Chapter 1: Bones and Jim
The first time that they meet, Jim is all of seventeen years old and as jaded as they come; he spreads across the back row of bus seats like a king upon his throne, only given away by the wary, stay-back glare in his blue eyes. Leonard doesn’t know the kid’s story, only that there is one – and not a happy one, he reckons. He approaches slowly, softly, not wanting to spook him but up close the kid’s a walking cliché – leather and tattoos and he knows better than to patronize him with pity. “Scoot over,” he says gruffly, voice rough around the burn of bourbon and the need to protect. His wife – his ex, and that word is like ice in his lungs – had told him that he’d given up. That he didn’t even try to make things work, and he’s trying to bribe the fight back into him with alcohol.
(He still hadn’t fought for her, for them, for Jo. But now, last remaining possessions in a tattered duffel across his shoulder, maybe he can fight for this kid with the weight of the world on his back.)
His words are met with a sharp stare and a flash of suspicion. “Why.” It’s not a question.
“I get car sick,” he says, already sinking into the offered seat, “and I’m drunk.”
The kid laughs. “Gonna share?”
And yeah, okay – Leonard’s not a psychologist but he can read trauma in every swell of bravado. Maybe that’s what drew him to the back of the bus – they’re both running away. “Not with you. What are you, sixteen?” He eyes the kid over one of the last remaining swigs of a flask that had been a wedding present and wonders if, just maybe, he’s the only one who had been surprised by this outcome. “If that?”
He smirks, loose lips and loose limbs and tight eyes that are very, very untrusting. “I’m twenty-one.”
Leonard can’t remember the last time he laughed. “Sure, how old are you really?” but he offers the flask over anyway; he never claimed to be a saint, or even a good man. Besides, it’s almost empty.
Blue eyes soften, but barely, as the kid takes a drink like a pro. “I’m seventeen,” he finally admits, and for once he sounds like it – hesitant, unsure, surprised that he even provided this drop of truth. He covers the moment of – of what, of weakness? Kid’s seventeen on the back of a bus with a leather jacket that can’t hide the scars behind his eyes and he’s not afraid. There’s no weakness left in this kid – with another sip, and passes the flask back with another of those trying-too-hard smiles. “So where you heading?”
On the list of things that Leonard intended from this trip (an end, of whatever kind), sharing his sob story with a stranger on the bus was no where even in the realm of consideration; he finds himself doing it anyway. “Away,” he acknowledges with a toast of the flask. “My ex-wife took the whole damn time zone in the divorce. All I got left is-” he thinks, really thinks. The only thing left is his bag is a change of underwear and three bottles of Jim Beam (empty, probably, but he can’t be sure), and a photo of Jo from happier times. It’s not even a life anymore, but the shattered skeleton of one. “My bones,” he hiccoughs, and drains the last of the liquid.
Blue eyes narrow, considering. “Jim Kirk,” he offers magnanimously, like it’s a gift – Leonard’s not sure which part is meant to be such an honor: the name, the boy who wears it, or the fact that he deigned to speak to him further. He doesn’t care anymore.
“Leonard McCoy,” he replies. “I may throw up on you.”
The kid laughs – honest to god laughs, and if he was anything like the man his ex-wife had wanted him to be maybe he would fight him for that – and kicks his feet over the back of the seat in front of him. “You’re okay, Bones,” (and he loves that name almost as much as he loves pretending to hate it. Leonard still sounds like his ex-wife’s broken vows and the reluctance of a pen across the lines of divorce papers, but Bones is what he does, who he is. Bones can be broken, but they can also be fixed.) “You’re gonna be okay.”
Right about then, he realizes that maybe the kid needs someone to fight for, too. “Yeah,” and it surprises him to find that he actually believes it a little. “Sure. Whatever you say, kid.”
Chapter 2: Bones and Uhura
“How long has this been going on??” Jim asks them, shock and betrayal (and a smile he can’t hide, even if he tries) in every syllable.
He doesn’t understand what the big deal about today is – it’s not like any of them are Catholic or Irish, or anything like that, and it’s not as though they wouldn’t be hitting the bar this evening regardless. But he understands, he does, the importance of traditions; it’s not so much the St. Patrick’s Day (although there are traditions, a strange collection of his and Jim’s and Sulu’s and the combinations wrought from various college years) as it is this meeting they’ve planned – this new person of Jim’s and their pending approval.
He doesn’t know for certain what sort of person he expects to walk through the door – all he knows is that Spock has more than terrible judgment and that Jim is more than halfway in love with him – but he knows for certain that it’s not the sort that does. Spock is all stern face and lean lines, too slow to smile and too soft to speak, and all he can think is that there’s no way this will ever be a thing (and later, he sees the way that Spock gravitates toward Jim like there’s nowhere else he knows how to be and the way that Jim catches his eye and drops the bravado to blush like a virgin schoolgirl and he think yeah, okay, maybe.)
He doesn’t know for certain what sort of person he expects to walk in with a person like that – all he can imagine is a similar sharpness, too quiet and too cold for their group, straight lines where they tend to slump – but he knows for certain that he’s never been happier to be wrong. Uhura is sleekness and sarcasm, big city sophistication painted onto small town smile; she introduces herself like it’s a challenge, equal parts instigation and invitation, and within thirty minutes it’s like she’s been there forever (and he gets it, three months in, the way that they all work so well – she and Jim are cut from the same cloth, but she’s refined where he’s rough; he doesn’t like to think that maybe the same could be said of him and Spock.)
They start the night as strangers and end the night by sharing a cab. She’s had just enough to drink that those down-to-his-bones Southern manners have him escorting her safely to her door, even when he believes her when she insists that she’ll be fine. She pats his cheek at the threshold and calls him ‘sweet’ with a complete sincerity that he hasn’t heard directed his way in quite some time, and he can’t help but believe her a little bit there, too.
How long has this been going on Jim asks, and he means how long have they been dating; Bones doesn’t know what to say because he doesn’t know when. They just were one day – they met and they had drinks and they laughed a bit and they shared a cab at the end of the night, and then they did it again another night, and another, and then a few more times and then there was kissing involved and then – If Jim means how long has Bones been in love with her the answer is about twenty minutes less than he’s known her, when there’s a piece of green glitter caught in her lashes and a laugh caught in her throat. When they’re crowded in a bar that smells like old cabbage and cheap beer and she’s thoroughly out-drunk him without ever losing her grin or smudging her makeup. When she leans a little closer and nudges his glass with her own, fingers delicate around the rim, and calls him ‘Leonard’ and it doesn’t sound like a broken home or a broken promise but like potential.
Bones rolls his eyes, and Uhura shrugs. “A while.”
Chapter 3: George and Winona Kirk
On October 14, 1966, an F5 tornado swept through the town of Belmond, Iowa. Six people were killed.
One child was born.
Winona Dubray first met George Kirk when they were eleven years old; it was the county fair, and they were seated in the same basket on the ferris wheel. Her group of friends had been one too large to split into even numbers, and he had been the only member of his who wanted to go. One-third of a rotation into the ride, he had reached across the awkward silence between them to grab her hand in a sweaty, white-knuckled clench. “I’m afraid of heights,” he smiled at her in explanation.
“Then why did you get on the ride?” she asked, but did not pull her hand away. The faintest breeze had picked up, rocking the basket in slight, gentle motions; with each to and fro, the grip on her hand tightened and the blond-haired boy beside moved closer. She recognized him only in passing – a face at church, a body in the lunchroom, a number on the field – but his father had always been kind to her when she came by the store to pick up her mother’s medication.
His grin had widened with every inch higher they rose. “Because,” and slid his fingers between hers into a more traditional hold, “I always do what scares me most.”
The next time Winona went by the store George was there too, and he somehow ended up leaving with her. He carried her bag and walked her bike the entire two miles back to her house, and he didn’t stop talking the entire time. “George?” she finally asked him, halfway through a story about the time he and the two Daniels boys had accidentally stumbled across a family of raccoons living in the basement. “What are you doing?”
“I’m walking you home,” came the near immediate answer.
He walked her home from school the next day, too, and the day after that. Three days later he was invited inside for dinner, and never seemed to leave after that. Soon the day came when she stopped craning her neck to look for him at school, stopped glancing at the face of every blond who passed to see if it was him, because he was always already there beside her.
He stayed by her side for the next ten years.
George got his license and a 1965 Stingray in a wild two-day span, and she could hear the car coming from half a mile away; by the time he’d pulled up in front of her family’s old farmhouse, Winona was waiting for him on the front porch. “My father says you have to have me home by eight fifteen,” she greeted, because he had sat a chair in front of the big downstairs window and announced that he would not be moving until then. George smiled and waved at the man through the glass, and he had rolled his eyes before waving back – he actually liked George, everyone did, but ever since her mom had died he’d gotten... harder. Colder. It wasn’t that he was mean, it was just like he was so sad that there wasn’t any space left inside for him to ever be happy again.
George laughed. “I’m not afraid of your dad,” he told her, but he nodded politely to the man in farewell as he closed the door behind her.
“Don’t have me home in time, he’ll give you something to be afraid of.”
When he turned his gaze on her, eyes soft, she knew she was in real trouble – everyone loved George, her included, and she’d been fighting a losing battle with that white-hot feeling of forever that shot up from her gut with every smile for five years now. “Well,” and his voice purred like the engine, “I guess we’ll just have to drive a little faster then.”
Winona’s parents had loved each other very, very much, and her mother’s death had almost been her father’s too. It terrified her, the thought of ever loving somebody like that – but she thought of George, and she did the thing that scared her most.
Sam – he was still George Jr. then, back in the days when that name meant only smiles and laughter – was born five weeks after they graduated high school. He hadn’t been an accident, she would never call him that, he’d just been... a few years too early to be planned. Winona loved him fiercely, loved him like the sun and the stars and the sky weren’t enough space for it all, and George –
George smiled like the boy was the center of the universe. When he came home from work (three days on and six days off, and it was good that he was around so much, good that he was there for the first smile and laugh and step, but for those seventy-two hours stretches she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, out of deep, down-to-the-bone terror that he might not come back) it was as if he was actually excited for dirty diapers and midnight feedings. George loved being a father more than he loved being anything else, and George was the sort who loved fiercely – his job, his friends. The day she told him, three and a half years later and only two months after they’d followed work out to the west coast, that she was pregnant again was the closest she ever felt to perfect.
On January 6, 1988, a four-alarm fire swept through an apartment complex in West Sacramento. Ten people were injured.
One was killed.
George got the call forty minutes after her water broke.
Later, he met his youngest son over a weak radio connection only moments before the structure collapsed.
Chris came by the house when they got out of the hospital, but she didn’t want to see him. She didn’t want to see any of them. From the moment the call vanished in a hiss of static she turned away every visitor who dropped in to check on her, door closed and windows shuttered, because it was easier to close off her home than her heart. She tried for her boys, she did, but the words and the wreaths and the empty platitudes echoed in her ribcage until she couldn’t stand the hollow spaces anymore.
One by one the men of Station 45 stopped by to pay their respects, until the day they arrived to a vacant home.
Winona moved back into her father’s old farmhouse when Jim was only twelve weeks old; Sam – because he was Sam then, from then on out, and his mother would cry if he was called his given name. Fourteen years later, his hand would hover over the papers to make it official, pen poised at the top of a curve to sign himself forever Samuel Kirk, before a whiff of childhood memory would urge him to shred the document as he had the last set – was four and change now, and she didn’t want him starting kindergarten in the big city that took his father from him.
She built the life they hadn’t had time to – she was only twenty-one, widowed and withered, with two young sons and a barren farm because she couldn’t stomach the thought of watching anything grow – but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the way it used to be, wasn’t the way it had been for a decade now, because now when she turned her head to glance beside her there was only open space and emptiness.
She remarried, eventually. Found a man as far from George as they came, rough and broken inside like she was, and sometimes she hated him so much that it made her forget that she wished she had died as well.
It has been fifteen years since she last saw or spoke to her younger son, since an ice cold court severed all ties between them and she realized that maybe, just maybe, in trying to move on she hadn’t lost herself more than she’d ever thought.
Chris still sent updates, short messages once every year or so, more out of respect to George’s memory than he ever respected her. ‘Jim is alive,’ he sent that first month, and she felt like she could breathe for the first time since the divorce. ‘Jim graduated college.’ ‘Jim moved to the city.’ There were never any pictures, but she could close her eyes and picture George’s face and it was enough; she never asked for more because she knew she didn’t deserve even the small bits she got. ‘Jim met someone,’ he sent her, and then nothing, no word at all, for two whole years until ‘Jim is getting married.’
She is standing outside of a bright blue bookstore, ocean breeze at her back, frozen in place by the rush of terror that has been building since she stepped off the plane; at first the tears that pricked her eyes had been hot with shame, but the cab ride over had been a rush of color in an unfamiliar city and it hit her then, postcard clenched in her hand, that she was little more to this place than a stranger. It scares her, how she almost hopes that she might go unrecognized rather than know for certain that she is unwelcome.
There’s a flash of blond hair through the front window, and she can’t help but think of George.
And she does the thing that scares her most.
Chapter 4: One Year Later
Jim’s hands move from his pockets to his tie to his glasses and back again, a fraction of a second on each; he is nervous energy mixed with constant motion and left to simmer far too long, and if Spock had been thinking ahead (if he had been thinking anything at all beyond the way that his childhood kitchen feels full again, for the first time in years, when Jim sits at the table with a sleepy smile) he would have pocketed a book or a pencil or some other distraction to offer. Instead, he reaches to place a calming hand on the other man’s elbow – Fifth Circle, he knows from familiarity alone, and unconsciously traces the linework hidden beneath two layers of sleeves. Tranquility lasts only moments, and then Jim is fidgeting again.
Spock sighs. Fifth Circle, he repeats again like a mantra. How apropos. “Jim,” he hisses out of the side of his mouth, eyes on a road that feels at once foreign and too familiar, despite being one of the roads he first learned to drive on.
“Sorry.” It is the seventh time he has said it in under ten minutes.
The quiet back roads of Hartford are even quieter on a Sunday, and the sunlight filters down through the last of the leaves on the trees – for all that he has spent nearly half of his life on the opposite coast, there’s a momentary feeling of homesickness at the thought that he will be leaving again. The moment passes with a stronger flash of homesickness for a neon store and a golden bridge and the blue couch in their apartment, and he takes a deep breath. “I haven’t seen or spoken to my brother,” he begins, because he knows that Jim would rather drive him slowly to the brink of insanity than admit that there is something wrong, even to him, “since my mother’s funeral.”
He speaks of her more now, quick mentions that are never easy, but easier; this time, there is no intake of breath before he speaks the word, and no linger of loss on the tip of his tongue. Five years, he thinks – four years, nine months, and three days and for all that he measures his time in broader strokes now, there are some moments that are burned into his brain so strongly he cannot help but feel them. It has been almost five years, an entirely new life, and far too long – and the rawness is beginning to heal.
Jim understands; of course he does. “I hear from Sam once, maybe twice a year. It’s hard to talk to him sometimes.” There is anger in the understatement, buried in the tightness of his voice and his vowels when he speaks of the distance between siblings, but it is not directed at him. Jim had explained it once, their inability to communicate, in terms of strata, and if Spock had not already been in love with him before that moment he would have fallen so. “It’s good that we came, though. Your dad is only going to retire once. Probably.” At this he does smile, grinning a shared joke across at him, but it does not reach his eyes.
“Jim,” he begins again, softer this time, and the static bursts of movement beside him still. “What’s the matter?”
Reluctance builds itself in the sudden stillness of the car, the silence that had felt light only seconds before, and he does not understand the urgency of the feeling but he understands the way it catches in his throat. “I hate getting dressed up,” he mutters, childish petulance that Spock knows is only hiding some real, adult emotion. “And when I imagine a scenario where we both need to rent a tuxedo, this isn’t exactly it.” It’s lucky that theirs is the only car on Maple right now because Spock pulls the car to a halt; the unfamiliar rental jerks once, twice against the gesture before stopping in the middle of the street.
“Is it a secret agent fantasy?” For all that he is thirty-one years old and mostly vegetarian, Spock wonders if he is having a heart attack; his chest squeezes painfully and the air leaves his lungs and, not for lack of trying, he cannot take a breath.
Jim laughs. He is most irreverent about the things he takes most seriously, and he speaks of Spock the way he speaks of anecdotes or annoyances – casually, carelessly, with a feigned detachment that denotes an exact opposite of. It is their shared language of love. “Something like that.”
Spock tugs at the bowtie around his neck; he can’t breathe. “Yes, well, we have less than ten minutes to find parking and get to the party. If you’re seriously contemplating asking me to marry you, could you either find a faster way to do so or curb the impulse until later?” If Jim is irreverent where it matters most, Spock is annoyed – their partnership is more one of sarcasm than sincerity, barring those rare moments between them.
“I’m just saying,” and he starts the car again at the second burst of laughter. The air is lighter again, Jim’s nerves dissipated, and now the only pressing urgency is the dinner being held in his father’s honor. “Maybe I’ve thought of it.” And maybe he means it to sound flippant but it obviously does not, not with the way Spock cannot fight the sudden, sentimental smile that crosses his face at the thought. Jim does not even look over to notice it before responding in kind.
“Well,” and there’s no disguising the softness in his voice. “Maybe I’d say yes.” It strikes him then, on a Sunday afternoon in a rented Honda that smells faintly of old leather, that they have never spoken of a permanence that they have both clearly assumed. They have implied it in the day to day, the way they’ve merged their flatware and their friends and their families, the way that they co-own a cat and a car and even a bookstore by now, mingled their existences so entirely. He thinks, if he were thinking anything at all beyond how little he hates the idea, that maybe this is a conversation they’ve always been having. “Unless you do something entirely embarrassing about it, like crash my course or tie a ring to the cat. Then I would say no on principle.”
Jim rolls his eyes. “I would expect nothing less.” Completely irreverent.
Jim ties a ring to the cat.
Spock still says yes.