“She’s on vacation.” Jim had shrugged, unconcerned, but he had also looked supremely guilty when Jo had complained of a stomach ache the next day after an impromptu patisserie visit. He hadn’t said another word about croissants after that.

 

After those first few nights, spent easing into their relaxation time, Jim had had them pack up their bags and took them to the train station. They’d had to show passports before being allowed onto the platform.

 

“Jim…” Leonard had begun, warningly, because it was all beginning to get to be a little much, when Jim produced a gift for Jo in the form of a Paddington Bear stuffed toy dressed as Harry Potter. Or, no- the girl one.

 

“Look daddy, it’s Hermione!”

 

“It’s great, baby girl, what do you say?”

 

“Thank you, Jim,” Jo rattled off obediently. Thankfully, even having a new awareness of her father’s engagement had not prompted her to start referring to Jim by any dangerously stepfather-related terms. Then she sped off to show Scotty and Pavel her new toy.

 

“Did you buy her a cross-dressing bear?” Leonard asked Jim, then, whose expression only creased in consternation briefly.

 

“What can I say, I’m an equal opportunities gift buyer.”

 

“She’s going to lose her mind when she finds out we’re going to London.”

 

Jim nudged him, then. “You’re not, though, right?”

 

“Maybe I’ll just take it out on you later,” Leonard promised in his deepest most suggestive tone, making Jim flush, kiss him hurriedly and then rush off seeking distraction.

 

As it turned out, they wouldn’t have an opportunity to do that for a little while. They were met off the train by an older, mild-mannered woman who, after a great number of largely incomprehensible greetings, Leonard established was Scotty’s mother.

 

“What the fuck, Jim?” Was all he had time to mutter before they were clustered together as a larger group and descending into the Underground station, familiarly overheated and full of damp but generally polite bodies.

 

“Wednesday should be sunny,” Scotty said, shrugging when Leonard commented on it.

 

“That’s three days from now. It’s August.”

 

“You get used to it.”

 

Jo was all-too-happy to splash about in puddles, having been provided with a disposable waterproof poncho and some wellington boots Scotty’s mother had apparently been tipped off to buy in advance.

 

Leonard gave Scotty a suspicious look on hearing that particular admission, received no response but was gratifyingly avenged when Scotty was then summarily quizzed on when he might be providing his own small children to the family. It was deeply amusing to watch him flush and stutter, less so to see Pavel subtly excuse himself from the conversation and all but hide behind Leonard.

 

“It’s not personal, you know,” Leonard told him, dropping back a little as their group strolled across Hampstead Heath to who-knew-where. Jim was off chasing Jo around trees, both of them already hopelessly mud-spattered, Scotty too busy fending off aggressive questioning about his personal life to notice.

 

“I know. They are talking about adoption, too. He has told her that he is seeing someone, but not that it is me. Not that I am eighteen. That I would struggle to move here because I am unskilled, American by birth, Russian by heritage. She loves him. She wants what is best for him.”

 

Leonard sighed. “She wants what’s best for her. With good intentions, sure, but only he can decide what’s best for him. And if he’s decided that’s you, well, not much anybody can do about it. Least of all a parent who can say all they like, but who never visits.”

 

“You know there is more of an age difference between us than between Jim and Joanna.”

 

“It’s different.”

 

“I am not comparing directly. But you can see why it might be- unpalatable.” Pavel swallowed audibly, looking down at his feet. “And his family will assume all sorts of things about me. That I am some gold-digger, some desperate twink with daddy issues looking to be cared for.” He almost spat the last words as though they were the dirtiest of all, even as Leonard wondered who had been teaching him such colorful vocabulary. Not at all helpfully, his first instinct was to wrap an arm around Pavel’s shoulder, maybe ruffle his hair and say sorry, kid.

 

“He’s worth it, though, right?”

 

Pavel blinked as though that simple assessment hadn’t occurred to him, spent the next few minutes in thoughtful silence. Jim was turning Jo upside down and threatening to dunk her in a particularly large puddle, her braided hair thankfully unmarred as she shrieked gleefully.

 

“Am I worth it?” Pavel wondered vaguely, maybe not intentionally out loud.

 

“He brought you here, didn’t he?”

 

Pavel frowned.

 

 

 

 

The group of them, Leonard learned, had rented an apartment with four bedrooms. He shot a significant look at Pavel, who pouted. They both rolled their eyes when they saw the twin beds, though.

 

“Maybe he’s just respecting your space,” Leonard offered.

 

Pavel stalked off.

 

 

 

 

“I think she thinks he’s Jo’s au pair.” Jim grimaced apologetically when he noticed Leonard watching Pavel later, enacting some pretend scenario between Hermione-bear and a selection of My Little Ponies.

 

“That’s- vaguely racist.”

 

“Or ageist.” Jim chewed on his thumbnail, perched on the arm of the couch at Leonard’s shoulder. “I haven’t decided whether she thinks you’re fucking him on the side yet.”

 

“Jesus Christ.”

 

“I think most of the resistance is because- if Scotty were seeing anyone, she’d want it to be you.”

 

“That would not end well.”

 

Jim shrugged. “I don’t know. I can sort of imagine it.”

 

“Stop imagining it.”

 

“My mind is my own.” Jim shot him a grin, then subsided. Both figuratively and literally, as he slid sideways to squeeze into the space next to Leonard, draping his legs over Leonard’s thighs. Leonard set a hand on his knee. “So they’re pretty serious, right? Meeting the parents.”

 

“Maybe this is too soon for them.”

 

Jim put his head on Leonard’s shoulder and sighed.

 

 

 

 

Leonard had been recruited to play Princess Something-or-other when Jim stuck his head around the door.

 

“Me and Scotty are going to a lock-in, wanna come?”

 

“Not even slightly.”

 

“What is a lock-in?” Pavel asked, although his unimpressed expression suggested he already sort of knew.

 

“Like an all-night party.” Jim shrugged, sensible enough not to say exactly how drunk they were likely to get at this incredibly illegal party in front of Jo, who was listening even as -wait, Leonard knew this- Pinkie Pie contacted the space station about the meteor headed for earth. Where she had absorbed that possibility, Leonard had no idea.

 

“Ah. No, thank you.”

 

“Alright. We’re going to get toasties there, so are you guys alright for dinner? Think Scotty’s mom’s going to the theater but there’s stuff in the fridge.”

 

“We’ll figure something out. Any idea when you’ll be back?”

 

“Scotty says between five and eight.”

 

Leonard’s eyes widened. “Lord. Text me, let me know you’re safe?”

 

“You got it, Wifey. See you in the morning.” Jim waved, then had second thoughts, rushed in to briefly squish Jo and kiss her hair. He took a moment to squeeze Leonard’s hand and duck in for a kiss, patted Pavel’s shoulder and met his eyes with an expression Leonard couldn’t see. Whatever it was, it made Pavel excuse himself for a moment. Leonard arched an eyebrow in Jim’s direction, got a shrug in return. Well, that was reassuring.

 

“Daddy, come on! Princess Cadance is needed to stop the Autobots from invading!”

 

What?

 

“Sorry, baby.” Leonard picked up his designated pony and robot, met Jim’s eyes and mouthed, “I love you.”

 

Jim was watching them with a broad, fond smile, mouthed, “I love you, too.” and was gone.

 

 

 

 

Later, after a dinner of fish and chips, which had been super greasy but awesome, Jo left her dad doing the clearing up and went in search of Pavel. She found him on the balcony, staring out over London. The lights were pretty -she could see the circle of red ones that made up the London Eye- but he looked sad. She stepped up beside him, playing with the ear of her new bear where it was extra soft. There was something that had been bothering her for a while, and although she knew not to pry, she couldn’t do her best to help if she didn’t know.

 

“Are you and Scotty dating?” She asked, and he turned those sad eyes on her, didn’t answer right away.

 

Then he sighed. “I don’t know.”

 

Well, that would make anyone sad. Jo hated not to know stuff, too. She offered Pavel her bear, because it looked like he needed it more than she did, and he accepted it with a small smile. She wrapped her arms around his legs, as high as she could comfortably reach, and he stroked her hair.

 

Her dad sighed when he found them, scooped her up and put a hand on Pavel’s shoulder to guide him back inside. In search of somewhere they would all fit, they ended up sprawled across her dad’s bed, weird British cartoons on the small TV.

 

It wasn’t the same as when her dad was with Jim. Then, he got really close, way closer than he ever did with her mom, that she could remember. They leaned against each other, wrapped arms around each other, gave each other little smiles and kisses when they thought she wasn’t looking. Even though he could have picked Pavel up almost as easily as he did her, she was sure, he stuck with a touch to a shoulder or -like then- one hand outstretched to tangle in the curls of Pavel’s hair. Small touches.

 

But Jim would basically throw himself into her dad’s arms sometimes, too. If her dad was on the couch and there were two other seats, he’d still splat down as close as possible, maybe put his legs over her dad’s lap and an arm around his shoulders. He made happy little noises when her dad played with his hair, too, like a dog being petted. Pavel maybe leaned in a little but that was all. Like a cat.

 

What was she then? A hamster, maybe. She clambered over Pavel’s legs and burrowed in between him and her dad, anyway, her head resting on her dad’s arm, staring at the ceiling. Pavel handed her back Hermione and she squished her tight.

 

“You can keep her longer if you like,” she offered, because he didn’t really look like he felt any better.

 

“It’s alright. I’ll hold onto your dad, instead.”

 

Jo frowned at the comparison. “My dad’s not a bear.”

 

Something about that made Pavel smirk and her dad push him off the bed. He was careful not to crush her, or lean on her hair, and Pavel began to laugh so she was pleased even if she didn’t really understand.

 

“He’s hairy like a bear,” Pavel said, when he climbed back onto the bed, laying on his side close enough to touch but not reaching out. Jo gave him Hermione then and he snuggled her, making sure she was facing out so she could see.

 

“I am not.”

 

“You’re hairier than me.”

 

“There are hypoallergenic cats hairier than you.”

 

Pavel laughed at that. Jo pouted. “What’s hypo- hypogenic?”

 

“Hypoallergenic,” her dad said more clearly for her, and she tried to fit her mouth around the words. “It means that nobody’s allergic to it. With cats, because it’s their fur that people are allergic to, it means they’re hairless.”

 

Jo wrinkled her nose. That didn’t sound cute at all. Pavel showed her a picture on his phone and she pulled a face. “No! Pavel is a cat but not an ugly one. A cute one. Can you get cats with curly hair?”

 

Her dad frowned. “I don’t think so.”

 

Pavel was looking at his phone. “Not really. I could be a cat. I just need somebody to rub my belly and feed me twice a day.” He stretched out on his back and Jo patted his stomach obligingly. He curled his hands over to look like paws. “What do you think?”

 

“I think I’ve already fed you, so quit begging.”

 

Pavel’s response was a vicious hiss that made Jo’s dad roll his eyes so hard she could feel it in the way he moved.

 

“You are grumpy like a bear.”

 

“I’m not a- a dang bear.”

 

“Actually, you cannot be a bear. Because you would be too much bigger than me. Maybe you are a dog.”

 

“No, Jim’s a dog!” Jo had to interrupt, made her dad smile and Pavel nod.

 

“Yes, like a- what are the guide dogs?”

 

“A Labrador. Or a Golden Retriever.”

 

Before Jo could ask, Pavel was finding her a picture. When he showed her, she clapped and squealed. “Yes! That’s Jim! So-“ she looked at her dad again, considering- “maybe you could be a wolf.”

 

“What about a Shepherd dog?” Pavel found her a picture of a German Shepherd. Like a Police dog.

 

“Oh, yeah.”

 

Pavel pouted again, then. “You are still both bigger than me.”

 

“We are bigger than you,” her dad said, then. “What if you’re a big cat? You run, right? How about a cheetah?”

 

“They are sprinters, I run distance. But that is better.”

 

“Or are you a Siberian tiger?”

 

Pavel considered that, then curled his hands into claws. “Alright. I am a tiger.”

 

“Then you can hunt your own food,” Jo’s dad said, making Pavel stick his tongue out and Jo giggle. She loved it when her dad would play games with her. He’d been much better at it since Jim had come along. And she had so many other people around, too.

 

“What am I, what am I?” 

 

“That’s easy. You’re a little monkey.” Her dad tickled her then, made her squirm to get away until she could escape into Pavel’s much safer arms. Above her, Pavel leaned towards her dad, growling.

 

“Should’a stuck with the bear,” her dad sighed.

 

“Was there not a Disney film about this?” Pavel asked.

 

“Oh, yeah. The Jungle Book. Wasn’t the tiger the bad guy in that?”

 

“I would make an excellent villain.”

 

“And there’s no way the Russian accent’s been overplayed in mainstream media.”

 

Pavel said something in Russian, then, a strange lisping language that sounded short, somehow. 

 

Jo nudged him in the ribs. “What did you say?”

 

“I would like the chicken dumplings, please.”

 

“That’s not what you said,” Jo’s dad snorted.

 

“Prove it.”

 

That made Jo’s dad glare, but he had no more words.

 

“What’s mom?”

 

Jo’s dad thought for a moment. “How about a fox? Adorable, but vicious when cornered.”

 

“They dig through the trash.” Jo wasn’t entirely convinced, but Pavel shrugged.

 

“In Russia, they have tame Arctic foxes. They do not dig through the trash.”

 

“You can keep a fox as a pet?” Jo hadn’t known that. Foxes were cute! Pavel was looking at her dad with wide eyes. “Daddy, I want a pet fox! Can I have one for my birthday?”

 

“They are illegal in most states, I think.” Pavel told her, then. Well, that didn’t seem fair at all. “And they are bred especially. They would be very expensive. And they smell very strange.”

 

“What do they smell like?”

 

“It is difficult to explain. I think- musky is the word. Like a sort of sweat and urine smell.”

 

“Maybe I don’t want a pet fox.” Jo wrinkled her nose. Mara at school had a dog that smelled bad enough when it got wet. She didn’t think she’d be able to deal with a fox smelling bad all the time.

 

She didn’t see her dad mouth, “thank you,” at Pavel over her head. Instead, she snuggled further into Pavel’s chest, asking quietly, “What about Scotty?”

 

She felt Pavel sigh against her hair, but he didn’t move away. “I think Scotty is a horse. Stronger than he realizes. And intelligent, but not viewed as such by those who take advantage of all he does, but do not appreciate him.”

 

“I like that.” Jo told him, and he squeezed her. “I always wanted a pony.”

 

 

 

 

“So… you’re just never going to have sex?” Jim did his best to ask, free from judgment but undeniably curious and more than drunk enough to ask.

 

“How long have you been waiting to ask that?”

 

“Pretty much the whole time.”

 

“Ugh.” Scotty took a long sip of his drink, a pint of some sort of ale Jim had lost the ability to identify shortly before he’d ordered his own. They sat at a sticky table in the strangely dark corner of the artificially lit grungy pub at some ungodly hour of the morning, Jim sat opposite Scotty with the top half of his body in a sprawl across the table, his head resting on his arms at least until the room stopped spinning. “Okay. I like him. A lot. And he likes me. Fuck knows why.”

 

“Scotty-“

 

“Shh, not important. I would love to have sex with him. He- has offered. For my sake. I can’t- do that. I can’t put him through something he doesn’t enjoy. But I love being with him. Just holding him is so much more than I ever thought I’d have. He’s- I love him, Jim. I’d do anything for him. He gives me everything I need out of a relationship, the affection and the companionship and he’s so fucking clever I can’t stand it.

 

“It sounds crass but if I didn’t have him- I’d be taking care of my own urges anyway. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by being with him. He makes my life better and he makes me better.”

 

“That’s adorable.”

 

“No it isn’t.”

 

“It is, it’s like super romantic.”

 

“I just finished talking about my wanking habits.”

 

“Come on, Scotty. You know as well as I do that sex is a ticking time bomb in so many relationships. It must be difficult for Pavel to be faced with that. He’s got a lot to contend with. He’s lucky to have you.”

 

Scotty put his head in his hands and Jim peered at him curiously, unable to coax his brain into precisely identifying the emotions in his expression and posture. “I don’t know about that, lad.”

 

“You don’t think it’s working?”

 

“I think he’s still young and still figuring out his lot in life and I’m the last thing he needs adding to his problems.”

 

“You’re not a problem, you’re a solution. He adores you.”

 

“That, he does. But- I can see how much he wants my approval. What if he’s making the wrong decisions based on what I want and he ends up hating me?”

 

“That’s a pretty big what if. And, well, there’s nothing wrong with you giving him advice with good intentions. He’s young but smart enough to make his own decisions. And he values your opinion because you’re smart and you care about him. Same as me. And just being there, listening to him, not pressuring him to change. That’s worth so much more than you think.”

 

“He’s been hurt so much. I don’t want to make it worse.”

 

“Well, if you tell him you’re breaking up with him because you doubt his ability to make his own choices then you definitely will. You want to be with him and I don’t understand what’s so wrong with that.”

 

Scotty leveled him with a glare, then. “Alright, how would you feel if you thought Len was only offering to have sex with you if you thought it was what you wanted?”

 

“Okay that would be weird. But if he’d been upfront about it from the start, then- okay, wow, that’s difficult. Like, you guys don’t have sex, ever?”

 

“No. He -please don’t share this- thinks he could, in the right situation, because the feelings can be pleasurable even if they’re not sexual. But I’m not exactly a sex God. What if it’s not good when I do it and I put him off the idea forever?”

 

For a moment, Jim could only stare at him with slowly dawning horror. “And I guess you love him too much to let anybody else try.”

 

Scotty’s eyes shone with unfallen tears, then, and Jim felt awful. “I’d do it, of course I would, if I thought it would help. But how can I suggest that? He trusts me. I’m not going to whore him out no matter how much- someone might think they can help him.”

 

“Well- he doesn’t want them. He chose you. And- even if you’re not some sort of sex God, which -no offence- I’m sure he knows, then he wants it to be you. He’s offering because he wants to. I think maybe you could get through it together. Your good intentions and your love for him are way more important than skill. Especially when that might highlight his lack of experience in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable.”

 

“Well, it’s good to know my mediocrity is good for something.”

 

“Uhh, excuse you. You are not mediocre. You’re- warm and decent and safe. And -for fucks sake don’t tell Bones- deeply hot.”

 

Finally, Scotty laughed. “From personal experience?”

 

“From having my eyes, my hands and my mouth on you. You don’t need to worry. I’ve been with people who were- technically more skilled but I didn’t enjoy them. They weren’t what I wanted. I didn’t dare ask for what I did. If- Bones weren’t around, and I was having my first time, I’d want it to be with you.”

 

“You’re lying.”

 

“You have no idea how rare you are. I’ve had- a lot of sex. With a lot of people. But I can count on one hand the number of people who made me enjoy it. So many of them just took. He wants you to love him and there’s no way you can do anything else.”

 

“Is that enough?”

 

Jim sighed and shrugged, and gestured to the landlord for another round of drinks.

 

 

 

 

“Oh my God, I feel terrible. Why do I do this to myself?” Jim groaned as he crawled into bed, teeth brushed but the rest of him probably still stinking of booze after staggering back to their rented apartment. He felt bad, but couldn’t have gone a moment longer without physical contact, without wrapping his arms around Bones, burying his face in sleep-warm skin and inhaling the comforting scent of home.

 

“I’m glad you’re back safe, darlin’.” Bones kissed him soundly, then shoved him to his own side of the bed despite Jim’s grabbing. “You’re not getting any closer until you’ve sobered up, you smell terrible.”

 

Jim whined plaintively until Bones allowed him to clasp his hand, tangling their fingers together and rubbing at the precious band of metal wrapped around one of them, the reminder that he wasn’t going anywhere alone.

 

 

 

 

“I’m so sorry, baby, I’m sorry.” Scotty, too, had made it back to his own bed, where Pavel was curled, gorgeous and relaxed and so damn young. He blinked big, beautiful eyes when Scotty woke him up, probably mumbling and incoherent but with so much to say. “I never meant to make you doubt what we had, I was just so scared I wouldn’t be good enough for you.”

 

“You are far better than I deserve. Now hush, I am sleeping. Stay with me. We will fix this. If- you want.”

 

“I want, I want. Pavel, don’t go.”

 

“You are in my bed, where would I go?” Pavel pounced, wrapped his arms around Scotty’s waist and held when he would have attempted to escape. “Stay. I want you to.”

 

“Be careful, or I might do just that.”

 

Pavel rolled his eyes and held tighter, smiling to himself. He had an idea.

 

 

 

 

“So is it a sex thing?”

 

“Oh my God, ma, no!”

 

Leonard was woken up less by the conversation happening in the hallway than by Jim’s body shaking as he suppressed hysterical laughter with his face pressed between Leonard’s shoulder blades.

 

“You’re living with five other men, Monty, I think it’s a reasonable question.”

 

Oh, right. Leonard had forgotten Scotty had a real name.

 

“We’re not having sex. Well- presumably Spock and his girlfriend Nyota are, and Jim and Len, but not in the weird gay orgy that you seem to be imagining.”

 

“Well, if that’s what would make you happy.”

 

“Ma.”

 

“And, well- are they all so bizarrely attractive? I thought Americans were supposed to be fat!”

 

“It’s not much worse than back home.”

 

“And with you being bisexual or whatever the kids are calling it these days, you can’t blame me for assuming. You’re telling me you haven’t so much as touched any of those men?”

 

Leonard felt Jim’s fingers twitch where they were wrapped around his hip, rolled his eyes and patted his hand. He had suspected something like that had happened at some point, more from Scotty’s occasional guilty look than anything, and he understood. Jim sighed, holding him tight, a wordless apology, and Leonard pressed back against him.

 

“It was a long time ago, and I told you, I’m dating someone. I wouldn’t do that to them.”

 

“And they’re alright with your living situation?”

 

“Yes, they are.”

 

“Are they alright with you sharing a bed with that implausibly gorgeous Russian boy?”

 

“Ah, Christ.”

 

“What, you thought I wouldn’t notice? You’ve hardly been-“

 

“It’s him, ma, it’s obviously him.”

 

“Now, was that so hard? He seems nice.”

 

“He is.”

 

“Far more sensible than any of the rest of you.”

 

“Ma-“

 

“Good with kids, too.”

 

“Ma!”

 

“And he’s already agreed to have dinner tonight, just the three of us, so I hope you brought a nice shirt.”

 

“I didn’t-“

 

Pavel’s voice, next, from the bedroom opposite. “You did, I packed you one!”

 

“I suppose you heard all of that.”

 

Jim couldn’t resist. “Good call not telling her about all the orgies!”

 

“Jim!” Leonard elbowed him, conscious of Jo likely listening too.

 

“You guys are so gross!” Definitely listening.

 

“Sorry.” Jim bit Leonard’s ear, then set about sucking a mark just below where the collar of his worn T-shirt covered. He’d had plenty of practice, knew exactly where to do it, how hard to bite to turn Leonard’s half-hearted grumbles into soft groans of pleasure. “I love you,” he added, letting up, turning away and sitting up as the thundering steps of an almost-eight year old approached.

 

“Jo-biscuit!”

 

“That doesn’t even make sense!” Jo flung herself into Jim’s arms. Leonard curled on his side, away from them, stole Jim’s pillow and ducked his head underneath it, grumbling.

 

“Lots of things don’t make sense. Like why do you never see baby pigeons?”

 

“Pigeons don’t have babies, they come from eggs!”

 

“Well, why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?”

 

Blissful silence.

 

“If ghosts can walk through walls why don’t they fall through the floor?”

 

Nothing to that, either. Leonard snorted and gave up on clinging to the last vestiges of precious sleep. “How can something be both new and improved?”

 

He turned to face Jo, who was pouting and frowning, a wobble in her lip and brow from trying not to laugh. “How about you have breakfast while you think? And then we can go and see that cricket game.”

 

Jo was decidedly not enthused about that particular prospect, although Jim energetically kept her too distracted for her to remember to drag her heels too much or to notice where they were going on the train despite the numerous people in something approaching costume.

 

The huge purple bus outside the station sort of gave it away, though. Jo turned to him, eyes wide and watery. “Daddy?”

 

He had to choke down a little emotion himself as he was reminded how fragile and beautiful and perfect she was, how willing she had been to go along with what she thought they had wanted. He loved her so damn much.

 

“Baby girl. If you were playing International cricket, I still wouldn’t want to go and see a game. It is a terrible sport. Let’s go and see Hogwarts.”

 

She leaped into his arms, squealing with glee, the warmth in his heart more than enough to make up for the damage to his eardrums. “I love you so much, daddy!”

 

“Love you too, sweetheart.”

 

“An’ I love you, too, Jim!”

 

“You- you do?”

 

“Sure I do! Don’t you love me?”

 

“Jo…” Leonard’s voice held a hesitant warning; for all Jo’s announcement made his heart bloom with love, it was far more likely to shatter Jim’s. He already looked a little teary and fragile. Leonard reached for his hand and accidentally brought him into the range of Jo’s leech-like reach. She clambered across into his arms before Leonard could pull away without risking her falling.

 

“What’s wrong, daddy?”

 

“Well, sweetheart, sometimes it’s hard to talk about feelings that strong, especially in public.”

 

Jo sobered at that, wrapped her arms around Jim’s neck to mumble in his ear. “I’m sorry, Jim.”

 

“It’s okay, Jo. Your dad’s right, I find it hard to talk about my feelings. But I’m getting better. You know I love you, right?”

 

They were in the queue for the next bus, and several people were staring, subtle displays of emotion on their faces. But Jim only had eyes and a wonderfully genuine smile for the girl in his arms.

 

“I know. Daddy would never have thought of this on his own.”

 

“Hey,” Leonard muttered, unable to object as strongly as he would have liked because that was true, of course. Then again, he had thought they were spending two full weeks in Paris just a few days previously, thanks to yet more of Jim’s shenanigans.

 

“Well, then it’s a good thing your dad has me, then.” Jim met Leonard’s eyes and held his gaze for as long as it took people to start moving, at which point Jo began to wriggle almost uncontrollably in her eagerness to be on board. Eventually Jim slung her over his shoulder, one arm pinning her legs against his chest to stop her from kicking him while he dug in his pocket for his wallet with a reminder, “They only take cash. It’s like two bucks each.”

 

“What would I do without you?”

 

Jim grinned. “Apparently spend way less time on public transport- hey!” He turned, then spun, because Jo had removed some of the beaded bracelets from her wrist and was dropping them, aiming for the small gap at the back of Jim’s pants. “Stop that! Or I’ll only buy you a Gryffindor scarf!”

 

Jo stilled so suddenly that Leonard almost panicked for a moment before he heard her mumble, “I’ll be good.”

 

“Atta girl.” Jim patted her back, then carefully deposited her on the ground and helped her pick up the bracelets. He shook his leg to get the last one out from inside his jeans and offered it to Jo, who wrinkled her nose. With a shake of his head, he slipped it over his own wrist and took her hand as they finally made it to the front of the queue.

 

“Which is your favorite book, Jim?” Jo asked, once they had boarded.

 

“Oh, I only saw the movies.” 

 

They were somewhere in the middle of the lower deck of the bus, and everyone within hearing distance turned to stare at him in horror. “Uhh- I mean, unless Gaila’s Drarry fanfiction counts.”

 

Two teenaged girls in robes and yellow scarves fist-bumped him as Leonard eyed them with alarm and only a vague idea of what Jim had meant.

 

“What’s fanfiction?” Jo then wanted to know.

 

Leonard knew enough to know that was not a question he wanted Jim to answer. From the wide eyes of both Jim and the two girls, they all did, as well.

 

Jim recovered first to tell him, “They do Gen stuff, too.”

 

“What does that even mean?” Leonard stared while Jo pulled on both their hands, still after an explanation.

 

“Well-“ Jim began, with a calm down look for Leonard’s don’t you dare. “When people like a book, or a movie, or anything like that, sometimes they write stories about it. And then they share it with other people.”

 

“So it’s like a whole other book.”

 

“Right. So what are you most excited to see today?”

 

Successfully diverted, Jo chattered happily away. Leonard had read the books with her fairly recently but was soon lost. Actually, even Jim seemed to be struggling, although he did his best regardless. Thankfully the two girls who had fist-bumped Jim were making their own contributions and keeping her occupied. 

 

While he’d never sat down to watch any of the movies in full, he had caught enough to recognize some of the sets and props they had on display. About halfway around, Jim took to affecting a terrible British accent as he narrated their journey, which Jo found hilarious, but it was making Leonard’s head pound. When he saw a familiar sign, he grabbed Jim’s shoulder, a little clumsy through the sparks obscuring his vision, the symptoms of his skull apparently splitting in half, judging by the pain.

 

“Hey, you okay?”

 

“You might if I duck out for half an hour? I’m not feeling too good.”

 

“You want us to come with you?”

 

“No, I’ll just get a cup of coffee and sit quietly for a while.”

 

“I don’t think there’s that much left to see. We’ll come and find you when we’re done, okay? Text me if you need me to take you home.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“I’ll buy you something nice from the gift ship. Love you.” Jim dived in for a quick kiss then walked away hand in hand with Jo. She gave Leonard a couple of concerned looks but was soon distracted, so Leonard made his way over to Starbucks.

 

He got as far as the queue before the next stage of his migraine made itself known, and he had to duck into the bathroom. Vomiting took the edge off the pain, somehow, but he felt unpleasantly sweaty and shaky, had to splash his face with cold water and rinse his mouth out before he could face going out there again. Thankfully every other person in there appeared determined to ignore him and his state.

 

The queue was actually shorter when he got out, too, clearly in a bit of a lull in between the arrival of the shuttle buses, and he ordered an iced tea, found a table in the corner and put his head in his hands. The lack of sunlight brought instant relief, and although the process was too far along for painkillers to really make much of a difference he accepted two ibuprofen from an unspeakably polite man who approached him to offer them. They couldn’t hurt.

 

He spent the following few minutes contemplating just how much his thoughts were beginning to sound like Jim. Maybe the pain was making him delirious. For a while, he just drifted, lost in thought and unable to open his eyes without renewing the agony. One of the girls behind the counter approached to cautiously offer him codeine, but although he would have loved to indulge he didn’t want to be fuzzy and incoherent for Jo. She left him half the pack anyway, which he gratefully pocketed for later, and slipped him a second iced tea with a wink.

 

He was still reeling from that particular baffling interaction when a fluffy creature poked its head over the edge of the table. He regarded the horribly ugly ginger cat plush with some horror, then looked to the crouched figure wielding it.

 

“Please tell me you didn’t buy that for Jo.”

 

“Don’t ask me to lie to you, Bones.”

 

“That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” Leonard managed the ghost of a smile. “And the cat’s pretty bad too.”

 

Jim clutched his heart, faux-wounded as he staggered to his feet, setting the cat down so its beady eyes were on Leonard. “Be grateful I talked her out of the giant spider plush. That thing was nasty. Jo’s just holding our place in the queue, you want anything?”

 

“No thanks.”

 

Jim leaned over to brush some of the hair from Leonard’s brow, achingly tender, his eyes soft.

 

“You’re not ugly.” Leonard murmured, watched the gentle smile light up Jim’s face.

 

“Doesn’t matter if I am. I’ve scored a man now. I’m getting a cake and a latte and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.” He pressed a kiss to Leonard’s temple and sauntered away to where Jo waited, wearing-

 

“Oh, Lord,” Leonard muttered to himself. Jim had bought her a cardigan that clearly only came in adult sizes. It was grey, came down to her knees and needed the sleeves rolling up multiple times to expose her hands, which she waved enthusiastically at Jim’s return. Leonard couldn’t hear their chatter, but judging from Jim’s hands on hips and Jo’s pout he was actually saying no to her.

 

He had been somewhat concerned he wouldn’t see much of that. With all that had happened, Jim did have a tendency to indulge Jo, leaving Leonard to be the one to put his foot down. Maybe they were both influencing each other, getting closer to a balance between his unrestrained negativity and Jim’s over-enthusiasm.

 

 

 

 

“But why?”

 

“Because these things are unhealthy enough for grown-ups, and they’re too big. As much as you might hate it, if you have two you’ll get sick.”

 

“But you’re having a drink and a cake.”

 

“Because there’s no sugar in a latte. If you have a coffee then you can have a cake, too.”

 

“Gross.”

 

“Okay, so you want a brownie or a hot chocolate?”

 

“I want both!”

 

“No. I’ve told you why. Now, I’m getting you a hot chocolate unless you tell me you want a brownie instead by the time we get to the counter.”

 

Jo began to cry. Internally, Jim was, too, some traitorous urge telling him that he was doing something wrong, that he had to do anything he could to stop the tears. Instead, he took a deep breath, managed not to look to Bones. He was a good person and he wasn’t going to ruin this child with his own issues. People were beginning to stare as Jo really got going.

 

“C’mon, Jo-bear. Can you please just trust me on this?”

 

“No! You’re just mean!”

 

“I’ve never been mean to you, ever.”

 

“You don’t really love me.”

 

“I love you so much I’d do anything to keep you healthy.”

 

“Well I don’t love you at all.”

 

Ouch. Said in anger or not, that hurt like a knife through the heart. And all over a brownie. Kids made no fucking sense.

 

“That hurts my feelings.”

 

“I don’t care!’

 

“Uhh- what can I get you?” The poor girl behind the counter asked. Jo had subsided into a sullen, sniffling silence, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her cardigan. Jim didn’t risk the argument that would result from telling her not to.

 

“Just a flat white. And a hot chocolate, please.”

 

He had considered not getting her anything, but he wouldn’t punish Jo for showing her feelings. In his head, he was proving that he would still be there for her no matter what. Who only knew how she was interpreting it, as she watched him with red eyes, tears still quietly falling.

 

“It doesn’t get any easier,” the cashier said, while they waited for the card payment to process. “Hurts every time they say it. Like your heart’s being torn from your chest. Just so you know.”

 

“Oh, good.” Jim gave her a weak smile. “This is terrible customer service.”

 

“Welcome to the UK. Your drinks’ll be at the end.”

 

Jim dug in his pocket for the change from the bus and dropped it into the tip jar before moving aside, careful to make sure Jo was following.

 

“You want to go wait with your dad? I can bring these over.”

 

Jo looked doubtfully over at her dad, as well she might. There was no way their little discussion had gone unnoticed and she had recovered enough from her fit of emotion to see that she would be in trouble for her behavior. Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out a box that just about fit in the palm of his hand.

 

“Why don’t you show him the gift we got him. Just remember to go easy- his head hurts.”

 

The box was very carefully taken from his hand and cradled close to Jo’s chest. She already looked a little remorseful. Jim gave her a small smile and a tiny push before she managed to find the confidence to go for it. When she safely reached the table he could relax a bit, letting out a long, low sigh and turning to the counter so he could close his eyes and just breathe for a moment. Looking after Jo was exhausting, mentally, trying to make conversation and keep an eye out for possible threats and manage her emotional well-being all at once. He would never have given it up but he couldn’t help but feel he’d earned a moment’s break.

 

He was grateful for the queue that meant his drinks took a while, his coming up before Jo’s so he could take a few restorative sips. The barista smiled and winked at him when she handed it over and he managed at least one of those gestures in return although he wasn’t entirely sure which.

 

At least Bones was looking a little better, just some lingering tension in his features as he managed to engage Jo in conversation about the gift they’d chosen. Well, one of them. Jim approached and set the drinks down a safe distance from Jo’s enthusiastic gesticulation and dug in the bag that hung from his arm. Bones eyed him suspiciously as he retrieved their scarves, draping Jo’s blue one over her shoulders, wrapping his own red one around his neck and walking around to present the final green one. The color earned him a questioning look.

 

“I would’ve gone blue, but Jo insisted. And she’s actually read the books.”

 

“You’re Slytherin, daddy. Definitely.”

 

“If that’s what you think, sweetheart. You’re the smart one.”

 

Jo glowed at the praise, gave Jim a brief, shy look as she pulled her drink closer and said a quiet thanks.

 

“You two alright?” Bones asked, then, and Jo immediately looked away, staring at the table. Jim would really have to work on her guilt response if they were ever going to get away with anything. 

 

“We’re good.” Jim shrugged, with a suitably nonchalant sip of his coffee. It wasn’t entirely true, but it also wasn’t Bones’ responsibility. He and Jo would work it out later, in their own time. “Little culture shock, I think. Wearing both of you down. It’s a real thing, just- when nothing’s familiar, everything you take for granted is suddenly different and even the simplest things become harder. It’s tiring. I see it all the time. How about a nice relaxing day tomorrow? Maybe a picnic in the park? I’ll get Sorcerer’s Stone on Kindle-”

 

“Philosopher’s Stone,” Jo corrected, sulkily, and Jim and Bones both looked at her. “They changed it to Sorcerer's Stone because they thought Americans were too stupid to understand. And some of the words in the text.”

 

Jim’s shoulders slumped. “I’m going to have to buy the actual books, aren’t I?”

 

“Only if you want them to be the actual words that she wrote.”

 

“I’ll go to the gift shop on the way out.”

 

“Can’t you just get the UK editions as e-books?” Bones was frowning, sipping on what looked like his second iced tea.

 

“Not without changing my billing address. It’s a licensing thing. But- the picnic? We can go shopping with Scotty for British foods. Cucumber sandwiches and stuff. Scotch eggs. Weather’s supposed to be good.”

 

“I want cheeseburgers,” Jo said, then hastily straightened her back and corrected herself when Jim and Bones shot her a synchronized warning look. “I mean- please could we have cheeseburgers?”

 

“The others are out tonight and I definitely don’t feel up to cooking. We could get McDonalds? They’ll probably deliver where we are.”

 

“I’d like that. Thank you, Jim.” Jo gave him a hesitant smile, then frowned to herself, then raised her chin. “I’m sorry ‘bout all that stuff I said.”

 

“It’s alright. Thank you.”

 

“So you did say something.” Bones leveled them both with a look, an unbearable tension in his features that Jim ached to smooth away.

 

“I didn’t mean it! I was just real hungry. And my brain kinda feels really full and heavy. Can we go back to the apartment soon?”

 

“You liked it here though, right?” Jim had to ask, and Jo nodded long and hard enough to assuage even the worst of his irrational fears. “Alright then. Think you can finish your drink? You don’t have to. And make sure you use the bathroom before we go.”

 

“Come straight back, please.” Bones called after her when she flounced off, still irritable, in the direction of the bathroom. Jim couldn’t help but smile. She was so damn cute.

 

“She doesn’t throw tantrums very often but when she does they’re pretty bad. You alright?” Bones asked.

 

“Yeah. It’s fine. She’s- way easier to deal with than I was at that age.”

 

“At any age.”

 

“Right? Plus, she’s so adorable in that cardigan I can hardly stand it.”

 

“You do remember what I said about spoiling her?”

 

“I just- okay, I know it’s wrong. But I never did any of this stuff. If- when she has bad days, I want her to be surrounded of reminders of good times.”

 

“Could we maybe make it one reminder, rather than three, next time?”

 

“Bones. We’re going to Disney next week. You have to know I can’t promise that. Besides, I told her the cardigan was from you. What’s mine is yours, and all.”

 

Bones looked as though he wanted to object, but Jo returned, waving clean hands in triumph and wrapping Crookshanks the cat up in her scarf until it resembled a blue football, which she hugged close.

 

“Okay!” Jim rallied. Just a little longer and they would be back safe and he could relax. “Let’s go, adorable grumpy princess.”

 

“I am not grumpy.” Jo pouted, wholly unironically. She would learn.

 

“I was talking to your dad.”

 

 

 

 

“Do you argue with my dad?” Jo asked later, as she and Jim did some predictably Harry Potter-themed coloring together. Bones was in bed, still recovering from his headache.

 

“Of course, sometimes. He never tells me he doesn’t love me any more, though.” Jim was as gently pointed as he could manage, while he pretended not to watch her scowl.

 

“Not yet.”

 

“Oh, Jo-apple. You know I had a really similar conversation with your dad a while ago about always expecting the worst. Do you know what target fixation is? It’s like- when you’re walking and you try and look at something way off to the side, you end up walking towards it. The point is, if you think bad things are going to happen, maybe you’re accidentally walking towards them. It’s not the only thing that matters, of course, there’s always stuff beyond your control, but- I really want to be with you and your dad. Forever.”

 

“Nobody can promise forever.” Jo said, with the air of a child who was repeating something they heard somebody else say without the full context. 

 

In a way, though, she was right. Jim shrugged. “So stop expecting them to.”

 

She stared at him for a long time after that, but although he held her gaze, didn’t say anything more.

 

 

 

 

After cheeseburgers, Jim asked something that had been bothering him for a while. “Why do you think your dad’s a Slytherin and not a Ravenclaw like you? He’s really smart.”

 

Jo was sticking her tongue out as she focused on coloring inside the lines, but somehow managed to respond, “He’s smart. But he learns so much because it’s what he has to do. He fixes people. And the Sorting Hat says that Slytherins do whatever they can to get what they want. It’s the result that he cares about. And he’s sneaky sometimes. Like today. He wanted to surprise me so he lied, and he was pretty good at it. He’d make a pretty good evil mastermind.” She put her pencil down, hummed thoughtfully and then selected another one, before- “Plus the kids at school say he killed a guy but he never got caught.”

 

Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.

 

“The kids in your class said that?” Jim couldn’t breathe. He had no idea how he got the words out and managed to sound almost normal, too.

 

“Yeah. Billy has an older brother who told him all about it, he said. He said he was in the hospital, and he killed his dad for his money, and that was why he had to leave.”

 

“And- what do you think about that?” Jim really didn’t want to know. Where the fuck was Bones? He wasn’t cut out for this! He had barely survived Jo crying because he wouldn’t buy her enough sugar. His hastily improvised do-the-opposite-of-Frank parenting style could only cope with so much.

 

“My dad doesn’t have any money. He buys store-brand cereal and lives in a house with all of you. He doesn’t even have a car.”

 

It wasn’t really -at all- an answer to Jim’s question, but he was on the verge of becoming overwhelmed and took the out, turning the conversation around to the correct color for Hermione’s dress and apologizing for not packing any glitter.

 

 

 

 

“We need to get her out of that school,” he said to Bones, later, when he crawled into bed alongside him. 

 

In the barest lighting, Bones lifted his arm from across his eyes and regarded him steadily. “You think I don’t know that? I don’t want her living there with the ghost of her father’s mistakes looming over her. But I can’t exactly move her into ours. It’s fine for a weekend, but- she’s getting older. She’s gonna need privacy and space and the novelty’ll wear off fast when she’s there all the time, going to school every day.”

 

“I didn’t know you’d been thinking about all this so much.”

 

“Yeah. I meant to leave it ‘til after the trip. You’re both so excited. There’s a place available at the school I want but I need to let them know by the end of the month.”

 

“Well, we’re already illegally sub-letting our dining room to Spock and Nyota. What if they took our room and we rented somewhere else?”

 

Bones let out a long, low sigh and was almost smiling, which was a little disconcerting. “Wouldn’t you rather buy a place?”

 

“Oh, I’d fucking love to. With you? That’d be awesome. But- I can’t, yet.”

 

“Why not?”

 

It was Jim’s turn to sigh, but he definitely wasn’t smiling. “There is no way this isn’t going to sound condescending, so- just go with it, alright?” He got a frown but a nod of acknowledgment too, which was better than nothing. “I assume your parents paid for your med school.”

 

“They- did, yes.”

 

“Well, I’m not sure how you think I paid for flight school, but it wasn’t like that.”

 

“What was it?” Bones’ voice had taken on a dangerous timbre. Jim did his best not to get distracted by how sexy it was.

 

“I got a loan.”

 

“How much?”

 

“A lot. But it’s done, now. Last month, actually. With the check for that sim. I don’t know- I mean, what did you think I was doing if not paying out huge amounts of money every month? I work terrible hours in a specialist field and I earn a lot. But I live in a house share. I don’t have a car. I don’t take vacations, or have spare cash, or any savings. I figured you knew.”

 

“We’re going to be married, Jim, you can’t just not tell me this stuff any more. You can’t just assume I know.” Bones was still laying on his back, and he sounded wearier than ever. 

 

Jim hugged his pillow, feeling guilty and defensive all at once. He hadn’t known everything would come up so quickly, had hoped he would never need to mention it at all. 

 

“So- what, you got a student loan?”

 

“What? No. Are you kidding me? No financial institution in the world would have lent money to me four years ago. My- godfather.”

 

“This is the same godfather who left you in a house where you were being systematically abused for eighteen years?”

 

“Okay, ten years, at the most, and- he was away a lot.” Jim’s voice had gone small and he hated it, hated that he was having to justify what really had been a mistake made in good faith. “He didn’t know. Still doesn’t. It’s not his fault.”

 

Bones turned to face him then, rolling over onto his side and reaching out. “Okay. I believe you. I’m sorry.”

 

“He would have done something if he’d known, Bones, really.”

 

“I know, sweetheart.” Bones pulled him in close, spoke into his hair. “I’m just so mad at the world for letting that stuff happen to you.”

 

Jim allowed himself a tiny, wavering smile. “Well- it all brought me here to you. So I can’t complain.”

 

“I’m pretty sure you can still complain.”

 

“Well, I’ve got you for that.” Jim nuzzled in closer, then bit the curve of Bones’ pectoral to make him squirm and pull back so he could sneak a kiss with minimal effort. “You’re like- pro-am level complaining.”

 

“I resent that.” But Bones was smiling, and he was kissing back, solid and warm. Somehow Jim had made it through another miraculous day without ruining everything.

 

“We’ll figure it out, I promise.” With rising confidence, Jim sort of said, in between kisses and distracted by the sensation of bare skin against his.

 

“My head still hurts, you know.” Bones told him, then, and Jim was about to reluctantly withdraw when he added, “I’ve heard an endorphin rush can be good for that.”

 

“Well, you’re the doctor here. I just fly the plane.”

 

“If you’re going to start making engine noises when you come, again, you can go sleep on the couch.”

 

“I’m working on your positive associations!”

 

 

 

 

Then they did Disney. 

 

It was immense. Literally and metaphorically. Jim hadn’t walked so far in a single day in a long time, following Jo from one thing to another when it caught her attention until even he was tired. And hungry, even though he’d been snacking all day. He was grateful even for the relief that the long queues for the rides provided.

 

Pavel disappeared into the gift shop -one of the many, many gift shops- after that, and returned carrying a bag from which he handed out presents. For Jo, a headband adorned with fluffy monkey ears. She barely kept still for long enough to let him put them on before she was screeching and clambering up into her dad’s arms despite his many vocal objections. Jim had warned him against the brown pants with the green T-shirt, but the glare he received over Jo’s head told him that Bones did not need even a light-hearted reminder that he resembled foliage. Besides, flushed and invigorated, happy to see his little girl so excited, he was gorgeous.

 

Jim went to snap a secret picture but had his hand stayed by Scotty.

 

“Wait for it.”

 

“For what?”

 

Pavel -sort of- answered, “They did not have ears for an adorable Labrador puppy, so you are a majestic wolf.” And handed over Jim’s own headband. Jim managed to turn his excited shriek into a howl with only minimal subterfuge. Pavel patted him on the head in response and Jim snapped his teeth at the hand as it withdrew. It made Jo giggle. Haughtily, Pavel donned his own tiger ears and growled.

 

Scotty was passed chestnut-colored pony ears and put them on with minimal fuss. “If you want pictures, get them now because these aren’t staying on long. And if there is a tail in that bag we’ll be having words later, mister.”

 

“No tail,” Pavel promised, and then he turned to Bones, who eyed him with not a little suspicion.

 

“There had better not be a damn-“

 

“Daddy!”

 

“I said dang, baby girl.”

 

Jo snorted. 

 

Pavel smiled. “You know when you are grumpy you only prove my point.”

 

“I’m not wearing them. One of us has to be the grown-up here.”

 

“Not it!” Jo and Jim both called at once, then grinned at each other to rolled eyes all around. 

 

“Come on, Len. I’ll make sure they only get maybe ten or eleven photos.” Scotty said, as he leaned in and posed vaguely for Pavel’s selfie.

 

“Please, daddy?” That was Jo, although Jim was not above using the phrase too if he established it worked. Bones’ expression softened in the face of it, and Pavel took the opportunity to pull the final headband from the bag.  The ears were those of an adorable fluffy brown bear. Jim felt as though he had missed the conversation on which the whole escapade was based, but it was too damn adorable for him to care. He added his own best pleading expression to the mix, while Scotty looked mostly bemused and slightly like he wished he’d brought a flask of scotch.

 

Eventually, hesitantly and a little doubtfully, Bones lowered his head to within Pavel’s easy reach. Someone squealed and judging by Jo’s giggle it was Jim. Whoops. No regrets. 

 

“You look awesome, daddy!”

 

“Not the word I would use, baby girl, but thank you.” Bones gave his daughter a genuine, broad, ever-so-loving smile and Jim’s heart stuttered in his chest. Tears pricked at his eyes and he hastily blinked them away. He had done it. He had figured out what it took to get Bones shining and happy, just like he had been in that very first picture Jim had ever seen of Jo. His heart felt like it was about to burst.

 

“Jim? You alright?” Bones was looking at him. Everyone was looking at him. Jo twisted in her dad’s hold to reach out to him, and he took her in his arms.

 

She rested her head on his shoulder and asked, “Are you sad because we haven’t seen Elsa yet?”

 

Jim hid his face in her hair just for a moment. She smelled like strawberry shampoo. “Let’s go find a princess.”

 

They set off. When Bones began to reach up to remove the ears, Jim took his hand to plead, “Five minutes?” And watched his expression soften again, directed at him. If he hadn’t already proposed, he would have dropped to one knee right there and then. He never wanted it to be over.

 

Bones made it forty-eight minutes before taking the ears off.

 

Pavel texted them five pictures of them staring lovingly at one another. To Jim, it felt like he was looking at someone else. He had never imagined his face could even move that way.

 

They found Elsa. She said Jo’s monkey ears were cute and she vowed never to take them off, although she did concede defeat when they got unpleasantly wet during bath time.

 

And Pavel had snapped a picture of the moment that had nearly brought Jim to tears, too.

 

“That’s a good picture of Jo,” Bones said, when he caught Jim staring at it as he laid in their bed. 

 

“It’s a great picture of you,” Jim added, and rolled on top of Bones to kiss him before he had the chance to disagree.

Chapter Text

“Okay, order, order!” Jim called. He and Bones and all of their errant housemates were sat around the kitchen table, having been summoned for a family meeting. They all turned to look at him and he swallowed. He hated lying to them but the alternative was worse.

 

“Jo’s being bullied at school. We -that is, Bones and Jocelyn and I- want to pull her out of that school. And- probably Georgia. And bring her to live with us.”

 

Instant uproar.

 

“Enough!” Bones’ voice cut through the noise. He was getting less patient with every day that brought them closer to the deadline of the new school year. “Point is, she can’t live here full-time. It’s not fair on her and it’s not fair on all of you. So what do we do?”

 

Silence. Great.

 

Pavel spoke up first, already more than a few sips into what appeared to be a tumbler of vodka. “You could move to Russia. My mother’s brother has a farm house near Sochi.”

 

“Oh, you’re speaking to your mother again?” Jim had to ask, then, and Pavel made a back and forth gesture with his hand. Sort of. “That’s great!”

 

Pavel grimaced and made the same motion again, leaning back in his chair.

 

Scotty was next. “Move to Scotland. It’ll save you a fortune. They don’t charge tuition for university.”

 

“What?” Jim stared at him.

 

“We’re not moving to Scotland. I’ve seen Trainspotting.” Bones cut in.

 

Scotty rolled his eyes. He had a glass of scotch on the go, too, having declined any share of Pavel’s vodka with the claim he didn’t drink paint stripper.

 

“Would it not be possible to send her to a different school in Georgia?” Spock asked.

 

“You can’t move to- damnit.” Hikaru stopped himself with a sigh. “I don’t want you to move to Georgia. We’d miss you guys.”

 

“Atlanta has an airport,” Jim added, although he had to admit he wasn’t too enthused about the idea himself. But it was the best idea they had so far, and Jo had to come first.

 

“I’ll never get a job at any hospital in Georgia,” Bones said, though. “I’m lucky I got one here. And they wouldn’t even consider my application at General.”

 

Everyone at the table looked intensely curious about that.

 

“Well, why can’t she live here?” Scotty asked, when after a moment it became clear that no further explanation was forthcoming.

 

“Social services would go nuts,” Bones told him with a sigh. “We’re already technically overcrowded. And having her to visit is one thing but when she’s at school that means no noise after seven. What if you want to have parties or even a real movie night? With the best of intentions we’d end up using you all as free babysitters, just an hour here, an hour there, but it would all add up. Wouldn’t be fair.”

 

Nobody could argue with that.

 

Nyota asked, “What about home schooling?”

 

Jim resisted the urge to wince. He’d suggested that one himself, as the furthest thing from a supporter of the traditional schooling system. Needless to say, having been put through the best education money could buy, albeit in a small town in Georgia, Bones did not agree.

 

“She’s too smart for that. Her teacher wants her to skip a grade, she’s so far ahead. She’d be bored and lonely and she’d hate it.”

 

“You could try a co-op? You’d be able to afford a private tutor for anything beyond the general curriculum and she’d actually get more personal attention than in any school class.”

 

Bones considered it for a moment. “You don’t think it would look bad on a college application? And it still doesn’t solve the problem of where she’d live.”

 

“She’s so young. You could try it until she starts high school, at least. And she could enroll partway through the year, if you wanted.”

 

Jim’s eye twitched at the chosen pronoun, although he didn’t think anyone but Bones noticed. A warm hand came to rest on his knee.

 

“And as for where to live-“ Nyota continued, when she remained uninterrupted. “Why don’t you take a look at our apartment? The necessary works should be finished in a week or so and the landlord’s agreed to pay for them rather than insisting that we do. The lease is only for another three months. It’ll give you time to look for something else.”

 

Jim looked to Bones, who had put his head in his hands, and did his best not to be offended that the same ideas he had suggested were suddenly much more valid when coming from Nyota. Maybe it was just the way she phrased things.

 

He just had to add his own part, though. “If you’re worried about her socialization, there are plenty of clubs for kids around here. She could dance or do self-defense or take acting classes.”

 

“No acting classes.” Bones shuddered. “Too close to pageantry for my liking.”

 

“Oh, come on, Bones. It’d be good for her confidence, that’s all. Public speaking. This isn’t Georgia. And it was just an example. She could do rock climbing or origami or synchronized swimming. It doesn’t matter as long as she gets a say, and none of the other kids are fucking assholes.”

 

He had maybe raised his voice a little towards the end. Whoops. Hunching down in his seat with his arms folded should suitably convey that he didn’t feel like answering questions about it, right?

 

“Well, I guess there’re no prizes for figuring out Jim’s favorite option.” Scotty got up to grab another glass, into which he poured a generous measure of scotch he slid across the table to Jim. Jim raised it in a toast to him gratefully if a little sullenly.

 

“I need to think about it.” Bones sighed. “And I need to call Joss. I’m still in the doghouse for not telling her about important decisions, although she has softened a bit since I told her she can be head Bridesmaid.”

 

“We’re having Bridesmaids?”

 

“Are you volunteering to tell her we’re not?”

 

Jim shook his head. Bones stood and leaned over to kiss his temple. “Alright. Get drunk. Have ideas. Write them down. I’ll tell you how many of them are stupid in the morning.”

 

He left to make his call, and Jim threw his arms up. “Who wants to go swimming?”

 

“That’s one!” Bones shouted from the hall.

 

Hikaru’s shirt was already off. “Overruled!” He shouted back.

 

“This is not a democracy!- Oh, hi, Mrs Darnell, is Jocelyn there? It’s Leonard.”

 

“Who the fuck is Leonard?” Jim asked Pavel, who rolled his eyes expressively.

 

 

 

 

Jim crawled into bed beside his fiancé- his future husband- his perfect other half- his Bones, at some ungodly hour of the morning with a groan. Bones was laying on his back with an arm thrown over his face, bright eyes shining in the darkness when he lifted it just a little. Jim shifted closer, plastering his body along the side of Bones’ and eyeing him with slightly drunk but mostly euphoric intent. He was high off life and the love of his friends, not the scotch he had indulged in rather deservedly if he did say so himself. He hadn’t wanted to be completely insensate should Bones have needed him. And it looked like he did.

 

“Wanna fuck me? You can stay right there. Been thinking about riding you all night. So fucking hard for you, Bones. Come on, please?”

 

“Jim, I’m exhausted.”

 

“And you can’t sleep. Maybe coming hard in my ass will get you there. All you gotta do is get hard. I’ll do the rest.”

 

Jim took hold of Bones’ hand to guide it back to his ass. He had showered to wash the pool smell off before bed and taken the opportunity to finger himself open just enough. Bones’ fingers slipped inside of him with glorious ease.

 

“Fine,” Bones relented but Jim could hear the tremor in his voice that meant he was getting dangerously turned on. So he clambered up, throwing the blankets back to pull Bones’ boxers off and toss them aside before straddling him. Despite his token reluctance, Bones’ cock was plumping up nicely, so Jim pressed it against his, wrapped his hand around them both and stroked loosely.

 

“Love you, Bones. Everything about you.”

 

“Love you too, darlin’. I’m sorry. An’ you know I’ll eat worse before I get better.”

 

“I love you when you’re grumpy. When you’re smiling. When I’m driving you nuts or- ohh, God fuck yes- when you’re fucking me. I really, really love you when you’re fucking me.”

 

Jim’s eyes were fluttering shut, his mouth falling open as he let gravity and Bones’ hands on his hips do the work of drawing Bones’ perfect cock into his body. Bones was panting, teeth gritted, his grip tight and pressing bruises into Jim’s skin.

 

“So fucking tight, did you even bother with prep-“

 

Jim released the tension in his legs so he took everything at once, groaned at the all-consuming stretch, the slightest burn that just heightened the rest of it, especially the grunt he forced from Bones’ throat.

 

“Fuck me. Come on. I’m not so drunk I’ll let you really hurt me but I want to feel it. Want to think about you every time I move tomorrow. Come on.”

 

Bones lifted him up by the waist -God, yes, that upper body strength was so fucking hot- and although it took him some time to get going, concerned eyes on Jim’s blissful expression all the while, he was soon fucking Jim in earnest, quick and brutal, exactly what they both needed. Jim stroked his cock, not enough lube but sensations dulled enough by the alcohol to take the edge off his sensitivity, so he could thrust into his own hand hard and fast, driving back into each of Bones’ rolling thrusts.

 

It was quick and dirty, the kind of sex that Jim didn’t dare admit he missed, sometimes, an uncomplicated race to the end that left both parties sated and panting. Bones was flushed, eyes dark and intense in the low light, the muscles in his arms and shoulders standing out vividly and he was fucking Jim like he could absorb all the tension he had built up. While Jim would have been happy to ride him, that was what he’d been hoping for. It was something he could do, to take away the stress and anxiety even for a little while. From both of them.

 

Jim groaned out his climax, slowing his hand and clenching his ass tight to milk the same from Bones. His body was not entirely ending up where he tried to put it, light-headed as he was from the alcohol and the rush of orgasm, but it wasn’t long before Bones buried deep and came with a grateful groan. Jim loved the sensation of come painting his insides in gentle pulses, and he rolled his hips to savor that and the increasing softness of the cock inside of him, just the sweetest caress against his abused hole. Perfect.

 

Bones gave a rumbling and rueful laugh at that, so Jim realized he must have spoken. He ran a hand over Bones’ chest, reminding himself of the way it felt, all soft lines and wiry hair exactly where it should be. 

 

“Come home sick tomorrow if you feel really rough, okay?”

 

“I’m just tired.”

 

“You’re exhausted. You’re stressed and anxious and I’m worried about you.”

 

Bones didn’t respond, but his breathing was leveling out and Jim smiled to himself. Yeah, he was a genius. He eased himself up, went to the trouble of getting an actual washcloth soaked in warm water so he wouldn’t disturb Bones too much when he wiped him clean, ever so gently, of lube and come and sweat. He gave himself a quick once-over too, less carefully. He didn’t have to work in the morning.

 

Still cautious, he slipped into bed beside Bones and watched him sleep until he began to worry that the intensity of his gaze might wake him. Then he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, probably much like Bones -wonderful, concerned, selfless Bones- had been doing for the previous few hours.

 

What the hell was he going to do?

 

 

 

 

“Honey, if I knew that, we would never have gotten divorced. You just have to give him time. Be patient with him.”

 

Jim sighed, put his head in his hands for a moment before glaring balefully at his phone screen and an unimpressed image of Jocelyn.

 

“Is that what you did? Because surely if it didn’t work I should try something else.”

 

“I used every trick in the book before I figured out it was best to let him be. And best doesn’t always mean good, you know.”

 

Except Jim didn’t want tricks, he wanted solutions. But he knew how people got when he argued over what they considered to be semantics. He tried a different tack. “Do you have any idea what Jo wants?”

 

“She’s eight years old. What she wants changes with the setting of the sun. There’ll be days she hates it here and days she hates it with you. There’d be days she’d hate living at Disneyworld . The good news is that we sort of have a year in the bank. If she comes to live with you and can’t stand it for any reason, she can just come right back and join her old class.”

 

“Yeah, I know. She’s just so smart, I never want her to feel like she’s wasted a year of her life.”

 

“She makes the most of things. She wouldn’t see it like that.”

 

Jim didn’t either. Didn’t mean he didn’t regret time he’d spent badly. And there was a lot of that.

 

 

 

 

“Why the fuck are you asking me?” Lorca answered his question with another question when he tried calling him.

 

“To be honest, I was going to hear what you said and consider doing the exact opposite.”

 

“How about I tell you to call me more often, then?”

 

“Miss me?”

 

“Miss the days you did what I told you.”

 

“Uhh, the day, you mean.”

 

“What a day, though. Just do whatever Uhura said. Or- your engineer friend Scott. They’re the only two of your friends with any sense." 

 

Jim sighed. Both Nyota and Scotty had apologetically told him to just give it time. And with every other situation, he’d feel like he had to push. But he wasn’t Jo’s parent. And he and Bones might have been engaged, but they hadn’t been together that long, really. He didn’t feel worthy of that role in Jo’s life just yet.

 

“That bad, huh? Where’s your therapist?”

 

“Summer vacation. She’d just tell me to be patient and remember my mental exercises anyway. She’d good, but…”

 

“Only as good as you are willing to share?”

 

“Well, yeah.”

 

“And you don’t want to tell her about this. Why not? She’s paid to listen and I guarantee she’s heard worse. Literally. Can’t be any worse than what I told her.”

 

“You are pretty fucked up. Alright. I’ll try and talk to her- when she’s back. For now, what the hell do I do for Bones?”

 

Silence for a few moments.

 

“Stop imagining us having sex!”

 

“You asked for my advice, and I need to give you the best solution I can, after careful consideration.”

 

“Why did I call you?”

 

“Because you are well and truly desperate.”

 

That was true. But Jim knew to follow his instincts. And if Lorca was telling him to fix the problem with sex, then that was the last thing he should do. Goddamnit.

 

 

 

 

“Jim, I don’t know what to tell you that you haven’t already heard. Frankly I think you have an idea for how to fix this and you’re waiting for someone else to suggest it in order to validate your faulty thought processes.”

 

Jim really wished he hadn’t gone to Pike. He could always see right through him.

 

 

 

 

In the end, though, someone did agree with his philosophy to act now, then figure the details out later.

 

That someone was Jo.

 

“I’ve run away. I’m coming to live with you and dad,” she called him one day to say in lieu of a greeting. Jim had excused himself from a class he was tutoring in order to answer it when he’d seen her name flash up, and he was so glad he had. The bottom of his stomach felt as though it had dropped out when he thought of her, out all by herself. It was still light outside but wouldn’t be for long. God, he was a terrible influence.

 

“Jo, where are you?”

 

“At the play park. I just stopped to rest on the swings a while.”

 

“It’s not safe out there for a girl on her own, Jo-bear, even during the day. I need you to go home.”

 

“No! It’s horrible there! Gramma and Grampa said they’d take me away to live with them!”

 

“They said what?”

 

“They said mom’s at work too much an’ it’s tirin’ her out too much, an’ how unfair is that, that she couldn’t look after me when she wasn’t workin’ neither, an’ Clay thinks they’re right, it’s too much for mom but I don’t wanna go’n live with them-“

 

She was more worked up than upset, angry and frustrated in that way only a child could be. They were feelings with which Jim was deeply familiar. He’d heard enough.

 

“Jo, you need to go back to your mom’s, okay? You can’t be out by yourself.”

 

“It’s fine. There’s nobody here.”

 

“Jo, please.”

 

She did start crying, then, and Jim felt his own eyes sting in impotent sympathy. He began to pace, one fist clenched in his hair while the other held the phone to his ear.

 

“No! They’ll be mad. An’ they’ll shout at me! I didn’t do anything wrong! I just- I just-“ she dissolved into hiccuping sobs that made it impossible to speak. Jim hated himself, hated everything about that moment, but took the opportunity to begin a text to Jocelyn. It felt so wrong to rat her out to her mother, so similar to what Frank had done to him whenever he had been acting up. But what choice did he have? She was in danger.

 

“Everybody thinks they can tell me what to do because they’re grown-ups! Nobody listens to me! They’re so mean about my dad an’ they make comments about my mom an’ I hate it, I hate it here!”

 

“Okay, Jo, I understand and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry we left you there so long. We’ll fix it and we’ll talk to your mom and you can come and live with us, okay? It’s gonna be alright but I need you to go back to your mom’s now.”

 

“Gramma and Grampa said I can’t come an’ live with you. That my dad’s a killer and you’re his mid-life crisis and you’re- not fit. They want me to go an’ live with them an’ wear dresses an’ talk about other people like their lives are just the stories you see on TV. They won’t let me go to chess club an’ they said girls can’t be astronauts an’ they bought me make-up for my birthday. I’m eight! When the heck am I gunna wear that?”

 

Jim had pretty much tuned out her rant, was texting with shaking fingers and suspiciously blurred vision. He felt sick. Hitting the send button went against every instinct he had and it took all of his resolve not to sob, to keep his voice steady and conversational.

 

“It’s just one more night and then I promise me and your dad’ll do everything we can to get you with us.”

 

“So- what? You’ll talk to them? Nothin’ll ever happen, you’ll just talk an’ talk without doin’ anything!”

 

“I’m not like them, Jo-“ Jim was lying, had been deluding himself, was just as bad as them and he knew it. They both knew it.

 

“You are! They said that dad could’ve had me from the beginning of the summer if he’d wanted! You never did anything!”

 

“It’s complicated, Jo. We needed to find you a school and make sure we had a place to live where you could be happy and have your own space.”

 

“I have my own room! An’ nobody there treats me like I can’t do anythin’ for myself, or like I’m a little girl, except when I need a hug and suddenly I’m too big for that!”

 

“I’m gonna fix it, okay, I promise. I’m not leaving you there. We thought we were doing what was right and we were wrong, okay, I’m sorry.”

 

Jim nearly leaped out of his skin when a hand fell on his shoulder, turned to find Pike gesturing at him, wordlessly asking what was wrong, brow creased in concern. Jim couldn’t blame him; he probably looked and sounded terrible. He gestured for him to stay silent and check on his students, dismiss them for the day if they were done. Pike left him with no little reluctance. He’d be back.

 

Jo was still complaining, but Jim had to get some words in before it was too late. He needed her to know, interjected at the first slight pause in her tirade.

 

“We’re gonna come get you, okay? Your dad’s working so I’m not sure if he’ll be able to get away but I promise I will be there tonight. But I need you to stay somewhere safer than the park. There are bad people out there and I’m worried you’ll get hurt.”

 

Silence. For a long, horrifying moment, Jim feared the worst. Could something have happened to her?

 

Her voice was small and broken when she finally said, “You called my mom.”

 

Jim’s back hit the wall and he slid down it to sit on the floor, wrapping his free arm around his knees and resting his forehead on it. “I’m sorry, Jo.”

 

“I thought- you said you’d help. You said you were different. I trusted you! I should never have called you! Were you lying about the other stuff, too? Do you just not want me? You want me to be stuck here- let go of me! No! I don’t wanna go back to your house! I hate it!”

 

She dropped the phone but didn’t cut off the call. Jim would have been more concerned if he couldn’t have clearly heard Jocelyn’s voice as she attempted to coax her daughter home. It sounded like she was having very little luck.

 

By the time Pike returned to kneel beside him, there were tears rolling down his face and Jo had subsided into wordless sobbing. Jim’s heart felt like it was being torn in two. There was a reason why he’d never considered having his own offspring; he had the decency to recognize that he’d make a terrible parent. Of course that was at that moment being reinforced beyond any reasonable argument.

 

He hadn’t been lying, though. He was going to go out there that night, whether Bones could join him or not. He needed to do everything he could. He just- needed a car. And then he’d drive out there to face the girl he loved so much, the one he’d possibly unforgivably betrayed. 

 

“Jim? What’s wrong?” Pike’s voice was gentle but firm, a tone Jim hoped one day to master himself.

 

“Jo ran away.”

 

“Is she safe?”

 

Jim snorted, raised his head. “Yeah. Thanks to me. She’s so mad.”

 

“She’ll understand when she’s calmed down.”

 

“That what you said to my mom about me?”

 

Pike let out a long sigh and sat down beside him. He didn’t speak, even when Jim shifted a little closer to feel the reassuring pressure of Pike’s shoulder against his.

 

On the phone, there was a brief cacophony of rustling and crunching before Jocelyn’s voice came clearly down the line.

 

“She’s in the car. We’re gonna take her home. Thank you for telling me.”

 

“Good. I’m gonna grab- we’ll be out there tonight. Probably late.”

 

“You don’t have to do that.”

 

“I do. We do. We’ve left it long enough. She’s gonna come stay with us.”

 

Jocelyn sighed, although with fatigue or relief Jim wasn’t sure. “I think that’s best.”

 

“Yeah, me too.”

 

“She’ll forgive you, you know.”

 

Jim swallowed. She might. “Sure. Tell her I love her.”

 

The tears threatened to start again the, and Pike shifted to sling an arm around Jim’s shoulder, squeezing tight. Jim was so grateful that he knew the importance of silence at that moment.

 

“She knows. But I’ll remind her. I’ll make sure she has at least an overnight bag packed.”

 

“Thanks. You’re-“ Jim swallowed a sob. “You’re a great mom, Joss.”

 

She gave a somewhat watery snort at that, or maybe it was just the sudden rush of air past the microphone that made it sound that way. “Like I need you to tell me that.”

 

“I’ll see you later.”

 

“You'd better.”

 

She hung up. Jim felt marginally better. With shaking hands -goddamnit- he dialed again, letting his head drop onto Pike’s shoulder as it rang.

 

“Hey, darlin’. You alright?”

 

“Okay, firstly don’t panic.”

 

“Oh, great.”

 

“Really. Jo called. She’s fine. She ran away. And I managed to get a message to Jocelyn and she picked her up, but- God. Jo was so mad.”

 

“You did the right thing, Jim.”

 

That was the final straw. Jim choked, buried his face in his arm and shook with the force of rising emotion. Vaguely he was aware of Pike gently removing his phone from his hand and speaking into it. He let the voices wash over him, comforting and reassuring in their steadiness and familiarity. With his eyes closed, he could almost think clearly again.

 

He needed to get to Jo. So he needed transport. He felt a twinge of regret, missed his bike. But that wasn’t an option. Where was he going to get a car at such short notice? Spock and Nyota were in, or en route to Budapest. He couldn’t- wouldn’t- ask Pike, not with his leg injury and after all he’d done for him already.

 

“Alright. Come on.” Pike was hauling him to his feet, embarrassingly easily considering the injury Jim had just been contemplating. He felt a little light-headed from the sudden redirection of blood flow but he was already being hustled down the hall. 

 

“Where are we going? And- hey, give me my phone. I need to- I need to something. Get a car.”

 

“You have a car.”

 

“I can’t ask you to- oh, holy shit, I’m driving.” Jim had regained enough of his senses to realize that the keys Pike grabbed from the pocket of a jacket in the staff lounge were adorned with the Aston Martin logo. They weren’t even keys, technically, just an electronic fob thing. 

 

Pike led the way to the staff parking lot. “You’re not driving, not with the state you’re in.”

 

“Okay, that I definitely can’t ask you to do.”

 

“Well, then it’s a good thing you haven’t done any asking.”

 

“Just- wait. Chris. It’s a really long way. Hours. Are you sure?” 

 

Pike- Chris turned to face him. They had stopped just outside. Jim was breathing far more heavily than he should have been for the limited exertion.

 

“Jim. I know this is alien to you. But this is the sort of thing a parent does for their kid without even thinking about it. I’m happy to do it.”

 

“I-“ Jim was broken. He had no words, couldn’t imagine what he’d done to ever deserve such care.

 

“Tell you what. I’ll let you pay for the premium gas. How’s that?”

 

Jim had never paid for premium gas in his life. “Deal. And I’ll drive us home.”

 

“You can pay for the motel. I’ll drive us home.”

 

“You want to stay out there? Tonight?”

 

“I think we’d better. That’s where we’re meeting your fiancé, after all.”

 

“Bones is coming?” Jim had known he would try, but there were so many times he just couldn’t be spared. He’d learnt not to expect too much.

 

“The motel is two towns over from our destination. Anything you want to tell me about that?”

 

“I’ll tell you in the car. And- thanks. I can’t even- I don’t know what to say, but- thanks.”

 

“Anytime. Really.”

 

And the weirdest thing was, Jim believed him.

 

 

 

 

“Hasn’t spoken to you all night, huh?” Bones asked, when he had stuck his head around the door to Jo’s motel room and attempted to converse with her. From her responses, Jim had gathered that she was slightly less mad at her dad that she was at him. At least Bones had received bitten-off, single word replies.

 

The only one she wasn’t mad at was Pike, and when she had recovered from her tantrum Jim was going to have a word with her about that. She had never met him before and it was not appropriate to trust strangers over her legal guardians, no matter how inherently trustworthy they seemed. Thankfully Pike for his part seemed mostly bemused by the whole thing and he had been happy to arrange the transfer of Jo’s most important belongings from Jocelyn’s house to the car by way of resident pack-horse Jim.

 

Still, he had been able to snatch a brief conversation with Jocelyn and a subtle snoop around her house under the pretense of searching for the bathroom, so it hadn’t been entirely wasted.

 

Shit, what was he doing? Languishing in his own failures while Bones was entrenched in the hateful atmosphere he’d spent so long avoiding. Entirely ignoring the question that had been asked -the answer suitably apparent anyway- Jim stood and crossed the room to wrap Bones in his arms.

 

“I’m alright, sweetheart,” Bones said, but when Jim attempted to pull away, the strong arms around his waist tightened. “I didn’t say stop.”

 

Jim sighed and relaxed, some of his own tension leaving him. Bones thought he could do it, and who was he to doubt the word of the man he loved?

 

After a while, Bones went on, “I promised myself once that I wouldn’t come back here again unless I was going to be leaving with my daughter.” He pulled back, then, to look Jim in the eye and brush gentle knuckles over his cheekbone. “Thanks for making sure I kept that promise.”

 

“I feel like I did nothing except fuck up until somebody else took the choice out of my hands.”

 

“Well done. You’re officially a parent. I’d get used to that feeling if I were you.”

 

“If you were me,” Jim repeated thoughtfully. He had thought that their different parenting styles might do Jo some good, but still neither of them had done what was needed.

 

“Well, let’s thank the Lord I’m not. Or this would be mightily narcissistic of me.”

 

Bones kissed him then. He had a way of cradling Jim’s face with his hands that made Jim feel warm and safe and enveloped in his love. He was tall and broad with so much contained power but he kissed with soft ardor, somehow the furthest thing from fragile. Jim had never been more certain of anything. When Bones lapped at his bottom lip he gave himself over with a whimper and, for once, pushed no further.

 

It was an exquisite sort of torture, running at the pace Bones chose, but they couldn’t get carried away, not with their multi-generational company. Jim allowed himself to slide fingers underneath Bones’ shirt, just at the waist, to feel a connection with him rather than with fabric but otherwise they remained, kissing slowly and not nearly endlessly enough.

 

They transitioned to resting foreheads together, just breathing the same air and contemplating the myriad twists and turns of life that had brought them to that moment.

 

Or something like that, anyway. “So-“ Jim began, Bones’ expression already shifting to amused tolerance. “Can we share a room? Like, pre-maritally? Is that okay round here?”

 

“It’s Georgia, Jim, not nineteen-forty.”

 

Jim thought back to the mounted stag head over the desk in the lobby, the various Civil war memorabilia scattered around the place and grimaced. “If you say so.”

 

Bones had a gorgeous, deep rumble of a laugh that made Jim’s cock twitch with promise and his heart swell with affection. “I thought the worst, you know, when I saw the car.”

 

“Oh, fuck me.” Jim laughed, couldn’t help it, could only imagine how Bones must have felt when he saw the vehicle that, of course, belonged to neither him nor Pike. “Can you imagine? Lorca would have had Clay up against the wall by his throat and blown a hole in the porch before we’d even really said hello. No, apparently Pike has permission to drive his car. I do not. And yet if Jo spills anything on the upholstery it will still be my fault.”

 

“How dare all these people care so much about you.” Bones nosed at Jim’s cheek, a vague sort of comforting affection until Jim caught sight of hard hazel eyes and flinched back. Only a little sheepishly, Bones cast a look over his shoulder to meet his daughter’s gaze.

 

They hadn’t been doing anything inappropriate, actually. So Jim did his best to stand tall under the withering glare Jo was leveling him with.

 

“I’m still mad at you.”

 

Joy at her use of actual words warred with deep, gut-wrenching despair at the sentiment. “If it helps, I’m pretty mad at myself, too.”

 

She considered that for a moment, the nodded. “It does. May I go to bed?”

 

That wasn’t actually the question she was asking. Her room had two double beds. So did the other they had booked. She wanted to know who she’d be sharing with.

 

Bones was thankfully looking at Jim when he asked, “For tonight, are you good with Chris?”

 

“Sure.” Jim ineffectually pretended he wasn’t bothered by that, tried to remember it was because Jo was angry with him at that moment and not because he was being trumped by Jo’s biological parent.

 

“Tomorrow.” Bones promised. He knew. He always knew. Jim managed to nod with more conviction than before, leaned into the kiss Bones pressed to his cheek before he was gone. Just for the night. With his daughter.

 

“She’s a handful, alright.” Pike was there, then, leaning in the doorway with an expression of something between nostalgia and sympathy. “It’s going to be hard, you know.”

 

Jim had nearly risen to the challenge of arguing that point by the time Pike continued.

 

“Being a parent, one step removed, I mean.”

 

Oh, fuck.

 

“You know that you’d do anything for her. She might not be of your genetic line, but she is your daughter. She’ll figure that out. Eventually.”

 

Jim had always been a tactile person. He had demonstrated that only moments before. But never had he flung himself into someone’s arms as he did at that moment, seeking comfort and begging forgiveness and offering thanks all at once. He couldn’t believe he’d been so blind. Somehow he was still holding the urge to sob outright at bay, at least until warm words were murmured into his hair.

 

“I’m so proud of you, Jim.”

 

That was when the floodgates opened. Jim had been holding so much in for so long, and Chris just held him until he stopped. Jim had never imagined that would actually happen to him. It felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He wasn’t alone.

 

 

 

 

The day of the wedding dawned bright and clear. Jim would have been ecstatic regardless, of course, so hyperactive that Bones batted him away with a complaint about his being an overenthusiastic puppy. It did little to deter him but, to be fair, Bones was having even less success hiding his own smile.

 

“It’s not too late to back out,” Jim unwisely joked -mostly- while he was preparing breakfast, an action that led to eggs and bacon burning horribly while Bones set about smothering him with kisses and fucking him hard on the kitchen table.

 

Jo had spent the night at Nyota’s, with her mother and Gaila, ostensibly for some sort of girls’ night but, Jim increasingly suspected, actually because Jocelyn had been aware of how their morning was likely to go. Probably wise, and very much appreciated.

 

After they had put out the small fire, it was time to get dressed in their pre-wedding suits. Jim had been wholly baffled and Bones mostly exasperated by the concept, but Jocelyn had insisted. As she was literally the only person Jim could have asked about weddings, he had gone along with it and, having had to run a few errands before the big event, actually conceded to her superiority. He had picked up flowers and a cake and overseen the decoration of the room where they’d be having the ceremony and then the reception while Bones made sure everybody actually made it to the venue on time.

 

It felt weird being apart from him. Despite his best efforts Jim was still on edge and paranoid, convinced he would still be left at whatever the non-denominational equivalent of an altar was. What a terrifying prospect. His mother would have a field day.

 

Fuck, he needed to sit down.

 

“Ah, Christ.” Hikaru broke away from hanging lights to come and sit with him, muttering vaguely reassuring words and rubbing his back. 

 

Jim was glad he wasn’t sweating into his wedding suit. “He’s coming, right?”

 

“Yeah, Jim, he is. He’s getting everyone he knows dolled up to come and witness it. No way he’s not invested in this just as much as you are. Anyway, if he jilts you, you’re supposed to marry the Best Man and he’d kill me before he let that happen.”

 

That got a breathless laugh out of Jim. “Alright. I’m good.”

 

“Yeah, you are. Now help me hang up the lights for your ridiculous theme. My arms are killing me.”

 

Yeah, Jim could understand that. It would do him some good to keep busy.

 

Chapel and Gaila and Nyota were working on the lower parts, the long fabric sashes of red and orange hues that would cover the walls in a simulated sunset. As the taller of the volunteers, Spock, Hikaru and Pavel had been stringing up fairy lights across the ceiling for the evening reception. With any luck, it would resemble a night sky. Or at least look very pretty.

 

Scotty had excused himself from those particular tasks by volunteering to set up the sound system. Frankly Jim suspected that had taken him about five minutes and he’d since been sat there playing some stupid block-swapping game on his phone.

 

Man, he wished he’d thought of that. They’d done the bare minimum to ensure the day ran smoothly, but there was still so much to consider. There would still be a formal dinner, a good way of breaking up the evening and, with fewer than thirty guests at that stage, not too difficult to arrange. Hikaru’s speech had been limited to five minutes. It was essentially a very well-organised party. They probably wouldn’t have even bothered with an aisle had Jocelyn and Jo not wanted to walk down one themselves. Their dresses -which they’d chosen themselves, neither Jim nor Bones wanting anything to do with that- were lovely.

 

Jim ducked out when people started to arrive. He couldn’t face seeing them. Not before he knew- fuck! He’d been doing so well. Just a quick glance or a brief touch of Bones’ hand was enough to reassure him, usually. But it had just been tiding him over, clearly, before the full-on panic set in, once the day itself arrived.

 

Chris put his head around the door of the small side room in which he’d taken refuge, took one look at him and walked out again. Yeah, that was about the size of things. Jim was changed and ready. All he had to do was walk out the door and find the man he loved.

 

Bones found him first, was tall and gorgeous and positively untouchable in his perfectly tailored suit until he sank to his knees and pulled Jim into a tight hug.

 

“Nearly showtime, darlin’. Still wanna do this?”

 

“Do you?”

 

“Yeah. Nothing I want more. Everyone’s out there, ready to go. Think you can stand?”

 

“Is it easier the second time?”

 

Bones kissed him. “You’ll never need to find out.”

 

Jim took his hand, feeling and seeing for the last time his engagement ring there. Soon they would match, be visibly and tangibly linked by wedding rings they had picked out together. He let the thought give him strength, and took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”

 

If it put that smile on Bones’ face, Jim would have a wedding every day for the rest of his life.

 

 

 

 

“I knew I shouldn’t have let you do the seating arrangements.” Bones mused, looking out over their guests from the top table while everyone found their places for dinner.

 

“I told you I had a plan.”

 

“And you thought our wedding was the best place to implement it.”

 

“When else were they all going to be in a room together?”

 

“All?”

 

“Well, yeah. Mom has a thing for sexually aggressive men with a military background, but I didn’t know who she’d go for. Thought I’d give her some options.”

 

“While her husband is present?”

 

“I told her not to bring him.” Jim shrugged, sipped his champagne, grinned at Hikaru as he approached. He was feeling a lot more settled now the deed had actually been done. He was married! And it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as he had thought it would be.

 

“Why is Captain Pike trying to bone your mom?” Hikaru asked. Bones nearly choked on his drink.

 

“Oh, he’s actually just being friendly. Boyce, too. Lorca’s the only one actively trying to fuck her.”

 

“If Frank starts a fight-“ Bones began, although he stopped when both Jim and Hikaru laughed. “What?”

 

“Then he’ll lose,” Jim explained, after a moment. “Lorca’s ex-Special Forces. He knows what he’s doing.”

 

“Yeah, your mom!” Hikaru raised his hand for a high five that Jim met, both of them smiling all the while. Bones sighed and rolled his eyes.

 

 

 

 

Jim was chatting to Sam when he first heard the news. 

 

“Wait- he what?”

 

“I know, right! Suspended for medical malpractice, apparently. Some sort of incident involving a minor so nobody can say too much about it. It’s crazy. I mean, the guy’s been the town doctor since we were kids. And now this comes up? I don’t know who to believe. But they’re gonna go through all his files and see if there’s evidence of incompetence or dishonesty. I mean, I never had a problem with him. But I let him see our kids. He could have done something awful.”

 

Jim hummed thoughtfully. He agreed with most of Sam’s thoughts, although of course their old family doctor had seen him displaying clear evidence of continued abuse and done nothing about it, so clearly his experience differed slightly. It was pretty strange that an allegation had suddenly been made, though.

 

“Do you know who brought the case?” He asked, as casually as he could manage.

 

“Some hotshot lawyer out of Mississippi, actually. Weird, right?”

 

“Uh-huh.” Jim nodded. “Weird.”

 

He had to lurk outside the ladies’ bathroom in order to catch Jocelyn on her own. She was way better at hiding her guilt than her daughter, but apparently less stubborn than Jim. She let her gaze drop after a few moments.

 

“It was just an anonymous tip. They wouldn’t’ve suspended him if they didn’t have something else.”

 

“I didn’t ask you to do that.”

 

“Seems to me like you don’t ask for much of anything, not even when you should.”

 

“I don’t want to ruin the guy’s life, Joss. What if he’s better now?”

 

“He ain’t.” Jocelyn muttered, then cleared her throat. “I mean, if I were in the position of bein’ able to disclose details about an ongoin’ case, I’d be able to tell you that he ain’t. The rules are in place for a reason. He knew that when he took his damn oath.”

 

“Didn’t Bones, too?”

 

“Yeah. So he was subjected to an investigation that found him innocent. The system may not be perfect, but it’s the best one we have. It’s a lot harder to get a false positive than a false negative, sugar. Why do you think the wrongfully convicted make the news?”

 

“You are such a lawyer.”

 

“An’ you’re far too forgiving for your own good. You gonna dance with me after I’ve had a turn with Leo?”

 

“You got it, sugar,” Jim replied in his best impression of her slightly drunk accent, and she snorted at him then walked away, staggering only slightly in her heels.

 

Jim didn’t let his discovery take his mind off the day. Bones deserved better.

 

And it was probably about time for their first dance. Jim took a moment to admire the ring on his finger before rejoining his friends and family in the hall.

 

 

 

 

“What is Lorca doing?” Chris grabbed Jim to ask, later, with a sideways glance at where the man in question was dancing with Jim’s mom.

 

Jim did his best to hide his glee behind a sort of vague amusement. “I don’t know, he said something about getting me to call him daddy?”

 

Chris rolled his eyes and stalked off. Lorca winked at him over Winona’s shoulder. Jim went to find Bones with a smile firmly on his face.

 

 

 

 

The evening part of the wedding was open to pretty much everyone they’d ever met. Various pilots and cabin crew milled around with doctors and nurses and the odd paramedic, and Leonard watched them all with an involuntary smile twisting his lips. That was probably what made him look so deceptively approachable.

 

“Excuse me, Doctor McCoy?”

 

Leonard turned to the man who had spoken. He looked vaguely familiar, was well-dressed and stood confidently. “Can I help you?”

 

“I’m hoping I can help you. My name is Hugh, I work at the General Hospital. I’m sorry for approaching you here, but- well, I’m sure you know. Politics.”

 

“I’m aware.”

 

“I’ll make this quick. We have an opening for a head of our emergency department. A job for which you are undoubtedly qualified. Our new application process is- anonymous. We will hire someone based entirely on merit. I can’t promise you anything, other than the fact that your application, should you choose to make it, would be evaluated in the same light as any other. I hope you’ll consider it.”

 

A year previously, it would have been all Leonard wanted. But with a glance over at Jim, who was dancing with Jo; his boss, Philip Boyce, who was conversing with Chris Pike to whom he was standing entirely too close; Christine Chapel as she laughed at something Scotty had said, well, he wasn’t so sure.

 

“I’ll consider it,” he promised, appreciating the gesture more than the offer itself.

 

Hugh had followed his gaze, though, and just smiled knowingly. “Thank you. And congratulations. I’ve heard you’re an appalling affectionate, frankly sickening example of a couple, so you’re probably doing great.”

 

“Uhh- thanks. Have a good night.”

 

 

 

 

“I fell,” were the first words out of Chris Pike’s mouth the moment Leonard walked into the men’s restroom to find him running a swollen right hand under the cold tap.

 

Leonard just snorted, crossed to turn the tap off and pull Chris’ hand towards him to examine it. It didn’t seem to be broken, at least. “I thought it’d be Lorca who, uhh, fell.”

 

Chris’ eyes met his, focused and accusatory. “Why. What does he know.”

 

“Only what he has observed. You- fell, what? Four times?”

 

“About that, yeah.”

 

“Is there any damage to the- floor, I should be concerned about?”

 

“That a trick question, doctor?”

 

“No, it’s just that if the cops are called to our wedding, Jim loses a bet.”

 

The floor is fine. More damage to his ego than to his face. Unfortunately. How did you manage not to punch him?”

 

Apparently they had given up on the metaphor. Leonard guided Chris’ hand back to the sink and turned the tap on again, unable to help noticing the pained grimace that resulted. “I can assure you I’ve not just been resting on my laurels. He’ll get what’s coming to him, sooner or later.”

 

“Probably sooner. He threw the first punch. And I really was just being friendly. What do you know about your boss?”

 

Leonard couldn’t hold back his smile as he shrugged and shared what he could.

 

 

 

 

“That was exhausting. Let’s never do it again.” Jim grinned at Leonard across the back seat of their cab on the way home. It was late, and they were both exhausted, and Leonard wanted nothing more than to kiss him, so he did. It was reasonably chaste, for the sake of both their driver and the words Leonard needed to get out before they arrived home.

 

“Why would we need to do it again? Pretty sure we nailed it the first time.” Leonard took a deep breath. “I know that you’ve sacrificed a lot to be with me. That Jo’s a handful and I can be, too. I just want you to know that anytime you need a break, all you have to do is say. If you have to get away, all I ask is that you let me know you’re safe. Alright?”

 

Jim was staring at him like he’d lost his mind. “Bones- what is this?”

 

“It’s my promise to you. And I know we’ve made a lot of those today, but I also know they aren’t always enough. I love you just the way you are, strange nomadic instincts and all. And I don’t ever want you to forget, so- I know how much you like symbols. So I got you the only one I could think of that would do my feelings justice.”

 

The timing was perfect. They were pulling up outside their apartment and Jim, so confused but trusting, only had eyes for Leonard. He was so damn beautiful. On the sidewalk, Leonard kissed him once more for good measure, then stepped aside to reveal the drive and the gift he had bought.

 

“Bones.” Jim’s voice cracked mid-syllable, making it a soft, vulnerable sound that tugged at Leonard’s heartstrings. Slowly, Jim approached the machine, ran shaking fingers over the handlebars, the fuel tank, the tail of the motorcycle he had so freely given up when he had chosen Leonard. 

 

Well, Leonard didn’t need him to make the choice, any more. It was enough to know he already had.

 

“How did you even find it?”

 

“Pavel found it. I did the negotiating. I mean, I was terrible at it. The guy who owned it knew he had me by the balls, but in the end the joke was on him. I didn’t care what it cost.”

 

“I’ll be careful, Bones, I promise.”

 

“Just come back to me. That’s all I ask.”

 

Jim’s eyes were wet. He was the one who closed the gap between them, that time, and they kissed before he made his own additional promise. 

 

“Always.”