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Leonard H. McCoy's Guide to Keeping a Friend

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Seeing as Leonard's first impression of Jim Kirk consisted of a battered face, a strong scent of musty booze, and more than a bit of secondhand anxiousness due to the aviophobe next to him, Leonard expected the worst when he was assigned his roommate. He spent the first quarter waiting for Kirk to come in and vomit on his shoes.

(He ignored the fact that he had been blatantly shit-faced when they first met.)

His clinic work took up any social time he would have had otherwise and he already experienced the entirety of university life. Kirk defied expectations by not complaining about the lights being on at 0300 when Leonard needed to study but stayed at the clinic longer than he should have.

Leonard preferred Kirk to any roommate he roomed with before. This included his ex-wife, even before the marriage fell apart. They shared responsibilities, including grocery shopping when the mess’s replicated meat started tasting like metal. Their accidentally-occasionally shared dinners had enough sarcasm to make the meal go down smoothly and not induce nostalgia from past family suppers.

(He stopped being startled by Jim getting back before midnight. He started pondering their combined reclusiveness.)

By the start of the second quarter, he and (“Stop calling me Kirk, we’re living together for god’s sake-“) Jim had a decent understanding, both of each other and their hectic schedules.

Leonard finally understood the unspoken rules of Starfleet Medical, forcing his stress to decrease exponentially. Jim finally learned his limits and how many classes he could handle before he collapsed.

Jim’s side of the dorm was Jim’s and Leonard’s side of the dorm was Leonard’s and he who drank the last of the orange juice would be he who ran to the store before the other returned even if the clock read 0200.

Most of the time, when he was in the dorm, so was Jim. They bantered, and sometimes it was enough to keep Leonard from remembering why he was in Starfleet in the first place.

(Times like that were the ones that made Leonard grateful for Jim Kirk’s birth. Jim always knew when Leonard would linger in bed, unable to get up and face another day, and he would do something wonderfully obnoxious to force Leonard to feel something other than the grayness peeking out of the corners of his thoughts.)

They kept their interactions from becoming too sentimental. Jim didn't ask about the divorce or the folded sonogram pictures in his desk with big black X’s through them and Leonard didn't ask why Jim kept a duffle bag packed to the brim with nonperishables near the window.

It was both a surprise and not when he got an automated call halfway through his basic xenolinguistics course asking Jim Kirk's primary emergency contact to report to the clinic.

(Part of Leonard wondered how Jim had gotten into a bar fight in the middle of the day. The other part scolded him for the immediate nasty assumption and reminded him that it was thoughtless comments and an inability to forget the past that helped rip his marriage apart.)

He shuffled out of the class and tried to avoid the professor's notice.

Having a good idea of Jim’s personality, he prepared to see an empty room and an exasperated nurse. The nurse would most likely say something along the lines of, “He checked himself out against suggestions and we couldn’t keep him.”

Jim seemed like he would be a difficult patient. His independence bordered on stubborn idiocy at the best of times. Leonard dealt with countless cadets that had the same temperament daily.

Starfleet attracted the brave, the talented, and, coincidentally, the idiots.

However, against the odds, Jim was on top of a biobed and swinging his legs off the edge, waiting with a bandage wrapped around his head and a small osteo-regenerator over his left hand when Leonard arrived. A nurse sat in the chair next to the bed, tapping on her PADD silently.

(Leonard had always known that Jim was barely out of the cradle. Seeing him, injured, quiet, and kicking his legs like a toddler made that hit home a lot harder than usual.)

"So where's the other guy?"

Jim startled. "Uh, nowhere? I sorta just fell. Kinda embarrassing."

"Where'd you fall? You alright?"

"Concussion, and I fell on my wrist so that messed it up a bit, but fine. There's probably a bloodstain on the stairs to the mess that I'll see every time I go there now."

He clapped a hand on the kid's shoulder before addressing the nurse. "How much longer will he need the regenerator, Johnson? Any issues?”

"He should be just about done Doctor McCoy. You'll need to stop by the pharmacy before you take him home."

Leonard frowned. "Why would he need painkillers if the osteo-regenerator did its job and he was properly medicated?"

"We don't need to stop, I'm fine-"

"No, that's not the issue here Jimmy. The issue is that you shouldn't be feeling any pain whatsoever if this was done correctly-"

"Doctor McCoy, we couldn't give him any hypos," Johnson interrupted quickly. "He's allergic to almost all of the ones we have in stock. The only ones we could conceivably give him would knock him out anywhere from a day to a week, and he refused."

He glanced down at Jim's reddening face. "You mean to tell me that he sat through that with no medication? None whatsoever?"

"It's not that bad when it's smaller bones," Jim interjected. "I'm used to it anyways. I was an active kid."

Leonard rubbed a hand over his face. After a long, silent moment, he said, "I'll run by the pharmacy and get the prescription while you finish. Then we'll get back home. What do you want to eat?"

"What?"

"What do you want to eat?" He reiterated slowly. "I bet you were on your way to the mess and fell down the stairs since you didn’t sleep at all last night, right? So you didn't eat, which means the last thing you ate was breakfast this morning at 7 and it's around 1800 now. So what do you want? I'll grab something from the store if we don't have anything home that you want."

(He tried not to take Jim's bewildered look too personally. It reminded him of his ex-wife’s distrust.)

"Uh, there's leftovers from Wednesday that I'll have. Don't worry about me."

"You sure? This is a one-time kind of offer, I don't cook often."

"Yeah. I’m fine. I’ve gotten paper cuts worse than this."

"Give me about ten minutes, I think Darla's at the pharmacy today and she's slow. Bless her, she's kind folk, but she takes her time. We’ll head home after that and settle you in for some shut-eye. Bet you haven’t gotten more than four hours in the past week, you over-achieving moron."

(Jocelyn always said he rambled when he got caught off guard. He knew rambling was the best choice here. The other option was wrapping Jim up in bubble wrap so he never had to see a regenerator again.)

Fifteen minutes later, he returned, armed with a dubiously attained medical file of one James T. Kirk on a data chip in his pocket (Knowing that he would never give Jim something he's allergic to settled his nerves, both as a physician and his roommate) and a bag of the only medication that would not give Jim hives.

Jim was still swinging his legs back and forth and still looking younger than ever.

(Leonard tried not to let his heart ache too horribly with “what-if’s” the act dredged up.)

Johnson unhooked Jim from the osteo-regenerator and gave him the standard spiel of basic care instructions.

"You know the drill for concussions, doctor, so I'll keep that part of the speech to myself, yeah?" She handed him the PADD to sign Jim out.

He gifted her with a bland look. “Johnson, I had that speech memorized before you were out of high school. If I can't handle a concussion patient by now then I'm in the wrong profession."

Tension prevailed on the walk to the dorms. Jim avoided his gaze, shoulders hunched low. Every couple of steps he would stumble, and Leonard would grasp his elbow and stop to keep him upright. After the first mumbled, "Thanks," they resumed their silence.

"You said you wanted the leftovers from Wednesday? Go ahead and sit down before you crack your head open again. What do you want to drink? We have orange juice and water, but I can replicate something if you want."

Jim shuffled inside. He looked bewildered again."Uh, yeah, water's fine."

"You need to stay awake and eat something before you can have medicine and your head will regret it if you fall asleep before doing that. Put on a movie or something, keep yourself occupied-"

"Okay."

"And not something boring like those chick flicks I know you watch when you think I'm asleep-"

He sputtered, "That was only once-"

"It was five times, and you were crying during all of them you softie-"

"Screw you Bones, they were classics!" He finally laughed, throwing his jacket in Leonard's direction before going for the remote. "You just can't handle my impeccable taste in entertainment."

"I'm sorry, 'impeccable'? My ex-wife had better taste in movies than you and she forced me to sit through The Notebook 3."

"You're shitting me," Jim snorted, eyes light with mirth. "I can’t believe you didn’t melt the screen through sheer force of your glare.”

Leonard threw a plate of spaghetti into the microwave while Jim flicked through channels. The mechanical whirr and muffled voices kept the earlier tension from returning.

He picked at a spot on the counter to keep his hands away from fiddling with the data chip burning a hole in his pocket.

(Crunchy and black; maybe from the grilled chicken they had last week. Since Jim did most of the cooking, Leonard should have offered to clean up afterwards. Mostly because Jim did a horrible job cleaning anything that involved using water. Their plates were white when they first arrived.)

He fell back onto the couch next to Jim, shoving the plate, fork, and glass into his lap. When the kid fiddled with the fork, looking between the fork and him, Leonard rolled his eyes. "Quit staring at it and eat up. It’s not going to bite and I didn't slave over the microwave for you to let it go cold.”

"Ah yes, your labor is greatly appreciated Bones."

(Up until he met Jim, Leonard had never seen someone as lean as the kid put away so much food in so little time. Impressive, if not a bit worrying that he might one day chomp off a finger or two in his haste.)

The D-list actor screeched on screen seconds after Jim licked his plate clean. Leonard pushed him back to his seat and took his dish and utensil back to the kitchen.

He muttered on the way back, shoving two dark red pills at his roommate. "So old-fashioned, I can't believe we have yet to make cheaper disposable hypos for the public-"

"Hey, I'm not complaining, hypos suck and I always get a bruise the size of a watermelon from them."

"You've had shitty hypo-dispensers then, that's not normal. Come to me next time you need one- Jesus, I bet you had a lifetime of mediocre health professionals, what're Iowa's hospitals even like-?”

"Lighten up Bones! Contrary to popular belief Iowa is not all corn and cows."

Soon after another glass of water, a trip to the bathroom, a change into pajamas, and plenty of sarcasm, he shoved him into bed, setting an alarm on his own PADD as he said, “I’m going to be waking you up every once in awhile because of the concussion. Make sure to tell me immediately if the pain is worse or not going away or if anything feels abnormal. Yell if you need me at any time, alright? No macho bullshit or I'll keep you up for the next week instead of letting you sleep."

Jim nodded, instantly burrowing into his covers until he was cocooned completely. His face peeked out and, after twisting oddly for a moment, broke into a tiny smile. (Barely more than a quirk at the side of his lips, and his eyes flitted to the floor momentarily before meeting Leonard’s.) "Thanks Bones. For all of this. You're a really awesome friend."

(After remembering to breathe, after scrubbing at his face to feign exhaustion and hide his widening eyes, after he realized his heart was still beating, perhaps realizing for the first time since he walked out of Georgia with nothing but heartache, a grimace, and cheap liquor that his heart was still beating and he was alive and just maybe he could still be useful to someone other than a faceless organization, he gripped Jim’s ankle and squeezed it a little too tightly.)

Leonard replied, "Any time, Jimmy. Now sleep, you need all the rest you can get if you want that genius noggin of yours to heal up." He patted his ankle one last time.

He shut the bedroom door behind him and collapsed back onto the couch.

"'A really awesome friend,'" He muttered. "Somehow, Leo, you've succeeded in doing less than nothing and earned a friend through it. Jesus fucking Christ."

He spent the rest of the night and most of the morning scanning and quizzing himself on Jim's medical file in between checking on the kid.

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

"It's too early for math Bones shhhhh-"

"Focus, Jimmy, you can go back to sleep in a minute. Let me see those baby blues of yours, that's it, now tell me the date, where you are, and something else so I know you're not any more brain damaged than usual."

"Har har har, you're hilarious..."

(He debated for an hour about the ethics of using his status to get a friend’s private medical file. This was the sort of thing Jocelyn hated, the overbearing protective streak.)

"Jim. Jim. Jimmy boy, wakey wakey."

"Didn't you just come in here like two minutes ago?"

"Come on, you know the drill by now."

"I just want to sleep-"

"I know, I know, we'll make it quick."

(He reminded himself that Jim was not Jocelyn and opened the file.)

"Name all fifty states and their capitals, kid."

"Oh fuck you, I bet you can't do it."

"You want the current ones or the original versions?"

"Bullshit. I call bullshit."

(James Tiberius Kirk, born January 4, 2233 on the USS Kelvin)

"I didn't even fall asleep from the last time you came in Bones."

"Hey, would you rather I let you keep sleeping on your recently broken wrist? Here's water and pills, take 'em and you can go back to sleep."

(Allergies: strawberries, most nuts, Penicillin, NSAIDs, Novocain-)

"Have you been sleeping at all? Your eyes are red. I'll be fine for a few hours, I can stay up-"

"Relax kid. I'm working on my xenolinguistics essay anyway, it's due Monday and I'm supposed to have a call with my lawyer this weekend. Better to have all of this shit done with before that so I don't remember that I didn't do it halfway through the call. Go back to sleep."

“Good night Bones.”

(Evidence of repeated breakage in the following areas-)

“Night Jimmy.”

(Evidence of malnutrition in prepubescent and pubescent years due to-)

(Classified)

(Classified)

(Classified)

(Classified)

* * * * * * *

By the time their second semester was over and the campus buzzed with talk of the summer break, Bones and Jim were inseparable.

After Jim’s concussion abated, Bones dragged Jim out of the library (If the rest of the academy knew how much time Jim spent in the library, they would retract every accusation of favoritism) and took him to lunch four out of the five workdays. Bones had expected a bit more resistance, but Jim eagerly shoved PADDs back into his bag each afternoon and latched onto Bones’ side.

Contrary to his obvious excitement, it took a couple of stubborn weeks before Jim would stop acting overly obnoxious during lunch

(Some days he almost turned around and out of the diner. Every single time, Jim's wobbling lackluster sneer glued him to his seat.)

Those stubborn weeks where Bones would stare Jim down and drawl out retorts were thankless until one day Jim just smiled and started, hesitantly, to talk about the old warp core he saw earlier that day and uses of matter and antimatter.

(Jim reminded him of a kindergartner, recounting what he learned that day and excitedly showing off his new knowledge as if to say, “Look, look at what I can remember look at how smart I can be watch me watch me watch me-“)

Jim, in return, started searching Bones out more and more.

Bones must have passed some bizarre test by that point because seeing each other during lunch and at the dorm turned into Jim being everywhere.
He didn’t know how Jim had enough time to keep up with classes when his own days were filled with Jim visiting at the clinic and Jim bringing him breakfast if he had a night shift and Jim organizing Bones’ half of the room if it got too messy and Jim fielding calls from Jocelyn when he wasn’t available and Jim finding a lawyer that was twice as good as his last one at half the price and Jim doing his laundry and Jim placing a blanket around him when he collapsed onto the couch at 0300 after not sleeping for three days and Jim scampering away before Bones could acknowledge or thank him.

(Jim everywhere all the time and it was exactly the sort of silent understanding he had wanted with his marriage. When Leonard worked at the clinic to keep his turmoil far from Jocelyn and provided for anything she wanted, Jocelyn tried to understand and tried to help and neither worked with each other at all. Jim, on the other hand, made sure Bones never ran on empty, gave him someone to come home to and to care for and Bones provided a solid rock for Jim when he needed it, listened to his long-winded rants about quantum physics that could change topic at any moment even if he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and distracted Jim when he fixated and obsessed over something to the point of distress.)

Bones only tried to say, “Thanks Jim, you know you don’t have to do all of this, right?” once before Jim’s betrayed look stitched his lips together and he scarfed every bit of the homemade breakfast Jim had rushed over at 0500 before the start of his second shift. He ruffled Jim’s hair and guided him out with an arm around his shoulders to erase the words from Jim’s mind.

(He could never express how relieved he was when he arrived home and Jim babbled about the differences between Vulcan’s ancient language and its current, popular dialect per their new norm.)

“What are you doing for summer break?” Jim’s question brought Bones back to reality. “You have plans?”

Bones grimaced. “I have to go to Georgia to finalize some few things with Jocelyn. Mostly just sign some places and cross my t’s dot my I’s kind of thing. My grandma invited me to stay with her and spend some time with the local relatives so I’ll stop by there.”

Jim stabbed a fork through his lettuce. “You said that last part the way I imagine you would say ‘diarrhea’ or ‘kidney stones’. Your family that bad?”

“Not my entire family,” Bones corrected. “Most of them are fine. Annoying, yeah, but manageable. My mother and aunt, though..." He sighed. "Before I joined Starfleet, they wanted me dead for ‘letting such a fine woman like Jocelyn slip through my grubby fingers’, and now that I’ve joined?” He whistled lowly, shaking his head. “I’ll be lucky if they don’t pull the shotgun on me the second I step on the lawn.”

“Ouch. That bad? What do they have against Starfleet? I would have thought that enlisting is a nice sort of profession for a Southern gentleman.” He was frowning deeply, seeming completely displeased.

(It took Bones the entire semester to understand that while Jim joked, a lot of his jokes displayed his actual thoughts clearly. One of Jim's favorites was the "southern gentleman" spiel. He definitely had a humbling effect.)

“My grandpa on my mom's side died in space because of a faulty engine,” He explained, twirling his spoon around his fingers. “My mom became a Starfleet skeptic after that. Thinks they don’t spend money on the important things and give up too much in negotiations too often.”

“And your aunt?”

Wryly, he said, “Aunt Sam is probably working for the Pro-Terra movement. She’s as bigoted as she is stupid.”

They ate in silence after that, Jim snatching Bones’ breadstick and Bones rolling his eyes fondly.

He dropped his spoon into the empty soup bowl when he finished.

“The shuttle for Georgia leaves on Wednesday, so you need to pack for a couple of weeks. We won’t be in Georgia the entire time but I was thinking we could travel a bit. Maybe even hit Disneyworld if you’re a real good boy for the trip.” He tossed a few credits on the table to cover his half before tapping Jim’s temple. “Shut your mouth or else you’ll start catching flies. And buy sunscreen when you go to the store tonight. I’m not rubbing aloe on your back if you get burned.”

“What, you think I don’t have plans of my own?” Jim, indignant, slammed his own credits on the table.

“Kid, I know you don’t have anything to do. You wouldn’t have asked without saying your own plans otherwise.” He snorted. “Like I said; Wednesday. You better have everything ready the night before or I’m dragging your ass on the goddamned deathtrap minus your duffle at four in the morning. Capiche?”

He opened and closed his mouth a few times before grimacing. “Fine, fine. I get the window seat though.”

“What makes you think in any possible situation I would want the window seat? Have I ever come across as a window type of person? Have you conveniently forgotten about how we met?”

Jim was laughing by the end of his rant. “Yeah yeah, I know. I bet you though that we can have you flying on your own by the end of our second year.”

“The extent of your delusions never ceases to amaze me.”

(That summer, Jim was there when Jocelyn McCoy officially and forever become Jocelyn Hart again with an entire rental car filled with booze and an empty field programmed into the GPS. Jim was there after the exhausting family dinner with sarcasm and banter that kept the apathy at bay.

 

They did go to Disneyworld. Jim freaked when he met Tigger. Coincidentally, after their trip, a certain picture happened to be glued to the inside of Bones' wallet and used as the background for his personal PADD.)