The trout was gorgeous. Scales plicked into the sink, a splatter he wanted to photograph, but Wednesdays got busy quickly.
He boned the filets. A dollop of Pike's butter went into the pan over medium-high. He chiffonaded the sorrel, the rock of the knife meditative. He zested some lemon and sniffed.
Floral-- a different note from the tang of the herb.
His nose said the butter was done. He salted the fish, ground some white pepper, slipped the filets in skin-down. He cracked some walnuts he'd gathered while walking Scotty's pig farm.
The fish needed turning, so he grabbed the filets with his fingers and flipped, a slosh of butter dotting his hand. He ignored the small pain.
He chopped the walnuts and zest-- juiced in some lemon, added salt, pepper, butter hot from the pan. Plating the filets, he topped it with the nut gremolata and watched the sorrel wilt on the hot fish.
The taste was sweet-- salty-- astringent, yet rich-- harmonious, like life at its best. Not that he'd seen the best part of things.
He grabbed a clean fork, then headed out front.
"I figured out what to do with today's catch and Jan's sorrel," he said, handing the plate to the lovely Nyota Uhura-- house manager, conscience, best friend. She pushed aside bills, then took a bite, giving the fish an extra pass through the butter.
Nyota's mellow voice, soothing to those who couldn't get reservations, broke through. "Perfect,” she announced, all authority. "Brown butter, walnuts, lemon juice, zest, sorrel?"
He nodded and Uhura smiled, proud she'd got all the notes. She had a talented tongue.
"Do the sides when Sulu gets in. Still the roast chicken tagine and Scotty's cotechino with lentils?"
"Mmm. This, the vegetarian tasting, I'm off to work on that now. Got some beautiful chard," he said, already thinking. "Cannelloni, perhaps."
Nyota chuckled. "I'll order ricotta from Pike." He reached for the plate, but Uhura slapped at his hand. "No way, this is my breakfast."
He waved in surrender.
There was a tsk as she ruffled his hair. "Farm boy. Don't you know I love you for your brown butter?"
He smiled and headed back to the kitchen, thinking some more on the chard. If he stuffed it in crepes, it'd spoil their looks and Christine would be pissed that he'd mangled Janice's greens. Maybe he could saute it and top the filled crepes? He had to keep his salad and pastry chef happy-- the woman was vicious, and he wouldn't lose Jan as a vendor.
No one grew greens like Janice Rand-- her mache was lettuce porn and her mizuna ... unf.
"One of the best meals of my life." Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
"Jesus Fucking Christ on a cracker. Get your ass to Iowa, stat. Move there and start washing his dishes for the crumbs off his table." Tony Bourdain.
"Local food, impeccable flavors, French technique at its best, molecular gastronomy to entice jaded and timid palates." Thomas Keller.
Who was this "Chef Jim" everyone had a woody about? Leonard McCoy, once beloved of Manhattan's cooking scene-- before fucking fate stole it all-- swigged more Woodford in a way it didn't deserve. He glared some more at his laptop. This Kirk and his Iron String-- who named their restaurant that-- Riverside, Iowa, Jesus, he'd google-mapped it, farms for miles on miles-- was all anyone talked about.
Local food from places where you could pet the cows and meet the damned farmers. Christ on a cracker in-fucking-deed.
Affordable, real cuisine-- budget prix fixes-- locals eating alongside glitterati. There were wineries. Farmstays. In Iowa.
There wasn't a month that didn't go by when someone wasn't lauding Kirk's food, praising the "quaint setting" or the "class-act maitresse-de-service Nyota Uhura." Yet-- no chef interviews, no signs he wanted investors. Less fancy than Keller, less finicky than Waters (who wasn't?), less techie than Achatz-- yet Kirk did it all and yet stayed unique.
Bullshit. It was the novelty of not being an Iowan truck stop. Even good chefs could be had and Jean-Georges would endorse Jello if you laced it with vodka.
Leonard eyed the admittedly beautiful food. It was clever. Limited choices, a dining room decorated with the chef's "personal" photos. Mismatched plates, linens and silver from local junk shops-- more likely the same folks Leonard'd used when he'd consulted for those kitschy tea shops-- right before he'd been fired. Too many hangovers, not enough menus.
"Pavel! New project."
"Vhat's up, Leo?" Pavel asked, his Russian apparent. That was peachy with Leonard, he could never get rid of all of his drawl. It made him like the kid more in a city where some thought an accent meant you weren't a real New Yorker, whatever that meant. Leonard'd been here nearly ten years and Pavel'd been born in Queens.
"Iron String, Chef Jim Kirk."
The curly-haired code genius nodded. "Iowa, hunh. It's like Siberia in vinter."
Leonard opened his email and blogger account and started to type. He wasn't a Chef in name anymore-- just a sardonic lush with a keyboard who could make a fabulous meal, though he got his ass out of bed by nine-thirty, better than some "functional" people-- but in this new career, people feared him. And no one questioned his palate.
With a smile, he started sending out emails. The Sarcastic Gourmet had a new target. Jim Kirk wouldn't know what had hit him.
"Kid, this is fabulous," his-- boyfriend sounded dumb-- but oh, his beloved, yeah, smiled, looking up from the waffles. "Don't know when I've had better."
"You like 'em?" he asked, a blush creeping over his chest-- stupid skin.
"Mmm, what's in the sauce?" he asked, eyes fluttering shut as he sucked on his fingers.
"Blueberries, lemon, lavender, simple syrup, lemon thyme."
"You and your herbs." He opened his eyes, set aside the tray Jim'd brought. "C'mere." He pulled him in for a kiss, waffle still caught in his teeth. He laughed as Jim licked out the remnants.
"You need more butter to complement all the flavors."
"You and your butter," he graveled. Jim was rolled onto his back, his-- yeah, beloved-- hovering. The butter knife dripped globs onto his stomach. "I'll give you butter."
He started to lick, the smells of breakfast mingling with sex-- Jim groaned as his cock was engulfed, a delicate lapping,
A hand shook his arm.
He blinked at his mother. Her eyes were cloudy as she looked through Jim.
"George, you were moaning. Were you having a nightmare?"
Jim nodded. It was easier than "No, Ma, I was having a wet dream about my old boyfriend before Sam died and you went even more nuts." That never went over well. She didn't care if Jim slept with men-- but when she needed him to be George....
"Yeah. Just a bad dream," he agreed, tossing the blankets. His woody deflated as he trudged to the bathroom.
When he turned, Winona was right behind him.
"What were you dreaming about?" In the dim of the room, her blonde-silver hair looked like a cloud the sun was hiding behind. Some days, the sun came out. He flicked on the lights-- he preferred to see clearly.
"Something a long time ago," he grunted, then took out the pill-counters, red for Mom, blue for Jim. Of course, his were just anti-histamines, that kind of shit.
"It's Tuesday," she said, opening hers.
"That's right," Jim replied, filling two glasses with water. He made a mental note to ask Gaila about some new spritzers as gravity dragged the water into the drain. Inexorable, time marching, entropy, all of that shit.
Tomorrow, Mom would say it was Wednesday. With any luck, she'd know he was Jim.
He put his pills into his mouth, then waited for her to follow. Sometimes she refused, a slow slide or sharp break. The docs said it just came in cycles, even with meds-- although the pills helped. But the unpredictableness of it, even when he tried to keep things smooth and even....
She gave him a tentative smile after she finished, then started to take off her robe. "Join me?" Her smile turned coy.
Jim smiled by dint of long practice. "Gonna get the boys ready for school." For good measure, he dropped a kiss on her forehead.
Quietly, he walked back to his room. His cell read five-fifteen. Spock wouldn't be happy if he woke them both with a call, assuming Nyota had spent the night. Hell, they might already be out milking the goats.
It's a George day, he sent as a text. Nyota would know what he meant-- she'd warn the rest. Since he might as well get to work, he typed one more line. If you're @ Spock's, pls bring 5lbs Amanda and 2 lbs Selhat.
The aged, seasoned cheddar had zing, spiced with cumin and smoked paprika. It wasn't his best seller-- that was the elegant, triple-creme brie-like Amanda, but Jim loved Selhat in omelets and his budget cheese plate. Add some dried fruit from Jon Archer's orchard? Just heaven. At least his supply chain was shorter with Uhura staying more often at Spock's.
Down the hall, Winona started singing "Natural Woman." Jim opened the Maalox he kept at the bedside and drank straight from the bottle.
"What do you mean, no?" Leonard set down his whiskey and turned up his glare.
"They're booked until June," Pavel blinked, slate eyes innocent.
"Did you try my real name?" When his aliases failed, Leonard McCoy could still get a table. A James Beard Award meant something even if McCoy was a drunk.
The kid nodded. "She vould not move a regular customer. She vas wery sorry. Also, wery firm. She vas a bit scary."
Leonard snarled aloud. Kirk wasn't even a culinary school grad-- his food certifications came from community college. He was a no one, and his hostess didn't want Leonard's visit? Clearly, there was something to hide.
People didn't go to Iowa to eat in a barn that sat thirty, closed by ten, served no hard liquor and turned two covers a night. Hell, it was closed two days a week. No one who wasn't laundering money did that kind of thing. The Midwest had meth problems, right?
"She said there are two tables for walk-ins and seats at the bar." The boy was trying to soothe him, like he knew how hungover Leonard was.
"Walk-ins," Leonard spat. He stalked to the window-- barges slugged against the incoming tide, making slow progress. The unweighted ones struggled, prows wavering. The one picture he'd kept of Joanna and Jocelyn loomed on his desk-- three-year-old Jo sat on the counter, wire whisk in hand and her smile gap-toothed. Joss tried to look cross as Leonard kissed her and stirred their eggs-- it had been just before the lunch prep rush began.
His sous M'Benga had snapped it, not knowing-- half an hour later, the mother and daughter killed by a drunk careening off the FDR at full speed. Three Seventy One First Avenue, the East Side's best neighborhood bistro, shuttered six months later. Leonard had crashed as hard as that car.
He scowled. Too early to drink, not and finish reviewing Alinea's spring menu.
"Vhat about Iron String?"
That ridiculous name was familiar, like a song that got stuck in your head.
When he'd first been trying this blogger thing out, he'd tried the undercover thing at a bistro-- all their press was just bushwah. They were the same mediocre roasted-red-peppers-with-goat-cheese hash slingers as everyone else. It had generated tons of site traffic, gotten him advertisers who hadn't (yet) tried to dictate his content. It had been so easy to fake cooking credentials-- the shit you could buy on the internet. Plus, it had been great to be back in the kitchen, even for only a week. He fit in the kitchen-- it was one of the few places he'd ever felt like he was home.
Looking back down, an empty barge drifted as it failed to change course. He looked back at Pavel.
Tony Fucking Bourdain. Les Halles' frites were always too salty.
"You still got your dishwashing chops?"
"I took this job to get out of Mama's borscht kitchen."
Leonard was always a bastard. "It'll be a week until I get there and set up the job. You remember that sting? We're going to do that."
Pavel looked doubtful, but Leonard cut off his reply. "It's Iowa, kid. There won't be any borscht."
"Pavel! How's that borscht coming along?"
Jim called to the new dishwasher and helper. Poor Wesley'd gotten kicked by one of Pike's' Holsteins during a milk run and had broken his arm-- the curly-haired Russian'd been a gift from the restaurant gods. He even had experience--Yorktown deli work, sure-- but the kid knew which end of a knife pointed up. Jim could teach him everything else.
A grimace-- almost a babyish pout-- passed over his face and made Jim wonder if he was even seventeen after all. Hell, Jim was twenty-six and people thought he was younger than that-- he was just ancient inside. Shaking himself, he eyed Pavel again. When he was that age, at FCI, thinking he'd make it big-- how quickly that all had gone.
He started to pare the roots the kid had already peeled, cubing the vegetables. "New York, hunh? I was there at your age. Miss it like hell, but I never got the hang of parallel parking. And the subway-- that was a staph infection waiting to happen, even if you overheard all the best conversations."
The kid chuckled, then gave Kirk shy, sideways glance. "Vhy did you leave?"
"Family stuff, a relationship I thought was love. It ... wasn't, and, well-- danger, darkness, the usual scary big city things, as an old friend used to say. I'm going to sound foolish but-- if one thing had gone differently ...."
He looked out the back window-- Winona was in the "experiment" garden. He'd asked her to get him some hyssop. As if his thinking had called her, she straightened and turned with her basket.
He wasn't ready to introduce her to Pavel, even if he was Jim today and she'd made her awesome pancakes for breakfast. "C'mon. Have you met Hikaru, our sous? He's going over reservations with Uhura."
Pavel looked intrigued. "The Korean vith the yellow Suzuki vith the modified engine?"
Patting him on the shoulder, he gave Pavel a smile. "I think you guys will get along well."
"Farm boy, tell me your story."
Ti rolled over, the sheets dragging away. Leonard leaned up to admire, even if it meant getting chilled. The kid didn't mind, nary a goosebump on all of that buttermilk skin, faint blue running beneath-- but he was from the Midwest, Indiana or something. He was bred for the cold.
"I thought the point of New York was you got to start over, be whomever you wanted," he said, long lashes hiding eyes blue like the edible pansies they used in their salad class-- a fussier subject Leonard'd never had in his life, but it was where he'd met Ti.
"It is," he admitted, as Ti looked away-- not coy-- just thinking hard like he did when he didn't think Leonard was looking. "But keeping secrets from the guy you've been fucking's not exactly polite."
There was a pause before Ti rolled to his side, running his hand up Leonard's flank. His long fingers drew goosebumps, even over the blanket. Still, he said nothing.
"C'mon, I told you practically everything," Leonard coaxed, "and all I know is you hate your name and you live in the middle of nowhere."
"Tiberius," Ti murmured, then licked Leonard's breastbone. "'Tristissimus hominum' the ancients once called him," he breathed over Leonard's heart, pushing him down. "My Dad died the day I was born, running late trying to shut down the business to get to the hospital." There was a pause, his tongue softly lapping. "Ti's my middle name."
Meeting his eyes, Ti gave a smile as fragile as the china they used in the faculty dining room. "My Mom's kind of crazy. She really misses my dad. And I can't parallel park for love or for money."
Leonard laughed at the last, as was intended. He wondered, though, how much was true. Ti had a way of hiding the truth in plain sight-- he spent more time at Leonard's place than his own-- though his studio was closer to school than Leonard's UES loft. But Ti "liked the light, the view down to the river," always shooting with that camera of his.
His palate was even better than Leonard's, and Leonard was going to be better than everyone else in their class. He had to be-- he'd thrown over his trust fund, quit pre-med, and now he was in bed with a boy-- this milk-skinned, honey-voiced genius who made him breakfast in bed and yelled "Race you, Bones!" when they were late to Basics of Butchery.
He pulled Ti down for a kiss. "I love you enough to park that rustbucket for you."
Ti's response to his words was so passionate that his interest in secrets was forgotten-- along with his mention that he'd told Ti "practically everything."
He hadn't mentioned Jocelyn, his ex-fiancee. That whole family estrangement-- it all was still raw, and it was like Ti'd said. New York let you start over. So he'd said-- "The family doesn't approve. Fuck 'em."
The past didn't need thinking about-- until three weeks later, when Jocelyn was straddling Leonard on his couch, kissing him as he tried to get her off of his lap because as good as it felt, things weren't the same.
And then Ti let himself in, calling out "Bones, I parked all by myself!"
It was the day after finals and they were supposed to go celebrate. And yet, Joss had found him-- somehow-- then crawled onto Leonard's lap when he'd thumped his ass onto the couch and put his head in his hands because he couldn't believe she was here, in his apartment.
And now Ti.
Leonard shoved Joss to the floor.
"I'll let you get back to your guest," Ti said into the quiet, his face scalding red. He didn't slam the door, just ran down the stairs, left his rustbucket parked right in front, took off so fast there was no way Leonard could catch him. He puked his guts out on a corner as he struggled for breath.
He didn't return Leonard's calls-- emails-- hell, even a damned telegram-- and none of their friends knew where Ti was. Joss flew home, furious after Leonard's unkind but true "He believed in me, unlike you. Of course I slept with him, damnit."
It was a long December, even worse when Ti's car just disappeared one overnight, an empty space like the one in his chest. Ti's super threatened to call the police-- "They call you people stalkers!"
It wasn't until he got back to school that he heard it from his butchering prof.
"McCoy, I'm assigning you Riker. Your old partner's withdrawn."
He somehow made it through class, though Riker was no replacement, then made it to the Registrar's office.
"Ti Morrison?" he said. "Did he really withdraw?"
Mrs. Guinan, always serene, nodded gently. "Yes, Leonard, but I don't think you're surprised."
The poly uniform felt melted onto his skin--he had to sit. He felt like one of the salmon they kept in the tanks-- all of it all at once, gutted and gasping, fileted, bones all exposed, seared.
He'd only known Ti four months. Did it matter? "I ... it wasn't what he thought, he wouldn't answer the phone and .." he babbled, eyes welling, voice choked. Even when his father had said Leonard was "no son of his" and Joss had sneered about "manual labor" but Ti-- Ti had believed, and he'd loved Leonard's pecan pie. Ate it hot out of the oven, naked in bed with his fingers, greedy and gorgeous.
Mrs. Guinan gave him a tissue. "There was a family emergency."
He stopped blubbering. "I need to call him." What he'd said that morning in bed....
"Student information is confidential, plus Ti's still a minor ..."
Of course he was a minor. He'd always been hinky about Leonard's drinking. Who let their kid move to the city alone? And he never listened to his answering machine where Leonard could hear. "He doesn't want me to call."
She nodded, her expression sympathetic but firm. "I'll tell him you asked."
He never did hear, and there was no Ti Morrison in the entire Midwest. Later, when Joss really got it-- she was willing to write new stories with Leonard. She was proud that Leonard was first in his class-- she bragged that he was first every year, as a matter of fact.
He was actually second, that first semester, except in his butchery class, when he'd had the best grade and his partner had taken to calling him Bones. But correcting her error would have opened old wounds. She'd observed, after finding a photo Ti had taken of them out on Leonard's fire escape-- "You looked really happy."
He'd admitted he was. It had twisted her face and made her someone besides the beautiful woman she usually was-- it had been one of their only bad fights, though in the end she'd been sorry and hell-- sorry was just Leonard's real middle name. It was as well that Ti had moved, that Leonard never could find him-- if he'd ever had to make some kind of choice?
Looking down from that very same loft-- because Santayana was right, Leonard only repeated himself, buying the loft because the house was full of Joanna and Joss and here there'd been no closure with Ti-- he hadn't he learned a damn thing. He turned back to his desk.
He shut down and packed up his laptop. He'd already packed his real credentials-- who'd suspect a washed-up chef to be the gourmet scene's scariest blogger? Pavel insisted this place was legit-- he was drinking the Kool-Aid, that and screwing the sous. Leonard could read between text message lines perfectly well.
All that remained were clothes and something to read. Two sports jackets, some shirts, a scarf if it got chilly-- he'd be over-dressed, but Leonard had standards, even if the hicks wore overalls and bolo ties from the Grange.
His fingers wandered over his shelves, finally stilling. He was masochistic tonight-- Ti's Emerson's essays. After stroking the peeled leather binding, he tossed it into his bag-- it'd been ages since he'd cracked open the spine. Some of the writing was a little bit loopy, but some was just lovely, common-sense solace.
For contrast, he added some Trillin. The man knew from bagels.
"Fire two fish, one chicken." Jim called. "Please. Large party at three and five, that one won't turn," he warned. He arranged the tickets, then surveyed the kitchen.
Renovating the barn hadn't seemed like it would work, but hell, here he was. The equipment was getting old-- but he'd wanted to cook, the community'd wanted to help, and he'd needed to keep his mom occupied, since she did better at home. She'd always made a mean salad and the best cookies before the grease fire burned down the restaurant, Dad still inside. The town'd helped bring the mountain to the crazy Mohammed after Sam crashed the crop duster and took out most of the crop-- so Jim'd manned the range while Winona baked. The whole town took turns stopping in for burgers and pie-- if burgers gave way to grass-fed prime beef, Jim would whip up a patty melt for the sheriff.
And now-- Scotty'd called him to say Keller'd ordered ten pigs. Spock'd hired three fellow microbiology Ph.D. candidates to keep up with the demand for Amanda, and he'd put off the defense of his thesis. Sarek was pissed, but Spock loved his goats and his cheese, so Jim had Spock's back. Not that his purveyors needed him anymore to keep them in business-- not like he needed them for adult conversation. Well-- he'd figure out something-- he was an iron string, right?
"Pavel, more gnocchi, please," he called, then went to check up on Mom. She'd showed up in whites-- Uhura or Gaila must have said something about the large parties. And if she was calm-- he needed the help. Pavel was good-- but Wesley had space-time powers when there was a crunch. And Spock would be by after evening milking-- he was Jim's right-hand man in a crisis. Nyota was going to have to get more vicious with the large party requests. He couldn't expand and manage his mother-- he'd gone through half a bottle of Maalox and a gallon of Pike's excellent milk between Thursday and today.
"How're my two favorite ladies?" he asked. Winona whacked his hand with a spoon. "Don't flirt with me, Jim, I'm trying to keep up." She'd bitten her lip as she plated, but Christine didn't look worried.
"You only love me for Janice's pea tendrils," his salad chef snarked.
"You know it," Jim grinned, then went to help Pavel, who was carrying six trays at once. He was going to herniate something.
"Whoa, buddy," he said. "It's okay, don't need to rush," he said, taking away half. While Hikaru slid fish onto the grill, Jim seasoned the chicken, then dressed the plates for table two.
Gaila entered just then. "I've got a Lone Ranger just sat the bar, wants the Chef's Whim."
Everything halted as Jim muttered "fuck," then popped a Tums.
"Why'd Nyota seat him?" Jim groused, peeking out. There was a tall, dark-haired, jacketed man slumped at the bar. His posture told of exhaustion-- and that would be why. She burned Pop-Tarts, but Nyota still needed to feed, and this man-- well, he had muscles under his jacket, but there was something about him that said he hadn't been nourished in years.
"He eats meat?"
Gaila nodded. "I mentioned the open Groth Cab Sav and he said he'd have that, so ..."
"Right." The tired, hungry man was his hero. "Start up a devils on horseback, I'm going old school," he ordered, then handed Gaila the plates he'd just finished. "What else?"
Gaila announced the wrong dirt. "He's tall, dark and handsome, has a hot Southern accent, and looks like that Russian assassin in the Bourne movies."
Action movies weren't Jim's thing. Behind him, Pavel dropped a bucket of spoons. Jim laughed-- it was the first time the kid had shown any nerves.
"Don't make my sous jealous."
"Fuck you, Jim," Hikaru said calmly as he sliced the lamb special, his knives a virtual blur. Jim wasn't worried-- he'd caught the two in the walk-in, the coat-check and the tool shed. Mr. Movie-Star-Look-Alike could have his Chef's Whim. His dishwasher was safe.
"No, Jim, you should look. He's totally cute." Gaila patted his arm. She and Nyota were convinced a boyfriend would make everything better when he really needed another executive chef. Hah. It was only a matter of time before Hikaru got totally bored.
"No dating, just dinner," he reproved, handing over two's plates. "Get your perky ass out there. Is he five or six courses? I'm thinking chocolate souffle for fixing that slouch."
"Oooh, fancy!!!" everyone cried.
Jim glared. "When you move a $25.00 glass from a bottle I'd have to throw out tomorrow, I'll make you a chocolate souffle."
Into the silence, Winona laughed. "George makes the best chocolate souffles." At least her hands were steady as she kept plating.
Pavel dropped some more spoons.
"Oh my God. This," Leonard moaned over his steak. It was a small ribeye, perfectly aged, dressed with "chive butter blended with a local cheese called Selhat. The beef's prime, raised by a woman named Una-- she's partners with Mr. Pike, who makes all our pasteurized dairy."
"Does she age it herself?" This was the meal of his life-- those prunes, stuffed with that chevre, wrapped in that bacon, then the grilled baby romaine in the anchovy dressing, the pea tendril bisque, the smoked perch, and now this steak with an herbed-butter-cheese. Jesus. Pavel was right.
"Oh, no," Miss Gaila exclaimed. "Jim does all the butchering here. We've got a whole walk-in just for the meat."
"It's an old barn, correct?" Leonard prompted. The room was quiet and dim despite all the wrought-iron lights, some of them made from old carriage wheels. It should have been kitschy. It wasn't.
The sommelier told him a well-edited story, a brother dead in a plane crash and the desire to stay close to home, but looking around, the tale was too simple. The place was a family farm, a house not far back from where he'd parked his rental. The plantings encouraged staying away and the gardens really were something, full of all kinds of herbs. Pavel'd been going on about hyssop. It was the real thing -- from the bar, placed where there once had been horse stalls, he admired the mismatched oak tables and chairs, the old silverware. Kirk knew his shit.
Leonard had pick Kirk's brain in person. Why he was here?
He bent back to his steak, savoring each bite. He'd sent Pavel a text and hadn't heard back, but with the large parties, they'd be going full bore. A small place like this, and them taking pity by seating him at the bar-- fuck, he had been exhausted driving out here.
Not that the meal wasn't repairing what felt like years of hunger. Amazing what real cooking could do. He sent another short text.
You're right. I want an in-depth. Please? Pavel would know he was sincere. Leonard'd never once been polite.
"How about something between now and dessert, maybe some of the lovely Amanda?" Gaila asked after Leonard slipped his phone back into his jacket. She'd wouldn't have seen what he'd typed. Miss Uhura had occasionally chatted with them as Leonard ate-- it had been lovely, the two of them charming and funny-- now, having rejoined them, she waited, expectant.
"I'd like to leave room," he admitted. "I'm here a few days. If Miss Uhura allows, I'll try the molecular menu tomorrow-- tonight's left me truly restored..."
The sommelier beamed, then reached under the bar as Uhura nodded agreement. "Well," Gaila said, retrieving a bottle and a glass from over the bar. "I'll leave you with mi amigo Pedro Ximenez while I check your chocolate souffle."
He kissed both their hands.
They laughed and Uhura reached for his plate. "I'll tell the chef," she said, winking. "I'll also pass on your kiss. He's single, quite handsome." She sauntered off, tossing her ponytail.
Leonard pulled out his book and put it onto the bar as he smiled at Gaila. "I didn't know. There aren't any pictures." Everyone seemed to know what he needed, why not his love life? Gaila, however, was regarding his book wonderingly.
"Now I know you'll like him." She stroked the volume with green-lacquered nails.
"This?" Leonard asked.
"Jim lives by 'Self-Reliance'-- Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,," Gaila frowned. "We all wish we could help more..."
Leonard ran his hand over the cover. "I haven't read it in years-- it's an old boyfriend's ... I just needed something to read and was thinking of him."
His phone buzzed. I know you mean it. I'm still quitting.
When he looked back, Gaila had already opened the book. She fingered the picture that bothered Joss so-- eyes dewy, she slid the book back over to Leonard, caressing the library name plate.
"From the library of Tiberius Kirk," he said. Choked on the Kirk.
He should have known from the herbed cheese butter on the damned steak. "Who's Morrison, then?" he snapped, even as Gaila sighed "Oh, Bones," but he missed her response as he ran toward the kitchen.
There was a moment of stillness as the double doors swung shut behind him. A lovely, worn older woman tipped her head where she stood, salad tongs in her hand. "George? Why is Reaper from Doom in the kitchen?" People always confused him with that hack actor Urban.
Ti-- Jim Kirk in chef's whites-- stood gapemouthed, then paled. He clearly knew Leonard, and while he'd filled out a bit, he was still Ti-- fucking gorgeous-- right here. Something anaesthetized by years' worth of bourbon woke up, painful and needy.
"Ti," he said, raw with explanations he'd never given.
"Did you ever research Tiberius?" Ti asked, his voice cracking. "Gloomiest man in the world."
"George?" the woman repeated, a hand on Ti's arm. "What does the Reaper-man want?"
Oh. Jesus. Fuck. She had Ti's eyes.
Ti glared at the Korean manning the grill. "Hikaru, I told you to stop watching action movies, she gets all confused."
The woman clutched closer. "George," she whined.
Ti made a noise like a souffle deflating, a barely-audible hiss. "I'm not Dad, Ma-- I never will be." He jerked away until he was almost at the back door-- gave Leonard a look that was just tired. "Get out of my kitchen. I don't care what you write." His laugh was the sound of glass breaking. "Spock," he said to the brunet in jeans, green wellies and a chef's jacket. "Chef McCoy's tab is on me." Miss Uhura calmly went on helping the brunet with a cheese plate as Leonard burst in.
She merely nodded when Ti said "Tell three there's a delay-- comp the dessert and their drinks," then looked at his mother.
"Mom. Time for bed. You're confused."
Leonard looked at his watch-- nine-fifteen.
"I'm not," she began to protest, but Ti crossed his arms, the stern look of any good parent that ripped Leonard's heart-- he wasn't alone, judging by the quiet around him.
Slowly-- a child banished from her favorite playground-- she trudged out of the kitchen. The door banged like a shot in their wake.
"Goddamnit," Uhura commented into the vaccum-- then looked at Leonard. "Gaila and I got him drunk once. I still think he should've let you explain."
The last time Ti-- Jim-- had retreated-- he'd paused, too shocked to give immediate chase. And now-- well-- he had his mom to take care of. But there was the restaurant, too. And Leonard could cook. Everyone in the kitchen, even the sous was looking at the green-wellied bowl cut like he was in charge.
"Tell me what's got to go out, we're not comping shit," Leonard said, as he changed and started to scrub. The bowl cut started to answer.
In a drone that was near-scientific, the man gave a long list that included Leonard's dessert, an assortment of entrees and desserts, the veggie tasting and another chef's whim. Christ. Talk about weeds.
Leonard banished the wish for a bourbon and inhaled the air of Ti's kitchen-- butter and herbs, steam, gas flame and sweat. Almost home. Almost.
"86 my souffle," he said, pulling on a chef's jacket. Pointing at the salad chef, "Can you finish the veggie?"
The green-booted bowl cut spoke up. "I will complete the tasting admirably."
Leonard quirked an eyebrow. "You do that, then, greenie, and I'll do the whim, soon as Miss Uhura tells me what's already done so I keep it consistent."
Jim's sous was suspicious as hell. "Thought you were a critic."
Leonard shrugged. "I'm a Chef, damnit, not a food blogger, and I've a James Beard to prove it. Do you?" The sous nodded and fired the chicken. Pavel smiled widely and started salting the fish, as if Leonard had passed some kind of test.
The jacket fit well, and Uhura brought him up to speed on the whim. When they finished with service, it wasn't his kitchen, but he had helped. Throughout, though, everyone kept looking back to the house. If their smiles were sincere-- if nobody sent back their meals-- well-- something was still clearly missing and that something was Jim. Ti. Bones's.
Bones was on the porch swing at six fifteen the next morning. Jim knew he'd be there-- even excepting the calls-- plural-- to tell him how helpful he'd been.
Grampa Ti's book lay beside him. His knees felt suddenly weak. Gaila hadn't put that in her voice mail, just said "Jim, it's not all self-reliance."
"If you're going to say 'my giant goes with me wherever I go,' spare me," Bones gruffed. He looked tired in a different way than when he'd been slumped at Jim's bar. "I've traveled-- I've got my own baggage."
Jim sat on the steps. He could do conversation.
"I read about the accident. I'm sorry." He was-- he wasn't bitter, not about that.
Bones rubbed his forehead. "I miss them like hell. Drink too much, too." His smile was all deprecation. "Not as much as I did."
Bones tossed his head back and laughed, the lines of tiredness easing. "Can't believe you stole my assistant."
"You didn't do much to keep him. Besides, Hikaru would kill me. I need more hands in the kitchen, even when Wesley comes back."
Bones leant forward, suddenly serious. "It's a good operation. A great one. Ti. Jim." He flushed, looking uncertain, and Jim's eyes darted back to his book.
"Why are you here?"
His old-- what could he call Bones now? He never knew the whole story. "I thought this place was a scam," he began, and Jim waved him off.
"No-- I know that. I talked with Pavel. I mean-- nine years, Bones. I'm ancient history and this ..." he waved his hand back over his shoulder-- "this isn't right."
Bones dragged over the book, held open by a small flashlight. "Not always can flowers ... poetry, protestations, nor even home in another heart, content the awful soul that dwells in clay.... The angels that inhabit ... the body appear at the windows ... vices also. By all the virtues they are united. If there be virtue, all the vices are known as such .... Their once flaming regard is sobered by time ... and, losing in violence what it gains in extent, it becomes a thorough good understanding."
He looked up and something in Jim's heart turned over and burned where he was numb most of the time. "I sent Jocelyn home that day, told her I couldn't deal. She'd broken things off, before. At the time, it made a difference."
Jim-- he'd told Pavel-- one thing might have made that bit of difference. Would that have been it? He hadn't given Bones time.
"I still had to come home."
"Sure," Bones responded, "but you didn't have to do it alone." He pushed away from the swing-- it creaked and hit the wall of the house with the force of angry recoil. Like Jim'd felt, springs in his feet as he ran nine years ago.
He crouched, eyes the muddy green of the East River-- turbulent, too. He leant-- half-fell, really -- until he penned in Jim's legs. "After they died, I bought that damned loft because it was the only other place I'd been happy," he rasped. "And I don't know if you can understand why I got married, but there's no Tiberius Morrison in the Midwest and damnit, I tried," he said, his voice cracking. "Maybe not well, but I did."
"Morrison's my mother's birth name," Jim creaked.
Fuck, he didn't choke up anymore, but knowing Bones looked beyond Mrs. Guinan's note that "Your 'Bones' is very upset, Ti, perhaps you should let him explain?"
Back then, Sam's death had been the damned Rubicon-- and Mom. She'd just been unmanageable. Everything was. How to foist that on someone who had so much ahead of him, like Bones did? Had? Yet here they both were. "I believe that you tried." That was important.
Bones swallowed, face creased and shirt collar rumpled. He smelled like stale restaurant smoke. "I want to keep trying," he croaked. "I haven't eaten like that in years-- cooked or laughed or hurt like this, either. I want that 'thorough, good understanding.'"
Jim shook his head, but Bones kissed him, rough and insistent, and Jim-- he was hungry until he pushed Bones away because some things weren't possible, whether or not he was starving and Bones was his manna.
"It's not right," he repeated, but Bones grabbed and kissed him until they both panted. Jim's hand-- how was he holding onto Bones' shirt like some trembling ninny?
"That's not true," Bones growled. "I loved my wife, loved my daughter, you love your mother I'm sure-- have to, because Jesus. But don't say we're not right for each other. The way I see it, we aren't right for anyone else, not like we are for each other."
Jim couldn't look. "Wait until she won't take her meds..."
Bones tipped Jim's chin up, arched a tired eyebrow. "You've clearly forgotten me before my first coffee."
If Jim sniffled a bit, laughing-- if Bones sniffled too-- he'd blame it on the sun hitting them both in the eyes.
When Winona came out fifteen minutes later, showered and ready to garden, they were still kissing, Bones practically lying on top of him as Jim tried not to fall off the steps. It was awkward and painful and right.
"Don't let me interrupt," she said, stepping past as they disentangled. It took them a bit. "We're all out of coffee, I'm stealing some from the restaurant. I assume you are Leonard?"
Bones didn't bother to blush. "Yes, ma'am, I am."
Mom shook his hand solemnly, a smile curving her mouth. "Well, I'm Winona, I'm crazy, Jim needs a boyfriend and another real chef. Hikaru's a wonderful sous, but he can't run the whole enterprise yet. Do you have what it takes?"
Bones smiled shyly. "I hope so."
Winona laughed and patted his cheek, then winked at Jim. "You can keep him," she said, sauntering off as if it was settled.
Maybe it was.
"Fire two fish, one veggie tasting, one molecular gastronomy special," Jim called, and Pavel went for more butternut.
"You want the molecular?" Leonard asked. There was a large party for second cover-- things were fine now, but it could get hairy. Jim'd do better to keep expediting-- he could cook if they hit the weeds, but it was Jim's kitchen.
"You do it," Jim acceded, and Leonard gave him a smile Jim returned.
At the grill, Hikaru made a brief gagging noise before cooing "No, smooshyface, I love you" to the chicken.
"Can it, or I'll tell Jim how his watercress really got spoiled."
Pavel, just walking by, dropped the tray full of squash. Fortunately, it was covered in clingfilm. Leonard gave him an innocent smile as he set it to rights, then set up his mise for the special.
"You're evil, McCoy," Hikaru murmured. "I admire that in a man."
Leonard arched an eyebrow. "I thought you admired my soubise and the fact that I'm sleeping with Jim."
The sous grinned right back. "That too. That soubise is the bomb."
Sunday found him awake earlier than he would like, but he wasn't hungover. Sam had flown drunk-- on bourbon, no less. There'd been a reason why--not only youth-- Ti'd tutted about Bones' after-class juleps.
While the coffee gurgled into the pot, he scrambled the eggs, sniffed the air for when the biscuits were done.
"Morning, Len," said Winona, coming into the kitchen. "Is George out of bed?" she asked, getting a mug from the cabinet. At least he wasn't that Urban actor this morning.
"No, Jim's still sleeping," he answered. They'd fought, he and Jim, but Jim had a right to his life, not George's. Winona's doctors agreed.
"Jimmy?" she frowned. "Does Sam want some breakfast?" She started stirring the cream-sausage gravy. He took back the spoon, led her to the table, poured her some coffee and set out the cream and sugar for her to doctor her mug. She pouted like Jim.
"Jim is upstairs, asleep in our room. Sam isn't here."
She humphed, got a towel, said "those biscuits are done," then pulled them out of the oven. She was hell of a baker. He thanked her and got out Pike's butter and Janice's honey, just as she liked.
He left her with a plate full of breakfast and headed upstairs, smiling at the sticky kiss she'd pressed to his cheek.
Jim made a balanced fork, tasted and chewed. Fat-- salty-- cream-- slightly spicy. His mouth watered-- eyes closed in delight.
"Did you get Scotty to put maple and cayenne in the sausage?" Something was different.
Bones shook his head. "No, just the gravy. Scotty won't change the blend." A sardonic eyebrow told Jim Bones disapproved, but Jim never got between Scotty and his seasoning blends. Uncanny, kinky, perhaps, but whatever worked. The man knew what he was doing, and it was best not to ask questions.
"You like it?" Bones was eager-- yet hesitant. He was trying-- Jim was trying to get used to the attention. He took another bite-- harmonious flavors, like life at its best. Sometimes-- because even Bones' and Jim's new recipes didn't always succeed, and then they just started over. Sometimes was enough.
"I love it," he said, and Bones accepted a forkful as he sat on the covers. Jim leaned up, and their lips slid together as easy as breathing. Bones licked into Jim's mouth, the taste of all in it in the kiss-- the past and whatever might happen, today's breakfast and dinners to come, bodies and hearts fitting together despite how things had changed.
Jim tossed the fork to the floor and pulled Bones into his arms-- then started to feast. Bones, his mouth full of laughter and butter, feasted right back.