When the kid says, "See you around," Leonard waves half-heartedly already looking at his shiny new padd which holds his room assignment, his testing schedule, and an appointment with his assigned adviser at Starfleet Medical for 1400. He stares at the numbers and foreign places linked to a convenient campus map, wondering just how drunk he was when he talked to the recruiter back in Iowa.
He's still a little fuzzy on how he'd ended up in Iowa in the first place.
God, he needs a drink. Leonard sucks it up though. He'd rather his adviser have at least one good impression of him and he should really find out where he's going to live before he has to give a cabbie directions.
The graduate dorms are cookie-cutter blocks but at least he has a separate room from his roommate, and even if the living room is the size of a shoebox it's still a living room. The roommate's already moved in but isn’t around. Leonard has the one bag and he dumps it on the empty bed along with his new uniform. He has one hour before his meeting so he showers, shaves, and brushes the taste of puke out of him mouth. Not one of his prouder moments, but the kid had been forgiving.
Starfleet Medical is another industrial block, once shiny, but now it has soft edges and a lived-in feel to it that Leonard appreciates. A working hospital as well as a research institute. His adviser is one Dr. Beltram who greets him with a smile and a handshake. He has grey hair at his temples and crinkles around his eyes.
"We're very happy to have you, Doctor," he says and starts asking about Leonard's past experience and the new neuro-regen techniques he'd helped develop in Atlanta. They talk about the gaps Leonard will need filled for Starfleet, mostly in xeno, and Beltram goes through his options for core classes and officer training.
Leonard almost asks what he can get out of, but doesn't because Beltram is already telling him not to bother.
“I know half of it is bullshit, but one day on some backwater planet you’ll be happy you learned it. Think of it as getting some perspective on how the other half lives. Now, the Starfleet Medical Orientation is tomorrow starting at three. New cadets are invited too, and there’ll be drinks afterward as a reward for listening to the self-important people tell you how much you’ll love working yourself to the bone. Enjoy it. Classes start in two weeks, and after your academic placements you'll start Hell Week.”
Leonard doesn't even want to know, but it only takes a second glance at his schedule to figure out that the week of "physical assessments" won't be a walk in the park.
Leonard's roommate is human of Asian descent, twenty-one, and starting his first year of medical school. They meet when Leonard tries to go to the bathroom in the morning and the door is locked. He thumps it and gets a hasty, "just a minute," from inside. His roommate comes out wearing only a towel and a blush.
"Uh, sorry," he stutters with a sheepish smile. "I didn't think you were here yet."
Leonard grunts and steps around him. He has to pee. He doesn't see his roommate anything but dressed after that, and it’s not until three days later when he overhears him answer his comm with “Nicholas here,” that he even learns his name.
The testing is a combination of ridiculously easy and ridiculously hard, like Starfleet doesn't know how to take the middle road. Leonard figures he does alright when he's placed in fewer classes than Beltram had thought he would be.
The physical assessments on the other hand, Leonard fails miserably. It's not that he's overweight or didn't keep himself in shape before, it's just that none of that has mattered since the divorce. His first full week at the Academy, passes in a grueling haze. He's in a squad of twenty and their training officer makes a lot of loud noises. Before breakfast, it's the mile run at dawn. After breakfast, it's pushups, pull-ups and sit-ups, then another run, then lunch, then Leonard loses track of the sore muscles, scraped palms, and bruised shins on the obstacle course.
His assigned buddy in the squad is an eighteen year-old woman with thick black hair, a South American accent, and a sunny smile on her face that makes Leonard want to strangle something, preferably, his own neck.
"Come on, man, you shouldn't be making me look this good," she tells him on day three when Leonard's heaving his empty guts up after they run ten hills.
If he wasn't busy dying, he'd give her the finger. "Shut up, Sanchez," he manages after a minute. She slaps his back then laughs as they catch up with the rest of their squad.
Every night, Leonard falls into bed exhausted and every morning he gets up again, because if he's exhausted, he's not thinking, and that's something he'll take. It feels like punishment, and that's something he'll take too.
Saturday he feels like a walking bruise, and Saturday night he feels a whole lot better when the squad celebrates by getting shit-faced at a dive bar called Harry's. It's packed with Firsties amped up on living through Hell Week, thinking they’ve gotten past the worst. All Leonard can think as he gets his own bottle of bourbon is that they don't know what Hell is.
His Sunday morning hangover makes him wonder if he knows either. He's got to be insane to think that Starfleet was any kind of solution for life fucking him over.
Still, he shows up at 0800 in Sloane Hall Monday morning with the cleaned up masses of first year cadets for the Officer Training Core. He's one of about a thousand plebes, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed, still high on surviving their first week, and Leonard has got to find out where to find good coffee if he has to suffer through this lecture twice a week.
His two other Monday classes are at least useful, Intro Xeno-Pharmacology and Bi-Gastral Humanoid Physiology, and then it's jumping over logs again for two hours with his squad before dinner.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are better. He has ten hours a week at the hospital, split into two five-hour shifts after his morning Humanoid Anatomy class. Starfleet claims it’s to keep his certs up but Leonard's just grateful to have something real to do.
He likes the people on his shift well enough and accepts their invitation to drinks the first week, a mix of experience and novice but when the conversation turns to origins and family, Leonard just sips his bourbon and lets it pass by.
Like his squad, all these young kids are looking forward, ready for new discoveries, reaching for space, and all he can think about is Jocelyn's cool gaze across the courtroom and Joanna’s confused face when he said goodbye.
Leonard's old for a cadet, even for one in Medical, and he feels it.
He feels doubly old in Sloane Hall listening to an endless recitation of rules and regulations. On Wednesday they break into small discussion groups to discuss the why's and wherefore's with a TA, and yes, Leonard gets that understanding why fraternization between ranks is bad, but is talking about not ignoring an evacuation drill in favor of experiments really necessary?
After the first week of classes, he gets up extra early to get an extra coffee at the mess before lecture so he usually arrives ten minutes early. He sits in the back and tries not to sleep too obviously. The OTC class has two exams, a term paper and a participation grade so he kind of needs to pay attention, but who is he kidding? There’s a reason he read textbooks to Jo to put her to sleep.
The only interesting thing about the class is watching the teenagers Leonard’s stuck with in his Wednesday discussion section bumbling through hypothetical situations. He knows he shouldn’t hate them for being young and naive, but he does a little, mostly because he’s not.
Each time he watches the hundred or so cadets file in, many of them dragging at the early hour but most talking with their friends adding to the buzz in the air, he wishes they would just grow the hell up. They’re in Starfleet and whoever told them it would be a barrel of laughs at the recruiting booth was lying. And if the sickening casualty rates and accidents due to weapons discharge don’t clue them in, then the regulations covering what to do in the event of a direct hit to the bridge should.
Sanchez stares at him when he tells her all this at Wednesday afternoon PT, when he tells her that their job isn’t to save the universe, it’s to die trying. The teasing smile when she'd asked what crawled up his ass falls away from her face, her eyes widen for a second, and then she scowls at him.
"If that's what you really think of all this, then why the fuck are you here?" Sanchez doesn't give Leonard a chance to answer before they're forming up for the run, and she doesn't talk to him at all afterward when they pair up for calisthenics. Leonard only just stops himself from rolling his eyes. She's proving his point.
Her question sticks with him, though.
Exhausted and done being yelled at to pick up his damn feet, Leonard goes back to his room and stares at his reading and thinks about saying no. Just walking over to the Admin building and telling them he can’t hack it. He has until the end of the semester before he’s considered an investment. Cynically, Leonard thinks he's a good enough doctor that he can probably get a room of his own out of it at the very least.
He doesn’t. Not then. Tired at the thought of walking across campus, so he sits his ass down and calls up his books.
When Friday rolls around, he's in the gym on the other side of a punching pad from Sanchez who looks hurt and determined, and like she wants to beat him into the ground for thinking she isn't born for this. She really might be destined for this, but he knows he’s not. He’s not supposed to be here, doesn’t deserve to be. He's also an asshole and knows it, and he owes her an apology, so he gives her one.
Nicholas invites him out on the Saturday night of week three. “Me and some friends are going to Harry’s, if you want to come.” He’s standing awkwardly in the doorway, not really in or out of the room but keeping the door from sliding shut. Leonard blinks up from the couch where he’s been staring at the last letter he got from Jo for half an hour without really seeing it. Nicholas’s eyes flicker to the glass by Leonard's elbow.
“Thanks, but no,” says Leonard. He musters up a smile from that place deep inside where his mother taught him manners. “I appreciate the invite.”
Nicholas nods, and Leonard doesn’t miss the relief as he hurries off. He turns off the padd and takes a sip from his drink. Jo wrote about playing Pirates and Ponies on the High Seas with her friend Ana then asked when he was coming home. He stares at the words so long, Leonard doesn’t remember it getting dark out. He vaguely thinks he should turn on the lights but doesn’t bother.
Sunday he doesn’t do his reading for class because Monday he’s going to be gone. Jocelyn doesn’t even have to know he’s there.
But when Monday morning rolls around he’s on his second coffee in the back of the lecture hall. It’s not what he’d tell Jo that’s the problem, or the look he knows would be on Jocelyn’s face. It was staring at his face at five in the morning, out of hangover hypos, wondering who the hell was staring back. He’s failed at a hell of a lot but he’s never out and out quit. Besides there was always next week if it got to be too much.
So he goes to OTC and sits in the back with his reading for his physiology class open on his padd. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees the other cadets filter in and every once in a while the usual skin tones flicker to another part of the spectrum and he looks up.
A flash of blue skin or gray, antennae or smooth heads, features not quite right on first glance, broad eyes or shaped cheekbones that hail from somewhere up there. Offworlders. He sees them, something of Sanchez in all their various eyes, and for a moment Starfleet seems like less of a bad idea and more of an opportunity to do something better with his life.
Not that he buys into Starfleet’s bullshit. Just. It’s enough.
Week four turns into week five and Leonard gets through it. He goes to class, exchanges a few words with Nicholas, then has a drink or three before he does his homework and goes to bed. At the hospital he covers routine stuff — kids at college for the first time getting sick in the dorms, drinking too much despite the regs, sprains and pulled muscles from physical training and sports. He saves the voice letters from Jo for the weekends and against his will starts to really enjoy his xeno-medicine classes.
They start to come in handy, too. Glixly comes up to him on Tuesday of week six looking grim. He's a second year resident and grim looks more like terrified than serious.
"I think I've got a patient with a swollen liver," he says, handing a chart padd to Leonard. "But I'm having trouble feeling it and some of the symptoms aren't matching up. Could you come take a look?"
Leonard glances through the notes and follows Glixly to the exam room. "It says he came in last week because of that stomach bug?" he asks.
"Yes. He had an inflammation in his abdomen," says Glixly as they walk in. "Cadet Typas, this is Dr. McCoy. I've asked him in for a second opinion."
"Cadet." Leonard nods at the patient. He's humanoid, Degueran, one of dozens Leonard has had to memorize for variants recently in his pharmacology course. He looks back at the notes, then at Typas and asks him a few questions about where it hurts and what his symptoms were the week before. Glixly's right about one thing — where his liver would be is hard and swollen.
"The good news is, I don't think you have anything new to worry about," he smiles at Typas. And before Glixly can jump in he asks, "Which medication did you give him last week?"
It's enough of a hint for Glixly to clear his throat and go red as he answers it was the humanoid stable variant, which would be fine in most cases with the glaring exceptions of Deguerans who need a species specific dose. Cadet Typas doesn't seem to notice that there's been a mix-up, and calmly accepts the hypo Glixly loads for him to get rid of the allergic reaction that is no doubt what's causing him trouble.
After Typas is gone, Leonard says to Glixly, "You know his species doesn't have a liver per se, right?"
Glixly blushes again and flees.
Leonard has that effect on a lot of the interns and residents, and to say he doesn't enjoy it would by lying. He's a cranky old bastard and he has a reputation to protect. It doesn't stop Dr. Addison, the attending on his shift who’s barely older than Leonard, from inviting him out with the rest of their shift for drinks every Thursday night. He's a nice guy, good doctor, but after pointing out to Glixly that he needs to pay attention, Leonard's not sure he can stand another night listening to canned wisdom that the interns soak up like sponges.
"I've got too much to do for tomorrow," he says. Addison just nods, understands, and Leonard ignores the looks the interns give each other.
It's 1800 and outside the sun's still shining, though it's getting cold and breezy as dusk creeps in. Graduate dorms have living rooms but no kitchens, so Leonard's first stop is the mess on his corner of campus, noisy and almost blindingly red from the cadets in uniform as he gets dinner to go. He's done college, doesn't need to do it again.
He sees Nicholas laughing by the window with some of the other medical students who sometimes stop by their room. Nicholas’s mouth is thrown open, his eyes crinkle, and Leonard is assaulted by the sudden memory of himself at twenty-one, also in medical school, also surrounded by friends. He'd worked his ass off but he'd still made time for Brian and Clay and a handful of other people he was close to that he'd fallen out of touch with later.
He has to close his eyes against the hurt that batters against him. That's all gone. He gets his goddamn dinner and punches in the code to his room so hard his finger hurts. Overcooked Asian noodles slide down just fine with a glass of bourbon and he spends the rest of the night concentrating on Denobulan intestinal tracts.
He doesn’t think about quitting much anymore. Like he told that kid on the shuttle, Jocelyn got the planet in the divorce. He might as well make the most of his chance to leave it. That doesn't mean that he doesn't try comming Atlanta to see if she'll let him talk to Jo eight weeks in when he's done the reading for every single class he's taking, even the stupid regulation class.
Jocelyn doesn't answer, and when Nicholas gets back he takes one look at the living room and crosses to his room quickly without saying a word. Smartest thing the guy's done yet, Leonard thinks, head in his hands on the couch. Should give Nicholas a medal for getting stuck with him. Two hours spent trying to breathe later, he finally gets up and cleans up the mess of broken glass and alcohol.
He oversleeps on Monday and doesn't have time for a second coffee before shuffling into the OTC lecture hall. It's already mostly full but there's still a few spots in back. He's about halfway up the steps, head pounding from the noise, when he sees a familiar face among the red sea. Leonard frowns for a second because he barely knows anyone in this class before it clicks that he's staring at the kid from the shuttle. His foot hesitates on the next step because he's barely thought about the kid since he got here. He remembers that face, though, sporting a split lip, blood on his shirt, and, later, Leonard’s puke.
The kid glances over then and their eyes lock, the kid even throws him a nod and a smile. There's an empty seat beside him in the crowded hall, and before Leonard's really thought too hard about it, he slides himself into it. The kid stares at him, and Leonard ignores him, waiting for him to stop.
"Yeah," Leonard scrambles for a minute, trying to come up with the kid's name and fails. Honest, he remembers more of that shuttle flight than the night before, but he also had a pretty big distraction taking up most of his attention, namely the risks inherent on getting on a goddamned shuttle in the first place.
He stares straight ahead not wanting to admit it. It'll come back. Shit like that always does. More importantly, he needs to remember to restock the goddamn hangover hypo cartridges. But the kid's staring, he can feel it, and when he does look because he can't take the creepy crawlies, he sees him studying Leonard with a faint smile on his face.
"You don't remember my name," says the kid.
Leonard huffs. "I remember throwing up on you."
"Yeah." The kid grins wider. "I remember that, too."
"And I do remember your name," Leonard adds because there's shit-eating-grins and there's shit-eating-grins from people you owe for letting you talk their ear off and cover in the contents of your stomach. "Kirk." He knew it would come, and lifts a sly eyebrow at the kid.
"Jim," the kid nods, a pleased light in his eye. "It's good to see you again, Bones."
Jim shrugs, shifting his attention forward as Higgens finally shows up. "All you had left, you said."
Leonard doesn’t get a chance to protest — it’s not all he has and, yeah, he’s a cynical bastard, but that’s just depressing — because Higgens is talking and he’s supposed to remember this shit later. But it bugs him because when he thinks of what he does have, as class goes on, he comes up with nights spent drinking alone and studying.
It’s not exactly comforting but at least Leonard is doing something with his life instead of still dicking around the country until he can’t remember enlisting in goddamned Starfleet.
Kirk taps at his padd all through the lecture, either taking notes or fucking around, and Leonard really doesn't care which but it’s annoying. He regrets sitting down now, curses whatever impulsiveness he has left that made him pick today of all days to sit next to a guy he barely knows whose only knowledge of Leonard is that he's hit bottom. It’s fucking bullshit.
His head hurts and he hasn't heard a word that Higgens has said since he started blathering. Leonard wonders why he even bothered coming to class today.
Right, because he’s a masochist.
The message alert on his padd catches his eye: Sender - Kirk. He glances at the kid beside him but now Kirk's paying attention to the lecture, the soul of a good student, all innocent and ignoring him.
He opens the damn message. If you keep frowning like that your face will stick that way.
Leonard stares at the words then lets out a soft bark of laughter, surprised. Kirk is still playing the model student, but Leonard catches his eye sliding over and a twitch at the corner of his mouth.
He leans over and says right in the kid's ear, "Ha fucking ha," and gets a hand on his face pushing him away. The touch, at once casual and intimate, startles Leonard, and he covers by grumbling about stupid kids minding their own business while Kirk's twitchy lips curve into a grin, looking pleased as punch at getting a rise out of him. Leonard would get up and move if it weren't the middle of lecture because this? This is why he's avoided the babies in his classes. He doesn't need to deal with this juvenile shit.
Kirk sends him another message that he ignores by placing his thumb over the blinking message icon for ten minutes, listening to Higgens talk about proper protocol in case a diplomat with immunity decides to take over the starship or starbase. But he icon feels like it's pulsing beneath his skin, an itch that needs to be scratched. Leonard grits his teeth because he is above passing notes in class with some kid he doesn't know and who he is starting to like less and less. When Kirk unsubtly knocks his arm with his elbow, Leonard glares at him and gets a pointed look at his padd when most people — interns — would start backpeddling.
Kirk is neither cowed nor annoyed, which is irritating. He also doesn't have that I-have-to-be-nice-to-you look that Leonard gets from Nicholas or the doctors that aren't on his shift. He nudges Leonard again, more deliberately, and Leonard finds himself rolling his eyes and opening the damn message.
Seriously. Will get stuck. Lunch?
This time Leonard turns to Kirk wondering what the hell. Kirk shrugs his shoulders as if to say, So?
Leonard sends him a damn message back. No.
Kirk reads it with way too much enthusiasm and then smiles at Leonard again with a little philosophical head tilt. That settled, Leonard slouches into his seat and listens to the rest of the lecture about diplomats that he would, hypothetically, have to patch up after Security has beaten them into submission.
When Higgens finally lets them go, five minutes late, the first thing Kirk says is, "Which mess are you assigned to?"
"It's ten o'clock," says Leonard, turning his back on him.
"Second breakfast then. Come on, I just want to catch up."
"We don't know each other well enough to catch up."
"Hey, you sat down next to me," says Kirk. And Leonard regrets it with every fiber of his being. He shuffles forward out of the row and onto the crowded steps. Next time he's returning to his seat in the back. He jogs down the steps, not running but not unhappy to lose himself in the crowd either, getting out into the corridor then emerging into the bright sunshine. The sky is a perfect blue, and Leonard hates it for just a moment.
"Coffee then." Kirk jumps down the steps beside him, reaching out at the bottom, hand on Leonard’s chest, and swinging in front of him, blocking his path. The grin is gone, replaced by a more serious expression. He has very blue eyes. "You look like you could use a cup of coffee."
Leonard doesn't know why he sat down beside the kid, but he thinks that it's the way Kirk offers coffee that he gives in. Looking at him like he sees the hurt that Leonard's been hiding inside — the hurt hat everyone else instinctively shies away from.
Coffee with Kirk is awkward. Or maybe that's just Leonard because he feels like he's a blood smear on a microscope slide as Kirk asks questions that Leonard answers with grunts and shrugs as often as single words. It doesn’t seem to rattle Kirk except for the occasional sarcastic comment. And if Leonard’s honest, he’s getting a kick out of the guessing game.
"So I know you're a doctor, what's you specialty?"
"That sounds broad."
"Humans," says Leonard. "I'm mostly taking xeno-classes to fill out the cross-species requirements."
They're sitting on a bench outside of the general use replicator on the first floor of Sloane. It's crappy coffee, but it's hot. Kirk makes faces every time he takes a sip. "They really need to tune that replicator," he had said when they sat down.
"I bet you're learning all sorts of interesting things," says Kirk with enough of an eyebrow wiggle to make Leonard snort.
"Very interesting. Gastrointestinal variances between humanoid species are riveting."
Kirk blinks at him, drink halfway to his mouth. "I sincerely hope you mean that sarcastically."
It's the first thing he says that makes Leonard really laugh. "Nope. It's about the only thing keeping me here right now," he says without thinking about it.
"Oh yeah?" Kirk's tone is mild and even, and when Leonard glances over he sees the same calm seriousness from the lecture hall. Leonard's not sure if Kirk's judging or not, but he's doing a damn good job of hiding it if he is. Or maybe Leonard's just a paranoid bastard who's sick of all the Goooo Starfleet! Rah! Rah! that's everywhere he goes.
"What about you?" he asks instead of explaining.
"Talking about the insides of people's stomachs doesn't turn me on," Kirk says with a straight face.
Leonard rolls his eyes, which makes Kirk grin and then he gets the unabridged version of Jim Kirk's Life at Starfleet Academy in a level of detail that he's sure is a comment on how much Leonard left out.
He learns three things about Kirk from that conversation. One, he sleeps around. A lot. And for some reason he is under the mistaken impression that Leonard even mildly cares about the hot little Firsties that get taken in by Kirk's charm. He is charming, Leonard will give him that, but he doesn't need the details, thanks.
Two, Kirk is taking a heavier than normal course load. He doesn't say it out right, but he picked up willing bed mates in six different classes, two more than the normal load. Leonard spends five minutes tuning out Buxom Alien Lay #7 trying to figure out if Kirk dropped the info deliberately or if he really is that caught up in his own sex life. Leonard interrupts and asks, "What track are you even on?"
Kirk blinks, still holding his hands up from where they were generously shaping curves in the air. His head tilts like he's trying to figure out where the question came from, but he answers. "Tactical."
"Jesus," says Leonard, because Tactical is code for the blowhards who want to be in charge of the tin cans up there.
Kirk just grins at him more teeth than smile. Leonard pauses, whole body going still at the sudden chill between them. He almost laughs because it's ludicrous that Kirk should care what he thinks, but Kirk doesn't look away. He doesn't cover his hopes with self-deprecation or bluster that of course he can hack it, you don't know what you're talking about, I was captain of the football team, I can captain a ship.
Instead, Leonard voices the first thought that pops into his head. "When you're a captain, you know you can't sleep with your crew, right?"
The hard corners of Kirk's mouth soften. "Diplomats on the other hand," he winks.
"You're going to start a war over some alien princess, aren't you?"
Apparently he's already almost done that, and Kirk launches into another story about a bar and the visiting Axanar embassy staff slumming in North Beach.
Leonard only figures out the third thing after his coffee's gone, Kirk's bolted for class, and he's halfway to the Medical School buildings. Kirk talks a lot without really saying much. Leonard turns that over in his head, but decides it's only fair since he didn't say much about himself either. Made Kirk work for every answer he got.
He has class in ten minutes, and though the coffee and the conversation helped with the hangover, the headache rushes back when he's greeted at the door with a quiz popping up on his padd. He doesn't think about Kirk after that.
Leonard gets back to his room, sweaty, tired, and sore -- Sanchez has accepted his apology but not forgiven him. Nicholas looks up from his desk and opens his mouth a couple times, but ends up not saying anything.
Leonard sighs and mumbles, "Sorry about last night," as he crosses to his room. It's not enough, not nearly. Poor guy shouldn't have to put up with him. Leonard had this idea that a fresh start and a new place — hell the idea of going up into space — would distract him. It does but some nights it’s not enough. He still hasn't heard from Jocelyn but tonight he pulls out his books instead of the bottle and forces himself not to think about it. It takes him an hour to get anywhere but he counts it as a win.
Tuesday, the clinic is busy. Flu shots of every shape and variety come in along with the hypochondriac half of campus and most of the off-worlders. Medicine might have come a long way in the last hundred years, but every good doctor knows to bet on the virus. The best part of being on the Academy’s campus is that all cadets and staff are required to get vaccinated. Thursday is more of the same, and Leonard just hopes he doesn’t pick up the extra special resistant strains that hospitals breed. He washes his hands twice as much as he usually does and tells himself it’s not because he hasn’t had a drink since Sunday.
Leonard almost doesn’t get out of bed on Friday morning. He feels like he has a hangover even though he doesn’t, and he’s feeling sorry for himself because he can’t win for losing. Only the noise Nicholas makes gets him going because the poor kid doesn’t deserve to have to deal with Leonard if he decides to stay in bed and rot. He still feels bad for last weekend.
Leonard gets to class almost late again. After setting his coffee down he closes his eyes for a minute. Letting the sounds of the baby-faced students murmur in the background without him having to look at them and their enthusiasm. When he feels someone break his fuck-off barrier he knows without even looking that it's Kirk. He takes two breaths to decide he's annoyed.
“Wow. I thought it was just Mondays,” says Kirk, “but you still look like crap.”
“Fuck off,” Leonard says with deepest sincerity.
“No, seriously. You okay?”
Leonard cracks an eye open and glares. “Fine.”
“Right.” Kirk sits down and drops his padd on the desk panel. Loudly. “I’d hate to see you having a bad week.”
“My week was fucking great, thanks,” snaps Leonard because it was a sure sight better than the last one. But the look Kirk levels at him is devoid of any amusement. He wonders if he looks that bad or if Kirk is going to impart some pearl of wisdom he’s learned in his twenty odd years of existence. Frankly, he can go shove it, but Leonard’s saved by Higgens opening his mouth.
He doesn’t hear a word of the lecture. In fact, he’s pretty sure he fell asleep somewhere in there and he jolts awake when the room starts moving.
Kirk prods his arm. “You coming?” he asks, magically on his feet with his bag over his shoulder. He catches Leonard’s arm when he trips over the last seat on the row and nearly goes sprawling.
“I think you need another coffee.”
“Breakfast,” Leonard mumbles. His balance is off and he feels lightheaded after sitting so long. “And a shot of bourbon.”
Kirk nods. “That I can do.”
Leonard lets Kirk drag him along; the hand circling his wrist doesn’t let go. Kirk gets him to the closest mess and parks him at a table before getting in line. Letting his head fall to the table, Leonard lets the cold surface seep into his brain. It helps a little, and he remembers that he should have a hypo in his bag. He can’t find it though, and by the time Kirk gets back with institutional pancakes and something that’s supposed to be eggs, he’s given up looking for it.
“No bourbon, but if you still need a shot I’ve got some whiskey at my place.” Kirk shoves one of the plates in his direction.
“I’ve got my own alcohol,” says Leonard. Except he doesn’t. He drank it or shattered it everywhere and he can’t get more till this weekend. Kirk passes him a glass of orange juice and digs in.
It hurts to eat, and Leonard’s half convinced he’s going to throw it up, but after a while his stomach settles down and he feels marginally better. Despite the fluids, he still has a headache, but it’s down to a background throbbing. When he looks up, Kirk is watching him as he chews, and Leonard waits for the questions he knows are behind those blue eyes, hearing them for some reason in his mother’s voice. He has a vague recollection of a conversation after the custody hearing that ended with Leonard waking up in another state. But Kirk doesn’t say anything. He just watches for a moment longer then turns back to his breakfast.
He has twice as much food on his plate as he gave Leonard. Toast in addition to pancakes and a bowl of fruit on the side. He eats quickly and precisely and waggles his eyebrows when he catches Leonard staring.
“See something you like?” he grins obnoxiously, and Leonard would roll his eyes, but he knows it would hurt so he doesn’t. Instead, he reaches his fork across and stabs a piece of cantaloupe from Kirk’s tray. It’s wet and sweet. Kirk laughs and gets up to get him his own bowl of fruit and another glass of orange juice.
“Well at least you look less like a dead rat now,” he says, sitting back down.
“Don’t feel much better,” Leonard admits. He’s still waiting for the questions. Kirk’s not Nicholas or the interns who are scared to set him off. And as they look at each other, Kirk still chewing, Leonard finds his frank regard almost a relief even as he wishes it would stop. It finally feels like someone is looking and really seeing him even if it isn’t any of his goddamn business.
“You gonna ask?” He says when the waiting gets to him.
“Ask what?” Kirk shrugs. “You had either a rocking night or a bad one and if it were me I’d sock the first person who tried to pry. And I’d really rather you didn’t hit me. You want me to ask?”
“No,” says Leonard.
Kirk shrugs again, in a there-you-go kind of way. They finish eating in silence. Both of their eyes wander around the room, people watching. A few people wave at Kirk and he raises a couple fingers in return, and Leonard realizes that even though he’s in the same Cadet class, recognizes a bunch of faces, he doesn’t know a single other person. It doesn’t hurt the way it did a few weeks ago, reminding him of college the first time around. Now all he thinks is this is typical of him, and the next three and a half years are going to be miserable. Good thing Leonard is good at miserable.
Leonard has lab at 11, and Kirk probably has someone else to fuck if the way he’s eyeing the dark skinned cadet with hair all the way down her back sashaying across the mess is anything to go by. Leonard takes Kirk’s tray to bus it, and when he gets back is surprised when Kirk stops him with a hand on shoulder.
“Hey. If you still want that whiskey later.” He taps Leonard’s padd which is now sitting on top of his bag. Then Kirk claps him on the bicep and strolls off. Leonard can still feel the handprint through his shirt as he picks up his padd and reads the message from Kirk with his dorm, room number, and password — “grumpy Bones needs a fucking drink” — for getting through the door.
Leonard’s headache gets worse all of a sudden and something hot and tight curls in his chest like it’s thinking about clawing its way out. He closes the message and dumps the padd in his bag. He thinks about skipping his lab and afternoon class, but can’t deal with catching up right now, and besides he’d rather not think about anything other than alien guts for a couple hours.
When PT rolls around, he's just barely keeping down what's left of lunch, like Hell Week all over again. Leonard knows it's bad when Sanchez offers him water and suggests he might want to go to the clinic and get checked out. Leonard almost laughs.
"No way out but through," he tells her and ignores her confused frown.
He doesn’t send Kirk a message or go to his room that night. The whole weekend, he fights off nausea and buries himself in books. He sends Jocelyn another message and pointedly doesn’t wait for a reply when he realizes that next week’s pharm exam means the Monday that's three days away. He doesn’t have time to go to the store, and staring at his padd for an all-nighter centers a headache right behind his left eye.
He studies through OTC and takes his exam at 1300 while trying to keep the stylus from shaking in his hand. Leonard barely thinks about anything else till it’s over, and even then, he crawls into bed afterward and doesn’t crawl out till his clinic shift Tuesday. He's going to catch hell for skipping his morning anatomy class, but he doesn't really care because Jocelyn still hasn’t commed, he feels like crap, and Leonard’s pretty sure he’s building up a tolerance to detox hypos. Either that or his body chemistry is more fucked up than he thought. He thinks about sneaking off campus to get more bourbon even though he tells himself sternly that waiting for the weekend — again — won’t kill him. Then he thinks about Kirk’s offer and argues with himself that sneaking across campus after curfew isn’t nearly as bad. He's still thinking about it when his alarm goes off.
On Wednesday morning he’s sitting in the discussion section from hell with a baby-faced kid arguing that of course procedures are God’s gift to Starfleet when a message pops up.
I’m ready to spork myself. Breakfast?
He types back, You’re buying, before he can think about it too hard.
Kirk is apparently still pissed from class because the first thing he says when Leonard joins him in the hallway is, “Can you believe the crap they’re teaching us?” and he doesn’t stop with his rant on the idiocy of the bureaucratic procedures required to get anything done. Approvals on top of approvals. Leonard nods and agrees because he just sat through the same kind of discussion and he bets it wasn’t nearly as fun as Kirk’s who he knows didn’t just sit there and take it.
“They did say this would be a challenging career path,” he interjects when Kirk takes a moment to stuff waffles in his mouth. Kirk blinks at him, as if he’d forgotten that Leonard was part of the conversation. Then he bursts out laughing. His eyes crinkle and his maw is full of food mash.
“Bones!” he says after swallowing. “Did you just make a joke?”
“Don’t get used to it.” But Leonard feels a smile he can’t stop, and Kirk laughs again.
“The sick thing is, most of my group buys into this crap. Like they think filling out three separate forms to take a shit is a good idea.”
“‘It’s protection in case there’s a screwup’!” Bones says in his best imitation of the kid from his class. “If I had to wait for permission from the Captain, the Embassy, and the family, by the time I operated on someone they’d probably be dead.” It’s an exaggeration, and there are always exceptions in an emergency, but the analogy to the process of dealing with an intruder alert is the same.
“What I don’t understand is how Starfleet thinks any of it will help. Space is the last place you want to be sending back for orders when you’re in a tight spot. You don’t have that kind of time.”
Leonard eyes him over his toast, but Kirk is stabbing at his food now in quick jerky movements. Leonard’s not sure if something he said set him off, but there’s more going on here than stupid classmates and regulations. Remembering the last time they had breakfast together, Leonard keeps his damn mouth shut.
“Sometimes I wonder if Higgens has ever even been up there,” Kirk goes on.
“Wouldn’t matter much either way,” says Leonard mildly. “It’s the brass that’s making the damn rules. By committee. It’s the only way you can get such a complete set of inconsistent nonsense. Either that or someone’s throwing ideas on a wall and picking the ones Archer’s beagle pees on.”
That makes Kirk choke and snort into the back of his hand as he tries to keep waffles from coming out his nose. Leonard grins and lets the bright feeling of satisfaction at banishing those shadows wash through him.
Kirk eventually manages to swallow and gets some water down. His shoulders still shake from laughing, his eyes glitter, and his grin is sharp and predatory, that same penetrating gaze that cuts straight through everything. It’s unnerving being on the other side of it, but Leonard’s never been one to back down, and besides, he’s enjoying himself too much to care.
“Think they gave extra importance to splatter?” Kirk says.
Leonard doesn’t have to think before he’s nodding. “And straight to the top of the list if he crapped on it.”
The next twenty minutes pass in the dirtiest, funniest conversation Leonard’s had since slicing up corpses in medical school. People start staring at them but Leonard’s sides are hurting from laughing so hard at Kirk’s imitation of Admiral Barnett with a laser-sight measure that he doesn’t care.
“I am never going to be able to look the Admiral in the eye again.” Leonard tries to catch his breath.
“Bones! I’m never going to be able to look at Archer’s dog again!” Kirk looks artfully crushed, setting Leonard off again. He can’t remember the last time he laughed this much. In a weird way, he almost doesn't recognize himself.
Kirk takes another swig of his juice, shaking his head. “I liked that dog.”
Leonard kicks him under the table in a move that surprises both him and Kirk. Him because he didn’t think he and Kirk were at the kicking each other stage of their — he freezes as the word comes to him — friendship. Kirk because of the sharp pain in his ankle.
“Ow!” he says, and if he notices Leonard’s heart skipping he doesn’t show it.
“You don’t even know the dog,” Leonard says a beat late.
“It’s a dog! What’s not to like?”
And Leonard, looking at Kirk, happily irreverent, who’s dragged him off for breakfast twice now, isn’t thinking of the dog when he says, “Nothing.”
After the laughter dies and they spilt up to go to their other classes, reality seems to come crashing back down. The light feeling from breakfast turns to lead in Leonard’s stomach with thoughts that tumble over each other so fast he can barely keep up with them, let alone concentrate on his next lecture.
The easy conversation was too easy. Leonard isn't someone people just approach. He hasn't been a pleasant person since the divorce, and anyone who says different is just being polite. So why had Kirk asked him to breakfast?
He isn’t friends with Kirk; they barely know each other. They had one fairly gross shared experience and Leonard had been hungover, or as good as, all but one time they’d actually talked to each other so he isn’t sure that counts as real conversation. He’s an ornery bastard and Leonard knows he’s no fun to hang out with. Except they'd had fun this morning.
Leonard walks out of class into the sunshine and takes a deep breath. He’s being an idiot. Just because the last time he had a friend he could laugh like that with, said friend ended up comforting Leonard’s wife while his marriage was falling apart doesn’t mean Kirk has any ulterior motives about asking him to breakfast. And if he does it doesn't matter. One, Leonard already knows that Kirk is sleeping with everyone. Two, Leonard has already lost everything. The Academy is in no way the new home all the posters promised. How much worse could it get? Because smiles at breakfast aside, his life is still lying in pieces around his ankles.
It’s been a week and half since he first commed Jocelyn with no reply, and Leonard is exhausted by more than PT when he gets back to his room that night and checks his messages. He throws his padd on the coffee table and lets his head fall into his hands for a minute before he picks up his comm.
She doesn’t answer. “Jocelyn, you promised you wouldn’t use Jo against me. She’s my daughter too. If I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’m calling my lawyer.”
Leonard can’t afford his lawyer again, but Pete’s a good guy and he did say to call if Leonard needed anything. He probably was offering to bail him out for a drunk and disorderly, but Leonard isn’t going to be picky.
He sighs and flips through the files on his padd. Homework is the last thing he wants to be doing right now. He recognizes the feeling in his gut, the restlessness that wants to forget everything, and knows it only takes thirty credits and three hours, never mind the damage to glass tumblers and his liver in the process.
He holds out a hand. It’s not shaking. Much. It’s been a week and a half since his last drink and, God, he wants one bad.
Rock bottom. He’s lying to himself if he thinks this is it. He’s still got two hands to put people back together with. But not if he keeps on like this.
He looks at his kit across the room and wonders if the detox hypo will do any good tonight, and if it doesn’t, if he can placebo himself into thinking it will. He ends up taking the hypo, then one to put him to sleep. Neither one do much good.
He spends half the night wondering if Jocelyn will call him back and the other half wondering if Kirk would want to get breakfast in the morning. He doesn’t even know where Kirk’s dorm is.
Leonard falls asleep somewhere between o’dark thirty and alarm o’clock. He doesn’t have time for breakfast before Thursday class and his shift, and he spends the day in a sleep deprived haze. The clinic’s still full of flu cases, which fortunately are pretty hard to screw up. When Dr. Addison asks who is coming for drinks, Leonard’s the first one to say yes.
Addison claps him on the back and says, “Great! I was wondering if you’d forgotten about us,” while Leonard rocks on his feet, feeling vaguely ashamed and cursing himself for an idiot. He knows better. But with that gnawing restlessness eating him from the inside out, he says fuck it anyway and at Harry’s Bar has two bourbons, neat.
He doesn’t remember what happens after that.
When he wakes up he’s on the couch in his dorm room, and light is streaming across his face. It physically hurts, and Leonard rolls over till he’s face to face with the coffee table. It takes him a moment to resolve the brown stuff in front of him into a bottle three quarters gone. Leonard’s head feels like a bongo drum, but in a good way, a comforting throb that’s as familiar as the stench of himself after a bender. He closes his eyes and drifts a little, lets the pain take over. He should check his messages but he already knows Jocelyn didn’t call.
The heavy thwack of a padd smacking the wall wakes him again. Nicholas’s in the doorway, looking mad as hell in his crisp red uniform. It fits him. Leonard has the odd thought that finally the kid has grown a backbone. But Nicholas disappoints him when all he does is glare. He should be yelling, telling Leonard what a stupid dumb ass he is, how he’s fucking with his chance at Starfleet, how he’s screwing up his ability to be a doctor. Seriously the only thing Leonard loves after Jo is putting people back together and he’s blowing it because denial is a hell of a thing.
He lets his head thump back on the couch. Listens to Nicholas slam around his half of the room, every noise like a rusty scalpel carving into his eyeballs. Leonard doesn’t even know anymore.
His comm trills. He knocks it to the floor trying to grab it, and by the time he gets his hands on it and sees who it is, he’s so surprised that it’s already going to messages before he can answer. It’s probably better Jocelyn doesn’t see him like this anyway. He plays it as soon as she finishes recording.
Jocelyn sighs first. “Hi Leonard. I see we’re playing comm tag now. Listen, I haven’t been hiding Joanna from you or whatever you think I’ve been doing. My parents were in town and I didn’t want to deal with them and you at the same time. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t do it. If you still want to talk to her, we can set up a time for this weekend. I don’t know what your schedule is like, so pick a time and it’s yours. Joanna would love to see you.” Jocelyn pauses. “I hope you’re doing all right.” She sounds wistful and a little bit like Leonard feels, like she hates this as much as he does.
And Leonard hates himself a little bit more for knowing that.
Nicholas has gone still as a statue, but Leonard ignores him. He struggles to his feet and stumbles into his room, then digs around in his kit for something, anything that might help him feel human again. The stupid regulation class he missed is over and he’s sure he’s going to catch even more hell for that later.
He has to rest against the wall for a minute and let the dizziness pass, then gives himself a shot of aspirin and a glass of water — classic remedies are classic for a reason — with apologies for Nicholas on his tongue as goes back to the main room.
But Nicholas is not there. Leonard blinks and looks over his shoulder at the bathroom then back at Kirk sitting on the couch.
"Your roommate let me in," says Kirk, another crisp and perfect cadet in his red uniform. "You look like crap."
Leonard lets his sudden appearance go, unable to fucking think right now, and grunts. His stomach recoils and it's back to the bathroom for him, his insides trying to make a quick exit up his throat. There's not much in his stomach to come back up at this point, but he's hacking so hard anyway his eyes water. It takes him a moment to register the touch on his back, steady and warm, and it takes another second to figure out that it's a hand. Kirk's hand.
Leonard can't fucking do this.
But when he tries to bat Kirk away, the kid catches his wrist and gently guides it back to the bowl, and since another spasm catches Leonard then, he has no choice but to hold on.
It's … a while before it stops. Leonard feels like he just finished a round of PT, and his hands quiver from the inside out when he lets go of the toilet. He's too fucking tired to protest when Kirk pulls him to his feet and helps him back into the main room.
Once seated, he grinds the heels of his hands into his eyeballs and listens to Kirk get him water, wishing the kid would leave so he could drown in his shame alone. What the hell is Kirk doing there anyway? But Kirk just stands there for a minute — Leonard can see the scuff-marks on his boots under the perfect fall of his trousers — until Leonard accepts the glass of water. He takes small sips to start with, mouth going dry now that there's water on his lips, but he knows better than to rush it. Kirk's still there, sitting on his bed when Leonard sets the glass on the coffee table next to the depleted bottle of bourbon.
He gives Kirk what he hopes is a glare for butting in where he's not wanted.
Kirk just stares back, un-fucking-readable. He gestures toward the coffee table. "You get that message from your ex-wife before or after you got shitfaced?" he asks.
And for a second, all Leonard sees is red. "You listened to my messages?" He lurches to his feet, head going woozy, but he doesn't care because what the fucking fuck?
Kirk makes a face, waving his hand again, looking unworried by the rage Leonard can feel boiling off of himself.
"The transcript was open in your inbox," he says.
Leonard can't see straight enough to check. Doesn't matter.
"That does not give you the fucking go ahead to poke your fucking nose where it don't belong," he snarls.
This time, Kirk gives him a look, his eyes hard, jaw ticking, and a no-nonsense thinning of the lips that reminds Leonard of his mother. The whole message is plain as day: shut up and sit the fuck down before you fall on your ass and I have to haul you back up again. Leonard's knees want to buckle — not because of Jim fucking Kirk — but he locks them in place because he is not the one in the wrong here.
Kirk's still sitting but he's not backing down. "You don't show up for class and you look like you tried suicide by alcohol. I don't see a lot of other people around here caring."
"And you do?"
The smile Kirk gives him isn't kind. "Someone has to since you're doing jack all to take care of yourself."
Leonard wants to hit him. He wants to stride over there, yank Kirk up by his collar, and beat his face in because he has no right, no fucking right, to come in here like Leonard needs looking after, needs Kirk to tell him how fucked up he is because — the hot knot in his chest and behind his eyes burns and makes him feel two seconds from blowing a fuse — except when it goes it makes him feel hollowed out and woozy as the words hit home. Because it's true. He just got done telling himself, didn't he? And Kirk's here, telling him like Leonard needs to hear it out loud. His stomach turns over again.
Leonard reaches for the back of the couch for balance. Somehow he makes it to sitting, feeling flayed open. He digs at his eyes again wanting the headache, hell, everything — Jocelyn's message, last night, the hangover, Jim Kirk — to just go away.
"Look, you want me gone, I'll go," says Kirk, quieter now, the sharp edge gone from his voice. He still hasn't moved, but it feels like he's taken two steps back. The quiet settles in, and Leonard takes a long shaky breath that tastes like salt and feels like darkness crushing in.
He wants to tell Kirk to go. But a deeper, scarier impulse stops him. It's selfish and stupid and he still barely knows the kid, but if he walks out — well, Leonard doesn't know what, but he's barely holding on by his fingertips. Leonard ends up saying nothing, and Kirk keeps sitting there.
Time slows. Leonard's breathing evens out eventually and his mind drifts off into a place where his whole existence is swallowed up by the throbbing in his head. After a while it feels good, steady, and Leonard's breathing marches in time.
Kirk's leaning over, elbows on knees, when Leonard opens his eyes. He's half surprised Kirk stayed.
"Lunch?" says Kirk, and Leonard carefully nods. He feels like he's made of glass. One wrong move and he'll shatter.
But he doesn't. He showers and changes, and while he doesn't feel that much better, the sun is shining outside. Kirk is quiet as they walk to the mess hall. Red dressed cadets dot the grassy quads, and though the cafeteria is crowded and noisy, Kirk finds them a relatively quiet table in the back. Leonard's stomach isn't up for eating much but he manages a few bites and most of his coffee.
After a few minutes, Kirk sits back in his chair and regards him. It's not demanding, just a comfortable pause like he's got all the time in the world and he doesn't much care if Leonard says anything. It's almost like that first time they grabbed coffee only Kirk isn't filling the silence with nonsense. But Leonard feels the silence anyway, like it's waiting for him to fill it, and for the first time since the divorce, Leonard actually feels like saying something.
He's never been afraid to say what's on his mind. He's fine talking about his completely rational fears. But there's something about all the ways he's failed as a husband and father that twist the knife. Bourbon never tastes so good as when Leonard's searching for oblivion.
Kirk, though, has let him puke on him twice. Leonard doesn't want to reach rock bottom.
"You know how my wife got the planet in the divorce?" he says, flicking an eyebrow up, but Kirk doesn't move, just focuses, zeroes right in. "She got my daughter too."
The words hang there a second. Then Kirk says, "That sucks."
And that's all they say.
But everything changes.
Leonard has two messages from Addison asking for confirmation that he made it back to his dorm okay, and a notification from his adviser that his recent class absences have resulted in a demerit and would he please stop by to discuss it. In his message, Addison covers his concern with two jokes about blacking out that hit a little too close to home. Beltram covers his goddamn fucking annoyance with concern. Leonard calls in sick for the rest of the day. He isn't looking forward to facing either of them.
Joanna, on the other hand, he can't wait to see. He talks to her on Saturday morning, hears all about kindergarten and her grandparents' visit and she should totally get a scooter for her birthday. She is hale and happy and it's all he can do not to start bawling from missing her before the connection closes. He's no sooner wiped the tears off his cheeks before someone's yammering at his door.
Kirk's shown up in civvies with a frisbee. He doesn't give Leonard a chance to protest.
"Come on, Bones. You've barely seen the sun all week." He grabs Leonard's wrist before he can stalk back into his living room to be morose in peace. Kirk's a strong fucker and doesn't let go, even when Leonard tries to grab his coat. It's November and the wind is constant so close to the ocean. So they go and they throw the frisbee back and forth outside the Med students' dorm.
Leonard bitches. "A frisbee? Really? You realize we're not in grammar school anymore."
"It's an Olympic sport," says Kirk, and Leonard rolls his eyes, which is enough to start Kirk on a long tangent about the 2248 Games when the Terran North Americans lost in a hard, bitter match against the Tellurite West Andelans who totally should have been disqualified for starting a fight right before halftime. Leonard vaguely remembers the scandal and just rolls his eyes some more. His next throw is off-center so Kirk has to run for it, but he catches it, the bastard, and with an undeterred grin, throws the frisbee back hard.
Then it's on. The unspoken rule is throw just far enough the other person has to run for it but can still catch it, and it's not long before Leonard's worked up a sweat in the chill air. Half his throws are horrible, but Kirk doesn't seem to care and is instead obnoxiously good at putting the frisbee where he wants it.
They talk a lot of shit and about a whole lot of nothing. Kirk is scandalized that Leonard never played sports in school.
"I walked two miles to get there! No way was I running around while someone yelled at me to go faster," Leonard protests.
"What, you didn't have cars in Georgia?"
"My dad took it for work and said walking built character. He forgot to mention the blisters when the school year started."
"Ha!" And Kirk is laughing hard enough he flubs his next throw. Instead of zipping hard and fast to Leonard's reaching hand, the frisbee sails up and then down halfway to him. Leonard runs after it anyway, and so does Kirk who laughs again and turns it into a race to see who can get there first. Kirk's a fast bastard too, and snatches the disk out of the air right before it hits the ground. Leonard tackles him anyway.
They tussle for a minute, rolling over and over, and Leonard almost gets the upper hand a few times before Kirk does a leg flip thing and he's left panting on his back, pinned. Kirk's face is about four inches from his and his eyes are really blue. He's grinning and waggling the frisbee in the hand not pinning Leonard to the ground.
"Cry Uncle, Bones!" He's warm and sweaty against Leonard and smells like grass. It smells good.
"You cheated." But Leonard's grinning and lets Kirk pull him to his feet.
He still wishes he were playing frisbee in Georgia with his little girl, but the sun and the endorphins and the arm Kirk throws over his shoulder as they head to the mess for lunch holds back the tide of despair for a little while.
The despair doesn't go away. It's there Sunday when he tells Kirk he has to study, he's fine, and he doesn't need a damn babysitter. He spends the afternoon with his pharmacology books, trying to memorize species dependent interactions and hating himself because he's clearly Kirk's charity case and he won't be that guy. He can get his shit together on his own thanks, and Kirk can go pity someone else.
His padd blurs in front of his eyes. He's been staring at the same screen for — he glances at the clock — half an hour and he still feels the insidious twinge of so fucking stupid in the middle of his brian. He can't focus at all so he has to study through dinner then he gets a headache from all the not thinking about it.
Nicholas comes back sometime around 2200. Leonard feels perversely proud that he's still hunched over his desk and not half way down a bottle for once. The poor kid. Still spineless, but he shouldn't have to put up with Leonard.
He doesn't sleep well, but he gets up on time and puts on his uniform for the soul-sucking regulations class. Kirk's there, sitting in the middle, and Leonard is going to walk by him, but then Kirk sees him and waves him over. "Bones!" he calls out, and after that, Leonard would look like an idiot and a dick if he walked past. He sits down under protest.
"Quit calling me that," he says.
"So did you get your studying done, Bones," Kirk says because he's an ass.
"No," says Leonard, irritated. "Why the hell do you even care, anyway?" Because that's what he can't get his head around. He's good at making people miserable, with the possible exception of Joanna when he's not breaking her heart by not being there. The interns live in fear of him. Even his own mother calls him a cantankerous bastard.
"I thought you didn't want to fail out. Or maybe you do? Do you?" Kirk eyes him, and now Leonard's irritated and frustrated.
"No. And I don't want to be your charity case either."
"Charity case for what?" Kirk actually laughs. "You mean Friday? That's called checking up on your buddy, Bones."
"We're not friends." Leonard says loudly, causing the two kids in front of them to turn around and stare. Leonard scowls and they go away.
Kirk gives him a slightly puzzled look, a little line forming as he frowns, but he only shrugs. "You're the one who wanted to be friends, I thought. You came and sat next to me. Twice even."
"That was the only spot left on the shuttle because you were a bloody mess, and I was hung over when I sat next to you in class."
"Yeah, but you're hung over all the time. That's like your natural state. Besides, what's wrong with being friends with me?"
"Nothing. It's you wanting to be friends with me that has me worried."
This time the scorn on Kirk's face is enough to make Leonard flinch and actually listen to what he's saying. He hates himself, check. But he also wants a true friendship and not whatever game Kirk is playing to make himself feel like a good person. Somewhere in his head that makes sense — it's too early to deal with this right now. Where the hell is Higgens when you need him?
"Listen," says Kirk, looking annoyed now himself. "You're funny, hilariously sarcastic, and even though you puked on me in the shuttle, you also gave me a drink from your flask after I'd had a pretty shitty and sleepless couple days. I'm your friend because I like you."
Leonard's not sure whether that's the stupidest or best thing he's had anyone say to him in a year, and it must show on his face because Kirk glares again. Then he sighs and kind of rolls his eyes, shaking his head.
"Fine. I don't get your fucked up reasons, but if it makes you feel better, tell yourself that I'm hanging around so I can get in your pants."
That gets Leonard's attention. "What?" Leonard's voice doesn't creak but it wants to, and the noise that comes out instead makes Kirk grin.
"What what?" he says, lips curving up in an expression Leonard's never wanted directed at him as his eyes actually rake up and down Leonard's body. Leonard can practically feel his clothes slide off under that gaze, and for a moment all he can think is that Kirk just licked his lips at the sight. "You're hot."
And that's of course when Higgens shows up, while Leonard's sitting there trying to slow down his heart rate and turn his brain back on. Kirk winks before studiously turning to pay attention, the faker.
Leonard's still trying to form a coherent thought but he can't deny the small kernel of warmth that starts to bloom in his chest, and another that rushes up his cheeks, even if he doesn't feel like he deserves it. Then he socks Kirk in the shoulder. "You are such an asshole," he whispers in his ear.
Kirk doesn't glance over, but he grins.
They go to late breakfast afterwards. Kirk makes up bad poetry about Leonard's callipygian ass and Leonard scowls a lot. But he goes to his next class laughing in spite of himself.
And maybe it was Kirk's simple declaration of friendship, maybe it's the weightless feeling that comes with laughter, but Leonard decides to just go with it and takes Kirk at his word.
They eat breakfast together every day. The days they don't share class, Kirk shows up on Leonard's door like a stray puppy with too much energy that Leonard can only roll his eyes at and give in to. Kirk introduces him to some other cadets he knows — Gary Mitchell is another asshole from the same cloth as Kirk, Gaila propositions him first thing, and when Uhura takes Kirk down a notch Leonard's never seen Kirk so pleased with himself.
"She loves me," he says.
"You're lucky she hasn't eviscerated you yet," says Leonard. But Kirk is frankly and appreciatively watching Uhura saunter off. He wonders just what is going though that head of his.
He finds himself doing that a lot actually, thinking about Kirk. And not just about him getting into Leonard's pants, though Leonard would be a liar if he says he doesn't think about that too.
"To be on the other side of that tongue," Kirk sighs, sitting back in his chair. "I wonder if she'll ever curse me out in Vulcan. Or Klingon. I bet that'd be hot. What?" he adds when Leonard just arches an eyebrow at him. "Have you heard her perfect accent?"
"You want her to verbally castrate you in Klingon? That's a conversation you bring a knife to."
"She does amazing glottal stops."
"She'd crush you."
"I'd die happy," Kirk grins. "Come on, Bones, how can you not be hot for that brain of hers."
"I'll watch your shredded remains from the peanut gallery, thanks," says Leonard. He's had enough evisceration from beautiful, smart women to last him a lifetime.
But Kirk just laughs because he's the kind of bastard who thrives on the chase, the meaner the better. If there's a button he can push, he'll do it, just for the thrill of seeing what will happen. Leonard doesn't think he can help himself half the time.
What restraint he has, gets saved for classes, and Leonard didn't appreciate what accepting Kirk's friendship would mean until he answers fifty text messages in Higgens's fifty minute lecture everyday. It breaks the tedium, so Leonard doesn't exactly mind — though he tells Kirk otherwise — and as a bonus, Kirk's commentary helps Leonard remember the damn regulations, which he appreciates at midterms.
He gets it in stereo when Kirk invites himself over to study on Tuesday night before the exam.
"Gary said I was bitching too much," is what he says the first time he leans on Leonard's door chime with his bag over his shoulder. Leonard sighs on the outside but smiles a little when Kirk throws himself on the couch. By the time they've gone through about half the material, Leonard's brain is numb and he breaks out the bottle of single malt whiskey that he was saving for a rainy day.
"This is really horrible stuff," says Kirk after he knocks back the two fingers Leonard poured him in a coffee mug.
"I'm trying not to tempt myself," says Leonard. It's sort of worked so far, but if he's being honest, regular human contact has maybe helped more.
Kirk's swings his feet over the armrest of the couch and when he lays back, his head brushes Leonard's thigh. Leonard slouches down and thinks about the last time he had proper human contact that wasn't clinically necessary or Sanchez and his squad sparring with him. Then he realizes that it was with Kirk playing frisbee and with Kirk pulling on his arm to go the mess and with Kirk being a general pain in the ass like he was now, throwing his arms over his head and in Leonard's face. He bats Kirk's hands away.
"Quit it. You're like a flying monkey."
Kirk tilts his head back to look at him. "I vote we go out to a bar and get something better to drink."
"We go out to a bar and we won't finish studying for this damn test."
"Screw the test. It's a stupid test. No one should have to take stupid tests."
Amen to that, thinks Leonard, but, "I really don't want to sit through this class again if we fail."
"We could take the test right now and not fail," says Kirk, and while he might be able to do that, Leonard has tuned out most of Higgens's droning, because he's boring and the class is stupid, so he's not sure he could.
Leonard pours them more shit whiskey, and Kirk groans but sits up. They poke at the books for a little while longer, but by the time Nicholas gets back from wherever he vanished to, they're back to mocking the stupid kids in their discussion sections.
Nicholas eyes them warily, and Leonard tries to smile reassuringly or something.
"Hey," says Kirk. "Please tell me you at least did something fun this evening."
The comment catches Nicholas halfway to his desk. "Uh. Library," he says and sets his bag down.
"I'm sorry," says Kirk. "Whiskey?" He waggles the bottle, and Leonard wants to laugh at the expression on poor Nicholas's face.
"Uh, no. Thanks. Early shuttle."
"Yeah. I got early leave for Thanksgiving."
Nicholas turns away in the sudden silence that follows. Leonard had almost forgotten but the holiday has snuck up on him. It's not a good feeling when he thinks about everything he'll miss because he doesn't actually have anything anymore. He pours himself another shot, staring at the table.
"Well, have fun," says Kirk, and he knocks his glass against Leonard's for a refill that he downs in one go.
The test is bright and early, and while Leonard has a headache through the whole thing, he knows more of the answers than not. Everyone's happy when its over, and the whole Academy seems to empty out that afternoon. Not everyone leaves, of course. Most of the off-worlders and non-North American Terrans are sticking around, but everyone has leave for the politically correct Fall Recess so they're getting the hell off campus.
Everyone it seems, except Leonard. He's taken an extra shift at the clinic on Friday to keep himself busy.
"What do you mean, you're not going anywhere," says Sanchez while they're waiting their turn at the climbing wall on Wednesday afternoon, the last squad training before the two-day break which has led to non-stop bitching. "Don't you have family somewhere?"
"Not this year," Leonard tells her gruffly, hoping she'll drop it.
"I don't believe it," she says. "You've got to have somewhere to go."
Leonard gives her his best glare. Joce would be cleaning the house right about now, getting ready for tomorrow, and he really doesn't want to think about that. "I don't," he repeats.
"All right, all right, don't get pissy again," Sanchez gives him a sideways look. "You only just started being nice."
"Started being what?" But it's their turn and Leonard never gets an answer.
The mess is practically dead at dinner time, which is why Leonard almost misses Kirk who is loading up a to-go box with way more food than he usually eats.
"I thought you'd already left. When are you going home?" Leonard asks when Kirk looks up and sees him.
"I'm not," says Kirk.
"You're not staying 'cause of me, are you?" asks Leonard because the last thing he needs is Kirk trying to make him feel better about missing his little girl's eyes go big at the sight of a twenty-pound turkey.
But Kirk shakes his head, half rolling his eyes at the suggestion. "No. My mom doesn't get leave for another three months, so I figured I'd stick around. I'm taking Gaila to see some of the sights across the Bay tomorrow morning before she heads off with some friends to Tahoe."
Leonard grins at the whirlwind that's going to be. "Don't get arrested," he says.
Kirk grins back as he closes his box of dinner for what Leonard is guessing is for two. "No promises. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow night. See you around, Bones."
But in the end Leonard doesn't hear all about it because on Thursday, Kirk doesn't come over at all.
Leonard spends most of Thanksgiving day at the clinic. He and Glixly split replicated turkey in the break room and then treat three cases of food poisoning of Stadian students who OD'd on sugar in the over-sweetened sweet potatoes.
When he gets back to his room, he changes and calls Joanna who bubbles about the turkey that was soooo big and how afterward she took a really loooong nap. But he waits to crack open the bottle of good bourbon he got specially for afterward. At every noise in the hallway, he twitches to look at the door.
By the time he gives up, it's twelve-thirty and Leonard is too tired to drink and too wound up to sleep. He's tempted to send Kirk a message but it's not like Kirk's life revolves around Leonard. He probably went to Tahoe with Gaila and her friends and won't be back till Monday, Leonard finally convinces himself.
He doesn't send a message. Kirk wouldn't thank him for it. Unless he did get arrested or is dead in a ditch somewhere in the mountains. Leonard pulls a pillow over his face and tries not to be an idiot.
The clinic is busy on Friday. Alcohol and more food poisoning and one severed finger from a kid whose friends are still laughing about it as they explain the laser knife demonstration that turned into a reenactment of late 20th century cinema sensations. They got there in time for Leonard to save the finger, and even though he's gruff and disapproving with the kids, there's a sick part of him that enjoys the break in the tedium.
He writes the script for pain meds and points the refingered idiot toward the pharmacy down the hall to where the guy in the leather jacket is leaning against the counter. He stares after for a second longer because the slope of those shoulders is familiar, and then the guy straightens and it's Kirk in civvies wearing a bruised face. He sees Leonard and freezes.
For a moment he looks so young, Leonard can't stand it. But only for a moment. He smiles as he saunters over but the smile doesn't reach his eyes. Nothing from Wednesday is on his face. Leonard looks away and finishes signing off on the padd in his hands. He hands it off and crosses his arms when Kirk stops beside him.
Clinic policy dictates that they heal cuts but leave bruises to remind young idiots not to be idiots. Kirk doesn't look as bad as the first time they met, but he's standing stiffly and Leonard would put money that the bruising goes down his side too.
"Fancy seeing you here," says Kirk and there's an edge to the statement that has Leonard raising an eyebrow. He's only seen this side of Kirk a couple times, and before his head had never been this clear.
"I picked up extra shifts," says Leonard mildly. It's on the tip of his tongue to ask what happened to Kirk's face. He looks like he had a bad night, but right now he's as prickly as a porcupine just waiting to pounce on the question. Leonard keeps the words tucked away. "I'm off at five if you want to grab dinner."
Kirk shrugs carefully and says, "Maybe." He touches his fingers to his brow in an off-hand salute. "See you around, Bones."
Now Leonard does worry. He worries through the end of his shift and through dinner alone in the mess and through sitting on his couch thinking about the bourbon on the coffee table he still hasn't touched. An hour later, he sends a message to Gaila's padd and gets an answer that she's having a great time in Tahoe, what's up? He sends a message to Kirk's padd and when it doesn't get an answer he grabs the bottle, his bag, and his coat and heads across campus.
Kirk doesn't answer the door chime right away. Or on the second and third times Leonard leans against it. But he has a feeling so he doesn't give up and eventually, the door does slide open. The leather jacket lies like a dead thing on the floor, but otherwise Kirk is still as rumpled as he was at the clinic.
Leonard holds up the bottle of bourbon and waggles it. The blank expression on Kirk's face eases as he grabs the bottle and lets Leonard in.
"I also brought a regenerator if you want me to take a look at that." He gestures in Kirk's general direction as he sets his bag down.
"It's fine," says Kirk. He bends to get glasses from the waist-high shelving unit with none of his usual grace, every motion stiff.
"Right, that doesn't look painful at all," says Leonard, giving him a pointed look at where his arm carefully props him up.
Kirk straightens and glares at him. "It's fine," he repeats with a solid undertone of fuck off that just makes Leonard tetchy.
"Would you just shut up and sit yourself down so I can take care of you?"
"I thought leaving the bruises was to teach me a lesson." Kirk slams the glasses on the top of the shelf and opens the bourbon. He only pours one shot.
"You'll notice we're not at the clinic right now," says Leonard. "And you look like something the cat dragged in after chasing it all over the city."
"I don't need you fussing over me," Kirk snarks, and it's the last thing Leonard expects from him that he can't help the sharp, bitter laugh. Kirk has poured himself another shot, and Leonard goes over and takes advantage of Kirk's surprise to grab it and throw it back.
"This is me, you're talking to," says Leonard, slamming the glass down and putting a hand on Kirk's shoulder to look him straight in the eye. "But if it makes you feel better you can tell yourself I'm doing it to get into your pants."
Kirk blinks, and he tries not to, but he smiles, real and exasperated. Leonard gently pushes him toward the couch, and when Kirk sits, the fight drains out of him and he just looks young again. He doesn't protest when Leonard tilts his head to get a better look at the purple coloring his jaw, or when he applies the regenerator, the low hum the only sound in the half lit room. His stubble is a little thicker when Leonard's done, but that's normal for stimulated facial cells.
"Take your shirt off."
"Bones! At least wait for the second date," says Kirk but he's lifting the hem. Leonard has to help him get it over his head since Kirk can barely raise his arms. He winces, and Leonard takes it as a win that he doesn't try to hide it.
"They didn't give you anything for the pain?"
"Haven't taken it."
"Why the hell not?" Leonard examines the damage but it really is just bad bruising across the left side of his torso. A few body blows, he thinks, maybe a hard impact into a wall.
"I sometimes have bad reactions to hypos."
Kirk shrugs. Leonard starts at his ribs — which would work better with Kirk lying down so he pushes on his shoulder till he does.
"You been tested?"
"I don't know. Maybe. It's been a while since I had more than a physical. I don't like doctors."
Leonard snorts. "Then what the hell are you hanging around me for?" he asks.
Kirk rolls his eyes. "I have no idea," he says but there's no bite in it.
While the regenerator is working, Leonard gets the bourbon from the shelf and pours them both another round. They sip in silence for a while. Leonard settles at Kirk's feet, lifting them into his lap as he leans back. Propped up on the cushion at the other end, Kirk pretends to ignore him while Leonard pretends he doesn't see the occasional glance in his direction. He can feel Kirk waiting for Leonard to ask — or maybe that's the way it feels because he wants to. But Leonard senses that this is a boundary he shouldn't push, especially since they haven't been friends long. Especially when he wants to stay friends.
And Leonard wants to stay friends.
He hadn't quite appreciated just how much time they'd spent hanging out till Kirk hadn't showed the day before. With Kirk there, Leonard hasn't gone on a bender in weeks. He has a distraction after he calls Jocelyn and Joanna. He almost feels like a human being again. Most surprising of all, he realizes as he turns his head at just the right moment to catch Kirk looking at him, Leonard genuinely likes him. Jim Kirk, who is brash and frequently an asshole but also funny and way too sharp for anyone's good, who has decided that Leonard is worth dragging out of the bottle when he's lost down there. And for that . . . Leonard's more grateful than he wants to admit, even to himself.
Kirk's brows pull together in a frown and his eyes are serious as they catch Leonard's, wary of something and Leonard has no idea if he's passing whatever test is there.
"You all right, Jim?" he asks quietly.
Jim doesn't answer right away, and when he does he lets his head fall back first. "No. Not really," he says.
"You want to talk about it?" asks Leonard.
"No," says Jim. So they don't.
They fall asleep like that. Leonard wakes up to use the head and checks on the regenerator, repositioning it further up Jim's ribcage. The worst of the purpled flesh has faded to yellow and he'll let the rest heal on its own. It's still dark outside and the clock, when he finds it, says it's just after two in the morning.
He thinks about going back to his dorm, then about getting Jim into his own bed. In the end Leonard just pulls the blanket off of Mitchell's bed and throws it over Jim on the couch. He sets the alarm on his comm to wake him at five to check on the regenerator, then crawls into Jim's bed himself.
At breakfast the next morning, Jim snarks about getting Leonard in his bed without him and Leonard grumbles through his coffee that Jim wouldn't have been able to keep up anyway.
They're halfway done when Jim says abruptly, "My brother called. Yesterday after I dropped Gaila with her friends. I had to get out of my head for a while."
"By getting it bashed in?" Leonard asks before he thinks about it.
But Jim laughs, a hard sound that has no humor in it. "I never said I was smart about it." He shovels in more fried potatoes. "I went and got drunk, picked a fight. Felt good while it happened." He shrugs but he's still not looking up from his plate.
"I didn't know you had a brother." Leonard's carefully watching his eggs to make sure they stay on his fork.
"Oh, don't give me that," Jim lets his fork clatter to his plate, annoyance writ large across his face. "Everyone knows I have a brother. And a mother and no father."
He tilts his head, and Leonard keeps a hold of his gaze despite the urge to look away.
Because yeah, now that Jim's says it he kind of does know that. He honestly never thinks about Jim's brush with fame, though, because usually he's concentrating on not strangling Jim — the live presence of him so vivid Leonard doesn't have room to worry about the sob story he learned as a footnote in a Recent Federation History class.
"You don't see much of him in the movie," Leonard drawls, and it's the right thing to say maybe, or maybe it's not.
"Shit, that fucking movie." Jim stabs at his potatoes again. "The only thing they got right was my father died and I was born."
It's a terrible movie, produced by some second rate studio that had all the finesse of a metaphor in a cartoon. Leonard never really cared about it all that much. He was never one for the space adventures that showed in loving detail all the ways you could die horribly in a tin can.
"Where's your brother live?" he asks instead.
"Starbase 45," says Jim. "He's a xeno-biologist doing xeno-biology things." His fingers wiggle, as much saying that what his brother does is as good as magic to him.
Which is utter bullshit. Leonard raises a pointed eyebrow.
Jim's still annoyed, but he says, like it's no big deal, "Look, he just called because of Thanksgiving, and I kind of never told him I was at the Academy so he decided to remind me of what a fuck-up I am and that I'll probably screw up mom's career too, as if I would —" He cuts himself off, grimaces. "So I decided to go get a drink." He goes for more potatoes but there's only three left on his plate.
"You're not a fuck-up," says Leonard.
"I know that, Bones," says Jim, stealing Leonard's toast instead.
"Do you?" he says, getting a sharp look from Jim.
"I'm not going to start crying just because I had a fight with my brother," he says slowly, like he's talking to an idiot.
Leonard lets his eyes drift over all the places he healed last night and doesn't say anything out loud. But Jim gets the message loud and clear if the glare he levels at Leonard is any indication. Leonard politely doesn't laugh in his face.
"You belong here," he says quietly.
Jim's silent, but the hostility eases and after a minute he sighs. Looks away, looks back, something open and uncomfortable in his eyes instead. "I'll start believing that when you do."
Leonard thinks it's the truest thing he's ever said to him. "Deal."
They spend the rest of the weekend more or less joined at the hip. It isn't Leonard's idea exactly, but he certainly isn't complaining when Jim drags him sightseeing through San Francisco which is code, he's grateful to find out, for bar hopping. Despite both their issues with alcohol, together they keep each other more or less in one piece as they bump through North Beach, Little Italy, and Chinatown. Leonard only gets sick once, on the goddamn trolley that looks like it was built in the stone ages, which it practically was.
Leonard ends up crashing on the couch this time, and Jim doesn't even make it to bed. He wakes up when the door opens and Mitchell drops his bag on his desk. Leonard jerks at the sudden noise and squints blearily at Mitchell's fresh face and clean civvies. He lets his head drop with a thunk and wishes the dead rat in his mouth would go away.
"Please tell me you didn't puke on my stuff," says Mitchell.
Jim, on the floor between the couch and the shelf by the wall, groans. "No talking."
"Sun's up, sunshine. I seriously hope you two got laid before you got smashed." Mitchell's grinning as he goes to dump his stuff.
"Next time," Jim mumbles. "Right, Bones?"
Leonard makes a vaguely affirmative sound. His whole head hurts, and now that he's awake he has to pee.
He's forgotten about it by the time Monday rolls around and it's back to alternating class and the clinic with not quite as brutal runs and homework somewhere in between.
Jim asks, though, at lunch on Wednesday after listening to him bitch for a solid fifteen minutes about drug protocols and restrictions that don't actually restrict access to anyone but the person who needs them.
"So when was the last time you got laid?" The question stops Leonard short.
Jim shrugs. "Maybe it'd help."
"What are you saying?" Leonard's too stunned for a second to put two thoughts together, let alone the proper amount of indignation he's sure he's entitled to. "I'm upset because I haven't gotten laid recently?"
"No." Jim is infuriatingly cheerful. "Just that you might feel less like you have to take on Starfleet Medical all by your lonesome."
"So if I sleep with someone they'll be on my side and help?" Leonard says with all appropriate sarcasm.
"I'm saying," Jim leans forward, surprisingly serious, "that going orgasmless is a shitty way to live."
"So orgasms are magically going to make everything better."
"They might put you in a better mood." Jim wads up his napkin and throws it at him.
Leonard doesn't think it's funny. "If you say you just want me to be happy, I will smash your face in."
Jim winces but doesn't deny it. "You'd kiss it better," he says.
"I like my pain, just fine, thank you," Leonard doesn't give up his glower so easily. He doesn't want anyone poking their nose in, trying to 'fix' him when he doesn't need fixing. He has every right to be angry and crotchety with the world.
"Yeah, I'm getting that," says Jim dryly. And then he doesn't let it go.
Every other cadet that walks by, Jim nudges him and asks what he thinks, quizzes him about his 'type'.
"Jim, quit it," Leonard hisses when one humanoid woman turns having clearly overheard them with her very lovely and sensitive ears. "You're being a sexist asshole and a worse actual asshole than usual."
"Come on, Bones, not even a second look?" Jim is taking a second look, and Leonard grabs him by the bicep and jerks him away, hard.
"What part of 'no' and 'stop being a dick' don't you understand?"
"Relax," Jim yanks his arm away, nothing relaxed about him. "It was just a question. It's not like I was going to lock you two in a room or anything. I wouldn't do that to her," he adds snidely.
"Gee, thanks. And what about me in all this?" He stops and forces Jim to look him in the eye. "I don't want to date anyone. I don't want to meet anyone. I just had my life upended and even if I did want to start something, I'm no good to anyone right now."
"Sex doesn't have to be about a relationship," Jim huffs.
"Which makes it about as good as my right hand," says Leonard. Not that he's been doing much of that lately either.
Jim looks like he's about to argue.
"I'm not the one night stand type," says Leonard before he can, which isn't fully true but also not quite a lie. "I don't want to walk up to some random being without knowing anything about them or have them not know me just for a quick roll in the hay. So drop it."
He walks off and doesn't give Jim a chance to say anything. Later, while he's doing a lab write-up for gastro physiology and trying to figure out what he's going to write his term paper on for the stupid OTC class, Jim sends him a message asking him if they're still meeting for dinner. Leonard takes ten minutes to decide whether he's mad enough to say no. He would probably run into Jim at the mess anyway.
When he gets there, earlier than they usually meet, Jim directs him to where Mitchell and a few other people are sitting. It's not unusual for Jim to drag him along to a table of his friends, but it is unusual when Jim pushes his way between Mitchell and a brunette woman Leonard thinks is called Anabelle, forcing Leonard to sit at the end next to a short, baby-faced kid who's no more than eighteen if he's a day. He introduces himself as Carlos no-last-name, engineering track. The smooth-headed Deltan woman across from them tilts her head disapprovingly at Carlos and tells him not to talk with his mouth full.
After she introduces herself as Leina, Leonard looks over at Jim who's laughing at something Mitchell's said. Their eyes meet, and Leonard acknowledges the point in the smile of Jim's eyes as they flicker to Carlos and Leina. If he won't pick up a random stranger he should at least make more friends. He won't ever say it to Jim's face, but sitting with them and chatting about the general engineering requirements is not as bad as Leonard knows it could be.
Jim lays off after that, though it still comes up every once in a while when Jim just can't help himself.
"It's not that I don't like people," Leonard says late one Sunday night. They're on Jim's couch again, a few shots into a pleasantly fuzzy evening. Mitchell's out, and Jim just finished telling him more than he ever wanted to know about the man he went home with the night before.
The guy had been slightly empathic and they'd made a connection, though what that means it seems like Jim isn't clear on. Leonard has an idea; he'd had connection and love and passion once. It's a fragile, sharp thing, and when it breaks, it cuts deep.
"Then what?" Jim prompts when Leonard falls silent.
Leonard thinks about the face he sees in the mirror, clean cut and in a uniform these days. It still feels like a lie and not at all like the face he sees in a bottle, stripped away of everything except his bare bones.
"I'm not good with getting close," he finally says. He turns his head slightly, feeling naked as soon as the words float free. Jim looks back at him unreadable, and Leonard wonders, not for the first time, just how Jim wriggled his way through all of Leonard's bullshit and then decided to stay anyway. He doesn't ask; he knows better.
"Being close is overrated," says Jim.
And Leonard thinks, not for the first time, that Jim's a bit of a lost soul, too. The two of them are like moths to a flame. It's a miracle they haven't yet burned to ash.
"You ever been close to anyone?" Leonard asks. He doesn't really expect an answer, or at least not a serious answer, but Jim gives him one.
"My brother." Jim sighs, his hands coming up to rub over his face. "Long time ago. A few other kids, but they're dead now. I wasn't very pleasant to be around when I was a teenager."
Jim's hands fall to his sides and he pushes himself up to pour another drink. "Maybe I'll tell you about it someday."
It sounds more like a promise than a deflection. When Jim sits back his knee knocks into Leonard's. A point of connection, Leonard thinks and shifts so his shoulder brushes Jim's too. Jim gives him a sharp look, but Leonard just clinks their glasses together and pretends that the warmth seeping into him is all from the alcohol.
He feels light and languid, like he could float away or ooze into the floor. He doesn't want to; Leonard's perfectly content right where he is. The moment is only here now although it feels like it could last forever — or just as easily effervesce into thin air. Jim's the only thing anchoring him. When his eyes drift closed, heavy from the late hour and the booze, he tries to keep them open.
"You alive over there?" Jim asks quietly after he has twitched himself awake a couple times.
Leonard pats Jim's thigh then leaves his hand there. "Jus' fine." His words slur together.
"Bones?" The question's light, as light as Jim's hand that comes to rest on Leonard's.
"Don't call me that," Leonard mumbles. He rolls his head and squints blearily at Jim who's threading their fingers together. For the first time he can remember, Jim looks uncertain about something. He's staring at their hands and you'd think he'd never held anyone's hand before.
"You trying to tell me something?" he says, glancing at Leonard with his usual confidence and charm.
Leonard rolls his head back center, knocking his shoulder into Jim's as he does. He can't fool Leonard. "We're way past pants," he says.
"What?" Jim half laughs, and his fingers tighten around Leonard's. Leonard squeezes back even as his eyes drift closed again. The cold dose of reality he's expecting doesn't come. He's still here beside Jim and he still doesn't want to leave. He might even fall asleep on him again.
"You and me," he says, feeling his way as the words come. "You said you just wanted in my pants." The curl of a smile threatens, bubbles boiling in his belly. "I said I just wanted in yours. Never happened and here we are anyway."
"And where's that?" Jim's amusement is clear in his voice. Leonard nudges him again, eyes still closed but a smile breaks across his face because it's absurd and good and Leonard's fucking grateful and appalled all at once.
"Together anyway," he sighs. He would roll his eyes at himself if he weren't half a breath between pleasantly drunk and asleep. "Close."
Jim's quiet for a minute, just breathing and that's okay. It's just the two of them.
Finally, Jim says, "I feel cheated out of the no pants part." He still holds Leonard's hand.
"Maybe later," says Leonard and he finally fades into sleep. The last thing he remembers is Jim warm against his side and dry lips brushing his forehead.
The week before exams arrives, and every instructor piles on the workload. Papers, practicals, and exam review sessions put everyone on edge. Leonard feels embarrassed about his drunken ramblings for about five minutes before Jim slams his tray on the table across from him and groans about the three papers he has due on Thursday. He hasn't started on any of them because he's been working on a computer science project instead.
"It's eating me alive, Bones. I'm not even kidding. If it got struck by lightening it would come alive and eat me."
"A computer simulation for sorting star classifications and distance from a non-referenced field?" Let it not be said that Leonard doesn't pay fucking attention to the babble that comes out of Jim's mouth.
"I'm the fucking frog in the pot waiting to get boiled alive."
Leonard harrumphs, trying not to laugh. Jim is ridiculous and still too damned smart for his own good and still sitting with Leonard first before any one of their other friends come to join them and bitch about classes. Leina sits next to him, Carlos and Mitchell on her heels and forcing Jim over a seat so they can sit next to each other with a padd full of frisbee scores between them. A minute later Gaila slaps at Jim as she and Uhura join them.
"What's that about?" Uhura asks, eyeing them like she's not really surprised as they start arguing in computer-speak.
"Gaila wouldn't help Jim with his debugging when he got stuck," says Leonard. "It's his own damn fault. He asked her like a dumbass without even apologizing for ditching her at the club last week."
"Of course he didn't." Uhura snorts, even less surprised. "You'd think he'd remember what happened the last time he ditched Gaila."
"Yeah, I don't think walking back to his dorm naked was all that humiliating for him," says Leonard, who'd heard about it through the grapevine and then ad nauseum from Jim who scored two dates from his walk of shame. "He wouldn't shut up about the security recording that hit the network."
Uhura carefully scrapes the last of her yogurt out of her bowl. "The one set to hamster music or the nature documentary?" She gives him a sly look out of the corner of her eye, before adding, "The wild Kirk in its native state suffers from confusion after coitus . . ." in a perfect European Standard accent.
Leonard chokes on his coffee because he has seen and, more importantly, heard both versions. "That was you?"
Uhura twists her spoon so it's face down on her tongue as she gives him an impish smile and innocent eyes. Leonard throws his head back and laughs and laughs, like he had when he'd first seen the vid. It was hilarious and scathing and so fucking true in so many ways as it picked apart Jim's walk across campus and his encounters with everyone he talked to who didn't quite know what to do with a naked cadet who didn't seem to care that he was in his all together. Jim hates that vid. He tried taking it down, but what must have been Gaila's security was too good.
Uhura grins and starts quoting it, and Leonard can't stop snickering. He loves that vid because mocking Jim is a pastime of his these days, but even so, Uhura and Gaila didn't cross the line from poking fun to being mean. Every time Leonard watches it he can't help the affection that creeps in with the laughter because, nude or not, Jim remains completely, confidently himself, even when cast as the wild Kirk.
Jim's watching them now from where he's ended up at the other end of the table. He grins when he sees Leonard looking back even though he has no idea what they're talking about. He looks happy, only half-paying attention to Leina and Gaila. He looks happy that Leonard is happy.
And Leonard is. Happy.
The thought feels like it should be a kick to the gut, but it's not. His eyes catch Jim's and hold, a whole conversation of everything and nothing that passes between them and hovers in the corners of Jim's mouth as his grin turns shit-eating. Leonard feels his own smile broaden.
Uhura glances around him to see what he's staring at, inadvertently elbowing him and breaking the connection when she sits back and rolls her eyes.
"He's undressing us with his eyes again," she says, an emphatic expression of disgust left unsaid. But Leonard hears the hint of fondness she doesn't want anyone, least of all Jim, to know about. When he shoots another glance down the table, Jim waggles his eyebrows, and Leonard's laughing again, a tiny shiver sliding down his back because she'd said 'us' and she wasn't wrong.
They split up for class, but the feeling stays with Leonard all day. So do Jim's eyes, heavy and considering all through OTC lecture and coffee afterward. He doesn't say anything, and neither does Leonard as they act like it's any other day and go to their separate eleven o'clock classes.
It doesn't go away either, and at dinner while Jim is bitching about his simulation program again, Leonard finds himself letting his own eyes wander over Jim's hands, his biceps, his chest. Jim's voice pauses, and when Leonard looks up finally to his face, he's got an eyebrow quirked and is wearing that damn grin. The air is thick between them for a long moment. Then Leonard waggles his eyebrows and Jim busts out laughing.
Nothing happens that night or the next. Jim still has three papers to write and his program to fix, and Leonard has two practicals and his own papers to worry about. They're adults, and as cavalier as Jim is on the surface, he's actually serious about acing his non-bullshit classes.
But the buzz between them is present like a low-level hum under Leonard's skin with every look and word and joke between them. It makes him smile at odd times of day, just thinking about it. At breakfast, at the clinic, alone in his dorm trying to focus on alien intestines at one in the morning on Thursday night, it doesn't seem to matter. A dark corner of Leonard's mind tells him he should stop this before it goes any further. He'll only end up hurt and with less than nothing at the end of it when it all falls apart. Jim Kirk isn't the marrying type.
He thinks with a kind of morbid fascination about pushing Jim away, but the thought seems impossible now and Leonard wouldn't know where to start that Jim wouldn't see through in a heartbeat.
So when Jim shows up on Friday night, papers and projects all done with, a bottle of whiskey in hand, and says, "Hey, Bones," easy and familiar, Leonard leans into him and murmurs, "Hey, Jim," across his lips.
The kiss is warm, a slick slide of lips and tongue. Leonard takes Jim by his elbows and steps back into the living room so the door will close. Nicholas is a first year med student so with exams looming he hasn't left the library since Tuesday night.
Leonard takes the bottle of booze from Jim, their hands tangling as he fumbles it toward the shelf by the door. It misses and lands with a solid thud to the floor, sloshing and still intact. The noise makes Jim grin, his teeth clicking against Leonard as he keeps kissing him. Now that his hands are free they come up to cradle Leonard's head. Leonard's slide from Jim's hips around his back, gathering him close and closer until they're pressed together, chest to chest, Jim's thigh slipping between Leonard's and pressing up just right, so good, so very fucking good against Leonard's hard on. Leonard moans, a deep guttural sound from deep in his chest that would be embarrassing except it only makes Jim pull him closer, their kiss turning hot and fast, like Jim sucking his tongue, stealing his air, would let him crawl inside.
Leonard clutches at the fabric of Jim's uniform, taut across his back, his world reduced to the long line of Jim's body and the heat of his wet, demanding mouth, and wants him to.
They come up for air, Jim gasping for breath loudly in Leonard's ear, every breath sending shivers across his nervous system like he's a live wire just waiting for contact. Their foreheads press together. Leonard's cock is throbbing, and he knows if he lets go of Jim, his hands will shake. He's vibrating hard with pure need, unfiltered want. Jim's heart is pounding against his. He's too close to see, but Leonard tries anyway, blue filling his vision.
"I want in those pants," says Jim, half a whisper, half a command.
"Yeah, let's do something about that," says Leonard.
They stumble, still fused together, to Leonard's room. He pushes back just far enough to get his hands on the clasps and zips of Jim's uniform, feels Jim doing the same. Now that they're doing something, Leonard's hands are steady and quick and he grins when he gets Jim's shirt off of him first. Jim retaliates by shoving Leonard onto the bed and crawling on top of him, which Leonard does not mind one bit.
Jim is warm to the touch, skin soft and perfect, soft hair across his chest. When he finally does throw Leonard's shirt to the floor he does a full body roll, pressing them together from groin to belly to chest. He's heavy but he's also still kissing Leonard like it's more important than breathing.
Leonard spreads his palms across Jim's back, trying to touch him everywhere, feeling Jim's shivers as he sweeps his hands up over his shoulder blades then down the dip of his spine and under the hem of his pants till he's got two handfuls of Jim's ass. He grips tight, Jim moaning, and pulls him down. Jim's hard cock ignites sensation against Leonard's, still woefully separated by too many clothes.
"Jim," he manages. They've barely done anything and he already feels on edge.
"Bones," Jim breathes, kisses turning short as he repeats, "Bones, Bones, Bones." His elbows bracket Leonard's shoulders and his hands cup his cheeks. There's just enough room for Leonard to get a hand between them.
"Pants," he gasps, because he needs in them too. Needs it right the fuck now. It's enough to get Jim to sit back for the thirty seconds it takes for them to scramble out of pants and underwear. He pulls Jim back on top of him and feels his naked cock, dripping precome, the tiniest bit of lubrication driving Leonard's hips up for more. It's so fucking good.
"Bones," says Jim again, landing his kiss on the corner of his mouth as his arms curl around Leonard's shoulders and he grinds down. Leonard's fingertips slip down the crack of Jim's ass, making him groan again and come up for air. Leonard takes the opportunity to lick the tendon that joins his neck and shoulder, let his teeth nip as he sucks a bruise onto Jim's skin.
"Bones," says Jim again, moving, sliding, hands trailing down Leonard's sides leaving electricity in their wake till he breathes across Leonard's cock. Leonard's hands end up in Jim's hair as breathing turns to a strong tongue licking him from root to tip, then before Leonard can finish gasping, Jim's sucks him down. His mouth is somehow hotter and wetter, and Leonard bucks before he can help it, so turned on.
"Jim," he gasps. His balls are heavy, and when Jim's fingers slip past them and brush against his hole, he bucks again. He's one nerve, narrowed down to two points — the sweet suction of Jim's mouth, tongue doing filthy filthy magic to his cock and his finger circling, circling. So goddamn close, the fucking tease. Leonard tries to wiggle closer, but Jim's other hand has clamped firmly on his hip, holding him down.
"Jim, I swear if you don't fuck me soon I will never forgive you," he gets out, and Jim laughs, the vibration enough to almost send him over, just another bob — his fingers clench in Jim's hair — so close, right there, and his goddamn fingers keeping their distance, but that mouth, that mouth that—
"Motherfucker! Jim!!" Leonard swears, grasping as Jim abruptly pulls off and away.
"Patience, Bones." Jim wipes the corner of his mouth, his lips red, hair going in all directions from Leonard pulling on it. He looks debauched, gorgeous, and he's grinning like the utter asshole he is.
Leonard's on the fucking edge, blood pounding, cock throbbing, so close and he has to swallow hard, get himself under control before he loses it. He covers his face with his hands and breathes for a second. He can hear Jim fumbling in his pants pocket on the floor, hear the thump as the lube lands on the bed, hear the crinkle of the condom wrapper because you always bet on the viruses.
He breathes out, hands dropping to watch Jim crawl on top of him, knees nudging between Leonard's thighs. His sheathed cock brushes against Leonard's as Jim leans in to kiss him, long and languid. The frantic pace of a few minutes ago slowed but no less intense.
Intent, Leonard thinks as he wraps his arms around Jim's shoulders. This isn't just another roll in the hay. This is his best friend. His debauched, gorgeous, asshole best friend who is going to fuck him open.
"You done this before?" Jim asks.
Leonard pulls him close and flips them. He settles on top, hands landing to either side of Jim's head, making him gasp when he grinds down.
"I was married, not dead," he says, and he grabs the lube and Jim's hand and when one's smeared with the other, guides them to his ass hole. Jim takes the hint.
Leonard groans as the first finger presses in, forcing himself to relax. He levers himself forward, finding Jim's mouth, his jaw, his shoulder as he rocks Jim's finger deeper. It feels good, so good, and when Jim crooks his finger, just right, pressing against his prostate, Leonard bites down on Jim's shoulder, hard, dick twitching.
He takes a moment to breathe, but then there's two fingers and a bite of pain as they stretch him. Leonard embraces it, rocks back again, and it's not long before he's kissing at Jim's mouth, missing his lips more often than not as sensation takes him. He's riding the edge, needing a hand on his cock to take him over, but Jim doesn't touch him, not yet.
"Yeah, Bones, just like that," he says instead, right in Leonard's ear. "Gonna be even better when I get inside."
Leonard's too far gone to string words together, but he tugs at Jim, and Jim flips them again. Then he's there, the blunt pressure too much, much too much, but then he pressing through and in, and all the times Leonard's done this it's never felt this good. Jim works his way in slowly with shallow thrusts, letting Leonard adjust. By the time he's sheathed all the way, Leonard's already moving his hips, his ankle sneaking around Jim's ass to get him moving.
"Fucking pushy," Jim tells him, breath short.
"Fucking get on with it," Leonard answers, words breaking on a moan because Jim does. And it's every cliche in the book, but Leonard doesn't care. Jim gets a hand on his cock, squeezing as he jacks him in counterpoint to his thrusts. They're slow at first, then they speed up, and he's so close, so alive, alive in only the way Jim can make him. Pounding fast into Leonard's body, Jim pervades every one of his senses, every part of his life and he doesn't know what he'd do without him. Every molecule of himself is ready to combust.
He opens his eyes; Jim's lost himself in the feeling too, mouth soft and open. Leonard thinks, this is exactly where he wants to be for a perfect split second before his orgasm crashes over him.
His cock pulses, come shooting over Jim's hand that keeps going, his hips frantic now, reaching to follow, and then he does, jerking still for a moment before his weight collapses on top of Leonard.
They lie there for a minute, until Leonard can't breathe and he shoves at Jim's shoulder. They disentangle, and Jim flops onto his back beside him.
"Bones," he says like he's going to say something else, but his hand flails around instead and he makes a sound that Leonard takes as a compliment.
"Jim Kirk speechless," he says, still breathing hard himself.
Leonard laughs, breathless, muscles twitching down to his toes. He catches Jim's hand and kisses his knuckles before intertwining their fingers.
"I finally got you laid," says Jim. He sounds happy.
Leonard can't argue with that. He doesn't want to. Jim's a mess, Leonard's come is drying across them both, his ass sore in all the right places. Sleep starts to drag him down.
It takes a few minutes to get up and clean up, but then they're tumbling back onto the bed. Leonard curls around Jim and they sleep.
He wakes when Jim gets up, feels a hand trail down his side, but mostly he thinks warm and burrows back to sleep. When his bladder finally does make him get up, it's morning and Jim has clearly gone and come back again.
Leonard smells coffee. Good coffee.
"That better be for me," he says, after throwing on some sweatpants and wandering into the living room.
Jim doesn't quite roll his eyes at him as he passes over the coffee. Steams wafts from the open top and carries with it a delicious dark roast scent. Jim laughs at how Leonard practically coos as he sips. You only get coffee this good off campus.
"I'll leave you two alone, then," says Jim dryly.
"Shut up. It's early," says Leonard. And because his mother did teach him manners, he adds, "Also, thank you."
Jim's still laughing as he gently claps Leonard on the shoulder so he won't jostle him and stands up. He's wearing a white t-shirt and jeans that obviously came from Leonard's closet, and he strips out of both as he heads to the bathroom. Leonard thinks about following, thinks about rubbing up against naked Jim, then laughs at himself and finishes his damn coffee.
He listens to the shower run and lets his mind wander over last night, lets the warm memory of Jim flush against him settle into his belly. He wonders if it should be weird, them sleeping together, because it really, really doesn't feel like it. He and Jocelyn had taken some getting used to each other. It hadn't been bad, by any means, and despite the shit turn his life took, he can't say he regrets it. But he hadn't known Joce very well before they started dating and the mystery was part of the fun.
Jim is still three quarters of a mystery; they've only known each other a few months. But underneath all that, well, Leonard thinks he might have slipped through some of Jim's bullshit, too, by accident.
Jim doesn't stay long after he cleans up. "Come back later. We'll actually drink this." Leonard waggles the bottle of whiskey Jim had brought.
"Or not," Jim grins, leaning in for a kiss at the door that's long and wet and full of promises. Leonard's getting turned on again as their tongues stroke together, but it's Saturday and he has Joanna to call and both of them have exams on Monday that won't study for themselves.
They meet up at dinner and Jim brings his books when he comes over afterwards. They study, they bitch about the regulations final, they drink a couple shots of whiskey — it's like any other night really, and when their brains are done and Leonard cups Jim's cheek to kiss him, it still feels as natural as breathing.
When Jim pulls back and looks at him, one of his fingers traces along Leonard's lips to the curve of his cheek.
"What?" asks Leonard.
"Nothing," says Jim. "Your smile is different, that's all."
Leonard quirks an eyebrow because it's not like he quit smiling all semester or anything. "It's not different," he says.
"Yeah, it is," says Jim just to be contrary.
"It's not," he insists, though he concedes in his head that it just might be because he feels different. Not different in a profound way, nothing he can put his finger on. More settled maybe. Lighter, like part of him is no longer fighting to get out of his own skin.
Leonard doesn't worry about it and pushes Jim back on the couch before he can say anything else ridiculous.
Because Jim is ridiculous. Exams only make him that much more manic. Jim thrives under pressure and bounces between over-caffeinated and crashed out as the week wears on and they plow through each three-hour exam period. They have spastic conversations and no more sex after Leonard kicks Jim out Monday night to study for his comparative anatomy test, intent on nailing it.
He does, and spends the rest of Tuesday sleeping off the leftover stress before he hauls himself to dinner before breaking out the padd for the stupid regulation class. Fucking exams.
Jim is already at their usual table in the mess, staring off in the middle distance. Leonard checks over his shoulder and yes, there, a cute Terran woman who has her hair in a messy pony tail as she pours over her padd and eats at the same time. Leonard rolls his eyes as he slides into his seat. He waits for Jim to look up and comment; he has that look in his eye. But he doesn't. When his focus shifts to Leonard, he hesitates for a half second, so fast that if he hadn't opened with his opinion on crap food during the most stressful week of the semester, Leonard would have missed it. But it's not till Jim says he's not coming over to study for the regulations final that Leonard realizes something is wrong.
He gives Jim the fifteen minutes it take to go to his room and get his bag before showing up on his doorstep.
Jim's shifty as Leonard pushes his way inside. Jim's got that hard look in his eye, the one that rears its ruthless head when he's feeling particularly hard done by and mean.
"What's wrong?" Leonard demands before he's even thrown his bag on the couch. He turns, hands on his hips and not budging. If Jim wants a fight, Leonard can give him one.
"What are you doing here, Bones?" Jim throws back, voice flat and cold. "I told you I didn't want to see you tonight."
"We've been studying together all semester, and now you want to bail?"
"Let me spell it out," Jim leans forward. "I don't want to sleep with you."
Where Leonard had been irritated before, he's mad now. "What the fuck does that have to do with studying together?" he yells.
"Don't give me that," says Jim, his own voice rising. "You know as soon as we're done we'll end up on top of each other."
"If you don't want to sleep together, then we won't. Shit, Jim, it's not that hard to say."
"And you're telling me, you'd be fine with that?" Jim's arm swings wide. "What if I keep saying no. What if I want to sleep with other people? You'd be all right with that? You think we could stay friends?"
And suddenly Leonard gets it. He's become one of Jim's fucking conquests, and Jim doesn't know what to do about it except what he's always done. As far as Leonard knows, Gaila's the only person Jim's slept with and been friends with after and that's probably because she's Orion.
"Yes." Leonard wants to smack him. "You're my best goddamned friend and I know you. I knew what I was getting into when we tumbled into my bed, and I'll be damned if I let you use that as an excuse to kick me to the curb."
Jim flinches, just the tiniest bit, and Leonard has no idea which of Jim's issues they've stumbled into, but he's inside now. He isn't letting go.
"You want to never sleep with me again, fine." And it is fine, Leonard knows it in his bones. The sex isn't what keeps them together. The sex is the big fat bonus, but if it means losing Jim's friendship, Leonard will give it up in a heartbeat. "I never expected you to change or stop chasing other cadets or be my goddamned boyfriend. But you don't get to leave me to fail Higgens's class just because you don't know where we stand."
Tense, Jim asks, "Where do we stand?" like he doesn't know.
And Leonard, trying to think of a way to put the roil of emotions he's been through since he stepped onto the damn shuttle back in Iowa into something articulate, feels more naked than he's ever been when he says, "I'm not making it through this Academy without you. I don't want to."
He doesn't look away as Jim's eyes bore into his. He can't tell what Jim's thinking, but eventually Jim lets out a long breath and his shoulders ease away from his ears.
"Okay," he says, and his voice is noticeably thick. He swallows, coughs to clear it. "Whiskey?" he asks.
Leonard gives him a sharp, relieved nod. "Thought you'd never ask."
They study. It's tense at first, but the whiskey helps and the familiar cadence of quizzing each other on protocols soon eases things closer to normal. Jim doesn't look up much, and Leonard doesn't offer his usual acerbic commentary on Starfleet's rules and regulations. It's late when they get through everything, the darkness outside the window working its own kind of magic as they finish off their drinks before calling it a night.
They're at opposite ends of the couch, both sitting on the edge. Leonard's not sure whether to just stand up and go or if he should say something. He has the stupid urge to make sure they're still on for breakfast in the morning.
But Jim saves him the trouble of deciding. "Bones," he says, staring at the glass between his fingers on the coffee table.
"Sorry about earlier." He glances over and he looks tired.
"It's fine," says Leonard.
"Jim," Leonard interrupts and grabs Jim's hand which had started moving as he spoke. Jim stills at the contact. Leonard doesn't let go. "We're good."
"Okay." Jim's fingers tighten slightly around Leonard's before he pulls away and lifts his glass.
Leonard closes the distance and clinks his against Jim's.
"We're going to destroy this exam tomorrow," says Jim.
After drilling through every code in the book, Leonard will drink to that. They're going to be awesome officers one day because they'll know every rule they're breaking before they do it. He throws back the rest of his drink at the same time Jim does, their glasses smacking the table after at the exact same time. Leonard can't help his chuckle, and he glances at Jim, glad to finally see him smiling back, himself again.
He doesn't stay. The next morning they meet for breakfast, and Jim greets him as usual, too cheerful for the hour. Leonard grunts hello over his coffee. They take the damn regulation exam. They fucking ace it, and then they go get lunch in the mess. Leonard wonders for half a second if it should still be weird between them, but then Jim's kicking his foot under the table for attention and Mitchell and Carlos are joining them and they're one exam away from being done with the semester.
"So what are you doing for break?" Mitchell asks at one point.
Leonard shrugs. He'd been avoiding thinking about it since aside from seeing Joanna for a few days after Christmas, he doesn't have anywhere he wants to go. The dorms, while open, are going to be pretty damn lonely with everyone gone.
Jim says, "Don't know yet. I'm not going back to Iowa. My mom's not due back on Earth till February." He glances at Leonard who can't help but think of all the trouble they could get into together in San Francisco.
Mitchell has a big family shindig and a grandma that demands everyone's presence. "She's terrifying," he tells them gleefully. "She's got this cane and you even think about lying to her, she's already shaking it in your face and yelling at you."
They swap grandma stories, and in Jim's case Grandpa Tiberius stories, and afterward when Leonard's walking with Jim toward the dorms, he asks, "So what are you really doing for the holidays?"
They stop at the fountain where they usually split off. Jim looks around before giving Leonard a frankly assessing stare. "I figured I'd stick around. Maybe find a bike and ride to Mexico. Beaches down there are supposed to be sunny and warm all year."
"Mexico?" Leonard lifts an eyebrow because really. "We should go to the Rockies, or something. You know, where there's snow."
"So you're coming with me now?" asks Jim, but it's playful.
"Not to Mexico," says Leonard, and Jim laughs.
"Okay, you want cold, we should just hop a shuttle to Mars."
"I'm not going to Mars, either."
"Such a spoilsport," Jim sighs with fake despair. Leonard just raises another eyebrow at him and turns for the path that leads to his dorm.
"Whatever. Are you coming over tonight?" he asks. They have different exams in the morning, but Leonard wouldn't say no to the company. At this point he doesn't know if he'd ever say no to Jim.
"Yeah," says Jim and he's got an odd look in his eye that makes Leonard stop. He knows that look. He's spent all semester watching it turned on other people and the last week with it turned on him. That look sends a shiver up his spine.
"I thought we weren't doing the boyfriends thing," he says.
"We're not," says Jim, and any lingering bashfulness because of last night's fight vanishes. "Doesn't mean I don't want to jump you anymore. If you're okay with that."
Leonard is very okay with that, but he's not going to stroke Jim's ego by letting him know it. He snorts instead and says, "Just be there."
Jim grins, eyes sharp and bright, seeing right through Leonard like he always does, straight to the bone. "Careful what you wish for, Bones. You'll never get rid of me."
Bones feels his mouth curl into a mirror of Jim's smirk. "Who says I want to?" He throws Jim a jaunty salute, light and easy, and heads for his dorm. He'll see Jim later.