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time and tide would not wait, so it was left to you and i

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Leonard looks out the viewport at his own dear planet. It fills his chest with a warm ache, seeing the green, brown, and blue of the Earth and the white wispy clouds of its precious atmosphere. He asks the computer what part of Earth he’s looking at, and when it tells him he’s above the United States, he thinks about an eight-year-old girl with his own hazel eyes, laying in the grass and looking up. He knows she can’t see him, not with the sun during the day and not with the moon at night. But it doesn’t matter, because he just has to run down to Starfleet Medical to consult on a neural grafting procedure, and in just one day, he’ll see his precious little girl, hold her in his arms and swing her around in a circle, her dark hair in his eyes and her bright, shrieking laughter in his ears.

 

“There’s a lightning storm going on in San Francisco, Doctor. Might be a wee bit of interference. You sure you don’t want to delay your departure?”

 

Leonard’s stomach churns with dread. “If it was up to me, I would, Scotty, but they need me down there at SFM.”

 

Scotty nods at him gravely. “Aye. You’re a good man, Doctor McCoy. I’ll see you down there, lad.”

 

Leonard nods, stepping onto the transporter pad.

 

He takes in a deep breath, about to give Scotty the order to energize, when Jim rounds the corner, sprinting into the room.

 

“Bones! Just wanted to say goodbye before you left, that’s all.” He’s huffing for breath, and Leonard steps off the transporter pad to pull his captain into his arms.

 

Jim gives him a kiss, quick and secret in the neck. “Go be brilliant, Bones. Save lots of lives.”

 

Leonard smiles at him. “You just focus on where we’re going to eat tomorrow, okay? Once you get down there with me. And don’t you go letting those damn Admirals keep you during dinner. Tell them you’ll go back the next day, but you’ve got an appointment with your attending physician.”

 

“Love you, Bones,” Jim says very softly, pulling him in for one final kiss, in full view of Scotty, who discreetly chooses to focus all of his attention on the controls in front of him.

 

“Love you too, Jimmy.” Leonard pulls away, claps Jim on the shoulder, and steps back onto the pad. “Energize, Scotty.”

 

Then he’s gone.

 

It’s common procedure to follow up after a person’s been beamed, especially if the comms lines are clear and it’s a known friendly planet.

 

Scotty pings Leonard’s comm, just to check that he got there safe.

 

There’s no answer.

 

Maybe it’s on silent, Jim thinks. So he comms the transporter bay at the Academy, and then the administration at Starfleet Medical. Neither of them have heard from him. The neural grafting procedure was delayed an hour, but then they proceed without him. Prayer is a poor substitute for guidance.

 

The patient dies.

 

Jim Kirk doesn’t sleep for three days, working around the clock to try to locate his CMO and partner.

 

On the evening of the third day, his first officer nerve pinches him and carries him to his quarters, where his acting-CMO sedates him.

 

---

Leonard arrives on the right planet, the familiar grounds of the Academy around him. The uniforms look a bit dated, though.

 

He goes to Starfleet Medical, but his badge doesn’t work, for some reason, and the surgeon he’s supposed to assist isn’t registered as a current employee. The receptionist is kind of looking at him funny, and Leonard can see two hospital security officers inching a little closer, sensing the strangeness of the situation, and he takes the cue to leave.

 

He sits on the steps of the library, trying to assimilate all the information he knows into a coherent whole so he can find a plan to proceed. He takes a deep breath, pulls roughly at his own hair, and heads into the imposing building, through Roman-style columns. He finds a computer console and signs in as a guest, doing a quick search to find out that he is still in San Francisco, that this is still Starfleet Academy, and that the year is 2228.

 

He stares at the four digits for a long time. Across the continent, there’s a little baby boy taking his first steps, toddling between a loving mother and an adoring father. Maybe he’s learning to speak his first words, saying “mama” and “dada” to a delighted audience.

 

That baby is here, too, thirty-three years old and trying to come to grips with the fact that he’s somehow travelled back in time. He’s older than his own father, right now. His father, who’s still alive, young and hale and hearty, without a single clue about the awful way he dies, at the hands of that round-cheeked baby boy all grown up and administering the fatal dose of morphine.

 

Leonard starts breathing harder and harder, until he can feel his stomach start to revolt at the impossibility of the situation. He stumbles into the restroom and throws up. Once he’s done introducing his breakfast to the toilet bowl, he slumps over on the floor of the bathroom stall, trying to breathe normally.

 

There’s a knock at the stall. “Hey, are you okay in there?”

 

Leonard can’t help but groan at the question, because there’s no way to answer it properly, not without the possibility of compromising an entire reality.

 

“Hey,” the voice says again, “should I call someone from Starfleet Med? Ambulance or something?”

 

“No. No, I’m good.” Leonard croaks, forcing himself back to his feet and opening the door.

 

The man standing there is younger than Leonard, tall and lean in his cadet reds, with intelligent blue eyes that are looking him up and down. In another situation, Leonard might have flirted with him, or bought him a drink, but this up-and-down has a very clear purpose—to figure out what the hell is wrong with him.

 

There’s another thing, too, an inescapable fact and maybe a blessing, if nything could be a blessing, considering the situation. He knows this man.

 

“I’m Chris,” he says cautiously, “Chris Pike. Come here, rinse out your mouth, Lieutenant Commander. Can I get you anything? Are you sure you’re okay?”

 

Leonard looks down at himself, clad in his uniform, and grimaces. He rinses out his mouth, and makes a command decision, feeling woefully unprepared for it.

 

“Chris. This is going to sound strange, but I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while, okay?”

 

Chris nods, though his uneasy expression says please don’t throw up on me… sir.

 

“Can we go somewhere to talk? Somewhere more private?”

 

Chris’ expression becomes a little wary, and hell, Leonard can’t blame him. The whole thing is strange as hell, and yeah, maybe Leonard has a weird obsession with helping people, even strangers, but other people are usually smarter than that.

 

“I’m not—look, I’m not interested in you sexually, I’m not trying to take advantage of my rank or anything here, but this is a sensitive situation, and I can’t risk it getting out to too many people.”

 

Chris closes his eyes, thinking for a moment. “Come to the astrodynamics lab, then. It’s pretty much always empty during the day.”

 

“Perfect.”

 

They cross campus and head to the astronomy building, far away from the medical sciences compound.

 

“Okay,” Chris says, once they’re settled into a lounge in the building for upper-level graduate students. Chris doesn’t have a degree in advanced astrodynamics, and Leonard wonders, absently, how he knows the code to get into the lounge in the first place.

 

“Okay,” he echoes, “again, this is going to sound strange, but I do trust you, and you’re one of the only people I know of that exist here, too. I came from the year 2261. I need to see a member of the Admiralty,” Leonard says quickly, “there’s been a transporter malfunction, a temporal anomaly. I don’t belong here, and I need to see someone. In—back where I came from, I knew a version of you, Chris. You outranked me, then, and I trusted you completely. So I’m asking you now, because I trust Christopher Pike, no matter what universe I’m in. Which member of the Admiralty would you trust to be discreet about this, to not exploit it, to help me get back?”

 

“Archer. Definitely Archer. He’s not one to take advantage or try to get information out of you, if you don’t want to give it. So the problem would be getting in to have a meeting with him, I guess. I’ll ask George—Archer likes George, I think, and if he asks, that might make it easier. Even easier if he and I both ask, he might make himself available for the pair of us, if he thinks we’re up to something.”

 

“Great. Tell this George guy to come here and help us, then.”

 

Leonard looks over Chris’ shoulder as he types into his comm, and nothing quite prepares him for the sinking feeling in his stomach when he sees the name George Kirk.

 

“Nothing can be easy,” he mutters.

 

“Hm?” Chris asks him, curiosity clearly piqued.

 

“George Kirk. He—where I came from, he was a—an important person, let’s say. I don’t know if I can risk him knowing this and screwing it up. It’d be best if we kept it between you, me, and Archer, okay?”

 

Chris looks at him, eyes narrowed. “Okay,” he agrees, “I’ll just tell him it’s a favor, and if I look at him the right way, he won’t want to ask any more questions for a little while.”

 

Leonard nods, and holds out his hand, squeezing firmly when Chris takes it. “Thank you, Chris. This—I can’t even tell you how important this is.”

 

Chris nods at him. “Now, do you know if your credits still work? Because if they do, I think I might just let you buy me dinner, Lieutenant Commander McCoy.”

 

“Shit, Chris, call me Leonard. And I haven’t tried, but I’d be happy to feed you.”

 

A pizza in exchange for the stability of the universe. It was probably the best deal in this whole reality.

 

---

Chris takes him in for awhile. For the next day and a half, Leonard lounges around, reads Chris’ books, steals his clothes, and quizzes him on material before his exams.

 

It’s in the middle of the afternoon, and Leonard’s taking a nap on Chris’ couch, with the man himself serving as a pillow and reading something for class.

 

That’s when a blond-haired man lets himself into Chris’ room and crosses over to the sofa with no hesitation, draping his arms around Chris’ neck from behind.

 

“Oh, who are you?” the voice asks, and it’s so like Jim that for a second, Leonard thinks it’s a joke. His eyes fly open.

 

Ji—oh. Sorry, you just reminded me of someone from home.” That’s his shorthand for it now, home.

 

“And who are you? Chris, did you shack up with some older man when I was gone for two days?”

 

“Hardly,” Chris mutters, turning and pulling George in for a kiss that shakes the shifting foundations of this new world Leonard finds himself in.

 

“This is Leonard. Leonard, George Kirk.”

 

“Hi. I’m just crashing here for a few days until I can meet with Archer and get some things straightened out.”

 

George makes a confused sound of acknowledgement, looking back at Chris.

 

“He’s a doctor,” Chris volunteers, because it’s perhaps the least classified thing about Leonard now, as far as the two of them are aware.

 

“Ooh, Chris, a doctor, you’ve done well for yourself. Your mom and dad will be ecstatic if you bring home a doctor this year.”

 

“Offering to give me a place to sleep doesn’t mean he’s going to be bringing me home to meet mom’n’dad,” Leonard points out as George shoves himself onto the sofa next to Chris, making them all shift over until Leonard’s legs are hanging over the armrest. “Plus, there’s you, isn’t there?”

 

George smirks. “There is me,” he agrees, pulling Chris back in. Leonard closes his eyes and sits up.

 

“I’ll give you two some time alone, then. Chris—I’ll pick up some dinner and come back here around dinnertime? Six or sevenish?”

 

Chris nods. George Kirk’s eyes stay on Leonard, though, even when Chris’ hands dip under his shirt, all the way until the door whooshes closed behind him.

 

He wanders the campus for awhile, pausing near the familiar medical buildings, and then he wanders through the city, admiring all the shops that weren’t there anymore when it came to his time. He sees an old-fashioned bookstore, and goes in. No better place to kill some time, he figures, flipping through a few books.

 

He picks one up, figuring that Chris will like it, and pays before he starts to wander back. He’s halfway back to campus when he remembers the promise about bringing dinner. He wonders if George will still be there, and figures he should bring enough dinner for four normal people, if Jim had had anything of his father’s appetite.

 

Did Jim know? Hell, did Winona even know that her husband—future husband?—was fucking Chris Pike? How serious was it? He thinks back to Jim’s eyes, the adoration in them when he looked at Chris, when he’d thought—assumed—that nobody would be looking at him the same way.

 

And in the depths of his private thoughts, as he pays for the Chinese food from the place that Chris had mentioned liking, he thinks about Chris’ golden brown hair, the warmth of his body, the way it felt to fall asleep with his head in someone’s lap as if his whole life wasn’t fucked up.

 

He thinks about the instinctive squeeze in his chest, too, the one he’d gotten when he’d first seen George Kirk, because fuck, the two of them sounded so alike, looked so alike, two golden sunshine boys, loud and reckless.

 

He thinks about the ache that had replaced that momentary excitement, because god, no matter how much they look alike, it’s not Jim. It’s never going to be Jim.

 

He gets back to the dorm and knocks on the door to Chris’ room instead of just using the code Chris had given him the first day they’d met.

 

Chris opens the door, and he’s dressed, hair still damp from the shower. He walks with a certain looseness in his muscles, as if—well, it’s not like Leonard’s unaware that they had sex. It’s just strange to see the aftermath.

 

Finally,” another voice groans, George hopping up once he smells the Chinese food.

 

“I told you he’d come through, George, he was just being considerate. Wouldn’t kill you to take some notes on that yourself, you know.”

 

“I am very considerate—“ George mutters through a mouthful of fried rice, “didn’t hear any complaints on my performance—“

 

Leonard stifles a laugh and sets the book on the counter. “Here, thought you might like this, seeing as how you’re all old-fashioned.”

 

Chris abandons his plate and carefully wipes his hands on a napkin before bending to inspect the book more closely. “The Dark Beyond the Stars. Wow, Len, this is amazing—thank you so much!”

 

Leonard waves off the thanks and takes over from Chris, grabbing three plates and dishing out some food for himself and giving Chris seconds he didn’t strictly speaking ask for while George continues eating out of the container.

 

“What, no book for me, pretty doctor boy?” George asks him, eyelashes fluttering.

 

“Maybe next time, George,” Leonard says with a smile, ruffling the younger man’s hair the way he would ruffle—the way he has ruffled—Jim’s hair so many times over the years.

 

“I don’t like him, Chris, he plays favorites,” George stage-whispers to Chris.

 

“I gave him a place to live, and you kicked him out so you could get laid,” Chris says absently, “of course he likes me best.”

 

Leonard snorts and tries not to stare at George as obviously.

 

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?” Well, apparently Jim got his appetite and his ridiculous smarts both from his father.

 

“You look like someone I love,” Leonard says quietly.

 

George flushes, but there’s something different in his eyes after that, when he looks at Leonard. “I’m sorry they left you.”

 

Leonard shakes his head, unable to meet George’s eyes. “I left him. It was—an accident. Just how things worked out. Might get him back, someday, if he waits for me.”

 

George opens his mouth to ask another question, but Chris cuts him off. “Let it go, George. Finish your food, then we have to talk about how we’re getting Len into a meeting with Archer.”

 

George doesn’t say anything about it, but the look in his eyes says he sure as hell hasn’t let it go, either. Leonard adds tenacity to the list of qualities Jim and George share, and tries not to let the ache show too openly on his face.

 

In the end, Chris just messages Archer and asks if it would be okay for them to meet. All three of them sit over the PADD, agonizing over the wording of a message that Archer would probably think about for no longer than twenty seconds.

 

They get a response the next day, with an offer of a few different times. They choose the earliest one, and George and Chris promise that they’ll both be there with him. Leonard doesn’t quite know how to tell George that he doesn’t have to come, and that in fact his coming will only make things trickier, so he ends up not saying anything at all.

 

---

They sit in the hard-backed seats in the waiting area, all three with their spines ramrod straight. Leonard wears his uniform again, though it gets him a strange look from George, whose eyes linger on the braid on his sleeve indicating his rank.

 

When they’re called, all three of them stand up, but Chris grabs George’s arm and whispers something to him. George’s eyes flash with anger, and he pulls his arm out of Chris’ grip, but Leonard barely notices, heading forward into the office.

 

“Admiral,” he greets, standing at attention. The admiral is old and weathered, but his eyes are as sharp and clear as Leonard’s ever seen. He remains seated when Leonard had entered.

 

“Lieutenant Commander. At ease. Take a seat.”

 

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

 

“Always, in this office.”

 

Chris comes into his office a moment later, with no George next to him and a tightness in his jaw that indicates that George hadn’t exactly taken the news in stride.

 

“My name is Leonard McCoy, and I am the Chief Medical Officer on the USS Enterprise, serial number NCC-1701. Sir, I was beaming from my ship down to the planet to assist in a surgery at SFM, when a temporal anomaly occurred. My current hypothesis is that this had to do with a lightning storm in the San Francisco area. Our Chief Engineer gave me the option of waiting, but I could not do so in good conscience when there were lives at stake.”

 

Archer listens to all of it placidly, nothing more than a small furrowing of his brow to indicate that what he’s hearing is at all out of the ordinary.

 

“From what year, son? Did you jump ahead or behind?”

 

“Behind, sir. I left my ship in 2261 and arrived here now, in 2228. Currently, there is an infant named Leonard McCoy, crawling around in Georgia and taking his first steps.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Sir, I was hoping for some sort of certification, so I could continue to serve,” Leonard says quietly, “even in my own time, there was—little left for me dirtside, when I enrolled in the Academy. Here, there is even less.”

 

Chris shifts and Leonard glances at him, afraid that his words may have been taken badly. His lips are pursed, and yup, Leonard’s just managed to insult the best friend he has in this entire reality.

 

“I understand. But surely you must understand, Mr. McCoy, that I can’t simply take your word for this. If you were perhaps to submit yourself for investigation, maybe on Vulcan—”

 

Leonard shakes his head. “I cannot consent to that. I have knowledge that this reality cannot know yet, of people who aren’t born yet and battles that we haven’t fought yet. Sir—please—“

 

Archer holds up a hand, and Leonard falls silent. He can’t submit to a mind meld by a Vulcan. There’s no way. He’ll just have to run, if that’s what they decide on, find somewhere far away and work under the table, at a restaurant or in a factory, somewhere he can live out his life in peace and die, hopefully long before the life he knows can catch up to him.

 

“I do trust you,” Archer says finally, “but that trust can only go so far. Would you be willing to go through the Academy again?”

 

Leonard thinks about another three years spent here, especially knowing what’s going to happen in five years, when the Narada incident happens.

 

“Sir? If I prove that I have the knowledge required for my medical courses, would I be able to complete my coursework on an accelerated time frame? Say, two years instead of four?”

 

Archer narrows his eyes at him. “Cadet Pike, you’re dismissed.”

 

Chris’s eyes widen in shock, but he gets up.

 

“Shut the door behind you, Cadet.”

 

Leonard holds Archer’s gaze, not saying a word until the door closes behind Chris and it’s just the two of them.

 

“Something’s coming, isn’t it?”

 

Leonard nods, unable to meet his eyes. “It will alter the course of Starfleet, sir. And I’m afraid I can’t tell you any more than that. When it does happen, you’ll be glad of all the recruits you can get.”

 

Archer nods, expression grave. “I really do believe you, McCoy. Let’s start by having you take the entrance exams, son. You come back to me every week, we’ll develop a plan as we get results in. You said you were a full CMO in your time?”

 

“Yes, sir, with expertise in xenobiology, xenopharmacology, and xeno-A and P sir.”

 

“A and P?”

 

“Anatomy and physiology. Sir. I was a fully-certified physician even before I entered the Academy. I was considered a non-traditional cadet because I came in when I was in my late twenties.”

 

“You decided to get into Starfleet in your late twenties? Good God, man, you could have done anything else—“

 

“I was fresh off a divorce, sir,” Leonard says quietly, “I was looking for some distance.”

 

“I’m sure you found it.”

 

“I did, sir. And a new purpose, and eventually, a new family.”

 

Archer nods his head thoughtfully. “You know, McCoy, this is the most interesting meeting I’ve had in some years. I’m looking forward to seeing your development.”

 

“Thank you sir. Before I leave, I have one more question—“

 

“Ask it, then.”

 

“There is a Leonard McCoy on this planet. He’s young, still, a baby, but he will grow, and he may want to join Starfleet some day—“

 

“Make your point, Doctor.”

 

“Should I go by a different name while I’m here?” He asks finally. It’s a hard question to ask, because god, this is his name, and his grandfather’s name before him, and who the hell is he if he’s not Dr. Leonard McCoy?

 

“McCoy isn’t exactly a distinctive name,” Archer decides finally, “and you really are a Leonard, son, you’ve got the face for it. So let’s leave your name be, okay? Unless you object and want to change it?”

 

“No sir,” Leonard says quickly, “thank you, sir, for meeting with me.”

 

“Of course, Leonard. I’ll have a PADD sent over to where you’re staying, if you could tell me the address?”

 

“Chris is putting me up, sir, or putting up with me, one of the two. Cadet Pike, that is. If you could send the PADD to his dorm room, I would receive it.”

 

Archer nods and then Leonard is dismissed. Chris waits outside for him, and when he asks how the meeting went, Leonard just shakes his head a little bit. When they gets back to Chris’ room, he takes off his uniform shirt and carefully folds it, tucking it away on a high shelf in Chris’ closet.

 

“Len? Why did you do that? What did Archer say?” Chris looks like he’s maybe freaking out just a little bit, and that’s what finally gets through the fog in Leonard’s mind.

 

He flops onto the couch in his undershirt.

 

“I’m going back through the Academy again. Med school the first time, then the Academy, and now the fucking Academy all over again. If this is how the rest of my life goes, I’ll be in school forever. God, I was in my late twenties the first time and I spent the whole time exhausted. I don’t know how I’m supposed to get through it this time.”

 

Chris sits next to him and lays a hand in Leonard’s hair. The touch is strangely intimate, but it’s soothing, too, and Leonard can’t quite manage to complain about it.

 

“It’s okay,” Chris says quietly, “it’s going to be okay. I’ll see if we can’t get you in here, so you don’t have to deal with a new roommate. And at least you’ve got me and George, right? You didn’t have us the first time you went through the Academy, it couldn’t have been that great!”

 

Leonard tries to smile but can’t manage it. “Had someone else there last time.”

 

“Him? The guy you loved who looks like George?”

 

Leonard pulls his arm away from his eyes and looks Chris right in the face, wondering whether to snap or just tell him. “His name is Ji—J. He’s probably tearing apart the galaxy to try to find me, breaking his own heart every single day.”

 

“And you?”

 

“I want to see him so bad it’s like—it’s like hunger, or thirst. It’s deeper than my brain, it’s my body. I don’t know how to be in Starfleet without him.”

 

Chris sits there on that sofa and holds him, shifting so Leonard’s head is in his lap. When Leonard wakes in the morning, it’s to a hand in his hair and Chris pressed against him, head to toe, wrapped around him on the sofa.

 

He tries not to think of it as cheating as he tries to maneuver out of Chris’ arms. He still wakes him, though, and Chris yawns a little and smiles at him. “Morning, Len.”

 

“Mornin’, Chris. Come on, let me up, I need a shower. And then I need to go get some fucking cadet reds.”

 

“Leave it, just take mine,” Chris mutters, “stay in bed, Len, come on.”

 

“We’re not in bed, Chris,” Leonard says softly, pulling away, “we’re on the sofa. We fell asleep here last night. You should’ve gone to bed, Chris. You’re not doing your body any favors, sleeping on the sofa.”

 

“Neither are you, and you’re older than me,” Chris mutters, rubbing at his eyes.

 

“Yeah, but my mama didn’t raise me to kick a man out of his own bed. Speaking of which, she also didn’t raise me to steal his clothes, which is why I’m going to make breakfast—and coffee—“ Chris lets out a happy hum. “—And then I’m going to go get myself some cadet reds. Hell, maybe I’ll take more command classes this time round, since I took all the medical ones last time. I’ll still have to take some of those med ones, I reckon, but I can probably test out of a lot of them, then maybe I’ll take some command seminars, go further with piloting—“

 

“You’re a pilot, too?”

 

Leonard barks a laugh, startling Chris enough that his eyes, drifting again, fly open. “Hell no, kid, I came into Starfleet with the worst case of aviophobia they’d ever seen. But I got over it, and maybe now—hell, I don’t know. It’s something to work on, unless I shoot for another PhD. Then again, I have been wanting to work on Andorian measles—there’s got to be some vaccine, if I can just isolate the right antigen and develop an immunogenic compound—”

 

“Jesus, how many degrees do you even have?”

 

Leonard smirks, opting not to answer the question. “I’m a man of many talents,” he says vaguely, finally managing to free himself from the sofa and stand up. “Do you have class today? If not, you can go back to bed, get some more rest without throwing your spine all out of alignment.”

 

“Nah. No class, but I can’t get back to sleep now. I’ll just come hang out with you, if that’s okay? We can get you settled, see if housing will agree to let you just stay, get you some stuff. You’ll need some civvies and stuff, too, won’t you?”

 

“Yeah. All sorts of stuff, probably.”

 

Chris pauses, standing up and looking Leonard right in the eyes. Despite the golden-brown bedhead and the creases on his cheek from the cushion—or from Leonard’s shirt—he looks serious.

 

“How long do you think you’re going to stay? Do you think they’ll find you? Your J?”

 

Leonard inhales sharply and leans back against the counter. “I think—I think he won’t stop looking until he finds me. But I don’t know how time flows in different universes, how long it’s been there since I arrived. I don’t know how long Starfleet will give him to look, and how long it’ll take before they declare me dead and force him to keep doing missions. I know he’ll keep working on it during his off hours, probably losing sleep and forcing either his second or mine to sedate him so he can get some rest. God, after the things he’s already lost—“ He trails off, lost in thought.

 

“It’s enough to drive a man crazy, worrying. On either side. Regardless, I guess I have to prepare like I’m here for good. Eventually, Jim will get orders from on high to move on, and if he doesn’t, he’ll lose his ship, and that crew is the best chance he has of getting me back. If he doesn’t self-destruct and get himself choked to death by a Klingon.”

 

Leonard thinks about Khan, about how recklessly self-destructive Jim had become after losing Pike—an older version of the young man he’d shared the couch with last night—and wonders how much worse it could be, now that he’s lost Leonard, too.

 

“Go take a shower, Len,” Chris says softly, coming over and squeezing his arm gently, “try to stop worrying about him for a little while. I’ll take breakfast and coffee duty, and then we’ll go out and get your some cadet reds.”

 

He’s told what he’ll be tested on in the next week, and he brushes up on the toughest parts of it. Human physio is all well and good, he just reviews a few of the numbers that he’d usually get off the tricorder. Human anatomy is much the same, going to the anatomy lab on campus and staring at a skeleton until he can name each bump and line and crack in each bone and what muscle attaches there. He studies the microscopic anatomy of each organ, too, though he goes lighter on the brain because he is, after all, a neurosurgeon. Or he was, back in the future.

 

He passes the first exam with flying colors. The same holds true for the second exam, xenoanatomy and physiology, and the third, xenopharmacology, and when he’s presented with a species that he isn’t familiar with (that he’s nearly sure is made up, because the question posits that it’s a brand new species that Starfleet hasn’t quite been exposed to yet, it’s a First Contact mission, and the princess falls ill, and Leonard is somehow supposed to rescue this hypothetical princess—) he adapts in the way he’s had to do dozens of times, and he manages. The probability of success for his answer is in 87%.

 

The next day, Starfleet Medical is banging on the door of Chris’ dorm room demanding that Leonard take his medical boards immediately so he can start practicing when he’s not in class.

 

He takes them over the course of the next few weeks, human and xeno-medicine each divided into three parts, two theoretical tests and one practical, where they check if he does things like wash his hands and be nice to his patients.

 

He takes a lot of shifts, comes home dead tired and collapses on the sofa and then later, on the new bed that housing had brought in at some point—probably when he was at the hospital, wrist-deep in the guts of a motor vehicle accident victim. There’s a new desk, too, shoved into a corner as Chris Pike’s luxurious single is unceremoniously converted into just another crowded double.

 

He takes to wearing his cadet reds most of the time, though he’s not in classes, technically. He just has no civvies, really, and he isn’t earning many credits yet, having just started working at the hospital.

 

Eventually he goes and buys a few pairs of jeans and a few t-shirts and Chris stops dead at the sight of him.

 

“I know. I almost forgot what civvies felt like, too. Got myself some pajamas, too, so you won’t catch an eyeful every time you need a piss or something,” Leonard says with a wry grin.

 

He talks to Archer each week, sometimes dropping heavy hints about how Starfleet Medical really ought to be better prepared for mass casualty incidents, how there ought to be more work put into studying pharmacology for hybrids—he doesn’t admit it, but sometimes, he misses Spock like hell, here, and if he can drop a hint here or there, maybe it’ll help if Spock does end up joining Starfleet, save some other physician the headache of trying to calibrate medications to his unique physiology.

 

The summer comes, and with it, Chris thinks about what he’s going to do. Leonard has no such thinking to do, considering that he’s, well, alone in the universe. So he keeps taking exams, and for July and August, he gets special dispensation from Archer to run a medical mission to a remote moon in the Andromeda galaxy, where there’s a colony of Andorians struggling with a new mutated form of the measles. It fits perfectly with his own dissertation idea, which he intends to propose to his PhD committee when, eventually, it forms.

 

But before that, there are still exams to prepare for and lives to save, and occasionally holos to watch and drinks to drink, watching Chris and George walk home with their arms around each other and remembering what it was like, when it was him and Jim staggering across San Francisco like that.

 

It’s been about a month since Leonard’s been enrolled as a Cadet, officially. He’s in their room, studying for his next round of exams—advanced Vulcan pathology, Andorian genetics, and Orion hormone regulation—when Chris walks through the door, looking like shit.

 

Leonard almost doesn’t notice, as engrossed in Orion pheromone secretion as he is, unti he glances up and catches the dark bruising around Chris’ eye, made even more blue by contrast.

 

“Hold the fuck up,” he orders, and Chris, programmed over the past two years to respond to that commanding tone of voice, stops right where he is.

 

“Turn around and come here, Chris, let me take a look at you. And take off your shirt, I’m guessing if that’s what I can see, there’s more that I can’t.”

 

Chris obliges, muttering something about horny doctors abusing their authority to get cute command cadets to strip.

 

“Sweetheart, I’ve heard it all before and then some,” Leonard drawls in response, rummaging under his bed for his medkit, still stocked with Jim-safe medication, because he’s a fool in love, but maybe Jim got those allergies from his father, and if he ever needs to treat George, it’ll be good to have them on hand. “Allergies I should be aware of?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Okay, then come sit and let me fix those bruises. No reason for you to be walking around like that in this day and age.”

 

Chris shrugs. “The instructor seems to think they’re a lesson, a reminder of what we could’ve done better.”

 

“Maybe I’ll break his nose as a lesson,” Leonard growls, “you take the hits, sure, but then you come to me or to Medical. Let me guess, George looks worse?”

 

“George always looks good,” Chris says absently. Leonard smacks him upside the head, gentle enough that the token protest is just a gesture.

 

“Tell him he can come over for dinner and stay for dessert. I’ll fix him up before we eat, and then you two can—whatever you two want to do, as long as you’re being safe about it.”

 

“Nah,” Chris mutters, “he’s back with his girlfriend now. They’re on and off, have been since we got here. He only comes to see me when they’re off.”

 

“Tell him to come by for dinner, then, no dessert. And if he says no to that, he’s just a bad friend, Chris. I’m not telling you how to live your life, but you don’t need someone like that.”

 

Chris inhales and looks away as the regen hums, working away on his bruise. “I do need him,” he admits quietly. “God, Len, I’ll take anything I can get from him.”

 

Leonard looks at him, really looks at him, and suddenly feels that the handful of years between them is a lifetime. He leans down and kisses Chris’ forehead. “You deserve better than that, Chris Pike. You’re my best friend in this whole universe, and my best friend deserves better than this. Now, we’ll invite George over next time. Tonight, I’ll make you something, we’ll drink a lot, but not too much, and then we’ll go to sleep and in the morning I’ll give you a hangover hypo so you’re not miserable.” He presses a painkiller to Chris’ neck and guides him over to his bed, helping him lay down.

 

“God, Len, I love you,” Chris mutters, looking over at him, “you’re so good to me.”

 

“That’s just the analgesic talking,” Leonard says with a little smile, carding a hand through golden brown hair until it’s out of Chris’ face, “now get some rest, I’ll wake you so you can clean up before dinner.”

 

“Seriously, yer the best,” Chris mumbles, arms wrapping around Leonard just above his waist and giving him a little squeeze before letting go.

 

Leonard sits back down on his own bed, thinking about the last person he’d said you’re my best friend to, and wondering why the condition of in this universe wasn’t enough to make him feel like he wasn’t betraying Jim, somehow.

 

He thinks about how he’d felt the first time Jim had said I love you to him. The circumstances weren’t all that different—he was definitely on some good shit in the hospital when he’d said it, fingers curled in Leonard’s grip, afraid even then of holding on too tight to a boy destined for greatness.

 

---

Jim wakes from the sedative furious. He storms onto the bridge and promptly threatens to court-martial both Spock and M’Benga for violating his bodily autonomy and disobeying orders.

 

Nyota slaps him across the face to bring him to his senses, because he’s screaming at his XO and his CMO—Acting-CMO, say Acting goddammit—on the bridge, and Chekov looks like he’s on the verge of tears.

 

He feels hollow, after all the yelling and screaming, and knowing there’s no Leonard to bring him back to himself. He closes his eyes, swallows against a throat that’s raw from yelling, and says very quietly that he’s resigning command due to emotional compromise. He nods to Spock and leaves the Bridge, Sulu following behind him because goddammit, after Leonard, Sulu’s the best damn friend he’s got on the ship.

 

“Jim—JIM, come on, wait for me—look—look at me, dammit—“ Sulu hisses, grabbing Jim’s arm and forcing him to a halt, “maybe this is good. You can go down, consult with the best and the brightest at the Academy, work out a way to get him back without being sidetracked by Captain’s business—“

 

Jim looks at him. “Thanks for being here, Sulu,” he says raggedly, clapping him on the shoulder, “I will do that.”

 

Admiral Barnett looks at him from across the mahogany desk in his office. There’s sunlight shining through the window—Bones loved the sun, had always moaned about missing it when they were up in the black, about how being ghostly pale didn’t suit him.

 

The Admiral looks at the request that’s been written out by Jim and reviewed and revised by Spock for substance, Nyota for style, and Chekov and Scotty for pure scientific genius and creativity.

 

“I’ll sanction this. You’ll have daily mandated counseling sessions for the remainder of your shore leave, and once you return to the ship in a month, I expect that to be the end of the matter. Any further pursuit will have to be on your own time, Captain.”

 

“I understand, sir.” Jim says, and it’s damn near a whisper, but it’s something.

 

---

 

Everything still reminds him of Jim. The taste of beer, the stupid genius blonds he’s somehow managed to surround himself with, the stupid old-timey music that Jim had always liked because it was what his mother had playing around the house on the rare occasion that she’d actually been at home.

 

He looks up Winona’s patient file once, out of curiosity. It doesn’t say if she’s dating George, and Chris isn’t a big fan of questions about George’s mysterious girlfriend. All he gets is that Winona Thompson is an engineering cadet, one year behind Chris and George, and apparently one of the most brilliant engineers on campus, if her list of publications is to be believed. A few of those are individual papers, too, not co-authored with a professor, so he does believe them.

 

He considers the ramifications of what he does a lot, in the beginning. If he tells Chris that George will be important, will Chris treat George like he’ll be important? Is that what’ll make George important, in the end? If he tells George that his son Jim is the love of Leonard’s life, will that push him towards a female partner who can bear his child, away from Chris? Chris, who still looks at George with this poorly-disguised yearning and blushes when Leonard catches him.

 

If he tells Archer that the Kelvin will go down, and the coordinates and the dates of where, will it not go down? Will Jim be born on another ship, or on Earth, or on some other solid ground? Will he have both his parents? Will he still go to Tarsus? Will he grow up as bold and bright and utterly, painfully beautiful as Leonard’s Jim, or will the absence of the pain in his life make him more like the other cadets, the ones who weren’t diamonds because they weren’t molded by tremendous pressure that crushed lesser stone?

 

He dreams of Jim often, and when he wakes with tears in his eyes, which happens just as often, he tries to cry quietly so he doesn’t wake Chris.

 

He thinks about his parents, his father a young Dr. David McCoy, treating patients and loving his little boy and living such a wonderful, full life. He thinks about his mother, before she got rheumatoid arthritis, back when her hands were nimble and skilled and she could stitch anything from human flesh to quilts to clothes. He thinks about the fact that he could hop on a shuttle at any time to go see them, and then he thinks about the fact that he can’t do that, because it’ll break his heart, and maybe also break the universe, if they have little Leonard with them.

 

 

---

“Jim—you can’t keep doing this, are you asking for a dishonorable discharge?” Hikaru hisses at him. He’d just rested his eyes, just for a second, in the sim lab, tinkering with some models to see if he could get Bones back. Now his helmsman is dragging him through the halls of his ship, entering the code to his room—“when did I tell you my code?”

 

“Spock told it to me when you passed out in the middle of diplomatic negotiations with the Etraxians,” Sulu says tersely, shoving him at the bed. “You are going to get yourself killed this way, Jim, this isn’t okay!”

 

Sulu’s blurry. Maybe it’s because Jim’s been spending all his time off shift running on too many stims trying to get Bones back. It’s kind of funny, the way the pink blur of Sulu’s mouth moves when he’s yelling at him.

 

“Jim.” Sulu kneels on the ground in front of him, leans in close so that Jim will understand what he’s saying. “You are going to get us all killed. Is that what you want?”

 

Jim shakes his head. “I just want Bones back,” he whispers, “when is he going to come back?” His voice is young and innocent and Sulu just wants to hug him. “Hikaru? I just want him. He’s the only person who’s ever loved me, even when I fuck up.”

 

Sulu’s heart breaks in his chest and he stands up, laying Jim down and taking off his boots. “He’s not the only one who loves you, Jim. I hope you know that. Now get some rest, M’Benga’ll take you off duty for a day or two so you can catch up.”

 

Jim turns over and sticks his hand under the pillow his head isn’t laying on. He rummages for a little bit and comes up with a wrinkled blue shirt. Sulu knows who it belongs to even before Jim presses his nose into it, whispering something that he isn’t meant to hear.

 

“Goodnight, Jim,” he says quietly, pulling the blanket over him and letting himself out.

 

It’s been two weeks since the repairs on the Enterprise were completed, and one since the crew had been assembled and they’d left Earth again.

 

---

 

During one of his weekly meetings with Archer, he yawns six times. Archer looks at him for about ten seconds, and unceremoniously tells him he has the next two weeks off.

 

“Tell Medical they can send their complaints my way. They weren’t bitching about being understaffed when you got here, they’ll be fine for two weeks without you. Now go and have a rest, go somewhere nice, relax for the last little while before the semester starts. You can continue testing out of your med classes then, and start your more advanced command, flight, and ops seminars, along with your research.”

 

Leonard, for once, is so exhausted he doesn’t argue and just nods. After Archer dismisses him, he goes home and collapses into his bed, falling asleep for nearly the entire afternoon until Chris surreptitiously pokes him to see if he’s still alive.

 

“Leave m’alone, I have two weeks off,” Leonard mutters to his pillow.

 

Chris sits down next to him. “Then let’s go somewhere. What d’you say? Cancun? Miami? Tokyo? Dubai? Madrid? Risa?”

 

Leonard glares up at him for a moment before responding, hoping that Chris won’t be able to hear.

 

But he does and he lets out a whoop. “Hello Miami! Watch out, beautiful boys and girls, Len and Chris are coming!”

 

Leonard finally turns over and laughs helplessly at his roommate. He thinks about Jim, about their trip to Cancun during their first summer off, and then to Shanghai the next year, and then brief runs over to Buenos Aires and Venice, in between Jim’s shipside internships and survival drills and Leonard’s dissertation research and field medical missions. He thinks about all the shore leaves they went on, and all the plans they’d talked about, and he feels his chest ache.

 

Miami is gorgeous. It’s full of beautiful people wearing very little clothing and Chris is eager to go to the beach and lay around doing nothing. When they get to the beach, Leonard sets about trying to find some shade, and tells a protesting Chris that it doesn’t matter that he grew up in the desert, he still needs to wear sunscreen.

 

He rubs the lotion into his friend’s back and tries not to think about how it looks—how they must look, two young friends coming to the beach, his hands on Chris’ muscled back, sharing long stretches of eye contact and occasionally laying on the same towel because Chris was too lazy to set up his own. He tries not to think about it, because he remembers thinking the same thing about Jim, when they’d gone to Cancun, back when they had just been friends, pulling together with the inevitability of the tide meeting the sand.

 

It’s been a couple of months, and when they go out to a bar that night, a woman approaches them with a shy smile. She offers Leonard her name and her phone number, and he lets her down as gently as he can. He’s still holding out hope of seeing a familiar face, maybe Spock or Sulu if not Jim himself, coming to pick him up and bring him back home.

 

Chris’ face falls when the girl walks away stiffly, shoulders hunched in disappointment.

 

“You shouldn’t have said no to her, Len, she’s beautiful,” he says reproachfully.

 

“So’s J,” Leonard says quietly, “and I can’t—I can’t. Not with somebody else.”

 

Chris sighs a little and sits close to him, their shoulders bumping against each other. “Fine, then focus on getting me laid tonight,” he mutters.

 

Leonard’s happy enough to do that. “Who do you like, then? Blonds? Because there’s that bombshell in the corner, I think she likes you—either that or she’s staring at the sunburn on your nose—“

 

Chris perks up and takes a look. She is indeed beautiful, with long legs that go on for miles and a look in her eyes that suggests mischief.

 

“You can find your way back to the hotel without me, right, Len?” Chris asks, patting Leonard clumsily on the chest without looking as he heads straight towards her.

 

Leonard turns to the bar and orders another drink.

 

“You know,” the bartender says, shrewd eyes not missing a single thing, “I reckon his type is more tall, dark, and handsome.”

 

Leonard freezes, drink halfway to his mouth. “Nah, he’s hung up on a hot blond back home. Best way to get over one is to get with another one, I reckon.”

 

The bartender shrugs, but doesn’t fight it, and Leonard has two more beers and a bourbon before he starts to get melancholy. It’s about this stage of drunkenness when Jim comes to rescue him and take him home, making him drink water and go to sleep and keeping him from doing anything stupid.

 

He lifts up his last drink in a toast. “To you, Jim,” he says softly, letting the smooth liquor burn as it slips down his throat. He throws down some credits and nods at the bartender. “Make sure he gets out of here okay,” he says gruffly, throwing down a hefty tip and nodding at Chris’ body pressed against the girl’s as they kiss feverishly.

 

“Your type wouldn’t happen to be pretty golden blond boys, now would it?” The bartender asks, teasing.

 

“Damn straight it is,” Leonard acknowledges, sparing Chris and his conquest one more glance before he heads right back to the hotel to drink some more and maybe jack off thinking about Jim. He knows he’ll dream about Jim tonight, when his eyes close.

 

He wakes to a wet pillow, from where he’d been crying, and a somber-looking Chris, still in yesterday’s clothes, sitting on the edge of his bed stroking through Leonard’s hair.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” he says softly, when Leonard blinks up at him, the moisture in his eyes receding.

 

“Wouldn’t have mattered, sweetheart,” Leonard says wearily, “I—I dream about him a lot. He was it, you know? He was—he was just it for me.”

 

“He was lucky to have you, even if it wasn’t forever.”

 

He was lucky to have me? He could have had anybody in the universe. I was lucky he chose me, that’s all.”

 

“Leonard. I don’t think you know how exceptional you really are,” Chris says quietly, “he was lucky to have you. Anyone would be.”

 

Leonard smiles, eyes watering again because it’s too early for him to put his walls up, and god, the loss of his universe along with the hangover from hell and the dream—Jim’s blue eyes lit up beautifully as they laid in bed, some of the strands of his hair glowing in the morning light—it’s all too much for him.

 

“Guess it doesn’t matter now,” Leonard whispers, turning to press his face against his pillow, “now that I’m here and he’s there.”

 

Chris nudges him back. “Hey. If you changed his life even a fraction as much as he changed yours, then it’ll always matter for him. And it’ll matter forever for you. But Len, I just hope it doesn’t always hurt this much. I hope that one day you can think about him and smile.”

 

Chris leans down and gives Leonard a kiss, warm, dry lips pressed against the lines of his forehead.

 

“I’m going to go take a shower, and then I’ll order us some breakfast, okay?”

 

Leonard looks up at him and nods. When Chris goes into the bathroom to shower, he gets out of bed long enough to grab a bottle of scotch from the minibar before he falls back into the bed. It’s not enough to get him back to the comfortable numbness of being drunk, but it’s enough to ease him back into sleep, hoping that when he wakes, the world will be kinder to him.

 

For the rest of the trip, Chris doesn’t leave with anyone but Leonard, and Leonard can feel his eyes on him all the time, monitoring how much he’s drinking. He wants to kick up a fuss about how he’s not an alcoholic (probably), but it’s just nice that somebody cares.

 

---

By the time they get back to San Francisco, Leonard actually feels rested and ready to get back into the rhythms of the semester. That ends up being a good thing, considering that the semester hits him like a sledgehammer. He’s got shifts at Medical, and he’s getting to be known as someone who’s willing to take a shift off your hands for the right sob story—so far he’s let Jimenez off so he can go see his daughter’s dance recital, let Wang off because she’s needed to attend a funeral, and let Egwu off so he could go to his sister’s wedding. He doesn’t mind, figures that it’s kind of his job, considering he has nobody in this universe. If he takes those shifts, then more people get to be happy and he gets less time to mope about his miserable life.

 

But then the command seminars start, with their difficult ethical questions and counterfactuals. It’s lucky that George and Chris are in a lot of his command courses, because they all tend to study together, either in George’s room or in Chris and Leonard’s, or sometimes around a table in the library.

 

Leonard still has some medical classes, too, ones that he’s either opted not to test out of or wanted a refresher on, anyway. He’s also gotten the go-ahead to start his dissertation work on developing a vaccine for Andorian measles. So he spends hours each week messing around in the lab trying to figure out which antigen would be best suited to create an antibody around without actually causing all of the painful symptoms. At the same time, he’s trying to figure out the mechanics of the vaccine, whether it needs to be live or if it can be an inactive vaccine. He has to consider the immune systems of different species too, to try to ensure that the vaccine can be used on as many individuals as possible.

 

Archer also strongly encourages him to join the Journal Club for medical cadets. Joining leads very rapidly to chairing the failing organization, arranging for snacks and taking point in all the discussions on medical innovations that are decades old, as far as Leonard’s concerned. He makes sure he facilitates, so that the younger cadets are actually learning, but he makes them question the findings too, think critically about experimental integrity and design.

 

He takes to flying more, too. The aviophobia had been deemed a manifestation of his desire to cling to the familiar in the wake of losing his father and his marriage, and once he’d gotten settled at Starfleet, once he’d found Jim and gotten used to the hospital, he’d found that the fear was more of a mild discomfort than a paralysis.

 

He’d managed to get his flight certification, and he’d renewed it when he’d gotten back to this time. He likes to fly in the simms, because they’re available more than real shuttles are, and deep down, he’s still more comfortable with his feet on the ground. But in the simms, he can watch the stars go by and he can feel Jim, sitting next to him in awed silence, flirting with him with space-themed pickup lines, guiding him in that calm, level Captain’s voice. He can feel the pressure of Jim’s hands over his own, helping him guide the controls, the faint feeling of breath against his neck when he praises Leonard for doing everything right.

 

So between work, command classes, medical classes, extracurriculars, and hanging out with Chris and George, Leonard has basically no time to wonder if Jim’s still trying to find him. He falls asleep so exhausted, his dreams are mostly of the molecular structure of the Andorian measles virus.

 

George and Chris are only marginally better. They might have time to check out girls now and then, but it’s usually in the library, in between study sessions as an opportunity to rest their eyes before straining them again to read the text on their PADDs.

 

One night, Chris comes back to their room completely wired. He’s obsessing over an exam he’d had. Leonard knows full well that he’s passed with flying colors, but Chris can’t stop harping over the (few) questions he’d had to guess on and the (even fewer) questions that he’d looked up the answers to once he’d left the exam room and found out that he’d gotten them wrong.

 

Leonard tries to focus on his xenobiology III homework, but he can’t, not with Chris pacing the room as if it’s his job. Finally, he gives it up. “Alright, we’re going out,” he declares, taking Chris by the wrist and tossing him his jacket.

 

Chris perks up. “Great! What bar are we gonna hit? Can we go to that one that’s a little quieter? Not so much dancing—at least not that kind of dancing, what did you call it again, Len?”

 

“Clothed fornication without the reproductive benefits?” Leonard snarks, though he can’t help but smile when Chris laughs.

 

“Yeah! Let’s go to the quiet place on the corner instead. Should I comm George or will we just pick him up on the way?”

 

Chris keeps chattering as Leonard leads them outside, and they’re walking across campus when Chris stops.

 

“Len? I don’t know if the campus has changed, from back when you were here the first time, but we’re just going further onto campus right now, not towards the bars—“

 

“We’re not going to a bar, Chris, we’re going out. I’m calling in a favor, and we’re gonna take a shuttle up, and you’re going to get a little bit of perspective, so you can stop driving yourself crazy over these six questions. You’re going to get up to space, Christopher Pike, and there are so many other things to wonder about.”

 

Chris stares at him, and then smiles again, smaller, calmer. “You’re the best, Len.”

 

Leonard had treated the guy responsible for the shuttle logs for an STD, so he gets in after he shows his flight credentials.

 

“Alright, buckle in,” he mutters, smiling at Chris in the copilot’s seat. Leonard himself takes a look around the shuttle, beginning his preflight checklist, Jim’s voice playing in his head.

 

Visual inspection of the shuttlecraft, Bones, make sure that nothing looks off. You might not be a shuttle tech, but you’re smart. And no computer is smarter than you are.

 

Systems evaluation—gotta trust her before you go up in her, alright?

 

Copilot’s ass evaluation—

 

My ass is just fine, Jim thank you.

 

Oh, but you’re the pilot tonight, not the copilot, Bones, that’s gonna be me. So, take a look—is my ass as fine as it always is?

 

He stands up and gives his backside a little wiggle and Leonard can’t help but laugh.

 

God, sit down, you idiot. I’m not ready to pilot a shuttle.

 

You are, Bones. You can do anything, I know you can. Alright, now start the engine, check the nav system, and be gentle when you take her up—treat her like a lady.

 

Leonard takes them up and thinks about the first time he’d ever done this by himself successfully, with Jim by his side.

 

Jim flicks on the autopilot and stands up, behind Leonard’s seat, resting his chin on Leonard’s shoulder. That’s what we do this for, Bones. We go out so we can come home. Not much of a home for me, but it’s all we’ve got. I always like coming out here, everything feels so far away, doesn’t it? It’s a good place to get some clarity.

 

Leonard manages to agree through his bone-dry throat, falling in love with his planet all over again.

 

Jim walks around Leonard’s seat and settles in his lap before leaning in. Leonard meets him halfway for their first sober kiss. For a moment, Leonard isn’t thinking about the past or the present, the Earth or the stars. He’s just here, in space, kissing a man he adores, and living unabashedly in the present.

 

Earth isn’t the only thing Leonard falls in love with that night.

 

Leonard keeps the controls on manual, so he can feel a little more comfortable with the situation.

 

“Look at the stars, Chris. That’s your future. You’re going to boldly go out there, find new civilizations, meet new people, find a thousand new things to love and fear and hate and admire, and a thousand more that you just won’t be able to wrap your head around.”

 

Chris does, and he leans forward, because he’s still more excited than anything else to have this opportunity. “They’re beautiful,” he murmurs, looking back at Leonard.

 

Leonard nods and gestures back behind them. “Now look at that. Look at our home, Chris. That’s the reason I go out. To protect the people I love the most, and almost all of them are on either on that planet or on my ship. The stars are where we’re going, the Earth is where we came from. Now, Chris, your life is going to be so full of discovery. Your time is so fucking precious. Are you going to waste it thinking about a few questions on an exam you know you passed, or are you going to spend it on the things that matter most?”

 

Chris looks back to the stars, and then back down at the Earth, with its wispy white atmosphere and green-grown land and beautiful blue oceans the color of Chris’ eyes.

 

“I’m going to focus on what matters,” he whispers, turning on the autopilot and leaning across.

 

Leonard can’t help but panic, thinking about how Chris is his best friend here, and he can’t afford to lose him, thinking about Jim’s warm weight settling in his lap, his hesitation only present in the way his fingers had hovered for a moment before touching Leonard’s neck.

 

In the end, he doesn’t pull back, but he doesn’t reciprocate the kiss either. He can’t think of anything to do—maybe this is what Spock should have programmed as the Kobayashi Maru, because it sure as hell feels like a no-win scenario—

 

“Chris, I’m sorry—“ he stammers, “I just—I can’t. I—there’s J, I can’t—“

 

“Take us back down, Leonard,” Chris says quietly.

 

Leonard doesn’t say another word. Jim’s voice in his head guides him through the landing checklist, until the shuttle is back to being stable on the ground.

 

“I’m sorry, Chris, really—I just—it’s J. I can’t. I’m not ready yet.”

 

“I get it. It’s always gonna be J for you, even though he’s not even born yet in this universe. Have his parents even met, Leonard?”

 

“I don’t know,” Leonard says honestly.

 

“And you’re going to spend the rest of your life hung up on someone you’re never going to see again,” Chris says harshly, “good for fucking J, ruining you for everyone else.”

 

Leonard looks down as Chris unbuckles his seatbelt and rises.

 

Please, Chris—I just—I don’t know how to explain—“

 

When Leonard gathers the courage to look up, Chris is already long gone, and Leonard is about as lonely as he’s ever been in his entire life.

 

He goes back to their room slowly, wanting to give Chris some time to get himself together and hoping to use that time himself to find the right words, if there are any.

 

When he gets back, Chris isn’t there. He calls him and comms him once—

are you coming home?

 

—and then again a few hours later, when it’s the dead of night and he doesn’t know where Chris is sleeping and he can’t help but worry—

 

I hope you’re okay and somewhere safe.

 

—but after that he gives him his space.

 

The next day, when Leonard comes back from his classes, Chris’ bed is still undisturbed, made with pristine hospital corners.

 

He comms George.

 

Is he okay?

 

George responds almost immediately. He’s fine.

 

Two minutes later, another message comes in. No thanks to you.

 

Leonard hates himself when his first thought is that Jim had always been protective, too.

 

Tell him I’m working tonight, so he can come back and pick up some stuff if he needs to.

Leonard pauses. And if he could comm me when he’s ready, that would be good. I need to know if I should move out or not.

He sends one final message. Take care of our boy, George. He deserves the best.

After that, he sets his comm in a drawer so he can stop checking it obsessively.

He catches himself staring at the drawer. Huh. That was not the plan.

He gives Chris space but he comms George every day to check that he’s alright.

Leonard’s asleep when he gets in—he doesn’t have class until the afternoon and he did take on a bunch of night shifts, probably so he wouldn’t have to think about things. He wakes to the sound of the door whooshing open on the fourth or fifth day. He has no idea which, since nights fuck up his sense of time beyond belief.

He opens his eyes and blinks up at Chris. He pauses for a moment, checking that this is actually real, and beams.

“Y’came back,” he says, awed.

“I came back,” Chris agrees, tossing a backpack over towards his own bed. “You look like shit, Len.”

Leonard can’t stop smiling, even though the fatigue’s dragging him back down.

“Go back to sleep, Leonard, you’re tired, I can see it.”

“Yer my best friend, Chris. Missed you so much.”

Chris doesn’t make eye contact as he starts unpacking. “I missed you too, Len.”

 

Leonard curbs the endearments that he’s been letting slip lately and Chris cuts out the casual physical intimacy.

 

One time, Leonard comes home to find George, above Chris in bed, miles and miles of bare skin. They’re kissing, but George is doing something down lower, too. Maybe he’s prepping Chris, who’s is making these incredible sounds, these soft gasps and moans, begging George to just do it, already, I’m ready, I can handle it—and Leonard can’t stand there for another second, so he stammers out an apology and flees to the flight simulator. The last thing he hears is Chris letting out a long moan as George settles inside him, and Leonard wants so badly to forget that he turns away from the simm and towards the medical school library, to get a private study room for himself.

 

Personal Log, Leonard H. McCoy, he tells the computer, please note the time and date.

 

Acknowledged, says the cool female voice of the computer. Beginning recording now.

 

Jim—god, Jim. I’m so fucked without you here. God, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just—you’ll laugh when you hear this, or puke, I don’t know—I just walked in on your dad screwing Admiral Pike. I know. It’s—I mean, I knew they were fucking, y’know?

 

It’s just, Chris kissed me, last weekend. I took him up in the shuttle the way you used to take me up, and he kissed me like you kissed me. And I was so fucking mad at him—god, that was ours, yours and mine, and now it’s yours and mine and mine and his and I’m so fucking angry that when I think about shuttles, I don’t just think about you anymore—

 

A young female cadet knocks on the door and offers him tissues and a sympathetic smile. It’s the first time Leonard’s cried in a library.

 

He dreams of Jim, and wakes in tears and Chris is in the shower. It hurts even more to know that he must have seen Leonard crying and opted to walk away.

 

Classes go by quickly, considering Leonard doesn’t have much time to spend on existential questions like whether the Enterprise will ever figure things out enough to come get him, now that it’s already been almost eight months since he got here, or whether Jim’s taken someone else into his bed, maybe Spock, or Sulu, or maybe M’Benga, though Leonard doubts that. He wonders whether Jim’s even still alive.

 

---


“Jim, you are not allowed to die this time,” Hikaru tells him as the helmsman half-carries him to medbay.

 

Jim’s unconscious, so he doesn’t respond. When he wakes, he looks Hikaru in the face.

 

“I thought I saw Bones.”

 

“On Tellarite? While we were renegotiating a trade deal? You thought you saw Leonard here?” It’s too many questions, too skeptical, and as soon as Hikaru says it, he knows it’s too much.

 

“He got lost in a transporter anomaly,” Jim growls at him, “he could be anywhere. It’s not my fault a fucking anti-Federation assassin decided to shoot me.”

Sulu nods grimly, glancing up at Chapel, Leonard’s head nurse, who has her lips pursed and her eyes wet and miserable.

 

She steps forward and sits in the chair next to her captain, taking his hand in her own.

 

“You’re not the only one who misses him, Jim. Nobody loved him like you did, but god, I miss him every single day too. But the only way for you to keep working to get him back is for you to get yourself together and continue to perform as captain. That’s what Leonard would want.”

 

“You don’t know shit about what Bones would want,” Jim whispers, “he’d want to be with me, whether we were here or on Earth or dead in our fucking graves.”

 

M’Benga steps out from behind the privacy curtain. “I’m mandating weekly counseling for you, Captain, for the foreseeable future until I authorize its discontinuation.”

 

“You’re acting like you have a death wish, Jim,” Christine translates, “and I know that would break Leonard’s heart.”

 

“So what?” Jim asks, looking at her, exhaustion and pain in his eyes, “let it break his heart. He’s already broken mine.”

 

---

 

George is around a lot more. Or maybe he’s not, and he’s just around a lot more when Leonard isn’t. Either way, Leonard figures he’ll help them out and picks up more and more night shifts. He spends more time in the lab, too, tinkering with the virus to see if he can make some progress somehow. He develops a cough, and he’s always cold, somehow, but he attributes it to San Francisco’s cool fall and winter and starts pulling on two undershirts instead of one and carrying a sweater around with him.

 

One day his alarm goes off and he stumbles out of bed, drenched in sweat. He can feel his energy levels dropping more and more, and he’s been so tired he hasn’t been eating properly, so the junk food probably isn’t doing him any good, either.

 

Chris glances at him out of the corner of his eye, wearing his cadet jacket over jeans and trying to shove his left foot into his right boot, and as Leonard passes out, he hears Chris making a call.

 

Leonard wakes up to Starfleet Medical’s sterile white walls and dim lights.

 

“Did I have a bad away mission? Is J—is the Captain alright? Where’s Spock? I want to talk to him, immediately, that’s an order, Nurse.” he asks the nurse, a pretty young woman he doesn’t think he knows, and definitely isn’t Chapel.

 

“Uh—um, it wasn’t a bad mission,” she answers, looking over his head at someone else.

 

“Leave it, nurse, I’ll explain things to him.” Chris pushes himself out of the doorframe and sits in the chair next to his biobed.

 

“Chris? You’re so young,” Leonard says softly, reaching out to touch Chris’ smooth cheek.

 

“You traveled back in time, remember? It was a transporter accident, Len. You’ve been working too hard. Poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, and working with hazmats in the lab—it’s not a great combination. You caught a form of Andorian measles—it was pretty mild, or so they tell me. Why didn’t you tell anyone you felt feverish? When they brought you in, you had on two undershirts and then your cadet jacket on top!”

 

Leonard shrugs. “I thought it was just the weather, I guess, or hypoglycemia. How long have I been here?”

 

“You came back in time nine months ago, give or take a few days. You’ve been in the hospital for four days. You were over the infection after two, but your body wasn’t ready to wake up. If you ever fucking do that to me again, I’ll kill you myself.”

 

“I’m sorry, Chris.”

 

“Yeah, Len. You’re always sorry.”

 

It all floods back to him, and he remembers standing in that shuttle by himself, preparing to lose Chris for good, and waking to find him there, even when there was no reason for him to be.

 

George enters the room, grinning and holding up a paper bag that smells amazing. “Brought dinner, Chri—oh! Len, you’re awake! When did he wake up? Chris, why didn’t you comm me?” He doesn’t pause to wait for an answer, just sets the food down on a table and sits down on the edge of Len’s bed, brushing the hair out of his face. “How are you doing, pretty doctor boy? We were worried about you! You can’t go round working yourself into the ground like this—“

 

“Wanted to give you two more time alone,” Len admits, staring into Jim’s blue eyes framed by a slightly different face, slightly lighter straw-colored hair.

 

“Well, don’t. You’re our friend. We want time with you, too. And Chris can always come over to mine if we need something else.”

 

“Not that any of that matters,” Chris mutters, “since Queen Tess has deigned to take you back.”

 

“Watch yourself, Pike.” George’s voice is low, a warning to his best friend.

 

“You’re so like him it hurts,” Leonard says before he can stop himself, reaching up to caress George’s cheek, “you’re so like him it breaks my fuckin’ heart.”

 

George pulls Leonard’s hand away and holds it in both of his own, just sitting there, letting himself be looked at.

 

Chris leaves them alone. George stays and talks to him, telling him about Tess and never once letting go of his hand.

 

---

 

Leonard gets discharged and he’s back to classes a day later. If it was hard to keep his head above water before, it’s even harder now that he’s trying to make up for a week’s worth of missed classes, lost research time, and experiments that have spoiled in the week he’s been gone.

 

When he gets home, the first thing he does is update his medical contacts, replacing James T. Kirk with George Kirk, Christopher Pike, and Admiral Jonathan Archer.

 

Archer, having heard about his illness and his absence, talks to his professors and gets him extensions and ensures that Leonard’s banned from taking night shifts for at least a month.

 

“Have you always been this fucking stupid, Leonard?” he asks at their next meeting.

 

“Sir, I used to be much stupider, if you’ll believe it.” Leonard says with a wry smile.

 

“Well, thank goodness I wasn’t your advisor for that. Might I ask who was?”

 

“He’s one of your advisees now, sir, but that’s all I’ll say about it. But you can rest easy—he was as good an advisor as yourself, and he had considerably more to deal with, what with the particular company I kept.”

 

Archer laughs. “You’ve never met a stray you haven’t taken in, have you, Leonard?”

 

Leonard shrugs haplessly, and they talk about his classes again before Leonard’s dismissed.

 

---

 

“Teach me how to fly,” Chris says one night.

 

“Hm? Gimme a minute,” Leonard mutters, “trying to figure out what vehicle I could use for Tellarites that won’t be toxic to Orions, I’d really rather not have to make separate vaccines for each species—“

 

Chris huffs and sits next to him on his bed. “Teach me how to fly, Leonard. Please. I want to go up there again.”

 

George strides through their door as if he owns the place.

 

“What’s going on here, then?”

 

“I’m trying to get Len to teach me how to fly, and he’s too busy thinking about the damn vaccine to listen to me.”

 

“Wait, you’re teaching him how to fly? Len, you can’t pick favorites! Teach me, too! If you’re teaching him, teach me, too!”

 

“You both are gonna learn anyway,” Leonard says with a laugh, “elementary shuttle piloting is required for you batshit crazy command types.”

 

“But we don’t get to learn until next semester, and if you teach us, we can go now!” George is insistent, and he hops on the bed, pulling Len’s PADD out of his hands and looking at him, pleading with Jim’s eyes.

 

“Stop that,” Chris orders, “you’re manipulating him by reminding him of J. It’s not fair, George. Stop it.”

 

“I’m not doing any such thing—I’m just asking! It’s not my fault that I look like his long-lost boyfriend—“

 

“Boys, please. George, give me back my PADD and stop pouting at me, my poor mortal heart can’t take that much cute. Chris, you don’t need to defend me from everything that reminds me of J, it won’t work.”

 

George gives him back the PADD, but when Leonard reaches out to take it from him, George lays his hand on top of Leonard’s. “Please. You said it yourself, Lenny, we’re gonna need to know either way, right? Come on, pretty doctor boy, I want you to be the one that teaches us.”

 

Leonard closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to meet George’s. “Fine. Fine, I’ll teach you. Every Friday before we go out for drinks. Simms only, if we go up in the shuttle, I’m piloting until I know for sure you two are capable of it yourself.”

 

George grins and drops an affectionate kiss to Leonard’s cheek. “You’re the best, Lenny, I really mean it.”

 

Leonard rolls his eyes and exchanges a look with Chris, who looks a little troubled, but can’t complain, since he’s the one who wanted flying lessons in the first place.

 

Chris takes George’s arm and nudges him into standing up. “Coffee, Len? I’m going to go make myself some,” Chris offers with a little smile.

 

“You know I’m always a yes for coffee, Chris. You remember how I take it?”

 

“Black, one sugar,” George says silkily, winking at Leonard when he looks up in surprise.

 

“So those baby blues aren’t just for getting people into your bed, I see,” Leonard remarks before getting back to his theorizing.

 

Chris drags him outside, and Leonard can hear the rhythm of their voices, but not quite the words of the conversation.

 

Of course, that’s when he needs the bathroom, and as he walks over, he hears them.

 

“George.” Chris’ voice is serious, “Don’t fuck around with him. He’s fragile.”

 

“I know that! I know that, Chris, but dammit, he doesn’t belong to you!”

 

“He doesn’t belong to you either.”

 

“I’m not trying to pretend like he does! I just want—I just want to make him laugh, I just want him to smile when I flirt, the way you do. I want him to look at me and see me for once, dammit! Is that too much to ask? I just want to know him better, Chris. I’m allowed that, aren’t I?”

 

“Fine, but don’t you dare sleep with him,” Chris mutters, voice low and mutinous, “he wasn’t ready when I fucking kissed him in the shuttle, he’s not ready for whatever George-Kirk-sex-without-strings bullshit you’re so fond of.”

 

“Maybe he just wasn’t ready for a kiss from you.” George knows full well that he’s treading in dangerous waters.

 

Leonard knows full well that that’s never been enough to stop a Kirk.

 

Chris is silent for a minute, and Leonard wishes he could see them, see his face.

 

“You’re an asshole sometimes, George. Get out. And don’t comm me, I’ll comm you.”

 

---

 

Leonard herds Chris and George into the flight simulator.

 

“Alright, I’m thinking of a number. Tell me whether you think it’s odd or even.”

 

“Even,” George says instantly.

 

“Odd, I guess,” Chris grumbles, “even though it’s probably two, so of course it’s even.”

 

“Right, George, pilot’s seat, Chris, get in the copilot’s seat. The controls are exactly the same, but command types always want to turn everything into a dick-measuring contest, so I had to randomize somehow. And we’ll switch next time, so Chris can be the pilot.”

 

“We’re not seven, you know, Lenny, we won’t be upset if we find out that I’m your favorite,” George says with a grin.

 

Leonard grins back at him, but stays focused. “Okay, now get up boys, don’t buckle yourself in yet. They won’t teach you this in class, but it’s a good first step. Visual inspection of the craft, ideally from outside as well as from inside, but this is a simm, so inside is good enough. You’re smarter than any computer, so take a look and see if there’s anything amiss that makes you think that maybe this shuttle shouldn’t be flying. Go ahead and do the inspection.”

 

George and Chris both take the instruction seriously and look around the interior of the room for a fair bit of time, George finishing first and settling back in his seat. He opens his mouth to say something.

 

“Nope. We’re waiting for Chris, and then I want to hear both your findings.”

 

George shuts his mouth with an audible click and they wait in silence for another thirty seconds before Chris sits back down.

 

“Nothing to report, Len,” he says confidently, “I think we’re in good shape to go up.”

 

“Me too,” George agrees, “didn’t see anything that would stop us from flying up.”

 

“Good,” Leonard says with a little smile, “now of course this is a sim, there’s not gonna be much wrong with it, and less that you’ll be able to see with your eyes. That doesn’t mean you take it easy when you’re actually in a real shuttle. Our helmsman, he was—he is the best in the Fleet, and he was always a hardass about checking the inside and the outside of the shuttles he was flying. Made sure people checked the outside of the Enterprise, too, though he couldn’t do that all on his own. But Scotty knew that ship inside and out, every single nut and bolt of the thing, so it was—well, I digress. Point is, don’t get cocky and skip the visual inspection. Hikaru saved eight lives by doing that once before we went down on an away mission.”

 

Chris nods, though he is interested in learning more about this cast of characters, people Len knew other than just J, who he’s already heard a little too much about.

 

Leonard clears his throat, yanking himself away from his memories, and steps forward into the space between their seats. “Okay, now you’ll be running systems checks. Start with the general diagnostic, general systems checks, which is this button here and you type in the following command—“

 

Chris and George follow, learning for the first time that the beginning part of flying a shuttle is simply seeing if the shuttle can or should fly, and it’s pretty boring.

 

“Engine check, that yellow button, here’s the command—good work Chris, George, you’ve got a typo in your command code, that’s why it’s not going—“

 

Finally Leonard smiles. “Great. Now we’re ready to go up. Treat her like a lady, gentlemen, be gentle with her.”

 

He grips their seats when the sim begins to move, putting pressure on their bodies as if they actually were in a shuttle taking off.

 

“You’re going to get yourself killed, Len,” Chris mutters, “just take my seat, let me go sit in the passenger section.

 

“You’re very kind, but I can’t teach you if you’re in the passenger seat.”

 

“Teach us one at a time, then! You’re gonna smash your face against something if you keep going like this!”

 

“Or you could come sit on my lap,” George offers innocently.

 

“You shouldn’t sit on his lap, he’s the pilot,” Chris says with a sly smile, “but the copilot on the other hand—“

 

Leonard rolls his eyes and hits the emergency stop button on the side of the simulator. “Are we going to have a problem here?”

 

“No,” both men say stubbornly.

 

“Yes we are. Okay, Chris, get in the passenger section, I’m going to take turns teaching you. Chris, I expect you to pay close attention to the vidscreen in there, it’ll show footage of what controls George and I are using, you can learn from that before you get at the pilot’s seat itself.”

 

Chris scowls at George as he gets in the back and Leonard sits in the copilot’s seat and adjusts the seatbelt appropriately before resuming the sim.

 

“Gentle, gentle—good God, man, please tell me you don’t treat your lovers like this, I said treat her like a lady!”

 

Finally, Leonard leans over and lays his hands on top of George’s, helping him ease the shuttle up for the takeoff. “Good. Now let’s do a simple orbit of the Earth and then we’ll land and let Chris have his time. So for an orbit, you don’t have to do much because the gravitational pull of the planet is always going to keep you close to home. So what’ll you have, Georgie? Eastward or westward?”

 

“Northward!” George says with a grin.

 

“Always making my life difficult,” Leonard says, “so here’s how you program your course, we’ll keep the propulsion steady enough to keep us from falling back, and—good work, George, we’re going up from San Francisco up towards Canada now, and then we’ll get to the polar ice caps, and then back down over Russia and China…

 

“Great work, Georgie, and now we’ll work our way back along the Chilean coast and then up further, past Ecuador, and Mexico, and… here we are! Back at San Fran. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever done a longitudinal orbit before, this is my first. Your first flight and you didn’t kill anyone, George, that’s pretty damn hard to do. I think my first ten attempts ended in a smoking pile of rubble until J stepped in and taught me properly.”

 

“Are you serious? He’s the one who taught you how to pilot a shuttle? Is there any part of your life he wasn’t involved in?” George asks, incredulous.

 

Leonard shrugs. “Three years at the Academy, a few more up in the black. Loved him for a lot of that time, and I didn’t have too many friends at the Academy, I guess, until we got our orders for Enterprise. He was my world.”

 

George leans over and takes Leonard’s hand, holding it in his own. “I hope he finds you, for your sake. But for my sake, I hope you get to stay here with us for a little while longer. Is that selfish?”

 

“A little bit, George, but I think people are allowed to be a little bit selfish, now and again,” Leonard says, smiling wearily. “Now, let go of my hand and get in the back, let Chris come up here.”

 

Chris is better at being gentle, and when it comes time to choose an orbit, he does a straight latitudinal one, going east across the United States, across the African continent, across large swathes of Asia, and long, blue stretches of ocean.

 

“Good work, Chris. You’re both way better than I was when I started. Then again, you’re not scared of flying, so there’s that.”

 

“You were scared of flying? But you’re so good at it!” George says, having come up from the passenger section once Chris had landed the shuttle. He looks genuinely confused. “How’d you get over it?”

 

“Lemme guess,” Chris interrupts, rolling his eyes, “J helped you?”

 

Leonard purses his lips. “Actually, yes, he did. I was going to take a dirtside position, hope to be stationed on a base or on a colonial outpost. But J was determined to get himself onto a ship, and he was determined to drag me along with him. So he got me over the aviophobia. I used to have panic attacks just sitting inside a sim, so we’d do everything in here—eat lunch, do our homework, drink—just so I could get more comfortable.”

 

“That sounds like kind of a dick move,” George says with a little frown, brows furrowed, “he forced you into something you were terrified of, just so he could keep you close?”

 

“Love is selfish sometimes,” Leonard says simply, “now come on, you two are taking turns buying me drinks, and then I’ve got to go home and sleep before my shift tomorrow morning.”

 

“You’re working tomorrow?” Chris asks, sounding concerned.

 

“Yeah, early shift, I’ve got to be there by 6 so I can make my 2 o’clock class.

 

“Then let’s skip the drinks, Len,” Chris suggests, “let’s go back to yours and we’ll buy you dinner, maybe watch a movie or something, and you can get some rest.”

 

“Alright, Chris,” Len agrees, standing up, “Georgie, you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. Go spend time with Tess. I know firsthand that it can be expensive to neglect a lady.”

 

George thinks for a moment. “Nah, I’d rather spend tonight with my friends. I’ll take Tess out tomorrow, make it up to her.”

 

“Your funeral, kid,” Leonard mutters gruffly, “if she’s anything like Joss was, she could chew you up and spit you out before you blink.”

 

“I’m guessing the divorce wasn’t amicable, then,” George says sympathetically.

 

“Joined Starfleet because she bought the planet out from under my feet with my own money, so yeah, I wouldn’t describe it as amicable. Wouldn’t let me see my baby girl, either.”

 

“You have a kid?!”

 

“Joanna Eleanora McCoy, born in 2251 on August 4th. Seven pounds, three ounces, and the second she was born, she was holding my whole heart in her tiny little fist.”

 

“Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever know all of you,” Chris murmurs, looking at him again as if seeing him for the first time.

 

“Not in nine months you won’t, sweetheart. No matter how much of a genius you are.”

 

Chris blushes.

 

“Right, now come on, let’s get back to your room,” George insists.

 

Nobody objects, so they do.

 

Len finds himself on the sofa with Chris on one side and George on the other, and he can’t help but nod off during the old movie they watch. It’d been one of Jim’s favorites, and it’s brand new at this point. He knows it inside and out and during the buildup of tension between the two male leads, he drifts off, dreaming that he and Jim are the characters in the film.

 

When he wakes, it’s to the sound of his own alarm and the weight of a blanket covering him that wasn’t there when he was last awake.

 

George is still asleep next to him, turned so he can wrap an arm around Leonard, and Chris is still on his other side, just starting to stir.

 

“Computer, alarm acknowledged,” Leonard hisses, “computer, disable alarm, dammit!”

 

The ringing finally stops and he lets his head fall back against the sofa, feeling a weight pulling his eyelids down.

 

But that’s when Chris shifts, standing up and leaving Leonard to doze for a few minutes, waking him with a nudge to the shoulder and a fresh mug of coffee. “You don’t wanna be late, Len. Go on, George is a heavy sleeper, he probably won’t even wake up.”

 

Leonard takes his word for it and starts to shift, but the arm thrown casually over his stomach tightens.

 

“Stay,” George whispers, “jus’ five more minutes.”

 

Leonard kisses the top of his head. “I have to go to the hospital. Stay here and rest awhile longer, Georgie.”

 

The younger man hums something and falls back asleep as if nothing had ever happened.

 

---

Thanksgiving creeps up on them. Leonard feels himself growing a little quieter as the holiday gets closer.

 

He and Chris are sitting in their room studying one day when he gives in and asks what he’s been wondering about for a couple of weeks.

 

“So, are you and Georgie going home for the break?”

 

“I don’t know, I’m not sure yet.”

 

“Well, take it from someone who doesn’t have a family anymore. You should go home and see your folks. There won’t ever be enough memories from holidays with your parents. If you can get along with them for a few days, then I really think you should go, Chris.”

 

“Come with me, then. I know you miss your folks, and I know you miss your J, and your daughter, but—come with me. It can’t be worse than staying here, right?”

 

Leonard swallows. “I—I’d love to. But the thing is, I already signed up for a bunch of shifts, trying to make sure that everyone who wanted time off could get some, since I don’t need it, really—“

 

“You ended up in the hospital because you overworked yourself to the point of getting Andorian measles. So I don’t ever wanna hear you say you don’t need any time off, because we’ve got objective evidence that that’s not true,” Chris says sternly.

 

“You know, you’re pretty terrifying for a kid who walks around with bruises after hand-to-hand as if it’s normal,” Leonard says, but he thinks that perhaps the affection is showing through anyway, because Chris is grinning at him. “What would you have me do? Drag all the other surgeons into the hospital on Thanksgiving?”

 

Chris ponders for a second. “Fine, compromise. Take two days and work, then stop working for the weekend, I want you to come with me or George or just stay here and relax. Anything as long as you’re not working.”

 

“I’ll take it. And you’ll be a damn good diplomat someday, Chris Pike.”

 

The next time they see George, they tell him about their plans for Thanksgiving and he pouts at them.

 

“Fine, but Len does Christmas with me, okay? Come round mine for a week or so, then we’ll meet up with Chris, go travel somewhere before the semester starts up again.”

 

“What about Tess?” Leonard asks gently, “isn’t she going to be going home with you?”

 

George frowns. “Uh, no. She’s not—we’re not at that place yet. I don’t know, maybe we never will be. I guess I never really thought about it.”

 

“Take this with a grain of salt, Georgie, because hell if my last relationship with a woman didn’t end in a massive, life-ruining dumpster fire, but you two have been off and on for awhile now—if you can’t see a long-term future with Tess at this point, maybe she isn’t the person you should be with. Just something to think about, kiddo.”

 

“I’m not a kid,” George mutters, but that’s the only thing he contests, leaning against Leonard heavily.

 

“Just something to think about,” Leonard says again, kissing the top of his head, “don’t go settling for someone just because she’s familiar, it usually doesn’t end well.”

 

“I’ll think about it, if you come to mine for Christmas.”

 

“Done.”

 

Chris coughs delicately, but George doesn’t move, and they keep sitting on the grass, looking up at the bright blue sky with its wispy white clouds, for another two minutes before George and Chris scurry off to the library, Leonard to the clinic.

 

Chris goes to his parents’ house the first day he can, and for the first two days, Leonard keeps getting messages from him, little jokes or pictures or remarks that all serve as a thinly veiled attempt to make sure that Leonard follows through, that he actually does come.

 

And Leonard is going to. He is. But suddenly a shuttle crashes and they come in with a truckload of victims, ambulance after ambulance screeching up to the hospital, and the surgeons—already on the skeleton crew for the holiday—are vastly overwhelmed. He sighs and comms Chris, ready to take the anger and the hurt when it inevitably comes, and he scrubs up.

 

When he gets back to his room, he turns on the lights and starts stripping off filthy scrubs that he tosses right into the recycler, hoping he never has to see them again. He sighs and stretches out the muscles of his upper back, sore from having hunched over patients all day in the OR with hardly a break to be had.

 

There’s a quiet cough from behind him and Leonard nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees Chris on the sofa, rubbing his eyes and waving hello.

 

“I thought you were with your folks?”

 

“And I thought you were coming to see my folks with me,” Chris rebutted, “I’m not—I’m not that mad, but I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with you. So I came home. Brought us a good dinner so you could still celebrate something other than having a bed to sleep in.”

 

Leonard can feel his mouth splitting into a smile, despite how monumentally exhausted he is. “You are the best, Chris,” he murmurs, “give me two minutes, I need to shower, get the smell of hospital off me, and then I’m ready to eat—I didn’t even realize it until you mentioned food, but I’m starving.”

 

After dinner—a roast chicken and potatoes that Chris has found at the nearest place that was open—they settle on Leonard’s bed to watch a film, because I’m gonna fall asleep, guaranteed, and not all of us are young enough to sleep on sofas all the time, you know

 

When he wakes, Chris is still in his bed, under the covers with him and the PADD’s on the floor. Leonard manages to barely spare a thought to be glad the thing isn’t broken before he’s falling asleep again, feeling the warmth of Chris’ body next to his.

 

It’s not the best Thanksgiving he’s ever had, but it’s not the worst, either. He and Chris go out drinking the next day, come home and promptly pass out, and in the morning, Leonard’s doling out hangover hypos to Chris and himself as if they’re air.

 

“I am way too old to be that stupid,” he groans, laying back in his bed after breakfast, which he doesn’t think he’s done since the Academy the first time. “I’m never drinking this much again.”

 

“I like you when you’re drunk! You’re all clingy, you always want to hug, it’s kind of adorable?”

 

“Yeah, until I hit five drinks, and then I’m maudlin. Bet you didn’t enjoy me crying about how much I miss my life back home.”

 

Chris lets out a wordless grunt. “Got to hear about some people from your life who weren’t J, though. I almost thought you two just lived in your own little bubble and floated from planet to planet. By the way, is Nyota hot? She sounded like she was hot.”

 

“She’s my friend and a lady, so I’m not answering that,” Leonard says, in his dignified grown-up voice.

 

“Oh my god, she’s smoking hot isn’t she.”

 

“Gorgeous. J was kind of obsessed with her. It wasn’t creepy, but she just looked at him and all she saw was a sex-obsessed pretty boy who got into fights, and he wanted so badly to make her change that image of him.”

 

“Did he?”

 

“Anyone who truly knew him knew he was more than he appeared to be. And eventually, she got to know the real him.” After that, Leonard is quiet, and Chris doesn’t ask any of the questions waiting in his throat.

 

---

The period between Thanksgiving and winter break is mercilessly short and mercilessly brutal. It’d been the same when he’d been at undergrad, and at med school, and hell if it isn’t the same at the Academy (both times).

 

Leonard had no time to fill in gaps in the life that Chris and George have imagined for him. There are no more impromptu shuttle-flying lessons, no nights to go out drinking and scope out beautiful women and stunning men.

 

Instead, it’s study sessions day in, day out. Leonard goes to hang out with the medical cadets some days, cramming for their exams, and he spends his remaining time either in the lab trying to get some sort of last-minute breakthrough, in the library, alternating between studying and updating his personal log, or in with Chris and George, cramming and quizzing each other on dates and locations and spending their time debating ethical issues that are likely to come up in their exams.

 

Archer suggests—which is Admiral speak for an order—that Leonard take time off and focus on his exams, and he does lighten his load, but he can’t manage to get off entirely. Every other medical cadet’s probably making exactly the same request, and he, as a fully qualified physician, is more valuable to the hospital than a bunch of half-cooked cadets.

 

So he cuts back to two or three shifts a week, and when he goes, Chris and George follow like a bad case of Tellarite herpes, setting up camp in the doctors’ lounge and quizzing him in between patients. Fortunately, most of the other cadets are doing the same thing, and Leonard makes sure they don’t bother anybody, so they get their studying in, in between routine appendectomies, motor vehicle crashes, hand-to-hand combat training gone wrong, and whatever else the universe decides to hurl at Leonard McCoy on any given day.

 

They’re walking out of the exam for Tactics and Negotiations for Non-Federation Planets and Leonard is high as a kite. Not on any substance in particular, but the pure weight of his fatigue, the mental exhaustion of cramming information into his head endlessly, combined with the euphoria of being done for the semester, that exhilarating feeling of freedom—it’s enough to have him up in the clouds.

 

“You beautiful bastard!” he says affectionately to George, pulling him in and pressing a quick, chaste kiss to his shocked mouth, “I would’ve absolutely gotten the question about the Navidians wrong if you hadn’t brought that up at the hospital the other day!”

 

“Wasn’t just him, y’know,” Chris mutters, grinning when Leonard pulls him in too, though the grin fades when he only gets a kiss on the cheek.

 

“Right, go on, you two, celebrate, yeah? I want to go to the sim for a bit, just clear my head. I’m way too tired to fly a real shuttle right now, or I would, take ‘er up and look at everything. But I’ll be awhile, so don’t worry about being interrupted or whatever,” Leonard says with a grin, squeezing each of them into a tight, short hug before he strides off.

 

“Should we be worried?” he hears George ask as he walks away.

 

“I… don’t know. We’ll call Archer for help if he doesn’t come back in two days,” Chris responds.

 

“But he’s coming home with me—“ George protests.

 

Leonard can feel two sets of eyes burning on his back.

 

He gets into the sim and plops himself down in the pilot’s seat, not bothering with the restraints.

 

Computer, he says softly, hearing the fatigue in his own voice, personal log of Leonard H. McCoy. Please note the date and time.

 

He waits a beat for the computer to acknowledge him.

 

Hey Jim, he says softly, I’m in the flight sim. You know, I spend a lot of time here, this time round. George and Chris, they wanted to learn, so a lot of the time, they were here with me. But sometimes I just want to come by myself, so I don’t tell them I’m coming down, and I just come here and think about us. About you, mostly. I hope you’re doing okay. I love you so much, don’t you ever doubt it. I know it’s been a long time, and I know I haven’t gotten to see— He can hear the crack in his own voice and he hates it. —haven’t gotten to see your face in such a long time. I don’t know how people do it, the long-distance thing, I mean. We just finished exams. Guess what? I’m an old fucking dog, but I can still pick up on some new tricks! Took a bunch of command seminars this semester with Chrissy and Georgie.

 

Your dad’s a genius, by the way. He’s nowhere near like what you were—what you are, but he’s damn quick. Not that Chris is slow, but he’s just more—more human, I guess. I think if your dad had to take the Kobayashi Maru, he might’ve done the same thing you did. Not because he couldn’t handle losing, which I think you couldn’t, at that point, but because he’d just say that hacking it was a creative solution. And he has the same damn charm as you, too, so he’d get away with it somehow, flashing that Kirk baby blues at all the right people until he somehow still turned out fine.

 

Anyway, the two of them practically dragged me across the finish line. That’s why I haven’t been by in a little while, haven’t—I dunno. I don’t like making logs in our room—mine and Chris’. I just get paranoid that they’ll walk in or something, and I don’t want that. It’s just our time, this, mine and yours, and I don’t want to share it. He laughs wetly.

 

I know, I’m turning into a downright possessive bastard, aren’t I? Anyway, I have to go somewhere, find a spot to sleep—I stupidly promised Chris and George that they could have the room tonight, but I’m dead on my fucking feet. The only thing keeping me up is talking to you. Okay, Jim, I’m gonna go. Take care, darlin’. I love you.

 

Computer, end recording.

 

After that, Leonard sets the sim to put the shuttle on autopilot and sails through the stars until his eyes get heavy. He leans his head back against the seat.

 

He wakes to a nudge on the shoulder.

 

“Hey—Len, come on, man, wake up—“ Chris murmurs.

 

“Lenny, sweetheart,” George says, kneeling in front of him on this other side and reaching up to stroke his cheek. The touch is far too intimate for a Leonard that’s actually awake, but for a half-asleep Leonard, it’s perfect.

 

“’mmy?” he asks, eyes half-open, mouth falling into an open smile as he sees Jim’s eyes. But then his eyes open a little more and reality sets in with the harshness and speed of a snap of a rubber band around his wrist.

 

“Come on, shuttlebug, let’s go back to a nice soft bed and sleep there, okay?” George is still cooing at him, and Leonard can’t help but revel in the voice that’s only a little bit wrong.

 

Leonard blinks and looks at both of them and then around at the shuttle.

 

“What—what time is it?”

 

“It’s late.” Chris says flatly.

 

“Or early, depending on how you look at it,” George chirps.

 

“And you fucking owe me for having to call the hospital and the library and every fucking hotel I could think of within a five mile radius. Not okay, Len. Last time you were like this, you were in the hospital for four days.”

 

“I’m a big boy, Chris, I can weather a night in the sim,” Leonard mutters, “I’m older than both of you, remember?”

 

Chris just looks furious, glaring at him for a minute before he storms off.

 

George sighs. “Look, we know you’re a grown man, Lenny,” he says patiently, “but give him a break. He was worried about you. Hell, so was I. You’ve never been like that, the way you were after that exam ended. We’ve never seen you like that, can you blame us for worrying?”

 

Leonard sits up and exhales slowly. “Not really. I’m lucky I happened to fall in with you two. I’ll go apologize to him, okay? And I’m sorry, Georgie. I know we have plans, and I’m still planning on following through on them. I just needed a night to myself, that’s all. A night to wallow in my future-past.”

 

George nods and Leonard stands, offering George a hand to help him up. He lays a hand at the back of George’s neck, leaving it there for a moment, before he walks off to find Chris.

 

“Chris,” he says quietly, “look, I’m sorry. I know that this was—well, it was a dick move. I should’ve let you know. I didn’t mean to fall asleep in the sim, but I knew how exhausted I was, I knew there’d be a chance. And I’m sorry.”

 

“Accepted, conditional on that drink you’re going to buy me,” Chris mutters, “and stop throwing your age in my face. Yeah, maybe you are a few years older than me. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to fucking worry, though. Friendship doesn’t come with a provision that says if the other guy’s older, let him do whatever stupid shit he wants to do. Besides, you must’ve taken psychology. What would you think if a guy showed up, lost in a different time period and torn away from the man he loved?”

 

Leonard feels ice in his veins. “I—I’m not going to off myself—“ he says, voice sounding like it belongs to someone else.

 

“Forgive me for having doubts,” Chris snaps, “you’ve made it pretty fucking clear that this life is nothing compared to the one you left behind. If you had a chance to go back, you’d take it, even if you left me and George here wondering where the hell you’d gone.”

 

“Leave me out of it,” George orders, having followed them, “and leave him be, Chris. The man’s thirty-three years old and just made it through the hardest semester I’ve seen anyone take on. Give him a break.” George wraps his fingers around Leonard’s left arm and Chris’ right, guiding them towards the exit.

 

“And Chris? Don’t ask him to choose between him and us. Not unless you’re ready to hear his answer,” George murmurs, pulling away and trusting them to follow behind him.

 

---

Leonard sits in front of the computer in their room for a few minutes after Chris takes off to go home. He doesn’t have long before George comes by and they walk over to the shuttle together. His suitcase is neatly packed and waiting in the corner, and his bed is made, and he’s double checked everything. He’s just waiting, and he knows exactly how he wants to spend the next few minutes.

Computer, personal log of Leonard H. McCoy, note the time and date, please.

He waits, using the computer’s processing time to find the words to start. Sometimes it’s hard to start talking, but when he starts, he always wants to keep going and afterwards, he always feels better, like a weight’s been lifted.

Hey, Jimmy. I made it through the first semester. I might’ve told you that last time? But I did! Chris and George and I were going to go out for drinks, but they picked me up that night, the last time we talked. Chris is gone, so I’m in our room. It’s bigger than our old room used to be—I know, I can’t believe it either. And Chris—he had this all to himself before I came along!

I’m going to your grandparents’ for Christmas. I—you know, I feel this strange pressure, like I just want to impress your family. I don’t really think of George as your dad anymore, it makes everything so weird. But I never got to meet your dad at home, and both your grandparents were gone, too. I met Winona, but I haven’t met her here yet. Maybe I will, someday.

 

How’s our ship? I know—you’re probably shocked to hear me call her that, right? But fuck, Jim, I miss that hunk of metal like you wouldn’t believe. I hope to hell somebody’s taking care of you. I wouldn’t be too upset if it was you finally stepping up to do that particular job, but I reckon it’s probably a combination of Spock, Scotty, Sulu, and Nyota. Geoff too, but I dunno if you’d even listen to him. You do have that nasty habit of ignoring doctor’s orders, you know. Anyway, don’t kiss too many people under the mistletoe, and for god’s sake, if you manage to catch Nyota, kiss her on the cheek, okay? I don’t need you ending up in my—in the sickbay because you’ve gone and gotten yourself throttled by Spock again.

Here’s hoping Grandpa Tiberius and Grandma Elizabeth like me, yeah? Shit, I guess I’d better stop calling them that—that won’t be a great first impression. I don’t know if it’ll make a difference, really, them liking me or not, but I just want them to like me. Maybe it’s a Kirk thing. Love you, darlin’. I don’t know if I’ll get some time to talk when I’m there, so I guess this is Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from me. Take care, Jimmy. Love you so much.

 

---

George knocks on the door right on time and then immediately let’s himself in. “Lenny, you ready?”

Leonard stands up, smiling at him.”I’m ready. But I wanted to give you one last chance, Georgie. Are you sure you wanna bring me home? I don’t—well, I guess I thought you’d want to bring Chris or Tess home, you and I—we’re not the same.”

“I told you, Tess isn’t a ‘bring home to meet your mama’ kind of girl. Chris has his own family, who hates me. Bottom line is, I asked you to come because I wanted you to come. Nothing to do with pity or whatever else you’re thinking with that pretty genius brain of yours.”

Leonard smiles at him, convinced, and doesn’t argue when George takes his hand and drags him out the door to the shuttle station.

“You know, I don’t much like shuttles when I don’t know the pilot. Ideally, I’m behind the wheel, or J. Or Sulu, Lord knows he was the best pilot Starfleet churned out in a decade and a half. But I always preferred flying in either my own hands or in J’s.”

“Maybe this time round, me and Chris will get onto your list of Len-approved pilots.”

“You probably will. You’re damn good at it, Georgie.”

George pauses a second, weighing the risks and benefits of the question he wants to ask but opting to ask it anyway.

“Do you think I’m better than Chris?”

“I think you’re both miles better than I was when I started—“

“That’s not what I asked—“

“—and I think you know full well that that is an impossible question and one I can’t answer.”

George pouts at him, but Leonard’s has five years of practice in resisting that pout, on a different face.

“Don’t pout, sweetheart, it’s not going to work and it doesn’t look good on you.”

---

The shuttle flight is about as good shuttle flights ever are for Leonard when neither he nor Jim is flying them. Which is to say it’s not ideal, but Leonard copes and if George holds his hand and Len’s fast asleep fifteen minutes later, then so be it.

 

George wakes him before they land so they can look outside and take in the view, and Leonard’s suddenly nervous in a way that has nothing to do with the shuttle.

 

“Are you sure your parents are going to be okay with this? I don’t want them to feel imposed on—they probably have no idea who I am, I’m just this random guy they’re supposed to put up with when Christmas is all about family—“ Leonard can’t help but notice that he’s actually wringing his hands like a distressed maiden from some old timey romantic novel.

 

George just rolls his eyes. “Just lean into that accent a little and Mom will adore you, and Dad thinks you’ve been a good influence on me, so he’s already a fan of yours.”

 

“You’ve told them about me?”

 

“Well, yeah. You’re one of my best friends, you do tend to come up when I talk to my parents.”

 

They’re there, at the shuttle station, Tiberius and Elizabeth. Tiberius has light brown hair, so apparently the brilliant blond isn’t a trait that’s always marked the Kirk men. Jim has Elizabeth to thank for that and his nose. Tiberius bears a resemblance to Jim around the chin, but most strikingly, it’s in the look in his eyes. They’re blue, just like George and Jim’s (so are Elizabeth’s), but Tiberius has a spark of mischief in his eyes, the same one Leonard had seen in Jim’s so many times, and in George’s too, less often but more recently. He has deep lines around his mouth and the corners of his eyes, but he looks like he’s enjoyed his life.

 

Elizabeth is the one who’s checking her watch, eager to see her son again. She’s the one who jumps when she finally makes eye contact with George and takes a step forward, almost involuntarily, as if she can’t stand the distance anymore. George beams at her, this wonderful pure thing that makes Leonard’s chest ache, and breaks into a jog so he can catch her in his arms and squeeze her tight.

 

“Hi, Mom,” he says warmly, submitting his cheek to be kissed. He pulls away from her only to hug his dad. “I missed you guys! How are things here? This is Len, Leonard McCoy—he’s my friend, the doctor one I told you about?”

 

“Mr. and Mrs. Kirk, it’s so nice to meet you,” Leonard says politely, shaking hands with Tiberius first, and then Elizabeth, stepping forward to kiss her cheek briefly before moving back.

 

“None of that Mrs. Kirk stuff with me,” Elizabeth insists, “Liz is fine.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Leonard says obediently, taking charge of both his luggage and George’s while George walks between his parents.

 

“George, I know I raised you better than to make your friend carry your luggage.” Tiberius’ voice is deep and just the mere hint of a reprimand sends George scurrying back to Leonard and taking not only his own luggage, but Leonard’s, too.

 

“Georgie! You don’t need to do that! Sir—he doesn’t need to do that, I’m perfectly capable. He’s missed you, I figure he deserves a bit of time to catch up with his mama and daddy.”

 

“It’s not about your capabilities, son. It’s about doing the right thing, and foisting your own baggage onto somebody else isn’t the right thing. Besides, you’re a guest.”

 

“But, sir—“

 

“Lenny, don’t fight them on this,” George says with a half-smile, “You’re more stubborn than almost anyone I know, but Mom and Dad have more experience arguing.”

 

Leonard grins at him and piles in next to George in the back of their car, driving over to a lovely home on a ranch, with acres of land that are covered in snow for the winter.

 

When they get home, George shows Leonard up to their room, which still has George’s childhood bed in it. “You can be in here with me, or take the guest room,” George offers, “I’ll make up the other room if you want?”

 

“I’m good here,” Leonard says with a look around. George’s childhood books are on the shelves, and a painting of a starship in bright colors hangs on the wall opposite the bed. His desk is up against the wall, right in front of a window, where he must have done his homework in high school and daydreamed about girls and boys and space.

 

Leonard meets George’s eyes again, surprised to find him looking a little nervous. “You alright, George?”

 

“You’re just the first person I care about who’s been in here since I snuck Steph Woods in after prom,” George mutters, rubbing the back of his neck and flushing.

 

There’s a number of jokes to be made, of course, but Leonard doesn’t pick any of them. “I care about you too, Georgie. Now, get your coat on, I want to go out for a walk in the snow. I haven’t seen any snow in—god, it must have been years now. We hit a streak of desert and rainforest planets, hardly any frozen icicles, not since we checked out Delta Vega on our first official mission. And that wasn’t nearly as fun as a winter on Earth.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Massive predators we didn’t know were there, for one thing. Also the fact that a friend of mine got himself marooned there after talking too much shit to our then-Captain. I was too busy to oversee his preparations, so he didn’t have nearly what he needed—not even a fucking phaser—“

 

“Was this Sulu?” George knows it probably wasn’t, and Leonard knows that he knows, by the false innocence in the question.

 

“I’d rather not talk about it, Georgie. Wasn’t my best moment. Should’ve stood up for him, it was at least partially my fault that it happened.”

 

“Are you the one who decided to toss him onto an ice planet?”

 

“What? No!”

 

“Not your fault, then.” George says it as if it’s easy.

 

“I could’ve stopped him. Could’ve saved him.”

 

“Can’t save ‘em all, Len, you know that.”

 

“Easy enough to say,” Leonard agrees, “but you didn’t see the look on his face, the next time he saw me. The look on his face, George, I’ll never forget it.” Leonard looks so haunted that George drops the subject.

 

They go outside and walk through the nearby woods, boots crunching as the snow packs down beneath their weight. The air between them is quiet, Leonard lost in his own thoughts and George unable to figure out the right words to bring him out of them.

 

Finally, he lets Leonard drift a little further from him, drops back to ‘tie his shoe’ and packs a ball of snow just tight enough to stay together, but not so tight that it’ll hurt. He steps forward and launches it at Leonard, who lets out an incredibly high-pitched squeal.

 

“George!” He yells, immediately sheltering behind a tree. He bends down and George laughs, figuring that he’s busily brushing the snow out of his hair.

 

His laughter gets cut off abruptly with a face-ful of snow.

 

“I thought they didn’t have snow in Georgia!” he protests, as if making a snowball is something that can only come with long years of practice in the frigid Iowa winter.

 

Leonard just smirks at him and hunches over again. George launches himself behind a tree just in time for the tree to get splattered in snow.

 

He inhales, air so cold it hurts his lungs and god help him, but it makes him feel alive, and he bends down to make another snowball, only to hit the ground when Leonard tackles him.

 

He’s about to protest when he looks up and sees Leonard’s face, cheeks flushed and white snow starkly beautiful in his dark hair, mouth split wide open as he laughs. Leonard just laughs and laughs, as if he’s never had this much fun before, bright and loud and carefree like a child. He laughs until he’s panting, until he’s gasping for air, still laying atop George and not seeming particularly uncomfortable. George considers reaching up, considers wrapping his fingers over the curve of Leonard’s hip, wondering if he’d be able to feel that curve at all through Leonard’s jeans and thick winter coat.

 

“We might not have had snow in Georgia, but we sure as hell played a lot of football,” Leonard murmurs to him, feeling George shiver. He can feel the warm puff of breath when Leonard speaks to him, and knows that Leonard must feel his breath, too, the little clouds of steam that come out of his nostrils every time he manages to get stale air out of his lungs.

 

George looks up at him and then carefully, deliberately licks his lower lip. Leonard follows the motion with his eyes and then abruptly stands up. That’s when George realizes that Leonard had pressed a hand under his head, so that he wouldn’t hurt himself when he hit the ground.

 

The casual caring of it feels like it might break him in half.

 

He presses his own palm to the back of his head, presses against his skull with his fingers and tries to remember the feeling of Leonard’s fingers there.

 

“Here,” Leonard says gruffly, offering George his hand to help him up. George takes it, and notes that Leonard’s fingers are cold and his eyes are somewhere else, off in the distance. Maybe he’s watching a squirrel press her tracks into the snow, or maybe he’s watching a fox, looking around for food. Or maybe he’s thinking about who he wishes George was.

 

George remembers what he’d said to Chris just a couple of days ago. Don’t ask unless you want to know. He keeps his mouth shut.

 

Still, he doesn’t let Leonard’s hand go, and Leonard walks along with him, their fingers intertwined for five whole minutes before George uses the connection to guide him to one of the trees he’d loved climbing at a boy. That’s when Leonard looks down at their hands and flushes and pulls his fingers away from George’s, shoving his hand into his pocket.

 

“Come on, let’s see this famous tree, then,” he murmurs, following George anyway.

 

George links their arms, but between two thick winter coats, the feeling doesn’t even compare.

 

---

 

It’s the day of the twenty-third and Leonard’s just letting himself back into the house after a long walk in the woods. He takes off his boots outside and carries them straight into the closet so they don’t track ice and salt and mud into the house.

He’s just passing the kitchen to go upstairs when he hears it.

“I really like Leonard,” Elizabeth says, “do you think he’ll be joining us for Christmas next year?”

“I dunno. Depends on how this one goes, I guess. Or Chris might demand Christmas next year. He was supposed to get Thanksgiving, but a huge accident happened right around the end of Len’s shift and he had to stay and do a really long surgery—Chris understood, but he was pretty heartbroken about it. Then again, what can you do exactly? Demand that he let people die so he can meet your parents?”

Elizabeth makes a sound that reminds Leonard of when his mother wasn’t getting the information she wanted, that faint hint of irritation.

“So how long have you been dating him? It can’t have been long, right? You mentioned Tess again a few weeks ago...”

George laughs or chokes or both. “We’re not dating. He’s—he’s not interested.”

“Well, then. Why the hell not? You’re a handsome boy, smart, kind, wonderful, what’s not to like?!” She’s indignant on her son’s behalf and it makes Leonard smile.

“He’s still in love with his boyfriend.”

“Then why doesn’t he go back home to him, then?”

George pauses. “He died,” he says finally, “Lenny’s J died. He’s been isolating himself since it happened, he’s not in touch with any family members, and he was planning on spending the holidays wrist deep in someone’s guts, trying to save their life, because he can’t stand to actually live his own.”

That’s... a lot to unpack. Leonard wants to scream that Jim isn’t dead, that he can’t possibly be dead. But he doesn’t know that for sure, and as for the rest of it, George isn’t wrong. He does prefer surgery to living his life most of the time. Surgery isn’t exactly the same—the laser scalpels have a different grip, the cauterizer isn’t as intuitive, but it’s close. A scalpel still cuts, a regenerator still heals, his fingers still assess pulse and blood pressure and pulse ox as if he’s still in the medbay of the Enterprise.

Still, just because George is right doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking hurt to hear it. Leonard tiptoes up the stairs and settles into his makeshift bed in the floor of George’s room and tries not to cry.

 

He misses the rest of the conversation.

 

---

“Just give him time, George, he’ll come round.”

 

“Come round to what?” George sounds tired.

 

“To loving you back,” his mother says gently.

 

George shakes his head. “No. He won’t. Not ever.”

 

That’s when Elizabeth Kirk pulls her son into her arms and hugs him tight. “You don’t know that, sweetheart, he might,” she whispers into her son’s hair, blond like her own curls.

 

“It’s okay, Mom, he’s my friend. I can love him like a friend,” George mutters, “somehow. I’ll figure it out.”

 

When he goes upstairs, he opens the door without thinking, only to find that Leonard’s changing his clothes, holding his shirt loosely in his hand and gaping at him. George can see the vast expanse of his back, smooth, flawless skin dotted with the odd freckle or mole.

 

It doesn’t last, as Leonard turns around to raise an eyebrow at him.

 

“You’re good at that,” George blurts out, “the eyebrow thing.”

 

Leonard laughs. “Thank you, Georgie. Learned from the best and got a lot of practice in.”

 

George grins back at him, until he realizes he can see his stomach, flat and toned with—“do you have abs?”

 

“Medical ain’t exempt from physical fitness tests, y’know. And hand-to-hand combat, even if they do go easier on us.”

 

“Right. Uh, sorry, I’ll go, give you some privacy—” George mutters, going to close the door.

 

“Come in, George, I’m not a blushing virgin, I’ll survive,” Leonard mutters, pulling on a new shirt quickly and following it up with a sweater.

 

“So… that’s all from hand-to-hand then?”

 

“Nah. The number of away missions I went on—you learn quick that you better be strong enough to help lift a tree off an ensign, or you might have someone holding onto your hand as they’re dangling off a cliff, and you need to be able to pull them back. You might need to carry your captain, when he’s unconscious and busy bleeding out onto your back. You—well, it’s just better to be fit, when you’re going into a situation blind. And you always go into it blind, no matter how much intel you have. Until you get there and see the place yourself, meet the natives, if there are any, you just have to be prepared for everything. Speaking of which, do you have any allergies? Once we get back to the Academy, I’ll adjust my personal medkit, if you do.”

 

---

On Christmas Eve, Leonard comes downstairs to the smell of actual home-cooked food. He can hear eggs and bacon sizzling in the pan, and the scent of fresh coffee compels him towards the kitchen.

 

“Good morning,” he says to Elizabeth and Tiberius, knowing full well that George is fast asleep upstairs. “What can I help with?”

 

“Nothing, dear, you’re our guest, just sit down,” Liz says with a wave at the table.

 

Leonard grins and leans into his drawl. “Ma’am, guest or no guest, my mama taught me to help in the kitchen. Can I make some toast for someone, maybe get you some more coffee, sir?”

 

Tiberius looks up at him, eyes keen as they take him in. “Nobody waits on anybody here, Leonard. Take your own breakfast and come sit down.”

 

“I could make pancakes,” Leonard offers, “I do a solid pancake, if I do say so myself. We can do a little something sweet to go along with everything you’ve made, Liz.”

 

“Yes to pancakes,” comes a sleep-roughened voice from behind him. George is in a t-shirt and boxers as if the freezing cold doesn’t bother him at all. Leonard doesn’t even think before stripping off his sweater and handing it to him.

 

“You’re going to freeze your ass off, Georgie. Real pants wouldn’t kill you, y’know? Now go sit with your dad, I’ll help your mama with breakfast. And put that on, I didn’t give it to you just to hold!”

 

George obeys without a word and sits with his father.

 

“The Kirk boys aren’t really morning people,” Liz confides to Leonard as she monitors the eggs and he whips up a quick pancake batter.

 

Leonard glances over and sure enough, father and son are both staring off into space, communicating through looks and wordless grunts.

 

He grins a little. “I’m not much of a morning bird myself usually, ma’am, too tired to give up my sleep. But I’ve hardly tired myself out since the semester ended. Don’t know if I just made up for all the fatigue quicker than usual or if I’m going to hit a wall soon and just sleep for a week.”

 

“Well, you better figure that out soon!” Liz teases, “have you and George decided where you’re going to go, for your trip next week? We’d be glad to have you stay a little longer, you know.”

 

“We still need to decide, I think. Plus Chris is coming, too. Otherwise, I’d be happy to stay here! I was telling George, it’s been a long while since I saw snow like this. But I can imagine the boys want to go somewhere warm for a bit. San Francisco is nice, but the winters there are cold without any of the snow, so it’s the worst of both worlds, really.”

 

They keep chit-chatting until Leonard’s ready with the pancakes and Liz has set out the eggs and bacon and cut up a few strawberries to make a quick topping for the pancakes.

 

“Right, here you go, see if that doesn’t help you wake up,” Leonard says to George, handing him a plate with three pancakes on it, “and thank your mama for the strawberries, that was all her. I would’ve left you with maple syrup and butter.”

 

“Mm,” George says, mouth full, “luv ‘oo both, so good—“

 

“George,” Tiberius says, eyebrow raised, “chew, then swallow, then speak.”

He looks over at Leonard. “You’re the doctor here. I know you’re not a shrink, but do you think my son is regressing to childhood again?”

 

Leonard laughs. “I do have a PhD in clinical psychology. And I think maybe a little, but hey, being around our parents turns us all into kids again, so we’ll let it go this time. Just don’t choke on your food, Georgie.”

 

“You know, George was quite small when he decided we weren’t allowed to call him Georgie anymore,” Liz says with a significant look at her son before she takes a bite of her pancakes.

 

“Oh, sorry—George, you never told me you didn’t like it—“

 

“It’s okay when you do it,” George says, and if he’s a bit redder than the strawberries on his pancakes, nobody comments on it, though Liz smiles, almost wide enough to hide the hint of worry in her eyes.

 

“Fair enough. I don’t put up a fuss when you call me Lenny, after all, and nobody’s called me that in a long time,” Leonard says with a wry smile.

 

---

Someone (probably George) puts up a sprig of mistletoe on the door of the living room, and everyone gets caught under it, in all combinations. Nearly all of them are innocuous—when George and his mother meet, he pulls her in and kisses her cheek and gives her a hug, when it’s Liz and Leonard, she kisses his cheek as if he were her own son.

 

When it’s Leonard and Tiberius, everyone freezes for a minute, before Tiberius grins and pulls him in close and nudges Leonard’s head down so he can drop a kiss to the top of it. It’s so like what his father used to do that it breaks Leonard’s heart.

 

He looks at this family, so healthy, so whole, and suddenly feels like he doesn’t belong here.

 

“Excuse me,” he says with a brittle smile at Tiberius.

 

He turns and leaves, running upstairs to grab his PADD before he heads out into the woods. He walks for a long time, finds somewhere quiet, and sits with his back against the trunk of a tree.

 

Computer, personal log of Leonard H. McCoy, note the time and date.

 

He waits for the PADD to take the instruction.

 

Beginning recording.

 

Hi Jim. I miss my dad, he whispers, Tiberius just kissed me on the top of my head like Dad used to, and I just—I miss him so much. I know it’s been a long time since he died, but I still feel these waves of just missing him so much it feels like my heart’s gonna fucking explode in my chest—doesn’t help that you’re gone, too, Jimmy. I miss the hell out of you, too.

 

I think George is maybe attracted to me. I—I don’t want to believe it goes deeper than that, but it might. And it’s making me think I must be awful, because how could I possibly hurt him like this? He’s such a good man. God, Jim, your dad is such a good man. You’d know it yourself, if you ever got the chance to meet him.

 

Your grandparents are wonderful people, too. I know you loved Tiberius, before he passed, but Liz is such a warm, kind, loving woman. I love them both, but god if it doesn’t make me miss my own parents. And poor Jojo—she must be suffering so much without a dad. Or maybe she’s not. Maybe she never really had a dad to miss. God knows I was gone enough of the time.

 

It’s Christmas Eve. I hope somebody gives you the gift you want. I hope what you want is the same as what I want and I hope we can get it, both of us. Chris was mad at me the other day, after the sleeping in the sim thing, and George said something to him—he said not to ask me if I would rather have you or have them, not unless Chris actually wanted to know the answer.

 

Does it make me a bad person if I know the answer’s always going to be you?

 

I think it might.

 

Love you Jim. Take care and merry Christmas, sweetheart.

“Leonard?”

 

“End recording.” Leonard whispers quickly, waiting for the PADD to do so before closing out the program and standing up.

 

“George, I’m fine, honestly—just it reminded me of my dad, when your dad kissed my head like that—“

 

When he sees the tall man emerge from behind the trees, he sees it’s Tiberius, not George.

 

“Sir! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to make you trek out here in the cold just to find me—“

 

“Leonard, it’s okay,” Tiberius says quietly, “what happened to your father?”

 

“He was sick,” Leonard admits quietly, “for a really long time. He was—he was suffering a lot. Always suffering, it felt like.” His voice breaks on the word suffering, and suddenly he can’t meet Tiberius’ eyes anymore and looks down at the snow. “He—he asked me to help him stop suffering. I didn’t want to. I kept—kept begging him to stay, to fight, to be strong. But he couldn’t do it, and he was already the strongest man I’d ever known. So I agreed, in the end. They found the cure not too long after that. It was my fault, that he died.”

 

Tiberius steps forward and hugs him tight, kissing his head again until Leonard finally starts crying.

 

“Speaking as a father,” Tiberius says, voice rough with emotion, “I would have been proud to have you as a son. And speaking as a son, I can only hope to do right by my father the way you did right by yours.”

 

Leonard sobs because even now, even here, when his father is younger than him, healthy and happy and the father of a baby boy who adores him, he can’t quite shake the guilt of it.

 

Tiberius holds him close and kisses his head and rocks him gently back and forth until Leonard can almost breathe again, and then he pulls back.

 

“I’ll tell Liz and George that you’re—that you’re not hurt, and that you need some time. Okay, son?”

 

Leonard nods. “George is lucky to have you and your wife as his parents,” he says quietly, “I won’t let him take that for granted.”

 

One side of Tiberius’ mouth quirks upward.

 

Leonard wanders in the woods for awhile longer until he finally heads back, only to find himself with an armful of George nearly the minute he walked through the door.

 

“I was so worried about you,” George murmurs against him, “you can’t just disappear like that, Lenny. God, what if something had happened to you?”

 

“Your dad found me. I thought he’d tell you I was okay,” Leonard says, hugging him back for a minute. “Georgie, sweetheart, let me get out of these clothes, then I promise I’ll let you hug me as much as you want.”

 

“He did, but he wouldn’t let me go out and find you, said you needed time on your own—“

 

Leonard unbuttons his coat and hangs it up in the closet, slipping off his boots and setting them on the shoe rack. “I did. I just missed my dad. It was a long time ago, but sometimes—god, Georgie, sometimes you just want a hug from your dad, for him to tell you he’s proud of you, that sort of thing. Don’t you dare take that for granted, do you hear me? Be grateful for your parents. I hope you have them for a damn long time, but nobody lives forever, and your life’s not going to be particularly safe, either. Accidents happen, especially in Starfleet, so make sure you don’t have any regrets, when they do happen.”

 

When they walk back into the living room, Liz is there, knitting something. She coughs delicately to get their attention and looks up above them at the mistletoe.

 

“Mom, no—this one doesn’t count,” George starts, clearly not wanting Leonard to be uncomfortable. He falls silent when Leonard presents his cheek for a kiss, smiling at him.

 

George turns to face him straight on and presses his mouth to Leonard’s. Leonard kisses him back, but it’s chaste, even if it is long and slow. Liz discreetly leaves the room, heading into the kitchen.

 

“Merry Christmas, Len,” George says quietly, kissing him again on the cheek.

 

“George,” Leonard says softly, reaching for his hand.

 

“I know, Len. I know. I’m not asking you to choose. I’m not ever going to ask you to choose.”

 

Leonard swallows the lump in his throat. “Tess?” he asks very quietly.

“Broke it off before we left Fr’isco. We both knew it wasn’t going anywhere.”

 

Leonard hesitates. “I’m not ready yet, sweetheart. I’m not saying I won’t ever be. I’m just asking for some more time, that’s all.”

 

“All the time you need,” George promises him, squeezing their linked hands, “No rush.”

 

---

It’s time to go to bed. Leonard can’t help but feel excited for the next day. It’s not like when he was a kid, staying up late to try to see Santa’s hover sleigh. It’s just—his mind is too full to let him sleep.

 

He considers his bed on the floor and then George’s bed, the small twin-sized one he’d used as a child.

 

“Budge over, Georgie,” he says softly, and George looks at him, this strange, vulnerable look in his eye, and he does.

 

“What about Chris?” Leonard asks him.

 

“What about Chris?”

 

“I—I heard you two talking once, about me. He said—well, I don’t want to ruin your friendship with him.”

 

“We’re waiting, right? There’s nothing to ruin the friendship, then,” George reasons, “at least not until you’re ready for more. Then we can break it to him gently, figure out a way to include him and make sure we don’t lose him as a friend. Sound good?”

 

Leonard nods, clearing his throat. “I’m sorry I couldn’t—I’m sorry I can’t, yet. Sorry I’m not ready yet.”

 

George is sleepy and he looks up at him. “S’okay. Worth waiting for,” he mumbles, shifting to lay his head against Leonard’s shoulder.

 

Jim’s worth waiting for, something in Leonard whispers. Jim’s worth waiting for, even if it means waiting forever.

 

---

It’s been eight months since Bones disappeared. Captain James Tiberius Kirk conducts missions, he persuades new planets to join the Federation, he conducts First Contacts, and he looks after his crew.

 

The Admiralty hasn’t had a single complaint about him in two months, since he finally hit the six month mark and decided to give up. He still hopes, and he still works on it, alone in his meager spare time, but he doesn’t force Chekov and Scotty to give up their spare time to it, doesn’t run equations or calculations by them.

 

His crew needs their captain, he figures, and he gives them that. If Jim—the Jim that Bones had known and loved so long and so tenderly, starts to fade away, then he figures either nobody will notice or nobody will care.

 

Sulu’s never been more worried about him.

 

He comes to his quarters with junk food, disheartened when Jim smiles and only takes a few fries, replicating himself a salad instead, as if Bones is still there to remind him to watch his diet.

 

He offers to spar with him, to teach him how to fence, and sometimes, Jim will smile at him, and his heart soars, thinking that maybe this is the turning point, maybe this is when Jim comes back—but then sometimes he looks off into the middle distance, lost in thought. Sometimes when Hikaru lets himself into the captain’s quarters—because Jim had finally cracked and just given him his code at some point—Jim startles and hides his PADD, like a teenager being caught watching porn.

 

But Jim isn’t embarrassed about sex. There’s only one thing he’d be embarrassed about, and it’s Bones. Not loving him, but still looking for him.

 

Admiral Christopher Pike calls every week, which is far more than the average Admiral calls the average Captain. They talk for long hours, sometimes in the ready room, sometimes in the captain’s quarters, and it’s a toss-up, whether it makes Jim feel better or worse, all in all.

 

Every week he goes to therapy, on M’Benga’s orders. He comes out looking blank, distant and lost and downright hostile when Hikaru tries to bring him back. Sometimes it’s bad enough that he locks his quarters down so only the CMO override can open it—the old one, that only worked on Leonard McCoy’s authorization. Sometimes, if he has a day off the next day, he’ll pick up an abnormally large package from Scotty, who everyone knows can acquire alcohol of virtually any kind, and he’ll drink it until he’s incoherent, comming Hikaru drunken gibberish that’s clearly a cry for help in Kirk-ese.

 

Sometimes Hikaru comes into his room the next day and stacks his PADDs and replaces the broken ones and drags a near-catatonic Jim from his bed and shoves him into the shower.

 

Usually when he comes out of the shower, he’s coherent again. He thanks Hikaru with a miserable look on his face and a smile that’s actually worse than when he was crying. He gets himself back together, and then Jim’s gone again, and The Captain is back, broad-shouldered and clear-eyed, and ready to boldly go.

 

---

 

Leonard wakes up on Christmas morning with Jim in his arms, pressed together in their tiny bed in Leonard’s single. He smiles, eyes still closed, and presses a kiss to Jim’s golden hair.

 

“Mornin’, sweetheart,” he whispers.

 

“Merry Christmas, Lenny,” George whispers back, tilting his mouth up for a kiss. Leonard obliges him, even as the shattered remains of his dream fade away, and Jim shifts into George, and the Academy to George’s parents’ home in Iowa. It’s a quick kiss, though, and Leonard mutters something about morning breath as he shifts under the blanket, ignoring George’s whine about cold air as he stands up.

 

He splashes cold water onto his face and looks in the mirror.

 

“Jim is gone,” he whispers to himself, “Jim is gone and you are here, and don’t you fucking forget it.”

 

He and George move around each other in the familiar rhythm of two people used to sharing a space, and Leonard heads down for breakfast only a couple of minutes before George does, and they eat, pretending as if it’s just another day, wishing Liz and Tiberius merry Christmas.

 

They all sit in the living room to open presents. Leonard glances up at the door frame and notes that the mistletoe is gone and wonders who took it down.

 

Liz gives Leonard a sweater that she knitted herself. It matches the one she gives to George and Leonard tries his best not to read too much into that particular coincidence.

 

Tiberius gives him a framed photograph of him and George, sitting on the sofa, Leonard’s arm wrapped comfortably around George’s shoulders as they look outside at the snow.

 

George gives him a set of aviators—“because you’re a damn good pilot, Lenny!” and a nice bottle of bourbon—“you better share that, it wasn’t cheap”—a model of a starship, and a small journal, bound in false leather.

 

“To remind you where you came from,” he says of the last two gifts, laying his chin on Leonard’s shoulder. Leonard doesn’t know how to tell him that the Enterprise looked nothing like the model he’s been given, so he pulls George into a hug instead.

 

Leonard gives Liz a vase full of flowers, and Tiberius a warm cashmere scarf for the winter. There’s a note carefully hidden in the folds of the scarf. From a son to a father, I swear I’ll look after your boy. -LHM

 

He gives George a model of a starship—the Kelvin, though he leaves the title off of the ship, so George doesn’t know that quite yet. He also gives him a handful of cards, each one with a different offer written on it.

 

One healing, hold the scolding

 

One round of drinks—no matter how much work we have

 

Movie night—George gets to pick the movies

 

One (*reasonable*) request of my choice

*must meet Leonard’s definition of reasonable

 

George looks unreasonably excited and grins at him. “You don’t know how much this means, Mom and Dad. Usually every time Lenny sees me with a bruise, he gives me a whole big lecture about taking care of myself while the regen fixes it. And he’s a genius, but he always insists on studying anyway, even though he doesn’t need to, at least not for the medical classes—at least half the time I ask him to go out to a bar or something, he says no!”

 

“Okay, okay, I’m not as much of a stick in the mud as he’s making me sound,” Leonard says defensively, “I have a huge course load! Besides, how much time did I spend teaching you how to pilot a shuttle safely? We were in the sim, Mrs. Kir—Liz, so it was perfectly safe, I assure you, and I already have my piloting certification—either way, look at me, George, there’s still one more thing—“

 

George goes silent and looks at him as Leonard hands over a smaller box, wrapped carefully.

 

He thinks it’ll be one thing in the box—it’s pretty small after all, but it’s two.

There’s a framed photograph of the three of them—George in the middle with Chris and Leonard on either side of him. They’re all laughing, dimples in Chris’ cheek, Leonard’s eyes crinkling and George’s mouth split wide open as he chortles.

“One of the other medical cadets took it. She sent it to me afterwards, thought I might like to have a copy,” Leonard says with a smile, “you two look good. Should probably ditch that creepy old man, though, what’s he doing hanging out with two pretty young things anyway?”

“Keeping them in one piece, I think. And becoming their friend and their piloting instructor and fixing their bruises and telling them stories... should I go on?”

“I’d rather you didn’t embarrass me in front of your parents any more than you already have, Georgie. Now take that out, there’s something else in there—“

It’s an old book, hard cover. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. “I’ve always liked his work,” Leonard says, nodding towards the author’s name, “Jules Verne was one of the great writers of that time. I wonder sometimes what he’d have to say about our world today.”

George opens the cover and looks at the first page.

Georgie—

 

Here’s that book I owe you—can’t say I’m playing favorites anymore. Thank you for being one of the best friends a man could ever ask for.

Love, your doctor boy.

George looks at it. “It’s pretty doctor boy, not just doctor boy. Dad, gimme that pen, there, let me just fix this—“

He writes the word pretty in himself and smiles at Leonard. “There, now it’s perfect. Thank you, Lenny, I love it.”

“Good,” Leonard says warmly, “I’m glad.”

---

That night, Leonard helps Liz with Christmas dinner, with strict orders for Tiberius and George to stay out of the kitchen.

 

“Fire hazards, both of them,” Liz says with a sigh, “one time I left for five minutes and came back to a dish towel on fire and my husband throwing it in the sink, my son nowhere to be found. They’re a disaster. Way too curious, so I’ve decided they’re not allowed. Especially not now, when I have a competent pair of hands around to help me!”

 

Leonard grins and does everything that’s asked of him. When Liz is busy setting the table, he feels a pair of arms wrap around him, the warmth of a body pressed up against his back. Instead of melting into the touch, he smacks George on the arm.

 

“Stop it, I’m about to take the roast out of the oven. Go bother your father, Georgie.”

 

George just laughs at him and presses a quick kiss to his shoulder through his shirt before he goes.

 

“You know, I don’t think my son’s ever brought anyone home before,” Liz says to him carefully, “not since he was in high school, anyway. You don’t think you’re too old for him?”

 

“I do. I’ve said that to him about a hundred times. But damn if your boy listens to me, Mrs. Kirk. He’s a stubborn one. I’ve told him I’m too old for you, George, I’ve told him I gave my heart away a long time ago, and I don’t know if I have anything left to give away to anyone else—he just doesn’t seem to care.” Leonard lets out a sigh and smiles ruefully at Liz, staring into the same piercing blue eyes that George and Jim both share.

 

“Maybe it’s my fault,” he admits quietly, “I’m a selfish son of a bitch, ma’am. Can’t let ‘im go. He’s too good a friend for that, and I’m too old and too mean and too ornery to be driving off the few friends I do have.”

 

“Leonard McCoy, you’re thirty-three, from what my son’s told me. Stop talking as if you’re on the cusp of your eighties, boy,” Liz says with a frown, “and besides, you’re not mean. You haven’t said a mean word to anybody since you got here.”

 

“Yeah, well, nobody here deserves to get cut on my sharp tongue,” Leonard mutters, flushing a little bit.

 

“I’m sure my son wouldn’t mind it, if you healed him up afterwards,” Liz says, and before Leonard can respond to that, she orders him to summon George and Tiberius, and the conversation is over.

 

---

Leonard stays for two more days, and it’s comfortable with Tiberius and Elizabeth and George. He sleeps in his own bed on the floor, deciding to put a stop to the affection with George. He needs to stop, before he gets addicted to being loved and it breaks him when it stops.

 

Besides which, George has to fall in love with Winona. He has to. Otherwise Jim won’t be born. God, how fucked up would it be if Jim was never born in this universe because Leonard shacked up with the man who was supposed to be his father?

 

So Leonard decides to pull the plug on it, but he can’t quite stand to hurt George either, to see the expression of pain on that face that’s so like Jim’s.

 

So he promises himself that he’ll tell him later. Or maybe he never will. Maybe he won’t have to. Maybe George is willing to wait now, but at some point, he won’t be anymore, and then Winona can sweep in and George can fall head over heels for her, and Leonard can step back and be alone, the way it’s meant to be.

 

Chris is a factor, too. As much as Leonard doesn’t want to hurt George, he can’t help but think about Chris—the way he’s leaned in across the shuttle to kiss him when they were hovering above Earth. Chris is gentle and kind and so full of love, and he doesn’t deserve to have his heart broken by anyone, let alone by two of the people he cares about most.

 

Plus there’s this whole thing with Tess. She and George had been on and off for awhile, according to Chris, and just because they’re off now doesn’t mean they’ll always be off. Maybe George will see her again in the spring and want her back, and maybe she’ll love him until he can love Winona.

 

(Maybe Leonard can stop pretending to be God, moving his little pawns around to make everything turn out the way he wants it to.

 

Or maybe not.)

 

---

They meet Chris in the shuttle port in New York City. When Leonard meets his eyes, Chris beams at him, stepping forward and hugging him and George in turn.

 

“Here,” Leonard says with a smile, holding out a package, “merry Christmas. I know it’s late, but I forgot to give it to you before we left. All I did after the semester ended was eat, sleep, and drink, but I did manage to go out and buy you this, too.”

 

Chris looks delighted, dimples in his cheeks as he rips the paper open. “Hey! Oh my god, you took a picture of us?!”

 

“You looked cute,” Leonard says with a smile. It’s a picture of the two of them, sitting on the sofa. Chris is fast asleep, pressed against Leonard’s side. Leonard’s grinning at the camera, one arm holding it up while the other’s wrapped around Chris. He gets a set of coupons too, just like George, only with more household chores mixed in. One free bathroom cleaning, Homemade breakfast for a week, one non-medical massage, one free jaunt in a shuttle—

 

The last thing is a book. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells.

 

Chris opens it and looks at the message in the front cover, handwriting so neat that he knows the good doctor must have made an effort for it.

 

Chris—

 

I know I bitch about my unintentional time travel a lot, but it could’ve been worse! I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I hadn’t met you in the library that first day, but it wouldn’t have been good. Thank you for building me a place in your life and helping me build a place to belong to in a time where I don’t fit.

 

Love, Len

 

Chris hugs him tight for a long, long moment before they pull apart. Leonard doesn’t look at George, because he doesn’t need permission to hug a friend, and they could never be a thing anyway. Not that George knows that, which is horrendously unfair, but… what can Leonard say, he’s a bit of a coward when it comes to matters of the heart.

 

They opt for a vacation somewhere warm, where they can tan and swim and lounge around, soaking in the warm air. It’s a great idea, especially after Iowa, where Leonard had thoroughly sated his desire to play in the snow.

 

Chris wants to try surfing.

 

George wants to waterski.

 

Leonard just wants everybody to get through this vacation with no broken bones. He’d prefer if the plan was to swim in the hotel pool—more sanitary than the ocean—and drink good liquor while watching beautiful people coming in and out of the water, droplets slipping down long expanses of tan skin.

 

He’s not nearly as much of a wet blanket as he seems to be, though, and when they decide they’re going to Rio de Janeiro, he’s as excited as any of them.

 

The people of Rio are wonderful. Their kindness is amazing and their beauty unparalleled. They swim in the ocean and lay on the sandy beaches, watching women walk by in skimpy bikinis and men strut around in the tiniest swim trunks ever, barely covering their junk.

 

Leonard’s heart belongs to Jim Kirk, but his eyes damn well appreciate the people on the beach. Chris and George aren’t exactly hard to look at, either, though their trunks, coming down maybe to a third of the way down their thighs, are positively prudish compared to the rest of the people around.

 

The water is warm and perfect to swim in. When Chris insists on trying to learn to surf, Leonard goes with him, each grabbing a board and spending a few hours trying to learn. They paddle out, find a place that looks right, and try to stand atop their boards, inevitably falling off. Finally they manage to perch on the thing, wobbling with arms outstretched to try to balance themselves—Leonard’s the first to manage it, and he’s ridiculously proud of it—only to then get knocked over by the next wave that comes along.

 

George laughs his heart out at the two of them, but he’s game to go when they try again after lunch. Leonard hadn’t been too keen on it to start with, but now he’s determined to figure it out, and he looks around until he finds an Australian who seems pretty comfortable out on the waves, talking him into helping teach them.

 

Kyle is tan and blond and punctuates his sentences with the word “mate.” He’s touchy with all of them, helping them up and sometimes standing with them to teach them the right way, but especially with Chris, who flushes each time Kyle’s hand lays on his waist to steady him, or curls around his hip to adjust his stance.

 

Leonard exchanges a look with George, who looks tremendously amused by it all. He suspects he’ll see Kyle later, sneaking out of Chris’ bed. Unless Chris leaves with him, of course.

 

Leonard and George opt to stop for the day, ostensibly because they’re tired, but really so Kyle can pull out more moves without being cowed by Chris’ two male companions, relationship unknown.

 

As George paddles back, Leonard lingers. Chris is busy pulling himself up from the water a few yards away. It’s enough time for Leonard to lean in close to Kyle and whisper.

 

“You hurt him, and I’ll gut you like a fish,” he murmurs in the voice that had always scared his interns most, a soft velvety threat, and he watches Kyle’s eyes widen before he swims back to shore.

 

“Have fun, Chris!” he calls, waving back at his friend before joining George on the shore.

 

They lay there together, side by side, and Leonard dozes for awhile. George lays next to him, not touching because it’s too hot outside to touch another person outside of the water.

 

When Leonard wakes, George is staring at a beautiful woman—tall, dark-skinned, and curvy. It doesn’t hurt that she’s wearing a swimsuit that Leonard’s ex-wife would class as ‘too skimpy to even be considered lingerie.’

 

“Go on,” he says, “go flirt with her. You’re hot, she’s hot, I’m guessing it’ll work out well.”

 

“But—“ George looks at him, “me and you—“

 

“Are waiting,” Leonard says to him, firm but kind. “That’s what we agreed, right? It wouldn’t be right for me to keep you on hold, not be with you and not let you be with anybody else. I promise I won’t hold it against you. Go on, have fun, Georgie. Just be safe. I’m not ready to be an uncle quite yet.”

 

He sits on the beach, reading his book and periodically glancing up to check on his friends. Chris and Kyle are still splashing around in the water, George is off with his lady, leaning in close as he talks to her.

 

And here he is, on his own and perfectly happy.

 

“Here—you’re burning, man. You’re skin’s all red and angry-looking.” The man who’s speaking to him is of Asian heritage, and fit, with well-defined biceps under the round muscle of the deltoid. Leonard does a quick scan and notices that the rest of him matches. Round, firm pecs and a neat line bisecting his abdomen, six perfect little divisions of his rectus abdominis right there for the eye to see. And what a sight it is.

 

Oh. He’s leaning forward and talking earnestly, while Leonard tries not to stare and or visibly salivate. “Do you want me to help you put on some cream? It’ll be pretty painful if you don’t.”

 

Leonard smiles, slow and wide, like a cat facing a dish of cream.

 

“I’d like that. I’m Leonard McCoy. Nice to meet you, Mr.—“

 

“John. John Chen.”

 

“John, then. Thank you—I totally fell asleep, I would’ve burnt to a crisp if you hadn’t mentioned it. I think I can do my arms, but would you mind doing my back?”

 

John… doesn’t mind, and when he’s done, he asks Leonard if he wants to go to a nearby bar.

 

It totally negates any point to having put on sunblock to go inside, but Leonard still says yes.

 

---

John’s hotel is close by, and once they’re at the bar, Leonard can’t exactly say no to one more drink in his hotel room, can he?

 

Well, he absolutely can, but he absolutely won’t, not with the prospect of licking at that line that splits his abs down the middle, or wrapping his tongue around those nipples, or feeling those arms holding him up or caging him in or anything John wants, honestly.

 

What he wants is to kiss the living daylights out of Leonard, strip him out of his trunks, and lick the salt of the ocean from his skin. He does all of those things and Leonard returns the favor before laying back on his bed and spreading his legs.

 

“Yes, yes, yes, ah, yes, oh fuck—right there, baby, so good—“ Leonard can’t help but talk, the whole time John is pounding into him. He closes his eyes and savors the sound of flesh against flesh, the scent of them together, sweat and salt and ocean and sex.

 

After a moment, he finds himself imagining it’s Jim, cataloging the differences between John’s body and the one he’d known better than his own.

 

He opens his eyes again and doesn’t close them again for longer than a blink for the rest of the time.

 

He doesn’t call out Jim’s name once.

 

The sex is spectacular. Leonard comes three separate times before John’s through with him, and he is thoroughly impressed.

 

“I didn’t even think I was capable of coming three times in that short a time period,” he mutters to his sweaty lover as they lay on top of the sheets, the ceiling fan turning lazily to cool the perspiration on their skin.

 

John grins. “Am I just that good? Is that what you’re telling me, Leonard?”

 

“Thank God you didn’t pull that line on me before, or I’d never have slept with you,” Leonard teases, kissing him again, long and lazy. “Go on, take a nap, stud, I’ve got to get back to my friends. Don’t want them to start thinking I’m dead when I’m just having a post-sex nap.”

 

John grins, thanking him for the amazing sex with almost a straight face before he lays back, already drifting off.

 

Leonard takes in one last (and very long) appreciative look at his body, lingering until one of his eyes opens up and he peers at Leonard.

 

“Hey, you can stay, y’know. It was great, wouldn’t mind going for round two in an hour or two.”

 

Leonard pouts. “I wish. My friends really will start to worry. But hey, it was really good. That thing with your tongue—god, that was a first for me. Enjoy your vacation. Maybe I’ll even see you again sometime.”

 

---

Leonard heads back to the beach, scanning for Chris and George and coming up empty. His towel’s gone too, so one of them must’ve picked it up. That’s the best possible explanation, anyway.

 

He shrugs his shoulders and heads back to the hotel, letting himself into the room.

 

He’s the last one there, Chris and George sitting on the two beds discussing whether they should call the police or give him more time.

 

“Where the hell were you?” George says, clearly worried.

 

“Met someone,” Leonard says with a grin, “we went back to his hotel room. And he had a lot of stamina, so I was there longer than I intended. What about your lady? How did that go?”

 

“Hooked up in the little cabana that was on the beach. She almost screamed when I went down on her,” George says, smirking a little.

 

“And Kyle the surfer? Did he show you a whole new world, Chrissy?”

 

“He was pretty hot, wasn’t he? We went to the bar near the beach. He sucked me off, I gave him a handjob, very satisfying daytime hookup,” Chris says nonchalantly.

 

“So both of you can hook up with someone, but if I’m gone for a few hours, you’re thinking about calling the police? Come on, guys, I know I’m old, but some people like a more experienced gentleman—“

 

He finally leaves the doorstep and walks over to his own bed, which Chris is sitting on.

 

“Damn,” George mutters, watching him cross the room, “you’re limping, Lenny. Did he hurt you?”

 

“Nope. It’s just been awhile, if you must know. Ten months, give or take. He was fantastic, by the by. If you two see him, I’d take that opportunity, seriously.”

 

Chris laughs as Leonard flops down onto the bed. He sniffs carefully and looks down at Leonard.

 

Someone still smells like sex,” he says pointedly.

 

Someone knew his two friends would be worrying like mother hens if he didn’t come back as soon as humanly possible. I barely waited for him to pull out, and then I was pulling on my swim trunks and hittin’ the road.”

 

Someone could have mentioned to one of us that he was with someone. Maybe someone could have used a nifty little device known as a pocket communicator, comm for short—“ George says, clearly not quite over being made to worry.

 

Someone is thirty-three years old and can take care of his own damn self,” Leonard snipes back.

 

Someone should go take a shower,” Chris says gently, nudging Leonard up, “he can take a nap afterwards. And a certain other someone should let things go, because we all make mistakes and it all worked out fine.”

 

“You’re the best, Chrissy,” Leonard says with a little smile, getting up and heading into the bathroom.

 

It doesn’t come back until after dinner that night when they’re drinking in the privacy of their own hotel room.

 

“I was worried about you,” George says quietly, “you could have just told me, Lenny, that’s all. It’s not that you went off and slept with someone, even though you said you weren’t ready for anything yet, but you could at least let us know. It’s not like nobody cares about you.”

 

“You wouldn’t have done that to J, I bet,” Chris chimes in, “before you two got together, you were friends, right? You wouldn’t have just gone off, you would’ve said something to him, let him know you were going so he’d know you were alright.”

 

“Not quite, but I take your point,” Leonard agrees quietly, “and I’m sorry for worrying you. I just thought I’d be quick, get back before either of you could even miss me.”

 

“Why’d you even do it?” George demands, hurt flaring up in the words and on his face, until Leonard can’t meet his eyes anymore and looks at the ground.

 

“I said I wasn’t ready—I dunno. I’m still not. Ready for something meaningful, I mean. Sex is one thing, with a stranger in a strange land, but at home, with one of my best friends? That’s the sort of thing that ends with one person in love and one person heartbroken most of the time. That, I’m not ready for yet. Not when I care about you two so much.

 

“I thought maybe I was ready for something, though. Something shallow and physical, something that wouldn’t hurt as much. He was hot, I felt a spark, so I went for it. And it was good sex. Don’t know if it was worth all the fuss with you two, but other than that, it really was good sex.”

 

---

 

He waits for Chris and George to fall asleep before creeping out of the room. The pool’s supposed to be closed, but there’s nobody around, so he sits with his feet in the water.

 

Computer, personal log of Leonard H. McCoy, please. New entry, note time and date.

 

Jimmy, I slept with someone. Would you hate me for that? It was nothing in the scheme of things, it’s not like I’m in love with him, y’know? But he was hot, he was interested, and chances are I’m never going to see him again. So he asked me back to his hotel and he fucked me through the mattress. I closed my eyes for two seconds, and it almost—god, Jimmy, it almost felt like you. When will you stop breaking my damn heart, you stupid, wonderful man?

 

Don’t be mad at me, please, darlin’. Your dad’s already pissed. I admit, it looks pretty fucking bad, us kissing in Iowa and me needing time and then fucking the first hot guy who’s interested here in Rio. I can’t explain why I did it, only I thought it would make me feel like I belonged here, in this time. Like it would make me part of this reality, more than I am. Thought it would be a bit of fun, y’know? Just a nice orgasm or three—I’m not kidding, Jim, he was fucking good—no need to date or have a crush or fall in love or have my heart broken—

 

But then I saw the look on their faces. George was obvious. He was the one asking why the hell I did it, he was the one who was mad about it, who said I should’ve at least told them. And he was right. He was dead right, about all of it. I don’t know why I keep trying the Irish goodbye on them. They don’t like it, and I know they don’t like it, but I keep assuming they don’t actually care.

 

Anyway, your dad was obvious—he’s kind of like you, when you’re with someone you trust. Everything’s written all over his face, you can see the hurt, the damage you do. But Chris was hurt too. And his was almost worse. He almost looked resigned to it, J. I keep thinking back to our Chris Pike, to that tall, strong Admiral who would never have put up with this shit from someone. And this Chris—god, Jimmy, he’s so fucking young. I think maybe he expects me to hurt him. I think he’d let me hurt him for the rest of his life, maybe, and that’s just terrifying. Maybe that’s why I went with your dad for Christmas and not with Chris. He’s so beautiful and so perfect and so there, I know I’d hurt him if I let myself, and I know I’ll let myself, if I have him long enough.

 

I miss you. God, Jimmy, I miss you. I think I used to be a better man than I am now. You made me a better man, and now you’re gone and I’m just—worse than I’ve ever been. Please—please come find me. I love you, Jim. Take care.

 

He ends the recording and sets the PADD on a chair a good distance away from the pool. Then he strips down to his boxers and sits on the edge, inhaling and dropping into the water. He swims laps around the pool for ages, switching to different strokes each time he feels exhaustion start to pull at his limbs.

 

It’s two hours later when he finally pulls himself out of the water, shaking out his hair. He finds a tree with decent foliage and strips out of his wet boxers, dragging his pajamas over his wet skin until he’s dressed again. He wrings out the wet boxers and stuffs them into his pocket, retrieves his PADD, and goes back up to their room, slipping in quietly. He lays out the boxers on his suitcase so they can dry in the warm air of the room (though it’s so humid, he’s not sure they will). He slides into his bed, hair wet and skin damp, and falls asleep.

 

---

He wakes late the next morning. George is gone, but Chris is there, lounging on the bed and reading something on his PADD.

 

“You reek,” he says conversationally, looking over at him the minute he wakes.

 

“Mornin’ to you too, sweetheart,” Leonard mutters sourly.

 

“You reek of chlorine, Leonard. And you didn’t when I fell asleep. What happened? I’m not George, you know I’m not gonna be mad. Just tell me what happened.”

 

“Couldn’t sleep. Went for a swim to clear my head.”

 

Chris looks at him, almost sad for a moment. “Fair enough,” he says quietly, “go take a shower. If George finds you like this, he’ll be pissed. He was already rehearsing a lecture when he left to get breakfast. He’s bringing back food for all of us. We weren’t sure when you’d wake, and neither of us wanted to wake you up. Well, George kind of did, to yell at you. I didn’t want to wake you up, and I do still have some say in this friendship.”

 

Leonard showers and when he gets back, George just says a terse hello, clearly discouraged from yelling by Chris, who’s just sitting there, placidly eating a waffle.

Leonard wants to apologize to ease the tension, but doesn’t think he should have to, because he hasn’t really done anything wrong. He also doesn’t want to open up a whole can of worms with George, who’s seemed angry with him ever since they left his parents’ house.

So he sits down and grabs a muffin and a bunch of fruit and eats in silence, noting that even angry, one of his boys has still set his coffee in front of him, cream and sugar mixed in the perfect ratio.

 

“George, why don’t you head down to the beach?” Chris suggests, “grab us a good spot, check out the waves, maybe rent us some boards or something.”

 

George nods and he looks at Chris tenderly, a reminder that there was a George-and-Chris long before either of them even knew Leonard.

 

Chris waits until he’s gone. “Why is he so upset with you?” he asks Leonard, eyes hard, “what happened in Iowa?”

 

Leonard freezes. “Why don’t you ask him?” he says, mostly to stall so he can think of something.

 

“I did. He didn’t tell me the truth. I thought I could trust you to.”

 

Well, isn’t that just a punch in the gut. Leonard clears his throat. “Nothing happened in Iowa.”

 

Even he isn’t convinced, and Chris just looks at him, not deigning to respond to an obvious lie. Leonard can see the Admiral in him, peeking out with those eyes that could cut through bullshit like a knife through warm butter.

 

“We kissed. I think—I overheard him talking to his mother about me, about being interested, and then the next day, there was mistletoe, and he kissed me and I didn’t—I didn’t pull away. But I told him I wasn’t ready, and he said he’d wait. I thought he’d understand that sex with a guy I met at the beach isn’t the same as starting a relationship with one of my best friends. You get that, don’t you, Chris?”

 

Chris looks at him. “I get that you try your best, Len,” he says finally, “and I’ve learned not to have too many expectations from you as anything but a friend. As a friend, you’re the best one I’ve ever had. Even better than George, maybe. Less selfish.

 

“But George is greedy. He’ll want everything. If you’re not intending to give him that, I’d tell him now, before he gets his hopes up even further. Set the boundaries, make it clear that he shouldn’t spend his time agonizing over whether he’s pretty enough for you, or whether he’s your type, or whether you’re fixated on this idea that he’s too young for you. He just feels inadequate right now, so he’s lashing out. Plus, he’s an only child. Not great at sharing his favorite toys, you might’ve noticed. It’ll be hard on him, after having you all to himself for a week, to share you with me, let alone with some random guy you met once and decided to sleep with.”

 

---

George finds someone to escape with nearly every night for the rest of the trip, and he flaunts it. He comes back limping, sporting love bites on his neck and bruises on his hips, high enough that his swim trunks don’t cover them. Or maybe he wears his swim trunks lower, so he can show them off better. Either way, Leonard gets the picture pretty quickly. He ignores it all, especially the voice in his head that draws the comparison to Jim, when they’d first felt something building between them.

 

Leonard had wanted to go slow, Jim had wanted to leap without looking, as was his wont, and when Leonard had refused to enter a potentially life-ruining relationship for the second time, Jim had acted out. Unprotected sex, promiscuity, flirting with everyone, right in front of Leonard as if his friend didn’t matter anymore. He’d walked around like George was now, bearing bruises on his hips and scratches on his back and Leonard would sit him down and clean out the shallow scratches, muttering about how many bacteria lived under the human fingernail and any other equivalent appendage.

 

Jim would let him heal the scratches and even the bruises, but it hadn’t mattered. He’d find himself someone to give him new ones by the next day. It had continued on for nearly a month before Leonard snapped and Jim finally stopped.

 

The difference is that he was in love with Jim Kirk, and it was a kick in the teeth, seeing someone else’s marks on him, knowing that he’d been with someone else. It was even worse that they hadn’t cared to cherish him, hadn’t cared to love him gently, so kind that he was near tears when he finally climaxed. The thought that random strangers were using Jim for a quick lay when he deserved so much more than that—not even Jocelyn on the worst days of the divorce had hurt him more.

 

Chris finds someone a couple of days and sometimes he leaves for the night. He’s more discreet than George by far, but not even discretion can mask an empty bed.

 

Leonard swims as if he’s training for the Olympics, relentless in the pool. He drinks more than he’d recommend to his patients, and once he lets a bartender take him to the bathroom, pressing him up against the bathroom wall and taking him quickly. Bruises bloom across his back where he gets pounded against the bricks. Chris raises an eyebrow when he sees them the next day, but Leonard doesn’t explain. George merely thins his lips and finds himself a beautiful woman to lose himself in.

 

When George is out with his men or his women or his member-of-a-species-that-doesn’t-conform-to-the-human-gender-binary, Leonard and Chris sit on the sofa and watch films and drink and talk and Leonard almost regains some sense of stability.

 

Until one night, their last in Rio, when Chris has drunk more than usual and Leonard isn’t too far behind. George is gone, as usual, and Chris is giggly and confiding and flirtatious, the way he always is when he’s a few drinks past tipsy. Leonard kind of likes it, all the way up until Chris presses his mouth to Leonard’s for a long kiss. Leonard opens his mouth to protest, but Chris takes that as tacit permission to deepen the kiss, and Leonard doesn’t exactly discourage him.

 

Chris is the one to pull back, giggling. “You taste good,” he whispers, “could get drunk off the taste of you, Len.” Leonard doesn’t point out that that’s probably because he tastes of alcohol. Chris puts a finger to his own mouth, still laughing a little bit.

 

“Better not tell George, he’d be pissed! How dare I, right? Even though I liked you first. Even though I wanted you first—“ The laughter fades from his eyes.

 

“I fucking hate the way he doesn’t care about anybody else,” he admits, leaning forward and laying his head against Leonard’s shoulder, talking to his chest. “Doesn’t care what anybody else wants, just goes full steam ahead to take what he wants.”

 

Leonard kisses the top of his head. “Let’s get you to bed,” he says quietly, “you’re drunk, sweetheart. Time to sleep it off before George gets back.”

 

Chris is pretty reluctant to move, though, and in the end, Leonard gives up and sleeps with him on the sofa, dragging a blanket over them for the night.

 

He wakes to George looking spectacularly unimpressed—as if a man wearing yesterday’s clothes and still reeking of sex has room to judge.

 

“Don’t look at me like that, it’s not like I took advantage of him,” he mutters, beginning the process of disentangling himself from his friend, “he was drunk, he didn’t wanna let me go, and I was tired.”

 

He pulls off his shirt and heads over to his suitcase to find a clean one, ignoring the look of disgust he knows George must wearing, eyeing the bruises on his back. George doesn’t have much right to judge about that, either, these days.

 

They wake Chris a little while later, and Leonard’s never been so glad to have a vacation end. He feels like he’s almost drifted apart from his friends over the past week instead of feeling closer to them. He can’t wait to get back to the familiar environment of the Academy, and he hopes they can find some semblance of the friendship they’d had before Christmas, once they do get back.

 

He spends the shuttle flight with his PADD, looking at messages he’s gotten from his instructors, containing syllabi and reading assignments. He also checks for his schedule at the hospital. He might have fucked everything else up, but at least he can still help his patients.

 

Chapter Text

Before the semester starts, Leonard’s performance from the previous semester starts to get noticed. he doesn’t quite realize how much until he’s gotten eight different offers to TA classes ranging from basic medical first aid training for non-medical cadets to advanced xenopharmacology to introductory Starfleet regs to intermediate tactics and operations. He looks at them all, eyes wide, and emails Archer to beg for help.

 

Archer informs him that he’s been getting requests for him too, and together, they sit down and go through all the requests. Leonard starts by turning down the ops and tactics classes, saying honestly that he wouldn’t have done nearly as well in those courses without Chris and George’s help, to which Admiral Archer replies—

 

“Did they take your exams for you, son?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“So you were able to retain copious amounts of information and answer sophisticated inference application questions regarding tactical and operations maneuvers.”

 

“I suppose so, sir.”

 

“There you go, then. I bet your friends are getting offers for these classes too, if they performed as well as you did.”

 

“They performed better, sir, I’m a mediocre tactician at best, that was always my captain’s wheelhouse, not mine—“

 

“Son, I think you need to realize that you aren’t the same person you were when you got here. Maybe then you weren’t that good at tactics. Honestly, I doubt that you even gave it much of a go your first time round, am I right?”

 

“I was so busy with medical courses, and I had my own research and basic requirements to fulfill—“

 

“Of course. And then when it came time to go up to your ship, your captain and his command team made those types of decisions, unless they were of a medical nature. But even then, you strike me as the sort of man who makes decisions based on the Hippocratic Oath, and not so much based on strategic outcomes.”

 

“Yes, sir. It got me in hot water with my captain more than a few times. He used to get upset that I would risk myself for just a few people. Then again, he was biased. He was my best friend, you know.”

 

“It often is that way with friends,” Archer says with a little smile, “regardless, Leonard, you have performed at an impressively high level in those tactics courses. That’s why you are being asked to TA—nobody’s taking pity on you here. So it’s one thing to think that perhaps you might be better suited to TA for medical courses, where you could grade in your sleep. It’s another thing to think you don’t deserve this.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“And Leonard? In this office, or when we’re in private, you can drop the Admirals and cut back on your sirs, okay? You can call me Jonathan, or Jon. You’re not just one of my other cadets.”

 

“Yes, sir—I mean, yes, Jon, sir.” Leonard flushes. “I’m not good at this. It took me a long time, to learn the sirs and the ranks, and it’ll probably take me just as long to unlearn it all.”

 

Jonathan laughs at him. “Right, so which do like better, first aid for command and engineer cadets or advanced xenopharma?”

 

In the end, he opts to TA two courses for the medical cadets and one for the command cadets.

 

“Make sure your co-TAs pull their own weight for each of these classes, mind you, Leonard. Taking on three classes as a TA is not something I would recommend. So either you drop down to two or you cut back on your workload at the hospital, or you pull back on some of your courses. Otherwise I’m going to get another frantic comm from your friends about how you’ve worked yourself into a coma by March. And that won’t make me very happy, are we clear?”

 

“Yes, sir, crystal clear. Maybe I could TA for introduction to piloting instead? That, a command course—intro tactics and ops, maybe? And then the last one can be basic medical knowledge for non-medical cadets. That’s two easy courses and one that even I can figure out.”

 

“Sounds okay to me. Just don’t let me hear that you’re grading tactics exams as command cadets fail at basic resuscitation or fly their sim directly into the sun.”

 

Leonard grins. “I’ll try my best, sir. Though if they’re piloting sims into the sun, it might be good to have someone with a degree in clinical psychology around.”

 

Admiral Archer—Jonathan, and no, Leonard’s never going to be able to do that without grimacing and spluttering a little bit—laughs and laughs.

 

---

Leonard walks into his first class session of piloting, nodding at the professor who he’d spoken to before and finding a seat in the back where he can monitor the students, make sure nobody’s cheating or messaging on their comms during class. The class looks alright, actually, until two men slip into the two seats next to him.

 

“I’m just the TA,” he starts, not looking up from his PADD, “go sit up front.”

 

“I was just wondering,” George says innocently, “do I get extra credit for having hosted a TA for Christmas?”

 

Leonard feels himself blush as George gets up and leaves.

 

Chris leans in close to him, then. “And what do I get for knowing how my TA tastes?” he whispers, the look in his eyes a clear signal that he remembers the drunken kiss.

 

Leonard can feel his cheeks heat even more, and wonders if it’s too late for him to pull out of this TA commitment after all.

 

“Go sit up with the rest of the students,” he mutters, pressing a hand to Chris’ back and feeling the warmth of his flesh, even though his cadet reds.

 

He comms the other TA for the course immediately and tells her she has to be responsible for grading Chris Pike and George Kirk. She tells him the whole school and possibly the whole damn planet is aware of the so-called Triple Threat—is that what they’re called, when they’re all together?—and she was already planning on it.

 

Leonard remembers Christine Chapel, remarkable nurse and his veritable right hand, and thanks any deity he can think of and then some for the small mercy of competent women.

 

---

If anything, this semester is harder than the fall. He has more responsibilities now that he’s TAing. Those responsibilities come with additional funds, yes, but they cut into his time at the hospital, which pays much better. Still, it wouldn’t do to piss off his instructors, and it’s not like he needs a ton of money, as a single person who no longer has to pay alimony or child support because his wife hasn’t even been born yet.

 

He grades papers in between patients and during lulls in the ER and in between surgeries scheduled and unscheduled in the OR.

 

The first two months of the course are dedicated to the mechanics of flight rather than the practice of it, and his students haven’t so much as seen the inside of a sim all semester.

 

Sometimes he goes into the sim and does his homework, recording the odd personal log entry. He falls asleep in there a few more times. George might’ve considered chewing him out when he and Chris arrive to fetch him, but Leonard must really look like shit—they don’t say a word, just bring him back to the room he shares with Chris and lay him in his bed. Each of them takes off a boot and they pull a blanket over him, leaving him in his cadet reds.

 

---

“You’re getting thinner,” George says to him one day.

 

“Am not. It’s these cadet reds, they’re slimming,” Leonard retorts, eyes still scanning the responses to the homework they’d given out in intro tac-ops. Half the cadets don’t know how to think, most of the other half think they’re geniuses, and a few of them actually are.

 

It’s almost exhausting, really. Had he ever been this bad at tactics? He couldn’t possibly have been. Jim would’ve fixed it, tutored him and taught him how to think in unconventional nonlinear ways to find creative solutions to fit strange, novel problems.

 

Or hell, maybe Leonard’s just smarter than some of these kids. Who knows.

 

“No, you’re thinner. When I saw you changing at my parents’ place, you had abs. Do you still have abs?”

 

Leonard shrugs, a little defensive. “Not all of us can be supermodel pretty while trying to get a couple of degrees, George. I’m doing my best here.”

 

“I know you are.” George’s voice is quiet. Since they’d gotten back to San Francisco, things had calmed down.

 

George is still in his room with his roommate, and Chris is miles easier to live with. None of them have much time to just hang out anyway, and being constantly stressed means that when they see each other, all they feel is a brief fondness before other matters occupy their brain space.

 

“You need to let some things go, Lenny. You’re killing yourself here. I know you’re planning to head out to Andor over the summer to do fieldwork and collaborate with other scientists out there. How the hell do you think you’re even going to function after a semester like this if you keep going?”

 

“I think I’m going to function fine, because that medical mission isn’t until July, leaving me a month and a half to rest and prepare.”

 

“Drop something or I’m telling Archer you’re looking a bit peaked.”

 

“The Admiral isn’t my dad. Besides, he knows I can do this, we talked about it and everything.”

 

“So should I just write to him then? Ask him to meet with me about some concerns I have regarding a certain medical cadet?”

 

“I am a fucking Lieutenant Commander. I was on the cusp of a promotion, for fuck’s sake,” Leonard snarls at him, “I have held lives in my hand, determined the fate of entire civilizations with what I do in the lab. Trust me to know what the fuck I can handle, Cadet. When you’ve been through what I’ve been through, then you can tell Archer on me. Until then, you’re not my dad, you’re not my brother, and you can kindly get the fuck out of my face.”

 

George doesn’t say another word, just gets up and walks away, dumping the rest of his food into the trash and walking away.

 

“Well done, Lieutenant Commander,” Chris says coolly.

 

“What, you want a turn now, Christopher?”

 

Chris grins at him. “Full names, Leonard Horatio McCoy? Are we really going to do full names, here?”

 

Leonard finally cracks a smile, shoving at him playfully. “I’ll find him later and apologize. It’s just frustrating. I was being approached for professorships, before I got sent back here. I was running around giving talks on different planets, to packed auditoriums, people of all species listening to me with a translator. And now I’m just a fucking cadet, and people think I’m doing too much because I’m TAing a few classes.”

 

Chris lays a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. “I think you need a backrub tonight, before you get so tense you physically break in half.”

 

“As a physician, I’m not sure that’s possible,” Leonard says blandly, “but as a student, you’re fucking right I do.”

 

He sends George a comm to apologize. He drops out of the medical cadets’ Journal Club and starts relinquishing some of his TA responsibilities to his colleagues, so the division of work is more equal.

 

George doesn’t respond to the comm, so Leonard arrives at his room, much to the displeasure of his roommate. Leonard doesn’t even know the guy’s name, and as far as he was concerned, the guy might as well not even exist. But he scowls when Leonard makes himself at home on George’s bed, continuing to work until George comes back.

 

“Use your Christmas gift,” Leonard says quietly.

 

George grins crookedly. “What, you want me to throw the picture frame at you?”

 

“One of the other ones. Let me read to you, or let’s go out and get a drink. I just—I’m sorry. You’re right. The very fact that I went off on you like that, it’s just more proof that you’re right. I have lost a few pounds. I was hoping you and Chris wouldn’t notice, but—“

 

“Oh please, like the Terrible Twosome have anything else on their minds other than you and getting in your pants—“ the disgruntled roommate mutters.

 

“Ignore him. I do, most of the time.” George instructs.

 

“Come over to ours, then, Georgie. Let’s go in there. We’ll drink a few beers while grading, and maybe we’ll put on a holo or something and all fall asleep fifteen minutes in.”

 

George nods. “I care about you, Lenny, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be your punching bag forever. So watch yourself, okay? I’ll forgive you as many times as I can, but I can’t take this sort of thing forever.”

 

“I’ll work on it, make sure I’m getting better,” Leonard promises, and this time, he means it.

 

He schedules an appointment with a therapist and adds another appointment to his weekly schedule.

 

---

The therapy works, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Leonard’s actually studied therapy and how it works, and it’s good that he’s finding more productive ways to relieve stress. It’s perhaps less good that those productive ways typically involve exercising in time he doesn’t have to spare. Occasionally, all three of them do go out, and when they do, Leonard finds someone to hook up with and he’s back in his room, in his bed, before Chris wakes for his first class.

 

Personal Log, Leonard H. McCoy. New entry, note time and date.

 

You’d be proud of me, Jimmy, Leonard starts halfheartedly. I slept with the neuro nurse again today. It’s like you from first year all over again. Only I used to hate that you did that. I knew it helped calm you down, but I fucking hated it. And I think the man I was then would be disappointed in the man I am now. The other day, I wanted to get into a fight, wanted to feel that adrenaline pumping. But I thought of you, and how long it took us to break that habit of yours. So I went to the gym and beat the shit out of a punching bag instead. Are you proud of me?

 

I’m not.

 

Love you, Jim.

 

---

He hits a wall with the Andorian measles vaccine. He gives up the idea of a universal vector. Instead, he focuses on Andorian physiology and a suitable carrier substance for that species.

 

Three weeks later, he’s got a list of six promising carrier molecules. He starts running sims.

 

One of his molecules survives the sim. Well, that’s not quite right. All of his molecules survive the simulated trials. Only one of his simulated Andorian patients survives, though.

 

---

Valentine’s Day comes around, and Leonard can think of nothing better to do than wallow in an empty flight sim for a few hours before drinking himself unconscious with his two best friends.

 

He’s curled up in the sim with a cheap flask. He clears his throat and speaks clearly, enunciating to counter any slurring from the alcohol.

 

Personal log, Leonard H. McCoy. New entry, note time and date.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart. I’m sorry I missed it, darlin’. I know—god, I know we both pretend that this day is nothing to us, but we’re lying, aren’t we? We’ve been lying about it all this time. I loved when you got me roses when we were at the Academy, even if I scowled at you and told you there was no point in handing me something that was slowly dying and telling me it was romantic. I think you liked it, too, when I arranged that candlelit dinner that one night on the Enterprise. Do you remember? You do, I bet. That’s all we have left now, is our memories.

 

Honestly, Jim, if I just had a picture of you—that would mean so much to me, to have a picture of you. Some days, I almost believe it was all a dream, that I dreamed you up, you stupid, perfect man. I couldn’t have dreamed up a gorgeous blond with all your issues, I know that. If I did, that would mean my own issues were way worse than I thought, y’know? He laughs a little, bitter and weak.

 

My hand remembers the curve of your jaw. I remember it, Jim. I remember tilting your head up and checking you for concussion, studying the dilation of your pupils. I remember kissing you there, feeling your pulse beat against my lips. My body remembers the curve of your jaw, Jim. I just can’t remember what it looked like. How was it different from George’s? Was your face narrower? Broader? Rounder? Sharper? God, I hate my fucking brain for losing you. I dream you every night, and you’re there and perfect—so why can’t I fucking remember your face when I’m awake?

 

Maybe because it’s been eleven months since I’ve seen you. At least you have the pictures, sweetheart. I—I’m not ready to say I hope you’re happy with someone else. I’m not ready to say it. I’m a selfish bastard, I know. But I’m miserable without you, and it would hurt, if you were happy with someone else. Spock, maybe. That amazing partnership that Selek told you about, remember? Maybe it was good that I got taken away.

 

Who the hell am I trying to kid? It sucks, and I miss you. Maybe next year on Valentine’s Day I’ll be ready to hope you found happiness in someone else.

 

Love you, Jim.

 

He goes home and gets so spectacularly drunk that he can’t remember anything in the morning, and Chris looks at him with so much sympathy that it hurts to meet his eyes. George avoids his eyes entirely, shuffling to the kitchen to replicate some coffee. Chris fetches the hangover hypos from Leonard’s stash, and injects George first, then Leonard, and then himself. He lays himself down in Leonard’s bed and wraps himself around Leonard’s body, holding him as if that’s enough to keep him from breaking.

 

George brings them coffee and sits at the foot of the bed, his hand wrapped around Leonard’s ankle.

 

---

 

Maybe it’s therapy, but Leonard runs out of energy for his newfound promiscuity by the end of March.

 

Instead, he goes back to Chris and George and the sim. He still hits the gym, mostly because George has some magical sixth sense of when he’s lost weight and Chris arches an eyebrow when he eats too much junk. His tried-and-true methods of stress relief.

 

As midterms approach, his own coursework goes up, but so does all the grading and proctoring and exam-administering he has to do as a TA.

 

He submits the final proposal for his medical mission to Andor, and receives approval within forty-eight hours, an almost unheard-of turnaround for the time of semester.

 

He administers nearly all of the piloting practical exams, while Emma, the other TA, grades the short-answer exams. The professor is also around, and Leonard knows full well he’s dealing with other stuff. But sometimes, when he’s eyeball-deep in papers to read and exams to grade, he wonders what the hell it is that professors even do when their TAs are doing so much of the work.

 

Chris is assigned to take the piloting practical first, and it’s almost unfair, Leonard thinks, as he saunters into the sim.

 

“Dr. McCoy,” Chris says as a greeting, the use of his professional title almost a mockery when everyone knows that they’re on a first name basis. What not everybody knows is that Leonard himself taught Chris how to fly a damn shuttle, some six months before everybody else. It’s no wonder that Chris gets a near perfect score.

 

George doesn’t have his assessment until the next day. Leonard’s actually interested in seeing the results as compared to Chris, because he knows the two of them have something beneath their friendship—some competition to be the best pilot, the first to get a ship, who knows what else.

 

(Leonard has an idea as to what else, and it involves him, but he is very rarely so proud as to think about it.)

 

George blows it out of the water. He gets a perfect score and then some.

 

Leonard brings home Chris’ favorite Chinese to make up for it, avoiding the topic of who performs better and simply saying he’s proud of both of them for being the top of the class.

 

He gets an email from the professor, who’s understandably skeptical that his two best friends are the top performers in the class.

 

Leonard emails him back and tells him that he’d done some piloting work with them in the fall. He also invites the professor to administer their practical a second time.

 

The professor takes him up on it.

 

The second time, Chris comes in first, a dead perfect score. George forgets to turn off the inertial dampeners, so for eight seconds, his simulated shuttle sits on the ground and he wonders why until he places the issue.

 

Leonard brings home George’s favorite Italian food for dinner and tells them both how proud he is of his boys for being the top of the class.

 

Chris waits until George heads back to his own room before grinning wide.

 

“Come on, it’s okay to admit you were rooting for me,” he teases, “it’s okay to root for the little guy, Len.”

 

“Little? You’re both huge,” Leonard says, purposely misunderstanding the question so he doesn’t have to admit that yes, maybe he was rooting for Chris, the incredibly smart guy who worked harder than anybody else he knew, over George, to whom things always seemed to come a little bit easier.

 

“Blink if you were rooting for me, Lenny.”

 

Leonard keeps his eyes open until they burn and finally blinks.

 

Chris crows in victory and jumps into Leonard’s arms. Leonard laughs too, picking him up off his feet and spinning him around before he puts him back down.

 

“You were pretty fucking good, though,” Leonard admits, once they’re both collapsed on the couch, out of breath from laughing.

 

“Had a pretty fucking good teacher. And I’m not talking about that useless professor, y’know.”

 

“He’s not useless,” Leonard says halfheartedly, “just you were too advanced for that class, that’s all.”

 

“More advanced than your Georgie,” Chris says with a grin.

 

“Oh, stop it, it’s one-one, Chrissy. Next time I take the pair of you out on a real shuttle, that’s when we’ll really figure it out. The sim’s great, it’s just not the real thing. Nothing’s as good as the real thing.”

 

“I remember,” Chris says quietly, calm again as he looks at him. “I remember, Len. When can we go up again? Do I have to be hysterical after an exam for you to want to take me?”

 

“I believe I promised you a shuttle ride for Christmas, when you decide to redeem that offer’s up to you.”

 

Chris looks at him and nods solemnly.

 

---

 

It’s the fifth of April when Chris demands a shuttle ride out of the blue. He presents his coupon, not allowing for any negotiation until Leonard’s dressed and ready and following him across campus to coerce a reluctant admin to give him another favor.

 

When they climb into the shuttle, Chris hops over to the copilot’s seat like before, but Leonard shakes his head.

 

“You’re flying us today, Chris. Remember your steps, and I’m right here, whenever you have a question or need help. And if you’re not sure about something, ask. I’d rather you ask me a thousand questions than just pretend you know what you’re doing and get us both killed.”

 

Chris nods, sitting up straighter. “Tell me if I’m making any mistakes,” he orders.

 

He inhales and exhales slowly. He stands up and does a visual inspection of the craft. Leonard follows behind him because a second pair of eyes is always helpful.

Chris doesn’t see anything wrong and neither does Leonard and they settle in their respective seats.

“I know you don’t like being in shuttles when other people are flying,” Chris blurts out, “George said so. Are you sure you don’t want to be the pilot?”

“You’re not other people,” Leonard says confidently, “you’re Chris. Do your systems checks and diagnostics now, come on. I know I’m in good hands.”

Chris does everything exactly as he was told and he checks the inertial dampeners three times before trying to take off.

It’s early evening in San Francisco, the sun just beginning to dip below the surface.

Chris takes them east into the night.

 

It’s quiet, as they fly, the steady hum of the shuttle around them reassuring Chris that he’s doing just fine.

 

“We could just around like this forever,” Leonard says with a dreamy look out at his planet. “Stay in the night, hiding from the sun. Live up here, in this tiny little shuttle, just you and me.”

 

“I wouldn’t mind,” Chris says with a smile, taking his right hand off the controls for just a moment to squeeze Leonard’s.

 

“I could fall asleep right now,” Leonard murmurs, “it’s been ages since I could sleep in a shuttle properly. I can doze, like I used to when I was on call, but it’s been a long while since I could sleep, since I could dream on a shuttle.”

 

“Am I that boring?” Chris teases, eyes lit up with laughter.

 

“No,” Leonard says firmly, “I dunno. Guess I feel safe when you’re in control. Helps that I trained you myself, too.”

 

“Would you feel this safe if it was George flying?”

 

“No,” Leonard admits quietly, “he’s a good pilot, but you’re steadier, more careful than he is.”

 

“I can be reckless, too.” Chris presses the button for autopilot to take over, right as they’re over the Chinese mainland.

 

“Yes, I know,” Leonard agrees, “are you going to kiss me?”

 

Chris grins, mischief sparkling in his eyes. “Not this time, Len. Too predictable.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“You could always kiss me, though. I wouldn’t mind.”

 

Leonard rolls his eyes and leans across, pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek. “Happy?”

 

“Ecstatic, actually.”

 

“This isn’t a bad idea for a date, y’know,” Leonard mentions offhandedly.

 

“That is what I was thinking,” Chris admits.

 

“Bring someone prettier up here next time, then,” Leonard says with a pointed look.

 

Chris leans over the controls, switching the shuttle back to manual piloting.

 

“Can’t think of anyone I’d want to bring more than you,” he says very softly, not meeting Leonard’s eyes. “Do you wanna go round and see the moon before we head back?”

 

“Stay on the bright side of the moon, then,” Leonard orders, “the dark side has the lunar base, there’s a lot going on there, more risk of getting into trouble.”

 

Chris nods, and they go close, until they can see the maria clearly, even some of the bigger craters, and then Leonard touches Chris’ shoulder and they head back without a single word.

 

Chris lands the shuttle without a single hitch.

 

“You were good, Chris,” Leonard says honestly, “people usually have some nerves when using a real shuttle for the first time. You did a great job, though. In the fall, you should think about advanced piloting, you’d build more maneuverability, more agility. It’d be useful for flying into challenging situations like warzones. Hikaru’s the best pilot in the ‘Fleet because of how good he is in those situations. He has some of that recklessness George has, but it’s always under control when he’s flying a shuttle. You could be as good as him, Chris. Just something to think about.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. TA of intro piloting,” Chris teases, “now can I have my best friend back?”

 

Leonard scowls at him, but he can’t make himself hold it. “Why now?” he asks quietly, “why did you pick now to cash that in?”

 

“It’s been a year since you got here. I know I slipped up a few times, but—I wanted to wait a year, show you that respect. I know J wasn’t—I know he was your everything, and losing him wasn’t just a breakup, it was grief. I wanted to give you time with that. And the last thing I wanted was for you to think my friendship was somehow conditional on you putting out. God, Len, that’s not how it is at all—“

 

“But now you’re ready to start courtin’ me or something?” Leonard asks.

 

“Now I think you’re ready to maybe start taking some steps in that direction,” Chris agrees, “and I think you’re ready to know how I feel about you.”

 

They disengage their safety belts and Leonard—he’ll never be able to explain why—pulls Chris into a kiss that feels like a promise, just the one before he steps back, feeling the heat in his cheeks and knowing that he’s just gone red.

 

“You might be right,” he says, surprised to find his voice low and husky, “but I’m not rushing into anything.”

 

“I’m not asking you to,” Chris says instantly, and his eyes are bright with a sort of happiness that Leonard’s never really seen there before.

 

They step out of the shuttle, still talking until they run into George, sitting on the steps leading up to the shuttle hangar. He’s half-asleep, curled up small, and Leonard’s heart throbs in his chest.

 

He kneels down and squeezes George’s shoulder. “Georgie? Sweetheart, what are you doing here? What were you lookin’ for?”

 

“You,” George mumbles, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and groaning as he stands up. “You weren’t answering your comms, either of you. Went to your room but you were gone, figured this was as good a place as any to find you.”

 

“You found us,” Leonard says fondly, “now come on, let’s get you to bed, and in the morning, you can tell us what’s so important that you needed to find us in the middle of the night.”

 

George opts to just crash on Chris and Leonard’s couch, which probably has as much to do with his jerk of a roommate as it does with the fact that he’s just exhausted and heading for the nearest flat surface anyway.

 

Leonard gets him settled on the sofa and he’s about to head to his own bed to get some rest when George grabs his hand.

 

“It’s been a year,” he says quietly, “I know you hate it here and you miss him, but I’m glad I got to know you, Lenny.”

 

Leonard feels a lump in his throat. “I don’t hate it here, sweetheart. And you and Chris have been the best part of this whole thing.”

 

After Chris and George fall asleep, he leaves again, to find a quiet place to talk to Jim. It’s the middle of the night, so pretty much everywhere is quiet, so he just parks himself outside of the main entrance to the dorm.

 

Personal log, Leonard H. McCoy, note time and date.

 

It’s been a year since I’ve been here, Jimmy. I miss you every day. You’re the person I want to tell whenever something weird or cool or shitty happens. You’re the person I want to come home to. You’re the person I want to hold me as I fall asleep.

 

All that being said—George was wrong about me hating it here. It hurts—Jimmy, god, I can’t explain how much it hurts sometimes, and it’s frustrating to be nearly a Commander at home and suddenly back down to a cadet even though I didn’t do anything wrong—but life here isn’t all that bad, either. I—I don’t know if I’m going to make it back. I hope I do.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you’ve found someone else. What if you find me and you’re with someone else and you don’t love me anymore? What if you find me and you hate me for what I have with Chris, or with George? I love you, and I always will, but I love Chris and George, too. Would you hate me for that?

 

I love you, Jim Kirk. Take care of yourself for me.

 

---

Leonard Horatio McCoy, MD, PhD, FACP is declared dead exactly one year after his disappearance. Jim is fully aware that the main reason it took so long for that declaration to come was the personal insistence of Admiral Pike, who had used every bit of his not-inconsiderable pull to get the ceremony delayed until the Enterprise had shore leave on Earth. Winona Kirk had helped. Sulu is fully aware that Winona is so much more than just the Kelvin widow, but she’s not beyond playing the part now and then, to get what she wants. Her name is still recognizable around the entire Federation, her photograph dragged out every year and projected alongside Jim’s official Starfleet portrait on Remembrance Day.

 

The Vulcans have had their own say, too. They’re still an important part of Starfleet, even with their depleted numbers. They’re still a founding race of the Federation, and Leonard had overseen their recovery from the psychic trauma of losing an entire planet. Sarek and Selek had both made their positions extremely clear, and Spock himself had spoken to Admirals Barnett and Nogura, to make his own position clear on the fact that only Captain Kirk could officiate the ceremony.

 

Jim wants desperately to be Captain Kirk. He wants that mantle, wants to lean on it to get him through this ceremony clear-eyed and solemn. But when he’s looking at Leonard’s mother, and she’s looking at him, both of them grieving an unfathomable loss, Captain Kirk can’t save him. It would feel like a lie, giving Leonard’s mother a folded Starfleet flag and pretending he hadn’t loved her son more than anything in this entire universe.

 

Eleanora McCoy takes the flag with a straight spine and tear-filled eyes. But she looks at Jim as if he was a person, and not just a rank, and the sympathy in her eyes makes him want to cry.

 

He hands her the flag, and makes it through the ceremony feeling like his heart’s been carved out of his chest.

 

It’s not until afterwards that they’re allowed to grieve. Jim strips off his dress uniform as soon as possible, exchanging them for civvies. Jocelyn and Joanna are there, too, and that only makes it worse. Seeing Joanna, thirteen years old and fatherless, it crushes something in him that he hadn’t even known was there.

 

Eleanora holds him tight, and they both cry and cry and cry for each other’s loss.

 

Joanna comes up to him afterwards. “Uncle Jim,” she says softly, “do you still think he could come back?”

 

“He could, sweetheart. There’s a lot we don’t understand yet, about anomalies like this. He could come back at any second.”

 

“But do you think he will?”

 

“Honestly, JoJo? I don’t think so. I’m still working on it, but Starfleet—they’re pretty sure he’s gone.”

 

She nods, and the fact that she hasn’t cried once this whole time is deeply unnerving.

 

“Okay,” she says simply, “then maybe we need to be strong and move on. That’s what Daddy would want.”

 

Jim wants to be cruel, wants to say that she barely even knew her father. He wants to say that it’s easy enough for her to move on, when her mother’s married another man anyway, when she’s got a built-in replacement. He wants to say it’s not that fucking easy for him, when Leonard was the only person that Jim had ever loved like that, the only one who’d known every single thing about him, beautiful and ugly alike, and loved him anyway.

 

He wants to say these things, but he’s too busy trying not to cry.

 

Sulu lets himself into Jim’s apartment after the McCoys are gone. He helps Jim into bed, and when Jim holds onto his arm and doesn’t let him leave, he sleeps beside him, wondering if Jim will ever heal from this, wondering if he even can.

 

---

Spring break is coming, and Leonard remembers being an undergrad and traveling to Cancún, dancing in clubs where there were so many people they were all pressed against him. He remembers kissing strangers and drinking a shot off a girl’s stomach after having obscenely licked salt off a man’s hand.

 

This spring break is different. They’re all swamped with work and the prospect of a week off is less an opportunity to jet off to somewhere warm with beautiful people wearing minimal clothing than an opportunity to catch up on work and catch up on sleep.

 

They do plan to go away for the last three days, though, just down to Santa Barbara.

 

Leonard works and drinks and sleep and eats when George shows up at their room bearing food or Chris somehow sneaks into the hospital—the damn security know all about the ‘Triple Threat’ and let him right through—to deliver him a lunch on a day shift.

 

He doesn’t have much grading to do, since exams are coming up, and he can use the spare time to hit the gym and work out, or sleep, or to sit outside and work on his own coursework. He does his homework under the shade of a tree in the quad. Sometimes, he takes walks in the woods surrounding the east side of the Academy grounds.

 

Chris and George are busy, grading for their TA courses and studying for their own classes, too, but Chris makes an effort to be home every night for dinner. He flirts a little more than he used to, and Leonard’s starting to believe he means to follow through on what he’d said in the shuttle.

 

It’s almost exciting, to be pursued like this. It makes his heart jump and his hands sweat and it makes him blush like a schoolboy all over again, and Chris seems to revel in these little embarrassing reactions. It’s almost as if that’s what he’s aiming for.

 

---

“Hurry up,” George hollers, dragging his suitcase into Chris and Leonard’s room. “Boys, I swear to God, if one of you makes me miss this shuttle, I’ll—“

 

“Sit patiently for half an hour and catch the next one?” Leonard asks him.

 

“Probably, but I won’t talk to you for that whole half hour!”

 

“You heard the man, Chris, better slow it down, we might get a bit of peace that way.”

 

Chris grins at him. “You got it.” He starts moving in slow motion.

 

Leonard laughs and George reaches out and smacks him.

 

But for all their teasing, Leonard and Chris are all packed up. They head to the shuttle station and catch the shuttle they’d planned on catching, and therefore George doesn’t bother sparing them the pleasure of his conversation. Leonard and Chris wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

 

They catch a cab from the shuttle station in Santa Barbara to their hotel and drop off their bags. It’s warmer in Santa Barbara than in San Francisco.

 

“Let’s go to the beach,” Leonard begs, “I used to have such a nice tan before I entered Starfleet.”

 

They do, and when Leonard sheepishly asks Chris to put sunscreen on his back, he agrees cheerfully.

 

“Sure thing, babe!”

 

Leonard can’t quite process how the endearment makes him feel, but next to him on the other side, George’s reaction is all over his face.

 

“Lenny, is he—are you—?”

 

“Not yet,” Leonard says softly.

 

“We’re heading that way, though,” Chris says plainly, “I’m working on sweeping him off his feet. Takes a lot to sweep this one, though. You’re a tough man to sweep, Len, really.”

 

“Jesus, Chris, I thought we agreed—“ George starts, glancing at Leonard.

 

“I thought we did, too, until I found out you made your move at Christmas,” Chris says, voice carefully level. “You reneged on the agreement, George, we all know what that means.”

 

“You told him?!” George says to Leonard, sounding betrayed.

 

“He didn’t have to,” Chris lies, “it was all over you, George. The way you acted like a dog marking its territory, the way you got pissed when he hooked up with someone while we were in Rio. He didn’t have to say a single word.”

 

George inhales to say something, but Leonard sighs.

 

“Can we just let it go?” he asks them both quietly, “ideally, could you both let me go? I don’t want to be this guy, the one that’s tearing you two apart.”

 

“I can’t let it go,” George says, face serious, “because I want you. Chris can’t let it go because he wants you, too.”

 

“Well, then I’m not getting into anything with either of you. Bottom line, end of story. Playful flirting is one thing, but shuttle dates and kisses under the mistletoe—I’m done with that. Anyway, I’m going to go surf, you two can stay here and squabble if you want to, I don’t care.”

 

He finds a place to rent a surfboard and heads out, paddling out further than Kyle let them go in Rio. The Pacific is rougher than the Atlantic, too, but Leonard figures he might as well try it. He waits out the first few waves, then tentatively stands, only to wipe out immediately.

 

He tries again, and again, and again, and ends up in the water each time. There’s a larger wave coming, and Leonard is determined that this will be the one that he catches, and he takes a deep breath to prepare himself, standing on his board…

 

The wave hits him like a ton of bricks across his back, and instantly, he’s off his board. He tries to come up, but something hits him, hard on the crown of his head, and then the world goes dark.

 

Leonard thinks a hazy apology at Chris and George for dying in such an anticlimactic way, but his last thought is that he might see Jim again, finally.

 

He wakes in a strange hospital with each of his hands being clutched by another person.

 

“Chris—Chris wake up, he’s up—“ George says urgently, tears in his eyes that he tries to wipe away before Leonard can see them.

 

“Hey,” Leonard says with a smile, tongue thick and clumsy in his mouth, “don’ cry, Georgie. ‘m ‘kay.”

 

“I’m not fucking crying,” George mutters. The tear sliding down his cheek might contradict that, but Leonard decides to let it go, since his brain is still all fuzzy.

 

“You’re done,” Chris says tightly, “you’re not allowed to surf again as long as I’m alive, Leonard, I swear to God. Never again, do you understand me?”

 

“But—I was too far. Should’ve drowned.”

 

“No, you should’ve stayed closer to us, you stupid bastard,” Chris mutters, laying his head down on Leonard’s chest, right over his heart.

 

“We swam out to you,” George says softly. “We both did. We were coming to join you—we were done arguing, and then we saw you go down. At first we thought he’s a good swimmer, he’ll be okay—“

 

“And then you didn’t come up again, and I don’t think I’ve ever swam faster in my life, than I did trying to get to you,” Chris mumbles, still on his chest.

 

Leonard lays a hand in Chris’ hair. “You got to me,” he says tenderly, “you got me back, Chris. I’m okay now.”

 

“I was there, too,” George mutters.

 

“My two Prince Charmings,” Leonard says fondly, reaching up with his other hand and cupping George’s cheek.

 

“Two Prince Charmings?” the nurse asks as she comes in, eyeing Leonard’s monitors. “The rest of us have to get by without even one. You’re a lucky man, Mr. McCoy.”

“It’s Dr. McCoy,” George corrects, the slightest hint of acid in his voice.

 

“Georgie, it’s fine,” Leonard says quickly, “and I’m sorry about my two guard dogs, Nurse. I hope they didn’t give you too much trouble?”

 

“We gave them just the right amount of trouble,” Chris says, lifting his head off of Leonard’s chest and sitting up, “isn’t that right, George?”

 

“An appropriate amount of trouble, definitely.”

 

Leonard looks between the two of them and then up at the nurse. “You must have the patience of a saint, Nurse. I really am so sorry.”

 

“Could I have your number as an apology?” She’s joking, and Leonard can clearly see it, but he’s the only one.

 

No,” Chris and George say in unison.

“Right, Nurse,” Leonard says with a smile, trying not to blush, “thank you so much for your help, but I think we’ll get out of your very lovely hair now. Could you send the doctors in for a moment before I leave? I really am a doctor, so if I could get a rundown of things to be cautious about, that would be helpful.”

 

“You have a concussion,” the doctor says bluntly when he arrives a few minutes later.

 

“How bad?”

 

“Mild, but the oxygen deprivation and near drowning didn’t help matters.”

 

“Can we do a quick session under a regen or something? I’m a student—I know it’s ridiculous, look how old I am—but I have to get back to the Academy—I have too much work to do to suddenly have a concussion—“ Leonard starts.

 

“Oh, it’s okay,” Chris says, “I commed Archer.”

 

“Sorry, you what?! You commed an Admiral to tell him I hit my head?”

 

“Yeah. He gave me his number after the last time, with the Andorian measles. Told me to call if something like that happened again.”

 

“Oh god,” Leonard moans, “I’m going to get such a shit posting. And my medical mission to Andor! What if they cancel it?”

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” says a new voice, deep and familiar.

 

Leonard wants the earth to open up and swallow him whole.

 

“Hello, Admiral. Please tell me you were already in Santa Barbara and didn’t come over here just to check on me?”

 

“I’m not in the habit of lying, Leonard. Cadets Pike and Kirk, you are dismissed.”

 

George stands up instantly, but Chris lingers. “Sir, please—“

 

Go, Chris, don’t be stupid,” Leonard mutters.

 

Chris goes. His doctor also takes the opportunity to run, damn him.

 

“I’m really sorry, sir.”

 

“You don’t have to be, Leonard. Sure, it’s not ideal to hear that my favorite cadet’s unconscious in the hospital, but it was a freak accident. You couldn’t have known it was going to happen.”

 

Leonard nods, trying to swallow the guilt. “I’m a novice surfer, sir. I knew the waves were rough, but I just—I just wanted to try. And once I failed, I just wanted to keep trying.”

 

“My understanding is that you were under some emotional stress as well.”

 

“Yes, sir. It’s been a year now, since I arrived. I’m starting to come to grips with the fact that I may not get to go back.”

 

“I know you don’t seek out danger, Leonard. And I’m not mad at you. Once is a coincidence. Twice is shitty luck. Three times, and that starts to look like a pattern. I’m not going to be the one pushing to get you tossed out of the Academy, but there are others monitoring your progress. Some people are threatened by it. Leonard, do you understand what I’m trying to say?” Archer is serious, brows furrowed as he lowers himself into the seat that George had vacated only a minute ago.

 

“There’s only so much I can protect you from, Leonard. I’ve kept a lot of things about you private, classified to the highest levels. If you start attracting more attention, especially more negative attention, people will get curious. I already have contacts reporting that there are rumblings about you in Section 31 and in SI.”

 

“Starfleet Intelligence is interested in me?!”

 

“They’re intrigued, by the fact that the best intelligence agency in the known universe doesn’t even have a single piece of information about you that existed prior to a year ago. Men don’t come out of nowhere. Not good men. Not usually.”

 

Leonard nods. “I’ll stay under the radar for the next year, then,” he promises, “lay low, do all the things a regular uninteresting cadet does.”

 

Archer nods, the troubled expression on his face easing slightly.

 

“I talked to your doctors, by the way. They say it was pretty mild, your boys got to you in time. You may or may not be able to take your exams in time. This is on you. I can’t know what symptoms you’re experiencing. If you find yourself struggling, you contact me, and I will ensure you get the extensions you need. If you don’t contact me… well, not even I can save a student who performs poorly on his exams.”

 

Leonard nods. “I’ll self-monitor and report back to you.”

 

“See that you do. Now I’ll leave you in the at-least-somewhat-capable hands of the Terrible Twosome.”

 

“Oh, you know about that nickname?”

 

“I know everything that goes on at the Academy, Leonard, you ought to know that by now.”

 

Leonard grins. “So just to confirm, then, I’m your favorite cadet, Jon, sir?”

 

Archer grins back at him, just for a moment. “Leonard, my favorite thing about you is that you don’t usually ask questions you know the answer to.”

 

Leonard waves at him, settling back against the pillows as George and Chris come back the second Archer’s gone.

 

“So? Are you being kicked out?”

 

“Nah, Chris, let’s be realistic. Archer loves Lenny. Try to think of a single other cadet he’d travel to visit in the hospital. If it was you or me, he wouldn’t be here. He’s here for his favorite. Lenny’s not gonna get kicked out. Tell me I’m right, pretty doctor boy.”

 

“You’re right. I’m not being kicked out. He just came to see if I was okay and to tell me to knock it off. Anyway, I’m spending the thirteen months away from any sort of dangerous missions. I’m going to hang out in my lab, on the beach, maybe walk around in the woods—no more surfing for me, not until I get my posting.”

 

Chris looks more relieved than anything else. “He’s right about that, though, Len. You gotta knock it off. You’re gonna give me a heart attack one of these days.”

 

Leonard nods, taking Chris’ hand and pulling it to his mouth to press a kiss to the knuckles. “Thank you,” he says again, “for saving me and for calling Archer.”

 

Chris blushes.

 

George coughs.

 

“Gimme your hand, Georgie,” Leonard demands, before he can complain. He kisses it too before he hands it back.

 

“Now, which one of you is going to be responsible for keeping me awake?” he asks flirtatiously, “can’t let me sleep, y’know, not after a concussion.”

 

“Me!” Chris says quickly. George misses out only because he’s busy picking his jaw off the floor.

 

Leonard takes pity on him. “Come on, Georgie, you too, we’ve got to come up with something fun to do that doesn’t involve any alcohol or sleeping. Put that genius brain to work and get thinking.”

 

---

George falls asleep after two movies and the first episode of a sitcom.

 

Chris stays up longer, but he keeps pinching his arm, and Leonard grimaces when he catches a glance of it, the orderly line of little blue bruises that were the price Chris paid for staying awake.

 

“Go to bed,” Leonard says eventually.

 

“No,” Chris rebuts stubbornly.

 

Leonard thinks—and maybe Archer was right about him being good at tactics—he pulls Chris close to him on the sofa, wrapping an arm around him and taking his hand in his own. Chris smiles at the gesture of affection. He doesn’t know it’s so that Leonard can stop him pinching himself, or that being warm and comfortable will help lull him to sleep.

 

He sneaks out for a chat with Jim, leaving a note on Chris’ PADD just in case he wakes up and panics. He props it up right in front of him, so he’ll know to check.

 

He goes to the bathroom and takes out his PADD.

 

Personal log of Leonard McCoy, Computer, mark new entry.

 

Hey Jim. You wouldn’t believe what happened today. I got a concussion surfing. Do you remember how you kept trying to get me to go surfing before and I always said no? I was so right, babe. But I went way too far, fell off and got smashed up a bit by a rough wave. I probably would’ve drowned, if Chris and George hadn’t come and grabbed me outta the water.

 

I thought I’d be seeing you, sooner rather than later. But you’re not dead, so I wouldn’t have seen you anyway. You better not be dead, Jim Kirk, or I’ll fucking kill you myself.

 

Archer came to the hospital to come see me, can you believe it? Anyway, I’m okay, just thought I’d let you know that you’re not the only one who’s stupid and gets himself hurt.

 

Love you, Jimmy. Take care, darlin’.

 

He turns off his PADD and heads back to the sofa. Chris shifts just slightly when he comes back, and mumbles something, but Leonard puts an arm around him again, and starts the film again, determined not to fall asleep quite yet.

 

“Go back to sleep, sugar,” he says softly, kissing Chris on the temple until he settles back down.

 

That’s one day gone, in between the couple of hours on the beach and then the few hours in the hospital. So they’ve got two days left in Santa Barbara.

 

The next day, they go to Los Padres National Forest. It’s a bright, beautiful day. The sun is shining bright, casting dappled spots on the ground as it filters through the leaves of the trees.

 

They walk through the forest. Leonard can feel the tension leeching out of his muscles as he hears the sounds of the forest, the rustling of animals in the underbrush, the songs of birds chattering each other.

 

Chris tells them a story about the ranch, about managing the horses and learning to ride.

 

George decides to one-up him with a story about being lost in the cornfields for a whole three hours before he finally wandered over to a neighbor’s house. “The stalks were taller than me! Mom and Dad were nearly out of their mind, worrying about me, y’know. But when Sam called and let them know I was there, I got a hell of a lecture.”

 

Leonard tells them about when he was young, fourteen or so.

 

“There was this stallion. I was there when he was born, I reared him by hand. But he was wild, through and through. Nobody else would bother with him. I was the one who wanted to ride him. Had some romantic notion that he’d respond to me because I loved him so much. He did, I guess. He did, he didn’t bite me as hard. But I was riding him one day and he threw me. Broke my back.”

 

Chris just stops. George does the same, mouth open in disbelief.

 

“You broke your back?”

 

Leonard nods. “Bedridden for awhile. Put under a stasis field. My dad spent hours making calls to all the best spinal surgeons around the country, begging them to take a look at my case—I was pretty fucked, pelvis shattered, several vertebrae crushed—finally this guy from Yale, he took pity on us, I guess. Flew down and led the surgery effort. I was under for fourteen hours. When I woke up, my daddy was there, crying, and he told me I’d be able to walk again someday.”

 

Leonard glances at the sky. “And then I started crying, too. My mama cried for days, I think, practically weeks. That woman started crying the second I hit the ground and didn’t stop until a few days after I took my second first step.”

 

Chris looks ashen as he looks at him. George is still gaping, but he recovers faster.

 

“Well, that’s it, I’m definitely not telling any more fucking stories,” he jokes, trying to ease the tension.

 

His comm goes off and he blanches, looking at the two of them.

 

“Take the call, sweetheart, it’s fine,” Leonard says with a smile, “it was a long time ago, I’m over it, and I’m fine now. Go talk to whoever it is.”

 

George nods at him, still hesitant, and heads off in the woods, leaving Leonard alone with Chris.

 

Chris ignores him entirely and walks over to Leonard, who opens his arms for a hug.

 

Chris doesn’t want that, though, he pushes his arms back down and slips the backpack off Leonard’s back, laying it carefully on the ground before he pushes Leonard’s shirt up high, so it’s just below his neck.

 

“Chris? What are you doin’, sweetheart?”

 

“Looking for the scar,” Chris says gruffly, “I’m looking for the fucking scar, Len.”

 

Leonard knows where it is by heart, and he reaches back behind him and traces a finger down it, stopping at the waistband of his jeans, though it goes a little further down.

 

“Jesus, that’s a big scar,” Chris mutters. He’s careful about it, but he leans in and presses a kiss to the skin, the long pale line that bisects Leonard’s back. It’s nearly invisible against his skin, only there when someone’s looking at it. Chris leans down lower and presses a trail of kisses to the skin, not stopping until he’s kissing denim, and Leonard’s blushing scarlet and battling the feeling of arousal that’s welling up in him and blending into the tenderness he feels for this man.

 

“Chris, sweetheart,” he murmurs, “come here—“ He pulls Chris in and kisses him, long and slow.

 

“Thought you were done with us,” Chris says softly, once they’ve parted, “thought you were done, being the toy we fought over.”

 

Leonard shakes his head, still holding him close. “That was before you went and did something so fucking sweet,” he says tightly, “how’s a man supposed to resist that?”

 

“Well, ideally, a man wouldn’t.” The look on Chris’ face is—it’s sunrise after catastrophe, it’s the moon emerging from the clouds, and it might even be enough to restore hope to a cynical heart.

 

Leonard takes his hand and holds it in his own, lacing their fingers together.

 

What did I miss? George asks playfully as he comes back to join them again.

Leonard just shakes his head. Chris loosens his grip on Leonard’s hand, leaving him the choice of whether to let go. He doesn’t.

“Just a chat,” Leonard says quietly, “we just had a chat, is all.”

George nods, eyes locked to his friends’ linked hands as if drawn in by a magnetic pull.

Still, they talk and laugh as normal for the rest of the day, hiking until they’re soaked in sweat and even the thought of holding hands is unbearable, considering that their hands are sweaty and gross and touching another warm, living thing is suddenly repulsive. It feels natural, when their fingers unlock.

 

It feels even more natural when they hear the sound of running water and Leonard gets a grin on his face that he knows makes him look a little crazy.

 

“Shall we?” he asks his friends, but his eyes are on Chris, who holds his gaze even as he yanks his shirt over his head.

 

George lets out a whoop and they’re all stripping down and splashing into the lazy, slow-moving river.

 

The water feels amazing on their skin, and George is busy letting his whole body cool off when Leonard feels Chris trace the scar on his back again, finger slipping in beneath the line of his boxers to trace that last inch.

 

He almost can’t breathe when he sees the look in Chris’ eyes, the intensity, the yearning, the desire

 

He can’t think of any other way to get more contact with Chris’ skin, so he jumps onto him, a convenient excuse to trace the muscles of his chest, to feel the heat of his back, covered in cool water, to feel the vital movements of his breathing against Leonard’s own skin.

 

He gets off and gets tackled by George, who he tickles and hugs and tries to make sure that Chris knows—that he’s made his choice—

 

When Chris looks at him, it’s all fondness, no envy, just joy and amusement in his eyes, and Leonard feels something settle inside him.

 

They’re getting dressed when Chris runs a hand down his side and leans in to whisper to him.

 

“Just wait until I get you back to our room.”

 

Leonard knows instinctively that it means their room at the Academy, not their hotel room. It’s too close quarters with George to even consider starting a fight again like they’d done in Rio.

 

George, for all his pretty boy looks, isn’t stupid. That is something that Leonard’s well aware of, so he shouldn’t be surprised when George pulls him aside while Chris is in the shower.

 

“I’m backing off,” he says quietly, “I can see you two—you like him, and he adores you, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. So I might flirt, but know that I’m not serious about it. Not with either of you, okay, Lenny?”

 

Leonard nods. George turns away, but Leonard grabs onto his arm and pulls him into a tight hug.

 

“You’ll find someone, Georgie. Someone who’ll blow me and Chris right outta the water,” Leonard promises, “someone beautiful, someone you can have a family with, someday, when you’re ready. I’m not that person, and Chris—god only know why he picked me, but—I guess he’s not smart enough yet to want you.”

 

“Don’t,” George says firmly, “don’t talk about him like that. He picked you because he wanted to. Nothing to do with his intelligence. Just treat him well, Lenny. You can’t just keep breaking our hearts, man.”

 

Leonard nods. “I knew him,” he admits quietly, “before I got here, I knew a Christopher Pike. Maybe that’s why I gravitated towards him so much.”

 

“He told me once that I was an important person, in your time.”

 

“You were,” Leonard says quietly, “I was never lucky enough to meet you, but you saved J’s life, when he was young, and it changed his whole life. And I was always grateful to you for that, Georgie. Always. Because without him, I wouldn’t—wouldn’t have made it through the Academy, or into Starfleet. And I have you to thank for the fact that I did.”

 

George smiles, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Treat him well, Leonard. Chris deserves it, and so do you.”

 

---


They head back to San Franscisco around noon the next day. They drop George off at his room first, and then Chris and Leonard walk back to theirs, the air between them crackling with expectations and electricity.

 

The door whooshes open and they walk in and smell the air—smell home again. They set their bags down, and Chris looks at Leonard then, both of them wondering, wondering

 

“Fucking kiss me already,” Leonard whispers, and Chris doesn’t need any more than that. Leonard’s sat on his bed and holding a lapful of Chris and being kissed low and slow and deep until he feels like Chris is holding something more than just his body, something deeper and more profound—

 

When they finally pull away, Leonard’s panting, his arms wrapped tight around Chris’ lower back. “You’re good at that,” he murmurs, pressing his lips to Chris’ neck.

 

Chris hums, and this—sitting with Chris’ arms around him and his arms around Chris, even this feels like it might be enough.

 

“Might not be ready for anything else for a little while. I mean, not for sex,” Leonard says quietly, “I still feel so fucking guilty every time I want you.”

 

Chris nods. “Slow, then. We can do slow, Len. I’m a patient man.”

 

---

 

He tells his therapist about it, about how he’s reluctant to have sex with Chris, even though he’s so emotionally wrapped up in him, and cares about him more than he can express.

 

“Why do you feel the need to compartmentalize emotional and physical intimacy?” the therapist asks him, “you slept with someone in Rio—achieved physical intimacy despite repeated come-ons by friends you were attracted to. Why pick a stranger?”

 

“Didn’t want it to be a friend,” Leonard says slowly, furrowing his brow, “I thought it would be easier, if it was just physical, because I knew I’d never see him again, and that was okay.”

 

“And you think if you sleep with your Chris then it’ll be over? You’ll never see him again?”

 

“I think, with Chris, there’s a good chance that one of us will die in the next five years,” Leonard says carefully, “and I don’t know that I want him to hurt, if I’m the one who goes first.”

 

“So this is about Jim, then.”

 

“Isn’t it always about Jim?” Leonard asks, wan smile on his lips.

 

“Is it?” his therapist asks.

 

“Yeah. It’s always about Jim with me. You should know that by now, Doctor.”

 

---

 

Chris starts to consider his plans for the summer after they get back from Santa Barbara, and instead of just going home to his parents and lounging around on the farm, he signs up for a summer training mission, too. He’s going to be on the Reliant, the same ship that’s assigned to take Leonard’s medical mission to Andor. He’s so excited about it that it almost makes Leonard smile.

 

“You know it’s all scut work for cadets on training missions, right, Chris?” he teases him, one day when they’re each lying in their little twin beds in the dark, before sleep takes them. It’s early days yet, but Leonard suspects it won’t be much longer that they sleep in their separate beds.

 

“But it’s space! The final frontier! It’s going to be so exciting—so beautiful, Len—“

 

“Disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence,” Leonard says, an odd intonation in his voice as if it’s coming from a memory, “that’s what I had to say about space when I met J on the shuttle up to Starfleet.”

 

“Really? That’s… that’s pretty dark, Len.”

 

“I was fresh off a divorce and somewhere between still drunk off my ass and the hangover from hell. It was a dark place. J told me that Starfleet operated in space, in this voice, as if I was a fucking idiot to be doing what I was doing, when he joined up because of a fucking dare from Ch—from this Captain I knew.”

 

Leonard looks at Chris and imagines him older, giving Jim that dare that he couldn’t possibly turn down, the challenge of being better than his father, of outshining him. He looks at this Chris, young and excited about space and head over heels for George Kirk, and wonders how he ever said those words, how he ever invoked the image of his dead lover to provoke his dead lover’s son into joining Starfleet.

 

“Who got you to join Starfleet?” Chris asks him, instead of pushing for more information about Jim.

 

Leonard grins and turns over in his bed, laying on his side and looking towards where Chris is barely illuminated by the moonlight coming through the window. “You did,” he says simply.

 

Chris’ eyes go wide and he looks at him. “Me? You gave up the rest of your life to be in Starfleet because of me? Just because I asked you?”

 

“You were very convincing,” Leonard says quietly, “and I trusted you, even then, as much as I trusted anybody. You seemed like a good man. A man with integrity. My dad had just died, and my wife had just left me. I wanted to run, but I had no direction. You gave me a direction and let me go.”

 

Chris thinks on it for a little while. “I’m sorry your dad died,” he says finally, very quiet.

 

Leonard smiles. “Thank you, sweetheart,” he says, not quite thinking about the endearment until after it’s already slipped out.

 

“I got you into Starfleet, and now you’re here with me. Hell, you outrank me. That must be—wow.”

 

“That’s why I nipped the Lieutenant Commander thing right in the bud,” Leonard informs him, “it was a total mindfuck, when you’d outranked me since the day we met.”

 

Chris hums, and they go quiet, but it’s a long time before sleep finds either of them. Leonard spends the time thinking about Jim, about how the man in the other bed had changed both of their lives, how his loss had devastated both of them, but especially Jim, who’d lost the closest thing he’d ever had to a father. He thinks back to the first time he’d seen Chris, a man he’d known to be dead, young and healthy.

 

“You know, I think one of my friends had a crush on you when we were at the Academy,” he admits.

 

Chris lights up. “Yeah? Was she cute?”

 

He was half your age and drop-dead gorgeous,” Leonard says bluntly, not a single second of hesitation, “but he was pretty fucked up, too. It was a dad thing, I think. He looked up to you so much, and he’d never had a father, and—well, you saved him, like you saved me. More than once. I don’t think you ever acted on it, even though he flirted a lot.”

 

Leonard fixes him with a look, unrelenting in his eye contact. “I would have been disappointed, if you had acted on it, Chris, because I don’t think that’s the sort of man you are.”

 

“It’s not—I’m not,” Chris agrees quickly, “it’s just—flattering, I guess. That even when I’m old cadets will have crushes on me.”

 

Leonard barks out a laugh. “You were really handsome, Chris, so don’t worry about losing your looks.”

 

“What about you?”

 

“What about me?” Leonard answers. His eyebrow shifts upward, but in the dark, Chris probably can’t see it.

 

“Stop it, I can hear your eyebrow going up,” Chris mutters, “what I meant was, did you ever crush on an instructor or a superior officer?”

 

Leonard grins crookedly, hoping Chris can’t see it. “There was a pretty hot Admiral I used to know, and before you say anything, no, I’m not talking about Archer. And then I served under this Captain, once. He was beautiful, Chris. Absolutely beautiful, and I adored him, and I think he knew that.”

 

“Did you ever serve with me?”

 

“I did, once. It was—something I’ll never forget.”

 

“Was J there?”

 

“He was, yes. He wasn’t supposed to be, but I smuggled him onto the ship.”

 

“You what?”

 

“I wasn’t a model officer then. Still don’t really think I am now. I couldn’t bear to leave him, so I brought him with me.”

 

“What happened?”

 

Leonard inhales, slow and measured and exhales on a sigh. He’s quiet for a long time before he answers, long enough that Chris clears his throat gently, almost as if trying to remind him of the question. “What happened is we all lived. That was what happened. You lived, I lived, he lived. We all made it back home. A lot of people didn’t.”

 

Chris doesn’t say another word. There’s something in the air, a sort of expectancy, and Leonard suspects they both lay awake for a long while, Chris wondering and Leonard remembering.

 

---

Chris kisses him when he comes home from therapy, when he comes home from the hospital after a shift, when they both come home together from a command seminar or when Leonard comes home alone from a medical seminar.

 

He kisses him good morning, and good night, and Leonard can’t help but sink into the ritual of it. He kisses Chris, too, when he comes back from hand-to-hand, or from a class that he doesn’t share with Leonard, or from the library.

 

Leonard starts to learn Chris, in a way he hadn’t before. He learns about the languid morning Chris, who presses his lips to Leonard’s for just a few seconds before trotting off to the bathroom for a shower or to the kitchen to make coffee.

 

He learns the Chris who sees him come home miserable after a shift where he loses someone, who strips him naked and steps into the shower with him and carefully washes his skin and presses his lips to every inch of it. He learns the way Chris kisses him when he wants to forget, when he wants Leonard to forget, open-mouthed and deep, tongue tracing at Leonard’s teeth.

 

Sometimes Chris cuddles up to him while they do their homework, pressed right against his side. Leonard puts an arm around him and that, he learns, always makes Chris let out a happy little hum and turn his mouth for a quick kiss before they each go back to doing what they were doing.

 

Chris drags him out to the gym, too, sometimes, with promises of going out to breakfast afterwards or buying him a drink or watching a film that Leonard wants to watch. They’re all little thing, the rewards, but Leonard still goes with him, and even the sweaty post-workout kisses are worth it.

 

Sometimes, after they’ve been to the gym together, Chris will bring him home and they’ll shower there, and then it’s more intense, skin against water-slicked skin, the feeling of having all of Chris against him—and sometimes they rock against each other, erections pushed against thigh muscles, kissing desperately until they both come. After the orgasm, Chris is always tender, always careful, as if Leonard could break from a harsh touch. For that moment, and that moment only, Leonard doesn’t mind, the way Chris’ hands are gentle on him as they both collapse onto the nearest bed (Leonard’s) and fall asleep.

 

He dreams of Chris, sometimes. He dreams of the round, firm muscles of his ass, of his well-shaped and generous thighs, of his calves, of his cold toes and his warm eyes.

 

He dreams of Jim, sometimes, warm memories that feel like an earthquake in his heart when he wakes, earth-shattering but only to him.

 

Sometimes, and this is perhaps the worst of all, he dreams about George, kissing him under the mistletoe and curling up in his childhood bed, and taking him up in a shuttle and taking him apart on the beach in Rio.

 

Because his mind is hopelessly confused and hopelessly entangled with all three of them, the dreams aren’t always separate. They bleed into each other and Jim’s toned abs shift to Chris’ strong legs, to George’s broad, well-defined back, the eyes shifting from loving to passionate to infinitely curious, mischievous, adoring, familiar, heated—

 

Leonard usually wakes from those dreams feeling like a piece of crap, slipping out of bed to hide in the bathroom and talk to his PADD.

 

Personal Log, Leonard H. McCoy. Computer, please note the time and date.

Jim—I dreamed about you last night. You were there, and I was there. We were in bed, I could feel how warm you were, all pressed against me—neither of us was wearing anything. It was like the first time we made love in your bed, do you remember? After we got back from the Narada and we were staying in our firm room, waiting for our assignments, going to debriefings—anyway, it was like that, the sunlight just starting to come through the window, and it lit you up, so your outside was glowing, radiant to match your insides, darlin’. And I was touching your arms—you remember how much I love your arms, right babe? But when I looked back at you, it wasn’t you anymore. It was Chris, and I squeezed his thighs—he’s got great thighs, you know—and when I looked back at his face, it was George. But you and Georgie, you kept switching, your face morphing into his and then back to yours—

I felt sick when I woke up. I thought—I thought my mind at least was still yours and nobody else’s, but even there I picture George and Chris, and I feel so bad about it.

 

---

One day, he’s sitting on the sofa, kissing Chris lazily, mind still half on what he’d been working on the lab, trying to adapt the vaccine for species with copper-based blood—mostly aiming at Vulcans.

 

Chris presses his lips to that spot on Leonard’s neck that always makes him a little weak at the knees, and then laves over the skin with his tongue.

 

Leonard lets out a little groan, and he’s not thinking about the vaccine at all, even as they slip into his bed, stripping off clothes and pulling each other off, still kissing until Chris comes, the arch of his back and the round o of his mouth almost sacred, and Leonard drops his kisses all over his skin, careless in a way he never is, not with anything else. But Chris deserves this, every inch of his skin equally worthy, even though Leonard has his own favorite spots—his nipples, the warm flesh of his side, the slope of his trapezius muscle as neck becomes shoulder.

 

Chris finally loses his patience and shoves Leonard onto his back, straddling his thighs and stroking him harder, faster, until Leonard climaxes, arching up. Chris leans down to swallow his gasps and cries, taking them into his own mouth, swallowing them down his own throat.

 

Leonard drifts off, sleepy and sated and with Chris’ warm weight laying half next to him and half atop his chest.

 

In the morning, Leonard wakes up sticky, but it doesn’t matter, because he knows the right vehicle for Vulcans.

 

He lunges for a PADD and writes it down, everything he can think of.

 

Then, instead of rushing off to the lab, he wakes Chris by wrapping his lips around him and swallowing him down.

 

Chris gasps awake and shoves the blanket away, hand finding its way into Leonard’s hair, unable to look away as Leonard bobs and swallows, one hand shifting up to caress Chris’ cheek, tweaking a nipple as he pulls it back down to rest against Chris’ strong, hard thighs.

 

Chris comes explosively, and Leonard swallows every drop.

 

“What did I do to deserve that?” Chris asks, pupils blown wide as Leonard shifts upward and kisses him.

 

“You screwed me so good last night that I figured out the vehicle for Vulcans, you glorious, marvelous, wonderful man!” He punctuates each adjective with a kiss to Chris’ perfect, giggling mouth.

 

Chris laughs. “If you figured it out, babe, you better run to the lab, before you forget,” he says, still grinning.

 

“Nope, shower first,” Leonard says, laughing and pulling Chris out of bed.

 

Leonard gets dressed after the shower and heads out to the door with a travel mug of coffee.

 

“Go get ‘em, babe!” Chris says, eyes warm as he kisses him goodbye.

 

His idea totally works—his simulated Vulcan patient not only survives, but proves resistant to the Andorian measles virus. Leonard’s so fucking excited, he’s practically high.

 

He comes home, not letting Chris out of bed all night except to eat and drink and shower.

 

“God, I love it when you have a breakthrough,” Chris mutters, “I’ve never seen you like this before—“

 

Leonard presses his mouth to Chris’ nipple, and though he remains vocal, there aren’t many words, after that.

 

---

Final exams creep up on them. Leonard dives in headfirst. He doesn’t have much left in him—he can feel his energy reserves growing a little lower every time he wakes from too little sleep to go to the library to study.

 

He and Chris keep things friendly when George is around, and he’s around a lot, for their study sessions. But sometimes, Chris just has to give him a look and Leonard will just know he’s thinking about things, and just knowing that makes him flush.

 

George gets up to go to the bathroom now and then, and when he does, Chris pulls Leonard up and down one of the stacks to pull him into a harsh, desperate kiss.

 

“Stop thinking about sex when George is around, I can see it all over your face,” Leonard mutters to him, pressing his lips to Chris’ neck.

 

“But I gotta stay awake somehow, baby,” Chris whines, slipping a hand under his cadet reds to lay against Leonard’s stomach.

 

“Find a different way,” Leonard breathes, just an instant before he pulls away.

 

Chris makes a face at him, but Leonard looks back at him with a look so searing that Chris nearly drags him back to their room right that second.

 

---

 

Chris continues the tradition from the semester before and shows up at the hospital. They do study, when he does.

 

Mostly.

 

Sometimes, they hook up in the on-call room, but mostly, they study.

 

“Why doesn’t George come by anymore?” Leonard asks him, sitting on the sofa in the doctor’s lounge as they go over negotiation strategies for dilithium deposits.

 

“Dunno. Probably doesn’t want to intrude.”

 

“I don’t think he’d be intruding,” Leonard says carefully, “do you?”

 

Chris looks at him and smiles. “I’ll drag him with me next time. He’s still our friend, about damn time someone reminded him of it.”

 

“That’s my fella,” Leonard says, voice low as he leans in and steals a quick kiss.

 

“You know, I love how you care about him. It’s actually very attractive, Len—“

 

“Is it as attractive as when the Vulcans negotiated for access to dilithium deposits with the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri IV?”

 

Chris laughs and leans in close. “Stop talking smart, Leonard McCoy, you know it fucking turns me on—“

 

Leonard pulls back, leaving a hand on Chris’ thigh. “No, I’m actually serious. Tell me about the possible improvements to the Vulcan negotiating strategy. I was thinking they ought to have led with something else, make the Centaurans believe they didn’t value the dilithium as highly as they did.”

 

Chris rolls his eyes and obliges him.

 

---

The next time, George and Chris are both there in the doctor’s lounge, and Leonard grins and sits next to George.

 

“How ya been, Georgie?”

 

“Better than the Vulcans after negotiating with Alpha Centauri IV,” George teases.

 

“You told him about that?!” Leonard pouts at Chris, who has somehow become completely immune.

 

“You’re too old to play the injured puppy, Leonard McCoy,” he says, rolling his eyes.

 

“And come on, Lenny, it was pretty funny that you’re such a nerd you turned down a kiss so you could study. It’s actually kind of cute,” George says with a grin.

 

“I only have so much time in between patients!” Leonard protests, “and it’s not like we never kiss at home! We have exams soon, and I’m not a genius like you two are—“

 

At least two of the other doctors in the lounge look up and snort. The third is fast asleep, so she doesn’t comment.

 

“Not a genius, right,” Chris says with a little smile.

 

“I’m not—I actually have to study!”

 

“I know you do, baby,” Chris placates, “now tell me, what were the pros and cons about Captain Vo’loth’s negotiations with Cassia VIII?”

 

Leonard starts rattling things off, for the next five minutes before he gets called.

 

He gets up, ruffling George’s hair and pressing a kiss to the top of Chris’ head before he heads out, shoving his hands into the pockets of his white coat.

 

---

 

Leonard takes exam week off from the hospital, spending nearly all of it in George and Chris’ company. George practically moves in with them, crashing on their couch at night when they’re too tired to move. Leonard and Chris tamp way down on the affection with him around, but they loosen up enough that they start kissing when he’s around, if the kiss is short and sweet.

 

They stumble out of the dorms together, take their exams together, and stumble back together to study for the next ones. The exceptions come when Leonard’s taking exams for his medical coursework, and then Chris and George wait for him at home, though they’re usually both passed out over their PADDs when he gets home.

 

Being a TA sucks now more than ever. He takes to grading exams in the shower, having the computer read out the answers to him and dictating his comments. He grades over breakfast, studies over lunch, studies over breakfast, and then grades until he falls asleep.

 

He can get his hands on a few stimulant hypos, and now and again, when George and Chris really, seriously, desperately need it, he’ll give them one, but he’s cautious. Long term tachycardia, chronic anxiety, and disrupted sleep for a lifetime aren’t acceptable consequences for doing well on a couple of tests.

 

The boys know that, and they don’t push, bless them.

 

Chris and George finish before Leonard does. They come out of the exam room and come back to Chris and Leonard’s and crash, immediately, George sleeping in Leonard’s bed.

 

Leonard looks at them and smiles, arranging to have a pizza delivered in a few hours, when they’ll wake groggy and hungry and unwilling to do anything short of buzzing the delivery guy up. He pays for it, kisses them both on the forehead, and heads out to meet some of the other medical cadets for one last push.

 

He makes it through, and when he emerges from the medical sciences building, he looks up as if he’s seeing the sun for the very first time. It nearly drives him to tears, though that’s probably some emotional vulnerability brought on by sleep deprivation, stress, and stimulants. There’s also the concussion, which hasn’t been giving him too many problems except for a stubborn headache that never seems to go away. Then again, that headache could be from the stress, or the poor posture, or the sleep deprivation, or from staring at a PADD all day.

 

He shows up at home, grins at George, and falls into bed, still dressed and wearing his boots.

 

---

 

He sleeps for sixteen hours, not waking until a worried Chris sits down with him the next afternoon to check that he’s not actually dead or comatose.

 

He’s in his boxers when he wakes, looking up and blinking until Chris comes into focus.

 

“Hi, darlin’,” Leonard says warmly, tilting his head up and pursing his lips to receive a kiss.

 

Chris smiles and obliges him, but still looks a little worried. “Hey, Len. You good? You okay?”

 

He nods. “Just another semester, baby, just sleeping it off.”

 

“Okay. Eat something for me, then I’ll let you go back to sleep. Do you wanna come out and get drinks with me and George tonight?”

 

“Okay! If I feel good after sleeping,” Leonard says, cheerful because half-asleep, he’s always a little younger, a little softer.

 

Jim had used to love it, the soft pliant Leonard who agreed with everything, asked for a kiss every minute, and smiled as if there was no hurt in a world that had pained him so much.

 

God, he misses Jim.

 

Chris gets up and leaves, but suddenly Leonard can’t get back to sleep. He—had he actually forgotten about Jim? There’s been some time there, when he’d been so fucking busy, when all he’d thought about was molecular formulae, strategic operations, and piloting a shuttlecraft. He’d forgotten to miss Jim, in the midst of all that.

 

The thought makes him sick to his stomach, and he rises unsteadily, ignoring Chris’ approach and locking himself in the bathroom. He heaves into the toilet, but nothing comes up but bile, because he’d been too tired to eat when he’d gotten home.

 

His eyes stream and he looks in the mirror at this Leonard McCoy imposter, because the real Leonard McCoy had loved Jim Kirk and Jim Kirk only. The real Leonard McCoy wouldn’t be caught dead fucking Jim Kirk’s mentor, who he’d had a crush on, of all things.

 

He doesn’t go back to sleep.

 

The evening comes around after what feels like forever. George and Chris lead him to their bar, the one they always go to when it’s about them, and not about picking someone up.

 

Leonard drinks quickly, picking cheap liquor and downing it as if’s water and he’s dying of thirst.

 

He can’t take his eyes off of George tonight, and he knows Chris is confused by it—more concerned than annoyed, he hopes. But he blinks and George is Jim, warm eyes looking at him.

 

You look like shit, Bones.

 

He blinks again, and it’s George again.

 

“You alright, Lenny?”

 

Leonard nods, feeling moisture on his cheek and touching it. He looks up at the ceiling, looking for a leak in the roof.

 

“Sweetheart, you’re crying,” Chris says to him, holding both of Leonard’s hands in his own.

 

So he is.

 

“Sorry,” he says, looking for Jim out of the corner of his eye, waiting for him to come back. “Sorry,” he repeats, unable to even come up with a decent excuse.

 

He stumbles out of the bar and he’s halfway down the block before Chris catches up to him.

 

“What’s happening, Len?” his voice is so soft. Why is his voice always so fucking soft?

 

“Why don’t you hate me?” Leonard demands of him.

 

“What?”

 

“Why don’t you fucking hate me, Christopher? I still love him. I’m always going to love him. You understand that, right? He’s always going to come first.” By the time Leonard’s done, he’s shouting, and he’s making a scene, and a pale-faced George is sprinting over to them, probably late because he’d stopped to settle their tab.

 

Chris is ashen, looking at him like he doesn’t recognize him.

 

“Leonard, talk to me,” he begs, “please.”

 

“I stopped missing him,” Leonard confesses, through the lump in his throat, “I stopped fucking missing him. What does that make me? What kind of heartless, sick, worthless piece of shit stops missing the man he loves just because he has some fucking tests to take?”

 

George is the one who still has his head screwed on. He’s the one who grabs Leonard by the shoulder and leads him into a nearby alley, away from prying eyes.

 

Chris follows, reaching out to touch Leonard, who flinches away.

 

“You shouldn’t,” he whispers, defeated, “you should hate me, Chris. You shouldn’t want me still. Because one day, it’ll be a year later, and no matter how much I love you, no matter if you’re it, if you’re the man I want to spend my entire life with, if you’re the man I want to have children with, I’ll stop missing you.”

 

He’s sobbing, at this point, and George pushes him so that he’s sitting on his haunches, just inches above the filthy ground. George nudges his head down, until it’s between his knees in brace position.

 

George is rubbing his back and looking up to talk to Chris, who has a trembling hand over his mouth.

 

Leonard looks up to watch how his fingers shake, but George says something soft and pushes his head back down.

 

“Breathe slowly, Lenny. Breathe slowly. Chris—get his comm, I think we need to call the therapist, now—“

 

It feels like hours in that damp alley, his head between his knees, his hands tearing at his hair, wishing he was dead, wishing he was with Jim, wishing that he’d cared less about that one fucking patient and just waited until the goddamn electrical storm had passed.

 

It feels like hours until his breathing calms down, until he finally lifts his head and sees George sat down on the ground next to him.

 

“Where’s Chris?” he asks, voice hoarse, “did he finally wise up and leave?”

 

“No, he’s on the comm with the therapist, trying to figure out how we can convince you that it’s okay to be fucking happy.” George sounds exhausted, but when Leonard lays his head on his shoulder, he still wraps an arm around him. He still presses a kiss to Leonard’s temple and whispers that he loves him.

 

“You’re so like him,” Leonard whispers.

 

“I know, Lenny.” George sounds tired and resigned, “I’m sorry. I wish I could look different.”

 

“I don’t,” Leonard confesses, “he was so fucking beautiful, y’know. So fucking beautiful. I don’t even remember what he looks like—the details slip after so long, I can’t remember if he was taller than you or shorter than you, I can’t remember if he had dimples when he smiled big, I can’t remember all the scars on his body—I used to know them all by heart, George. And now—and now I just can’t remember—“

 

Leonard cries, long and silent, and George holds him in his arms until Chris calls for a cab to take them back to the Academy. George is the one who sleeps in Chris’ bed that night, next to Leonard in his bed. Chris is the one who avoids his eyes, whose own eyes are filled with tears, who sleeps on the sofa, away from Leonard.

 

Fucking finally, Leonard thinks to himself, finally, he’s learning.

 

He falls asleep to the sound of Chris crying quietly in the living room, the sound of his own heart breaking a second, third, millionth time with each hitched inhalation. 

Chapter Text

 

Fucking finally, Leonard thinks to himself, finally, he’s learning.

 

He falls asleep to the sound of Chris crying quietly in the living room, the sound of his own heart breaking a second, third, millionth time with each hitched inhalation.

---

 

Leonard wakes to a pounding headache.

 

George looks over at him from Chris’ bed. He looks haggard, and Leonard hates himself.

 

“I’m so—“

 

“—sorry, Leonard, yes, I know,” George says quietly, “here—I found it in your nightstand. For the headache.” He stands up and crosses the space between them to sit on Leonard’s bed, watching him inject himself with the painkiller.

 

“Your therapist said it was a panic attack, but I think it was maybe a little more attack than it was panic,” George says, “me, I’m one thing, Lenny, but did you have to hurt him so badly?”

 

“I don’t want him to hurt. That’s why he should leave me,” Leonard says earnestly, frowning at the way George just rolls his eyes. “People I’m with get hurt,” he repeats, “and I don’t want him to get hurt. He should stop caring about me, let me go—you both should.”

 

“You really think it’s that easy?” George asks him, “you think it’s a choice, for him to care about you? It’s not, Lenny. It’s not a choice. Do you honestly think I would’ve chosen to fall for the same man my best friend had a thing for? I know you think I’m selfish, but if I’d had a choice, I would have just let you two be happy. I couldn’t help that I wanted you, and when I had a chance, when I thought that maybe you wanted me too, I took the opportunity. But dammit, Leonard, I backed out gracefully, when I realized you loved him.

 

“And if love is a choice, I think we all know you wouldn’t have chosen anybody. You’d be happier spending the rest of your life miserable over Jim. Being happy makes you miserable, and being miserable makes you happy, Lenny. It’s fucked up.”

 

“I know,” Leonard agrees, “I know it is.”

 

“It’s okay to be happy,” George says softly, taking Leonard’s hand in his own, “I promise you, Lenny, it’s okay to be happy.”

 

“I can’t. If I’m happy, then maybe I never loved Jim at all.”

 

“I think it’s pretty fucking clear you loved Jim,” Chris says from the doorway, grit in his voice, eyes still red, “what remains to be seen is if you can ever love anybody else.”

 

Leonard sits up, acutely aware that of all the people he could’ve ever wanted to hurt, in this reality or any other, Christopher Pike on the very bottom of the list.

 

“I’m—“

 

“If you’re going to say you’re sorry, don’t,” Chris says quietly.

 

“What can I do?”

 

“I don’t know, Len. I don’t fucking know anymore,” Chris looks so miserable that Leonard’s arms ache to hold him. His mouth aches to kiss him, his heart aches to see that mouth curved up into a smile instead of being turned downward and miserable.

 

“You’ve been with us nonstop this whole time,” George says finally, “maybe take a trip on your own, get some distance. Figure out what you want, with who, and then come back and let us know. Maybe we all need some time alone, to find some clarity.”

 

Chris nods. “I’m going home, to my mom and dad. I booked a shuttle for tomorrow. I’ll see you on the Reliant, Len.”

 

“That’s over a month away.” Leonard makes it sound like it’s just a fact, rather than a protest, rather than cry for help, a plea not to have to be alone for so long.

 

“George?” Chris’ voice is expectant.

 

“Back to my parents’, help out with the farm for a few weeks, build up a tan. And then I’ve got my own summer training mission, remember? Didn’t get lucky enough to get the Reliant, so I’m on the Farragut.”

 

“When do you ship out?” Leonard asks, “will we see you before, or—?”

 

George looks at the ground and shakes his head. “I leave before you two do. Middle of June. Archer suggested a longer training mission might help me get more familiar with things. I think he’s aiming to put me there after graduation.”

 

“No—“ Leonard bursts out, because George Kirk has to be on the Kelvin, he has to be, there’s simply no other option—

 

“Hey, you might know better than me,” George says with a shrug, carefully projecting nonchalance, “you’re his favorite.”

 

“He doesn’t talk to me about other cadets. Not even you two. Not usually. Anyway, I—I don’t really have anywhere to go, so I’ll stay here. Work at the hospital, work on my dissertation, spend more time in the lab, keep myself busy, that sort of thing. Maybe I’ll go on a medical volunteer type mission or something, for a few weeks, see if I can’t do some good somewhere.”

 

Chris nods at him, heading into the shower.

 

“You can comm me,” George says softly, “anytime you need to, Lenny. Day or night. It might not work so well once I’m up in the black—subspace transmissions are kind of shitty and the private ones don’t go through half the time, and I don’t think I’d get a secure line, seeing as I’m just a cadet. But still. You need me, you call.”

 

Leonard nods.

 

“Promise me,” George says seriously.

 

“Sure,” Leonard says, not meaning it even a little bit.

 

He pulls on some jeans and a t-shirt and leaves the room, trying to give Chris and George the space they obviously need from him. He heads to the sim and stays there for four hours, flying through the stars and talking to Jim.

 

When he gets back, it’s to an empty room. He crawls into Chris’ bed, taking in the scent of his friends on the sheets, and falls asleep.

 

He talks to Jim in his room, since he doesn’t have to bother trying to find a private spot anymore. The whole damn place is a private spot. Hell, the whole damn world is a private spot, it feels like. Maybe it’s not private so much as the fact that nobody even cares to know. Nobody cares to know that he talks to his Jim in his personal log. Nobody cares to know that he’d had something good with Chris, that he was on the cusp of something even better. Nobody cares to know that he’s alone in the world.

 

Nobody cares.

 

It’s what Leonard had wanted. Why, then, does it feel so fucking awful?

 

He buys a few bottles of bourbon, one of whiskey, and one of scotch.

 

It’s probably not a good sign.

 

He goes on a four day bender once they’re gone, because stupidly, he’d asked for vacation from the hospital, thinking that maybe he and the boys could take a trip or something, go somewhere nice.

 

Now he spends the first four days of that so-called vacation drinking, puking, crying, and dreaming of men who deserve better.

 

On the third day of the bender, he grabs his PADD. Confession time.

 

Pers’n’l Log, Leonard McCoy! He growls at the thing.

 

The computer is generous and allows him to put in a new entry.

 

Gues wha’, Jim? Did it. Pushed ‘em away. Should be hap’y, but I’m mizzerble. Hurt Chrissy. An’body else hurt Chrissy, I’d punch ‘em in the face, but it was me, I hurt ‘im. They left. Wanted ‘em to leave, but they’re gone, and I’m aloooooneeeeee. Joce was right, I’m a fucking mizzerble bas’ard. I was so mad atchoo, mad I forgotchoo, mad I love ‘oo. Thass why they hate me, ‘s’cuz I love you.

 

But fuck, Jimbo, I can’t stop.

 

Can’t stop lovin’ you.

 

---

On the fifth day, he wakes with a pounding headache and barely checks the label on the hypo before slamming it into his neck. There’s a little cluster of needle marks there, from each of the hangover hypos he’s given himself, along with the fading bruises of the stimulant hypos from the end of the semester.

 

He goes into the shower, and tries not to think of Chris, of his warmth, of his laughter and the puff of breath against his ear when they’d pressed against each other in this tiny shower. He tries not to think about the joy he’d felt, the crazy, stupid, irrepressible joy he’d felt after figuring out how to make the vaccine work on Vulcans, how Chris had been there, so fucking proud of him.

 

He stays in the shower a long while, until his fingers are all pruny, and he comes out with what might almost be termed a clear head.

 

He doesn’t have much left of the bottles he’d bought the day Chris and George had left, but what he does have, he pours down the drain.

 

It’s well past time to grow up, he decides.

 

He phones the hospital and lets them know of his availability. He emails his professors and asks around for any medical volunteer trips—there are always plagues and outbreaks out on some of the colonies, and he figures he can go there. If he can’t go there, he can stay here and treat patients at SFM, but there are hardly any cadets around over the summer, so it sounds like a pretty boring prospect.

 

He does all of that, and then he sits and takes a deep breath and calls his therapist, setting up an appointment.

 

---


It’s not much of a secret that Hikaru Sulu is attractive. Half the nurses have a crush on him and even more of the engineers.

 

Pavel had been really into Sulu when he’d gotten onto the ship, big hero-worshipping eyes taking in Sulu’s every movement, every word of his listened to with adoring sincerity. They were good friends now, so it was hard to see if Pasha was actually over his helmsman, or if he was just better at hiding it now that the novelty had worn off.

 

Jim is also aware of Hikaru Sulu’s objective physical beauty. Seeing him on the bridge is one thing, but seeing him off-hours, in a t-shirt and jeans, both fitted perfectly to show off muscles that Jim didn’t need to know he had—that really solidifies his opinion.

 

It’s that smooth skin, tan after they’ve hit a resort planet and then gradually paling from being in space all the time. It’s the smooth bulge of his bicep under his t-shirt, when he’s in the gym, or when he’s just going about his business, carrying a tray of food in the mess hall, or helping someone with something heavy. Jim should probably look into it, Spock would know the numbers exactly, but Sulu definitely gets asked to help move heavy things a lot, and the number of crew members that stare and sigh as he does so suggests that maybe it’s not a coincidence that he’s always at the right place at the right time.

 

Also? Fantastic ass. Honestly, a blessing from the gods, that backside. Not only is he a damn fine pilot, but he can fill out a pair of jeans like nobody’s business.

 

Jim can think about all of this, in his normal detached way, in the way he thinks about warp core efficiencies and wonders who Christine’s sleeping with and considers negotiations with the next planet they’re heading to, and wonders if Nyota and Spock are fighting again, because he’d seemed even more rigid than usual and she’d been quiet on the bridge, in the face of Jim’s normal light-hearted flirting.

 

It’s hard to be detached when Hikaru’s in his quarters, though, moving in the silence as if he and Jim have always shared a space. It’s hard to be detached when Jim’s drunk and the curve of Hikaru’s backside seems like it’s begging for a hand on it, when Hikaru’s bicep seems to be crying out to be tasted, when Hikaru’s mouth is saying something to him that he should probably listen to instead of just focusing on the way those beautiful lips move. They’re thinner than Bones’ lips, but they curve and smile and they’re so expressive

 

Jim dreams about him, sometimes.


---

“I guess Chris called you the other day,” Leonard starts quietly, shamefully.

 

“Yes, he did. He was worried about you, Leonard.”

 

“I was awful,” Leonard confesses, “I was fucking brutal to him. No wonder he packed up and left.”

 

“What did you say to him?”

 

Leonard tells him everything, including the part about the bender, though he leaves out exactly how much he drank each day, and how rank he smelled by the fifth day, when he’d finally dragged himself into the shower.

 

“Leonard. This—this is grief,” his doctor says to him softly, “it comes and it goes in waves. It’s okay that for a few weeks you weren’t miserable with the ache of missing him. Did you actually stop thinking about him?”

 

Leonard shakes his head. “I think about him every day,” he says firmly, “every single day without fail. I dream about him, I see people who maybe look like him at the right angle with my eyes squinted, and I just hope that it’s him—I just always hope that it’s him.”

 

“You’re not a bad person because it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. You’re not. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t love him. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t real, what you had with him. You don’t have to tear your own heart out just so you can keep hurting.”

 

“But it feels like I do,” Leonard says miserably, “I think about how he must be feeling—I think about it, a year without me, and I wonder if he still hurts. And if he’s hurting and I’m not, then—then maybe I loved him less than he loved me.”

 

“He’s dead, Leonard,” his doctor points out, and Leonard had almost forgotten that that was what he’d told him. It might be easier if he was, but he’s not. Leonard can feel it. Jim Kirk is not dead, because if he is, then there’s no point to anything anymore.

 

“Right,” he says, trying to think of something, “right, it’s just easier to think of it as having gone away somewhere, somewhere I can’t get to yet.”

 

“Have you ever wanted to end your life, Leonard?”

 

“No,” Leonard says firmly, because as much as he values honesty in therapy, suicidal ideation is pretty much a career-killer in Starfleet, and his therapist, as good as he is, as kind as he is, still works for Starfleet.

 

“I’ve wanted to be where he is, but I’ve wanted him back here, with me, not the other way around.”

 

His therapist nods and writes something down. Leonard tries not to squirm.

 

“So what are you going to do while your friends are gone?”

 

“Work,” Leonard says, as if that’s enough to keep a man going through life, “I’m going to work. Maybe go on a medical volunteer mission.”

 

“That’s certainly a productive use of your time. But have you considered something… fun?”

 

“Fun?” Leonard repeats the word as if he’s never heard it before, as if he’s not quite sure what it means, and as soon as he says it, he knows it’s going to prompt some more writing in his file.

 

“Something that you’d enjoy, without looking to do good or save lives. Something that might replenish you instead of depleting you,” his doctor clarifies.

 

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” he says dumbly.

 

“You’re an adult, with more credits than you need, and spare time—not many people can say they have both of those things. Leonard, you can go anywhere,” his doctor responds.

 

“I—I never thought about it like that.”

 

“Maybe now you can start.”

 

He does start.

 

---

He signs up for a medical mission to a human outpost, far in the Beta Quadrant, where they’ve got some sort of viral influenza outbreak, resistant to all the traditional treatments.

 

He packs quickly—the place is an ice planet, which does raise the question of why the hell these crazy humans even wanted to live there in the first place.

 

Still, he grabs all his winter things, and packs them.

 

He comms George from the shuttle to the Gryphon.

 

Hey Georgie, hope you’re having fun at home. I’m off to the Beta Quadrant, volunteer mission out on a colony there. It’s not too far off from the Romulan Neutral Zone, but hopefully things stay stable. If not, Risa is close enough that we might be able to make it in case of attack. Tell Chris for me, I don’t want him to hear from me if he doesn’t want to.

 

Sending you both my love, Len.

 

He sends along the coordinates of the colony, too, so that they know where he is.

 

Within minutes, he has a response. You’re going WHERE? Chris is going to KILL you. I checked out the coordinates you sent me—that’s way too fucking close to the Romulan Neutral Zone, and you know they’ve been acting up! Pull out of it. I’m serious. Pull out of it, Leonard.

 

George never calls him Leonard. Not unless he’s dead serious.

 

He gets a call from Chris two minutes later.

 

“Tell me it’s not true,” Chris says, voice tight, “tell me this is just George’s shitty idea of a joke.”

 

“They need people up there,” Leonard says softly, “it’s just a month, Chris. I’ll be back before the Reliant departure.”

 

“Are you punishing me? Is this your way of punishing me, for leaving you for a month? Jesus, Len, a month, and you’re off to get yourself killed?!” Chris’ voice breaks a few times, and Leonard wants to blame it on the signal, but he can’t.

 

“No, sweetheart,” he says softly, ignoring the looks from the people sat around him on the shuttle, “I’m not punishing you. I’ll be back before the Reliant takes off. Maybe even early enough to see George off, if things work out. I wanted—I wanted to come back and take a trip somewhere, maybe see the Himalayas. You can come with me, if you want.”

 

“If you survive,” Chris mutters.

 

“It’s not that close to the Neutral Zone, and you know they’ve got top-of-the-line ships patrolling the region. I swear, I didn’t do this to hurt you. But this is my job. I joined Starfleet so I could help people. That’s what this is, that’s all.”

 

“Len, if you don’t come back, I’ll find you and I’ll kill you myself.” His voice is shaking, and Leonard wishes he could just touch him, make him see

 

“Christopher, I’m going to be fine. I promise you, I’ll do my absolute best to come back to you.”

 

“I forgive you,” Chris blurts out, “goddammit, I forgive you, just come back home—I’ll leave my parents’ house, I’ll come back too, we can talk about it—“

 

Something in Leonard jumps at the chance. “Chris, sweetheart, this wasn’t meant to blackmail you. I just wanted you to know where I was, so you wouldn’t worry—“

 

“Wouldn’t worry?” Chris is choking on the words, “Leonard, you’re going near the Neutral Zone, for fuck’s sake, how the hell was I supposed to not worry?!”

 

“I’m going to be okay,” Leonard whispers, promises, wishing he could press the words into Chris’ skin.

 

“Come back,” Chris begs, “please, come back, just let me say goodbye—“

 

“It’s not goodbye,” Leonard promises, blinking away tears, “I’m coming back, I promise you I’m coming back.”

 

Chris wants to talk more, wants more information, probably wants to commandeer a shuttle and follow him all the way there.

 

But the pilot lets them know over the intercom that all personal comms now have to be turned off.

 

“Hey, Chris, I’ve got to turn my comm off,” Leonard says softly, “but I’ll send you messages from the ship and when I get there, okay? Take care of yourself, sweetheart. For me.”

 

Chris sniffs and agrees. “Stay safe and come back to me,” he orders, and Leonard agrees.

 

Neither of them says goodbye.

 

---

 

The Gryphon is much smaller than the Enterprise, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but still is. It’s a tiny little ship, and while he’s on it, he and the other medical volunteers take shifts in the medbay, giving the exhausted medical staff a break. Even being small isn’t enough to prevent a ship from getting attacked, it seems, and the Gryphon’s had a rough go of it, seeing as how her CMO is on one of the beds in the medbay herself, still half-delirious.

 

It takes four days to get to the colony, which the settlers have called Leonidas.

 

He sends Chris a message every single day to let him know that he’s alright.

 

From: Leonard McCoy

To: Christopher Pike

 

Chris—

 

All good so far. The ship is smaller than my old ship used to be, but my old girl was the flagship, so that’s to be expected. She’s had a rough run of luck lately, but I don’t think it’ll affect us. My quarters here are even tinier than our room, and I have to share with three other volunteers.

 

I miss you and George so much.

 

Yours,

Len

 

They’re all similar to the first, just writing so that Chris knows he’s okay.

 

He send George one message over the journey, a quick message telling him to comm Chris and check that he’s okay.

 

From: Leonard McCoy

To: George Kirk

 

Hey Georgie,

 

Take care of our boy, okay? Tell him I’m having the time of my life out here. It’s a little ship, but that makes its crew more tight-knit and they have game nights and cooking classes and it’s all very sweet. The only thing that would make it better would be having my two boys here with me.

 

Love,

Lenny

 

They get to the planet and find out that the atmosphere’s ionic disturbances make beaming down a bad idea. Leonard’s perfectly okay with taking a shuttle, considering the slightly negative experience he’d had beaming when it had launched him into an alternate reality and thirty-odd years into the past.

 

They fly down and Leonard’s suddenly glad for his parka and his thick boots and the sweater that Elizabeth Kirk had knitted him, which he’s wearing under his coat because it’s freezing.

 

They show him to his quarters, which he only has to share with one other volunteer, a guy named Gary who seems easy enough to get along with.

 

He settles down immediately and writes to his boys.

 

Georgie—

 

Tell your mama thank you for the sweater. It’s keeping me warm out here—it’s an ice planet, and it’s freezing here. They’ve got heated greenhouses to grow crops, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand why they thought it’d be worth settling here. What’s so special about this place anyway? The settlers are kind of isolationists, and some of them are wealthy, so that would make them eccentric, I suppose, and not plain crazy stupid. I haven’t seen many children around, but I think they’re the ones coming down with the sickness.

 

Take care of yourself, George. I’m not going to be there to do it for you, not for a little while.

 

Love,

Lenny

 

Chris—

 

It’s so cold here I’m afraid my balls might fall off. Haven’t gotten to see the med center yet, but I’ll go after I’m done writing. I’m still fine, just like I said I would be. Think about where you wanna go once I get back, we can go anywhere you want, until we need to get back for the Reliant.

 

And Chris, I know you hate when I apologize, so I figured I’d do it now, when you can’t interrupt me. I’m sorry, for what I said that night. I was being an asshole. I’ve lost people before, I know that the pain fades, eventually. It just freaked me out. But there is no excuse for my taking it out on you. None. I told myself I didn’t want you to get hurt if I got hurt or died, but I think I was just protecting myself, in the end, from the thought of losing you. I’m sorry. We can talk about it when I get back.

 

I miss you so much. Take care.

 

Love,

Len

 

The medical facilities aren’t great, but they’re get the job done. Leonard asks about a research lab, too, so he can tinker with the virus, see if he can’t figure out an immunization that would keep people from getting sick in the first place. After the struggle he’d had with the multiple vehicles for the Andorian measles vaccine, he figures a basic flu vaccine for only humans can’t be too tough.

 

He works every day, eight to twelve hours. He wakes and puts on his primary care hat, checking children’s rates of growth and development, making sure that the smaller ones get nutritional boosters and their parents are informed. He checks on the elderly, routine mammograms and colonoscopies and mole examinations, to see if there’s anything that looks like it might become malignant some day.

 

He checks on women who are pregnant, tells them the sex of their babies, and sometimes, he holds their hands and wipes their tears when they find out they’re not anymore.

 

Much of the rest of his time is spent in the lab, trying to figure the damn virus out. He’s the only one of the volunteers with that kind of qualification, so they put him in a lab with the full-time doctors and medical researchers, who alternately give him a wide berth and crowd in on his work to examine it.

 

He deals with a lot of flu patients, keeping them comfortable, giving them fluids, trying to make sure their temperature isn’t too high from the fever or too low from the general environment around them.

 

One day a man in his twenties comes in with a broken femur, limping and leaning heavily on his friend who might be more than a friend.

 

He’s blond and beautiful and it reminds Leonard of Chris.

 

“You look like a friend of mine,” he says lightly, as he numbs the leg.

 

“Hold your buddy’s hand, squeeze tight, I’m just going to reset the leg. I’m gonna count to three, okay?”

 

He counts, and resets the leg when he gets to two, the oldest trick in the physician’s handbook. The surprise makes it hurt less, though the young man jumps a little.

 

“Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay, you’re good, we’re just gonna get you laid back and get the osteoregen on you, help grow that bone back the way it was. This is probably going to make you really sleepy, because it makes your body do in a few hours what it would normally do in weeks, and that’s exhausting. You can come back in a few days for another session and a check on how you’re doing, and then you’ll be good a new, hopefully.”

 

The man nods and promptly passes out.

 

“Are you his medical contact?” Leonard asks his companion.

 

“Husband,” he says softly, “yes.”

 

Leonard glances at the young man’s finger, and sure enough, there’s a ring on the left hand ring finger.

 

“I’m sorry—he just looks so young, I didn’t think—“

 

“We fell in love when we were fifteen, married when we were nineteen,” his patient’s husband tells him, and Leonard thinks about Jocelyn, and hopes it works out better for these two than it did for him and his first love.

 

“Congratulations,” Leonard says softly, “so you heard and understood everything I was telling him, correct?”

 

He nods.

 

“You can stay with him for awhile, this treatment should take a few hours, then I’ll get him into a splint so he doesn’t undo all that work right away, and then you can take him home to rest.”

 

“Thank you,” he says, eyes still trained on his husband, “thank you. God, the way he screamed when he fell, I thought I would die just from hearing it.”

 

“That’s how love is, sometimes,” Leonard says, hoping it sounds adequately consoling.

 

He goes back to his own room at the end of his shift and composes a letter to Chris.

 

Chris,

 

I don’t know why, but I miss you extra hard today. Okay, I know why. We had a patient and he was pretty and blond and had blue eyes like you, and hell if I could stop thinking about you after that.

 

I hope you’re being kissed, Christopher Pike. I hope you’re being kissed by someone beautiful. I hope someone’s holding you at night, and I hope that someone is loving you, the way I wish I could, the way I should have.

 

But here’s the thing: I hope you miss me too much to fall in love with someone else. I want to do better the next time, darlin’. I want to have another chance, even though I know I don’t deserve it.

 

I hope you know how much you’re loved, Christopher Pike. I hope you don’t settle for second best, not once in your entire life.

 

Not even if second best is me.

Love,

Len

 

He’s alone much of the time, though occasionally he hangs out with other volunteers or the medical staff. He thinks a lot about Chris and Jim and George.

 

He listens back to the last entry of his personal log and grimaces at the slurred language. He doesn’t delete it, because he doesn’t delete any of his entries, no matter how pathetic, but he does make an effort to do better. He hasn’t had a drop to drink in nearly two weeks since his epic bender.

 

Personal log, Leonard Horatio McCoy, new entry please—

 

Jim, you’re going to laugh at me, I bet. I think I’m in love with Chris Pike. I know, I know, it’s awful, right? The way I’ve treated that poor man, I don’t deserve a single smile from him for the rest of my life. But damn it all, he seems to care about me, even though I don’t deserve it, even though I spent most of our time together hung up on you.

 

And now, I’m out here on Leonidas, trying to figure out this damn flu thing and treating skinned knees and telling women that the reason they’re throwing up every day a couple months after having unprotected sex isn’t a different strain of flu, it’s pregnancy, and telling old men the reason they need a piss every fifteen minutes is because their prostate’s nearly the size of a baseball, so of course it pushes against their bladder—

 

And Jim, I do all these things, and I miss Chris like you wouldn’t believe. I miss your dad, too, he’s a great friend, but—I just miss Chris.

 

And you. I still miss you. It’s still like losing a limb, having to go through my life without you in it, Jim Kirk. But Chris is—Chris is Chris. He’s Chris, and when he left that day, I felt like that was it, like it was over, like I had no reason to go on anymore. I’m too old to be feeling that way, and we’d only been together for what, a couple of months maybe? God, I know you’re out there thinking that I’m being a fucking drama queen, and maybe I am, but Jim, sometimes you just know.

 

Sometimes you just know. I think I’m finally ready to hope that you’ve got someone there with you. Someone who loves you, darlin’. Someone who takes care of you, sweetheart. Because, fuck, I’m telling you, it changes your whole life to have someone there like that.

 

Anyway. I’ve gone and gotten myself all emotional, and you’ve gone and let me do it, Jimmy, damn you.

 

I love you still, and I always will. Take care, sweetheart.

 

---

The first time Jim kisses Hikaru, it’s fourteen months since Leonard McCoy has disappeared, he’s drunk off his ass and Hikaru is trying to ease him into bed.

 

“I’m not Leonard,” he says softly, patiently, and Jim looks at him, with surprisingly clear eyes.

 

“I know who you are, Hikaru Sulu,” he says firmly, and there’s something in the weight of his voice when he says it that shifts the entire universe between them.

 

Hikaru takes off Jim’s boots and lays him carefully under the covers.

 

“Stay,” Jim whispers.

 

It’s just to sleep, so Hikaru does.

 

He wakes with his captain’s arms around him, and he relaxes into the embrace, until he hears what he’s whispering in his sleep.

 

“Miss you, Bones—“

 

Hikaru blinks and looks up. He shouldn’t be upset, really. Jim’s asleep, it’s not like he can control what he does when he’s asleep, right?

 

He shouldn’t be upset.

 

Still, he sneaks out of his Captain’s bed, giving him a pillow to hold onto instead, and instead of going back to his own quarters, his own bed, he sleeps on his captain’s sofa for the rest of the night.

 

Because Jim still needs him.

 

“Vhen did you fall in love with ze Keptin, Hikaru?” Chekov asks him the next day, over lunch in Pavel’s quarters, away from prying eyes.

 

“You know what, Pasha? I really have no fucking clue,” Hikaru responds, stabbing into his salad.

 

---

 

Leonard doesn’t get the first set of responses to his messages until he’s already been there for ten days.

 

Lenny—

 

Mom says she’s glad you’re getting use out of the sweater. She also says you’re an idiot who should talk to people before running off so close to the Neutral Zone. I love that woman, don’t you?

 

Chris and I have been sharing your messages with each other. Well, I’ve been sharing mine with him. I think he might be holding out on me, but that’s okay, because I figure your messages for Chris are kind of gross and adorable and I don’t need to see that. I hope I’m right, though. I hope you two have gotten it together again. It was nice, seeing you both be so happy together.

 

I’m preparing to go away with the Farragut. Don’t tell Chris, but I’m kind of nervous. He said you told him it was all scut work for cadets. I don’t mind scut work, Lenny. I’m just afraid I’ll fall out of love with space before I even get a chance to get up there and actually make decisions and see new species and new planets. What if I do fall out of love with it, Len? Then what? What does a Starfleet Academy graduate do if he’s not going into Starfleet? It feels like it all might end up being a huge waste of my time.

 

I hope you’re alright out there. Bundle up—don’t want your dick to freeze off, after all. I hope I get to see you before I leave with the Farragut. I know I’m the one who suggested that we each take some time to ourselves, but I miss you, you ornery son of a bitch. I didn’t realize how much I’d gotten used to having one of you two around all the time. I talk to Mom and Dad, but they’re—well, they’re Mom and Dad, they’re not my Chrissy and Lenny.

 

Anyway, wish me luck—it’ll take awhile to get to me, all the way down here on Earth. Stay safe.

 

—Georgie

 

---

Hikaru is always so kind to him. He sits on the floor of Jim’s quarters and pulls off his boots and he helps Jim lay down, makes sure he’s covered with blankets, but only up to the waist, because otherwise he starts to feel trapped, and his chest overheats anyway.

 

He looks at Hikaru, his black hair slightly mussed from it’s usual perfection.

 

Oh, he thinks, I’m in trouble.

 

The last time he’d felt like this was some five years ago, when Bones had been doing this same thing, taking care of him without asking for anything back. It had been a night not too different from tonight, and Jim had looked at him, at his five o’clock shadow and his surgeon’s hands and thought.

 

Oh. This man makes me happy.

 

He thinks it again now, and wonders if Bones is watching over him, giving him his blessing.

 

---

He gets a response from Chris, too.

 

Len—

 

I hope you’re staying safe. You better be, you can’t just leave me with nobody but George! I know we love him, I know he’s our boy, but still. I need some sane company now and again, and it seems to be you. Though I suppose sane is a relative term.

 

Len, about that apology. I wouldn’t mind hearing it from you in person. I talked to George about it, and he said I was kind of being a hypocrite, seeing as how I freaked out just finding out that you were doing a mission. He said that this is what Starfleet is. If you fall in love with Starfleet, that’s what it is. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being scared of losing you. Not ever. It came so fast, worrying about you, and I don’t think it’s ever going away. And you’re going to worry about me, the way you did that first time I showed up after hand-to-hand all black and blue. And chances are, one of us is going to go first, go somewhere the other can’t follow.

 

Sweetheart, I guess the choice that we have to make is whether loving is worth the chance of losing, some day, whether it’s tomorrow or fifty years from now.

 

I know what my answer is, Len. I think I’ve always known, since that first day in the library bathroom.

 

Do you?

 

Yours,

Chris

 

What does it say about Leonard that he’s better at relationships when he’s not around the other person? That had never been true of Jim. He and Jim had always been together, had always stuck together like two outcasts, because that’s what they were.

 

But Chris’ letter has his heart jumping in his chest as if he’s fourteen, not thirty-four years old. Because he knows what his answer is. He does. But it feels like a cop-out to send it in writing, when he could say it in person, see Chris’ face light up when he hears it.

 

He’s careful drafting his response. He doesn’t want it to look like he’s avoiding the conversation, because that would make it sound like his answer is a no, when it’s anything but a no.

 

Chris—

 

I promise I’m staying safe. I’ve promised you that about a hundred times so far in this trip, and I’ve only got two weeks left of being here. You should go somewhere with George. Go somewhere beautiful, and tell me all about it. I wish I could be there too, but at last somebody should spend some time with him before he goes. You and I got lucky, getting assigned to the same ship. I feel for him, the poor boy.

 

But he’s pretty enough and sweet enough that I’m sure he’ll make plenty of friends, and probably more aspiring lovers than he needs, strictly speaking. Honestly, Chrissy, isn’t that too much pretty for one man? I think it is, sometimes. Of course, you have too much pretty for one man, too, but surprisingly, I don’t mind it with you.

 

Maybe it’s because I liked being yours. I liked how everyone else would give me these jealous looks, because they wanted you and I had you. That question you asked me? I’m not ignoring it, I promise. But it’s a hell of a thing to think about, and not something to rush into. Besides, I’m guessing you can probably guess my answer anyway. I think your message got to me before my last message got to you. Once you see that one—well, if you don’t know after that, then maybe it’s not meant to be.

 

I can’t wait to see you again. I’ve been looking through a lot of the pictures of us, of you. I miss your face.

 

Yours,

Len

 

The last two weeks rush by. Leonard gives what feels like a couple hundred physicals, delivers eight babies (to seven mothers—the twins were a handful, one of them twisted around so she’d had to come out legs first, but they were so beautiful).

 

He starts sharing a lot of his research with the full-time staff, and together, he and Dr. Laurens figure out the vaccine. They test it, on a pretty accelerated time frame. It works on the sims, and they get approval to proceed with testing, but it’s a lengthy process, especially for a disease that’s not usually fatal. Leonard has to leave before it can be used.

 

Still, he’s done his part, and he can be proud of that.

 

The Gryphon comes back around and he piles onto his bunk with his duffel bag stuffed under it, and he sleeps for what feels like a week.

 

The four days back inch by, going so slow that Leonard wonders if he’s somehow entered purgatory.

 

But still, eventually they’re at the lunar base, piling into a shuttle, and none of the other volunteers are as pathetically excited to go home as he is. None of them have their eyes glued to the viewscreen, looking hungrily at his own planet, counting the minutes until he lands on the ground again.

 

Chris and George are right there when he does, standing in a crowd of other greeters. The other volunteers have families too, after all.

 

Leonard feels sorry for them, that their families don’t include George Kirk and Chris Pike.

 

He climbs down the stairs and almost trips, eyes too busy drinking in the sight of Chris. He blushes and focuses on the steps descending from the shuttle, and then he’s hardly taken a dozen steps before Chris gives up. He runs over to him, throwing his arms around Leonard and hugging him tight.

 

“I promised you I’d come back,” he whispers, holding Chris tight, one hand on the back of his neck, slipping into the golden strands of hair, “I told you, Chris, I promised.”

 

Chris nods into his shoulder, and Leonard looks over at George and smiles.

 

“Come on,” Leonard whispers to Chris, “let’s go, we’re making a bit of a scene. Sooner or later there’ll be a riot, wondering what an old man like me is doing with a hot young thing like you.”

 

Chris laughs and pulls away, pulling Leonard’s bag out of his grip to hold it for him. “Don’t you ever leave this planet without talking to me first, you hear? I swear, Leonard, that was not cool.”

 

“I won’t,” Leonard says simply, taking Chris’ hand and intertwining their fingers. He doesn’t let go when they get to George, wrapping him in a one-armed hug instead.

 

“Please tell me you’re not heading out right now, Georgie,” he says, frowning when he sees the outfit.

 

“Not yet,” George says quickly, “this was just for training, I came straight from there to pick up Chris. I leave tomorrow.”

 

“No way! Tell them to delay the boat, I want some time with my favorite troublemaker before he heads out!”

 

“No can do, Lenny. Come on, though, we’ve decided we’re gonna let you buy us dinner tonight.”

 

“Oh, you’re gonna let me buy you dinner?!”

 

“Yup. It’s payment for all the time you made us worry. Nobody needed medical aid closer to home? Really? You had to run right off to the edge of the Neutral Zone?”

 

“It wasn’t the edge, it was just… close to the edge, it’s not like we got attacked by Romulans! What the hell would they have wanted with us pathetic little snowballs on Leonidas anyway? There’s nothing there, for heaven’s sake!”

 

“Because the Romulans are known for being so thoughtful and cautious and rational when they attack Federation holdings,” Chris says sarcastically.

 

“But—“

 

“Stop it, both of you,” George says firmly, “Leonard, Chris was worried, and you should have let him know before you got on the shuttle, back when you could still back out. Chris, Leonard’s sorry, and he was right that nothing happened. And if something had happened, he’s the most qualified of the three of us to deal with it, He’s the one who served on a ship for years while we were just starting at the Academy.”

 

Chris opens his mouth, but Leonard’s had enough. “Fuck’s sake,” he mutters, dropping his bag and pulling Chris into a kiss.

 

Chris melts into it immediately, leaning into him and opening his mouth.

 

Leonard pulls away finally, eyes locked on Chris.

 

“Been waiting weeks to do that,” he says gruffly.

 

Chris smiles and pulls him back in for another one.

 

When they pull apart, George is smiling at them, face a little pinker than before.

 

“Dinner, or do you two just wanna skip to dessert?”

 

“Dessert—“ Chris says instantly.

 

Dinner,” Leonard says firmly, “because you’ve gotten your time with Georgie, but I haven’t seen him in ages, and he’s about to go away. Tonight’s about you, Georgie. Where do you wanna eat?”

 

“I think you already knooooow,” George sings, and of course, they go to his Italian place, the one he loves.

 

Chris sends Leonard these heated looks across the table, and at first it’s delicious, the way the heat in his stomach jumps up a level each time he meets those blue eyes, but eventually George catches on.

 

“If you two wanna go to the restroom and have a little time to yourselves, that would be okay,” he says dryly.

 

Len—“ Chris has this plaintive note in his voice, pleading, wanting.

 

“Sweetheart, be patient,” Leonard says quietly, “we’re here for Georgie. We’re not dumping him when we can go home and be in our own bed in a little while anyway.”

 

“You’re too good a friend, Lenny,” George says with a little smile. “Not too many would turn down that kind of welcome home just for a friend.”

 

“Not just a friend,” Leonard says quietly, “one of my two best friends. So. Tell me about home. How are Liz and Tiberius?”

 

“Mom and Dad are good. They asked about you. I didn’t tell them that you were with Chris, I thought maybe Mom would be annoyed by that, but the corn crop was great this year. Helped Dad harvest. I think Mom was extra curious about you, I think she wouldn’t have minded you as a son-in-law type. I was always closer to Dad, y’know? I love Mom, but we never connected the way Dad and I did. She liked it when you were around to help in the kitchen and gossip and call her ma’am and be a gentleman.”

 

“Well, your partner, when you meet the one, I bet your mom will love them even more than she liked me.”

 

“Dad likes you too,” George says with a smile, “I dunno what you did to him, but you snuck into his heart. He asked about it in his usual way, you know? As if he didn’t care, but he asked a few times about you, and after I said where you’d been, they were really careful to read up on the Beta Quadrant. They kept watching the news, making sure that the Romulans weren’t acting out too much.”

 

“It’s probably because he saw me being a baby and crying over my daddy,” Leonard says with a shrug, “he probably felt bad for me, that’s all, Georgie.”

 

“I know my father, Leonard. I know him, and I know the difference between his pity and his caring. He cares about you.”

 

Chris takes his hand.

 

“Your parents are gonna adore him, y’know, Chris, when you’re ready for that,” George says with a smile, “it won’t be like when they met me, getting you into all sorts of trouble.”

 

“I hope so,” Chris says quietly, “now, Len, tell us about the trip. Tell us everything. Who was this spectacular pilot, anyway? Maybe I’ll look her up, see if she’s teaching at the Academy next year.”

 

“She was Rigellian, her name’s Xouwoi. I didn’t catch her last name, but you can check the manifest for the ship, probably. Anyway, I expect you both to take advanced piloting, okay? I’ll take it too, but I’d love to see the moment you both become better pilots than me. I’ll be a little tiny bit jealous, but mostly I’ll be proud as hell.”

 

George shakes his head. “You don’t get jealous of your friends, Len. That’s one of the reasons they all go and fall in love with you, you idiot.”

 

Leonard shakes his head. “You’re a sap when I’ve been gone a few weeks, George Kirk. Now, you gonna buy me some dessert?”

 

He does.

 

“Stay at ours tonight,” Leonard says softly, touching George’s arm.

 

George laughs. “No, man. I can’t do that to Chris. Can’t you see him? He’s desperate to get you alone. You guys can come take me out to breakfast tomorrow, though, before I catch the shuttle. Maybe we can go take a walk or something.”

 

“Sure thing, Georgie. You all packed? You have all your gear, hot, cold, water-resistant?”

 

George laughs. “You’re worse than my mom, Lenny. I’m packed!”

 

“Bring something to read. You’ll have so much time, you’d be surprised. Something to read, but not something you care about. Things get lost, damaged—no family heirlooms, George. And comm us now and again. You probably won’t be able to get a subspace call request through, but send us messages. We wanna know what’s going on with you, okay?”

 

George laughs and pulls him into a hug. “I promise! I promise I’m gonna comm you guys. Every week, you big old mama bear.”

 

“Every week? Better be every couple of days, you asshole, it’s not like you’ll have anything else to do!”

 

“Or I’ll comm Archer,” Chris says, “like I did to check on Len.”

 

“I beg your pardon?!”

 

“There was a real long delay between some of your messages! I panicked, so I commed him to ask if he knew anything! He said he didn’t even know you were heading out on that mission, and then he pulled a few strings to check for me. Said you were just fine, no attacks on the ice planet.”

 

“G’night, Georgie, I’ve got to have a conversation with my fella,” Leonard says with a roll of his eyes.

 

---

Hikaru had gone down to lead the away team and come back with three long slashes cutting diagonally across his torso.

 

M’Benga works for hours to patch him up. Jim takes him aside.

 

“I’m O neg, Geoff. Does he—does he need any?”

 

Geoffrey looks him up and down. “He does, yes, captain. Are you certain you’d like to donate?”

 

Jim smiles wanly. “Well, don’t take all of it, but yeah. Anything to help Hikaru.”

 

Geoff smiles at him and leads him over to a biobed.

 

“Wha’s wrong wi’ him?” Hikaru asks groggily from the next bed over.

 

“Nothing, Lieutenant,” Geoff says reassuringly, “nothing’s wrong with him.”

 

“Nothing new, anyway,” Jim says with a smile, holding the expression as the needle enters his arm, as he watches the red flow down the tube and into the bag. Geoff takes a sample and runs some tests on it before he agrees to give it to Sulu, which might have been a little irritating if Bones hadn’t told him exactly how many diseases were spread by untested transfusions. More caution was always better, especially since Hikaru wasn’t in any danger of bleeding out, anyway.

 

Geoff hang the bag of Jim’s blood over Hikaru, and Jim watches it flow into him. His blood, in Hikaru’s body.

 

It makes him feel strange, but not particularly unpleasant. Geoff wraps his arm in way too much gauze and sticks it up in the air, to reduce the blood flow.

 

Jim gets up and sits next to Hikaru, who’s blinking up at him.

 

“Don’t you fucking die on me, Hikaru Sulu,” he says very quietly, “not you too.”

 

“No, sir, I wouldn’t dare.”

 

“Jim. Please. Call me Jim, when we’re not on the bridge.”

 

Hikaru nods. “Jim,” he says again, savoring the word.

 

Jim pulls the privacy curtain around the bed and sits down on the edge of it, careful not to mess with Hikaru’s IV line.

 

“I’m going to kiss you now,” he says quietly.

 

Hikaru doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t need to. He just nods, ever so slightly, his eyes wide, and when Jim kisses him this time, he hums and deepens the kiss.

 

Jim looks at him, smiling. “That’s all you get while you’re in this hospital bed, ‘Ru. Consider that your incentive to heal.”

 

“Jiiim,” Hikaru whines, “I need more kisses! I’m injured!”

 

Jim has to bow to that superior logic and leans down again.

---

 

“Dammit, Christopher, can you stop calling Archer on me every two minutes? I was fine—“

 

“How was I supposed to know that?”

 

“You’re supposed to know that it’s normal for there to be delays in subspace communications!” Leonard says, exasperated.

 

“Please don’t be mad, baby,” Chris says softly, linking his arm with Leonard’s, “I just worry about you, that’s all. You know that. I’m not sorry. I’d do it again, you know that.”

 

“Yeah, I know. And I’d do it if it was you. I did it for J, when he had a long training mission, and god, I’d do it for you, too. But I hate thinking that Archer goes to all sorts of trouble for me when everything turns out fine.”

 

“He doesn’t mind. He cares about you. Not as much as George does, and nowhere near as much as I do, but he does care about you.”

 

“I know, sweetheart, I know.” Finally they get to their room and Chris watches Leonard enter the code.

 

“Let’s not talk about Archer anymore,” Chris purrs, pulling him in close, “I want you—I’ve wanted you for so long—“

 

Leonard looks at him and kisses him without another word. “Can’t believe you even still want me,” he whispers, slipping his hands under Chris’ t-shirt and pulling it up. He leans down and presses a kiss to Chris’ trapezius, “thought I’d lost you for good, thought you wouldn’t want anything to do with me after that—and you would’ve been right to do it, sweetheart.”

 

Chris shakes his head. “I told you I’d go slow, I told you I would, but it was so easy with you, to just let myself go—“

 

“Let yourself go tonight,” Leonard whispers, his hands all over Chris’ back, running up and down his sides, pressing against his stomach and tracing the shape of his jaw. “I hope I never forget the sight of you, Chris Pike. So help me, I’m never going to forget the look of you, beautiful boy.”

 

“Len, please—“

 

Leonard pushes him back, noticing that Chris’ bed is perfectly made, while his is messy.

 

“Did we switch without you telling me?” he asks playfully, stopping Chris down on the bed and kneeling in front of him to unbutton his jeans.

 

Chris shakes his head. “Slept in your bed,” he confesses, “wanted to feel close to you. Just for a few days, since I got back and met George.”

 

Leonard’s heart swells. He pushes Chris onto the bed and lays him back carefully. “I slept in yours the first few nights,” he whispers, “smelled like you. Made me feel less alone, after I’d fucked everything up. I didn’t think I’d ever get the real thing again—“

 

Chris lays back for a moment, letting Leonard admire him, and then he’s reaching for him, pulling him close for another kiss. It’s been ages, since he kissed like this, like the world was ending and none of it even mattered.

 

He kisses from Chris’ ankles all the way up to his hipbone, pausing to tell him all the things about his body that he loves.

 

“Love the way you press your cold toes against me at night,” he whispers.

 

“Love the way you look when you’re on your knees for me, gorgeous.”

 

“Love your thighs—god, Chris, you didn’t know me before, but I swear I wasn’t as obsessed with thighs, but yours are spectacular—“

 

“Love watching this,” he whispers to Chris’ hipbone, “love seeing this when you’re just living your life and then you lift your arm or your pants hang a little low, and I get to see this strip of skin right here, and it’s like—god, Chris, it’s like being struck by lightning. I forget how to fucking speak when I see this—“

 

It culminates in Leonard carefully, tenderly, delicately wrapping his lips around Chris and taking him in slowly as far as he can. Chris doesn’t break eye contact for a second, doesn’t close his eyes and sink into his own pleasure. He keeps looking into Leonard’s eyes, even as he arches up, even as Leonard swallows and pulls away.

 

Chris pulls him up and kisses him, as if he loves him, as if Leonard’s worth of it, and Chris is a fucking genius, so if he thinks that, maybe there’s a chance that he’s actually right. He kisses Leonard like he’s missed him, like he’d worried about him, and at the same time, his clever fingers wrap around Leonard and stroke, firm and sure, with a twist that has Leonard seeing stars, even here on Earth.

 

When they’re both finished, Leonard feels a little giddy, this shaky joy that almost makes him want to do a little dance, except that would make him look like a complete maniac. He almost wants to giggle, but instead, he presses his lips to Chris’ neck, and whispers all the things he’d thought about while he’d been away.

 

“Your biceps, your shoulders, your thighs at least once an hour, Chris—that mouth on you, those perfect beautiful lips, the look of you biting your lip like you do when you’re turned on? Your eyes, my god, Christopher, your eyes, that gorgeous hair between my fingers—“

 

He’s still whispering, even as he feels himself drifting off to sleep.

 

Leonard wakes first in the morning, and he looks at Chris, at the acres of pale, bare skin pressed against him in his bed. In his bed, where Chris had slept, so he could get a hint of Leonard’s scent while he was halfway across the galaxy.

 

He lays still and quiet and observes the softness in Chris’ face and the play of light in his hair. He lays there with his arm around his lover and tries to memorize everything about this moment. The scent of Chris after he’s had sex, layered onto his normal cologne and his soap, all of it melding to form a scent memory that Leonard can hold onto for this lifetime ahead of them.

 

He lays there until Chris starts to shift and he watches him as he wakes.

 

“Were you watchin’ me sleep?” Chris asks him, blinking.

 

“Would that be creepy or romantic?”

 

“Probably both.”

 

Leonard flushes, ducking down to kiss him. “I missed your face. Photos are great, but I missed seeing you move, and they just don’t get it all.”

 

Chris smiles at him. “Well, good thing you came back so you can see me, then.”

 

Leonard nods. “I’m too old for you, y’know.”

 

“Seven years isn’t that much,” Chris says, a hint of stubbornness in his voice.

 

“Okay. Just wanted to say it, so you know. If you were dating someone else who was thirty-four, I’d be telling you the same thing.”

 

“You’re only thirty-three, though.”

 

Leonard laughs. “I was thirty-three when you met me, Christopher. Now, do me a favor and tell me what age a thirty-three year old would be one year later.”

 

Chris’ eyes go wide. “Are you serious? You had a birthday and didn’t bother to say anything? Leonard!”

 

“It was in January! The semester had just started, everything was a mess, we’d just gotten back from Rio, George was so mad at me, I was still trying to get my feet under me—“

 

Chris shakes his head, uninterested in all his excuses.

 

“I’m not too big on my birthday,” Leonard confesses quietly, “It’s just another day, Chris, that’s it. I’m not twenty anymore, waiting for my life to change one day just because I’ve made it around the sun one more time.”

 

“What day in January? You got away with it this time, but not next time. And I’m texting George to make extra sure I don’t forget!”

 

“We don’t need to bring George into this, honey, do we?” Leonard asks, trying to sound reasonable, the way he’d used to when Joce had her mind fixed on something.

 

“I think we do. He’s gonna be pissed. You know we were talking about it just the other night, trying to figure it out. He was right on the cusp of comming Archer to ask him!”

 

“Well, thank god you stopped him. One of these days, Archer’s gonna stop taking your calls, you idiot.”

 

“That’s why I stopped him,” Chris says seriously, “because I need Archer, for when I worry about you. He knows everybody and then a few extra people on top of that. And he keeps tabs on you, makes sure you’re doing alright, so when I worry about you, he can help. I think he didn’t want to tell me at first, but he’s definitely over it by now.”

 

Leonard laughs. “You’re just like me when I was with J at the Academy. I’d always run to his advisor—he was mine too, actually—but I’d always run over to him to ask about J, when he shut down.”

 

Chris hums, and for once, the mention of Jim doesn’t seem to annoy him. “You really loved him,” he says softly.

 

“Yeah. I really do.” He knows that the tense matters here.

 

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t love somebody else, does it?” Chris’ voice sounds very young, all of a sudden. Leonard’s reminded of how much this man hasn’t lost, how much Leonard has.

 

“No, it doesn’t,” he agrees quietly, kissing Chris’ temple, “took me awhile to come to that conclusion, and hours of therapy. You’re so much smarter than me, Chris.”

 

“Bullshit. You think I don’t see how the medical cadets look at you? Sometimes one of them follows you into the doctor’s lounge and it’s like they have that look from those cartoons, where the character’s eyes turn into hearts. It’s actually kind of annoying, you know.”

 

“Professional curiosity isn’t the same as having a crush!”

 

“It is when they also look at you like they’re undressing you with their eyes,” Chris mutters.

 

“Oh, I give up. You’re ridiculous, Christopher,” Leonard says with a little laugh, “I’m going to take a shower and then I’m going to make you breakfast.”

 

Leonard gets up to do exactly that, but Chris grabs his wrist.

 

“Why don’t you tell me when your birthday is first, and then you can take a shower with me before we go get breakfast with George?”

 

“You drive a hell of a bargain, kid.”

 

---

 

Personal log, Leonard McCoy:

 

Jim, you won’t believe this. Or maybe you will, because it’s you and you love me. He took me back.

Can you believe it? All the things I said to him, Jim, the way I made him worry, the way I made him cry—and he still took me back.

Isn’t he amazing? God, Jim, he’s so fucking amazing. He took me back and he kissed me and—

 

“Len? Who’re you talking to?” Chris’ voice asks through the door of the bathroom.

 

“Nobody!” Leonard calls back.

 

He took me back, Jimmy. I hope you’re being loved by someone good, sweetheart. Love you, and stay safe out there.

 

End recording.

 

---

Hikaru gets released from sickbay and Jim has no compunctions about using his Captain’s override to get into his quarters to check on him.

 

Okay, he has one compunction, because at this point he’s served with Spock long enough to have a little Spock voice in his head that disapproves of all his flouting of regulations. That little Spock voice is pretty used to being disappointed, at this point.

 

“Jim,” Hikaru says, sounding a little surprised, but smiling as if he’s happy to see him. “What can I do for you?” He’s sitting on his sofa, reading from a PADD.

 

Jim looks around, because he hasn’t been in Hikaru’s quarters in a long time. Most of the time they spend together is in Jim’s quarters. That might change, though, because Hikaru’s rooms are nice. His bed linens are a soothing pale green and he has pictures up on his shelves. His epé is in the corner, leaning against the wall. His desk is cleaner than Jim’s—he probably has less paperwork to do, to be fair—and one corner of it is home to several of his plants, some cacti, some succulents, a few little houseplants, and some alien plants that Jim vows never to touch—

 

“Jim? Was there something you needed?”

 

Crap. He pulls his gaze away from Hikaru’s quarters and looks at the man himself. “Just—just wanted to check on you, I guess.”

 

“And using the door chime would’ve ruined that plan?” Hikaru laughs and stands up.

 

“When you were in sickbay—uh, you probably don’t remember this, you were pretty doped up on painkillers, but—“

 

“You kissed me. I remember, Jim. Kind of hard to forget.” He’s walking closer, and each step brings an increase in Jim’s heart rate.

 

“Stop—I just—I planned out what to say, and I can’t—it’s hard to focus, when you’re too close,” he stammers, “you’re my best friend in the world, and I don’t want to ruin it. Please. I can’t lose you, too.”

 

Sulu stops, hands up as if in surrender, and he cocks his head to the side for a second. “You think if we kept kissing, you’d lose me?”

 

“I think, if we kept kissing, I’d want more from you.” Jim’s hands are sweating. Goddammit, he’s the youngest captain in the fucking Fleet, and his hands are sweating.

 

“I think I’d give it to you. I think I’d give you anything you asked for,” Hikaru says, calm and quiet and sure.

 

“I still love Bones,” Jim blurts out.

 

“You think I didn’t already know that? I’m the one who’s poured you into your bed when you lost him, Jimmy.” Hikaru takes another step forward, cautious.

 

Jim suddenly feels like he’s conducting negotiations. It’s strange, because they both want it, and yet, Jim doesn’t want it, wants to continue as he’s been going, but it’s not fair to ask that of Hikaru anymore.

 

“I’ve been taking advantage of you,” he says quietly, “letting you take care of me.”

 

Hikaru shakes his head, even if it is true and they both know it. “How could I not, Jim?” he asks softly, “how could I leave you alone?”

 

“We’re not in a safe line of work,” Jim protests, “either of us. We won’t live forever.”

 

“That’s not news. You were still in this line of work when you were with Leonard.”

 

“And I lost him!” Jim snaps, “I loved him and I fucking lost him, okay? I can’t lose you the same way, I—I’m not strong enough.”

 

“If I died right now, would it hurt less? Because if you died right now, god forbid, I’d be fucking devastated,” Hikaru confesses, stepping in even closer.

 

Jim puts an arm out. “Don’t—don’t fucking talk about that. Don’t put that out into the universe, don’t talk about dying.”

 

“Jim. Jimmy, please,” Hikaru whispers.

 

He wraps his hand around Jim’s wrist, and the heat of it is like a brand. When he pulls away, Jim knows that he’ll be changed.

 

“Life is short. It’s always too short, Jimmy. Let me live it with you.”

 

Jim closes his eyes, trying to think, even as he catches a breath of Hikaru’s aftershave.

 

“Speak low to me, my savior, low and sweet/ From out the hallelujahs, sweet and low,/ Lest I should fear and fall, and miss thee so.”

 

“Are you comparing me to God?” Hikaru asks, voice full of warm amusement. They’re nearly chest to chest now, Jim’s arm around his shoulders, looking his best friend in the eye.

 

“Not my best work, but I was under pressure,” Jim mutters, eyes fixed on Hikaru’s lips, “and you did save me, and I was scared, lest I should fear and fall and miss thee so.”

 

He remembers Bones, what he’d said after a girl Jim had been seeing had dumped him. It hadn’t been serious, but Jim had cared about her, had let himself dream about a future, had been attracted to her body but enamored more of her brain.

 

You’ve got so much love in that heart of yours, Jim Kirk, it doesn’t make sense that it was all for one person. You’ll find someone else, I promise you.

 

Hikaru opens his mouth, so close now that Jim can feel his breath.

 

Jim leans in and kisses him.

 

---

Leonard and Chris go pick George up, and he looks glad to see them, almost relieved.

 

“Thought you two might forget me,” he admits, “big reunion, and all that.”

 

“Don’t be silly, course we didn’t forget you!” Chris says, rolling his eyes. “Come on, then. You better not have eaten breakfast yet, George, it’s my treat this morning.”

 

“I didn’t! I was waiting for you guys.”

 

Sometimes George gets this look on his face, one that Jim had inherited, that’s so innocent that it makes Leonard ache somewhere in his chest. He doesn’t quite know how to deal with it, so he asks again about whether George is all packed up.

 

They eat a breakfast that’s so decadent, Leonard’s pretty sure he’s not going to be hungry again until tomorrow. Waffles covered in strawberries in syrup, bacon, eggs, coffee that is somehow a million times better than it was coming out of the replicator…

 

George lets out a long breath. “I think I need bigger uniform pants,” he groans, “and a nap.”

 

Chris laughs, reaching for Leonard’s hand as they walk to the shuttle station.

 

“Okay,” Leonard says firmly, “Georgie, listen to me. Be good, listen to the medical professionals on board. Don’t talk back to your superiors—they can make your life hell on one of these. They’ll probably stuff you into a tiny room with three other cadets, and that’s going to suck, so find somewhere on the ship you don’t mind hanging out in your spare time. Don’t sleep with too many people, ships are small and word gets around and it’ll only serve to bite you in the ass.

 

“If you get picked to go on an away mission, which you might, because you’re damn good, be careful. Don’t touch any plants, don’t sleep with any strange beings, don’t try to pet any animals. Listen to your commanding officers. At all times. I don’t care if it’s an engineer or a doctor or command, they’ve all seen a thing or two, you listen to all of them. Are we clear?”

 

George nods, eyes serious as he looks at Leonard.

 

“Make us proud,” Leonard says finally, pulling him into a long hug. Chris takes his turn next, and Leonard pulls out a spare PADD.

 

“Here,” he says to George, “take it, I loaded a bunch of books and films and stuff onto there, maybe if you’re bored you can read or something.”

 

“Thanks, Lenny,” he says softly, taking the PADD and putting it into his duffel, setting it right on top.

 

“Stay safe out there, Georgie,” Leonard says.

 

“Take care, George,” Chris says.

 

He looks at them both and nods, eyes determined.

 

“Go on, then,” Leonard says, after they’ve all stood there for a few seconds, unable to move or speak, wanting this moment to last a little longer. “Go on, show them what an amazing officer you’ll make.”

 

George nods and turns.

 

“Don’t forget to comm us!” Chris reminds him.

 

George smiles at them one last time and boards the shuttle, waving at Leonard and Chris from the window.

 

They stay until the shuttle rises into the sky, until it grows smaller and smaller, until they can’t see it anymore, and then they go home.

 

---

They end up not going anywhere. It’s only a week until the Reliant is scheduled to depart, after all.

 

Leonard spends some time in his lab, double and triple and quadruple checking his vaccine.

 

He covers a couple of shifts in the hospital, when Jackson’s kid gets sick, when Nguyen has a family emergency.

 

He drops in to have a meeting with Archer, who tells him that the flu vaccine he’d been working on at Leonidas has finally been approved and implemented. He gets a comm from Williams later that same day, telling him about the same thing and telling him the colony wanted to recognize him in some way.

 

Leonard isn’t too bothered about recognition, and in fact would rather stay a little below the radar, but it’s nice to know that no more kids are gonna get sick with the flu.

 

Mostly, though, he spends time with Chris. They go out to the cinema, watch movies, get dinner, tell each other stories about their childhood.

 

The night before the shuttle’s going to take them to the Reliant, Len makes sure he’s got all his research materials, and back up copies, and back ups to the back ups, because anything can happen in space. He packs the sweater Liz Kirk made him, and a dozen more.

 

“I kinda wish Andor wasn’t a fucking ice planet, I’ve had enough of freezing my tailbone off,” he grumbles to Chris, “and pack a sweater, Christopher, spaceships are always cold.”

 

Chris looks at him, amused. “You turn into kind of a dad when it comes to space, Len. You could see it on George’s face, too, he was doing his model cadet expression.”

 

“Yeah, well, I’ve seen things. I know things.”

 

“You’re not that old!”

 

“I was the youngest CMO ever in Starfleet history. I got that position during an emergency when my superiors were killed in action. You’re right, I’m not that old, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen some things, Chris.”

 

Chris goes quiet and packs a sweater.

 

---

The shuttle ride is quiet, though Leonard mutters a few points to Chris about the pilot’s performance, a few improvements that Hikaru had mentioned to him once when they’d been alone on an away mission, killing time until Spock and Jim had gotten back.

 

Chris holds his hand the whole time, looking out the window at their Earth, growing smaller every second.

 

They land in the shuttle hangar of the ship and Leonard does a quick scan of the place, taking in how it looks.

 

Chris watches as Leonard’s shoulders straighten and he stands up taller, and he can see the officer in him.

 

He finds the way to George’s quarters pretty quickly. “Get to know you roommates, Chris. Comm me when you want to hang out, I’m going to settle in my quarters.”

 

“Be nice to your roommates,” Chris teases.

 

Leonard stops, turns, and smirks. “What roommates?” he asks innocently, “physicians get their own quarters, sweetheart.”

 

---

Leonard lets Chris stew for a couple of hours before he comes to pick him up for dinner.

 

“Come stay in my quarters,” he says with a smile, looking at how Chris has stuffed his bag under his bunk. Another cadet has a towel drying, and it’s hanging over the top bunk, the one that overhangs Chris’. He has to shift to the side to get up without disturbing it.

 

“Honestly, Len, I thought you’d never ask.”

 

“You probably won’t be able to keep them the whole time, since I think they’ve only got them booked for me until I get to Andor, and then again when I get back from Andor until we get home. But it’s better than nothing, right?”

 

“So much better,” Chris agrees, a little amazed as Leonard navigates them to the mess hall without so much as looking at one of the fire escape maps in the corridor.

 

“How do you know where everything is already?”

 

“Same basic layout as my old girl had, bless her. She was a bit bigger though, flagship and all that.”

 

Chris can hear the pride in Leonard’s voice, the slightest bit of smugness. “Okay, Mr. Ex-Flagship CMO, cut the ego a little bit, come back down to ear—to the Reliant with the rest of us.”

 

“Scotty would weep to see their engines here,” Leonard tells him, “he’s absolutely just sit down and have a psychiatric break, and then work for eighty hours nonstop improving them until he could finally look at them without crying.”

 

Chris can’t help but laugh. “Oh my god, you’re such an arrogant prick about your ship!”

 

Leonard grins. “Comes from dating the Captain. He anthropomorphized the hell out of her, and here I am now, still calling a hunk of metal her and saying she was beautiful. It’s just a dick-measuring contest, I can’t believe I’m all caught up in it now, too.”

 

“Well, simmer down, nobody’s gonna like it if you talk trash about the ship,” Chris mutters to him.

 

Leonard mutters his acquiescence.

 

“And stop talking about your best Chief Engineer in the fleet and your best helmsman in the Fleet and your youngest Captain in the Fleet and your youngest CMO in the Fleet!”

 

“Am I still allowed to talk about our younger navigator in the Fleet? He was seventeen when he started, bless ‘im.”

 

“No—wait, are you serious? He was seventeen?”

 

“Yeah, and he got us out of a singularity once and then the other time, and I’m still confused at how he managed this without dislocating his shoulder, because he was a skinny little thing—he pulled J and Scotty both up when the ship was sideways and about to crash into the planet, it was a whole thing.”

 

Chris laughs again. “Okay, okay, so you had the best crew of all time, Leonard, is that what you wanted to hear?”

 

“Did I tell you about our Vulcan First Officer? Because he and I got on about as well as oil and water, but he was fucking good at his job—“

 

---

Chris gets thrown in with the comms cadets for a little while, even though he’s command. He doesn’t mind, though. When he becomes a captain, he’ll know how every part of his ship functions.

 

Leonard takes a shift rotation with medical, seeing patients on his own and sometimes supervising some of the other cadets, who might’ve grumbled about it, except they still geek out over him as if he’s a god. Leonard still acts like he doesn’t see, which Chris thinks is both amusing but also a little hard to buy, since they’re pretty clearly obsessed.

 

Chris tells his roommates that he’ll be sharing with his boyfriend for a few days. He’s careful to say he’ll be back eventually, once he sees Davidson eyeing his bed and the space under it.

 

He clears out and settles into Leonard’s room—about the same size as the one he’d been assigned to share with three other cadets.

 

He and Leonard sleep in the same bed. They’re lucky, getting assigned to the same shift schedule. They’re less likely that it’s gamma shift, working while everyone else is asleep, but they sleep beta away comfortably, wrapped in each other’s arms, waking for gamma and then grabbing breakfast afterwards in alpha. They go to the observation deck some nights. They stay in their quarters, sometimes, reading or watching films. Leonard does his paperwork in there, head laid in Chris’ lap with Chris’ hands in his hair, massaging his scalp until he makes some unholy sound of pleasure, and then they forget about the paperwork (at least for a few hours. Leonard knows the hell that is missed paperwork, and he’s determined not to get into it again).

 

Finally, the time comes for Leonard to get on the transporter pad. He’s going to be beamed down, since he’s the only one who needs to go to Andor. He kisses Chris goodbye and strokes his cheek.


“Now, you listen to me, and I am dead serious about this, Christopher. Listen to your commanding officers. If you go on an away mission, be careful. Stay safe. Please.”

 

Chris nods, mouth dry as he watches him step onto the transporter.

 

“En—“

 

“Wait—“ Chris calls out. The transporter operator is clearly irritated, but does wait.

 

Chris runs up to him and hugs him tight, pressing a quick kiss to his mouth. “You stay safe too. Promise me, Leonard.”

 

“Promise, sweetheart. I promise I’ll do my best. Now you’ve gotta get off the transporter pad, Chris. I’m ready, Ensign. Energize.”

 

He’s gone.

 

“Can we confirm that he got there?” Chris asks, worried because transporters are fallible, they know that better than anybody.

 

“This is not actually my first time operating the transporter, I’ll have you know. Cadet.” The technician says, acid in her voice.

 

She types some sequence of commands.

 

Reliant to Andor Transporter Pad 265c, this is Ensign Townsend. Has our physician arrived safely at your base?”

 

“Affirmative, Ensign.”

 

She shoots Chris a look, as if he’s a particularly disgusting bug she’d like to squash under her shoe. “Thank you, Andor TP 265c, Reliant out.”

 

Chapter Text

Andor is… cold. It’s really cold, colder by far than Leonidas, with its cities underground, heated by geothermal vents and connected to each other by miles-long tunnels.

 

That’s pretty much all there is to it, really. Leonard is a bit of a curiosity there, with his pale skin and absence of antennae. A lot of the Andorians pity him, asking when they’ll grow back, until he explains that he’s actually quite healthy for a human male, and he’s never had antennae in the first place (this only makes them pity him more).

 

He misses the sun. He misses the sky. He misses the stars. He misses the sim, which had let him get close to the stars even while it kept his feet firmly on earth.

 

He misses George and his laughter and his flirting and his kindness.

 

He misses Chris and his… his everything, really.

 

He gets messages from them. George is working his way through that PADD full of books—you’re a closet romantic, Lenny, it’s actually kind of adorable—and Chris is excited about things like comms and the comms officer who’s opted to teach him Rigellian while he’s there—she’s so cool, Len!

 

He mentions her name in one of his messages, and in a moment of idle curiosity, Leonard looks her up.

 

Apparently a stunningly beautiful woman with an exceptionally talented tongue is a universal constant. He tries not to think about his sweet, beautiful Chris, tries not to think that she must be attracted to him, because who wouldn’t be.

 

But then, just a few lines down—

 

I hang out with some of the medical staff when I’m not on shift. They ask about you, and I tell them almost everything I know. Not everything, because some things are just for me, Len. There’s a nurse here who thinks I look different when I talk about you. She hasn’t stopped teasing me about it in days. Can’t be too mad though, I think she might be right.

 

Guess word got around that I’m yours, Len.

 

His team mostly consists of Andorians, along with one Vulcan. They test his formulations and the Andorian one is selected to move on to a clinical trial, while the Vulcan one gets a little more study, since many of the Andorians are not Vulcan physiology experts. T’parn seems optimistic. She’s less expressive than Spock, but even still, there’s a certain weight in her voice when she talks about it, a certain something that’s more sedate than excitement, but might be called anticipation.

 

He wakes up, eats his meals, goes to the lab, and comes back to his quarters. That’s pretty much all there is to it, for the next month, until the Reliant comes back to pick him up. He laughs at messages that Chris and George send him and sends messages back. He reads a few books on his PADD in his spare time, catches up with some of the newest journal articles published in medicine—that’s getting to be a little less exciting, though, because he knows nearly all of these things already. They’d been part of the accepted wisdom when he’d trained.

 

Chris is there when he beams up, smiling at him and hugging him close and taking his bag, talking his ear off about all the things he’s learned until they’re at Leonard’s quarters. Chris might as well be talking in his newly acquired Rigellian, for all that Leonard manages to understand him.

 

He gets set up in the same quarters he had before, by some miracle, and only minutes after he’s settled in, Chris starts to look at him, with a question in his eyes.

 

He’s not assuming, but he wants.

 

“Bring your stuff in here, Chrissy. Stay with me. Bit more privacy than you’ve got, right? Four grown men to a bathroom is too much in the morning, honestly.”

 

Chris is there and back within fifteen minutes, which means he’d probably packed before Len had even gotten back onto the ship, hoping that he’d be asked back. It makes Leonard’s chest ache, the way this man wants him.

 

Chris’ enthusiasm is adorable for about twenty minutes, but Leonard is fucking exhausted and he needs to write up his findings from Andor. He’s got a shift in the morning, too, which doesn’t help things, and for a brief, brief minute, he feels like he’s dating Pavel Chekov with his boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm.

 

But once Leonard lies down, Chris lays down next to him, quiet and still. There’s only the gentle rise and fall of his chest with his breath, and his narrow fingertips tracing lines against Leonard’s shoulder.

 

“I missed you when you were gone,” he confesses, “didn’t sleep as well. I mean, Johansson snores like a fucking lawnmower, which might have been part of the issue, but I kept thinking about you. Wondering if you were sick or whether you’d been sleeping, whether you remembered to eat because sometimes you don’t, when you get excited about your work…”

 

“I missed you too,” Leonard whispers back, leaning forward enough to kiss him on the lips.

 

He can feel Chris’ arousal against his hip, but he’s too tired to be bothered with sex. He turns and presses his mouth to Chris’, kissing him slowly and slipping his hand into Chris’ sweatpants. He strokes him slowly and steadily, watching him fall apart. Chris cleans up after, wiping Leonard’s hand clean in the process, and then Leonard accepts a grateful kiss on the mouth. Chris wants to reciprocate, which is sweet, but Leonard turns him down as delicately as he can.

 

“I’m tired tonight, sweetheart. Tomorrow, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Chris says softly, a hint of insecurity in his voice. Leonard knows that he should probably deal with that. Chris is probably thinking all sorts of things, his brain going faster than he can rein it in.

 

He’s probably thinking that Leonard fell in love with someone on Andor—though how could he possibly find an Andorian triad who were all interested in him? He’s probably thinking that he slept with someone else. He’s probably thinking that Leonard’s not attracted to him anymore.

 

None of it is true, but Leonard doesn’t have the energy to break down a deep-seated inferiority complex right now. Instead, he kisses Chris again, on the temple, and whispers to him before he falls asleep.

 

“My beautiful boy,” he murmurs against the skin.

 

He feels some of the tension in Chris’ muscles release as he does, and as much as he tries to stay awake longer, he can’t.

 

---

 

Personal log, Leonard McCoy:

 

Chris is really young sometimes, Jim. I adore him, I do, honestly, but he’s so young. It’s almost exhausting sometimes. Were you ever this young, Jimmy? Probably not, but that’s because you were always mature, in the ways that counted. Can’t be grateful for that, because I know why you were like that, and it was all the shit you’d been through. But I miss talking to someone who knows the same things I know, who’s seen the same things I’ve seen.

 

I miss you, Jim. But hey, that’s nothing new, I guess. Take care of yourself out there.

 

---

 

Leonard gets put on alpha shift, which is when Chris is off. Chris is on gamma shift, which is when Leonard sleeps, so they don’t see each other as much as they could.

 

Chris impresses his superiors, from what Leonard can tell from treating them and giving them routine physicals and nutrition boosters.

 

He impresses them enough to be selected for an away mission, and Leonard’s happy for him, truly, but mostly he is tired and grumpy and he’d just like to sleep before alpha in the morning.

 

Still, he spends gamma shift waiting in the transporter room, smiling at him and giving him a kiss and wishing him good luck and ordering him in no uncertain terms to stay safe and come back in one piece.

 

He goes back to bed for a few short hours, and drinks three cups of coffee during the first half of his shift.

 

The away team has been gone for awhile now, and he starts to wonder, in the back of his head while he treats plasma burns from malfunctioning consoles and minor cuts and bruises that always arise, whether people walk into walls or mishandle mechanical tools (and honestly, how did these people get through the Academy?), if something has gone wrong.

 

But he puts that feeling aside, because there’s nothing he can do about it. Chris is going to be fine, he reminds himself. He’s just a cadet, they wouldn’t bring him if it wasn’t safe.

 

As far as missions can be safe, when they’re on a strange planet with incomplete information. The information is always incomplete, of course, and some officers get a little too cocky—but those officers don’t last long. Either they get themselves reassigned or get themselves killed.

 

He reminds himself that he’s an anxious person and a consummate pessimist, that he thinks the worst possible thing will always be what happens.

 

He ignores the fact that when he’s had a feeling like this in the past, a niggle in his brain and a low, simmering nausea in his gut, things have never worked out well for the people he loves.

 

---

 

“Medical team, report to transporter bay. Prepare for incoming injuries.”

 

The order comes over the intercom loud and clear and Leonard can’t think, because Chris was on that away team. He’d impressed their captain, he’d earned a treat, getting to go down to the planet with the grownups.

 

Leonard grabs a nurse and tells him to take care of the patient he’d been treating for a fracture. “The bone’s set, just set the regen on him and watch his progress,” he mutters.

 

He barely waits for the nurse to nod before he’s sprinting to the transporter bay.

 

The away team beams back up, and none of them looks great, really. But Leonard couldn’t care less about the rest of them. He goes straight for Chris, who’s half laying on the ground, blood blooming across his shirt like flowers. Leonard throws himself down next to him and starts applying pressure.

 

“Chris! Chris, wake up, stay with me, please, sweetheart, come on—“

 

Chris groans and looks at him, eyes at half mast and glazed over.

 

“What happened?” he barks at the nearest person, looking up for some answers.

 

The nearest person is the captain, who maybe considers saying something about how to treat a superior officer, but instead answers his question. “Projectile weapon, like an Earth gun, he got hit in the chest and the side, a third bullet skimmed the side of his head.”

 

Leonard nods. “Get me a biobed!” he barks, and the authority in his voice makes sure he’s got one.

 

“Okay, sweetheart, I’m gonna move you, okay? We need to get you up onto that biobed, then we can beam over to medbay and I can start operating, fixing you up,” Leonard promises.

 

“Len,” Chris gasps, “didn’t think—see you again.”

 

“I’m right here, sweetheart. I’m going to fix you, I swear—just hold on for me, darlin’,“ Leonard babbles, applying a pressure field on the biobed so that he has a hand to spare to take Chris’. He looks at the lieutenant manning the transporter controls, who looks calm even in the midst of chaos.

 

“Len,” Chris gasps, “love you. Need t’say it.”

 

“Love you too, Chris. Hey, you, beam us over to medbay, now,” he orders, some desperation in his voice, and in a twinkle of lights, they’re gone.

 

It’s a rush after that. He picks out a two nurses to assist and they run into the OR, Chris on his biobed, blinking slowly while Leonard wills the sterilizer to move faster over his hands.

 

He cuts off Chris’ shirt first, the bloodstained command gold with no rank to show that he’s still a cadet, that he’s still in training.

 

“Nurse, anesthesia. Breathe for me, Chris, come on, sweetheart. Count backwards from ten.”

 

He’s out by seven, and Leonard is cutting into his skin, resenting with everything inside him the spilling of yet more of Chris Pike’s blood.

 

But it has to be done. The bullets are easy enough to find and remove. The next four hours are spent repairing the damage they’d done to Chris.

 

Leonard’s hands don’t shake once, even if he spends the whole surgery with his heart racing as if he’s running a marathon.

 

Every now and then he whispers to his patient, and his nurses are kind enough to turn a deaf ear to it.

 

Stay with me, Chris.

 

Come on, just a little bit longer, sweetheart.

 

Come back to me, darlin’, please, I don’t know how I can do this without you—

 

We still have unfinished business, you and I, Christopher Pike, come back so we can finish it.

 

Chris’ pulse slows dangerously, the monitors screaming, and Leonard orders a nurse to hang a unit of B neg immediately.

 

Pull through, dammit, don’t you fucking dare leave me, Christopher Pike, he orders him.

 

When he’s done, finally, he tells the nurse to hook up another unit of blood to help replenish what was lost, and he watches, following behind as Chris gets transferred to a fresh biobed. He feels like a ghost, following behind the only person who can see him. He has to stop at the door of the OR, to strip off his bloody scrubs and find a fresh uniform, but as soon as he’s done with that, he’s back out in the medbay. He looks around, finds the CMO and asks if there’s anything that needs to be done, ignoring the trembling in his hands and the shaking in his voice.

 

He is a professional. He won’t break down. He can’t.

 

The older man, with white in his hair and sympathy in his eyes, tells him his staff have everything covered.

 

“Go sit with your partner, son,” he says gently, and getting permission to do so is such a relief that Leonard’s knees nearly buckle. He falls more than sits in the chair next to Chris’ bed and takes his hand, staring at the displays that prove to him, along with the warmth in the fingers he’s holding, that Chris is still alive.

 

He finds a PADD and types out a message with one-hand.

 

Georgie—

 

Chris got chosen on an away mission, came back with three new holes in him. I would have been so fucking pissed if I wasn’t busy trying to save his life. He told me he loved me, George, can you believe it? While he was bleeding out under my fucking hands, that’s what he said. I patched him up, though. I’m sitting next to him, waiting for him to wake up.

 

You have full permission to kick his ass next time you see him for being such an asshole and nearly dying on me. You can’t just spring something like that on a man.

 

I miss you like you wouldn’t believe. You’re the only person I’ve wanted to talk to, since it happened. You’re the only other person who loves him like I love him, Georgie. I don’t want you to worry too much, because the worst is over now, but I still felt like you deserved to know. He’s your Chris, too.

 

But he’s going to be okay.

 

Wish you were here, Georgie.

 

Love, Lenny

 

Leonard swears to every god he can think of that he’ll never complain about Chris’ energy levels again, not after seeing him so pale and still against the sheets of the biobed.

 

I’ll never complain again, just let him heal, just let him be okay, please—

---

Chris wakes to the sight of Leonard, hunched over his bed and fast asleep. He absently wonders why Leonard hadn’t just climbed in with him. And then he wonders why Leonard’s there at all, he has a shift, doesn’t he? He shouldn’t be there—

 

Something about his pondering must have disturbed Leonard, because he shifts, neck cracking, and looks up at Chris, smiling sleepily for a second before he bolts upright with several audible cracks from his back.

 

He glances back and forth between Chris’ face and his monitors, practiced eyes reading blood pressure, pulse ox, respiration rate, pulse, until he calms down.

 

“Fucking do that again, and I’ll rip your dick off and reattach it without anesthesia,” he says quietly.

 

If he’d been hoping for an appropriately fearful response, he’s disappointed by the way Chris takes his hand and holds it tight. “I’m okay,” he promises, “I’m okay, Len. You fixed it.”

 

“Yeah, I fixed it. Tell me who the hell let a cadet get shot three times, though, I’d like a word with that particular son of a bitch—“

 

“You’d like a word, Doctor?” asks the tall dark-skinned man, looking at him with amusement.

 

“He was just kidding,” Chris says instantly, “just a poor joke, Commander, sir.”

 

“It didn’t sound like a joke,” the Commander says, and with a sinking feeling in his stomach, Leonard recognizes the First Officer of the ship. Of all the people to piss off… He snaps to attention in a second, ignoring the twinge in his back.

 

“My language was reprehensible, sir,” he says, “but I do think it’s worth analyzing the decision-making process that led to a cadet being placed on an away mission that resulted in two fatalities and in the cadet himself suffering near fatal blood loss. There’s… an opportunity for learning, sir, if you will.”

 

The Commander smiles wryly, “I am well aware. The Captain and I have been learning all night. Don’t presume that we don’t take the loss of life seriously. Especially when we’ve been entrusted with some of the best and brightest young people at the Academy… and yourself, of course, Doctor. Or should I say Cadet?”

 

Leonard can’t help it, he grins. “Both are correct. Yeah, I’m a pretty old bastard, and not all that bright, so you’re not wrong there, sir. And I understand that you and the entire command team are doing your best, I just—Christopher is my partner, and I was lashing out. I was worried about him, that’s all.”

 

The commander looks back and forth between them and arches an eyebrow at Leonard. “Robbing the cradle, Doctor?” he asks.

 

Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point, Commander. Sometimes our hearts don’t ask permission to feel,” Leonard says very quietly.

 

The commander looks at him for a moment, man to man, eye to eye, and softens ever so slightly. He nods, turning and walking away.

 

“And he’s not robbing the cradle!” Chris says loudly, “I’m in my twenties!”

 

“Shut up, Christopher, don’t talk back to a commanding officer,” Leonard orders.

 

He goes quiet for a moment, but it’s Chris, so it really is just a moment.

 

“You speak French?”

 

“No, that was a quote, Christopher. Pascal. The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

 

---

Personal log of Leonard H. McCoy, new entry.

 

Leonard can hear the fatigue in his voice as he speaks to the console. His bed is empty, and he hates the fact that he’d been tired when he’d seen Chris off, that part of him had thought, I can’t wait to go back to bed. He hates that he’d been annoyed when Chris had had to get up and get ready while Leonard was asleep, hates that he’d grumbled at him for it, told him to quiet down so he could get some goddamn rest.

 

Jim, Chris almost died today. I had my hands in his chest, digging out a fucking bullet, because some asshole had some goddamn political objections to the trade agreement between the Federation and his world. One bullet to the shoulder, one to the side, one that skimmed the side of his head.

 

I saved him, Jim, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about if the bullets had just been an inch to the side. Perforated bowel, septic almost immediately, probably irretrievable. Bullet to the heart, gone before we even got the away team back on board. Bullet to the brain, same thing. Best case scenario, he’d be a vegetable, and it’d be up to his parents to decide when to turn off his life support.

 

You know the worst part of it all, Jim? I sat by his bedside, I laid my head down, right near his hip, and I dreamed about you. I dreamed about all the times I was there with you, sitting in a chair like this next to a bed like Chris was on, waiting for you to wake up, praying that you would.

 

So that’s the kind of asshole you were in love with for five years.

 

Take care. Somebody out there will have their hearts absolutely destroyed if you go out on a mission and don’t come back. That somebody is me, y’know. But other people, too. It’s been long enough, hasn’t it? Does it come in waves for you, like it does for me? Or are you just over it by now?

 

Either way, take care, beautiful boy.

When Chris gets well enough to be discharged, Leonard walks him back to their quarters, settles him in, and kisses him. Nothing else happens for another forty-eight hours, at which point Chris is apparently tired of being looked after, and pulls Leonard close with a strong, solid yank of his arm.

 

“Don’t do that, you’re gonna reopen it—did you go to your regen appointment today, Chris—“

 

Leonard falls silent when Chris tugs off his shirt to show off the pink puckered scar tissue.

 

He stays quiet when Chris reaches for him and pulls his shirt off too.

 

“Make love to me,” he asks quietly, and Leonard swallows hard, eyes unable to break away from the two puckered scars and the small path of hairless scalp on the side of his head, where they’d had to shave him so Leonard could stitch him up properly, and he does.

 

He presses careful fingers into Chris, because even one more iota of pain inflicted on this wonderful, beautiful man is too damn much. He opens him up slowly, kissing him the whole time, whispering to him how beautiful he is.

 

When he’s ready, Leonard presses into him, and Chris holds him so tight Leonard thinks for a hazy moment that they might be joined forever. It’s a stupid thought to have, but Chris’ nails are digging into his skin and he’s begging Leonard to move, and Leonard’s thinking about Jim for just a second and then he’s not anymore. His eyes refocus and he unravels Christopher Pike slowly, carefully, the way he knows he will do everything with this man.

 

He makes Chris cry out, arch, bite his lip and then Leonard’s neck, gasping and groaning and panting until he finally comes, and then Leonard follows him down. It’s a controlled fall, somehow, and he’s grateful for it. It’s the first time they’ve done this, the first time they hadn’t been satisfied just using hands and mouths and rubbing against each other inelegantly like horny teenagers.

 

Leonard wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

Okay, he would trade it, even now, even still. But only for one thing.

 

---

Leonard wakes up early the next morning from a dream about Jim’s clever fingers and laughing eyes and feels sick. Instead of heading to the bathroom, he stumbles over to the console.

Computer, he whispers, Personal log of Leonard H. McCoy, new entry. Please note the time and date.

Acknowledged. Recording beginning now.

Jim,
Leonard whispers, Jim, darlin’, I hope you’re not mad. I slept with Chris. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry—I just—how long do I have to be here before I can stop feeling guilty? I love you still, but I miss you, too. I—Jesus, Jim, I still dream about you, but I still think I’m starting to forget your voice. I wish I could hear it again, one more time—Jimmy, are your eyes really the same color as Georgie’s or are they more like your mom’s? I try so hard to hold onto every piece of you, but my brain isn’t cooperating—you keep slipping away from me, and it’s breaking my heart

“Len? Where’d you go? Come back to bed, baby.”

 

End recording.


---

The wave of longing catches him by surprise. It hits him like a hammer, sometimes, when he sees the ship and wants it to be the Enterprise, when he sees the XO and wants it to be Spock, when he sees the Captain and his chest aches because he doesn’t have blond hair and a familiar smile.

He doesn’t tell Chris, though he’s not dumb enough to think that Chris hasn’t noticed.

 

He’s definitely noticed, but he’s giving Leonard time, waiting him out, waiting for him to come back.

 

They don’t have too much time anyway, considering they’ll be back at the Academy in a few days.

 

In the end, Len does come back. He crawls into bed with his lover and kisses him and caresses him and tells him again when he’d said to him when they were both soaked in his blood on the transporter pad.

 

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Chris whispers the words back, falls into Leonard’s touch easily and eagerly and it feels like one of the few right things in this world. Each time they make love, Leonard spends long minutes on the pucker of the bullet holes, leaving them with his tongue until even the scar tissue, less sensitive than the rest of Chris’ skin, is singing for him.


---

Leonard has mixed feelings about getting back home. He isn’t used to taking orders in the medbay, and at SFM, he supervises his own patients, and usually, higher-ups don’t want to get involved. And George is back on earth, he’d said in his last message. His mission had ended just a few days before theirs had, and it’ll be good to see his face again.

 

He feels at home in space, though, in a way he might never feel at home on this Earth. At the same time, the differences between him and Chris grow bigger when they’re in space—that naivete he sees in Chris occasionally grating at his nerves. But this ship is not his ship. Her crew is not his crew. Her captain is not his captain, and in the end, that’s always what it comes down to.

 

He’s almost glad to come back down to earth, in the end, to the familiar grounds of the Academy. It helps him minimize the gap in life experience he has with Chris.

 

They holds hands on the shuttle going down from the ship to the Academy. Everyone on board the ship is aware of them being together, at this point, if they hadn’t been before, when Chris moved out of his assigned quarters to stay in Leonard’s. But if there were any crewmembers who were particularly insulated from the spread of gossip, even they’ve been made aware. The first thing is the way he’d spoken to Chris during surgery—the nurses weren’t bad, but as a group, they tend to be notorious gossips, damn them. That makes him a curiosity amongst the crew.

 

But the second thing is his conversation with the First Officer, which is considerably juicier than the news that two cadets hooking up. The whole ship was talking about the gruff doctor and how his voice had grown tender when he talked to his cadet, how he’d confessed that the heart sometimes didn’t ask permission to feel things. Half the nurses were swooning over his Pascal quote, Chris informs him later. At least they’re professional enough not to let it show when he’s working with them.

 

They get back home, only to find George is already there. He’s at the shuttle station, waiting for them. They show up and hug him tight. Leonard sees the way he assesses Chris, as if he can’t help himself, looking him up and down as if to check that Leonard hadn’t been lying.

 

“He’s okay now,” Leonard says quietly, a hand on George’s shoulder, “just a few scars.”

 

George nods and punches Chris in the shoulder a little too hard to be friendly.

 

“That was for getting yourself shot,” he informs him before doing it again, “and that’s for saying I love you while you were bleeding out, you melodramatic son of a bitch.”

 

“You told him?!”

 

Leonard just laughs and presses a kiss to Chris’ cheek, winking deviously at George.

 

“’Course he did. I’m his favorite, Chrissy, you know that,” George teases, leading them away.

 

When they get settled in their room again, George orders food and provides the drinks and it’s comfortable in a way that still surprises Leonard sometimes. It’s comfortable like staying in with Jim had been, back when they’d been at the Academy.

 

A few days later, he leaves Chris and George together to wax poetic about comms and ops and tactics and other things Leonard is proficient at, but not super interested in. He tells them he’s going to the lab, to test out the suggestions T’pak had sent him over subspace message.

 

They nod and smile and act like they care, and maybe they do, as much as they can care about something they don’t really understand.

 

Instead of going to the lab, though, he shows up at his therapist’s office.

 

“I slept with Chris and I felt really guilty afterwards,” he announces plainly, “and I need to know if that’s normal grief or not.”

 

“There is no textbook pathway for grief,” his therapist says gently, “but you’ve been with Chris awhile now, Leonard.”

 

“Yes, but we were off for a little bit, and then I was away, and then I was away again, and then he was injured. He got injured. Badly. Over the course of all of it, we never—in medical terms, we never engaged in penetrative sex until after he got discharged from medbay and after that, ever since that, I’ve been feeling guilty.”

 

The therapist asks him more questions, and Leonard tells him everything.

 

“I feel like Chris—he’s much younger than me. He doesn’t know the things I know about the world, about Starfleet. He’s naïve sometimes. He doesn’t know, about things like making choices that someone’s life depends on. He doesn’t know about losing a lover, losing a parent, leaving a child parentless. Maybe it’s because it’s so new, but sometimes it’s almost exhausting to be around him. I’m a miserable bastard by nature—like one of those plants that grows best when there’s not too much sun on it, and he’s so wonderfully bright.

 

“I’m afraid our relationship’s always been unbalanced. In the beginning, I was doing all the taking, when the hurt was fresh and he needed to be there, to support me, and now I feel like I’m doing more of the giving, maybe? But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what a relationship is? Maybe one person is always taking a little more. Does it matter who it is?”

 

The therapist clears his throat. “I was told once that it always changed, who gave more and who took more. I was told that it’s rare for it to be 50-50 all the time. Sometimes it’s 70-30, sometimes it’s even 90-10, but as long as one person is willing to reach out, to make the effort, it’s still salvageable. I—even in therapy school, they don’t tell us the secret to a perfect relationship. I’ve always thought that was because there was no such thing as the perfect relationship.”

 

“Me and Jim—“

 

“Think about it, Leonard. Were you perfect?”

 

Leonard does, closing his eyes and heaving a sigh. “No. Codependence, substance abuse, unhealthy coping mechanisms, promiscuity, fear of abandonment—we had our share of issues.”

 

“You’re still grieving. Tell me the first thing you word that comes to mind when I say Christopher.”

 

“Mine,” Leonard says instantly, “Perfect. Beautiful. Good. Worthy.”

 

“I don’t know how much math doctors need to know, but that was five words, Leonard, not one.”

 

“I’m not sure how much science therapists need to know, but more data points help better support or disprove a hypothesis,” Leonard shoots back, though his voice is teasing, mostly.

 

“You let go of some tension when you thought about him,” his therapist says very quietly, “I saw how your body relaxed when you were thinking about him. That says a lot, Leonard. I won’t tell you what to do, you know I don’t go around giving advice. But consider whether you’re glamorizing your relationship with Jim, okay? Consider whether a relationship is worth abandoning because it’s not perfect. Consider whether this relationship is salvageable, and whether you want to put in the work to improve it.”

 

Leonard thinks about it for about thirty seconds, and he knows what his answer is.

 

---

 

He takes Chris to the movies and kisses him nearly the whole time, until Chris is stifling giggles against Leonard’s neck.

 

“I like you like this,” he whispers, “when you stop worrying and enjoy things.”

 

“Not things. Being with you,” Leonard whispers back.

 

Someone behind them lets out a harsh, pointed cough, and Leonard pulls away to direct a harsh glare at them. It doesn’t have any effect, but Leonard doesn’t care, wrapping an arm around Chris’ shoulders as they sit there.

 

He stops trying to protect Chris, at least he stops trying to protect him from Leonard himself.

 

When he loses a patient, he comes home and tells Chris and lets Chris take care of him, quiet and obliging as Chris gets him out of his scrubs and into the shower and then into some pajamas, climbing into bed next to him and holding him tight and listening to everything he has to say. Chris lets him lay with his head over Chris’ heart, listening to the way it beats until the steady rhythm lulls him to sleep.

 

When he has to make a choice about who to operate on first after a major motor vehicle accident, he tells Chris, tells him about how he made the decision and stuck to it, even though he was terrified it would cost someone their life. He lets Chris lay him down and rub at the knots in his back and whisper reassurances and praise and words of utter, unconditional love.

 

And in return, he does the same for Chris, after he comes home from a shitty exam where he’d been given a list of exactly that sort of scenario and asked to make a decision. He does the same when Chris comes home from a networking event, almost certain that he’s never going to accomplish anything and he’s going to die as an Ensign, an unnecessary cog in an all-too-large machine.

 

It makes them stronger. Astonishingly, it makes them stronger.

 

(Leonard thinks it’s very big of his therapist not to say I told you so.)

 

---

 

Their last year goes by too fast. Leonard goes into it knowing that it will. Last years always go fast. It had been true of undergrad, of medical school, and of the Academy the first time. That last one might not count, though, considering they’d been launched into their positions a month before they were scheduled to do so. Those of them that had survived, at least.

 

He meets with Archer, keeps him caught up. He writes his thesis on the Andorian measles vaccine—which is currently being implemented on Andor to stunning success, and he presents it at a few conferences on-planet, though he gets invitations from all over the Quadrant. Andor, in particular, is eager to have him back, but he’s a little too fond of sunshine to agree to it yet. Besides, he’s got about a million other things to do.

 

Chris and George are up to their eyeballs in survival drills and tests of their negotiation skills, assessments that’ll determine what aspect of command they’ll head into.

 

They’re both gunning for captaincies, Leonard knows, and they’ll both get them, in all likelihood. Eventually.

 

When they do get them, they’ll be well-deserved.

 

But the first step involves getting a solid posting, somewhere where they can make connections and show their worth, somewhere they can shine bright enough that when Archer and his colleagues consider promotions, all of them have Chris Pike and George Kirk’s names on their lips.

 

There’s no more time for shuttle rides or going out drinking. It’s not a marathon, this year. It’s a series of short, intense sprints. One after the other after the other, until they’re more exhausted than words can express.

 

Leonard sprints, too. It’s been nearly sixteen months, and nobody’s coming for him. Jim probably wants to, and Leonard’s not doubting his commitment, of course. But Starfleet resources are finite and the Admiralty merciless, and Jim, genius maverick captain that he is, doesn’t have enough allies amongst the brass to get the resources he needs to create a controlled temporal anomaly.

 

He’s stuck here. He finds himself hoping, every few days, and every few days, he forces himself to let go of that small, fragile hope, forces himself to crush it and focus on the here and the now, because that’s all there’s ever going to be, from here on out.

 

He gets paper and exams and he does them all. He works on his thesis, churning out chapter after chapter until the shapes of the molecules dance behind his eyes when he lays himself down to rest.

 

Four more papers arrive. Do them, one and then another and then another and then another and then sleep for eighteen hours and wake up and cram for an exam.

 

Show up to networking events, chat to CMOs and XOs and captains, suck up to science officers and tactics officers and communications officers.

 

Show off knowledge of political situations, demonstrate competence in coming up with creative and practical solutions.

 

Show off ease of language by speaking effortless Orion and then exquisite Vulcan and then, for Leonard, broken Andorian and Tellarite, enough to get through a medical exam.

 

He gets over the age thing with Chris. When they’re at the Academy, it doesn’t seem to matter that much anyway, and when Leonard gives him a chance, tells him what he’s dealing with, he always handles it well. They take care of each other now, instead of one person doing all the caring and the other person just being taken care of. Leonard might almost say that the relationship is balanced.

 

He knows that once Chris ascends to command, which won’t be for another seven or eight years, probably, he’ll know what Leonard’s talking about, and he’ll have his own burdens to carry. He’ll have made strategic decisions that cost lives. He’ll opt not to act to save a few when it would involve risking many. He’ll see his crew members, good people, hurt and traumatized and killed. He’ll perform weddings on occasion, but more frequently, it’ll be funeral services.

 

Knowing that makes him cherish his Chris a little more, this naïveté that sometimes he hates, that sometimes pushes him away. It won’t last forever, and Chris is so utterly lovable that it’s stupid to push him away.

 

The fall semester ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, and the three of them sink into sleep with the slow inevitability of PADDs when their batteries finally die.

 

George goes home, and Chris does too. Leonard opts not to go anywhere, despite the hopeful look in Chris’ eyes as he’d invited him to come home. Leonard wants to say yes, wants to go meet his parents. But there’s an emergency at the hospital, and there are people there who have parents and children and siblings and lovers, and he’d rather give them a happy holiday than go be cheerfully Southern and charming and helpful to Chris’ parents. Chris understands, or at least he says he does, and kisses him before he boards the shuttle to head back to the Mojave, the desert that birthed him.

 

Leonard’s been starting to think about their postings, about the chances that they’ll be on the same ship. He wonders whether he’ll be posted on the Kelvin. He wonders if he wants to be.

 

All he knows is that Christopher Pike cannot be allowed to serve on the Kelvin, not for love nor money. He has to be somewhere safer. Anywhere safer.

 

On Christmas Day, he goes to the hospital and delivers a baby into the world. He’s not unaware of the irony.

 

He goes home and feels a little bit empty and a little bit numb. He wraps himself in a blanket and huddles in Chris’ bed, watching films and drinking (In moderation—always in moderation, these days. He’s too old to be flirting with alcoholism.).

 

The spring semester starts, and with it, George and Chris and the rest of the cadets come flooding back, refreshed enough to entertain the idea of the final push.

---


Leonard wakes one morning with an epiphany that Chris would hate. But Chris is still asleep, face tucked against Leonard’s neck. Leonard opts not to tell him.

 

Fortunately, there’s always Jim to talk to about things.

 

Personal log, Leonard Horatio McCoy, new entry, please.

 

Jim, I figured it out. I’m going to serve on the Kelvin. I’m going to request it. And when the time comes, I’m going to go down with the ship so your dad doesn’t have to.

You know I’m not really religious, I don’t think there was a reason I was dropped down here, a destiny I have to fulfill—but maybe this way I can do some good. For you, Jim.

It could end up being nothing, though. Maybe the
Narada won’t even happen in this one. Maybe it’ll happen but to another ship. I don’t know. All I know is it better not happen to the ship Chris serves on, or I’ll have to find another way back in time to save him. I’m not losing Chris Pike so fucking young, Jim, I’m just not. I don’t know if I could survive it, losing him after I’ve lost you. There’s gotta be a breaking point, right? There’s only so much a person can lose without going crazy, without giving up on the world—

 

But I’m going to do it. I’m going to save your dad. Give it a damn good try, at least. Wish me luck, sweetheart, and take care.

 

---

 

Archer asks for a meeting in March, and Leonard will always bend over backwards to meet with the man who almost singlehandedly established his life here. So he promises to do three night shifts in exchange for the one daytime shift he has scheduled during which Archer wants to meet, and he shows up chugging a cup of lukewarm coffee and tossing it into the bin just before he gets called in.

 

“Dr. McCoy,” Archer greets him.

 

“Good afternoon, Admiral,” Leonard says promptly, standing at attention for only a few seconds for Archer waves his arm.

 

“Just sit, Leonard. You know you can.”

 

“I find Admirals often like to stand on ceremony, sir,” Leonard says with a little smile.

 

“Maybe those who’ve just been promoted, they get off on making officers bend and scrape for ‘em,” Archer mutters.

 

Leonard toes the line of insubordination by smiling at Archer’s sarcasm, but doesn’t agree himself.

 

“I’m guessing you’re wondering why I scheduled this meeting for you. I know it’s not our standard meeting time.”

 

“I had wondered, yes, but I’m always happy to meet when you think it’s necessary, Jon.”

 

Archer grins. “Now, next you’ll be telling me you were free, too, when I know full well from Zhang that you took a… disadvantageous trade of shifts in order to be here.”

 

“I wasn’t originally free, but I did make myself available.” Leonard smiles dryly and Archer chuckles.

 

He sobers quickly, though, and looks at Leonard, scanning him as if looking for something.

 

“You’ve performed exceptionally in your classes, Leonard. Your instructors are often surprised by that, since they don’t know that at one point, you were of the same rank as them, if not higher, and definitely smarter—that last bit is off the record, you understand. It’s getting to be time for your placement, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, sir. Only a few more months left of coursework, and I’m wrapping up my dissertation and defending it next month.”

 

Archer nods thoughtfully. “Look, we both know that you have information. Information that I have promised I will not encourage you to share. But you do have that information. And you have a tremendous amount of skill. I will tell you right now that I’ve received a number of requests for you. On starbases, on colonial outposts. There haven’t been quite as many requests from starship CMOs—I suspect someone with your accomplishments intimidates them—but there are some, from officers I consider astute, secure enough in themselves that they want the best possible teams. Any ship with an Andorian captian, XO, CMO, or chief science officer has asked for you—so I guess you’re doing something right, son.”

 

Leonard furrows his brow. “Sir, I was a CMO on a ship—I have the skillset that is required to fill that position. Frankly I have knowledge that—would not be used to good effect stuck on a colonial outpost.”

 

“I have no doubt of that. The reason I called you in here to ask if you have any preferences as to your placement, Leonard. General or specific. If there is a specific ship you want that hasn’t requested you yet, I’ll do my best to get you on board. You can’t waltz into a medbay and just be its CMO, you understand, but you can serve on the ship you name.”

 

Leonard’s breath caught in his chest. “Sir—nobody has been offered this sort of choice before—“

 

“And very few will be offered any like it in the future.”

 

Leonard thinks about it, closes his eyes and thinks, and the answer is there, almost before he can think about it. This makes things so much easier. “The Kelvin, sir. I’d like to be assigned to the Kelvin.”

 

Archer nods, not looking at all surprised at the rapidity of his response.

 

“Any other requests, in order to play out the future as it ought to be?”

 

Leonard swallows at the bile steadily rising at the back of his throat. “George Kirk should be on the Kelvin as well, sir. Chris Pike—anywhere else. He—I believe he would perform well aboard the Reliant, he has served on several short missions with her, and I believe the captain holds him in high regard. But George must be on the Kelvin.”

 

“Alright then, I’ll make sure I get that—“

 

“Sir? May I ask about one more posting?”

 

“What’s one more?” Archer says sardonically, but his lips quirk upwards, and Leonard knows he’s not in any trouble.

 

Leonard bites his lip, because he knows the name he’s going to say will ensure that the future goes as planned, and yet, he doesn’t want to share George with anyone else—“Cadet Thompson, sir. Winona Thompson. May I ask where she’s going to be placed? Your best guess, if you’re not sure?”

 

“Oh, I’m sure. She’ll be on the Kelvin. Her performance is extraordinary enough that she, like you, will have her pick of postings. But she requested a shipside position, and there’s no reason to think she’ll turn down the flagship when Captain Robau himself has taken an interest in her. He thinks she’s Chief Engineer material. I understand I’ve given you some leeway here, Leonard, but I’m not sure I can explain the loss of Winona Thompson away to an inferior ship to Rich Robau.”

 

“I’m not asking you to, sir. She—she’s meant to be on the Kelvin. It’s a good thing that she’ll be there.”

 

Archer looks at him thoughtfully, studying his face, and Leonard suddenly hopes that his reluctance about Winona isn’t written all over his face. “Whatever it is that’s coming, Leonard, be careful,” he says quietly, “and I hope you know what you’re doing.”

 

Leonard can’t meet his eyes and swallows hard. “Me too, sir. I hope I know what I’m doing, too. And I know that our meetings are always confidential, but if I could just ask that you not mention this to Cadets Pike, Kirk, and Thompson, I would appreciate that. Especially Chris. I don’t want him to feel hurt, as if I’m valuing George over him. ”

 

Archer agrees and for the first time, he stands and escorts Leonard to the door of his office, shaking his hand before they part ways.

 

---

 

He defends his thesis. His committee throw a barrage of questions at him, but he escapes unscathed, and the next day, he gets a message from Archer telling him he’s gotten a commendation for extraordinary service in the area of medical innovation.

 

He huffs and rolls his eyes and rolls back over, finding Chris’ sweet mouth close enough that he needs to press a kiss to it.

 

---

 

He goes back to see Archer one last time. The Admiral looks confused, but there’s mutual respect between them now, and he trusts that Leonard won’t waste his time.

 

“I won’t be long, sir,” Leonard says quietly, “but I served long enough to know that it is always wise to have… contingencies in place. I’ve had so many patients who died up in the black, unable to tell their loved ones what they really wanted to, in the end. I don’t want that to be me.” He holds up a PADD.

 

“This is it, sir. Everything. My last wishes are in a will that’s on file with Starfleet, but these are my last words, for my friends. Please, if you could give this to Christopher Pike, after I die, I would be appreciative.”

 

“You’re young, son, and you’re medical. You won’t be first in the line of fire,” Archer says consolingly, “you don’t need to be thinking about this sort of thing—“

 

Leonard shakes his head. “I’m not being overdramatic. I truly hope you won’t ever need to hand this to Christopher Pike. But if things play out that way, then I know I can trust you with this. And with Chris’ safety. He trusts you and respects you, sir. Please—just guide him. Make sure he takes care of himself, save him from some of the more ruthless members of the Admiralty. I’ve heard rumblings that Barnett is interested in him, and I’d prefer—well, to be candid, sir, I’d prefer that Chris not be turned into one of Barnett’s little minions. He’s a good man, and I think we both know Barnett isn’t interested in good men so much as smart, loyal men, and he’d stamp out Chris’ goodness in favor of making him loyal.”

 

“Chris is one of mine,” Archer says with a razor-sharp smile that reminds Leonard that people didn’t get to be Admirals by being nice or stupid. “I’m the one who got him signed up, and I was always going to keep an eye on his career, Leonard. But I will give him this, if the worst happens. I hope it doesn’t, though. We could use your talent here. For decades, not for months. So stay alive, if at all possible. That’s an order, Cadet.”

 

“Understood, Admiral. And if I may—I just wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have known where to go, if Chris hadn’t given me your name and gotten me that first meeting.”

 

“It was fortunate for both of us that he did,” Archer says, and with a minute twitch in his muscles and a shift in his eyes, the smile becomes warmer, more sincere, and he claps Leonard on the shoulder before walking him to the door.

 

---

Final exams start and finish in the way they normally do, with long stretches of uninterrupted sleep and drinks with the boys. George goes out and tries to find himself some company, and Chris and Len comes back to their room to celebrate their own success.

 

The rest of the cadets head out, for summer training missions or to go home, or to go see something of the universe. The graduating seniors stay in place, occasionally going somewhere close by, waiting for their postings, because they might be needed in just a couple of weeks.

The Academy sends out postings to all of its graduating cadets at the same time. They’re told the day before that they’ll get their posts at noon the next day.

 

George shows up at their room and they sit on the sofa together, refreshing their mail over and over and over until they each receive a new message. Leonard sees his first, just a coincidence, and less than a second later, Chris and George have theirs too. Leonard’s pretty sure he knows his orders already, though he doesn’t know whether Archer is powerful enough to singlehandedly affect the postings of four cadets.

 

They opens them quickly—the subject line is stupidly vague, Posting of Leonard H. McCoy Enclosed—and they shout them out as soon as they see them.

 

“Kelvin!”

 

“Kelvin!”

 

“Reliant?”

 

Chris’ face falls, and he looks at Leonard. “At least you two are together,” he says quietly, trying to stay positive, trying to be brave even now.

 

“You can—you can transfer, Chrissy, after a year or so—“ George says. Leonard can’t help but admire him for the way he suppresses his own joy—he must be over the moon, to get the flagship.

 

“I—I don’t understand,” Chris says softly, “my scores—I had good scores—“

 

Leonard wraps his arms around him and holds him tight.

 

“This isn’t a punishment, Christopher. The Reliant is going to be a better crew with you on it, darlin’. It’s not forever, sweetheart,” he murmurs into Chris’ neck, “I promise, you won’t be on that ship forever. But a smaller ship isn’t all bad, you’ll get more time on the bridge, more time with the captain, he’ll be able to get to know you more, be a better mentor to you. And then one day, when you get your own gorgeous girl, brand new, you’ll think about what you learned and be the best captain in the whole goddamn Fleet.”

 

George coughs a little bit. “Top two,” Leonard corrects, rolling his eyes at George and kissing the top of Chris’ head. “My boys are going to be the two best captains in the goddamn Fleet.”

 

“And then we’ll fight over who gets to have you as our CMO,” George says with a little smile.

 

“And I’ll win, because I’m sleeping with him,” Chris says, a little smile on his face as he looks up at him. Leonard can’t help but press a kiss to that smilng mouth, because Chris deserves it, because there’s a countdown now, every second gone one second closer to being parted, maybe for years on end.

 

“I’ll be an impartial judge, thank you very much,” Leonard says, a little offended.

 

George grins at him. “No, Chris is definitely gonna win, because you’re sleeping with him. But that’s okay, I’ll settle for second best.”

 

“I won’t,” Chris says quietly, remembering the message Leonard had sent him from Leonidas.

 

“Not even if I am second best?” Leonard asks him quietly.

 

Chris doesn’t answer, just looks at him with that softness in his eyes, and Leonard knows without needing to hear it that there is only one area in which Christopher Pike will settle for second best.

 

---

 

The day before they graduate, Chris is very quiet, and he keeps looking at Leonard, these tender, vulnerable, pained looks that make Leonard ache. He can’t find the right words to make it right. For the first time, he starts to squirm with guilt.

 

Maybe Chris could have gotten onto the Kelvin, if Leonard hadn’t requested he be posted elsewhere. Maybe they could have had two more years, the Triple Threat still unbroken. Maybe Leonard could’ve kept him safe, maybe he could’ve tricked him into evacuating when the Narada came—

 

But deep down, he knows that Chris wouldn’t leave him. Deep down, he knows that it would end either in some combination of them dying. Either George or Chris or both of them or all three of them, and frankly, all of those outcomes are unacceptable. That’s the bottom line.

 

When the time arrives, there will be only one acceptable outcome.

 

The Kobayashi Maru hasn’t been invented yet, but this almost feels like a no-win scenario. Then again, Leonard reminds himself, the win is Jim, growing up with his daddy alive and his mama actually around and with no asshole stepfather to make him feel as worthless as dirt.

 

Leonard and Chris spend the day before graduation together in each other’s arms, with long stretches of silence because there are no words that can make things any different than they are.

 

Finally, Leonard rises, pulling Chris behind him, and leads him to his bed. He kisses him first, works on getting him into the mood, and then—and then Leonard lays back and spreads his legs and Chris breaks the silence between them.

 

“Are you sure? Len, we’ve never—“

 

“I want to,” Leonard says quietly, “come here, Christopher. Make love to me.”

 

It’s those last words, the echo of what Chris had said on the Reliant, after he’d recovered from his injuries, they are what pushes Chris into action.

 

He moves too quickly, almost furiously, and Leonard is the one who takes his time, touching every inch of Chris’ body with equal reverence, until Chris, as always, follows his lead.

 

It’s long and slow, no sound in the room but their breathing, but their whispering and the sounds they make as Chris presses into Leonard and slowly makes him his own, even more than he had before. There’s a moment, where they’ve both finished riding the aftershocks, swimming in the sweetest endorphins, when Chris shifts, as if to get up.

 

“Stay,” Leonard whispers.

 

It’s hot and muggy outside, sunshine pouring in through the window and falling across Chris’ skin in the most beautiful way. They’re both covered in a sheen of sweat, rapidly cooling in the climate-controlled room, except where bare skin presses against bare skin and the heat flows from Leonard’s body to Chris’ and back and forth again and again.

 

“Stay, Chrissy. Please.”

 

Chris nudges his nose against Leonard’s neck, takes in a deep breath to catch his cologne and how it smells different when layered with the smell of them together, all over the sheets.

 

Chris stays. They lay like that for a long time, drifting in and out of consciousness.

 

---

 

The day they graduate is beautiful—the sun shining so bright it’s as if Archer directly ordered perfect weather for his cadets.

 

Leonard gets up, dresses in his cadet reds, and gets breakfast with Chris and George.

 

It’s quiet, as they sit there. Chris is the quietest.

 

“We can still send messages back and forth,” George says softly.

 

Chris nods, not making eye contact with either of them.

 

“We’ll try to get leave at the same time as you,” Leonard promises, taking his hand, “maybe for the summer, a week’s leave to go somewhere together. Here, Risa, hell, even Andor again. I don’t care if I freeze my balls off, as long as I’m somewhere with you, Chris.”

 

Chris nods again, blinking hard. Leonard sighs and pulls him into a tight hug. Chris holds onto him so terribly, terribly hard, it makes Leonard wonder what he’ll do, once he’s forced to let go.

 

Eventually, they have to get up, because the graduation ceremony is going to start. They have to split up, since all the cadets are graduating by alphabetical order of the last name. Medical cadets have a blue cord around their necks, where command cadets have yellow and engineering and ops have red. They all wear black robes.

 

Leonard has always wondered why graduation robes were the color of mourning in so many traditions, but today, he thinks he might understand.

 

He cheers his heart out when George crosses the stage, hearing Chris somewhere behind him doing the same. He’s next, shaking Admiral Archer’s hand. Archer smiles at him, whispers his congratulations, and surprisingly, pulls him in for a quick hug. It sets tongues wagging almost instantly, because hardly any of the other cadets have gotten that sort of treatment.

 

Chris is the last of the three of them. When he looks out into the crowd, his eyes find Leonard’s, and he smiles, and it’s only a little bit sad. Then he shakes Archer’s hand, and then he’s crossed the stage and off the other side and he’s gone.

 

Their parents are here, too. Tiberius and Liz find him as they look for George, Liz grabbing him in a little hug and Tiberius congratulates him on his achievement with his deep, warm, fatherly voice.

 

Chris is there with his parents, too. Leonard tries to slip away, tries to hide, but Chris sees him anyway, waving him over.

 

Leonard smiles and shakes hands with Mary and Drew, answering a few of their questions and then neatly redirecting to how proud he is of their son, how exceptionally talented he is. They’re good parents, and so they take the bait. It’s actually pretty fun, watching Chris go a little pink from the combination of sunlight and sheepishness.

 

It makes Leonard want to kiss him.

 

He doesn’t, though, because his parents are there. But once Mary says something about wanting a cool drink, and Drew offers to go with her to get some for everyone, Leonard pulls Chris in for a tight, too-hot hug and kisses him tenderly.

 

“Spend today with your parents, sweetheart. I’ll still be here tomorrow.”

 

“When does the Kelvin leave?” Chris isn’t smiling anymore, looking more miserable than anything else.

 

“Tuesday.” It’s Saturday right now, and he can watch Chris do the math, expression growing even sadder.

 

“The Reliant? When does she take off?”

 

“Friday,” Chris whispers.

 

“That’s—that’s good, then. You’ll have more time to get your things sorted,” Leonard says, trying to be optimistic and failing.

 

“But less time with you,” Chris whispers, and then Mary and Drew are back, with their big, bright smiles and Chris turns to look at them, and then back at Leonard, but Leonard’s gone.

 

Chris watches him, recognizing him from the shape of his back, from the way that he walks, just another black-robed graduate in a sea of black-robed graduates and the ones who love them.

 

Chapter Text

This is how they get through the next four days:

 

George gets them for breakfast and dinner. Sometimes after dinner, they watch films together, get a few drinks, talk and laugh and hang out the way they’ve always done. For the rest of the time, it’s Chris and Leonard alone, desperately trying to make enough memories to get them through the separation.

 

Leonard showers him in gifts, until Chris mutters something about sugar daddies and Leonard has to, immediately and with no hesitation, sink to his knees, until Chris in incapable of any comprehensible language at all. They rarely leave their apartment, spending most of their time in bed and some of the rest of it on the sofa, doing more of the same.

 

He buys Chris books and secretly downloads poetry onto a PADD for him to read. He buys him a copy of Anna Karenina and writes him a dedication and slips it into his duffel bag.

 

He also buys him a small stuffed lion. The day he’s scheduled to leave, he heads out with Chris and then comes back with the excuse for checking if he’s forgotten anything one last time.

 

He sets the lion on Chris’ bed—the only one that still has sheets, and writes a little note to go under it.

 

Chris—

 

This is Leo. He’s here to look after you while I’m away. He’s good at keeping secrets and good at giving hugs. He can also do a mean stink eye, so stay safe or he’ll get grumpy.

 

Love you.

 

—Leonard

 

When the day comes, Chris walks with him and George to the shuttle station. It’s the first time one of them has been left behind on his own, and it kills Leonard, to watch him be strong for their sakes.

 

He pulls him in for one last kiss, meant to be a goodbye. But Chris doesn’t let him go, the tightness of his grip the only hint as to the desperation he must be feeling. Chris kisses him again and again, more and more desperate. It hurts, the pressure of his fingernails against Leonard’s flesh.

 

Leonard can feel wetness on his cheeks, and it dawns on him that Chris is crying. He pulls him close, hugs him tight, forces Chris’ head down to lay against his chest instead of kissing him as if they’ll never see each other again. He glancing at George, who nods and gives them time, going up to the officer standing in front of the shuttle and explaining the situation as discreetly as he can. Leonard tugs Chris away until they’re behind a column, somewhere marginally more private,.

 

“Christopher,” he whispers, “oh, Christopher.” He whispers his name over and over again, hugging him tight until he feels Chris’ shoulders stop shaking.

 

“We should’ve gotten married,” Chris whispers, “they don’t separate married couples.”

 

It makes Leonard’s heart squeeze hard and expand nearly to the point of bursting.

 

“It won’t be long,” Leonard promises him, instead of addressing Chris’ words, “it won’t be long. I promise you. The time is gonna go so fucking fast, sweetheart. You’re going to be busy going out there and meeting new people and seeing new planets, and it’s going to be amazing.”

 

Chris nods, sniffing miserably.

 

“And Chris? When I marry you, it won’t be to game Starfleet into putting us together, do you understand me?”

 

Chris looks down, all tender, pained eyes, and nods.

 

“Give me a smile, sweetheart. A beautiful smile to last me a few months,” Leonard says softly, lifting Chris’ chin so their eyes meet again.

 

It takes a few tries, but he gets there.

 

Leonard gives him one more hug, one more kiss. “See you soon, Christopher,” he says, so he doesn’t have to say goodbye.

 

“See you soon, Len,” Chris echoes. “Stay safe.”

 

“You too, sweetheart.” Leonard smiles at him one more time, tells him he loves him, and walks away, climbing the steps to the shuttle where George is waiting for him. They claim the last two seats and sit in silence. Leonard watches from the window as Chris grows smaller and smaller, giving him a wave.

 

---

 

“You’re bleeding onto your uniform,” George says quietly, barely audible against the hum of the shuttle. He pulls down the collar of Leonard’s uniform and wipes a finger along the back of Leonard’s neck, showing Leonard the red, slick blood.

 

“You should go clean up,” he offers, moving to give him space to get by.

 

“I’d rather just keep them,” Leonard says quietly.

 

“Because they’re from him?”

 

“Because they’re from him.”

 

George takes Leonard’s hand and holds it in his own. The rest of the shuttle ride passes in silence, even when the pilot fumbles the landing and they hit the floor of the starship with a jarring thump.

 

It’s not until they’re about to get off the shuttle, waiting for the passengers ahead of them to disembark first that George squeezes his hand painfully hard.

 

“Lenny, who is that?” he asks, utterly frozen in place.

 

Leonard sees who he’s staring at and smiles. The cadet is already wearing the red of engineering and ops, blonde hair tied up in a high, tight, no-nonsense bun.

 

“That’s Winona Thompson. Engineering prodigy. She finished in three years,” Leonard says to him, “Robau asked for her specifically. Archer told me.”

 

He knows George is dead gone by the way he exhales, slow and shaky, as if his whole universe has been rocked.

 

“That’s—she’s—wow,” George whispers to him.

 

Leonard laughs and carefully frees his hand, nudging George up, too.

 

“Yes, Georgie, she is wow. Now why don’t you run over, ask her for her comm number,” he mutters, “and for fuck’s sake, George, close your mouth, you are not a goldfish—“

 

George turns to look at him. “Do you really think she’d give it—wait, what the hell am I saying? No! No, Lenny. I saw how you looked when we left Chris. You need me. Hot engineer girl will always be around anyway. We’ve got five years to get her to fall in love with me.”

 

Two, Leonard corrects in his mind, two and a half, and she better not just be falling in love with you then, because that’s when your kid gets born.

 

He knows how important it is that George falls in love with Winona, but at the same time, he can’t help but be at least a little bit glad that tonight, at least, George is picking him.

 

They head to their quarters—they’re assigned to room together. Physicians don’t actually get special credit, despite what he’d told Chris on the Reliant. At least not as lowly Lieutenants.

 

George, as an Ensign, is just lucky he’s rooming with Leonard and not with four other Ensigns in tiny little quarters.

 

“Unpack, then food,” Leonard decides, surveying their small set of rooms.

 

George wraps his arms around him, holding him close. “That an order, Lieutenant?”

 

“Not yet, Georgie.”

 

“Then let’s just take a minute here, okay?”

 

Leonard does, lets his best friend hold him and feels some of the tension release from his shoulders. Slowly, he lays his head down on George’s shoulder.

 

“He’s going to be okay,” George whispers, and maybe it’s strange that he knows exactly what Leonard was thinking about, but then again, it wouldn’t take a genius too long to figure it out.

 

“He better be,” Leonard says gruffly, pulling out of the hug. “You doing alright, George? What do you say we ditch the unpacking for a while, go to the mess and grab a bite, maybe see if we can catch a glimpse of Thompson?”

 

George tries not to let his face light up, but Leonard can see it anyway. He smiles—it is a smile, if a weak one—and nods at the door.

 

“Lead the way, Romeo.”

 

“If I’m any Shakespeare character, I’m motherfucking Benedick,” George declares.

 

Leonard looks at him, suppressing the grin that’s pulling at the corners of his lips. He thinks about Jim, whispering Shakespeare soliloquies and reciting poems when he couldn’t find words of his own that fit.

 

“You know, J used to love Shakespeare,” he says very softly, “you should recite something for her. She’d love it.”

 

“Did you love it?” George asks him, looking at him keenly.

 

For a moment, Leonard doesn’t want to be seen, doesn’t want to be taken in by those sharp, observant eyes, and he turns away. But it’s just a moment, and George is just his friend, and he turns back a moment later.

 

“I did. Hard not to fall in love with a man quoting the Bard at you, looking like his eyes have never seen anything half as beautiful as you.”

 

---

Life on the Kelvin is not all that different from life on the Enterprise. The Kelvin’s the flagship, as the Enterprise will be, some thirty years in the future. She—and Leonard is starting to struggle with this, because this is the first ship that to him feels male, rather than female—

 

“Not all ships have to conform to the gender binary, Leonard,” George says to him smugly.

 

“Ships are genderless,” Leonard mutters back, “even if this one feels masculine, somehow. But he’s a good boy, keeps us safe, keeps us from dying in the boundless, merciless void of space.”

 

Regarldess, the point is that the Kelvin gets the same sort of missions as the Enterprise used to get. Diplomatic negotiations, First Contacts, mapping out of previously unknown regions. They get all the boring ones, too, like serving as a glorified taxi—you’re not a taxi, boy, you’re way too big and beautiful for that, Leonard tells the ship—for political power players and diplomatic hotshots who run across the galaxy to talk each other out of their most valuable resources.

 

George continues on with the wooing of Winona Thompson, bringing her flowers from the botany labs after he clears it with the head scientist, and chocolates he’d brought from home—the replicated ones are crap, and they haven’t had shore leave yet.

 

Winona seems interested, but cautious. She lets George take her out to the observation deck and kiss her, and she joins him and Leonard sometimes, when they take their meals. Leonard, of course, occasionally makes himself scarce and misses a lunch date or a dinner date with George on purpose when he sees him sitting with Winona. More alone time can never be a bad thing, as far as Leonard’s concerned.

 

---

From: Lieutenant Leonard H. McCoy, USS Kelvin

To: Ensign Christopher Pike, USS Reliant

 

Georgie’s in love. Can you believe it? Her name is Winona, and she’s beautiful. And he’s beautiful too, so they’ll have beautiful babies, I reckon. He’s dead gone over her, but she’s still feeling him out.

 

Doesn’t hurt to be cautious, I guess, but I’m a little pissed at her on George’s behalf. How does she not see that he’s the second greatest guy in the entire fucking galaxy?

 

(That’s second behind you, Chris.)

 

Hope you’re doing well. Tell me about the Reliant! What kind of mission are you guys on these days? We’re bringing the Vulcan ambassador over to Rigel at the minute, dead boring, but last week, we found a brand new planet, Class M! I wasn’t on the away party, but apparently it was all swampy and full of alien snakes. I still have victims in my medbay with puncture wounds, though luckily we found an antidote to the venom after a couple of days.

 

Love you, Chris! George is here, he says he sends his love, too. I’ve told him to write his own damn messages and stop hijacking mine.

 

—Len

---

 

The first months squeak by that way, with Chris sending messages that steady Leonard’s stomach, because he sounds like he’s good, like he’s settled, and that’s all that he can ask.

 

A private subspace frequency to call over is hard to get, especially for someone ranked as low as he is, but he puts in a request with comms, who tell him they’ll try to have it to him at some point over the next two months. Damn this massive ship and its massive crew. On the Gryphon, they’d have gotten him a frequency in a week, tops. It would have been a shitty signal, given their outdated comms consoles, probably riddled with static, but at least he’d be able to hear Chris’ voice again.

 

When he tells that to George, he bursts out laughing. “Lenny! Chris told me how you had all that boat attitude aboard the Reliant, and now you’re waxing nostalgic over the fucking Gryphon?!”

 

“Yeah, well, I fucking miss him,” Leonard muttered, “and I wasn’t lying when I told him smaller ships had their benefits.”

 

George pulls him in for a tight little hug and lets him go. “We’ll get to talk to him eventually,” he promises, “I’ll see if I can’t track down a comms officer and ask for your request to be bumped up a little bit.”

 

---

One day, he’s in medbay when three engineers come in. That’s never a good sign, when the engineers descend en masse to medical.

 

He sees that it’s Winona in the middle, with the Chief Engineer—a tall, willowy woman with dark hair, on one side of her and an Ensign on the other.

 

“What happened here?” he barks, clearing a bed for her immediately.

 

“Console blew up in her face,” the Chief Engineer says, “some wiring malfunction—it didn’t look good, doc.”

 

Leonard nods, setting her down. Carefully, he wipes at her face, clearing the area around her eyes first. It’s surprisingly clear.

 

“She put her arm up to protect her eyes,” the Ensign pipes up.

 

“Good thinking,” Leonard says softly, looking at her arm and grimacing at the burned up flesh.

 

“Right, I’ll have to take some of this skin off—it’s all dead, but she’ll heal. Take her off the duty roster for—let’s say three days, Lieutenant Commander, that ought to be sufficient.”

 

“Ensign, you’re dismissed,” the Chief says quietly.

 

“Lieutenant Commander Gyles, she’s in good hands,” a nurse offers.

 

“But you’re welcome to stay if you want to,” Leonard says quietly, “I know what it is to feel responsible for someone.”

 

The Chief Engineer looks at him and smiles just a little bit, and he sees the lines around her eyes. She’s the same age as him, probably, give or take a few years in either direction.

 

He works in silence for the most part, and Winona is well and truly unconscious. She doesn’t wake until he’s done and has the regen set on her cheeks and arms to help heal the burned areas.

 

“Wha’ happened?” she asks groggily.

 

“What happened is an unfortunate accident, Lieutenant, and one for which I’m very unlikely to see you here again, am I correct?” Leonard asks her.

 

The Chief—please, call me Patricia, Dr. McCoy—smiles at him. “I do believe you are, Doctor.”

 

“Oh,” Winona says, “you’re George’s friend. He talks about you all the time.”

 

“He talks about you all the time, too. Has been for the last—how long have we been on this tin can again?”

 

“Don’t insult him like that,” Winona mutters, “he’s a good ship.”

 

Leonard laughs. “You know what, Winona? You’re the first person I’ve met who is also convinced that the Kelvin is male. And you’re right, he is a good ship, I only call him a tin can out of love. Now, as much as I’m enjoying this conversation, you’re shifting the regens on your face, so we’ll have to carry on some other time.”

 

Winona glares at him, annoyed at having been tricked out of the last word.

 

“You should join me and George for dinner tonight, by the way, if you’re free and you want to,” Leonard says with a little smile, “I think George would like that.”

 

Winona smiles just a little bit, a small enough twitch in the muscle that Leonard doesn’t say anything and just shifts the regen a millimeter down to where it’s supposed to be.

 

---

 

There’s an away mission. Medical’s second in command goes down and comes up again in four different pieces. It’s not how Leonard anticipated rising through the ranks.

 

---

 

Dr. Murtaza Ali, the CMO, is a good doctor, and a good mentor, but he’s more interested in his research than diplomacy at the minute, and Leonard can’t blame him—he knows the intoxicating feeling of being just on the verge of a breakthrough, knows it can consume your entire life. He sends Leonard down as the representative from Medical for away missions as often as not. He’s been acting like Medical’s second-in-command for six weeks before he gets notification of his actual promotion.

 

Leonard doesn’t mind away missions, though George gets tense every time he leaves. He’s probably thinking of Chris, how he’d gone down and come back with two holes in him that hadn’t been there before and a scar on his head that you can still see now, when you brush through his hair the right way.

 

---

 

He goes down with Captain Robau and Commander Stevens and a few security officers. It’s a negotiation to get the Ostaphians to join the Federation. He’s done this song and dance before, knows that they’re not allowed to bring any weapons because this is a peaceful negotiation and doing so would cause the Ostaphians to distrust them.

 

He brings a medical kit anyway, just in case. They take it from him at the door and he itches to demand it back, but Robau catches his eye and Leonard forces himself to relax instead, smiling at the tall, red-skinned people.

 

They walk in, have dinner, and are just working on the draft agreement when the rebels arrive, armed to the teeth and quite unhappy with the Federation.

 

Robau tries to calm them down, but quietly, he orders the rest of them to take off, find somewhere safe they can beam out from.

 

Leonard has seen this sort of situation often enough that he knows if one person is left alone, they usually don’t come back.

 

He lingers, and when he sees the leader of the rebels arm his phaser, he moves without thought, tackling Robau to the ground.

 

Robau turns them over, dragging them behind an upturned table.

 

Leonard’s whole chest is on fire. He doesn’t look down, because he knows that he might throw up if he did, and vomit hitting the raw flesh is a recipe for disaster, even more so than the current situation.

 

“Lieutenant McCoy, stay with me, that’s an order,” Robau says.

 

It’s an old trick, and Leonard’s used it to, but something deep inside him still responds to the authority. Maybe that’s why they did so much basic drilling those first two years at the Academy. Either way, he can’t complain now, when it might be the thing keeping him alive.

 

“Yessir,” he mutters. Robau lifts him up into his arms and sprints.

 

Stay with me, McCoy,” he barks.

 

“I’m sorry, sir,” Leonard whispers.

 

“That is unacceptable, McCoy, stay awake,” he orders again, as they start to disappear in a twinkle of lights.

 

Oh. They’re being beamed out. They’re on the ship again. Leonard looks up at the captain, with his serious face, and knows he can trust him with this.

 

“Tell—tell George—“ There’s something to tell George, something important, and he knows what it is, but he’s forgetting, and soon, he’s out.

 

He drifts, in and out and in and out, for a long while. It’s Jim’s voice that calls him back, that familiar voice whispering to him.

 

Stay strong for me, Lenny.

 

Come back to me, Leonard.

 

I miss you.

 

And then, very quietly.

 

I love you, you stupid, heroic son of a bitch.

 

He wants to respond, wants to hear Jim call him Bones again, like he used to, but his tongue is heavy and his mind wanders, back off towards unconsciousness.

 

---

He wakes pressed to another person, a warm, familiar body. There’s a soft beeping in the background.

 

“Computer, disable alarm,” he whispers, wrapping his arm a little more firmly around his bedmate. The beeping doesn’t stop, though. Leonard figures it’s because he was too quiet.

 

His arm resists the motion, and when he forces it, he feels a searing pain in his chest and down his side.

 

He gasps at the feeling of it, and the body next to him hums and wakes slowly.

 

“Len? Len, you’re awake! Oh my god, you’re awake,” George says, voice going higher and higher until he’s nearly hysterical. “Nurse! Nurse! He’s up, Lenny’s up!”

 

“Don’ call me that in frontta the nurses,” Leonard whispers, “won’ respect m’authority.”

 

“Sir, you must not know us very well. A nickname from a lover isn’t enough to make us stop respecting you… Lenny.” Sharon is smiling at him, but it’s strained.

 

“Wha’s the damage? And can I have a fucking analgesic, please? I’m dyin’ over here—“

 

George lets out a growl at the expression. “No, you are fucking not, Leonard McCoy, because if you do, I’ll have to tell Chris, he’ll kick your ass to hell, and then we’ll bring you right back.”

 

“Georgie,” Leonard says quietly, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

 

George shifts so he’s holding Leonard in his arms. “You’re always sorry, you stupid bastard,” he murmurs against his neck, voice thick with emotion, “and at this rate, I’m gonna have a heart attack before New Years.”

 

Leonard leans into the hug, George careful to press against his uninjured left side. He barely feels the hiss of the needle in his trapezius, delivering the analgesic that makes his life even slightly bearable.

 

“How bad was it?”

 

“Bad enough that I commed Chris,” George says quietly, “bad enough that I had to tell him that we might lose you. God, Len, do you even know what that’s fucking like? I sat in front of the console for an hour and a half because it meant he could be happy for an hour and a half longer, and I couldn’t find the goddamn words to say—“

 

“But I’m fine. I’m gonna make it. Where did that nurse go? She was gonna tell me how bad—“

 

They can hear the nurse outside, suddenly, voice deliberately loud. “Captain! Sir, how nice to see you. Yes, he is awake, just past that privacy curtain. Let me just make sure he’s decent, sir—“

 

She pokes her head in and looks at George, crammed onto the biobed next to Leonard. “The Captain’s here,” she hisses, sending him a pointed look.

 

George grimaces and sits up, running a hand through his hair as if he just happened to be here and hadn’t spent the night, straightening out his uniform shirt from where it had gotten rucked up to his ribs on one side.

 

“This conversation is not over, Len. Now, how do I look?”

 

“Gorgeous. Me?”

 

“Fucking awful,” George says with a look down at Leonard’s chest, “but he’ll be expecting that.”

 

The curtain parts and Richard Robau steps in, looking a little exhausted but still completely in control. That isn’t a skill they teach at the Academy, Leonard knows. It’s all on the job learning, that part. Jim had learned it, too.

 

“Sir,” George says with a nod, a quiet acknowledgement. He doesn’t hop up into a perfect Academy salute. It’s only been a few months, and already some of the niceties seem so utterly pointless.

 

“Hello, sir,” Leonard says politely, “what brings you by?”

 

“You saved my life,” Robau says, lowering himself gracefully to sit in the chair at Leonard’s bedside. “That, Lieutenant McCoy, is not your job. Your job is to save lives, yes, but not at the risk of your own.”

 

“It was instinct, sir. And you’re more valuable to this ship than I am. There are a dozen other doctors that could take my place.”

 

George lets out a pained hum, as if he wants to dissent, but won’t in front of a superior officer. Robau’s eyes flick to him, and his lip curls up, as if he’s found a chink in the armor. But whose armor, George’s or Leonard’s?

 

“Do you agree, Ensign Kirk? Do you believe that Dr. McCoy is so replaceable?”

 

George purses his lips, only now realizing that he’s still holding Leonard’s hand. “You are valuable to this ship, sir,” he says slowly, “and maybe there are other doctors that could do this job, but there’s no other Leonard McCoy. Best friends don’t come by that easily. They’re not that easily replaced. And if Leonard were to… make the ultimate sacrifice, I don’t know how I would go on. It’s hard to imagine a life without him in it. Sir.”

 

“There you go,” Robau says quietly, “a Captain may be worth more than a Lieutenant in the eyes of Starfleet, but every life is equally valuable in the eyes of those who love it. That’s how I make my decisions on this ship, Lieutenant, and I don’t expect anyone to take any hits for me. Are we clear?”

 

“Crystal clear, sir.”

 

“I also came by to inform you that you’re getting a commendation, and your superior, Commander Ali, has recommended you for a promotion. I’ve signed off on that recommendation, as has the first officer. Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander.”

 

“Thank—thank you, sir. I’ve only been out of the Academy for a few months—“

 

“During which time you’ve published valuable medical research that has saved lives, you’ve performed operations with remarkably high recovery rates, and you’ve personally saved my life, at the risk of your own. Unless you intend to decline the promotion, I’d suggest you stop protesting. Your modesty, while admirable, is misplaced.”

 

Leonard nods.

 

“And McCoy? Look at your partner, there. He’s been here since we arrived back at the ship two days ago. Are you really as replaceable as you seem to think you are?”

 

Leonard knows when a question is asking for an answer and when it’s not. He keeps his mouth shut.

 

Robau nods at him. “Lieutenant Commander, Ensign.”

 

“Sir.” George says again, “I just—I wanted to thank you, sir. For bringing him back.”

 

The look in Robau’s eyes softens and he presses a solid hand to George’s shoulder for just a moment before he turns and walks away.

 

---

“Hang on, George, does the entire ship think we’re dating?”

 

“Yup. The current rumor is that it’s an open relationship and you’ve given me your blessing to pursue Winona. That’s what she said, anyway, she’s got an ear on the pulse. Besides, engineers are the worst gossips.”

 

“And you never felt the need to tell me this?”

 

“No, actually? Though in retrospect…”

 

---

 

Leonard heals, more or less. He’s got an ugly burn scar running down his entire right flank, from nipple to hip, part of it curving onto his lower back. He looks at it in the mirror, sometimes, compares it to the scars he’s had from before, the little marks he’d carried from other away missions, under a different Captain.

 

He looks at them, at the little white lines of tissue, and the ugly, blotchy burn scar, pink and red against his pale skin, and then he gets dressed and goes back to work.

 

He can do alright, he’s well enough to deliver hyposprays to patients that remain still, to diagnose illnesses, even to suture lacerations.

 

But when an ensign from engineering shows up with his arm hanging alarmingly low, shoulders uneven, he directs them to Dr. Ali. He doesn’t have the strength to relocate a shoulder manually.

 

---

 

Being a Lieutenant Commander isn’t much different from being a Lieutenant. That being said, Leonard uses every inch of his newly-won authority to get himself pushed up the waitlist for a subspace comm.

 

He gets it after a week, and Chris is on the other side. He sits at the console and stares at him. He looks older, wiser. It’s not in his face, he doesn’t seem to have any lines or wrinkles. It’s in the way he carries himself, the way he sits with his shoulders back and chin up, as if he’s already the captain he wants to be. If he had a few lines in the smoothness of his skin, a few gray hairs at his temples, he’d look like a younger version of the Admiral Leonard had known, once upon a time.

 

“Hi,” Leonard says softly.

 

“Hi, Len,” Chris says back, and for a moment, he looks young again, like Leonard’s Chris, who had cried when they’d had to be parted.

 

“How are you?”

 

“I’m fine, sweetheart. More interested in how the hell you’ve been, actually. Got a message from George that nearly gave me a panic attack on the bridge—until I saw the second one saying you’d gotten out of surgery okay.“

 

“Someone had to save the Captain, I guess,” Leonard says, and he leaves it at that.

 

“Take off your shirt,” Chris demands, a hint of authority in his voice.

 

Leonard takes a closer look at him, at the sleeves of his uniform where his rank insignia is. “Oh my god, Chris! You got promoted! Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“It was recent, and I was kind of distracted by the thought of you dying and not getting to say goodbye, Leonard. Now, stop trying to deflect and take off your fucking shirt. Let me see.”

 

Leonard takes off his blue uniform shirt first, folding it carefully before he pulls off the black undershirt.

 

Chris gasps, one hand covering his mouth, and yeah, that’s about the reaction Leonard was expecting. It’s pretty awful to look at.

 

“I know,” Leonard whispers, “it’s bad.”

 

“How close did you come?”

 

Leonard doesn’t want to say he flatlined on the table. He doesn’t want Chris to live with that knowledge.

 

“It wasn’t good, Chris.”

 

“How. Close. Len.”

 

“They lost me. Twice. But they got me back! They got me back and I’m back and I’m here and everything’s okay!”

 

“I put in for a transfer,” Chris tells him quietly, “I’m not hearing you died via fucking subspace transmission, Leonard. I’m hoping it’ll be approved in the next few months.”

 

Leonard’s heart stops beating inside of his chest. No. No, Christopher Pike is not going to serve on the Kelvin. It cannot be allowed to happen.

 

“That’s—that’s great, sweetheart. It’ll be good to have you here with us. Plus everyone seems to think me and George are dating, so you could come here and straighten out that little misconception—“

 

Chris takes the bait, as he knew he would.

 

A few minutes later, George comes into the room, grinning when he sees Chris’ face on the console. “Chrissy! How are you?! Oh, wow, did you get promoted? Len did too! Robau made him Lieutenant Commander, so now you’re officially dating a superior officer, how scandalous of you, you naughty thing—“

 

Within five minutes of the call ending, Leonard messages Admiral Archer and asks if he can ensure that Chris’ transfer request gets denied.

 

Within two weeks, Archer confirms that is has been denied. Leonard sits down, wondering whether it’s because Chris is too valuable to the Reliant, because Robau doesn’t need another navigator (or is aware of the reputation of the Triple Threat or the Terrible Twosome), or—or if it’s because Leonard asked for it not to be approved. He tells himself it’s a combination of the first two, because otherwise he has trouble sleeping at night.

 

He gets back to the gym, as part of his PT. He doesn’t work out shirtless anymore, and it still hurts, but the strength comes back. The next time a compound fracture is wheeled into medbay, he can set it himself.

 

George goes with him to the gym once, and when Leonard’s sweat clean through his shirt running laps with him, he looks at Leonard and slowly, carefully takes off his shirt. “You look hot,” he says, a little flirtatious but mostly just friendly, “why don’t you take off your shirt?”

 

Leonard glares at him, looking around. The gym is full—it nearly always is on beta shift.

 

“Fuck ‘em,” George says, voice quiet, “who gives a shit what they think about you? You’re still hotter than they could ever be. Take off your shirt, Len.”

 

Leonard looks at him, standing a little too close, sweat glistening on the hollow of his collarbones, caught in the sparse hair along George’s chest. He looks at his friend, at his smooth, unmarked skin, so different from Leonard’s.

 

“You look hot, Len,” George says again, and the double meaning is even more salient now, “take off your shirt, it’ll be cooler.”

 

Leonard takes off his shirt and tosses it to the ground on top of George’s, and they keep running. When they stop, Winona’s watching them, from her stationary bike. She smiles at George and nods at Leonard.

 

As they retrieve their shirts and toss them over their shoulders, Leonard slowly becomes conscious of the fact that she wasn’t the only person staring. He crosses his arms over his chest, but George just rolls his eyes and pulls one of his arms down to take his hand, swinging it between them as they stroll back to their quarters. Leonard has half a mind to pull away, but the other half doesn’t mind and that’s the one that wins.

 

Leonard smiles at him, unable to even be mad. “You know, this is why everybody thinks we’re fucking dating, Georgie.”

 

---

 

No fewer than three men and five women show up at medbay asking for Dr. McCoy over the next week, trying to describe their illness well enough to convince Leonard that it’s actually real. He smiles at each of them, checks their temperatures, takes their blood pressure, and when they ask him out, he tells them no thank you, I’m seeing someone.

 

George messages Chris about it. Leonard thinks maybe his partner is a little bit too tickled about the whole thing, but it’s better than the alternative, being too jealous and pissed off about all of it.

 

---

Chris finds out about the transfer request being denied a full two weeks after Leonard does. He sends Leonard a comm that’s so fucking sad it feels like a crime for him to be too far away to hold.

 

He has to talk to Jim and remind himself that he’s doing the right thing four separate times before he stops feeling the weight of guilt in his heart, making it heavy.

 

---

He has free time, and he has clinic time, and he has some allocated research time, since he’s on the ship in a dual capacity as both medical officer and science officer. He’s been neglecting that research time, so now he sits in his lab and tries to think of what cures he wants to bring into this world from his own.

 

The first thing that comes to mind is pyrrhoneuritis. It killed his daddy, and he’d been so fucking close to a cure, even then, but now… Now he’s thirty-odd years in the past and doesn’t remember the exact formulation. He remembers his own formulation, though, and he remembers where he’d gone wrong, and that’s as good a place as any to start.

 

---

The holidays are approaching. He comms Chris, buys him a present—Shakespeare’s love poems, because he’s a sap in this universe, apparently—and sends it to him. He buys George a copy of Much Ado About Nothing, because of what he’d said about being Benedick to Winona’s Beatrice. The comparison is pretty good (except for the part where Bea and Ben had hated each other at first, but still).

 

Christmas Eve, George records a message for his parents, dragging Leonard in for the end of it, and one for Chris. Leonard records two messages for Chris, one of which requires a secure private subspace frequency to send, because it’s simply too filthily explicit to send any other way.

 

The Kelvin has a holiday bash, complete with mistletoe, menorahs, a Christmas tree, and a half dozen other symbols that Leonard only recognizes from the Enterprise.

 

There’s a tall woman glancing at him from across the room—when Leonard’s eyes meet hers, she holds his gaze for a moment before lowering her lids, smiling flirtatiously before she turns back to the conversation.

 

“Why is Patricia staring at me like that?” Leonard mutters to George and Winona.

 

“Because she likes you,” Winona says bluntly.

 

“Who the fuck is Patricia?” George asks, looking a little outraged, “and can she not take a hint, because you’re pretty clearly taken, that’s what you told all those people who asked you out—“

 

“She’s my boss,” Winona mutters, elbowing George in the side, “so don’t fucking talk about her like that.”

 

“Your boss?”

 

“Chief Engineer, Georgie. Winona, trust me when I say he does have some brains, I guess he’s just recharging them right now,” Leonard assures her.

 

“You’re on a first name basis with the Chief Engineer? Since when?”

 

Winona’s the one who tells him the whole story. “Anyway, Patricia finds competence really sexy, and then going and saving the Captain’s life probably helped, too, so now she’s super into Len.”

 

“Well, tell her you’re taken!”

 

“She hasn’t said anything yet,” Leonard points out rationally, “going up to her out of nowhere and screaming I have a boyfriend feels a little aggressive, George.”

 

“The way she’s undressing you with her eyes is pretty fucking aggressive, too,” George mutters.

 

“I’m a big boy,” Leonard says to him, smiling, “I think I’ll be okay taking care of myself. And if I need help, I know who my knight in shining armor is.”

 

George smiles at him. “Okay, go on, then, be free.”

 

Leonard leans in a little closer to Winona. “That’s Kirk-speak for leave me alone with my lady,” he whispers, winking at her before he opts to walk over to some of the people from medical.

 

He tries to be careful of the mistletoe—mostly it reminds him of the Christmas he’d had at George’s house, the innocence of that homey, family Christmas as compared to this one, full of restless, horny adults trying to get somebody’s attention. Eventually, he’s bored and he opts to head back to his quarters. He should probably say goodbye to George and Win first, he figures, and he circles over to them, only to find Patricia Gyles in front of him, smiling her beautiful smile.

 

“Dr. McCoy,” she says with a little smile, and yeah, maybe if things were different, Leonard would be madly attracted to her, and even now he can recognize that she’s beautiful—“we seem to have ourselves a situation.” She glances upwards, the quirk in her lips suggesting that maybe he found himself a situation, but she’s found herself more of an opportunity.

 

“Ah,” Leonard says intelligently, because he has no idea what else to say.

 

“Traditions must be respected, don’t you agree?”

 

“Well, yes, of course,” Leonard stammers. He leans over and kisses her on the cheek, pulling back quickly.

 

“Ah, but Leonard,” his name sounds warm in her mouth, as though she’s tasted it before, “that isn’t the tradition, now is it?”

 

A heavy arm slides around his shoulders, and Leonard nearly jumps because if there’s something more elaborate to this setup, he’s going to be even more out of his depth—this is why he’s medical and not command, dammit—only to see George, smiling and holding two flutes of champagne in between his slender, elegant fingers.

 

“It’s so cute of you to wait under the mistletoe for me, sweetheart,” George says with a warm, tender smile. “Drink before or after?”

 

“Probably both,” Leonard says honestly, and he can’t help the way he smiles back at him.

 

“Introduce me, Len,” George says, a hint of an order in his voice.

 

Okay. This is familiar. This is hospital benefits and holiday parties at Jocelyn’s firm and little, “intimate” get togethers with four hundred people at the homes of the movers and shakers of Atlanta. This, he can do. He plasters a polite, engaged smile onto his face.

 

“Georgie, this is Patricia Gyles, , the Chief Engineer. We have her to thank for the excellent running of this ship. Patricia, this is George—Ensign George Kirk, command. He’s a helmsman. He’s my best friend and partner in crime.”

 

“Amongst other things,” George says with a sweet little chuckle, and moves, his arm sinking down from Leonard’s shoulder to his back, his hand warm through the fabric of Leonard’s shirts.

 

He turns to Leonard and tilts his face up, as clear a signal as any, and one that Leonard recognizes from long-ago personal experience, in a warm farmhouse in Iowa, where the fields were covered in fresh, powdery snow.

 

Leonard leans down and kisses him, pulling him a little closer.

 

When they pull apart, George’s lips are wet and shiny and still as he hands Leonard a flute of champagne. Leonard downs the whole thing in one gulp and looks up, only to see Patricia gone.

 

“Merry Christmas, Len,” George says softly.

 

“Merry Christmas, Georgie.”

 

They’re still under the mistletoe, and when George leans in again, Leonard lets him. It’s been so long since he was touched like this, since he was loved, since he was cherished—They kiss again and a third time, and then George’s hands are pressed against Leonard’s stomach, wandering until they’re at his back, under his shirts. Leonard jumps at the touch, and the spell is broken. They look at each other, dazed and guilty and wanting anyway, and step apart, each taking a small step back.

 

“Chris,” Leonard whispers. It’s all he needs to say.

 

“Winona,” George answers him. His mouth is still shiny, still red, almost begging to be touched.

 

“I’m going back to our quarters, I’m a bit tired,” Leonard says abruptly, “you should stay, Georgie. Find Winona, kiss her under the mistletoe. Just be quiet coming in tonight, okay?”

 

He doesn’t wait for George to nod, just turns and runs like the coward he is.

 

He strips off his uniform as soon as he gets in, pulling off his shirts and pressing his hand to his back, where George had put his. It’s not the same, not nearly the same, not nearly enough—

 

Leonard flees into the bathroom, fighting the urge to throw up the champagne and finger sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres, because he isn’t this—he’s never been this, and Chris is on the other side of the galaxy, loving him—and then to take a shower.

 

The arousal doesn’t seem to be wilting, and so, hating himself, he closes his eyes and thinks of Chris, wrapping his fingers around himself. Some deep-seated part of his brain considers George, but he forces himself to think of Chris and Chris only. Chris’ lips on his, Chris’ arms, his shoulders, his unholy and utterly beautiful thighs, the hair on his chest, which is nothing like the hair on George’s chest, even if it does look like it in his fantasy—

 

He finishes with a gasp, watching his release swirl down the drain.

 

When he gets back, George is gone, back to the party to find Winona, probably, and Leonard turns the lights low and goes to bed. He dreams of Chris.

 

Personal log of Leonard H. McCoy, new entry.

 

Jim, I kissed George. I know it’s kind of fucked up, considering he’s your dad, but still. It is what it is. It isn’t going to happen again, at least, I know that much. So does he. He has Winona and I have Chris and I had you and it’s about damn time I stop being so fucking selfish.

 

Besides, I know the consequences of this, if I let myself fall in love with him, if I let him fall in love with me—I know you might not come into being then, sweetheart, and that’s not a chance I can take. So that’s it. It’s done. Once he gets a promotion, we’ll probably get our own separate quarters anyway. Lieutenants and above don’t share. Then again, everyone fucking thinks we’re dating, and making out at the holiday party probably doesn’t help with that particular impression, so maybe somebody will need to be reminded.

 

Hey Jim? I know I’m not going to kiss him again. I know that. I just don’t know if it’s because then there might not be a you or if I know it’ll break Chris’ heart. If I do the right thing for the wrong reason, am I still a bad person?

 

I miss you. Take care out there.

 

---

 

George comes home late, smelling of Winona’s perfume. He’s careful taking off his boots and stripping off his uniform and Leonard pretends that he’s not awake. When he hears the rustling of clothes, he closes his eyes for real, forcing his breathing to slow.

 

They never talk about it again.

 

---

 

He leaves the copy of Much Ado About Nothing on top of George’s bunk, with a short note.

 

Georgie—

 

Go get your Beatrice. You deserve nothing but the best. Thanks for being the best friend a man could ask for. I’m sorry that you couldn’t see your folks for Christmas, but I hope it wasn’t all bad.

 

The best part of serving on the Kelvin has been serving with you, Georgie. Here’s to a long service together.

 

Yours, Lenny

 

He finds a book on his pillow, too. It’s a book of poetry, of all things. There’s one that’s marked. It’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

 

Leonard reads it and cries.

 

---

 

He finishes the cure for pyrrhoneuritis in January and works on a paper to submit to a journal. He sends it off to the head of SFM for further testing, but he’s pretty damn sure this is it. The molecule looks familiar, a little like what he remembered, and it passes all his sims.

 

A month later, Archer sends him a commendation for medical innovation and a comm that says you know, if I weren’t so damn proud of you, I might almost get tired of sending you these, Leonard.

 

---

 

In March, there’s a major natural disaster on a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. It’s Alpha Centauri IV, and Leonard remembers with a smile how he’d talked about the initial dilithium negotiations on that planet with George and Chris, in the doctor’s lounge in SFM.

 

The scope of the disaster is such that even the flagship isn’t quite enough all on its own, and Leonard almost forgets how to breathe when he sees the Reliant is there, too.

 

He’s almost certainly a bad person for being grateful for a natural disaster, he figures, but Chris is smart enough to know that by now.

 

They go down in teams. Medical sends a lot of people—the earthquake had been bad, there are lots of injuries and more Centaurans keep getting pulled out of the rubble—George is on one of the recovery teams. Leonard worries about him, worries that he’ll get caught up in the debris, that he’ll be traumatized by the bodies he’ll find too late.

 

He shoots Chris a comm asking him if he’s free for dinner, and goes down to set broken bones, relocate joints, deliver premature babies, and check over and hold crying children until a suitable guardian can be found.

 

He holds the children tight, because each and every one of them reminds him of his little girl. He holds them in his lap during his break, plays cards with the older ones, lets some of the little girls braid his hair. He’s still doing that when he sees a command gold shirt walk by.

 

He doesn’t even see his face, really. It’s just the set of his shoulders, the way his arms swing as he walks. Suddenly, Leonard’s disentangling himself from the children that somehow, even now, have found it in themselves to love, and to love him of all people, and he’s sprinting.

 

“Chris—“ he yells, “Chris Pike!” He follows behinds him, and Chris turns around, and his eyes light up and then Leonard is holding him. He’s squeezing Chris against his chest and kissing him because he can’t help himself.

 

“Len,” he says softly, smiling at him, “it’s so fucking good to see you. Are you working recovery?”

 

Leonard shakes his head. “Medical. Working in that clinic. Medical and babysitting, until we can get some sort of system in place to help these kids find some family. I know you’re busy, and I know this is important. I’m not gonna be selfish and drag you straight up to my bed, but—just comm me when you can, sweetheart. Your ship’s close to ours. Maybe you could spend the night with me and Georgie in our room. Or we could kick Georgie out, too, that would be okay—“

 

Chris grins at him, leaning in and wrapping a hand around the back of Leonard’s neck. He pulls him into a kiss and Leonard wonders how he’d ever had doubts about this man. “We’re definitely kicking George out tonight. Let him bunk with his beautiful engineering genius tonight, because I’m not sharing you with him tonight.”

 

Leonard flushes, happy as he leans against Chris for a moment. He feels larger, his frame sturdier and stronger, and Leonard closes his eyes for a second to take in the comfort of it.

 

“Go back to your clinic, Len,” Chris says softly, “those kids are leaving nose prints on the windows, they’re so interested in what’s going on here.”

 

Leonard laughs and wipes his eyes—was he crying? When the hell did that start? “Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll have half a dozen little ones asking about my Prince Charming as soon as I get back there. Stay safe while you’re doing recovery, Chrissy. Debris can shift, you know that.”

 

Chris looks at him, a sober Starfleet officer who’s going to be an Admiral someday, and Leonard can’t say how proud he is, can’t even put it into words—

 

“I like your hair in braids,” Chris says with a smile, reaching out and touching one of the small, tight, painful braids that Leonard had subjected himself to because a little girl with big eyes asked if she could.

 

And then Chris is walking away, looking back over his shoulder every few steps, and Leonard is walking too, backwards so he can still see Chris until he goes around a corner.

 

“Watch where you’re going, asshole,” somebody hisses as he bumps into them. It breaks the spell, and Leonard apologizes and ducks back into the clinic, messaging George that he’s seen Chris.

 

“Dr. Leonard, who was that?” one of the girls asks him.

 

“Is he your boyfriend?”

 

“Is he your husband?”

 

“No, he’s not his husband, Clara, don’t be stupid—people wear wedding rings if they’re married!”

 

Hey,” Leonard says firmly, “don’t call each other stupid. And yes, he is my boyfriend. No, he is not my husband. Yet.”

 

“Dr. Leonard? Can I do your hair in braids for the wedding? Please?”

 

---

George meets Chris, once they all get off their shifts and collapse in Leonard and George’s quarters. Chris looks around curiously, taking in all the details of their room.

 

“Feels strange, being here,” he says quietly, leaning into Leonard until he puts an arm around him to hold him, “I got so used to it being our room, Len, yours and mine.”

 

Leonard nods. “It took me time to get used to George’s snoring, too. He’s louder than you are, Chrissy.”

 

George flushes a little bit. Chris look at him, eyebrow raised. He turns to lean in closer and whispers again Leonard’s neck.

 

“Not funny, babe. He still has a thing for you, even if he pretends not to.”

 

Leonard nods. “Anyway, Georgie had a couple nights in here to have the room to himself, but he ended up wasting them.”

 

“Because they had to strip the skin off half your abdomen,” George snaps, “don’t fucking joke about it. It wasn’t an opportunity to sleep in peace because you were on a different shift, it was being alone because you were half-dead in sickbay, asshole. Of course I stayed there with you.”

 

Leonard’s heart drops. “George—I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s too soon to joke about it.”

 

“It’s always going to be too soon to joke about it,” George says quietly, “I thought you were going to die. I thought I was going to lose you.”

 

Chris reaches over and lays a hand on George’s knee, squeezing gently.

 

“I have to go, Winnie said she’d meet me on the observation deck,” George says abruptly, standing up.

 

“George.” Leonard’s on his feet too, and he pulls George into his arms, holding him tight. “I’m sorry. I am, honest. You know I deal with tough shit through humor.”

 

George hugs him back. “I know. I know, Lenny.”

 

Leonard lets him go, stepping back. “Say hi to Win for me, okay? Have a good night with her.”

 

George nods, and leaves. He doesn’t look back.

 

“So,” Chris says quietly, “wanna tell me what happened?”

 

“You just get attached, up here. He’s my lifeline, and I—I guess I’m his,” Leonard says, wondering if it’s too much to say, if he should watch his tongue, “and I—I don’t have to imagine what it’s like, thinking you might lose your lifeline. I know what it feels like. I still remember, Chris.”

 

He reaches out and presses two fingertips to Chris’ chest, where he knows the shirt is covering the scar. “And I had some power, I could take action, help you. He didn’t. He’s not a guy who deals with feeling helpless all that well.”

 

“He loves you,” Chris says to him very quietly, “every time you’ve landed yourself in the hospital? He’s been just as devastated as me. He tries to hide it, tries not to let it all show, but I could tell.”

 

Leonard smiles, just a lightning fast quirk of his lips because the muscles can’t manage to hold it. “He’s head over heels for Winona Thompson, Chris. He might’ve—might’ve felt that way once upon a time. It’s just not true anymore, that’s all. When you see him with her, you can see it, in his eyes. It’s always in his eyes when he looks at her.”

 

“And you?”

 

“I’m in love with someone else,” Leonard says softly, pressing his lips to Chris’ temple, “now come here, I think we have some catching up to do.”

 

“I got your message for Christmas,” Chris confesses, “I had no idea you could talk like that—I listen to it a lot, even now.”

 

Leonard grins. “Come to bed, Christopher. I bet you it’s better in person.”

 

Christopher does, and it is.

 

---

Leonard lays in his bed with his arms around Chris. It had been incredible—no matter how good his imagination was, he was still amazed by the way Chris gasped, the sweet, perfect curve of his spine, the way he’d called Leonard’s name when Leonard had pushed into him, legs tight around Leonard’s waist, as if he couldn’t stand to ever see them parted again. Chris had spent a long, long time staring at the scar covering his entire right flank, touching it, tracing it with lips and tongue and fingers, staring at it as if he’s trying to memorize it.

 

It’s so wonderfully familiar, the way he kisses Chris awake before the alarm goes off, the way Chris drifts into consciousness the same way he drifts out of it, burrowing against Leonard innocently at first and then less so. They’re in the shower when they hear George coming back.

 

They wrap towels around their hips and Chris kisses Leonard again, stealing his breath, before they head out.

 

George looks down, face a little pink. “Sorry. I thought—I thought you’d be back on the Reliant by now, Chris. My bad. I should’ve commed first—“

 

“S’okay, Georgie, Chris is about to head back to his lady. Say hi to the XO for me, babe.”

 

George looks at him inquisitively. “He hates me,” Leonard says cheerfully, “told me I was robbing the cradle, being with Chris. It’s okay, though. I fucking hate him, too.”

 

“He’s not that bad, once you get to know him,” Chris mutters, “but he was outta line, saying that about us.”

 

He pulls the towel down and gets dressed quickly, kissing Leonard chastely on the mouth. “See you two tonight, okay? Dinner? You can come to the Reliant, if you want. I don’t have to share quarters. Perks of being a Lieutenant. You could probably speak to someone too, Len. They shouldn’t be making a Lieutenant Commander share.”

 

Leonard smiles at him. “Probably not, but I like having Georgie around.”

 

Chris sends him a look, a half-smile that has more to it than Leonard can read.

 

“So how was that?” George asks him, after Chris is gone.

 

“It was good,” Leonard says vaguely, “s’always good with Chris.”

 

“You didn’t lose the spark?”

 

Leonard considers it. “No,” he says thoughtfully, “I don’t think we did. He’s more now, than he used to be. More the man I knew, back at home. He was an Admiral, when I left. It’s sexy, watching him grow up and learn. How was Winona?”

 

“Brilliant,” George says, gazing through the wall, “she’s got a plan to restore the power grid. Of course she does, y’know? She’s a fuckin’ genius.”

 

“That she is, Georgie. And so are you. You’re suited to each other.”

 

“You’re a genius, too,” George says quietly.

 

“Yeah, I guess I am,” Leonard doesn’t say anything after that, because there’s nothing more to be said, really.

 

They still aren’t talking about it.

 

---

The next night, George and Leonard go up to the Reliant, have dinner with Chris, and then George heads back to the Kelvin.

 

Chris brings Leonard back to his quarters. They’re nice, a soft blue. There’s a picture of the three of them on his desk, and another picture, of just Leonard, on his bedside table, and Leonard doesn’t hide how much that moves him.

 

He smiles at the little stuffed lion that sits on the shelf, eyes watching over everything.

 

“You kept it,” he says warmly, stepping forward to stroke the soft fur.

 

“You gave him to me. Of course I kept him,” Chris murmurs, wrapping his arms around Len from behind. “I had a cold once, he stayed in bed with me the entire time. Leo’s a good friend. Can’t make up for missing you, though, Len.”

 

Leonard turns and lets himself be drawn into a long kiss, savoring the feeling of Chris’ mouth against his own. He starts to strip off his shirt and head back to the bed, but Chris is late following him.

 

When Leonard turns around, he catches Chris turning the little lion around so he’s not looking at them anymore.

 

“You are ridiculous,” Leonard tells him.

 

“He’s too young to be watching me screw you stupid,” Chris responds, grinning and pushing him back.

 

“You don’t screw me stupid. You screw me smart. Don’t you remember when I figured out that vehicle for Vulcans after we slept together?” Leonard asks him.

 

Chris rolls his eyes. Leonard grins at him and lets Chris have everything he wants and then some.

 

He wakes early, because he’ll have to get back to his own ship, to find a clean uniform, but he wakes Chris with a kiss, a quick on the mouth, and a very slow one several feet lower that lasts long minutes, Chris’ voice filling the room as he tries to control his instinctive desire to just thrust

 

They go on like that for awhile, until some of the nurses are grumbling at Leonard one day and he realizes it’s because they somehow think he’s broken George Kirk’s heart. He tells Georgie about it over dinner, and he confesses that he and Winona have been getting dirty looks, too. It’s so ridiculous it almost makes them laugh, but it’s also sweet, that this crew cares about them, enough to root for them.

 

Winona tells the engineers, Leonard tells medical, and George works on convincing comms, and eventually the hostility, mild as it was, abates.

 

---

 

It’s cruel and selfish to want the damage to take longer to clean up. It’s cruel and selfish to want the Reliant to be needed longer, to want Chris in his arms longer—

 

By that metric, Leonard can’t deny that he’s cruel and selfish.

 

Parting is easier this time, and Leonard isn’t sure if that’s a good thing or not.

 

Chris stands opposite them on the planet’s surface, dry-eyed and strong.

 

“See you when I see you, George,” he says, hugging his friend with a faint smile.

 

He turns to Leonard, then, pulling him in for a brief hug and then kissing his cheek. “Take care, Len.”

 

“You too, Chris.”

 

And then they board their different ships, the Reliant heading for the Gamma Quadrant, the Kelvin going towards the Alpha Quadrant, taking Chris and Leonard to opposite corners of the universe yet again.

 

Leonard can’t help wishing that Chris had at least kissed him on the mouth.

 

---

Leonard works on putting out his neural grafting research next. It’s hard to get it published without patient data, and he hasn’t exactly had a plethora of opportunity to rewire someone’s brain recently.

 

An away mission comes along, goes wrong, and gives him that opportunity. Ensign Coates lives, and she’s unendingly grateful, even as her results are used to publicize Leonard’s methods.

 

Leonard’s happy after a job well done, of course. But he’s thinking more about a job to be done in the future, by someone else, after Christopher Pike comes home one day with severe nerve damage from T9 downwards.

 

---

 

George gets a promotion to Lieutenant after he handles the helm while they’re being chased by rogue Klingons. His evasive maneuvers are ridiculous and Robau promotes him on the spot, as soon as he uses the gravitational pull of a gas giant to slingshot them away, further and faster than the Klingons can keep up with.

 

He starts getting the conn, when the Captain and XO are off shift or on away missions or out of commission.

 

It’s not long after that that George gets picked to go down on an away mission. It’s probably sometime in September, and when Leonard thinks about home, he thinks about the leaves in Atlanta starting to go brown and golden and red around the edges, littering the ground and crunching under his feet.

 

George has been on away missions before, but this time is more momentous. He’s leading it, this time. No Robau, no XO there to hold his hand.

 

“Medical team to transporter bay, prepare for incoming wounded—“

 

The words are so similar to when it was Chris that it makes Leonard freeze for a second and a half before he shouts at a bunch of nurses and fucking sprints.

 

On the plus side, George doesn’t have any bullet holes. On the minus side, he’d somehow managed to get caught in a rock slide. An ensign is cradling him in her arms, crying silently as he looks up at her and tries to smile.

 

“George!” Leonard cries out, and it sounds like a scream, and maybe he’s emotionally compromised, but that’s never stopped him before. Half the ribs on his left side are caved in, his beautiful lips starting to turn a sickly cyanotic blue.

 

“You die on me, you’ll have Winona and Chris to deal with,” Leonard threatens, “I need a unit of tri-ox now, and get him a mask, 70% oxygen content—“

 

His limbs look all wrong too, his left leg turned at a horrible unnatural angle and his right arm—

 

It’s been a long time since Leonard’s looked at a patient and felt sick.

 

His nurse gags at the sight of it, stark white bone protruding from the skin.

 

“Len,” George whispers, “g’na be ‘kay. G’na be ‘kay.”

 

“Yeah, Georgie. you’re gonna be okay, sweetheart,” Leonard says softly, “you’re going to be fine, honey, I’ll make sure of it, I’ll take care of you.”

 

He assesses him for head trauma first, and somehow, amazingly, his brain is the only thing he’s managed to avoid smashing.

 

“Love you,” he says, and Leonard chokes on a sound that could have been a laugh or a sob and comes out as both, an ugly, painful sound.

 

He’s gentle as he presses the hypospray to that beautiful neck, applying the slightest of pressure until the drug enters his bloodstream and he loses consciousness.

 

Then he works on reassembling nearly his entire body.

 

The operation is fourteen hours, all told. He sets the ribs first, one at a time, with a dozen osteoregens working on him at once. Then he reinflates the lung, and a healthy color starts to return to his face, that beautiful face that looked so wrong when it was so pale and still on Leonard’s operating table.

 

The leg is a bad fracture, tibia and fibula both snapped, but it’s a clean one, and setting it doesn’t take all that long.

 

George’s arm is the worst. Fractures of the humerus and radius—again, those are easy enough to set. But George’s ulna is absolutely shattered.

 

After he pulls his hands out of George’s body and sets a small army of osteoregens working on him, Leonard looks down at his fingers, the latex gloves covered in blood.

 

The blood isn’t what scares him, though. It’s the trembling.

 

His hands tremble as he washes them. They tremble as he sits at another bedside and composes a message to Chris—able to tell him at least that George is going to survive. He leaves out the part where there’s a very real chance that George may not be able to serve on a starship anymore. It depends on how he heals, really.

 

Leonard wants desperately to crawl onto the bed and hold him all night, but George’s back is covered with deep, ugly contusions, and Leonard can’t stand the thought that his touch would only hurt him more.

 

Instead, he waits until medbay is nearly empty, and pushes another bed until they’re right next to each other. He pulls the privacy curtain around them and lays himself down to sleep, reaching out and taking George’s uninjured hand in one of his. He listens to George’s pulse for what feels like hours, the soft thump of George’s arteries against the gentle pressure of Leonard’s fingers.

 

Dr. Ali doesn’t say a single word when he finds them the next morning, just takes Leonard off the duty roster for the foreseeable future.

 

It takes George three more days to wake up, mostly because of the regens, stressing his metabolism and forcing his bones to heal fast and sucking up all the energy they keep pouring into him through his IV.

 

Each of those three nights, Leonard lays beside him, holding his hand and staying awake as long as he possibly can before his eyes close. During the first day, he sees other patients, takes care of paperwork, checks on his research samples… and comes by to check on George every two hours.

 

During the second day, he sits with George. He reads him the love poems from the book George had given him at Christmas. He reads him the poems about journeys, about healing, about time. He talks to him quietly.

 

Once, during gamma shift, he talks to Jim, sitting right at George’s side and telling him what happens.

 

On the third day, he reads until his voice goes hoarse, and then reads for another two hours after that. Then he curls up on his bed and watches George sleep, willing him to wake.

 

It’s the evening of that third day that he wakes.

 

Leonard stares at him for a moment, eyes filling with tears that he doesn’t want to be there. He blinks hard and then he leans down and kisses George Kirk, hard and desperate and George hasn’t brushed his teeth in four days and Leonard could not care less.

 

George responds to the kiss, opening his mouth and welcoming Leonard in and kissing him back.

 

“Don’t you fucking do that ever again,” Leonard croaks.

 

George nods.

 

“What happened to your voice, Lenny?”

 

That, of course, is when Leonard starts to cry. That night, when George falls asleep, just a few minutes later, he writes to Chris to tell him that George is awake.

 

George stays in medbay even after he wakes, because he’s in no condition to go anywhere, even if he does have a personal physician who’s certainly not going to leave him alone anytime soon.

 

Robau visits on the third day of consciousness. George still takes long naps, but they don’t fill Leonard with the same sort of crawling anxiety, as if ants were crawling all over inside his chest cavity.

 

Leonard greets him first. “Captain,” he says levelly, “good to see you as always, sir.”

 

“Thank you, McCoy. I’m here to see Kirk. Is he able to receive visitors?”

 

“I’ll check, sir.”

 

Leonard knows full well that George is up, and when he peeks in through the curtains, it’s only to warn George to be on his best behavior. George smiles at him past a black eye and Leonard thinks idly that today will be the day he fixes some of the bruises that were marked lower priority when half of George’s skeleton was busy trying to escape his body.

 

Leonard follows Robau in, blushing a little when the captain takes a long look at the empty biobed that’s pushed up right next to George’s, and then glances at Leonard, connecting the dots. Not that they’d been particularly hard to connect, of course.

 

“Lieutenant. Ensign Rowles gave us a report of what happened on the planet. Now that you’re well enough to do so, would you be able to give us your own report?”

 

“I didn’t clear him for a debriefing,” Leonard says, before George can say a word, an edge in his voice.

 

“I’ll be quick, Lieutenant Commander,” Robau promises.

 

Leonard can’t help but feel exhausted. “It’s Doctor in here, sir,” he says softly, “and I can only let you have about fifteen minutes. If he starts to get stressed out, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. His body’s been through a tremendous trauma, sir, he needs time to heal.”

 

“Fortunately, the Ensign’s report aligned with all three of the other members of the away team. The only relevant question I have for you, Lieutenant, is this. Did you push Rowles out of the way of the rockslide?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Leonard lets out an aborted cry of surprise, muffled because at the last minute he’d remembered to keep his goddamn mouth shut.

 

“You’ll be receiving a commendation, Lieutenant. It seems you and the Doctor are a well-matched pair.”

 

He looks at Leonard with humor in his eyes as he leaves medbay, but Leonard can’t see any humor in it at all.

 

“You pushed her out of the way?”

 

“What the hell was I gonna do, let her die?”

 

Leonard clenches his jaw so tight he thinks for a second it might snap.

 

“Maybe next time, push yourself out of the way, too,” he says after a long moment, very softly.

 

George opens his mouth to respond, but Leonard ducks through the privacy curtains.

 

Personal log, Leonard McCoy, new entry.

 

James, your father is the most arrogant, pigheaded, selfish asshole I have ever met, Leonard rants, hearing the breaks in his voice, hearing the weakness in it and hating it.

 

First he goes down on an away mission, I get it, that’s part of the job. You can’t help that shit happens, either, that’s part of the job, too. But is it just you fucking Kirks who leap before you fucking look, before you fucking think what it would do to the people who love you to lose you all of a sudden?

 

Sure, you were fucked up and your asshole stepdaddy convinced you that you were nothin’ and nobody and the world would be better without you in it, but what’s George’s fucking excuse?! He’s normal, well-adjusted, NOT an alcoholic, NOT using promiscuity to skirt classic abandonment and intimacy issues—what the fuck is his problem?!

 

How could he even fucking think about it? How could he not just fucking get himself out of the way, too? He’s not less valuable than she is! Fuck, I don’t even give a shit about Rowles, and I love him—

 

By the end of the entry, he’s bellowing at the computer console, screaming in his empty room.

 

He writes a message to the XO of the ship and kindly requests single quarters for himself and Lieutenant Kirk, both of whom now are now officers ranking high enough that it is highly unusual for them to be forced to share quarters.

 

Then he goes back to sickbay, miserable and exhausted, and curls up to sleep next to George Kirk, holding his hand.

 

The next morning, he gets a message saying that his request has been approved and telling him his new quarters are authorized to unlock with the access code to his current quarters. He kisses George’s forehead as he’s done every single morning since he woke up. He makes sure George gets his breakfast, watching him feed himself awkwardly with his left hand.

 

He leaves him there, promising to be back later, and leaves to move his things out of their room, which will now be serving as George Kirk’s quarters and his alone.

 

---

He distances himself as much as he can. He hands George’s case over to Dr. Ali and starts working gamma shifts so George can’t hunt him down and confront him about it. Then again, George is still wheelchair-bound, some two weeks after the accident, and it seems a tough ask for him to run around chasing after anybody, let alone the asshole who moved out on him while he was in the hospital.

 

Leonard gets a call from Chris one day, having received yet again the fortune of a private subspace frequency.

 

“Hey, Chrissy,” he says with a warm, worn smile. “How you doing, sweetheart?”

 

“Good, Len. How’re you?”

 

“Great. Working gamma, which sucks, but it’s fine otherwise.”

 

Chris looks at him, his eyes keen as they take in every inch of him. Leonard hopes the signal is spotty and he can’t see the dark circles under his eyes.

 

“Heard you moved out, into your own quarters,” Chris says casually.

 

Leonard knows that voice, though, has heard it a dozen times from Jim and then at least half a dozen each from Chris and George. It’s the voice of a command cadet—officer, now—who’s found something they’re interested in, like a dog on a scent. It’s the voice of an admiral laying a rhetorical trap for you to fall in.

 

Leonard isn’t in the mood for any of those sorts of games. Not today. He hasn’t been in the mood for those sorts of games for awhile now.

 

“I did,” he says simply, “you were right, we’re both of a rank that we don’t need to share anymore.”

 

“So you moved out after George made Lieutenant, then,” Chris says with a bright, false smile, “because otherwise, they’d have made him room with someone else and you didn’t want to put him through that.”

 

“It was after he made Lieutenant, yes.”

 

“Right after, or a few months after, when he was in medbay with a broken arm, leg, and half a dozen broken ribs, not even counting the numerous contusions and pneumothorax?”

 

“Does it matter, Christopher?”

 

“It matters that you’re being a fucking hypocrite, Leonard,” Chris says icily, “because you’ve gotten injured loads of times, and we’ve never fucking left you. George gets hurt once and you run like a fucking coward. I thought better of you than that.”

 

“I guess you were mistaken, then,” Leonard says wearily, “take care, Christopher. Stay safe.”

 

He ends the transmission before Chris can get another word in.

 

He’s got fourteen and a half months left, before he’s going to lay down his life so George Kirk doesn’t have to lay down his own.

 

He sighs. That’s plenty of time to repair burnt bridges.

 

---

George spends more time with Winona. He’s been promoted to Second Officer, and Leonard is so proud he doesn’t have the words to express it. He knows exactly where George lives, but he sends a comm instead.

 

In the end, that’s what it comes down to. George spends more time with Winona. Leonard spends more time alone.

 

He goes to work on gamma, during the shift’s night. On alpha, when George is on the bridge, he goes to the gym. It’s nearly empty, and nobody’s there to look at him in concern. It’s just as well. He knows what overworking looks like. He runs for too long, too fast, until his legs cramp in the shower and he ends up sat on the tile, legs unable to support him anymore.

 

This is about when he would talk to his therapist, usually. But the ship’s counselor is a colleague, now, and if he talks to her, then she’ll be obligated to report to Dr. Ali, and Ali will have to report to Robau, and they might want to ditch him at the nearest starbase, and Leonard still needs to be on this boat for another fourteen months.

 

Fourteen months is too long by far to have to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms. He knows that if he exercises too much, the computer will ping his attending physician about potentially unhealthy behaviors or a potential eating disorder. He sure as hell isn’t going to drink, because he works every night and showing up to work drunk is a line he has never crossed and this is not the time to start.

 

So he just talks to Jim, and he reads books where the hero always dies, and he watches films and tries not to think about the sound of George’s laughter or the feeling of Chris’ smile against his skin.

 

Every two weeks, Medical’s duty roster shifts, so nobody has to work gamma too long. Unfortunately, changing the duty roster is the CMO’s second-in-command’s job. Leonard, as always, is exquisitely fair to everyone else and so gamma shift changes around him, and nobody notices that he doesn’t change to alpha or beta at all.

 

If he had a friend like this, isolating himself, engaging in excessive exercise, turning into (even more of) a workaholic, he’d diagnose them with depression.

 

---

 

Weeks go by like that. Weeks become months, and soon it’s December. Ali, for all that he spends a serious amount of time in the lab, catches on to Leonard’s prolonged stint in gamma and promptly overrides his schedule to switch himself and Leonard.

 

It’s good, actually. There are more patients, more conversation. Leonard thinks maybe he doesn’t need deep, meaningful connection. Maybe something shallow with a lot of people is enough to get him through.

 

He’s informed on a Thursday that he’s going down on an away mission. He prepares, reads the briefings, knows these beings are generally averse to touch, so no handshakes or friendly slaps on the back.

 

George is there, on the transporter pad, standing right next to him. He looks good, Leonard thinks quietly. Strong, healthy. Beautiful. He’s standing on his own two feet again, not wavering even a little bit.

 

Leonard had known he would be, given that he looks at George Kirk’s medical file nearly every single day, even after he’d handed him over to Ali.

 

But still, it’s fucking good to see him. Still, he can’t help but lean in a little closer to him.

 

“How have you been?” he asks softly.

 

George blinks at him. “What do you care, Leonard?” he says finally, quiet to avoid making a scene. It almost sounds callous, but Leonard can see the hurt in his eyes, can hear the fatigue in his voice.

 

Leonard hates himself, more than the usual. “I do care, Georgie,” he whispers, standing up straight again and watching the lights take them down to the planet.

 

It goes to shit immediately, which ought not to be as much as a surprise as it is, really.

 

George shoves him to the ground and covers him with his body, and Leonard struggles, desperate to switch, because George is vulnerable—

 

But the XO is covering him, so he’s not quite as vulnerable as he’d thought. The security personnel are returning fire, shooting back, and George aims at a nearby tree. It explodes, and George takes the chance to heave Leonard up to his feet, hand him a phaser—and that means somebody is dead, that somebody isn’t going to need it anymore—and together they run, sprinting into the forest, zigging and zagging to make their trail harder to follow.

 

Even as they run, Leonard finds time in his brain to note that George is leaning a little more heavily on his left leg, the one that hadn’t been broken, but it doesn’t seem to be impeding him too much as they go.

 

They run until they can’t hear the sound of their pursuers anymore, and then they walk, prioritize being quiet because they’ve gotten some distance by now, probably.

 

George leads them and Leonard follows, and from behind, in the strange, slanted light on a foreign planet whose sun is setting, he looks like Jim.

 

Finally they find a decent place to make camp, with a hill at their back so any enemies will be visible. They make a fire, briefly, just enough to see as they build a makeshift mattress out of leaves on some of the softer ground. They eat their little protein nubs and set up a watch schedule and then they stomp out the fire, erasing all trace of it. They sit in the dark of the forest, hoping there aren’t too many nocturnal predators around. George sits with his back to a tree, eyes peeled.

 

“Go to sleep, Leonard.”

 

“Not tired,” Leonard says quietly, and he moves, too, so he’s sitting next to George against the same tree.

 

“Why did you move out?” George asks, when the sound of the nocturnal insects soothes them, almost into sleep.

 

“It was too much. Christmas, and then—and then losing you, almost, and what I did when you were sleeping, and when you woke up—it was escalating, Georgie. We were too close. We both needed distance.”

 

“You could have at least told me.”

 

“You would’ve tried to stop me, sweetheart. And those eyes of yours—it’s hard to say no to those eyes. So I figured it’d be best if we didn’t hang out as much.”

 

“Or at all, I guess,” George says quietly, “I didn’t want the distance.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I missed you calling me Georgie,” he admits quietly, laying his head down against Leonard’s shoulder.

 

“Missed you calling me Lenny. Chris called once, to rip me a new one, but—well, it didn’t end all that well. So nobody’s called me anything but Dr. McCoy in a long while.”

 

George shifts, arm moving until his hand is in Leonard’s, fingers intertwined. Leonard doesn’t just let it happen, either. He flexes his fingers, holding George’s hand back.

 

“Rumors about us have stopped, finally,” George says after a long while, “apparently moving out while your alleged lover is in medbay sends a lot of tongues wagging, but they’ve stopped, now.”

 

“Nobody sees me enough to want to gossip anymore. I worked gamma for a month and a half before Ali caught on and made me switch.”

 

“That’s—“

 

“Against regs? Yeah, it is. But Ali let me off with a slap on the wrist.”

 

They sit in the quiet for a little while longer.

 

“I think I’m going to ask Winona to marry me,” George says quietly.

 

Leonard should be happy, because this is what he wants. He shouldn’t feel vaguely queasy.

 

“That’s great, kid. Do you have a ring already?”

 

George nods against his shoulder. “You really think it’s a good idea? Not too fast?”

 

“We live life at warp speed, George. Sometimes we have to do things fast, while we can still do them.”

 

“I thought we had something,” George admits.

 

“You’re with Winona. Do you love her, Georgie?”

 

“Yes.” The answer comes fast, no hesitation at all, “she’s amazing. One of the best people I’ve ever met.”

 

“There you go, then.”

 

“Aren’t you going to say that you’re with Chris?”

 

“Haven’t gotten a message from him in a month and a half. I can’t say it, because I’m not sure if it’s true anymore.”

 

They don’t speak again, and some time later, George’s head lays against Leonard’s shoulder, his breathing slow and steady against Leonard’s neck. Leonard stays awake, watching for threats, waiting for the morning sun.

 

They survive the night, and in the morning, they trek to the top of the hill and the atmosphere gives them the mercy of a few hours free of ionic disturbances. They beam back up to the ship.

 

Winona’s there, eyes wet as she throws herself at George.

 

“Are you okay? Are you hurt? George, don’t you fucking scare me like that again, I swear to god—“

 

“I’m okay,” he says quietly, holding her tight. He glances at Leonard, just for a second, and then his eyes are back where they’re supposed to be, on her.

 

“Hey, I wanted to ask you something,” he says softly, “it just—last night, I knew I didn’t want to die without asking you this.” He sinks down to one knee and pulls out a ring. “Will you—“

 

Leonard smiles at them, at him, and heads back to his quarters alone.

 

He gets a comm that evening. She said yes.

 

Congrats, Georgie. You deserve to be happy.

 

So do you, Lenny.

 

He’s not sure if that’s true, and if it is, how to answer it. So he reads the message and doesn’t type a reply.

 

---

 

The XO doesn’t make it back from the away mission. He’d covered George, taken three shots to the chest. George had seen him stop moving, eyes open and staring lifelessly into the distance. He’d pulled the phaser from his fingers before rigor mortis could set in, and then he’d yanked Leonard up and they’d run into the forest. They’re the only ones who come back.

 

---

The mission, for all its tragic consequences, breaks the tension between George and Leonard.

 

The very next night, the one after George had commed Leonard to tell him that she’d said yes, he waltzes into Leonard’s quarters, holding two bottles of beer and settling on the sofa.

 

“Winnie’s working gamma tonight,” He says by means of explanation.

 

“So you thought, hey, it’s a good time to break and enter,” Leonard says dryly, though he takes the beer George is holding out to him and collapses onto the couch next to him.

 

“So I thought, might as well catch up with you,” George corrects him, turning to look at him, eyes all soft. “I wasn’t kidding. I missed you, Lenny.”

 

Leonard swallows hard. “I have paperwork,” he says, voice pathetically unconvincing even to his own ears.”

 

George looks at him, uncertainty in his face. “Oh. Sure, yeah, of course. I can—I’ll comm next time, okay?” He stands up and suddenly the beer looks awkward in his hand, as if he doesn’t know quite what to do with it anymore.

 

Leonard’s stomach starts tying itself into knots immediately, and he reaches out, fingers wrapping around George’s wrist. “I’ll get to it tomorrow, it’s not going anywhere. Now come here, sit down. What do you want to talk about? if it’s marriage wisdom you’re looking for, you’ve got the wrong guy, y’know.”

 

“No, not marriage wisdom. Just wanted to talk to you again. About films or about books or about nothing—I don’t even care, really. We could maybe watch something, if you want?”

 

Leonard nods, and George sits back down, and this time, he makes himself comfortable, leaning on Leonard’s shoulder until Leonard wraps an arm around him, choosing a movie with his other hand and telling the computer to dim the lights.

 

Leonard makes fun of the movie the entire time, and George laughs at every stupid joke instead of telling him to shut the hell up.

 

It’s during the second movie that George turns to him and looks him in the eyes, laughter gone.

 

“I’m scared,” he admits quietly, “of fucking up.”

 

“That’s good. You should be scared. A healthy fear is what keeps you putting your heart and soul into it, making it work. Just love her, George. Love her, make time for her, listen to her. Don’t try to make her into what you want her to be, just love her the way she is. I don’t know what else I can say, really. I didn’t figure out a really solid relationship until Jim, and that was riddled with its own issues. Chris has been better, because he doesn’t have so many issues and I know how to manage mine now, better than I used to, but even that has its problems. It took me a really long time, Georgie. You’ll learn faster, but you have to want to learn.”

 

George nods. “Would you ever consider marrying again? If Chris asked?”

 

“Chris and I haven’t talked in a long enough time that if he asked me to marry him now, I’d be more likely to do a psych exam than to consider the question.”

 

“If you had to, though.”

 

“If I had to, I’d… think about it, I guess,” Leonard says honestly, “I don’t know how I feel about marriage anymore. Sure as hell ain’t sacred, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just a piece of paper. It would feel like a betrayal of Jim, when I never got to marry him. As if I’m choosing Chris over him, or marking Chris as a more serious relationship, or something. I love too many people to marry one, I think. I’d feel guilty the rest of my life.”

 

“Who else do you love?” George asks, an intensity in his eyes.

 

Leonard straightens up, careful as he removes his arm and sits back a little. “Don’t ask questions you know the answers to, George.”

 

“I don’t know the answer. I can only guess.”

 

“You guessed right. In the future, you married Winona, okay? You married her and you never divorced, that’s the end of the story.” Leonard leaves out the part where George had died only seconds after his son had been born, leaves out that Winona remarried afterwards, leaves out the fact that his son had been a supernova, so bright he hurt Leonard’s eyes sometimes—

 

“Were we happy?” George asks him, voice so low Leonard could pretend he didn’t hear it at all.

 

“I didn’t know you personally, but I liked to think so, yeah,” he says, and if it’s a little bit of a lie, so be it.

 

“The trouble is, you never know if the person you’re committing to is the person who can make you happiest, if they’re better at making you happy than anybody else,” George muses.

 

“If you wanted to commit to them, they must make you at least a little happy,” Leonard mutters, trying to escape this conversation as best he can.

 

George nods. They watch the rest of the movie in complete silence. When it’s over, Leonard clears his throat quietly and looks over at George… who is fast asleep.

 

“Okay, Georgie, time to wake up, go to bed, kid, you’re tired.”

 

George grumbles at him, and when Leonard finally gets him standing up, he marches right over to Leonard’s bed and collapses into it.

 

Leonard rolls his eyes and comms Winona so she knows he’s alright. He nudges George over enough to have space for himself, and he climbs into bed next to him and falls asleep.

 

---

 

Once is an incident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern. Every single time Winona’s on gamma? That is what Leonard considers a habit, for good or for ill.

 

At the Christmas party that year, George pulls Winona into a kiss under the mistletoe, squeezing her tight and spinning her around. Her ring sparkles, the small blue stone in a silver setting. It’s perfect for them. Later on, when the party’s starting to die down, he brings Leonard down under it, too, and presses his lips to Leonard’s cheek.

 

---

It takes awhile for Robau to decide who to promote to be the new XO. There are rumors for awhile, that it’ll be someone off-ship that’ll come in, maybe an XO from another ship, maybe someone serving on a base. The captain looks ragged, when Leonard catches a glimpse of him in the hallways. He has sorrow in his eyes.

 

Still, by the beginning of the new year, George Kirk is the new First Officer of the Kelvin. His uniforms change, as he trades in his Lieutenant shirts for ones bearing the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

 

He’s the same rank as Leonard now, despite all the years that separate them. But then again, those don’t matter anymore, not when George knows know what Leonard has known for years, the pain and regret that comes from making decisions that come back to haunt you, the endless wondering about whether lives could have been saved—

 

---

Leonard gets a comm from Chris, not too long after George starts dropping by and spending half his nights in Leonard’s bed as if it means nothing.

 

From: Lieutenant Christopher Pike

To: Lieutenant Commander Leonard Horatio McCoy

 

George commed me the other day. He told me to get my head out of my ass. Said you were miserable and lonely and a little bit broken-hearted.

 

Are you broken-hearted, Len?

 

If you were, I think part of me would be happy. Not that you were hurt, just that you care about me, even now, even still. We’re so far away from each other, I guess I keep thinking that you’re going to forget about me, and spend your life pining over your J, or over George—I can’t shake the idea of you two finding each other while I’m here. I know it’s stupid, I know I should stop worrying about it, but I don’t.

 

George said that you said you didn’t know if we were still together. I… I don’t know either, anymore. All I know is that if you started dating someone else, it would hurt. I would be angry and miserable and I don’t know what that means, but maybe if you feel the same, we should stay together after all.

 

I know it’s stupid, if we’re going to be apart for five years anyway. We might as well just go out and party, right? Sleep around, sow our wild oats, and then come back to each other in five years.

 

But I don’t want to. I just want you. Preferably on this ship, Len. George will be fine without you. He’s got Winona and he’s finally made XO—and so fucking fast, I almost can’t believe it—he went from Ensign to Lieutenant Commander and I’m still a goddamn Lieutenant.

 

I’m going to put in another transfer request soon, I think. Maybe you could put one in, too, and we can see if we can get placed together.

 

Or maybe I’m just trying to hold onto something that can’t last. I don’t know.

 

Miss you,

Chris

 

Leonard writes back as soon as he reads the damn thing. He and Chris write to each other twice a week. They’re not all like that letter. After the first two, they’re back on familiar footing again, so it’s back to flirting, referencing memorable experiences in coded language. Leonard’s favorite is “do you remember the night before I figured out the vehicle for Vulcans?” Chris’ favorites are “do you remember the time we flew out on a shuttle, one year after we met?” and “do you remember that first night at Alpha Centauri?”

 

Leonard’s in a place where he doesn’t know if he’s in love with Christopher Pike or the memory of Christopher Pike. Maybe he’s in love with the feeling of tenderness, the feeling of being wanted, of being enough. Maybe he’s in love with the idea that Chris is the one, another person carrying his heart and walking around with it outside of his body.

 

He doesn’t know, but he sends Chris Pike love poems anyway.

 

Sometimes he reads the love poems to Jim, as part of his personal log. He feels bad when he thinks about Jim, about the fact that the pain feels far away now, nearly three years after the transporter malfunction. He’s nearly sure now that Jim has moved on—his Jim had been a wonderful man, as true as any, but among other things, he’d also been resilient. The resilient heart finds something to love, even when it hurts the most.

 

He wonders who it is. He daydreams about it, wondering whether it’s Spock, thinking about the way Ambassador Spock had hinted at their friendship as if it was a euphemism for something else. He wonders about each of the bridge crew, really, except for Chekov, because Jim wouldn’t go there, not for comfort, not when he himself was feeling vulnerable.

 

Uhura would be a good candidate, if she and Spock broke up and she got over it, somehow. She’d know what to say to his Jim, how to make him feel better. She’d keep him safe, put the fear of god in him before an away mission so that he’d be careful with his own life.

 

He thinks about Sulu, and he worries. Jim and Sulu had been fast friends since the Narada engagement. But they’re so goddamn similar, in the way they risk their lives, in the way they chase the next adrenaline high. It makes Leonard feel afraid, until he remembers coming across Sulu with his plants, the way he’d talk to them softly and calmly, giving each of them exactly what it needed. Maybe he could give Jim what he needed, too.

 

He considers Scotty, too, and can only imagine him as a friend to Jim, a shoulder to cry on, a buddy to drink with on hard days.

 

Then again, maybe it’s none of them. Maybe it’s a beautiful woman scientist from a base they’d visited, or the handsome, brilliant aide to an ambassador they were shuttling back and forth between engagements.

 

There’s still an ache, thinking about Jim with someone else, because he can’t be there, but it aches worse when he thinks about Jim alone and miserable.

 

Maybe that’s growth. He should ask his therapist when they get back to earth.

 

---

 

George and Winona plan to marry in February. Chris puts in for some leave, and the Kelvin is going to be around Risa.

 

A pleasure planet isn’t a bad place to get married, Leonard supposes, though it might be awkward for their parents to come over.

 

Fortune smiles on them, and Tiberius and Liz are there, as are Winona’s parents. Chris arrives just a few hours before the ceremony, and Leonard kisses him senseless for not nearly enough time before running off to get his suit altered to fit him better and to pick up his tie, the one that sets off his eyes so well, and to do all hundred of the errands Winona had pawned off to him, in a fit of distraction and near-panic.

 

In the end, they’re both standing next to George when he says the words. They’re pretty traditional vows, though not religious, since neither George nor Winona are, and their parents don’t particularly care either way.

 

But they promise to love and care for each other, through sickness and health, poverty and prosperity. They promise to cherish and to understand and to listen and sympathize. They promise to always hold each other’s hands through life, through good times and bad alike.

 

Chris holds his hand during the vows. Leonard watches Winona and George in their dress uniforms, the marriage officiated by Captain Robau. He thinks about his own wedding, standing across from Jocelyn, how she’d had her veil in front of her face, so he couldn’t quite make out the look in her eyes. He remembers the church packed full of their friends and families, every single little detail perfect because Jocelyn had taken a month off from the firm to make sure it would be.

 

He looks at the small room in city hall, with George and Winona and the people who love them most.

 

This wedding might not be as perfect as his wedding had been, but he suspects this marriage will be a hell of a lot better.

 

After the reception, George and Winona are off to their honeymoon—they’ve got a week left of shore leave still. Leonard smiles and watches them go, and then Chris tugs on his hand and pulls him into a taxi. He only has leave for another three days, after all, and then he has to head back to the Reliant.

 

---

He kisses Chris tenderly, makes love to him slowly, until the air of the hotel room is muggy and hot, until their skin is slick and hot where they slide against each other, until the sounds of them fill the room, of skin against skin and breathy gasping moans and cries and the way they call each other’s names

 

Chris has new scars on his body that Leonard’s never seen before—a slice on his arm, as if he was cut by a knife, a burn at his hip—at his hip, so near such a precious, precious place! There’s a firmness to him now. He isn’t so pliant in Leonard’s hands anymore—there is a shape to him, and while he adjust to Leonard’s grip, Leonard shifts to adjust to his.

 

Leonard spends hours kissing those new scars, revisiting the old ones, especially the ones he’d stitched up himself. He insists on knowing the stories behind the new ones. He bites his tongue when he wants to reprimand Chris for not being careful enough, because sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are. Leonard knows that better than most.

 

There’s a large tub in their hotel room, and they sit in the hot water together. Leonard pours shampoo into his hands and massages Chris’ scalp until he’s mewling ever so softly, leaning into the touch. He presses his hands against Chris’ muscles, kneading and pulling at the firm, strong flesh until the knots of tension start to release under his touch. He sets Chris’ foot on the floor of the tub, so his leg is bent at the knee, and he presses kisses along the inside of his thigh, from knee all the way up, and then he inhales deep and takes him into his mouth.

 

He nearly drowns in the process—and what a way to go, drowning in the tub while performing oral sex—but Chris has this blissed out look on his face, as if he’s never felt this pure a joy, this pure a relaxation before. He reaches out and strokes Leonard clumsily, body laying against the tub like melted butter on a plate, until Leonard pushes him away and takes care of himself, looking into Chris’ eyes when he climaxes, breathing his name.

 

They eat at wonderful restaurants, a combination of every culinary delight in the entire Federation. At night, after their dinner, they walk along the beach barefoot, shoes dangling from their hands as they watch the gentle flow of the tides, purple water coming in and soaking their feet before it recedes.

 

Leonard kisses him goodbye, when he finally has to go, and makes him promise to stay safe, as he always does.

 

Chris, as he always does, makes Leonard promise the exact same thing.

 

Leonard smiles. “Don’t I always?” he asks playfully, to avoid having to lie. “I love you, Christopher.” He has to say the words. It feels important, right now, to say the words as often and as fervently as he possibly can.

 

He fixes the image of Chris in his head, all the new scars, the angle of his jaw, the sparkle of his eyes, the glint of his hair, the white of his teeth. No detail is too small to internalize.

 

He may never see Chris again.

 

There’s less than a year left until Leonard dies, after all.

 

---

Winona moves into George’s quarters when they get back, as is standard for married couples. They get a new, larger bed, and the Kirks live together in harmony.

 

For all of a week and a half, after which Winona storms into Leonard’s room and demands that he talk some sense into his asshole friend. (Her words, not his.)

 

“I’m sorry, what happened?” he asks, utterly perplexed.

 

“George is being insufferable is what happened! He’s being messy and he leaves his crap all over the place and when I tell him to clean up, he gets annoyed and asks if I think roleplaying dorm officer will be hot, because he doesn’t, and then I tell him I’m fucking serious, that shit stresses me out, I hate seeing crap all over my nice clean room, and he says well, it’s our room and having to clean during my spare time stresses me out so can you just leave me alone—“

 

She breaks off, looking expectantly at Leonard, who’s just raised a hand and is trying, desperately, not to smile.

 

“Winona,” he says slowly, “are you upset because your husband is messy and you’re neat?”

 

“Yes! And then I come home from a tough fucking shift and then I’m picking up dirty boxers from the floor and—I swear to god, if I find another pair, I’m tossing them out the airlock, I don’t care if he runs out of underwear—“

 

“I’ll talk to him, Winnie,” he says firmly, and he does and George starts to make more of an effort to clean up after himself.

 

They live in harmony. For another two and a half weeks, which, George is quick to point out, is improvement!

 

This time, it’s George who comes into Leonard’s room, opening his bottom desk drawer to pull out the bottle that Leonard doesn’t remember telling him about. He doesn’t even both with a glass, just opens it and starts drinking.

 

“Talk to me,” Leonard orders.

 

“Winona’s driving me fucking crazy,” he mutters, and Leonard knows it’s serious, because George hasn’t called her Winona since about their fourth month on the ship—after that, it’s always been Win and Winnie.

 

“She’s such a raging workaholic—I haven’t even seen my wife in a week, it feels like! When I come into our quarters, I have to be quiet, or I’ll wake her, and when she gets off shift, she comes stomping in like a raging fuckin’ elephant. Even when she’s off, all she talks about is work, work, work, work, work! Isn’t there anything else in life, Lenny? Isn’t there something other than work? Isn’t there us? Isn’t there family? She never wants to just sit down and watch something with me, she gets antsy and has to check a PADD every five minutes when we’re trying to eat a goddamn meal—“

 

Leonard nods. “Well, what does she like to do? Maybe you two could do it together, spend time together that way.”

 

“Work,” George mutters mutinously, “work comes first, work comes again second, and then comes me, a distant third.”

 

Leonard asks Winona to have coffee with him the next morning.

 

“He just misses you, that’s all,” he says quietly, “he knows you love your work—it’s one of the things he loves most. He just doesn’t love feeling like your work is more important to you than he is, that’s all, Winnie.”

 

Winona glares at him, but a few weeks later, she stops checking her PADDs as much. She doesn’t like watching films—she’s not a film person, but she’ll put on music and demand that George dance with her, or they’ll go to the gym together, or to the observation deck, or to the very guts of engineering, and she’ll show him the sound the ship makes when it’s at warp, or when it’s running on impulse only, and he comes back glowing—

 

Leonard suspects there’s maybe a little bit more to their engineering trips than simply admiring the ship, the way Winona comes back all loose-limbed and radiant and George has a sated, pleased smile on his face that curves into a smirk now and again.

 

In the middle of all of this, there’s Chris. Leonard comms him often, and gets messages back just as often. They keep things light. Leonard tells him when he breaks his wrist on an away mission from falling out of a tree of all things, and Chris mentions that he drank something offered to them by one of the species they were visiting, and it turned his skin green for a solid week before it wore off.

 

The Orions on the ship were all over me, Len—honestly, if they didn’t take those pheromone suppressors, who knows what would’ve happened—

 

All in all, things are going almost well enough for Leonard to forget the ticking of the clock and what’s coming ahead.

 

---

It’s May when Winona shows up to sickbay, with a worried-looking George at her side.

 

“She’s been sick,” he says bluntly.

 

“It’s a stomach bug,” she says, clearly irritated at him, “I told you that, George Kirk, and maybe one of these days you can actually listen—“

 

“It’s not a stomach bug,” Leonard says quietly, after he’s scanned her. “Can I take a blood sample? Just to double check?”

 

She nods her consent and he pricks the lobe of her ear, where it won’t hurt as much.

 

He looks at the test results, and then at Winona’s medical file, scanning until he sees when her last contraceptive injection was. Four months ago. The injection only lasts three.

 

Leonard pulls the privacy curtain around them and looks at Winona seriously.

 

“You’re expecting, Winnie. Were you aware that that was a possibility?”

 

George responds first. “I’m going to be a father? I’m going to be a dad?!”

 

Leonard can almost feel him getting emotional and he puts up a hand. “Hush, George. This is about Winona right now. Winnie, talk to me. Did you know this was a possibility?”

 

She buries her head in her hands. “I—fuck, I got a reminder to get my contraceptive shot, but I was in the middle of revamping some of the engines, I got distracted, I forgot—“

 

Leonard places his hand on her shoulder and bends down until he’s looking her in the eye. “This doesn’t have to happen if you don’t want it to,” he says calmly, keeping all judgment out of his voice, “this is your body, Winona.”

 

She looks at her husband, at the look of utter despair on his face at the thought that they might not have a child after all.

 

“No—no, don’t be stupid,” she mutters eventually, as if it was never a decision at all, “I want it. I want to keep it. I always wanted one, eventually. Just—just eventually is right here already. It’s faster than I thought it would be, that’s all.”

 

He nods. “Do you two need a minute alone?”

 

“Stay, Len,” she says quietly, “you’re family, too.”

 

Leonard stays, quiet as George and Winona process, communicating with each other through looks alone. It’s a marriage superpower, one that he used to share with Jocelyn once upon a time. He and Jim could do it too, even though they never quite got to be married. Then again, he thinks Jim would like that—being the exception to the rule.

 

He thinks of Jim in the abstract, remembering his Jim, and then he realizes all of a sudden that Jim is here, in this room, in reality, and he glances at Winona’s stomach. He doesn’t know why, but the knowledge that Jim’s here with them, his little tiny cells dividing as they start to form the man that Leonard loves, is as reassuring as it is terrifying.

 

“How far along am I?” Winona asks finally.

 

“Six weeks. I’m just going to duck out and get you some prenatal vitamins, okay? These early stages are the most critical for baby’s development. Now, have you had any vomiting? Morning sickness?”

 

She looks at him blankly. “No.”

 

George coughs. “Win,” he whispers, “the shrimp.”

 

She flinches. “Shit,” she mutters, “I thought it was just a replicator malfunction that made me feel sick. Threw up for about a week.”

 

Leonard nods. “In future, if you’re not pregnant and you’re throwing up for a week, it’s time to come down and see me, okay? I can give you some pills to help combat some of the nausea, but honestly, that only goes so far. It’ll reduce the frequency, but you’ll still be vomiting. And as far as running to the restroom goes, there’s really nothing I can do to stop you running over every hour once Little Kirk gets a bit bigger and settles nicely right against your bladder. It sucks, but hey, the miracle of life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”

 

Winona glares at him. “You’re telling me.”

 

Leonard smiles at her encouragingly. “Well, you certainly do look radiant, Winona, if that makes you feel any better. You’re absolutely glowing.”

 

“You’ll be surprised to learn, Leonard, that that does not actually make me feel any better. But thank you for trying.”

 

---

 

Leonard is acutely aware that he doesn’t have much time left. He gets to working on a cure for xenopolycythemia. Ambassador Spock had mentioned it, with sadness in his voice, as taking the life of one of their bridge crew—the heart of the crew, he’d called them. When Jim had begged for more details, he’d refused, and he’d sketched out the details of a cure and sent it over.

 

But that was going on seven years ago now, back when Jim had just gotten the captaincy. There’s no way Leonard remembers anything about it. He just starts with the literature and with a basic molecule and starts working. He can feel when he’s getting closer, little flashes of memory that confirm his progress or gut instincts that he’s going in the wrong direction altogether.

 

---


Life on the ship continues as normal. George cuts way back on away missions, at Winona’s request. Leonard still goes whenever a representative from medical is needed, and sometimes he gets a little roughed up, but he always manages to survive long enough to get back to George and Winona on the Kelvin.

 

He keeps chugging away at the xenopolycythemia cure. He talks about it to Dr. Ali, who’s a brilliant researcher on top of being a brilliant doctor. He gets super excited about it, and the two of them opt to work on it together. They have a few breakthroughs, which they celebrate by Leonard drinking and Dr. Ali smoking a cigar, the smell of the smoke warm as it wraps around Leonard. They talk and exchange the wildest patient stories they can.

 

For the first time, Leonard realizes that Ali is a missed opportunity for him. He has the makings of a fantastic friend, for all that he doesn’t drink. His wry humor, the way he looks when he makes a witty observation, it’s all very refreshing.

 

Leonard asks him to have coffee the next day. He says it’s to discuss their work further, but mostly, it’s so that he can enjoy Ali’s company a little more, a little longer before everything goes wrong.

 

---

The next few months pass in a flurry of medbay shifts and running to the lab and working on his research and then making unofficial housecalls to George and Winona to check on them and on little Jim. He doesn’t call him Jim, doesn’t let on that he knows the gender at all. He shouldn’t, yet, after all.

 

Winona bitches, but he still rubs her feet if George is out on shift, and George gets stressed out about their future—“a starship’s no place for an infant, Lenny, but Winnie’s going to be devastated if we leave”—and Leonard listens to him and offers his best possible solution.

 

“Go back home for a few years, until the baby’s bigger, and then maybe you can trade off going up for short missions. Or just wait for awhile, and then maybe you can bring them along, even.” He doesn’t say that Winona is meant to be a Chief Engineer on a ship, or that George Kirk has Captain written all over him. Those sorts of things aren’t helpful, and as far as Leonard’s concerned, they’re not even important when a baby’s in the picture.

 

July comes and goes in this way, and finally Winona tells Patricia that she’s pregnant and that she needs to be on alpha, preferably away from anything that emits high levels of radiation. Leonard’s pretty sure that’s the entire warp core, and probably half the other stuff in Engineering, but Patricia finds a way to make it work and Winona keeps doing her job, even if she isn’t happy about being kept away from the good parts.

 

---

 

“Congratulations, Winona, George,” he says softly, “you’re expecting a boy.”

 

“A boy?” George is so excited, it makes Leonard smile and wish that he was recording this moment, so Jim could see it one day. “A boy! Win, haven’t I been telling you he’s a boy! I knew he was! I could feel it!”

 

Winona smiles, a little wan. The pregnancy hasn’t been easy on her, Leonard knows. Luckily, the first trimester wound down a few weeks ago and since then the morning sickness has eased up tremendously.

 

“Is he healthy?” she asks.

 

“He’s perfect,” Leonard says firmly, “absolutely beautiful.”

 

He shows them the little bundle, and even now, ultrasound imaging is what it is and the image is black and white and jumps up in static each time Leonard shifts his wrist even the slightest bit. They can see how he pulses, though, with each beat of his little heart.

 

“He’s absolutely beautiful,” Leonard repeats, with a little smile at Jim’s parents, “trust me, when you see enough of these, you can just tell which ones will turn out to be lookers.”

 

George laughs warmly and Winona smiles just a little bit.

 

“Of course he’s gonna be a handsome boy! Look who his mommy is,” George coos at the screen, “she’s the prettiest girl in the whole galaxy, yes she is, little boy, and you’re gonna have her brains and her looks and her everything, yes you are, if you’re lucky!”

 

“And your father’s bravery and his kindness,” Leonard adds, “and if you get his brains, that’s not too bad a bargain, either, as long as mama teaches you how to look before you leap.”

 

Little Jim doesn’t say anything, and yet his parents and Leonard still stare at the screen entranced with his little body, the random movements of his limbs, the little bump between his legs that had allowed Leonard to be so confident in pronouncing him to be male in the first place.

 

---


George opts out of away missions for nearly all of the pregnancy, but for this one, the society had demanded the ship’s chief healer (or his second, so of course Leonard had to go) and the chief leader (or his second, so of course George was accompanying him). It’s November, and Leonard can feel each day passing, wants it all to slow down.

 

Long story short, there was a coup, the rebels weren’t particularly sympathetic to the Federation, and instead of making that clear in a declaration, or a communiqué with the ship, they’d started firing. George and Leonard had reacted quickly—so quickly that Leonard realizes with a sigh that this just happens way too much—hitting the deck and then fleeing into the woods. It’s autumn on this planet, and the air is getting to be just a little uncomfortable.

 

They’re far enough away that George allows the risk of a fire, seeing as how the rebel city is decked out in full electricity and their own citizens use these woods for recreation as well. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it’s just really cold.

 

George is there with him, huddled close near the fire. They can see their breath, little puffs of air that rise and mix with the smoke.

 

Talking about their situation is depressing as all hell, so instead Leonard opts to talk about happier things.

“What do you think for names?” Leonard asks him with a little smile.

“I don’t know, Lenny. Any ideas?”

Leonard just smiles. “You could always go with Leonard,” he teases.

“Arrogant prick,” George mutters, no heat in his voice. He shifts a little closer to Leonard so their sleeping bags are aligned, so close that he can feel the heat of Leonard’s shoulder against his own.

Leonard yawns.

“Don’t go with Leonard,” he mumbles, shifting so his head is nearer George’s shoulder, “‘s an old man name.”

“Yeah? What would you go with instead?”

“Jim. I’ve always loved Jim,” Leonard whispers, eyes drifting until they’re closed.

George stays awake for a moment and thinks that Leonard might be right. He wonders whether Chris knows how deep it goes for Leonard, still, three years down the line.

Then again, he wonders if Chris would care, even if he did know.

He would take anything Leonard had to give.

It’s one of those many things he and George have in common.

 

---

 

December is nearly upon them. Leonard feels a little sick at the thought of it, the thought that it’s all so close. He spends time with George and when he’s not aware, Leonard just stares at him, memorizing the look of his hands, the way his forearms curve, covered in golden hair that catches the light. He stares at George’s muscles, at the shape of his chest and the curve of his back and way he walks and the way he laughs, as if he’s going to choke on something.

 

He watches Winona, too, looking for signs of the absent mother his Jim had grown up with. She’s not all that enthused about the pregnancy anymore—Leonard can’t blame her for that, not when he knows what it does to the body, not when Jocelyn had wept every day that she was just a vessel and nobody loved her, everyone only cared about the stupid baby. But Winona would be devastated if she were to lose that baby, Leonard knows. It’s in the way her hand settles on her stomach, how she smiles sometimes for no apparent reason, because the baby’s kicking inside of her.

 

It’s in the way she looks at George, a little cautious, a little afraid. It’s in the way that George looks back at her, first at her belly to look at his child, and then at his wife, with an utterly adoring expression on his face. He does everything he can to make Winona more comfortable. He evens comes to Leonard and spends the night with him sometimes, when Winona suddenly can’t stand to be touched, or needs the entire bed to herself.

 

Winona always waddles to Leonard’s quarters in the morning, and the three of them have breakfast together before Leonard goes to work and George goes back to Winona or off to the bridge.

 

---

December is more of the same. Leonard finds himself hoping they’ll have an ice planet, one with lots of snow and hopefully no indigenous life that wants to eat tasty little Starfleet officers.

 

They stop at Delta Vega, and Leonard is careful to make sure he has a phaser, because he remembers what Jim said about this planet. He looks at it, at the snow and the ice, and it reminds him why he’s doing this. He kneels in the snow and uses his finger to write Jim a message. It’ll be covered over in just a few hours, given how the snow blows around here, but it’s something.

 

---


At the Christmas party, they take pictures. One of them features Leonard under the mistletoe, looking up as George and Winona each kissing one of his cheeks.

 

He grins and watches George send the picture out to his parents. Leonard wonders what they think of him, now, thinking about the first Christmas when they’d met him to now, when their son is married to a brilliant, beautiful woman who’s about to have his child.

 

They drink punch—well George and Leonard do, and when the music comes on and George feels like dancing, Winona laughs and shoves him off onto Leonard, and the two of them take to the dance floor and spin in uncoordinated circles, giggling and leaning against each other.

 

Leonard gives them a onesie that says Future Starfleet Captain—you can call me, sir. George laughs at it until tears are very nearly running down his cheeks.

 

That’s when Leonard brings out the second onesie. Future Starfleet Chief Engineer—that’s not snot, it’s engine grease! Winona laughs uproariously at that one. They test the onesies out on Jim, Winona carefully pressing each one to her belly and telling him what they say. He kicks at the Engineer one, but settles when Winona presses the Captain one against her belly.

 

Leonard thinks back to how Jim had settled once he’d gotten the captaincy, and he smiles. He doesn’t stop Winona from gloating that their son is going into engineering and not command, though, George pouting at him for help.

 

“I guess I shouldn’t have bothered with this one, then,” he says with a little smirk, and that’s when he takes out the little blue onesie. Future Starfleet Doctor—say ahh!

 

“Nice try, sweetheart,” Winona says to him, “but he’s got no medical in his blood, the way he does engineering.”

 

“And command,” George mutters.

 

Leonard’s careful to give George and Winona their own gifts, too, not just presents for the baby, and they give him a few little things that he’s going to pack up and have sent back to San Francisco. Archer can hold onto them, maybe give them back to George and Winnie, after Leonard dies.

 

On New Years Eve, he records a video of himself blowing a kiss towards the camera and sends it to Christopher Pike. I love you, the accompanying text says.

 

---

 

The day before the Narada comes, Leonard sits in his quarters and tries to think of something to say. He opens his mouth to speak, and the words just come pouring out. He saves the entry and wipes away the tears on his cheeks and goes to bed, pondering mortality, because there’s nothing else to be done.

 

But there is something else to be done. So he writes messages to Chris and to Admiral Archer and sends them. He writes to George, too, and schedules that to be sent out later, on a delayed time frame.

 

In the darkness of his own room—thank goodness George doesn’t pick tonight to make an appearance, because Leonard’s been doing his best, but it’s hard to keep up a cheerful outlook now—Leonard whispers.

 

I don’t want to die. I’m scared.

 

His own voice sounds like it belongs to a stranger. He’s felt so much fear, but it’s so rare that he verbalizes any of it. It makes him want to curl up into a tiny little ball, makes him want to take Jim’s place in Winona’s womb and live without any worry for another day. It makes him want to call his mother, to tell her he loves her and tell her he’s scared and feel her arms around him, holding him tight. He wants to talk to his dad, ask him what it had felt like, how much it had hurt. He wants to ask if maybe his daddy can be there tomorrow, when it happens, can bring him over—

 

---

 

When the Narada comes, he’s prepared. He hides in medbay until most of the crew has evacuated, and when it’s just George Kirk on the bridge, he pulls him in for a kiss that tastes of ash and iron. “Go meet your son,” he whispers.

 

No—I can’t leave you here, Len—“ George’s eyes are wide and terrified, and maybe part of it is that same damned nobility Jim will grow up to have. But maybe part of it is the fact that he cares about Leonard, too.

 

“What is it about you Kirk men?” he asks, laughing wetly, “don’t make me hypo you, George. Go. Give that baby boy of yours a kiss from me.”

 

George pulls him in for another kiss. “One for my boy, one for me,” he whispers. “Goodbye, Len.”

 

Leonard holds his hand fast for a moment. “Tell Chris—tell him to look at that PADD. The one that Archer’s going to give him, when he finds out I’m gone. It has everything on it.”

 

George nods frantically and then Leonard shoves him away, hitting a button on the Captain’s chair. “Medical shuttle—are your transporter capabilities functional?”

 

“Yes, sir,” comes the response, through static.

 

“Beam up Lieutenant Kirk, immediately. He’s on the bridge,” Leonard orders. He watches the lights swirl around George, who’s still staring at him, eyes wet and miserable, whispering the words I love you.

 

“We have him,” the medical shuttle reports two seconds later.

 

“Winona, tell your son that I loved him, even if I didn’t get to meet him. Godspeed, Georgie.”

 

The ship rocks from the impact of the Romulan weapons, knocking him onto his knees. He scrambles into the Captain’s chair and makes buckles himself in. He punches in a few lines of code, watching the Kelvin fire back. He looks up at the great, terrifying Romulan ship, and he closes his eyes. There’s another impact, and the restraints snap and he’s flying until he hits the front viewscreen of the ship with a crunch.

 

He hits the floor. Through his closed eyes, the flames look red, and his mind turns the red into a beautiful golden blond, like Jim’s hair.

 

“Missed you,” Leonard says softly to Jim—he can see Jim now, for the first time in five years, and it makes him want to cry. He looks so beautiful, even if it is all in Leonard’s head. It must all be in his head, because he’s dying and he can’t speak, but Jim is taking Leonard’s hand and guiding it to his lips as the blackness engulfs him.

 

---

 

George holds his wife’s hand in the escape pod, trying to stay out of the way of the medical officers—none of them know their birth plan, because it was supposed to be Leonard who delivered their child, that’s what they had always planned—

 

He doesn’t feel Winona squeezing the bones of his hand so hard that they grind together.

 

He can’t take his eyes off of the Kelvin, off of the bright blooming of flames that take Leonard away from him.

 

When the nurse hands him the baby to cut the cord, he’s already weeping, and it isn’t from joy.

 

He snips the cord and lets them take his son, wrapping him up in a blanket before laying him in Winona’s arms. “What’ll we call him?” she asks softly.

 

He thinks about Leonard, thinks about a night they had spent lying together on a strange planet after an away mission had gone to shit. They had laid there, limbs pressed together, and he thinks about the soft Southern twang of his voice as they’d talked about names.

 

Jim. I’ve always loved Jim, Leonard had whispered, after a long silence, probably thinking that George was already asleep.

 

“Jim,” George manages to get out, “after your dad.” It’s a small lie, the kind that doesn’t hurt anyone.

 

“Middle name Tiberius then, after yours?”

 

“You kidding me?” he asks, trying to smile and failing. “No way, that’s awful. I think—what do you think of Leonard for a middle name? The man who died so we could live, all three of us.”

 

Winona nods and holds his hand tight in her own.

 

Little Jim screams, tiny eyes screwed shut as if he’s feeling his father’s pain.

 

---

When they get back, there’s a large crowd there, waiting for the other survivors. There are so many survivors, but George wishes there was just one more.

 

Their parents are there, crying over them and cooing over their little miracle baby, a small bundle of joy born from such pain and tragedy.

 

Chris is there, too, on emergency leave from the Reliant, looking completely hollow.

 

“Where’s Len?” he asks George softly, “I know there was one—somebody stayed behind, to distract the Romulans when the autopilot failed. I know that there was one—and I didn’t see his name on the survivors’ lists, George. Where is he?” By the end, Chris is breathing fast and shallow, hyperventilating, eyes still desperately scanning, as if a miracle will deliver Leonard McCoy to them a second time, the same way it had delivered him to them the first time.

 

“He’s gone, Chris,” George whispers, and he holds his best friend while they both cry.

 

“He can’t be gone, I was going to take him home,” Chris sobs, hiding his face against George’s chest, “I was finally going to take him home, to meet my parents, to show him the horses—he always talked about missing the horses. Goddammit, he didn’t even like the black! He used to be scared of it, and now—now he’s still up there, his body, George, his body—“

 

George cries too, guilt choking every single reply he can think of.

 

Chapter Text

Archer is there, all too soon. Leonard’s getting a memorial, one that’s all his own. It’s going to be on Academy grounds. Archer’s the one they picked to deliver the eulogy and inaugurate the memorial, considering that he was Leonard’s academic advisor. It’s rare, for a cadet to be advised by an Admiral, more typical for the advisor to be a Commander or a Captain. Usually Admirals didn’t bother, considering they had numerous other things to do.

 

But Archer is there, and before anything else, before he looks at the index cards containing notes for his speech, before he stands up on the podium, before he shakes hands with the other survivors, he finds George and Chris. His hand is heavy on their shoulders, squeezing for a moment before deciding decorum could fuck off and hugging them both tight.

 

“I’m so sorry we lost him,” he says quietly, and this set of condolences, of all the ones that Chris has received, feels real. He turns to George. “I know this is the worst of environments for it, but congratulations on the birth of your son, George. I trust that he and your wife are both healthy?”

 

George nods. “They just got out of the hospital. They needed to get checked out. Winona offered to delay it, but—Leonard was supposed to be there—“ Neither Chris nor Admiral Archer comments on the way George’s voice breaks in the middle of saying his name, but Archer’s hand squeezes his shoulder a little bit tighter.

 

“He was supposed to be there to deliver Jim. The doctor didn’t have our birth plan. And the circumstances weren’t ideal, giving birth in a shuttle.” He looks around at the crowd of people and lowers his voice. “Besides, I don’t know if I want them here for the service. I might ask them to come back for the reception. I just—it was me and Chris and Len, before Winona and well before little Jimmy. She didn’t love him like Chris and I did.”

 

“Nobody could have loved him better,” Archer promises, noticing the twin flinches on both men’s faces. They’d looked so young two years ago. Now they both look like men who’ve seen tragedy. There are new lines in Chris’ forehead. Archer suspects that’s where he carries his grief, there and in his eyes, still bloodshot with a haunted expression.

 

Winona and Jim end up staying for the service. Chris doesn’t know exactly what happened, but George holds her hand with his left and holds Chris’ hand with his left, and nobody says a word to them.

 

When Archer’s wrapping up his eulogy, Jim starts crying, his thready voice high and piercing. Winona tries to shush him, but whatever it is that he needs, he’s not getting it, and George’s son screams and screams at the loss of Leonard McCoy.

 

The sound is loud enough that it drowns out the grief of his father and Chris, both crying shamelessly. Winona pulls her hand out of George’s, to see to her son, and George and Chris are left clutching each other’s fingers, each with one hand left to wipe away errant tears.

 

---

George’s parents come to the reception. Elizabeth’s wiping away tears, eyes swollen and red. Tiberius looks just as distraught.

 

He clears his throat, and hands his son a piece of paper.

 

“This was in the Christmas present he gave me, that first year he came to our house,” he says quietly, “he had that moment, do you remember? After he and I got caught under the mistletoe and I kissed him on the head. I went out, found him, and he told me about his dad and I hugged him, because he was crying—and then he gave me that note, with this scarf.”

 

Tiberius is holding the scarf, gentle as he wraps it around his son’s neck.

 

From a son to a father, I swear I’ll look after your boy. –LHM

 

George stares at the note until his vision blurs, and his father holds him tight as he cries. He thinks about his own son, and he cries even harder.

 

“He kept his promise,” Tiberius says, voice thick, “he saved you. You think I don’t know that we would’ve lost you if he hadn’t stepped up?”

 

“He always kept his promises,” George whispers, “always.”

 

---

 

Archer finds Chris again at the reception afterwards. Maybe he was waiting for George to go, because the second he heads off to take a piss, the Admiral is there.

 

“Come to my office after this, Chris. Leonard—he left me something to give you, in case—well, in case this happened. I promised him I’d give it to you, and I’m not breaking my word to one of the best and brightest men I’ve ever known.”

 

Chris nods and when George gets back, eight minutes later because Winona had found him and given him a bawling infant to hold while she went to the restroom, Archer’s on the other side of the room, looking solemn and nodding gravely as a Medical Admiral talks to him about Leonard.

 

---

Chris lingers at the reception until about half of the people have filtered out, and when Admiral Archer starts to drift towards the exit, he goes too.

 

“Lieutenant Pike,” Archer says, professional in public as always.

 

“Sir.”

 

They walk to Archer’s office in silence.

 

Once they get there, Archer pulls a bottle of a dark brown liquor out of his desk, along with two glasses. He pours liquid into both, two fingers width, and he picks up one of the glasses.

 

“To Leonard Horatio McCoy,” he says solemnly, “one of Starfleet’s best, and a man I was honored to know.”

 

“To my Len,” Chris responded, choking on the words, “To my Len. I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for this.”

 

Archer looks at him with even more sympathy and Chris downs the whole glass in one go. Archer comes out from across the desk and heads over to the closet, kneeling to reveal a small safe. Chris averts his eyes while he enters the combination. Finally, he takes out a PADD and hands it to Chris.

 

“Before his deployment, Leonard came to me and gave me this,” he says softly, voice thick, “I told him not to be silly—not many would target a medical officer, and with his rank, he’d hardly ever leave the ship—but he wanted me to give this to you. Said he didn’t want to have any regrets, when he passed.”

 

Chris can feel his lower lip starting to tremble, and it only worsens when he touches the PADD, which comes to life, the time displayed in a corner while a picture of Chris and Leonard laying down together in bed—probably taken by George, the fucking asshole—as the home screen.

 

Chris tries to swallow and almost chokes on the lump in his throat. “Th-thank you, sir. I just—“

 

“You can look at it in here, if you want,” Archer says kindly, “I’ll leave you here to have some time with it. Lock the door on your way out.”

 

Chris shakes his head. “I can’t—I can’t look at this,” he whispers, “I’m not ready yet. Goddammit, Len, how could you do this to me—“ There are tears rolling down his face, and he’s only about one inhalation away from sobbing in front of an Admiral.

 

“Take it home. It’s not going anywhere, Chris. You know how he was, always trying to look after you and George. He’d understand if you aren’t ready yet.”

 

Chris goes to the temporary quarters he’s been assigned and sets the PADD carefully on the table. He goes over to his suitcase and pulls out the t-shirt he’d stolen from Leonard on their last shore leave together. He’s quick about stripping out of his dress uniform and pulling on the short, worn t-shirt over his boxers.

 

He lays in bed and tries not to think about how cold and lonely it is, and he fails utterly. He cries himself to sleep.

 

He wakes to a wet pillow and a blinking light on his comm indicating a message.

 

It’s from George, letting him know he’s coming over.

 

It’s early when he arrives, the sun not yet all the way risen, letting himself in and pulling off his boots.

 

He crawls into bed with Chris and wraps his arms around him.

 

“You should—you should be with Winona,” Chris whispers.

 

“I should be. But Lenny should be here, and he’s not. And Winona can handle a few hours alone with the baby. Her parents are with her, and Jim’s fed, clean, in a fresh diaper, and he was fast asleep when I left them.”

 

Chris nods. “He left me a PADD,” he confesses, feeling George stiffen against him.

 

“He left something?”

 

Chris nods against his chest. “I haven’t looked at it yet. He left it with Archer, in case he died.”

 

“We could hear his voice again,” George whispers, the hunger in his voice so obvious it hurts.

 

“You never stopped loving him,” Chris realizes, and the fact that George doesn’t bother to contradict him says all that really needs to be said.

 

“He wanted me to marry Winona, and I loved her too.”

 

“We can look at it in the morning,” Chris offers.

 

George shakes his head. “It’s for you. You look at it, Chris. He loved you most. And then you can share what you want with me. I know there are things he told you that he didn’t tell me.”

 

---

George kisses him on the forehead in the morning and goes back to his wife and son.

 

Chris rolls over and pulls the PADD into his arms, hugging it tight and wishing it would hug him back, the way Leonard used to, the warmth of his broad, strong chest feeling more like home than anywhere Chris had ever been since he’d left his parents’ house.

 

---


It takes awhile, for Chris to be able to open the PADD. It’s three months, early in April. It’s the anniversary of the first time Chris had taken Leonard up in the shuttle and told him he wanted him. It had been the start of a new chapter between them, no miscommunications, no mixed signals.

 

And Leonard had leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, and Chris had been so happy to have gotten something, he couldn’t stop smiling until they left the shuttle hangar and nearly tripped over George, waiting for them.

 

He looks at the PADD and unlocks it—Len had been ridiculous and used pretty much the same four digit code for everything. It’s the entry code for their room at the Academy.

 

He examines the contents. There are a few voice files, a few detailed diagrams, and one that’s labeled for Christopher Pike—read this one first.

 

He selects the file and it plays, Leonard’s rich, warm voice filling the air.

 

Hi, Chrissy. I bet you hate me now, don’t you. At least a little. It’s okay, I forgive you for that. I give you full permission to hate me, if it makes things easier on you.

 

I’m sorry I died. I’m sorry I knew I was going to die and didn’t say anything.

 

But I figured it would be best to get all the things that I needed to say to you down on paper—not paper, but you know what I mean. I figured it would be best to give you something to hold on to, after I was gone.

 

So here it is, I guess.

 

First thing is, I’m the reason you didn’t get picked for the Kelvin. Archer asked me if I had any requests for assignments, and I asked that George be on the Kelvin, and asked that Winona be there, too. I asked to be with them, because I figured I could maybe help recognize the Narada faster, get more people out. Maybe I thought I’d die, too.

 

So he agreed to put me and George on there—Winona was already hand-picked for that ship, that woman’s more of a genius than any of us—but I asked that you not be there. I’m sorry, Chris. I just—I couldn’t handle thinking you might be at risk. I wanted you somewhere else. I know that all ships have risks, but I didn’t want you to die in the Narada. Not you, Christopher. And if you had been there, I don’t know if I would’ve been strong enough to do what I’m guessing I did. One look at you, one word from your mouth, in that voice—fuck, Chris, I’m in too deep. I didn’t trust myself to do the right thing. I might’ve let George die so I could be with you.

 

So I made sure you weren’t there. I’m so sorry, Chris. I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Forgive me. One day, honey, try to forgive me for it.

 

That’s the first thing. There are more, though. I had a crush on you at the Academy. I told you that Jim did, but so did I. God, Chris, how could I not? You were hot. Really sexy, with the authority, and I’d just lost my dad, so I had issues and ugh—if I’d been going to therapy, they’d have had a field day. That’s why I gravitated to you, I think.

 

You—you were the first Captain I ever served under. I didn’t tell you that, I don’t think, because that mission didn’t end well. But you were my first, Chris.

 

There’s a note in his voice that tells Chris Len was fully aware of what he was saying, fully aware of how it sounded.

 

J was the second captain I ever served under. We were mustered under less than ideal circumstances. I went from a cadet to being a lieutenant commander when I became CMO—our primary medbay was hit, we lost pretty much all the senior medical staff in ten seconds. J went from being a cadet to an XO to a Captain.

 

Chris? J was Jim. Jim Kirk. James Tiberius Kirk. He was the man I’d loved. He lost his dad the day he was born, in my reality. George went down with the ship to save Winona and his son and all the rest of the crew. It fucked Jim up, though, because everyone always held up his dad to be this angel, this hero, and he was—he had issues. Winona was never at home, chasing George’s ghost in the stars, he was a genius, but horrendously misapplied—George dying changed the course of his whole life.

 

So I thought—so I hoped—that if I did what I did, he might have a happier life. He might be less fucked up, might have a more open heart.

 

Who’d want a best friend when they could’ve had a dad anyway, right?

 

I think that’s most of it.

 

On this PADD, there are detailed notes on the cure for xenopolycythemia. It—it’s what I die of, in another universe. Yeah, a third one, I know, it gets hard to keep track, sometimes. There’s also a cure for pyrrhoneuritis. Please put that one in the right hands, so someone can publish it. That’s what my daddy dies of, Chris. Don’t make the younger me end his suffering if he doesn’t have to.

 

I’ve got my own research data on here, too, from the Andorian measles vaccine. There are formulations and vehicle specifications for twelve different species on here, with notes for how to expand it, if they’re needed. There are also papers on neural grafting. The field is in its infancy—get these published and it’ll help in the long run, I promise you. If things play out the way they did at home, someone I love will need this.

 

This is the worst of all of the things I’m going to have to talk about, I think. Alright, Chris. The ship that took down the Kelvin is run by Romulans. It’s called the Narada. It’s—well, at home, the Kelvin wasn’t enough to take it down. It’ll be back, and the next time it clashes with Starfleet, the consequences will be exponentially worse.

 

I don’t know if I’m helping or hurting here, babe, but I’m gonna give you advice. When you hear of a lightning storm in space, approach with caution. Have Jimmy on your ship—he’s important, and not just to me on a personal level. Send ships to guard Vulcan—this is the most important thing on this entire PADD, Christopher, on a universal level. Protect Vulcan. Promise me. Watching the death of a planet was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever seen, excepting maybe the way it affected the survivors. That’s most of it. Approach with caution, protect Vulcan, have Jimmy there. And Chrissy? This isn’t universe-altering, but please try to stay alive, sweetheart.

 

My personal log is on here, too. It normally only opens for me, but your override code is Pike—alpha-zeta-epsilon-oh-four-oh-five-two-eight. I’m guessing you’ll remember the numbers, given that that was a pretty important date for us.

 

I love you, Christopher Pike, now and always. Take care of yourself, and stay safe. There’s no rush to come join me. I promise I’ll wait for you, no matter how long it takes.

 

Love, Len

 

He plays the recording over and over again, listening to the whole thing four times.

 

After that, he skips to the most important part and plays it on loop.

 

I love you, Christopher Pike, now and always. Take care of yourself, and stay safe.

 

I love you, Christopher Pike, now and always. Take care of yourself, and stay safe.

 

I love you, Christopher Pike, now and always. Take care of yourself, and stay safe.

 

He looks up xenopolycythemia and finds that it’s a blood disease, and forwards the cure to a blood specialist at the Academy. He looks up pyrrhoneuritis and sends it to Phil Boyce, the only other doctor he knows.

He sends the Andorian measles results to the chief immunologist and SFM.

 

He doesn’t listen to Len’s personal log. He isn’t ready yet.

 

He comms Archer, telling him that Leonard’s got these cures for them, asking him to make sure that he can get the credit he deserves for the breakthroughs, even if they’re published under other names.

 

---

Chris cries when he listens to Leonard’s personal log, a month later. He’s back on the Reliant, in his quarters. George is back in Iowa, with his parents and his wife and his little Jim who Leonard had loved enough to die for. That leaves Chris all alone, nothing but a pillow to hold onto when he hears Leonard’s voice.

 

It’s bad enough that he’s gone, but to hear his pain during so many of the early entries—it’s almost unbearable not to be able to wrap his arms around Len and hold him tight and love him until he’s healed again, until the pain isn’t so incapacitating.

 

I think I’m in love with Chris Pike, he says, and Chris bursts into tears.

 

“I love you too, you stupid, cranky asshole, come back,” he whispers, hiding his face in a pillow.

 

He listens to all the rest of the logs, and finally, he gets to the last entry. It terrifies him. This is the last time he’ll get to hear Leonard say something new. He almost wants to save it, almost wishes he’d spaced them out, so he could pretend in some small pathetic corner of his mind that Leonard was still alive and was just sending him voice transmissions every few weeks.

 

Addressed to a guy named Jim. Okay, so not even the fantasy is comforting.

 

Christopher, Leonard’s voice starts. It makes him jump, to hear his full name, to hear Leonard talk to him again, as if they were in the same room. This is the last entry, dated the day before he died. It’s such a shock to hear his own name instead of Jim’s that he misses the first few words and has to restart the whole thing.

Christopher. If I live, I’m going to delete this entry. But if you’re listening to this, I won’t have lived.

Christopher, sweetheart. I’m going to die tomorrow. I know that, and I’m at peace with it. I’m going to die tomorrow, and it scares the shit out of me, but I’m going to do it anyway.

For Jim. He’s—he’s George’s son. He’s going to be born healthy—I did all the prenatal checkups myself, heard how fast his little heart was beating. I almost cried, hearing his heartbeat, but I kept it together.

 

I’m going to die, to make sure that George lives and gets to watch his son grow up. I’m going to die, and I want you to know that when I go, I’ll be thinking about you, Christopher Pike. There’s no rush to come join me. I’ll wait for you.

 

This might all be pointless anyway. Might not even happen. I keep telling myself that—Chris, honey, I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry to do this to you. And I’m so fucking scared. I’m so fucking scared of what comes next—and I’m so angry that the only way I can do this is to leave you behind. The galaxy needs you, Christopher Pike. You’re going to do amazing things, and so is Jim Kirk, one day, when he grows up, and my god, I can’t be the one holding either of you back.

 

Look after Georgie for me, okay? He—I don’t think he’ll take it well. Tell him it’s not his fault. I’ve been planning this for two years now, I’ve had time to make my peace with it. I’m still scared out of my skin, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I know what I’m meant to do. I love you, Christopher Pike.

 

---

He messages George to come over, and when he does, he plays him part of the tape. He doesn’t tell him his son was the love of Len’s life, because he’s afraid George might just resent the tiny little bundle that still looks up at him with half-closed eyes. He couldn’t stand that, and neither could Leonard, if he’d been here. The last thing he’d wanted was to create resentment, when he’d done the whole thing for love.

 

So instead, he plays him part of the recording, and another one that was marked for George specifically. Leonard had always been smart. He’d known that his message to Chris was too personal to share, that Chris would want something of his to keep for himself, to hold close to his chest and never ever share.

 

Hey Georgie,

 

Don’t be sad, okay? You just had your son, if I went when I think I’m going to. You deserve to be happy, to love him with your whole heart and soul. I knew him, for awhile. Not long enough, but a while. He’s a good kid. Makes sense, though, considering who his daddy is.

 

In my universe, you died. You died, because there was no me to take your place, there at the end. You died so Winona could live. You died so Jim could live. And James Tiberius Kirk? He was a hell of a man, Georgie. Your son grew up to be a hell of a man, but he had to suffer a lot of pain, pain that would break a father’s heart. Sure as hell broke mine, at least. I thought maybe I’d spare him and you that pain, if I could. I left a fatherless child behind me, when I left, and I wasn’t planning on letting there be another one, if I could help it.

 

I’ve never forgotten that first Christmas at your house, with your parents. It was the first time I felt like I might belong here, on this planet. Before that, I just felt like an alien, an outsider, a fucking disease that nobody could see.

 

You were one of the best friends a man could ask for. When—when Chris and I started, and you came to me and said you were going to bow out—that was, I think, the most selfless thing I’d ever seen. You let me go, and I’m glad, because I knew you and Winona would be incredible together—the stuff of legends. You don’t know yet, but you will, someday.

 

And know that I loved you too, George Kirk. Not because of who your son is or was or will become, not because you were Chris’ best friend, but because of who you are. I heard you say to Chris once that you wanted me to look at you and see you, and not J. I just want you to know that it took me awhile, but I do now. And I can love George Kirk and Chris Pike and still have room in my heart for J, because no matter what, I’m always going to have space for him.

 

But I guess all that matters is that I love you. It’s not the same as I love Chris, but that doesn’t make it smaller, okay? It wasn’t smaller, not to me.

 

All this is to say thank you. You made my life here worth living, you and Chris. I’m guessing he’s there, listening to this with you. If he is, tell him I love him. Take care of him for me.

 

Take your time, okay? Both of you. I don’t want to see you until you’re so old your chin’s sagging down to the floor. I can wait. I promise.

 

Love, Lenny

 

“He always keeps his promises,” George whispers, and Chris is holding him, and they’re in bed, holding each other and crying.

 

“His middle name is Leonard,” George says softly, “Lenny said James Tiberius Kirk—Winona suggested Tiberius, but I wanted Leonard, and she agreed. Probably knew how I felt about him.”

 

George gathers up his breath. “Len says he loves you,” he whispers to Chris, who lets out a cry, a small scream like a wounded animal and holds him tighter, as if he’ll fall apart from anything less.

 

George hopes that Leonard’s somewhere, watching them, knowing that if they’re hurting, at least they’re hurting together.


---

James L. Kirk grows up with his mom and dad. They both take ground assignments for the duration of his childhood. He’s a daddy’s boy, mostly. George always picks him up and tosses him up into the air and roughhouses with him and reads to him before bed and tucks him in when he’s ready to sleep. Winona kisses them and spend a lot of her time at work, but she’s always home for dinner, sometimes with a streak of engine grease left over on her forehead that neither George nor Jim quite has the courage to tell her about.

 

But there are certain days when Jim’s dad gets really, really sad, and he just wants to be alone, and on those days, Jim tries to be good. He holds his mommy’s hand as they cross the road and go to the park to play, while his dad looks through a box of memories from when he was at the Academy, crying and raging and wishing.

 

While his son plays on the swings, George wipes away tears and kisses the image of one man in a photograph of three, with their arms around each other, smiling at the camera. “God, Len, I wish you were here to see this. I miss you.”

 

When Jimmy comes back, Daddy’s always got himself together again. He pulls Jimmy into his arms and holds him tight. He sits him down in his lap and tells him the story of his friend Len, who saved Mommy and Daddy and even baby Jimmy a long time ago when Jimmy was just being born, from a bad guy called Nero in space. He talks about how Uncle Chris loved Len, and how Len had always taken care of them, as much as he could.

 

---

Hikaru gets an offer a few years in. It’s for a ship of his own. He’s done damn good work with Jim. After Spock and Nyota had married and opted to start a family, he’d become First Officer, and he and Jim had been a perfect team, always in sync, on and off the bridge, inside the bedroom they’d shared and out.

 

When he gets the offer, he goes to reject it out of hand, deleting the message.

 

The next day, he sees the same message in his inbox, forwarded to him by Jim Kirk.

 

Take it, ‘Ru. You deserve your own ship. Don’t give it up for me.

 

He signs the papers, and they go back to Earth. Jim walks the corridors of his new ship—it’s a newer model of some retired bird they’d called the Reliant. Jim sits at the helm and Hikaru walks in, and Jim rises to his feet, graceful as ever, even now that he’s getting to be nearly forty years old. He inclines his head.

 

“Captain on the bridge,” he announces calmly to the empty room, and Hikaru purses his lips and tries not to let any tears out.

 

He sits in a chair that he can’t quite believe is his, and Jim settles on his lap.

 

“Not going to be the same without a little Russian kid saying it, will it?” he asks, just to listen to Hikaru laugh. Chekov’s hardly a kid now, off to be the first officer of the Independence. Jim suspects he’ll have his own ship by thirty, maybe thirty-five at the latest, if he really wants to learn from Achebe, or if he holds out for a bigger, better ship.

 

“Don’t forget to comm me,” he whispers, before he pulls Hikaru’s head down a little and kisses his forehead. “Captain’s business or not. I love you, okay? You’re going to be great.”

 

Hikaru wraps his arms around him and holds tight. “That’s because I learned from the fucking best.”

 

Jim smiles. They sit there in silence for awhile, and then they head to Hikaru’s quarters, where they have sex in his bed, to christen his ship.

 

---

Chris Pike devotes his life to Starfleet, after his lover goes down with the Kelvin.

 

He sleeps with crewmembers, sometimes, if they’re unbelievably intelligent and within one rank of his own, but more usually, he opts to find relief during shore leave. He goes to Rio a few times, finds someone tall and dark-haired, broad of chest and shoulder and gruff of voice, and brings them into his bed. He never marries, never has children.

 

He’s a Starfleet man, through and through, and most nights, he doesn’t even think about how once he had belonged to someone more than he had belonged to Starfleet, and that that time is long over.

 

Most nights, he doesn’t even think about whether he and Leonard could have made it, whether they could have arranged a transfer to get onto the same ship, whether one day Leonard would pull the trigger and propose, whether one day Chris would confess to him that he’d always wanted a child and Leonard would tell him he’d think about it and eventually agree—

 

Most nights, Chris doesn’t think about what it might be like, to wake with someone he loved, not just once or twice, but every single morning, for years on end. Most nights, Chris doesn’t consider Valentine’s Day or Christmas or their anniversary or Leonard’s birthday or Thanksgiving and wonder what it would be like if Leonard was still around.

 

Some nights, he does.

 

Some five years after Leonard’s passing, he’s the First Officer of the Reliant, the same ship he’s been serving on for seven years.

 

His captain takes him aside and tells him that he’s put him up for a promotion. He’s going to get his own ship.

 

He goes back to his own quarters and sits in front of the computer console.

 

Computer, personal log of Christopher Pike, new entry. Time stamp, please.

 

Hi, Len. The captain told me today that I’m getting my own ship. Are you proud of me? I bet you are, you’d have that look like you did when I beat George on the piloting exam you TA’ed. It’s right in the corner of your mouth, and in your eyes, so fucking warm.

 

Chris sighs.

 

But what the hell am I supposed to do, considering that the best goddamn CMO that Starfleet’s ever had is dead?

 

I miss you most on nights like this.

 

Wait for me, Len.

 

---

Jim and Hikaru keep trying, for a little while, but it devolves pretty quickly into a series of hookups when they’re at the same place at the same time.

 

In the end, they part amicably.

 

When Hikaru gets engaged, to a doctor on his ship, Jim is invited to the wedding.

 

He declines the invitation to officiate, because no matter how amicable the parting, there would always be the ghost of something there, something that could have been theirs, maybe.

 

But he does attend, and when he watches Hikaru kiss Ben, he smiles.

 

A Captain and a CMO in love.

 

It’s a little on the nose, but hell if he’s not happy for them.

 

---

 

She’s old, but solid, Chris’ girl, with great bones and a solid crew. The Enterprise, she’s called. It’s her last mission, and then Archer tells him they’re going to scrap her and build Chris a brand new flagship to command, in exchange for a few years of service at the Academy, dealing with snot-nosed brats. Chris takes one look at the plans—the nacelles alone are gorgeous, and agrees to it.

 

He wonders if it’s coincidence, that it’s Len’s ship, but then realizes that of course it’s not coincidence at all. It’s destiny.

 

---

 

When George’s son turns eighteen, he’s restless, ready to move out of the family home and on to the next big thing. George can understand that, and gives him a hug as he heads out to the big, wide world, just one world in a bigger, wider, universe.

 

He takes the shipside posting he gets offered, and the promotion to Commander. Winona gets an offer to be an engineer on the same ship, and she takes it, too.

 

The Independence. George likes the sound of it.

 

He’s her Captain two years later.

 

Another year after that, his wife is his Chief Engineer, and their ship is their home, and the only thing that could make it better is being able to show Leonard that he was right, all those years ago, when he said that George would have his own ship some day.

 

---

 

James L. Kirk signs up for Starfleet when he’s older than most of the other cadets. Chris sees him on the shuttle to the Academy from Riverside. He’s watched this boy grow up, albeit mostly through photographs. He was up in space until just about a few years ago, when he was told he’d be getting the new Enterprise, the flagship, and that he’d be stationed at the Academy while it was being built.

 

Jim walks onto the ship in civvies and sits across from a beautiful cadet—she has dark skin, short skirt, long, elegant ponytail—Chris thinks she’s in xenolinguistics, if he remembers right. Jim gives her a long, slow up and down look and the cadet’s expression grows more severe.

 

At the last minute, before the shuttle takes off, another man hops onto the shuttle—in civvies, like Jim, and looks around before squeezing his eyes shut and exhaling noisily. He’s rather firmly encouraged to find a seat and he drops down next to Jim with a muttered apology about how there’s nowhere else to sit.

 

He looks scruffy, but familiar, and when he looks up, Chris sees Leonard McCoy and it feels like his world has ended. There’s a shifting of paradigms, a massive earthquake under only Chris’ feet, and he feels a sudden urge to call George Kirk for the first time in four years.

 

Leonard McCoy offers Jim Kirk his flask, and in the look that passes between them, mutual appraisal, fascination, and maybe a flash of attraction, Chris remembers Len’s voice telling him exactly who J is and he wants to throw up, even if it’s been some twenty-two years since Leonard’s passing.

 

Instead, he gets into the cockpit and settles into the pilot’s chair, remembering Leonard’s voice as he goes through his preflight checklist.

 

Visual inspection first, Chris—no computer’s as smart as you are. He’d already done that, before any of the cadets had boarded the shuttlecraft.

 

Systems check—that’s it, good.

 

Engine check—treat her like a lady, Chris, be gentle—

 

And they’re off.

 

---

“How did he—why did he end up back here?” Chris asks Jon.

 

It’s been years since he’s called him Admiral. Ever since Leonard died, he’s just been Jon Archer to Chris.

 

Since his new ship is in the docks at Riverside, hundreds of workers busy with her construction, he and Jon have struck up this tradition of having drinks every week.


“His dad didn’t die—how did he still end up here?”

 

“Got divorced, I heard. Ex-wife suggested that he leave the state. With an army of lawyers, threatening to never let him see his kid again.” Archer says with a hint of acid in his voice to show exactly how much he disapproves of the action, sipping at his whiskey.

 

“But who the hell recruited him? Len told me it was me—I recruited him the first time! And it wasn’t me this time—“

 

“It was me,” Archer says simply, “I figured you wouldn’t have the heart to do it. So I flew to Georgia, asked to meet him over dinner. We met, we talked, had a few drinks, and he agreed. I told him that if he made himself valuable, Starfleet’s lawyers would do right by him, help renegotiate the divorce settlement. He signed the recruitment papers that night, then headed over to Iowa to catch the shuttle to the Academy.”

 

Chris sighs. “You couldn’t have told me first, Jon?”

 

For the first time, Archer’s face crinkles into an expression of regret. “He was supposed to take an earlier shuttle, Chris. I didn’t know you’d be the one piloting him. I am sorry about that. I was going to warn you before classes started.”

 

“He looks just like him, Jon, just like him—“ Chris closes his eyes, trying to will away the image of Leonard McCoy, and swallows the rest of his drink in one gulp.

 

---

 

Chris wants to resent Jim Kirk. For being the son of his first love with someone else, for being the reason Leonard had pulled away from their first kiss, for being the reason Leonard had gone willingly to his own death, even planning for it beforehand.

 

He wants to hate him, because suddenly, Chris isn’t sure who Leonard saw when he looked at him, or at George. Was he looking at Chris, or was it different blond hair and another set of blue eyes he was chasing? Was he looking at George, or for the Kirk resemblance?

 

He assigns both Jim Kirk and Leonard McCoy, MD, PhD (and honestly, how many damn degrees did his Len have?) as his advisees, and they meet three times that first semester and twice each subsequent semester. That is, excluding shenanigans, of which there are more than a few.

 

---

Chris visits Len’s memorial about two weeks after young Leonard and Jim Kirk sign up as cadets.

 

Leonard’s grave is on Starfleet Academy grounds, in an area known as Memorial Square, where the names of all the fallen officers are honored. Some, those who die in mundane away mission catastrophes, are up on one side of a tall black obelisk with all four sides containing names of the fallen.

 

Leonard has his own marker, though, to commemorate his bravery in saving almost all the crew of the Kelvin. It’s a small model of the Kelvin, and in front of it, there’s a blurb telling Len’s story .

 

In honor of H. McCoy, MD, PhD: an exemplary Starfleet officer who went above and beyond and made the ultimate sacrifice for his ship and his crew. He saved 874 lives and went down with the Kelvin, distracting the enemy ship so the evacuation pods could safely escape.

 

Chris thinks it’s nowhere near enough. There should be more—

 

visionary medical mind who discovered the cure for Andorian measles as a cadet

 

originator of the cure for xenopolycythemia and pyrrhoneuritis

 

best damn piloting instructor who ever walked Starfleet’s grounds

 

best friend and lover of Christopher Pike, who felt like half his soul got ripped away when he heard that Len was gone

 

sacrificed his life for George Kirk, so he could watch his son grow up

 

so steadfast in his love for Jim Kirk that he gave his life in the hope that Jim’s might be better.

 

“Hey Len,” Chris starts, standing in front of the memorial, “I met him finally, your J. No wonder you were wrapped around George’s finger so fast. He looks so much like his father. And the other Leonard—god, I know he is you, but he looks so like you it takes my breath away. I think he thinks I’m creeping on him, or attracted to him, and I’m not going to lie—I guess I am, a little bit. I can’t help but stare at him. It’s been so long since I got to see your face, how can I help it? It feels like a miracle, every time I see him, as if you came back. My heart just starts beating out of my chest, and God—I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but I put him and Jim down as my advisees. That’s how it was, wasn’t it? I was your advisor, wasn’t I? You never told me. Didn’t want to mess things up, I guess.

 

“But I’m scared, because how am I gonna advise someone when I was so in love with them before? It reminded me of how you said that your Jim had a crush on me. Was it your Jim or you? It’s been so long, Len, I can’t remember all of our conversations like I used to. But then you said—in that PADD, you said you did, too, when you were here. You said you had a crush on me.

 

“Do you think he has a crush on me, too? I hope he does. I know it won’t make a damn bit of difference, but I still hope he does. But you said your dad had just died, right? Well, his is still alive, thanks to you. So if he does have a crush on me? That’s all me, and not his daddy issues. I know you said you knew I would never take advantage of that, that I wasn’t that sort of man, and I’m not, honestly. But I can’t help how I feel—I guess I’ll just keep it to myself.

 

“Jesus, I wonder how George is gonna react the first time he meets the younger you. He was heartbroken too, you know. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you. I think I understand why you did it all that way, why you insisted that George get off. I don’t know, but I’d like to think I’d do that for you, if our places were switched. I love you, Len. I’ll look after your younger self and Jim, I promise. I hope you’re out there somewhere, looking down on all of us.”

 

---

 

Leonard’s being called in to investigate what the hell he knows about Jim’s cheating on the Kobayashi Maru. Spock is furious, and he’s one of the few Vulcans in Starfleet, one of the few representatives from a founding species, and it’s not a good look to piss him off. Not to mention the fact that he’s an Ambassador’s son, on top of everything else.

 

“Sir?” he asks, after Chris tries and fails at not staring at him. It’s not the first time, and at this point, they’re both pretty well-acquainted, though Leonard has no clue of who he actually was to Chris, a lifetime ago.

 

“Oh shit, do I still have Andorian blood on my face? One came in with a broken nose and then something about how I set it made her sneeze on me, which even apart from the biohazard risk, was not pleas—“

 

“It’s not that, McCoy. You look like someone I love, that’s all. I lost him awhile ago, and it’s strange to see a face so like his. I apologize for making you uncomfortable, Cadet.”

 

“Nothing to apologize for, sir. I was just—I was just wondering, and now I know.”

 

---

Jim brings Bones home to meet his parents the Christmas of their second year at the Academy. His mother likes him, the way he calls her “ma’am” and tells her how lovely her home is. She plays with her necklace a lot, though, a nervous tick that Jim can’t quite explain, given that she seems quite calm.

 

His father just stares. Grandpa Tiberius does pretty much the same, squinting to make up for his poor vision.

 

George—is that—“

 

“Yeah, Dad. I didn’t say anything, because of the time space continuum and all that, but yeah. It is. He’s the one from our universe. Lenny was from another one.”

 

Grandpa Tiberius swears under his breath.

 

Bones goes up to his father and introduces himself, and then does the same to Grandpa Tiberius, who hugs him tight.

 

Tiberius had always been an affectionate grandfather with Jim, but not so much with his friends.

 

“It’s not the same him, Dad,” Jim’s father says quietly.

 

“Still. I can’t thank him anymore, can I?!”

 

“Dad,” Jim starts, perplexed.

 

“Nice to meet you, Lenny—I’m so sorry, Leonard,” his father says with a smile that looks like it was painted onto his face, sitting awkwardly below pained eyes, “please, make yourself at home.”

 

Jim corners his father after dinner, when Tiberius and Winona are in the living room. Leonard had tried to stay behind and help them with dishes, but Winona had laughed off that suggestion as if it was nothing, demanding he come sit with her and her father-in-law.

 

“Dad,” he says again, “what was all of that about?”

 

George sighs, rubbing at the lines in his forehead as if he has a headache.

 

“Later, Jim. It’s not a short story, and it’s one your friend needs to hear, too.”

 

George stays with them, lingering until Tiberius and Winona have already gone up to bed.

 

“When I was at the Academy, I had two best friends,” he starts, “one I think you know—Christopher Pike, he’s still there, the Commandant of Cadets now, and then another one. He’d served on a ship, you see, and there was a transporter accident. He ended up in a temporal anomaly, ending up here with me and Chris. His name was Leonard McCoy.”

 

Leonard inhales sharply.

 

“He was the one who saved my life, Jim. The Kelvin hero, the one they call H. McCoy. That was one of his dying wishes, to spare you, Leonard, to spare you the pressure of having to live up to him.”

 

“I don’t understand why—“ Leonard says softly.

 

“He was in love. He loved someone very much. Desperately. The man he’d loved—he’d had a tough life, you see. He wanted so badly to make that life easier. He found love again, with Chris, but still, he wanted to make life better for the first man he loved, the version of him that was born in this universe. So he did.”

 

His son is too fucking smart. He gets it from Winona, George thinks, as he watches the look of comprehension on Jim’s face.

 

“Yes, Jimmy, he did it for you. And he put out the cure for pyrrhoneuritis as well.”

 

Leonard gasps. Jim turns to him, looking confused. “Bones?”

 

“That’s—that’s why my father had. He was treated right away, cured within two months—“

 

“My Lenny lost his father to that disease, and it haunted him for his whole life,” George says quietly, “he wanted to spare you that. He wanted to spare both of you from the pain you’d suffered through. And all he had to do in return was give his own life. And—“

 

He can feel tears welling up in his eyes, which is pathetic, because this was so long ago, and he’s a grown man, a father, and he shouldn’t be crying in front of his son—

 

“And for him, that was an easy choice, you see. He wrote Chris a goodbye note, got himself assigned to the Kelvin with me, and saved me. Hell, he’s the one who set me up with Winona, who told me to make up with her after we fought, who told me to finally be brave and propose to her. And then he kissed me and told me to give you a kiss from him, Jim, and then he died, just a few seconds after you were born.”

 

“Grandpa met him?”

 

“Yeah. I brought him home for Christmas, my third year at the Academy. I—I was pretty in love with him, my parents could see that. Your grandma always used to make him a sweater for Christmas, even after he started dating Chris pretty seriously.”

 

Jim stares at him, and Leonard, George notes, stares at Jim, and he wonders when they’ll find their way to the place where Lenny and his Jim had found themselves.

 

“That isn’t to say there’s any pressure on you two to follow that path,” George ends, because he feels a little bit obligated to do so.

 

But it doesn’t matter. Jim’s eyes slide to Leonard’s and neither of them says a word as George excuses himself to go upstairs and sleep next to his wife.

 

---

When the Narada incident comes, Chris knows what it is almost immediately. He might not have a few years ago, but seeing the other version of Leonard—younger now than when he’d ever known him—it keeps all the memories of Leonard fresh, like a wound he’d thought had scarred over only to find it still weeping blood.

 

He grounds Kirk for cheating on his First Officer’s exam, ignoring a voice in his head that sounds like Len which insists that that’s not right. He assigns Leonard to his ship, and doesn’t stop to wonder whether he’s punishing Kirk for something entirely different.

 

 

Then again, it doesn’t matter. Leonard shoots Kirk up with some sort of vaccine to make him sick and drags him onto the ship anyway.

 

I smuggled J onto the ship… I wasn’t a model officer then, Chris remembers Len telling him.

 

Chris wouldn’t let that kind of behavior go if it had been anybody else, but it’s Leonard, and he has bigger problems to deal with.

 

He preaches caution and emergency preparedness to the other ships going out. Captains usually aren’t too keen on taking suggestions from others of their rank, so he puts the emphasis on being able to evacuate if there is a need. He ensures that two ships are assigned exclusively to the protection of Vulcan. They arrive a few seconds later and when the drill heats the Vulcan soil, they’re the ones assigned to disable it.

 

He makes Kirk his Acting First, after he makes Spock Captain, and at the request of his lover’s murderer, he surrenders himself to the Romulan ship.

 

It’s only a few hours of torture, largely standard stuff until they make him ingest a Centaurian slug. At that point, he can’t help but babble out the truth.

 

But he can control which truth he tells them. So he buries security codes deeper in his mind and instead bares his heart, spilling the entire story of Chris and Len and Len and Chris, with George always orbiting them like a planet around paired stars. Or maybe it was Len, orbiting them as if they were the twinned stars. But of course that’s not the case. Leonard had only ever orbited around one star, and that star was Jim Kirk. He and George were just pathetic little moons, fighting to shine some light on Leonard when his world grew dark.

 

He talks until his throat is raw, until he’s swallowing blood with every word, as the slug burrows into his spinal column and makes itself a home there.

 

He talks until he passes out, and he wonders if Len will come to meet him.

 

He wakes with Jim’s arms around his middle and he feels a quick burst of regret, that he didn’t get to go be with Len. But that fades quickly, and he takes the phaser from the guard the Jim downs and promptly shoots the Romulans aiming at his back. “Thanks, sir,” Jim mutters, helping him stand up. He can’t, not properly, but Jim drags him away, talking into his comm.

 

“Ready to energize, Scotty, in 3, 2—“

 

“Belay that order,” Chris barks suddenly. He spots Nero, walking over with more cockiness than confidence, and he shoots him with the phaser twice in rapid succession, then again, and again each time he starts to rise.

 

Once he’s truly unconscious, Chris falls to the floor beside him and punches him square in the face, over and over until his cheekbone caves in with an audible crack.

 

“Sir—“ Jim says firmly, pulling him back up to his feet.

 

“Turn around, Cadet,” Chris orders, steel in his voice, “You’re going to want plausible deniability.” He shifts so that Jim’s still supporting him, but is now facing away from the bloodied Romulan.

 

“You killed Len,” Chris says quietly, right on the cusp of breaking, “before I got to bring him home with me.” He’s quick as he switches the phaser from stun to kill and fires a single shot through Nero’s head.

 

“They can beam us over now,” he tells a shocked Jim, who mutters the order into the comm.

 

“Why?” Jim asks.

 

Leonard comes and takes Chris into his arms, and Chris closes his eyes because his world is full of pain, he’s just killed the man who killed his Len, and now a younger Leonard, without any of those memories, is holding him up, lending him his strength without a second thought.

 

“Wouldn’t you kill for him?” Chris asks, looking back at Jim for just a second.

 

Then younger Leonard carries him away until they can find a spare stretcher.

 

---

“Please tell me you’re the one who’s going to operate on me,” Chris says to him, as they enter the bloody chaos of sickbay, so many people screaming or crying or shaking, from their injuries or from their own psychological trauma, the incredible difficulty of assimilating what they’ve just been through.

 

“Captain, I’m one of only two surgeons left onboard. The primary medbay was directly hit, so we didn’t—well, we lost a lot of people.”

 

“Please. I want you. Not the other one, whoever they are. I trust you to do it. You’re a good surgeon.”

 

Leonard nods, laying Chris down on his stomach. “I’ll need two minutes to sterilize, I’ll put you under now, go get changed into surgical scrubs and get my hands properly sterilized, and then I’ll operate on you.”

 

Chris hesitates. “Can—can you stay until I’m out?”

 

Leonard nods. He takes Chris’ hand in his own and the last thing Chris hears is him cursing at the state of Chris’ knuckles, from where he’d punched Nero. The last thing he feels are those long, strong surgeon’s fingers stroking the torn skin and dislocated bones in his hand. The last thing he sees are Leonard’s hazel eyes, and he knows he’s ready for whatever comes next.

 

---

He wakes to a quieter medbay, still full of people, patients and exhausted medical officers wandering from bed to bed.

 

Jim’s on a chair, because there are no spare beds, not now. Jim’s on a chair and Leonard is hunched over him, talking quietly and pressing a regen to the ring of bruises around his throat. Jim’s got his head inclined forward, resting against Leonard’s chest. Leonard’s spare hand is combing through dirty, greasy hair, because Jim hasn’t had time to take a shower yet, after the space jump and the fighting.

 

“Bones,” he whispers, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

 

“James Leonard Kirk, you can do anything,” Leonard says firmly. Chris flinches at the sound of the middle name, knows who it’s for and misses him as if he’d just gone yesterday.

 

Jim tilts his mouth up with a look on his face that Chris doesn’t know how to read. But Leonard does, and he leans down and presses a kiss to that beautiful, broken mouth.

 

“Now stay still, or the regen won’t be able to do its work,” he says tenderly, “and then after this, you’re coming to my quarters so you can get some rest.”

 

“Okay, Bones, but just for a little bit,” Jim says, almost pliant from exhaustion and the comfort of Leonard’s touch.

 

Chris aches inside in a way he hadn’t before. Jealousy, sadness, joy, all mixed up together.

 

You’d be so happy to see them, Len, he thinks, before the darkness takes him again, they’re happy together.

 

---

 

“Report, doctor,” he says to young Leonard, hoping to get more information out of him.

 

“Hell if I know what’s goin’ on, sir,” he mutters, focusing on checking Chris’ operation site.

 

“Yeah? Fucking the captain of the ship and you don’t know what’s going on? Come on, kid, I wasn’t born yesterday.”

 

Leonard’s tight-lipped, and he looks angry as he prods at the open wound.

 

“Look, I’m sorry. Just tell me what the hell happened. Is Vulcan gone?”

 

“No, they saved it.” Leonard says, a little surprised at the question. That’s how Chris knows he’s telling the truth—he hadn’t even considered that they could lose Vulcan, not really. Maybe he’d thought about it, in the abstract, but he’d never believed it, not in his heart of hearts.

 

“And the other ships?”

 

“Not good, sir. Half of them went down, a couple made it out, lots of evac pods got out once they realized they were under attack. Exact numbers are a little fuzzy right now.”

 

“Kelvin pods,” Chris corrects.

 

“Sir?”

 

“They’re called Kelvin pods, from when my—friend died on the Kelvin. And because it prompts images of him being a hero instead of panic and fear like evacuation. The higher-ups love solving stupid little problems, you know.”

 

Young Leonard smiles at him, just slightly, and then Chris falls quiet, closing his eyes.

Chris thinks back to a long ago memory, of Leonard sleeping in the other bed in their dorm room, talking about that mysterious first mission.

 

What happened? Chris had asked.

 

What happened is we all lived. That was what happened. You lived, I lived, he lived. We all made it back home. A lot of people didn’t.

 

---

When they get back to Earth, there’s a large crowd of survivors there, waiting for them. Chris is in the wheelchair, an orderly pushing him through the crowd, but Chris feels bad for the young man, and lets him go meet his own family, using his arms to push himself.

 

He submits to a hug from his tearful sister before he goes around and greets the families of the survivors—and the families of the deceased, those who had arrived before they knew their loved ones hadn’t made it.

 

There’s a tall, handsome blond in command gold staring at him from across the way, his hair liberally streaked through with gray, but Chris doesn’t approach him until he’s good and ready.

 

Young Leonard is being embraced by his parents and by a young girl who’s calling him daddy. There’s a beautiful woman standing a few steps away that must be his ex-wife, trying to look like she doesn’t care but surreptitiously wiping tears from her eyes now and then.

 

Finally, he gathers up his courage and turns to greet James’ family, both of his parents in uniform, George having ordered an emergency transport to get back from their ship in the Beta Quadrant. “George, Winona,” he says with a warm smile, “you must be immensely proud of your boy.”

 

Winona nods, but George just gives him this intense look, and pulls him aside while Winona hugs her son close to her chest.

 

“Chris—“

 

“I did it,” Chris says quietly, “I killed the son of a bitch who killed our Len. Made Jim turn around so he wouldn’t have to see it. I made it right.”

 

“But at what cost?” George asks him, touching the brace around his neck, the metal of the wheelchair.

 

“I would have paid a much higher cost for Len.”

 

“He wouldn’t have wanted you to, Chris. He loved you.”

 

Again, in nearly the same place as twenty-five years earlier, Christopher Pike finds himself crying in George Kirk’s arms for the loss of a man he only knew because of an accident. He can’t afford to sob like he did twenty-five years ago, and so he cries silently, tears dampening George’s shirt, the hitch in his breathing, the way he’s shaking from the effort of keeping quiet.

 

He presses his face to George’s stomach, the highest he can reach because of the damn chair, and tries to ignore the fact that he’d hoped, in some stupid, pathetic part of himself, that the Romulans had saved Leonard, somehow, had kept him as a prisoner for all these years. He tries to ignore the grief that comes from mourning the loss of that hope, and he breathes in George Kirk’s smell, feels those hands in his hair, trying to soothe him somehow.

 

He becomes aware of the fact that George has shifted, shielding him as best he can from the rest of his crew, and on the other side, Leonard’s family is standing around, and the man himself is looking at him with compassion and so much empathy that Chris feels like he might drown in it.

 

Such a young face, marred by so much tragedy.

 

---

Chris visits Len’s grave again, after. He’s still in his hoverchair and the young Leonard McCoy is behind him, because he’d insisted that Chris wasn’t allowed to go without medical supervision and Chris had insisted he was going, and Leonard was the only medical supervision that was willing and able to accompany him.

 

“Leonard can you move back? This is kind of private,” he says quietly, waiting until the doctor moves away, gives him some space to talk to Len quietly.

 

“Hi Len. I just wanted you to know I killed the son of a bitch. I think your boy’s gonna get the Enterprise. I’m almost positive—you did everything you could to make sure he had a good head on his shoulders, didn’t you? You saved George, you made sure that young Leonard didn’t lose his father, by putting that cure out into the world after you passed, by making sure I’d be around.

 

“I miss you every day, you stupid, wonderful man. Why did you have to go? I mean I know why, but I just wish—I just wish you didn’t have to go, that’s all. I miss you. I’m so proud of what you did, even if I hated you for it, a little bit, in the beginning. But I finished what you started, and I killed Nero, the Romulan who got you killed, and I’m never going to be sorry for that.

 

“I—well, I’m injured. Young Leonard’s great, but I wish it was you treating me. You always used to get that look in your eyes, that exasperated ‘what the fuck have you done now, Chris’ kind of look? I used to love that look, because it meant that you cared about me, no matter how stupid I was or how much trouble I got myself into. Young Leonard probably still has that look, but I reckon he saves it for Jim. Watch over us down here until we can come up there with you, okay? Love you so much, Len.”

 

Chris drives the chair forward and touches the smooth stone of the memorial, ignoring the pain along his spine as he leans down to kiss it.

 

“Dammit, Captain Pike, are you trying to undo all of my good work? Because I’m not going to fix you if you fuck it up through your own stupidity—“ Young Leonard hollers, yanking him back up.

 

“Just a goodbye kiss, McCoy. Needed to be done. We can go back to the hospital now. I’ll be back again soon, Len, take care.”

 

---

 

George watches Chris get wheeled away by his son’s lover before he steps out from behind the obelisk.

 

“Hey Len. I see Chris beat me to a visit, but he was always first, wasn’t he? At least out of the two of us. I can understand why, I guess, now that Jim’s grown—we look so alike I think I understand the pain in your eyes when you used to look at me. I think I have that same pain in my eyes when I see young Lenny. He looks so like you, and I think Jim’s beginning to understand that you were more than a friend to me. Winona always knew—she always took care of Jimmy on his birthday, because I’d be too busy mourning you, and then we would celebrate the next day, when I could get myself together enough to love my son more than I missed you. I know that sounds awful, and most of the time, I love my son more than anything, but—five years with you just wasn’t enough, Lenny, so maybe I did take a few days a year to mourn what I’d lost. I’m allowed that much, aren’t I?”

 

“Chris—I bet Chris wishes you hadn’t done it. I wish you hadn’t done it too, when I’m being selfish, because I wish you could’ve seen my boy grow up. But when I’m being the best father I’m capable of being, I’m so fucking grateful, Lenny.” He clears his throat, trying to clear the lump. “God, Lenny, thank you. Thank you for saving my son, thank you for not making him live in my shadow his whole life, thank you for letting him know me, letting him love me—

 

“Thank you for easing the burden on Winona, not making her raise him alone. God, I think it’d ruin her if she had to do that. She was already kind of a workaholic, you know? When Jimmy was small, she was always working. But I was there, to make sure she took a break, to make sure she was a mother before she was an engineer—I can’t imagine how my poor baby boy would have turned out if you hadn’t made me leave you behind. I hated you so much for it—I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to be there with you, whether we were together in the Kelvin or together in the medical shuttle—but I’m thanking you for it now. Keep an eye out for Chris and for my Jimmy if you can, okay? Love you, Lenny.”

 

George is careful to kiss his fingers and press his kiss on the other side from where Chris had.

 

He stands in silence for a moment, and then he turns around and leaves, in the opposite direction from Chris and young Leonard, to where his son and wife are staying.

 

---

Jim L. Kirk is smart as hell, and everything he’s ever gotten, he’s worked his ass off for. He could’ve coasted off of his last name, taken either command or engineering and just gotten through based on his intelligence, his memory, and his mom and dad.


He hadn’t.

 

Still, though, he can’t help but feel that he owes something to this other Leonard McCoy. Not his own Bones, but Lenny.

 

He takes Bones with him and they sit down in front of the grave marker.

 

“Thank you for saving my father’s life that day,” he says quietly, “he was sorry to lose you, but I couldn’t be more grateful.”

 

“And thank you for saving my daddy’s life,” Bones whispers next to him, “I’m sorry you lost yours.”

 

They sit there in silence, for a little while, holding hands.

 

Finally, Bones stands up, and Jim follows behind him.

 

Bones starts to walk off, but Jim stops him.

 

“I—I know it can’t make up for losing your Jim,” he says softly, “I know it can’t make up for Chris losing you, but Bones and I are really happy. We’re—god, we’re really fucking happy, and we’ll work every day to honor your sacrifice and make it worth it.”

 

Jim blinks hard and leans forward, stroking the stone of the memorial.

 

“And I’ll work to do right by your name, sir,” Bones says very quietly, “thank you, for sparing me that pressure from the world.”

 

---

 

Personal log of Christopher Pike, new entry:

 

Hey Len,

They’re trying to kick me out of the fucking chair. Can you believe it? I work for seven fucking years to earn a chair and suddenly I take one bad hit and they want to put me out to pasture.

They’ve offered me a promotion. It’s a PINO, promotion in name only. What they really want is for me to stay at the Academy forever and a day because nobody else wants to fucking do it.

Well, fuck that. Thanks to what you put out about neural grafting, young Leonard says I’ll be able to walk again, at some point. The rehab will be brutal, but if I can walk, if I can run and pass the fitness tests? I’m going to get back in command. They’ll be making a bunch of new ships, considering the damage some of them took in the Narada incident.

And I’m getting my ass onto one of those ships, so help me god. And you know what, Len? I’m gonna have it called the USS McCoy, see if they can stop me. She’ll be bigger than the Reliant, but smaller than the Enterprise—I know you were proud of your girl and now that Jim’s finally got ahold of it, he’s not about to fucking let go for anybody, not even me.

But I’ll be damned if they’re going to ground me over this.

 

If you were here, I know you’d be right next to me, holding my hand and helping me learn how to walk again, every single step. You’d hate every minute of it, too, because it hurts like hell, and you never liked to see me in pain.

 

But you’d believe in me. You know what, Len? That helps me believe in myself, a little bit. I love you. Take care, you stubborn bastard.

 

---

 

He looks down at his wheelchair and he grits his teeth, ignoring the tears that run down his face, the agony of each movement, as he lifts himself up, feet touching the ground as he supports himself on the beams.

 

“Good work, Chris,” the physical therapist says, “keep pushing, now, you’re doing great. We’re aiming for your limit here, not so far that you hurt yourself, but not so little that you’ve got anything left in the tank. We’re getting you back in that Captain’s chair, dammit, so push—“

 

Chris pushes, almost yelling with the pain in his legs, burning with every single step.

 

---

Sixteen months later, Chris steps onto the bridge of the USS Horatio—his attempts to get the ship named after Leonard had been stymied by the goddamn Admiralty at first, even with Archer’s support. But Chris is cleverer than he looks, and when he steps onto the bridge of his ship, he imagines Leonard behind him, the phantom weight of his fingers on Chris’ shoulder.

 

I’m so proud of you, Chris. He can almost hear his voice—

 

Chris purses his lips.

 

He goes to sleep in the Captain’s quarters alone, and dreams of Len.

 

---

After some five years, James T. Kirk had integrated the trauma. He’d been more aloof afterwards they’d lost Bones, leaned a bit more heavily on Spock for official business and kept his private business exactly that, whenever possible. He’d go off and have one night stands on shore leave, or back on Earth. Hikaru had stayed close, taking care of him, and Jim, as was Jim’s wont, had gone and fallen in love with him. They’d been together now for three and a half years.

---

Captain James T. Kirk is waiting on his XO and his helmsman/chief botanist/ lover to beam back from the planet.

 

The two figures standing on the transporter pad are not Spock and Sulu. In fact, it’s him. Another him, about the same age, and—

 

Bones.” Jim’s voice cracks in the middle and he stares at the man as if he can’t believe what he’s seeing. “Bones, you came back—I thought I’d lost you—“

 

The other Jim, in command yellow, coughs delicately.

 

“Excuse me,” Jim says quickly, “I suppose you’re both aware already that I’m Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the USS Enterprise. You are also James Tiberius Kirk, I assume, also the captain? And you—Dr. Leonard McCoy, CMO of the Enterprise. I’m sorry I’m staring, I just lost my Bones several years ago.”

 

“I’m not—I am Jim Kirk, yes, but my middle name is Leonard, after the man who saved my father on the Kelvin, just minutes before I was born.”

 

Jim is stock still. “Scotty—is it possible that the anomaly that we lost Bones in was a temporal anomaly?”

 

“It is, sir,” the Chief Engineer responds, in nearly a whisper.

 

“Scotty, keep working on figuring what went wrong with the transporter here today—I want to get our boys back, but in the meantime—gentlemen, would you mind accompanying me to my quarters? I’m curious about your reality, because it sounds different than my own.”

 

Leonard-that-isn’t-Bones follows behind Jim one step ahead of his counterpart.

 

Jim walks quickly through the halls of the Enterprise.

 

“Let me assure you that we mean you no harm, I’m just interested in what your experience of the universe has been,” he starts, gesturing at them to sit on the sofa before sitting himself in the chair opposite.

 

“So you, Jim—your middle name is Leonard?”

 

“Yes. Isn’t yours?”

 

“No. My middle name is Tiberius, after my paternal grandfather. You grew up with both your parents? You knew George?”

 

“Know him? Of course I knew him! He raised me! Mom was at work most of the time, but she was around, too, but Dad was always there, whenever I needed him. He still is. His ship’s called the Independence, it’s patrolling the Gamma Quadrant at the minute.”

 

Jim closes his eyes and tries to breathe, tries to imagine calling George Kirk “Dad” and defending him this passionately because he deserved it. “My father died on the day of my birth,” he says quietly, “he went down with the Kelvin.”

 

“My dad was going to, but then his best friend—sometimes more than friends—Leonard McCoy—not my Leonard, mind you—“

 

“I’m not that old, Jim, he wasn’t thinking I was there,” McCoy mutters.

 

“—anyway, dad’s friend Len went down with the ship instead. Dad said my middle name was Leonard because of him. He told me that Jim was because—well, he told my mom that Jim was because of her dad, but he told me when I was older that it was because Len was in love with somebody called Jim.”

 

“How—how did your dad meet Bones—Leonard, I mean?”

 

“He was serving on a crew, but there was a problem with the transporter, I guess, and he ended up getting sent back in time and met Dad and Uncle Chris. He had to redo the Academy, but he was amazing. He taught my dad and Uncle Chris how to fly, too. Dad says he still hears his voice every time he has to fly a shuttle. He served on the Kelvin for two years before he passed away.”

 

Jim feels as if his quarters are suddenly smaller than they were this morning, and stands up. “I need a drink. Do you need a drink, either of you? Because I need a fucking drink.”

 

“Are you okay?” Leonard asks, eyes flicking back and forth between his captain and the other.

 

“It’s been five years since we lost Bones. I have a new CMO now, but Bones wasn’t just my CMO, he was—“

 

“The love of your life,” Jim L. Kirk whispers, “Dad told me. Said that Len never got over it, that he spent the rest of his life loving with less than half his heart, because all the rest was yours.”

 

“Who else did he love?” Jim asks, suddenly aching to know. He wants Bones to have been happy, but he always wants Bones to have been his, up until the very day he died. Bones is dead, he realizes suddenly, and the knowledge is like a wet, sucking wound in his chest, as if he’s bleeding out all over his own quarters.

 

“Nobody like you,” Leonard says, before Jim can say anything, “there were people who loved him, but they all knew that you were first for him. No matter how long it had been.”

 

“Who fell in love with him, then?”

 

“Chris Pike was one. My dad was another,” James L. says quietly, “Len pushed him towards my mom, really encouraged them to get together, but the way Dad talks about him, the way he mourned for him—I don’t know, it felt like he cared about him as more than a friend.”

 

“Blue-eyed blonds,” Jim says, choking on a laugh that turns into a little bit of a sob, “god, what is it with him and blue-eyed blonds falling in love with him? Me, Chekov, Chris, and my own fucking dad? Are you sure he’s gone, are you sure? He couldn’t have survived?”

 

“I earned my captaincy when Pike got injured on the Narada mission. They took him prisoner and when I was getting him out, he made me turn around and he killed Nero for killing Len. If there was even a chance, even a fraction of a chance, Captain Pike would’ve taken it. He never quit hoping that he was alive, not until we got there and met them and—there’s no way they’d let him survive. He went down with the Kelvin, Jim. I’m so sorry.”

 

“Don’t—I just—please, don’t,” Jim mutters, pressing a hand over his eyes. “All these years, I wondered about him, whether he was alive or dead, whether he was waiting for me to come find him, whether he was trying to find his own way back to me—and he did all of this, just so that some version of me could have a better life in another universe. Bones—he was always like that. Always willing to lay down his own life for someone else’s—“

 

“He lived a life well-loved,” Leonard says to him quietly, standing up and laying his hand on Jim’s shoulder.

 

“Please—I can’t look at you and see him—it hurts. God, it hurts—I finally know, I should feel some sort of peace—“

 

Other-Jim stands up and presses a hand to Jim’s other shoulder. “I owe you my entire life,” he says very quietly, “everything he did, he did out of love for you, James Tiberius Kirk.”

 

That only makes his chest hollower, only makes him want to double over and scream like the wounded animal he is, all of a sudden, all these years after having healed.

 

Chekov comes to escort the other Jim and the other Leonard to their quarters, and though he offers them two separate sets of quarters, they opt to stay in one together.

 

When Jim finds out, he smiles for a moment before he bursts into tears, shoving his face into a worn blue uniform shirt that stopped smelling of Bones long ago.

 

The next day, they get Spock and Sulu back, and Scotty figures out a way to send Jim L. Kirk and his Leonard McCoy back to their own time. Spock and Sulu come back from the brief away mission only to find their captain withdrawn, haggard, and miserable looking than he’s been in years.

 

“He’s dead,” he says after he greets them, “Bones is dead. He saved the other Jim Kirk’s father. Died in the Kelvin. so my parents could get away, just as I was being born. We might’ve overlapped, just the tiniest bit. So I guess we can call off the search now.”

 

Spock opens his mouth to say something, but he must not be able to find the words. Sulu just steps forward and pulls Jim into his arms, holding him tight and rocking him back and forth, whispering how sorry he is. Jim cries in his lover’s arms, wanting and wishing and at the same time not-wishing, because what he has with Hikaru is good, and if that good could come out of something so bad, then maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

 

---

It’s a bright, beautiful day. Then again, it is what most days are, in space.

 

George’s son is twenty-eight years old, wearing his dress uniform and looking very distinguished, a line of medals across his chest. He’s been proud of his son before, but in this moment, he doesn’t think he’s ever been prouder. His wife is in the audience, crying.

 

The music starts to play, and he puts his hand in the crook of Jim’s elbow and they start to walk.

 

Young Leonard walks in from the other side, tall and distinguished on his mother’s arm. He’s wearing his own dress uniform, sporting his own medals, and Jim couldn’t possibly have found a better match. They walk slowly—Eleanora has arthritis, and it isn’t easy for her to get around these days.

 

They meet in the middle, and this is where Eleanora kisses her son’s cheek, and then his son’s, too. George hugs his baby boy, ignoring the moisture in his eyes, and then hugs Bones—thinking of him that way is the only way to stop thinking about Lenny.

 

Still, as he escorts Eleanora to her seat and finds his own, he feels his heart ache.

 

They speak their own vows, vows built on blood and tears and rust and ash and love and love and love—

 

George hears most of them. He spends a certain amount of time, maybe just on the verge of inappropriate, imagining this wedding with a different groom. He doesn’t envy his son, but it still hurts, just a little bit.

 

He watches them exchange rings, simple silver bands, and he watches them kiss, long and slow and tender.

 

He watches his son turn to the room full of his friends and family and crew and raise his and Bones’ linked hands.

 

He watches them dance their first dance. Leonard’s not even attempting to be grumpy, and Jim’s laying his head against his husband’s chest and it’s everything a wedding ought to be.

 

Eventually, the time comes for Leonard to dance with Winona, while Jim spins Eleanora slowly around the room.

 

George has no expectations for himself, so he’s a little surprised when Bones lets go of his wife and offers him his hand instead.

 

He smiles, and lets himself dance with Leonard McCoy. For this moment, and this moment alone, he lets himself imagine his own Lenny. He smiles at him and imagines a different life, one he likes to live in the odd dreams he has now and then.

 

His son turns to cut in, and when George steps back, he’s surprised that Jim comes to dance with him, not with Leonard. His son holds him tight. He’s taller than him now, and he has no gray in his hair yet, and George lays his head against his son’s shoulder. If maybe a tear or two escapes to dampen that perfectly pressed dress uniform, no one is the wiser.

 

There’s an empty seat in the room.

 

Across the galaxy, Christopher Pike sits in his quarters and has a drink alone with his memories.

 

He presses play again.

 

I love you, Christopher Pike, now and always—

 

---

 

James Tiberius Kirk stands in front of a house in Georgia. It had belonged to Bones, once upon a time, but now it’s being held in a trust for Joanna, who’s earning a tidy sum from the renters arranged for by her mother, even at the age of twelve.

 

He wanders back, far from the house, to the small family cemetery in the back, and settles on his haunches in front of the newest marker. There’s no body in the grave. He sits in front of the marker on the grass and traces the letters with trembling fingers.

 

“Bones,” he whispers, “I—I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re at peace now. I’m so fucking proud of you. God, you always used to say I was either the bravest or the stupidest man you’d ever met, and you never knew which one. But I know for sure, with all of my heart, that you were the bravest man I ever met. I couldn’t have loved a better man. Wait for me, okay? I want you to be the one who carries me from here to… wherever it is that people go after. Loved you then, love you now, love you always.”

 

He brushes a kiss to his fingers and presses them to the name on the gravestone, and leaves as quietly as he came.

 

---

Jim Kirk is ninety-one years old and he’s dying. He knows he’s dying, in the way he doesn’t have the energy to read a book anymore, or in the way he drifts off whenever he tries to listen to a report. He knows he’s dying, in the way that his nurses look at him, or the way his nephews look at him, when they come visit with their partners and their children, who used to climb all over Uncle Jim and sing and play, but now look afraid of him half the time, fearing his sagging, wrinkled skin.

 

Hikaru had come to visit him now too long ago. He’s old too. Ben pushes his wheelchair, the prize he’d gotten for having his legs blown out from under him on an away mission gone wrong.

 

They had sat together, two old men, reminiscing. But then Hikaru had gone home, back to his own family, leaving Jim behind.

 

Jim’s glad he’s not here for this part. He’d been able to feign bravery for a little while, taking off his oxygen mask for a few hours at a time, skipping the painkillers for a little while so his brain was actually clear.

 

His nurse is doing something—administering some medication so he doesn’t feel the pain that seems to dominate his every waking moment if he isn’t constantly medicated.

 

She smiles at him and pats his head as if he were a particularly obedient dog, and leaves the room.

 

His eyes are heavy, and he’s looking forward to sleeping. This time feels different, like maybe he won’t wake up, but the thought of death stopped filling him with fear long ago, when he’d had his first heart attack some fifteen years ago. He’d escaped death’s clutches then, but he won’t be able to this time.

 

When he closes his eyes, he dreams, and his dream shifts, so it’s unlike any other dream he’s ever had. That’s when Jim knows he isn’t dreaming anymore.

 

Leonard is there, still beautiful, still looking exactly the same as when he’d last seen him, some sixty years ago. Jim looks down at himself and he’s surprised to see that he looks young, too. He finally looks the way he feels inside.

 

“Hey, darlin’,” Leonard says to him, stepping in close and wrapping his arms around him, “I asked, and they said I could be the one to lead you. Come on, let’s go.”

 

“Will it hurt?”

 

“No, sweetheart. I’ll make sure it doesn’t. I promise you, what’s on the other side is so wonderful. You and me, our life together, the one we didn’t get to have before? It’s all here, on the other side.”

 

Jim swallows past the lump in his throat at the thought, takes Leonard’s hand, and pauses, pulling him into a kiss—oh, to kiss his Bones again! If the price for this be death, then he’ll gladly pay!—and then he follows him into the light.