When the spring term ends and Jim announces that he’s going to be spending the summer in Iowa with his mother, Leonard manages, despite being almost instantly paralyzed by crippling self-doubt, to avoid letting any of that raw emotion traipse across his face.
Fortunately, the next sentence out of Jim’s mouth is, “So, I thought you could come with. Keep each other company.”
“I have a medical conference in August,” says Leonard slowly, proud that he didn’t immediately fall all over himself to agree.
“That’s what shuttles are for, Bones,” says Jim easily. “I hear you can actually take them from one location to another in a matter of hours. I’ve already got your ticket to Riverside, anyway.”
A brief flash of anger lights Leonard up from the inside out. Jim occasionally has this frustrating tendency to try to manage him, because Jim likes to be in control of the things in his life, but as soon as Jim catches sight of the look on Leonard’s face, he back-peddles quickly. “If you want it, of course,” he says quickly. “I... was hoping you’d want it.”
Christ. Of course he wants it. He frowns, annoyed and relieved in equal measure.
“When do we leave?” asks Leonard.
Winona Kirk meets them at the shuttleport.
Leonard recognizes her immediately, even before Jim jumps up and down next to him and waves his arm over his head, yelling, “MOM! OVER HERE!”
She turns toward them with a broad smile exactly like Jim’s and Leonard finds himself charmed by the similarity between them. When he’d seen a photo of George Kirk, with his farm-fed good looks and bright blue eyes, Leonard had been sure Jim took after his father most. But seeing Winona, now, tall and blond and slim-statured, Leonard can see that all Jim’s physical mannerisms seem to be inherited from his mother.
“JT,” she greets, pulling him into a hug when he’s within arm’s reach. “Hey, baby.”
“Mom,” chuckles Jim, clearly a little embarrassed by the endearments as he glances at Leonard. “Uh, mom. This is Bones.”
“Leonard McCoy,” says Leonard, rolling his eyes as he holds his hand out for Winona to shake. “Apparently Jim has a chronic problem with remembering my name.”
“You can call me Winona, Leonard,” says Winona warmly, shaking his hand firmly. “Well, Jim only nicknames people he really likes, so I already know you’re special.”
Both Jim and Leonard flush at this, desperately avoiding meeting each other’s eyes. “Oh, good lord,” says Winona. “I already know you’re boning each other, so there’s no need to pretend. C’mon, the ‘car is this way. Leonard, do you want all the embarrassing stories on the ride home, or can you wait till we get there so I that can provide accompanying pictorial evidence?”
“Oh, now, please,” says Leonard, perking up instantly.
“Mooooooom,” groans Jim. “Mom, you’re a terrible person and I hate you.”
“Don’t talk to your mother that way,” Leonard and Winona say together.
“Oh god,” mutters Jim, trailing after them sullenly. “This is going to be the best summer ever.”
Exhaustion hits him in the evening, after a full day of socializing, and Leonard retreats to the sturdy porch swing to sit and watch the sun go down.
He’s spent the entire day watching Winona carefully, but he’s frustrated himself in the process, apparently still seeking out those familiar behavior patterns that he nurtured and excused for so long. With Jim’s support, he’s come a long way from where he was last September, but old habits die hard. He wants to know if Winona no longer struggles with the illness that dogged her for large swathes of Jim’s childhood, or if she’s just mastered the art of hiding in plain sight.
The screen door slaps shut and Leonard looks up to find Winona standing there, long blonde hair framing her face in a tumble of loose waves, wearing an old pair of coveralls and a ragged t-shirt. “Hey, can I join you?” she asks, padding over to him in bare feet.
“Sure,” he murmurs, scooting along the swing to make room. “What’ve you been up to?”
“We’ve got a load of antique farm equipment in the barn,” she answers, looking out over the fields. The sun is staining the horizon pink as it sets. “I’ve been repairing some of it.”
“I suppose,” she shrugs. “Keeps my hands and my head busy when I get overwhelmed.”
Leonard looks her over, takes in the laugh lines at her mouth and eyes, her fine-boned fingers and strong hands.
“You can ask,” she says mildly. “I don’t mind.”
That’s it, huh. What does Leonard really want to know? What’s the question that’s got him in knots? He takes a breath.
“Does it ever truly leave you?”
Winona smiles ruefully. “I don’t know. It’s different for everyone, isn’t it? I’ve gone years as happy as a clam before it swept back in and drowned me, left me struggling to get out of bed again.”
“How do you stand it?”
Winona meets his gaze and takes his hand in hers. “By loving yourself just enough to know that you deserve someone in your life that can help shoulder the burden when it gets to be too much.”
“I think I’ve got that covered,” admits Leonard quietly.
Winona squeezes his hand. “That’s what I thought.”