Len was halfway past the nursing station when he heard his name. He stopped and looked up. “Hmmm?”
Christine wasn’t the one who’d called him, but she stood up, waving him over. “We were talking about New Year’s! Where are you going?” She was clearly up to something, eyes twinkling. Then Len saw her nudge the new nurse sitting next to her and it made more sense.
“No plans,” he said gruffly. “I’d rather enjoy some peace and quiet.”
The new nurse -- what was her name? Lora? Lisa? Lia, that was it -- let her shoulders droop a little, but she managed to plaster a smile on her face. “Well, some of us are having a party if you change your mind.”
Len managed an expression that at least wasn’t a scowl. “I’ll keep it in mind, Lia. Thanks. Please excuse me --” He waved his hand in the direction of the patient rooms and retreated. He could hear Christine reassuring the new girl as he went -- no really, he’s always like that, it’s not you, he’s just a curmudgeon but he grows on you.
Like a fungus, he thought sourly to himself, and let himself into room 10: Patient Kirk, James T, Ana Captain in the Reassignment Fleet, recovering from explosive decompression and impact injuries following a shuttle collision over Phobos Outpost.
Even in a medical coma, Kirk, James T was a captivating fellow, dirty blond hair falling over his forehead in a rakish way. Len checked the monitors and did a quick exam, trying not to think about that too much. He didn’t bother looking up when Christine came in. “He’s doing fine. I think we can start bringing him up in the morning and see how he does out of sedation.”
“Understood,” Christine said, making notes on her pad. “Anything else?”
“Wait until after morning rounds,” Len said. “Get prepped but we’ll make the final call then.” He stretched a little. “I’m heading out but I have my pager.”
“Anything special planned for your evening?” Christine asked. When Len looked up that damn twinkle was back.
“A glass of bourbon and a book,” he told her, pocketing his pad. “See you tomorrow, nurse.”
Sighing, Christine stepped over to the bed, smoothing the blanket tucked around Patient Kirk. “Good night, Doctor.”
“Nice and easy, here we go...” Len carefully slid the tube out and tossed it into the waiting container. “That’s it, you can switch the drip now, there we go...” He glanced up and Christine nodded, holding a portable monitor. Lia stood behind her with a portable cardiostim, just in case. “How do we look, Christine?”
“Everything’s stable, pulse and BP are coming up, and brain waves look good.” Christine swiped the updated vitals onto the large monitor. “Potassium’s edging low, I’m keeping an eye on it.”
“Good.” Len picked up Kirk’s wrist, feeling for the pulse -- slow, but steady. “Come on, Captain, let’s see those eyes.” He flicked a glance at Christine again after a long moment passed with no change.
“K still dropping,” Christine said after a moment. “2.7. Orders?”
Len looked up at the vitals monitor. “Supplement. One hypo.” The pulse beneath his fingertips fluttered, and in the time he looked down at the patient, the cardiac line went flat.
“Stims! On my mark!” Christine was already pulling the hospital gown out of the way as Len dropped Kirk’s wrist. “Lia! Ready?”
Christine stood back, arms up, and Len backed up as soon as Lia had the leads in place. “Clear!” Lia announced, and Len hit the commit.
Kirk stiffened, and went limp. The monitor kept flatlining. “Again,” McCoy snapped, watching the body twitch with the current before going limp again. They all held their breath, waiting.
With a beep, the monitor showed a pulse. McCoy let out a relieved breath, dropping the cardiostim commit without a care for where it landed. Christine scooped up her scanner. “Vitals good,” she said, voice shaking. “Pulse steady at 68, BP at 89/50...” She kept talking, but Len wasn’t listening. Kirk had opened his eyes.
They were the most incredible shade of blue that McCoy had ever seen.
Kirk was looking around the room, obviously confused, and he lifted a hand up to his throat. Len caught it. “Hey. Easy. It’s all right. My name is Dr. McCoy, and you’re going to be just fine. You’ve just got some broken bones.”
“Who -- where?” Kirk’s voice was raspy from intubation and disuse.
“You’re in the ‘Fleet hospital in San Francisco. There was an accident -- do you remember?” McCoy held his breath as Kirk considered, and nodded, closing his eyes for a moment. “Good. That’s good. You don’t have to think about it right now if you don’t want to. You’ve got some healing ahead of you, but you’re going to be just fine.”
Kirk looked around the room, and back at McCoy. His eyes were pleading, and McCoy couldn’t look away. “I promise,” McCoy added, softly. “You’re going to be fine. I’ll be right here, helping you.” Kirk stared at him for another moment before letting out a slow breath, eyes drifting shut.
“He’s asleep,” Christine announced a moment later. “Nicely done, Doctor. You’ve got a future in nursing.”
“Cute, Christine,” McCoy said, starting to gather up the equipment strewn around the room. “Can you update the chart?”
“On it,” Christine said. “Lia, give me a hand here?” She took the other nurse out with her, giving Len a wink as she went. He ignored it, and lingered at Kirk’s bedside, finally smoothing his hair before moving on with his day.
The next day Len was assisting on a surgery and he couldn’t start rounds until after most of the patients were asleep -- Kirk included. It took him another day before he finally managed rounds while Kirk was awake, but the poor guy was still doped up enough that he could only manage short answers to Len’s questions -- yes, he could move his toes, yes, he had been to the bathroom, yes it was awkward as all hell, thank you.
Len left him to sleep, quietly amused.
When he came in the next day to see how Kirk was doing, he found his patient awake and fussing as he squinted at a reader, grouchy and cabin-fevered.
“Can’t I get sprung early for good behavior?” Kirk asked, and Len, to his surprise, heard himself chuckle.
“Not likely, but if you ask nicely I’ll come by on my meal break and keep you company. I’d rather not have my favorite patient succumbing to cabin fever this close to the holiday.” He scrolled through the day’s vitals. “You’re looking good. We’ll start PT tomorrow and we should have you back on your feet by New Year’s -- but you have to listen to the therapist and not overdo it.”
Kirk nodded, looking serious. “I can behave for a few days. It’s not like I’ve got anywhere to get into trouble anyway. I’m just going to get a hotel room until I get released for duty.”
Len frowned. “You don’t have an apartment?”
“Not in the city. I grew up partly in the Midwest, still have my folks’ old place out there. I usually just stay in the ‘Fleet dorms in between runs. Cheaper.”
“But you’re not up to a bunk bed right now,” Len said, finishing his sentence for him, and Kirk grinned. It transformed his whole face. Len managed to look away before he could be accused of staring. “Listen. I -- hell. I’ve got a spare room that’s going to waste. Might as well put it to use. When they discharge you you can come stay with me.”
“Wow, Bones, that’s going above and beyond --” Kirk got a look at his face, and shut his mouth mid-sentence. “I really appreciate the offer. Thank you.”
“No problem. Bones?” Len frowned.
Kirk grinned again. “Yeah. That was the first thing you said to me. I was still doped up, and it sounded like you were introducing yourself. So I’m going with it.”
Len shook his head. “Doctor McCoy to you, kid. I have to finish rounds. I’ll check on you before I head out.” He thumbprinted his signature onto the chart for rounds and headed for the door. Kirk called his name as he went to leave, and Len stopped and turned. “Hmm?”
“The name’s Jim.” The grin was back. Len couldn’t help himself; he returned it. It felt good.
All of a sudden, Len had a roommate. It was nothing like when he’d been married -- Jim didn’t cook very well, although he did at least pick up after himself in the kitchen and bathroom -- and usually didn’t even notice if Len got home late from a surgery. More often than not, he was distracted by Len’s antiquated gaming system and had forgotten to eat because he was so busy blowing up pixellated aliens. Dining together on dagwood sandwiches at 11 pm while idly discussing the latest football scores was -- peaceful. Suddenly, he no longer dreaded coming home to an empty house, since Jim was likely as not snoring on the couch, game controllers dropped on the floor and the vidscreen casting unearthly lights across the darkened room.
Slowly, Jim’s stuff began scattering itself -- his piloting manuals shelved next to Len’s medical textbooks; a picture of a tiny towheaded boy hanging off of his mother as she laughed; Jim’s collection of antique paper books in a new shelf in the living room; uniforms in the spare closet. They were gold and black and looked rather dashing on Jim. He came home one night to find Jim balling his socks (so domestic, his brain muttered and humming somewhat tunelessly. The song felt almost familiar.
“What’s that called?” he asked, when Jim paused to take a breath. Jim looked up, startled.
“Oh, hey Bones! Just something an aunt of mine used to sing a lot this time of year, when I was a kid. I can never remember the words. So what’s going on for Holiday parties? You never mention going out.”
“I don’t do parties,” Len grumbled. “I hate the damn holiday.” New Year’s was when Jocelyn had left, when everything went to shit. Somethings just weren’t worth remembering. He went to change and when he came back out of his bedroom Jim had cleared out his laundry and was pulling out sandwich fixings. Len forgot about the song, distracted by the prospect of BLTs.
Len volunteered for a double on New Year’s, but they didn’t need him and he was sent home at 9 pm. He protested, but to no avail, and so he found himself walking into his house at ten to ten, feeling grimy after a shift and a half in his scrubs.
Jim was sitting on the couch, a beer in his hand and a six-pack on the coffee table. “Oh, hey Bones! I ordered wings, you got here just in time. They’re re-airing the Bali-Cordova match from this morning. Beer and a game for the New Year?” He grinned at Len, who stood in the doorway, shoulders sagging in relief. He didn’t even bother changing, just slumped onto the couch next to Jim and took the beer he was handed.
When Jim held up his can for a toast, Len clinked his and echoed Jim: “To a fresh year!” And when Jim leaned over at 2 am, long after the game was over, the wings eaten and the beer drunk, and kissed him -- well, it was a fresh year, and a fresh beginning.
So he kissed him back.
Things went almost back to normal when Jim shipped out again in February. The house was quiet when he got home at night, so he took to eating his sandwiches on the couch watching some game or other. Jim would send messages demanding to know the scores, so he had to pay attention to recount the highlights. Those notes made things almost bearable, the sending even more than the receiving.
He got up, he went to work, he came home. But thoughts of Jim were always in the back of his head, and it made things seem less ordinary.
Christine brought it up one day, as he stood at the counter outside the nurses station reviewing a chart. “You seem so much more peaceful since New Year’s, Len -- what’s the deal?” She propped her elbows on her desk and rested her chin on her hands, giving him an impish look.
Len was caught by surprise, and couldn’t quite keep the pleased smile off his face. Christine bounced in her chair. “I knew it! You’ve met someone. Spill.”
“Not much to tell,” Len said. “He’s shipped out at the moment, due back next month. We drink beer and watch the game together.”
“Seriously, a relationship only a man could love,” Christine teased, but she was grinning. “Shipped out, huh?”
“A pilot,” Len said, and instantly regretted it when Christine’s face lit up.
“A pilot,” she echoed. “Would he, by chance, happen to have a dare-devil attitude towards flying and deep blue eyes?”
Len tried to glare at her. For some reason, it didn’t work on Christine. She came around from her desk and looped an arm over his shoulders. “Good for you, Len. He’s handsome as all get-out and you’re clearly happy -- are you blushing?” She laughed, and it was a happy sound. Len brushed her arm off his shoulders, but didn’t otherwise make her move.
“It’s hot in here with these nurses crowding into my personal space,” he told her, and she just rolled her eyes.
“So? How is it?”
Len gave her a flat look. “How is what?”
She leaned in. “You know. Come on. Is he good?”
Len glanced around. Lia was the only other nurse at the station and she was sitting with her back to them. He gestured with his hands, and smirked when Christine’s jaw dropped. “Well, congratulations,” she finally managed to say, and gave him a wink. “I’m glad you’re so happy.”
“Thanks, Chris,” he said, trying mightily not to blush again.
That year went by in skips and jumps -- Jim was off-planet, Jim was on-planet. Jim was piloting a shuttle of Historians to some far-off colony world and came back full of complaints about the team he’d been stuck transporting, which basically seemed to boil down to the team commander was fucking one of his subordinates, and Jim was jealous because his partner was all the way back on Earth.
“You sure that’s all it was?” Len asked teasingly, stretched out exhausted on the bed.
“Weeee-lllll,” Jim drawled, propping his head up on one arm. “Nyota’s certainly the most attractive woman I’ve seen in a long time, and Spock -- well, if you go for the stoic unemotional types --” He ignored the laughter Len couldn’t contain “-- then he’s your man. But I had something better waiting for me here.”
“Worth a three month wait?” Len asked, and looked at the ceiling, suddenly nervous about the answer.
“Absolutely,” Jim breathed, and leaned over and hovered until Len looked at him, and pulled him into a deep long kiss that left them both breathless.
The best part of Jim’s being on-planet for all of December was that Len had a built-in excuse to avoid holiday parties. For some reason, no matter how much he growled or snapped, people persisted in inviting him. Jim claimed it was because he was actually a teddy bear under the growling and everybody knew it. Len claimed Jim was an infant, and who knew what teddy bears were anymore?
“Doctor? Would you like an invitation?”
Len shook his head. “Sorry, Lia. Woolgathering there for a moment. Thank you kindly, but I’ve got other plans this weekend.”
Lia pursed her lips. “I see. You haven’t gone to a single party this season, have you?”
Len squinted at her, and went back to approving the last of the day’s requisitions. “Nope. My partner’s on-planet, and he ships out first week of January. I’d like to take advantage of the time I can spend with him.” He looked up when Lia didn’t say anything and realized she’d gone red.
“Your...partner,” she said faintly. “I didn’t realize. Congratulations.” Gathering the invitations, she spun on her heel and walked away, leaving Len bewildered. It wasn’t until he recounted the conversation for Christine over lunch that he finally caught on.
“What do you mean, she has a crush on me?” he demanded, trying to pick up the salad he’d dropped into his lap. “Me? Whatever for?”
Christine shook her head. “Well, you are attractive. Clearly Jim sees something in you.”
“Jim likes to get laid,” Len grumbled. “This is -- ugh. I wish I’d realized.”
Putting her fork down, Christine leaned forward. “This has been going on for a long time. I thought you realized. I thought she realized.” Sighing, she poked at the ice cubs in her cup with her straw. “I think it’s time to encourage her to transfer to a different floor. I told her months ago she had to accept that you weren’t interested.”
Len was still spluttering. “How long has this been going on?”
“Len.” Christine put a hand on his arm. “It’s done. Don’t worry about it.” She stabbed at a piece of cucumber in her salad, and then stared at it . “I’ve been thinking for a while that she’d be better on the Reassignment floor anyway. Her bedside manner can tend towards the brusque.”
“So can mine,” Len pointed out, and Christine rolled her eyes.
“Len, you’re a teddy bear.”
He groaned and dropped his head into his hands, making dire threats against Jim while Christine laughed.
He got home from work that evening to find a candle in the window. “Jim?”
Len followed his voice -- and the mysterious smells coming out of the kitchen -- to find Jim leaning over a cookie sheet, and a plate of something on the counter. “What on earth?”
“It’s cookies, Bones, this isn’t rocket science.”
“Even though you can do that without needing scratch paper,” Len muttered, and stole one. It was delicious. “What’s the occasion?”
Jim’s back stiffened, almost imperceptibly, and he paused for a moment before decorating the next cookie. “I used to do this as a kid,” he finally said. “My mom and Aunt Hoshi and everyone are all gone now so I just try to keep it up in their memory.”
“You never talk about your family,” Len said, as he realized it.
“You never talk about yours,” Jim shot back. “It’s fine. This is just something I do, when I can.”
Len took another cookie, and nibbled it more slowly. “Is that why there’s a candle in the window?”
Jim slid the cookie sheet into the oven, and turned around, wiping his hands on a towel. “Yeah. It’s -- it’s this old story they told us as kids, that if you were wandering and you saw the candle, you would know that you would be safe there. Candles mean you’re home.”
Putting the half-eaten cookie down on the counter, Len reached out and reeled Jim in, letting their foreheads rest together. “I like it,” he said quietly. “Welcome home, darlin.”
Jim laughed. “Wait til you see what I made for dinner.”
Len chuckled too. “Let me go change, and I’ll help you set the table.” He kissed Jim quickly, hand lingering to cup his cheek for a moment. Jim’s happy whistling trailed after him as he went to shed his scrubs.
There was a teddy bear sitting on their bed, wearing a little teddy-bear-sized lab coat. Len laughed so hard he almost hyperventilated.
Time went back to hopping and skipping after Jim shipped out again. It was a longer run this time, to a planet halfway out the Sag Arm that would take nearly six months. Len was bored out of his skull.
He was called into Boyce’s office midway through March, and that was when they dropped the bombshell -- even though he was doing well on the Trauma Floor, ‘Fleet was moving him. To the Reassignment Ward.
“They want someone with your expertise in neurology up there, Leonard,” Boyce told him. “There’s been a lot of breakthroughs coming out of R&D and they want someone with a research background on the floor. With all the work you did on neural grafting, you’ve got the closest background to what they need.” He gave Len a stern glance. “This is a huge step up, Doctor.”
Len shook off his shock. “Yes, I appreciate that. My apologies, Dr. Boyce. I was just -- taken by surprise.”
Boyce shook his head. “I get your misgivings, Leonard -- I feel the same way about the bloody Reassignment. I think it’s cutting our oath rather closely. But that’s a decision that was taken out of our hands a long time ago. If you won’t accept the position -- well, I’ll make sure you get a fair severance in that case --”
Len took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No, Doctor, that won’t be necessary. I accept the transfer.”
Boyce didn’t say anything, just handed him the paperwork to sign.
He didn’t say anything to Jim in his next letter. The transfer went through immediately.
It had been a month on the new shift. Len was exhausted and not expecting to find Jim in his living room when he got home.
“You’re home early,” Jim said, at the exact same time Len did. They stood there staring at each other -- Jim with a basket of laundry in his hands, Len holding his coat and wobbling as he stood with one shoe on and one off.
“New shift,” Len said, at the same time that Jim said, “They pulled us from the last run because the ship needed a new restock.” Then they laughed, and Len finished taking his shoes off, and Jim forgot about his laundry as they shed clothes on their way to the bedroom.
“New shift?” Jim asked, a while later, his head pillowed on Len’s arm.
“Yeah. I got moved to a different floor.” Len finally spat it out. “I’m on the Reassignment floor now.”
Jim sat straight up, and climbed out of bed. He fumbled around for his boxers, and made a beeline out of the room without even looking at Leonard.
When he hadn’t come back in five minutes Leonard got up and found his own boxers and followed him out. “Jim?”
Jim was sitting at the window looking out at the quiet street. The streetlights made the autumn leaves look even more orange, and cast both of them in odd shadows.
“They didn’t give me much of a choice,” Len finally said quietly. “I’m supervising some of the research projects. If I didn’t take the transfer I would be let go.”
“Better to be let go then,” Jim said, and his voice was rough. “How can you --”
“How can you?” Len said angrily. “Those teams you ferry -- they’re just Reassignment teams, at the end of the day. Save the poor benighted savage colonies from their own backwardsness by wiping their brains clean!”
“Fuck you,” Jim said fiercely, and dropped his head into his hands.
Len stood, bewildered, as Jim wept, fierce and quiet. He finally crossed the room, resting a hesitant hand on Jim’s shoulder. He was relieved when Jim grasped it and hung on.
“I grew up on a benighted savage colony,” Jim finally said. “My dad died and Iowa wasn’t working out well for any of us and it was supposed to be a fresh beginning.” He quoted the traditional New Year’s greeting with an angry scowl. “It was -- It was heaven, Bones. We played in the fields all day and ate like kings and it was -- the whole town was like a family. Everyone knew you and you knew everyone and then all gave a shit. We learned songs and stories and everything they knew.”
“The cookies,” Len said quietly, and Jim nodded.
“And then there was a famine, and we were holding on sort of, but not really and they ended up having to call in for help but -- the kids they left alone, I guess we were young enough to “teach” properly, but everyone past puberty -- they fucking wiped them,” Jim snarled. “I went to see Aunt Hoshi one time -- they told me not to but I had to see for myself -- she was like a baby. She didn’t remember me, or singing with us, or taking me out to the woods to bury my dog when he was hit by a scooter, or telling me stories about being in the ‘Fleet when she was young -- none of it. She doesn’t remember any of it.” He shook his head again, squeezing Len’s hand. “Every single adult, they did that too. Over -- over Christmas.”
Len froze, squeezing Jim’s shoulder. It all clicked -- the candle, the cookies, the songs -- “Jim, you’ve been celebrating Christmas here.”
“Not -- just -- yeah.” Jim bowed his head. “They died for it, I had to keep it going.”
“They’re not dead,” Len said gently, and Jim pushed his hand away.
“Everything about them that made them what they are -- it’s gone. They’re dead, Bones. And now you’re helping them do that to more people. It’s disgusting.”
“You help them too,” Len said angrily. “You fly those teams all over, but you’re going to criticize me for at least trying to make it safer? They aren’t going to stop doing it, Jim, but if you’re going to lash out at somebody do it at yourself. You -- you could have gotten us both --” And then he realized it was really fear that was curled up in his belly like ice.
“It’s about love, Bones,” Jim whispered, and his voice was miserable. “All that shit about conflict and fighting and hatred - that’s not what it’s about. It’s about light in dark places and family and love. You’re my family now, and I just wanted to have that, like it used to be. Why is that such a bad thing?”
Len squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. “I’m going back to bed,” he finally said, taking a step back and almost colliding with Jim’s forgotten basket of laundry.
“Fine,” Jim muttered. “Sleep well.”
Len left him there, feeling like he’d failed in some way, but he wasn’t sure how.
“I love flying,” Jim said, dropping a half-full mug of coffee on the bedside table. “It’s the only place I felt like myself for a long time. Until I met you.”
Len rolled over, blinking slowly. He’d finally dozed off around dawn, but sleep had been difficult and he felt more exhausted now than when they’d fallen into bed the night before. “What?”
“I love flying,” Jim repeated. “This was the only way I could fly. That’s why I do it.” He stood staring down at Len for a long moment. “I think about what I’m doing every time I take off. I watched that last team that we retrieved -- Nyota and Spock and Pavel -- and all I could think about was how smart they all were, how could they have no idea what they’re doing?” He hesitated, and finally sat on the edge of the bed.
“I love being a doctor,” Len finally said quietly, looking at Jim hunched over on himself. “Making people better. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. This is the only way I can do it.” It was as much of an apology as he knew how to make, just then.
Jim stared at him for a long moment and crawled across the bed to plaster himself against Len. He didn’t speak, just buried his face against Len’s neck, and Len pulled him close and closed his eyes.
Working on the Reassignment floor was awful. It should have been fascinating - endless trials to review, data to compare, but Len would walk into patient rooms and look at the Reassigned and wonder -- did they have families? Friends? He knew the party line as well as anybody -- Reassignment was painless. It was a favor, keeping those disaffected and unhappy from suffering from the isolation of beliefs outside of the norm. It prevented discord.
It was easier, Len concluded. That was all it was. Especially when it wasn’t you.
Jim shipped out with the promise to be back before the end of December. The unspoken reason stayed between them, but Len found himself secretly looking forward to it -- the first time he’d anticipated a holiday in years, since Jocelyn left and took Joanna with her, never to be seen again. He’d thought about requesting Reassignment then. He’d been a fool. Every time he looked on the blissfully empty faces of his patients, he cringed inside.
Christmas -- and Jim’s return -- couldn’t come fast enough. Len found the candle Jim had put in the window the year before and plugged it into the window, and he went ahead and made cookies. It made Jim’s absence less painful, made the anticipation something almost enjoyable, giving him something he could look forward to.
Finally, finally, he got a short text burst: Bones: busted engine, had to put in for repairs at Centaurus. All better. Home sometime Friday. Love you, J. It came in while he was at his desk, and he grinned to himself and started humming under his breath as he went back to the latest report.
Lia was bringing by a new tray of specimens and she paused, head tilted. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you hum before, Doctor.”
Distracted, Len just grinned. “Found out my partner’s going to be home by the weekend.”
“Pretty tune,” Lia went on, fixing him with a steady look. “I feel like I’ve heard it before.”
Too late, Len realized what he’d been humming. “Oh, that? Some drivel Jim sings all the time -- some thing he sang as a kid. I don’t even know what the words are, but damn thing gets stuck in my head all the time. Sorry if I gave you the earworm.”
“Oh, not at all. I’m sure you’re very lucky to have your partner home for the holiday,” Lia said, and Len blinked. “Will you be going to any New Year’s parties?” she went on.
“You know, I don’t even know what our plans are yet,” he said, smoothly as he could. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out once he’s back on planet. You know how it is with Ana teams, it’s impossible to plan anything with those schedules.”
“Of course. Well, there are your samples. Have a good afternoon, Doctor.” Lia gave him a satisfied grin, and walked off. Len watched her go with a vague feeling of disquiet.
Friday, at last. McCoy walked over to the intake desk and picked up the days’ charts, browsing idly. He hadn’t heard from Jim yet, but he was as likely delayed in a debrief as not -- he knew perfectly well how long those could drag on. Jim would show up when he was dismissed, and there was no point in borrowing trouble. But he couldn’t shake the feeling, deep in his gut, that something was wrong.
Lia walked by, and gave him a coy grin. “Good morning, Doctor,” she says, voice dripping with sweetness. “Did you see we have a new patient today?”
Holding up the chart, McCoy scowled. “I saw. I’m going to go give a look-over.” The only ID was a service number -- names were never given. Privacy, or what was left of it. The number seemed almost familiar -- Len noted the room number as he finished his coffee and headed for 14, trying not to look like he was hurrying.
He closed the door behind him and turned to see the patient, and stopped short.
“Oh god, kid,” he whispered, standing frozen at the door, one hand still on the knob “Kid. Jesus. Jim, I’m so sorry.”
He realized only after he’d stood there in horror for a good minute that his hands were shaking, and it was rattling the door in its jamb. He clenched his fists at his side, willed them to stop.
Jim didn’t wake up -- he was still asleep, they left them to sleep for two days to give time for the Reassigning to imprint, he knew all of that and he knew better than to wake him up but when he woke up he wouldn’t remember anything -- he pushed his fist against his face, covering his mouth before a sob escaped.
“Oh, god,” he whispered, and even to his own ears he could hear how broken his voice was. “Oh, Jimmy. I’m so sorry.”
Everything. Every dinner and walk along the ocean and every song and every good-bye and every reunion - gone like it had never been. Every Christmas. All gone.
Len took nearly ten minutes to get himself under control. He looked over the vitals, checked the dosages Jim had been given, looked over the patient history. Of course there was nothing down in the chart about why Jim had been Reassigned -- there never was. Nobody on this floor had a clearance high enough. He knew, all the same. All it ever took was one slip.
Jim snuffled in his sleep, lifting one arm to cover his eyes. The gesture was so familiar that Len’s heart broke all over again. He brushed Jim’s hair out of his eyes and kissed his forehead as softly as he could, and then he straightened his lab coat and took a deep breath, and told himself that the last fifteen minutes hadn’t happened. And then he went back to his desk.
After Len had gone home and thought and eaten the cookies he had made according to Jim’s recipe, he went to bed and stared at the ceiling for hours. At dawn he woke up and got himself a box, and loaded it into the car. He went to the hospital, packed up his things, and loaded them into the trunk.
He got breakfast.
At 9 am he was standing outside of Boyce’s office, letter in his hands. He walked in without waiting to be announced and handed the letter over without a word. Boyce read it, forehead creasing, and looked up. “Len, if you do this I’m not sure I can help you.”
Len shook his head. “I won’t need it. I’m done. I’m taking my partner home. Good luck, Phil. You’ll need it in this nest of vipers.”
He stopped on the Reassignment floor to check in on Jim. He was sleeping peacefully. Len kissed his forehead and tucked the blankets in, checked his vitals, and left a reader with some of Jim’s favorites already loaded.
His way out, he passed Lia. “Oh, Nurse Burke,” he said, as if something had just occurred to him. She stopped and gave him her sickly-sweet smile. He returned it. “Go fuck yourself,” he told her, and went on his way. Her outraged screech was sweet in his ears.
His last stop was Four, his old floor. Trauma. Where everything started.
Christine was at the nurse’s station, looking at her pager like it had told her the sky was orange. “Christine!” he called, and she spun around.
“Leonard -- what did you -- they just sent out a page saying we should call security -- what is going on?”
Len shook his head. “I just quit. I just wanted to say goodbye.” He reached her and held out his arms. Christine took a step back.
“You quit? I don’t understand.”
“Jim’s on the seventh floor, Christine.” Len shook his head. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I’m going.”
Christine’s face crumpled. “Oh god -- he can’t -- but where will you go?”
Len gave her a sad smile. “Iowa.”
She blinked. “Why Iowa?”
“It’s his home.” Len held out his arms, and this time she let him embrace her, hugging back tightly.
“Keep in touch?” she whispered, and Len nodded. He stepped back and handed her his badge.
“I won’t need this any more. Watch yourself, Chris. Please.”
She nodded, holding one hand up in a frozen wave as he headed for the bank of lifts and let himself out.
Jim was released on December 24th. Len was waiting outside the hospital in the pick-up area, sitting with his ass on the hood of his car shivering in the chill breeze off the Bay.
Jim came out of the hospital with the other two releases, herded towards a bus. Len ran over as they started boarding. “Jim!”
All three patients turned, along with the coordinator, but Len ignored them, focusing on Jim’s eyes. His eyes were the same. “Jim. You can come home with me.”
Frowning, Jim turned to the coordinator. “I’m Jim, right?”
“Yes, but you’re not supposed to --”
Len cut her off. “He’s my partner. Whatever the fuck happened in there, I’m taking care of him. I’m a doctor, I know what I’m doing. Thanks much. Have a nice day.” He almost spat “Merry Christmas” over his shoulder, but that would have screwed them even more. Instead he offered Jim his hand.
“I know you?” Jim asked, and Len stopped and dropped his hand.
“You do. We met here, actually. You were a pilot and you overflew your shuttle and busted yourself pretty good. I was the first thing you saw when you woke up.”
Jim frowned again, studying Len’s face. “You were there. When I woke up.” He smiled then, a sweet clean smile and Len wanted to hit something, wanted Jim back, not this empty shell. But he held out his hand.
“That’s right, darlin. I was. Do you want to go home? I got cookies, your favorites.”
“I like cookies?” Jim took his hand willingly and let Len lead him to the car, show him how to fasten the safety web, and looked around curiously as they drove across the bridge back to Oakland. He didn’t say anything, just taking it all in.
Len drove slowly, so Jim could see the streets and houses he used to know by heart, and finally turned onto their -- his -- street, parking before his tiny little house. The little electric candle he’d put in the window was glowing a cheerful orange in the twilight, and Jim’s gaze was instantly drawn to it. Len watched him.
“Where is this?” Jim finally asked.
“This is my house, darlin. Our house.” He got out of the car slowly, and came around expecting to have to show Jim, but he’d already figured out the release mechanism on the safety web and let himself out. Jim stepped closer, reaching for Len’s hand as he watched the electric candle flickering.
“What is that?”
Len squeezed his hand gently. “That’s a candle.” He took a deep breath. “A candle for Christmas. The candle means you’re home. I put it in the window so you’d always be able to find your way there. No matter what happens, I’ll remember home for you.”
Jim leaned against his arm, watching the flame, and Len watched him, as the dusk deepened into night around them, and all the stars came out.