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All I Want For Christmas Is ... Inappropriate

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All I want for Christmas is … Inappropriate



Leonard McCoy strode into the University of Iowa Hospital Emergency Department just before seven thirty in the evening on Christmas. A year ago, he would’ve done anything—anything—to get out of a Christmas shift. Not just because anyone who came to the hospital on Christmas probably really had something serious going on, but because it was a family time.

But that was when he had a family.

Jocelyn wasn’t answering the phone. Len even tried calling from a pay phone, which he hadn’t realized how hard it would be to find, in case she was just blocking his calls. He tried all her numbers, plus his ex-in-laws’ number, but nobody answered anywhere. She was just plain shutting him out, viciously not allowing him to speak to his daughter on her favorite holiday.

He wondered, as he started looking through the charts of the patients in the various exam rooms, what Jocelyn was telling Joanna about why she hadn’t gotten to speak to her father today.

Or, even worse, maybe Joanna hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t talked with Daddy on Christmas.

Sure, Len thought, I fucked up bad. Real bad. But does my one affair trump Joce’s three, just because mine happened to be with a man? Hell, her affairs were all with men, too.

Len resolved to speak with his lawyer, first thing after the holidays, because no matter what was happening in Georgia, no matter why his daughter was being kept from him, it was unacceptable.

Their initial custody agreement had been based on the assumption that Leonard wouldn’t be leaving the Atlanta area. He certainly hadn’t planned to. At first, Jocelyn’s father, the director of the hospital Len was working at, had fired Leonard—without any reason except personal conflict, which Leonard couldn’t disagree with. But then, her father had spread vicious and untrue rumors about him, seemingly to every hospital in the state, and Leonard had had to leave Georgia to find employment.

“Merry Christmas, Len!” said a hearty voice from behind Len’s seat at a computer terminal.

Leonard jumped a foot in the air.

“Jesus, Jacob,” Len sighed. “You have to stop doing that!” He spun his chair around to see Jacob Steinhart, the doctor he was about to take over from.

“But it’s so much fun!” Jacob said. “And whoops, I see you’re not in the mood. Sorry.”

“Never mind,” Len said. “So what’s on deck? Room twelve looks potentially problematic.”

“He’s waiting on the cath lab,” Jacob said. “Room eight needs some sutures—sorry I didn’t get to it, but the guy in twelve came in just at the wrong time.”

“No problem,” Len said. “Any spectacularly stupid Christmasy accidents that’ll cheer me up?”

Jacob didn’t hesitate. “Oh yeah. This guy was deep-frying his turkey, and—”

“Wait wait, don’t tell me—he dropped a frozen turkey in the hot oil?”

“No, that’s so last year. He sloshed oil on the deck, and slipped and cracked his head open on the deck rail.”

Leonard frowned. “That’s not all that spectacular.”

“Oh, but I didn’t finish. He fell right near the stairs to the yard, and grabbed the railing to try to stay upright. It didn’t work. There was a Santa of some sort on the railing, and he caught his hand in the sleigh and ended up with a compound fracture of the radius and ulna, on top of a concussion and thirty staples in his head.”

Len whistled. “Okay, now that’s a Christmas to remember. Or maybe not, if he got any amnesia with the concussion. Wow.”

“Well, let’s hope you don’t get any that top that one,” Jacob said. “Anyhow—I have a date with the wife and kids for Chinese, so I’m outta here. Good luck tonight.”

“Thanks,” Len said. “Have a good night.”

Leonard finished looking over the charts, and talked to the charge nurse briefly. He checked on the cardiac patient in twelve, who was stable for the moment. The clot-busting medication that Dr. Steinhart had given didn’t seem to be doing the trick, so the patient was waiting his turn for balloon angioplasty.

“Julianna, can you come into eight in a second and set me up for sutures?”

“Sure—I just finished discharging six, so I’m all yours,” the nurse said.

He knocked on the wall outside of room eight, where a patient was awaiting sutures to a sliced hand.

“Yep,” the patient said, and Len pulled the curtain back.

“Mr. Swanson? I’m Dr. McCoy—I just took over from Dr. Steinhart, and I’ll be taking care of your stitches.”

“It’s about time,” the patient griped. “I’ve been here for like three hours.”

Len didn’t bother mentioning that on most nights, the wait would be even longer.

“Sorry about the wait, but another patient came in who was really sick. In any case, I’ll do your sutures right away.”

“Yeah, okay. So, uh, how does this work? I can’t say I like the idea of, uh, getting a sewing needle stuck in and out and in and out of my hand.” The patient’s face was suddenly several shades paler than it had been when he was complaining about the wait.

“I’ll numb the area with a few shots of lidocaine. I’m not gonna lie—that stuff stings like the dickens when it goes in, but only for a few seconds. Then, once it’s working, you won’t feel a thing when I stitch up that hand. Okay?”

“I guess,” the man said. A sheen of sweat appeared on his upper lip. “How many stitches do you think I’ll need?”

Leonard examined the wound carefully. “Five or six.”

“Oh God,” the patient said, flopping back in his bed, just as the nurse arrived and started getting out the supplies.

“Let’s get this over with, why don’t we,” Len said.

“Okay,” the man said weakly. “Sorry if I pass out. I’m really a wimp when it comes to this stuff.”

“It’ll be fine,” Leonard said. “It’s just a few stitches. Lidocaine, please, nurse.”

Julianna handed him the syringe, and Leonard gently prepped the areas where he’d be putting the local anesthetic in.

“Ow ow ow!”

Leonard bit back an annoyed noise that he really would have preferred to let out.

“I’ll try to make this quick,” he said instead.

He held the man’s hand gently at the wrist, and put in the first shot. He had to be less gentle at the wrist when the man nearly yanked his hand away as he yelled.

Leonard gritted his teeth. “Mr. Swanson, you’re going to need to try to hold still.”

“All right, all right! I’m trying!”

Like hell you are, Len thought, as he grasped the man’s wrist firmly before putting in the next shot.

“Ow ow! Fuck! That stings like a motherfucker!”

And I’ve seen four-year-olds who tolerate this a lot better than you, Len thought. Maybe a teddy bear would help. He put the next two shots in as quickly as he could, and set the syringe down on the tray.

“All right—that’s the worst part done. The anesthetic needs to work for ten minutes or so, and then I’ll be back to put in the stitches. Okay?”

“And that won’t hurt, right? You said it wouldn’t hurt, after the shots.”

“That’s right. If you feel anything, I can always add a little more lidocaine, but I don’t think you’ll need it.”

“Okay,” the patient said shakily.

“See you in ten,” Leonard said, yanking the curtain shut on his way out.

He returned to his computer terminal, and gently beat his head against the desk a few times.

“Unbefuckinglievable,” he muttered to himself. He typed a brief note into Mr. Swanson’s chart, just barely restraining himself from using any subjective language. As he finished, the radio console behind him came to life.

UI Hospital, please pick up for Riverside Ambulance.

Leonard turned around, and picked up the handset.

“Go ahead, Riverside.”

BLS crew on scene with a male patient, age twenty-six, conscious and breathing, but not alert per normal, with a fever of one-oh-two point five and severe vomiting and diarrhea for twelve hours. He had a brief loss of consciousness following a bout of vomiting at home, after which the family called 9-1-1. Last vomitus contained bright red blood. He has a history of stomach flu beginning seven days ago and ending two days ago. Three other family members are also ill, and are arriving separately by car. Pulse is 120 and thready, BP is 80/50, and respirations were twenty-four, decreasing to eighteen with four liters O2 by nasal cannula. Occasional arrhythmias have been noted on the monitor. IV attempted times two unsuccessfully. ETA twenty-five minutes. Please advise.

Leonard frowned. This guy really needed fluids, and he needed them now. But since they had only a Basic Life Support crew, more invasive interventions weren’t on the table.

“One more IV attempt, Riverside, then get on the road. Get me a blood glucose level, and update in five minutes.”

Copy, UI: attempt IV once more, BGL, and update in five. Riverside out.

Leonard drummed his fingers on the desk, and waited for the ambulance to get back to him. The timing was going to be tricky—he didn’t want to rush his way through Swanson’s stitches, but he needed to be available when the ambulance from Riverside came in with this patient.

He stood up, and went to find Julianna. She was in the process of triaging an incoming patient, an elderly woman who looked like she might have broken her wrist. He signaled to the nurse that he needed her.

“Excuse me a moment,” Julianna said to the patient and her husband, who was hovering anxiously.

“Sorry to interrupt, but Riverside is bringing us an unstable dehydration patient who’s going to need my attention as soon as they roll in. Can you let me know the minute room eight is ready for those stitches?”

“Sure. Can you write an order for x-rays for this patient?”

“Yep. Just the wrist?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Send me the chart when you’re done, and I’ll write the orders.”

“Thanks,” Julianna said. “Looks like it’s gonna be one of those nights.”

“For sure,” Len said. “The dehydration patient has three other ill family members, all coming in by car.”

“Terrific. I’ll be ready for them.”

The radio station came to life again.

UI, from Riverside.”

Len hurried to the radio.

“Go ahead, Riverside.”

Third IV attempt unsuccessful. Patient’s BGL is thirty-one. Attempted oral glucose, but patient was unable to tolerate and vomited twice. BP 78 palp, pulse 122 and thready, with arrhythmias noted on monitor approximately twice per minute. Respirations twenty. Please advise.

“Expedite your response. Update if there are any changes.”

Copy that, UI. Going hot, and updating upon changes.

Leonard heard the sirens kick in just as the ambulance’s transmission ended. He was worried about this patient. In an ideal world, he’d have a paramedic—the most advanced level of EMT—in the rig with him, who could do a 12-lead EKG, and determine what kind of arrhythmias the patient was having. And, a paramedic could also drill a catheter into a bone for emergency fluid delivery, which, at this point, he would have ordered for this patient. But it wasn’t an ideal world. Riverside was a small town, with a volunteer ambulance service.

He quickly wrote up the orders for the elderly woman’s x-rays, and waited for an update from Riverside’s volunteer ambulance crew.

“Dr. McCoy?” Julianna said, sending Len a foot in the air again. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s my fault. What’s up?”

“Eight’s ready for his sutures.”

“Right—thanks. Can you keep an ear on the radio? Riverside’s patient isn’t sounding so good.”

“Sure thing.”

Leonard returned to room eight, and gloved up. “You ready to get sewn up, so you can get out of here?”

“You bet. It’s not gonna hurt, right?” The patient’s eyes darted nervously to the suture tray.

“It shouldn’t. You’ll feel pressure and pulling, but you shouldn’t feel any pain. Some people prefer not to see what’s going on,” Len said, “so feel free to close your eyes or look away.” He knew he’d be dealing with justifiable puking soon enough, and didn’t really need any as a warm-up. “If you feel any pain, let me know if it’s intolerable, and I can add some more lidocaine.”

“Okay. Uh, let’s get this over with.” Swanson closed his eyes tightly.

Leonard started stitching.

“Ow!”

“Uh, did that truly hurt?” Leonard asked, surprised by the outburst.

“Um … no, I just thought it was going to.”

“I see.”

Len continued his work. It was just a laceration to the meat of the thumb, caused by a slip of a knife, but he didn’t want to leave any more of a scar than was necessary. Six careful sutures later, he inspected his work, and was satisfied.

“All done, Mr. Swanson.”

The man opened his eyes. “Really? That wasn’t so bad. Thanks, Doc!”

“You’re welcome. Now—the nurse will give you your discharge instructions—how to take care of the stitches, and when to get them out. Take care, and I hope the rest of your holiday is pleasant.”

“Thanks. You too. But you’re probably stuck here all night, huh?”

“It’s all right. I’m new in town, so I’m not missing anything tonight.” Except my beautiful daughter, Len thought. “Take care, now,” he said, as he exited the treatment room.

“What’s the news from Riverside?” he asked.

“Riverside reports no change,” the nurse said. “ETA is now seven minutes. And Cardiology just picked up room twelve.”

“Thanks.”

Len finished Swanson’s charting, and used the bathroom, because Lord only knew when he’d get another chance, with a whole family coming in with what sounded like a nasty case of food poisoning.

Just as Len emerged from the restroom, he heard the beeping of a rig backing up in the ambulance bay. The doors whooshed open, letting in a blast of cold air, and the Riverside EMTs wheeled the patient in. The unignorable smell of a violently ill patient followed shortly afterwards.

“This is Jim Kirk; since our last report he’s become markedly more lethargic,” the EMT said, handing the nearby nurse the middle copy of the paperwork she’d done en route.

“Room two,” the nurse said.

They wheeled the gurney into the small room, and the four of them—the two EMTs, Len, and the nurse—worked together to transfer Jim onto the bed. An aide stripped away and bagged the patient’s soiled clothing, and cleaned him up a bit as Dr. McCoy started examining the patient, who was too lethargic to protest being stripped.

Len leaned towards the patient, whose eyes were closed.

“Mr. Kirk?”

Nothing.

“Jim?”

The young man’s eyes struggled opened, and Len was immediately struck by their sapphire-blue color, sharp even through the haze of severe dehydration.

“Huh?”

“Mr. Kirk, I’m Dr. McCoy. Do you know where you are?”

“Uh …”

The patient’s eyes started to slide shut again.

“Mr. Kirk! Jim! Come on, now; I need you to stay with us.”

The patient didn’t open his eyes. Len grabbed him firmly by the muscle between his shoulder and his neck, and squeezed hard, to try to get a pain response. The patient moaned and tried to pull away slightly, but didn’t open his eyes.

“Nurse, IV pack, Ringer’s. And get him on a twelve-lead.”

Len surveyed the fellow’s arms, as the nurse started applying electrodes to the patient’s chest. With his BP in the toilet the way it was—along with a good percentage of his body weight, Len guessed—it was no surprise that the EMTs had had a hard time starting the IV, but Len knew he could do it. And he would have to—he could tell from the way the patient’s skin felt cold and clammy that he was getting shockier by the minute.

He pumped a BP cuff up on the guy’s left arm, and was able to palpate a vein that might just work. He held his breath as he pulled the too-loose skin tight, trying to anchor the vein so it wouldn’t roll, and slid the needle in. He saw the flash of blood, and released his breath as he pulled the needle, leaving the catheter in place. He hooked the bag of fluid up to the catheter, and set the valve to wide open, so the fluid would drip in as quickly as possible.

Just as he finished starting the IV, the patient vomited, and started coughing, but only weakly.

“Suction!” Len called, and a nurse used a wall-mounted suction device to remove the vomit from the patient’s upper airway.

“Ms. Sanders, I need a bolus of D25W,” he said. “We’ve gotta get this guy more alert so he can protect his airway.”

The nurse quickly handed him a large syringe filled with the sugar solution. Len pushed it through the IV port, and then flushed it with saline.

Len tried again to rouse his patient.

“Mr. Kirk? Can you open your eyes?”

The startlingly blue eyes opened, and this time, stayed that way. He blinked a few times, looking back and forth between the nurse and Len. His eyes settled on Len.

“I’m so fucked up,” he said hoarsely.

“You’re pretty sick,” Len said. “Can you tell me what’s been going on?”

“Puked all day. Had the runs all day. Feel like crap.”

“Did I hear right that you were sick last week, too?”

The young man nodded. “Yeah. Nothing like this, though. That was just a bug. This is … this is total hell. And oh shit, look out.”

“What?” Len asked, stupidly looking behind him. But it was too late. The patient leaned forward reflexively as his abdominal muscles did their part in making him vomit. On Len’s white coat.

The nurse grabbed a sickly yellow plastic basin to catch the rest. Once the heaves had subsided, the patient flopped, panting, back onto the raised bed, face pale and sweaty.

“Sorry,” the patient croaked out.

“It’s all right,” Len said mildly. There were indeed flecks of blood in the vomit on his coat, but it was bright red blood. From the small quantity, it was probably just a burst vessel from violent vomiting, and nothing more sinister.

“The EMTs said other people in your family are sick as well?” Len said.

“Yeah. Mom, brother, sister-in-law. Kids are okay. Oh shit!”

This time, the basin was handy. Jim Kirk dry-heaved several times, and lay back again, panting.

Len watched the cardiac monitor as Jim lay there, sweating and shaking. He saw several PVCs go by during the bout of vomiting, and the patient’s heart rate remained markedly elevated. Len didn’t like it—not one bit.

“Jesus. Fuck this. You gotta help me, Doc.”

“You’ve got an IV, which will get you rehydrated. I’m ordering some blood work to check on a few things, like your electrolytes and your kidney function. And I gave you something to boost your blood sugar, which was pretty low. That helped with your alertness, but I’m afraid there’s really nothing I can do about the vomiting at the moment,” Len said. He desperately wanted to make it all stop, but antinausea meds were generally contraindicated in suspected food poisoning. He watched the monitor again, and saw another PVC.

“What was that?” Jim said in alarm, clutching his chest.

“Tell me what you felt,” Len said.

“It was like my heart stopped for a second!”

The kid looked absolutely terrified.

“You’re having some arrhythmias—irregular heartbeats—probably from the dehydration. Have you ever had anything like that before?”

“No! Oh man, am I having a heart attack? I can’t be! I’m only twen—”

Jim’s imploring speech was interrupted by another bout of retching, which brought up watery bile and some more blood. His heart rate shot up to nearly 150, and his eyes were darting around wildly.

“It’s not a heart attack. I promise,” Len said. “The IV fluids should help soon. Listen—let’s get you a second IV, okay? To move things along a little.”

“Whatever you say, Doc. ’Cause this totally sucks.”

The nurse set another IV pack on the tray next to the bed.

“Doctor, do you want me to put the IV in?” the nurse asked.

“No no!” Jim said, flailing to grab Len’s arm. “No, you do it, Doc—please!”

“All right,” Len said soothingly. The kid was scared to death, and Len’s heart was breaking for him. “I’ll do it, okay? You try to relax, okay? Slow breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth.”

Len watched as the patient took a few breaths, and noticed that the guy’s attention kept turning to the steadily-beeping cardiac monitor. He reached up and shut down the volume control for the heart-rate function, eliminating the constant frantic echo of the patient’s elevated heart rate. With that noise gone, and after a few calming breaths, the patient’s heart rate went down to 120—still tachycardic, but better than 140.

“Good,” Len said. “That’s real good, Mr. Kirk. Now, I’ll start that other IV. Like I said, it won’t stop the vomiting, but rehydration should help with the irregular heartbeats.”

“Jim,” the guy said.

“Okay, Jim,” Len said, as he pumped up a BP cuff on Jim’s right arm. The two best places for an IV had already been tried by the EMTs, but there was a vein in the back of his right hand that looked all right.

“Sorry, this is going to sting,” Len said, as he prepped the spot he’d chosen.

“I usually pass out when people stick me with needles, but I prob’ly won’ even notice,” the kid slurred, exhaustion taking over as the panic subsided.

Another nurse came to the entrance of the room. “Dr. McCoy, the other sick family members are here.”

“All right—you two triage them and get them set up in rooms, and I’ll come have a look when things are more stable here.”

The two nurses left the room, leaving Len with the patient. Len finished prepping the back of Jim’s hand, and stuck the vein with the needle. He swore silently as he had to fish around until he got the catheter well placed. Once it was in, he taped everything down, and hooked up another bag of fluids, letting it run wide open.

“Jim, I’m gonna go have a look at—”

The kid lurched forwards again, and added some more watery bile to the emesis basin he held in his lap. Leonard found himself holding Jim’s head, and gently pushing the hair off his sweaty forehead.

“Okay?” he said gently when the round of heaving was over.

“Fuck no,” the kid groaned, and Leonard couldn’t help grinning at the total honesty of the remark as he wet a washcloth and gently wiped his patient’s face. He also couldn’t help noticing that behind the day’s worth of stubble, the hollow cheeks, and the sunken eyes, Jim was extremely good-looking.

Len had to get out of there. Fast. And not because of the smell.

“Jim, I’m gonna go have a look at your family, all right?”

“’kay.”

“They’re gonna wanna know how you’re doing. Can I talk to them about you?”

“Course. Family,” Jim said.

“Didn’t want to assume. You rest up, as best as you can.”

“You comin’ back?”

“Of course. I have a couple more patients to look in on, but I promise, I’ll come back soon to check on you.”

“’kay. Thanks.”

Len watched as Jim lay back and closed his eyes. When he realized he was no longer watching with a physician’s eyes, but with … something else entirely, he scowled at himself, left the room, and yanked the curtain shut angrily on the way out.

The triage nurse caught him as he started washing his hands at one of the sink stations.

“I’ve got the rest of the Kirks in one, three, and four. They’re all stable, but miserable. The mom’s in one—she’s the next worse off, and she also thinks she knows what did this.”

“Got it,” Len said. “I’ll go talk to the mom.” He dried his hands on some paper towels, and tossed them in the trash. He entered room one, just as a mid-fiftyish woman retched into her own yellow basin.

“Mrs. Kirk?”

The woman nodded as Len scanned the chart.

“I’m Dr. McCoy. It sounds like your whole family maybe ate something that’s making you sick.”

“How’s Jim?” she asked, clearly having only one thing on her mind at the moment. “He was so sick.”

“Better. He was dangerously dehydrated, and his blood sugar was low, but he’s more alert now. He’s got two IVs in, for rehydration and electrolytes. He’s looking better.”

Mrs. Kirk sighed in relief. “Thank goodness. He passed out in the bathroom, so I called 9-1-1. None of the rest of us are nearly as sick as Jim, but we figured we should all come in and get checked out, since he’s so bad and we probably all have the same thing.”

“Did you all get sick at the same time?”

Mrs. Kirk nodded, but then hesitated.

“Mrs. Kirk?”

“Well … Jim was throwing up before the rest of us this morning, but honestly I just thought he was hung over. I’m afraid I wasn’t very sympathetic. I yelled at him for making himself sick by drinking too much so soon after his stomach bug last week,” she said. The tears squeezing through the corners of her eyes proved she wasn’t nearly as dehydrated as Jim.

“He’ll be all right,” Dr. McCoy said gently. “Let’s talk about you for a moment. It looks like you’re feeling pretty sick, but all your vital signs are in the normal range except for the fever you’re running. I’m going to have a nurse get you an electrolyte drink—like a sports drink, really—to sip on very, very slowly. You may still vomit, but most people in your situation can do well with oral rehydration therapy. Do you think you can try that?”

“I’ll try,” Mrs. Kirk said wanly. “And … ah, is there a restroom nearby?”

“Right across the hall.”

Mrs. Kirk raced out of the room. Len made a note in her chart on the laptop in the room, and went over the charts for the other two family members while he waited for her to return.

“Sorry,” Mrs. Kirk said.

“Not a problem. The nurse who admitted you said you had an idea about what might have caused this illness?”

Mrs. Kirk nodded. “Yes—you see, only the adults got sick. The children—Sam’s boys—are fine. The only thing we could think of that we all had, but they didn’t, was the neighbors’ homemade spiked egg nog that all us adults indulged in last night. So I think there must’ve been something wrong with the brandy they put in it, if that’s even possible.”

“Nope,” Len said dryly. “Raw eggs. Salmonella. Classic. Nobody should ever eat raw eggs. Or drink them, for that matter. Ever.”

“But the eggs were fresh!” Mrs. Kirk protested. “The Petersens have their own chickens, and they would’ve just gotten the eggs that morning! I know you’re not really supposed to have raw eggs, but honestly, we all thought that was just because you never knew how long grocery store eggs have been sitting around by the time you get them! That’s why I thought it had to be the brandy, somehow.”

Len shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Even the freshest eggs can already be contaminated. Which it seems you’ve all learned the hard way.”

The bathroom door opened and closed again across the hallway—probably another Kirk, Len thought.

“Now I feel so stupid,” Mrs. Kirk said.

Well, you should, Len thought. “It would be a good idea to call your neighbors—to see if they’re sick, too.”

“Oh, God,” Mrs. Kirk said, burying her face in her hands. “They’ll feel awful if it turns out to be the eggnog. Which I suppose we’ll never know for sure. But if they’re sick too, I’d put money on it being the eggnog.”

“I’d pretty much put money on it at this point anyhow,” Len said. “I’ll have the nurse bring you the electrolyte drink. You’ll probably feel terrible for a few days, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t go home tonight if you can keep even a little liquid down.”

“All right,” Mrs. Kirk said. “Honestly, we wouldn’t normally come to the hospital for something like this—it’s just that Jim was so, so sick, and we figured we all had the same thing.”

“Did anyone else in the family have the stomach bug he had last week?” Len asked.

“Just Jim,” Mrs. Kirk said. “Is that why he’s so much sicker than everyone else?”

“Hard to say,” Len said, “but it’s certainly possible. And right now, I need to check on the rest of your family. So you try to rest, and the nurse will bring you the drink.”

“All right. Thank you, Dr. McCoy.”

“You’re welcome. No more raw eggs. Ever.”

Leonard got much the same story from the two other Kirks, Jim’s brother Sam, and Sam’s wife Aurelan, when he visited the other two rooms. He had the nurses get stool samples from all four patients—a task he was happy to pass the buck on—to send to the lab to confirm his tentative diagnosis of salmonellosis. He ordered the electrolyte drink for Sam and Aurelan, and, after washing his hands for what seemed like the millionth time, sat down at the computer to write a note in each patient’s chart. He checked on the elderly woman, whose wrist was indeed fractured, gave her a small dose of painkillers, and wrote a note for the on-call orthopedist, who was still in surgery from a car accident earlier that day.

Len decided to try to call Joanna one last time, even though it was late enough that she should’ve been sleeping for hours. Once again, his call seemed to be blocked or ignored. He shoved his phone back in his pocket again in disgust, and did his best to return his mind to his work.

The patient in room twelve had been admitted to the Cardiac ICU, and Mr. Swanson and his stitches were on their way home. Len sat at the desk for another minute, wondering why he was putting off going to check up on Jim Kirk.

For some reason, he was finding it harder to go see him than it was to look in on Swanson, or, on his last shift, a homeless guy who’d ODed on heroin, or, on the shift before that, the skinhead who’d gotten the swastika tattoo on his scalp sliced open with a broken beer bottle and was tweaked out on meth to boot.

There was nothing for it, though. Jim Kirk was currently the sickest patient in the ED, and needed his attention. So Len rubbed his eyes—was it really only ten o’clock?—and returned to room two. He tapped on the wall, and then slid the curtain open as quietly as he could.

Jim appeared to be dozing lightly. A clean emesis basin rested on his lap, and his mouth was slightly open. His lips were dry and cracked, and there was a fleck of dried vomit on his chin. The nasal cannula had gone slightly askew. He looked like hell.

But Leonard just couldn’t stop looking.

The buzz of the automatic blood pressure cuff pumping up startled Len out of his inappropriate reverie, and roused Jim as well. His eyes drifted open, and Len had to tear his gaze away to glance at the monitor.

“Blood pressure eighty-four over sixty, pulse one-fifteen, respirations eighteen. Nice progress, Mr. Kirk,” Len said, hoping he sounded at least somewhat professional. He examined both the IV sites, and found them to be in fine shape.

“Hafta take your word for it,” Jim said, “since I don’t know what any of those numbers really mean. And if you keep calling me Mr. Kirk, I’m gonna think you’re talking to a ghost, ‘cause my father’s been dead for twenty-six years. But that’s a story for another time. So, can I go home now?”

Len just barely bit back a bark of laughter that he knew would’ve have been both unattractive and, yes, inappropriate. The word of the evening, Len thought.

“Ah, that’s a resounding ‘no,’ I’m afraid,” he said.

“But why not? I’m feeling much … oh, fu—”

Len winced as the kid’s own abdominal muscles wrenched his torso forward. He helped steady the basin, and Jim’s head, as Jim puked and retched. The monitor bleeped, complaining about another string of arrhythmias, and Jim’s pulse shot back up into the 130s. The smell in the room strongly indicated that vomit was not the only bodily effluvium that had just been produced.

Leonard wet another washcloth, and sponged Jim’s face down again. He handed him a cup of water.

“Rinse and spit—don’t try to drink any,” he cautioned.

“Not on your life,” Jim said, now that he was able to speak again. “Fuck. Fucking fuckity fuck. Can I please just die now? This is so fucking embarrassing.”

“No, you may not die.” Len replied sternly. “I won’t allow it. I’ll have someone help you clean up, and then I’m admitting you upstairs.”

“Admitting?” Jim said, physically recoiling in horror despite his weakened physical condition. “As in, putting me in the hospital?”

“As in, yes.”

“But at home I can sit on the toilet with a bucket in front of me! I’ll be much more comfortable!” Jim protested.

“You need to be in the hospital,” Len said. “You’re doing a little better, but you’re still severely dehydrated. You need IV rehydration, and you need monitoring.”

“But—”

“What’s your living situation?” Len interrupted.

“I live in the farmhouse with my mom,” Jim said sullenly. “No laughing. We work the farm together. It works.”

“All right—well, think of it this way,” Len said. “Your mother is sick, too. Not nearly as sick as you’ve managed to get, but plenty sick enough that she doesn’t need to be worrying about you.”

“But—”

“Do you not remember, that just ninety minutes ago you were unconscious? That you were so sick you didn’t even notice when the nurse and the orderly stripped you naked and cleaned you up? That you were terrified because you felt your heart skipping beats?”

“Um, kind of? But—”

“But nothing, Mr. Kirk,” Leonard said sternly.

“Jim,” Jim insisted again.

“All right, Jim—look at this, then.” Leonard turned the monitor towards Jim so he could look at it. “The thing where you feel like your heart is skipping a beat? You’re only actually feeling a small percentage of them.” He pushed a button on the monitor to show Jim’s heartbeat. “Watch. When it looks like this—” Len pointed to the squiggly wave— “it’s called a normal sinus rhythm. Well, not actually totally normal, because I’m betting that 120 is about twice as fast as your pulse usually is. And—look, there it was. Did you feel that?” Len pushed a button to freeze the display, and pointed to a spot where the wavy line shot way up, and then dipped down farther than usual.

“That was one of those thingies?” Jim said.

“Yep. They’re happening a couple times every minute, probably because your blood is sludgy and thick from dehydration, and because your electrolytes—chemicals in your blood that can affect heart rhythm—are totally out of whack, also from the dehydration.”

Jim raised his eyebrows. “You really are a doctor, aren’t you?” he said in an impressed tone.

Len put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes. “Well of course I’m a doctor! What do I look like, with this white coat, and a stethoscope crammed in my pocket—a trapeze artist? A fireman? A pilot?”

“Well, it’s just that you look too—”

Jim got that pre-puking look again, and as he vomited, Len once again supported him and smoothed the hair off his forehead, with a gentleness that completely contradicted the crankiness in his voice. They repeated the face-wiping and mouth rinsing routine.

Jim sat silently for a moment as he regained some composure. “Fine,” he croaked. “Okay. You win, Dr. Sawbones. I’ll submit to shitting myself and having my ass wiped by strangers, for the sake of my mother. And because you’re a doctor, not a trapeze artist.”

“Good.” Len allowed one corner of his mouth to quirk up in a fraction of a smile. “Now, the rest of your family should be getting discharged in not too long, and they’ve all asked if they could come see you. Is that all right?”

“Sure. As long as I’m not stewing in my own shit, that is.” He pulled the sheet up around him more tightly, as if he could hide.

“I’ll send someone in to help you get cleaned up right away,” Len said. “After that, one of the nurses will do the admitting paperwork with you. I should warn you, it might take a while to get you a bed upstairs. We’re running a little slow tonight, what with the holiday and all. I’ll be back to check in on you after I look in on the other patients again.”

“Thanks, Dr. Sawbones.” Jim cleared his throat. “I appreciate it. I really do. Sorry I’m such a pain.”

The sapphire blue eyes gazed at him intently, and Len couldn’t help gazing back. Inappropriately.

“You’re not a pain. You’re just really sick. Now, you rest, and I’ll see you in a while.”

“Thanks.”

Len sent an aide in to help Jim clean up, and checked in on the rest of the Kirks, who were in the process of being discharged home.

“Are you sure it’s salmonella?” Mrs. Kirk asked.

“Well, the lab test takes three to five days, but it’s pretty certain you all have a food-borne illness. And I think your theory about it being the eggnog is probably right on the money.”

Mrs. Kirk sighed. “Salmonella has to get reported to the health department, right?”

“It does. I’ll report four suspected cases tonight, and the lab will follow up with me and the health department when the results come back.”

“Oh—and I reached the neighbors on Sam’s cell phone. They’re sick too—but just the adults, the same as us. Does … is … will the health department … do anything to them?”

Len frowned. “To be honest, Mrs. Kirk, I don’t know what exactly they’ll do. I’ve only been in Iowa for a few months, and this is my first reportable food-borne illness since I’ve been working here.”

“Oh. I suppose we’ll all learn, then. Uh—excuse me.” Mrs. Kirk dashed out of the room again, across the hall to the bathroom.

Leonard checked on the other two Kirks, who had finished their paperwork and were keeping each other company in one of their rooms.

“The nurse said we could wait here until Mom was discharged,” Sam said. “How’s Jim doing?”

“Better,” Len said, “but I’m admitting him overnight. He’s still working on IV rehydration, which I suspect is just keeping up with the fluid loss at this point.”

“It was really scary to see how sick he got,” Sam said. “I mean, we were all feeling pretty awful, but he just really crashed.”

“You were smart to call 9-1-1,” Len said.

“We had to,” Sam’s wife Aurelan said. “I mean, there was this crashing sound in the bathroom, and then he wouldn’t open the door when we knocked. The EMTs had a hell of a time getting him out of there—it’s so small, and the door opens in, and he was on the floor in front of the door.”

“EMTs are used to hauling people out of bathrooms,” Len said. “It happens all the time. Though usually it’s elderly people, or people who’ve had heart attacks. I almost think building codes should require that bathroom doors open outwards.”

“So, can we look in on Jim?” Sam asked.

“Why don’t all three of you look in on him briefly on your way out? He’s in room two. Check with a nurse before you go in, though,” Len said, not wanting Jim to suffer any more embarrassment than he already had.

“We will. Thanks,” Sam said.

Len sat at his computer terminal and updated Jim’s chart.

“Dr. McCoy?”

The charge nurse was standing in front of him.

“What’s up?”

“Iowa City PD just called—they’re riding in with IC Ambulance, bringing a male, 54, highly intoxicated, with a head laceration, and extremely noncompliant. Oh—he’s wearing a Santa suit, and insists he’s the real Santa.”

“Terrific,” Len said. “At least there’s no kids in here right now.”

It was shaping up to be a long, long night.

The police and EMTs brought in the raving, bleeding Santa in restraints, but the treatment of the wound needed to wait until he could be more cooperative.

Another potential cardiac patient was brought in; Len stabilized him and determined he wasn’t having a heart attack, but transferred his care to Cardiology as soon as he could.

During a lull, Len thought about his last conversation with Jim Kirk. What was it the kid had said right after he’d finally decided maybe Len really was a doctor, and not some kind of impostor?

It’s just that you look too …”

And then the barf.

Too what?

Too stupid? He’d never been told he looked stupid before.

Too young? Fat chance—the gray hair seemed to be creeping in more and more every day.

Too what?

Another patient rolled in; a toddler who’d just had a seizure. Working out that it had probably been a febrile seizure, and reassuring the parents, took his mind off the question for half an hour.

But as he did the paperwork for the toddler, the question seeped into his mind again.

Too what, though?

In Len’s fantasy world, it would be something like “too hot,” or “too good looking.”

Hah.

“Bah, humbug. You old fool,” Len muttered to himself. “What the hell are you thinking, anyhow?”

Len’s self-castigation was interrupted by the arrival of a new patient, a woman in her forties who was sure she was having a heart attack. The monitor showed nothing but an elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. On further inquiry, it turned out the woman had a history of panic attacks and anxiety, and had just had an unpleasant encounter with her passive-aggressive mother-in-law. She hadn’t taken her medication, because she’d been drinking, and knew she shouldn’t mix alcohol with Xanax. Len was sure this wouldn’t be the last ER visit related to family dynamics on one of the most stressful holidays of the year.

By the time Len was able to go check on Jim Kirk again, it was nearly midnight. Half of him was peeved that the admission process was so slow, but the other half of him was perversely glad he’d be able to see him again without it being odd.

Once again, Len tapped on the wall next to the curtain that was the door to room two.

“Yep?”

Leonard ducked into the room, feeling guilty about it even though he was supposed to be there. It was his job to be there.

Did Jim actually brighten up a bit when Len entered the room?

“Look!” Jim said, pointing to the monitor. “My pulse is lower, and my blood pressure is higher—that’s good, right? And I haven’t puked in like half an hour!”

“That is good. And before you even ask, yes, you do still have to stay in the hospital tonight.”

“Oh, I know. My mom made me promise I wouldn’t give you a hard time. Except there is this one thing.”

“What is it?”

“Can I please, please, pretty please, get up to use the bathroom? Please? With sugar and a cherry on top?”

Len rolled his eyes. “What are you, six? But sure. I can unhook your IVs for a minute. And the monitor.”

“Wait—hang on—will that mean I have to get stuck with new IVs?” Jim asked.

“Nope—the catheters stay in; I can just unhook the fluids from the tubing, just like this. See? No new needles required.” Len finished unhooking the IVs, and then pushed a button on the monitor to pause it while he removed the wires from the electrodes and took the BP cuff off Jim’s arm.

“Whew, you didn’t have to yank those stickers off me either. I mean, I wasn’t worried about putting new ones on, but it’s gonna smart, ripping those off. All zillion of them,” Jim said. He started to swing his legs over the edge of the bed, but McCoy stopped him in a hurry.

“Now, hold on there for a second, champ. Take it slow and easy—I don’t want you to pass out.”

Leonard helped Jim sit up slowly.

“Okay?”

Jim nodded. He looked down at himself, and frowned.

“Holy crap, I’m not wearing anything!”

Len opened a cabinet, and tossed him a gown.

“Oh, great—this is one of those hospital gowns, right? The kind that’s real breezy in the back?”

“Function over fashion, pal,” Len said, smirking at him.

“But … but …”

“Exactly,” Leonard said, the smirk intensifying.

Jim met Len’s smirk with an even gaze, and then a genuine smile.

“I thought I liked you, Dr. Sawbones, but now I’m sure. And don’t take that lightly—I’m a life-long iatrophobe, and I’m not kidding.”

They stared at each other for a few seconds, and a sudden wave of propriety came over Len. He helped Jim get his arms through the front of the gown without snagging the hardware.

“All right—let’s get you standing up. No—slowly, you idiot!”

Jim stood wobbling on his feet, as Len held him up by one elbow.

“I’m fine. Okay. You can let go now.”

Len let go slowly (and, when he was honest with himself, reluctantly).

“I’ll let you get yourself collected. Do you want someone to help you to the bathroom?”

“I think I can handle it. Thanks, Dr. Bones.”

Len left before he had a chance to wrestle with himself about offering to help Jim fasten the ties of the gown, and sat back down at his station to look over some lab results that had just come in. He was interrupted by a snicker from a nearby desk, and looked up to see what had caused the normally staid nurse to lose her cool.

Jim Kirk was strutting back from the bathroom, gown dangling every which way, ties unfastened, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination.

“Looks like your patient in two forgot something,” the nurse said.

Len planted his face into his open palm. “Good grief.” And he didn’t, absolutely didn’t, open his fingers ever so slightly so he could have a peek at what was going by. Which was shapely, and firm, and—

Inappropriate.

He stood up and returned to room two, since, after all, the IVs and the monitor needed to be reconnected. Urgently.

He didn’t bother to knock, since his patient obviously didn’t care about his privacy.

“You know, those gowns do have ties on them,” he said.

“Isn’t this the part where you’re supposed to say ‘don’t worry, it’s nothing everyone here hasn’t seen before,’ instead of complaining?” Jim said, as he settled himself back into the bed.

Len silently reconnected the monitor, and plugged the IV fluids back into the line in Jim’s left arm, then his right hand. He couldn’t come up with anything witty to say, but he trusted that Jim would have some choice phrase come to mind shortly. He looked back up at Jim, expecting to see a mighty smirk or grin, but instead saw a sheen of sweat on his upper lip, and a greenish tone to his suddenly pale face.

Len grabbed the basin from the table, and thrust it in front of Jim, just in time for Jim to make a deposit.

When that moment of Jim’s ordeal was over, he lay back, eyes closed, apparently concentrating on breathing. Len watched the monitor, concerned that perhaps he shouldn’t have let Jim get up after all, and was relieved to see the numbers returning to close to where they’d been before Jim’s trip down the hallway. He silently went to the sink and wet yet another cloth with warm water, and gently wiped Jim’s face for him again.

“You’re gonna be okay,” he said quietly. “I know it feels like this is gonna go on forever, and that you’ll never feel better again, but I promise, this won’t last forever.”

Jim’s eyes stayed closed, as he settled his breathing down to a more normal rate. He opened them again, and squinted at the doctor.

“Thanks,” Jim said.

They looked at each other again, bloodshot blue eyes meeting hazel ones, but neither one of them could think of anything to say.

There was a tap on the wall outside the curtain, interrupting the moment.

“Mr. Kirk?” said a woman’s voice.

“That’s me,” Jim said.

The woman entered. Len recognized her as a nurse from the medical unit upstairs.

“I’m Mrs. Greene; I’m a nurse on the medical floor. We’ve got a bed ready for you up there. Sorry it took so long to get you admitted, but we’re a little short-staffed at the moment.”

“It’s okay,” Jim said.

“Well: let’s get you out of here, and someplace a little more comfortable than the ER,” the nurse said. “You ready to go?”

Jim looked at Len again. “I guess,” he said, not breaking his gaze, as the nurse began unhooking him from the monitor.

“Dr. McCoy!” called a voice from the ER floor.

Len didn’t look away, and neither did Jim.

“Dr. McCoy! There’s been a multi-car MVA on the I-80! At least five patients!”

Len unlocked his gaze from Jim’s. “Take care, Jim,” he said quietly, as he left the room.

“Thanks, Doc,” Jim said.

Len didn’t have time to sort out what had just happened. After the first report from the officer at the scene, he switched straight into overdrive. He called in all the people who were on call for such emergencies, and helped the nursing staff get ready for several major trauma patients. By the time the first ambulance rolled into the bay, the well-oiled machine of the University of Iowa Emergency Department was ready to uphold its reputation as a first-class Level 1 Trauma Center.

Eight hours later, everyone who came to the ER alive was still alive. Leonard heard there were two people who didn’t make it to the ER, but he knew there was nothing he could do to fix that. Three patients had already been through surgery and been admitted to the Surgical ICU. Two more were awaiting surgery to repair fractures. Four had been treated and released. One of those four was released to the custody of law enforcement, as he had caused the accident, and had blown a .16 on the Breathalyzer.

It was nearly nine in the morning before Len had his paperwork wrapped up. It seemed to him that the second he logged out of the medical records system, the incomplete question reappeared in his mind:

Too what?

He sighed heavily as he opened the program again. It wasn’t unethical to check on the disposition of a patient he’d admitted to the hospital, he told himself.

He called up Jim Kirk’s chart. He paged through the nurses’ notes, and was appalled to see that Jim had had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to the first antibiotic they’d given him, which had set his progress back considerably. Len paled at the idea of a patient who was already that ill having anaphylaxis on top of everything else. It could easily have killed him.

He wanted to go upstairs, on his way out, and check on Jim. But he couldn’t sort out whether his interest was professional, or something else.

Len chewed on his fingernail, and wrestled with his conscience. Something had clearly passed between him and this patient. Sure, he’d been attracted to patients before, and had empathized with patients before. But he’d never felt such an intense draw to a patient before.

He’d had enough experiences with patients falling in love with him to know that such occurrences were commonplace. When a person takes care of someone else, especially in a crisis situation that’s emotionally charged for the patient, it’s common for the vulnerable patient to develop feelings of closeness to their caregiver.

And that, Leonard realized, was the problem. No matter what he felt, it would be inappropriate to act on it, even if Jim Kirk were willing, because of that dynamic.

With the weightiest sigh he’d produced during his entire shift, Len closed Jim Kirk’s records again, and went to the staff locker room. He tossed his coat and scrubs in the laundry, and changed back into his civvies. He left the hospital, squinting in the bright sunlight, got in his car, and drove home.

Chapter Text

Noon, December 29th.

Jim was relieved to be home. He was relieved to be able to run to his own bathroom when he needed to; relieved not to have any tubes sticking out of him or monitors attached to him; and relieved to have the opportunity to sleep in peace without being woken up constantly to be “checked up on.”

It wasn’t his fault he was allergic to the first antibiotic they gave him. And okay, maybe it was his fault that he got salmonella in the first place, but he’d learned his lesson. No sir, no raw, unpasteurized animal products would ever cross James T. Kirk’s lips again. Ever. For any reason.

Not even to earn himself another trip to the ER, for a chance to see that hot doctor again.

Jim had hoped beyond hope that perhaps Dr. McCoy would stop by upstairs to visit him. He’d eked various tidbits of information out of the staff of the medical floor he’d been admitted to—such as, that the ER staff worked twelve-hour shifts, 7:30 to 7:30. Jim hoped the fine doctor might pop in—just to see how his patient was doing—after or before one of his shifts. But it didn’t happen.

After Jim was released from the hospital, he spent a day shut in his room, and another day on the couch. He was feeling much better—only had to run to the bathroom rarely, and was able to keep some clear liquids down. But he just didn’t feel like doing anything, which caught his mother’s attention.

“I’m not entirely sure, Jim, but I think you might be moping,” Winona said, on Jim’s third day out of the hospital.

“Moping? Why would I be moping? Sure, I was really sick and all, but I’m getting better, right?” Jim said.

“Just don’t get sick again,” Winona said. “The last place I ever want to go again is to that horrible emergency room.”

“Why?” Jim said, cocking his head. “I mean, I was kind of out of it, but it seemed like everyone did a really good job.”

“Oh, I suppose I’m still annoyed at that rude doctor,” Winona said. “Making it seem like the fact we were all sick was our fault, and that we were a bunch of stupid hick idiots. I know I’m probably exaggerating, and taking things too personally, like I always do, but I just didn’t like him.”

Jim’s eyes goggled at his mother. “Uh, did we have the same doctor?”

“The cranky fellow, with the Southern accent? I’m sure we did have the same doctor. In fact, I had the impression he was the only doctor on duty, or I would’ve asked to see someone else. Why do you ask?”

“Uh … I just kind of thought he was okay, actually. I mean, not just okay. Good. I thought he was good. And I hate doctors,” he added, thinking, usually.

“Well,” Winona said, hands on her hips as she scowled at her son, “I suppose he probably was perfectly competent, medically. It’s just I’ve rarely encountered such a grating bedside manner. Maybe I’m taking it too personally, but I didn’t like him.”

“Oh,” Jim said. “Well, I did. He was … nice to me. I mean, I was puking all over the place, and shitting myself, and I was so embarrassed I wanted to die, but he … just made me sure everything was gonna be okay.”

“He just made me sure I was a total idiot,” Winona said.

“I even threw up on his coat, and it wasn’t a big deal. He was nice,” Jim repeated.

Winona squinted at her son.

“James T. Kirk, I do believe you have a crush on that doctor,” she said.

“Aw, c’mon, Mom!” But Jim’s blush, which was glaringly obvious on top of the paleness from his illness, gave him away.

Winona sighed, and sat down next to him on the sofa.

“Let me tell you something, Jim. It’s extremely common for people to develop a crush on someone who’s taken care of them at a particularly vulnerable time. Take for example Jeanine. And by the way, she will never hear from you that I mentioned this, or I’ll force-feed you some more of that eggnog—are we clear?”

“Crystal,” Jim said, shuddering. “But what about Jeanine?” He didn’t really see how his mother’s college friend could have anything to do with this.

“When you were small, she was in a terrible car accident. The firefighters had to literally cut her out of her car. One of them stayed in the car with her the whole time, steadying her head and neck, and talking her through the whole thing. To make a long story short, she ended up with a huge crush on the guy, and took cookies to the fire station to try to see him again. He didn’t really have any idea who she was—just another person he helped in the course of his job. She ended up embarrassing herself by showing up at the station again to see this guy, who turned out to be happily married. The station’s captain could see what was going on, and took her aside one day and told her not to come back. He told her how common that sort of thing was, and not to be embarrassed, but she was mortified.”

“So your doctor,” Winona continued, “was just doing his job, Jim. He was being nice to you, and taking care of you, because that’s what he does. All day, every day, with lots and lots of people.”

“Oh,” Jim said, in a small voice. “I guess that’s probably true.”

“Aw, sweetheart,” Winona said. “I’m sorry.”

“No … no, it’s okay. I guess that was a bubble that kind of needed to be burst.” Jim rubbed his temples with his fingertips. “But … I guess I just kind of thought maybe something was going on between us. I mean, looks, and stuff. I guess it was probably like you said, though.”

“Jim …”

“I’m gonna go take a nap.”

Jim slowly climbed the stairs, went to his room, and closed the door. He closed the blinds against the midday sun reflecting off the snowy ground, and climbed into his bed. He rolled over on his side, and clutched a pillow to his chest. He closed his eyes, but all he could see was a furrowed brow, flared nostrils, and hazel eyes that seemed to be trying to tell him something.

~!~!~!~

7:30 p.m., December 29th.

Len tossed his keys on the desk that was his for the night at the ER, and started looking through his email. One message from the lab was flagged as “urgent,” so he checked it out right away.

All four salmonella tests he’d run on his Christmas night shift had come back positive. Not that he was the least bit surprised—the histories the patients gave, combined with the symptoms, made it unlikely to be anything other than a food-borne illness, and salmonella seemed the most likely.

The lab, as required, had notified the health department, and was sending letters to the patients. Nothing would change in the course of any treatment they might still need, but it was required by law to notify the patients that the results were positive.

He wondered, for the millionth time, how Jim Kirk was faring. He’d resisted temptation, on his shift two nights ago, to look at Jim’s hospital records, because he really didn’t have an excuse. But now, since he knew what the diagnosis was, it wouldn’t be outside the bounds of professionalism and ethics to look at his chart to see how he fared during his hospital stay.

Or, at least, that was what Len told himself, as he clicked on the link that would take him to Jim’s on-line chart.

Jim was discharged home on the 27th, with instructions to follow up with his family doctor on the 30th. Len remembered that Jim had made it clear that he disliked doctors—had a strong phobia, if he was interpreting the patient’s declaration of iatrophobia correctly.

He looked at the database field that should hold the name of the patient’s primary care physician, and it was blank.

Leonard drummed his fingers on the desk, and wrestled with his conscience. It really wasn’t his responsibility to make sure that this patient had appropriate follow-up. Hell, it wasn’t even the responsibility of the hospitalists who’d cared for him during his stay on the medical floor. It was the kid’s own responsibility. And Len had a sneaking suspicion that this guy wasn’t going to go see anyone by the 30th. He probably wouldn’t have gotten the letter by then, notifying him of his official diagnosis with a health-department reportable illness, so he might not take his illness seriously.

He looked at the field containing the patient’s home telephone number, and copied the information down onto a sticky note.

Len searched his soul for a moment. Would he be contemplating phoning for follow-up if the severely ill, physicianless patient had been Mrs. Kirk, the brother, or the sister-in-law? He decided he would, if all the information he had were exactly the same, only the person was not someone he found himself inappropriately attracted to.

He knew the dangers of becoming involved with a patient. He understood the power that someone perceived as a rescuer, or an angel of mercy, could potentially have over the person they were helping, whether they meant to or not. He was pretty sure the attraction had been mutual—in fact, he would’ve bet on it—but he also was well aware of the fact that the attraction that the patient felt for him was almost certainly based in that well-known syndrome of patients being attracted to their doctors.

So he’d be nothing but professional, and overly courteous, and he’d do anything he could—except take advantage of the power dynamic—to get Jim Kirk to go to a follow-up appointment.

He picked up the phone on the desk, and punched in the Kirks’ number, purposely using the home’s landline rather than Jim’s cell phone—less personal that way, he thought.

The phone rang three times on the other end, and a masculine voice answered.

Hello?”

“Hello, this is Dr. McCoy from the Emergency Department up at the hospital in Iowa City. I’m trying to reach Jim Kirk, please, with some news from the lab.”

Uh, that’s me. Is there something wrong?

“I’m just calling to let you know that the test came back positive for salmonella. You should be getting a letter from the lab. But I’m also calling to make sure you’ve made an appointment for a follow-up visit. It’s important—just to make sure you’re continuing to improve as expected.”

There was a pause on the line. “Okay. I haven’t made an appointment,” Jim said finally, “but I will.

“Do you have a doctor?” Len asked, knowing perfectly well he didn’t.

Uh, I’m sure there’s one around somewhere.

Len sighed. Here he was, butting into this guy’s business. And here he was, about to overstep his bounds. But the last thing he wanted was for this kid to end up in his ER again with complications that could’ve been avoided.

“Look. It’s the twenty-ninth. You were supposed to follow up by, when, the thirtieth? That’s tomorrow. As a new patient, you won’t be able to get an appointment tomorrow. Then the next day is New Year’s Eve, then Friday is New Year’s Day, and then it’s the weekend. Monday puts you at January third.”

So, uh, what should I do, then?”

“If I make you an appointment with someone for tomorrow, will you go?” He almost said ‘please,’ but realized that would somehow sound more personal. “I know a guy who will probably be willing to squeeze you in.”

There was another pause, longer this time.

Okay. Sure. I’ll go.

“Thank you. I’ll have their office get in touch with you.”

Okay. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Take care, now.”

I will. Thanks. Bye.

Leonard put the handset back in its cradle, and sighed heavily. He dredged though his memories of local physicians he’d gotten to know during his months in Iowa, and one idea came to mind straight away.

The practice he had in mind for this patient had evening hours, so he called right away. He was astounded to be put through to the doctor almost immediately.

“Brad? Len McCoy, here, from the U of I ED.”

Len! What can I do for you?

“Listen, I’ve got a reluctant patient, who doesn’t have a primary care physician, and who really needs follow-up, sooner rather than later. I thought of you because I think you’ll have the light touch he needs, but you also won’t take any bullshit from him. Any chance you could squeeze him in tomorrow?”

There was a short pause and some clicking while the doctor on the other end of the line checked his calendar on the computer. “Sure—I can work him in at noon. What’s the story?”

Len gave him the rundown of the history of Jim Kirk’s illness. “He’s scared sick of doctors, and I thought you would have that gentle touch.”

Brad laughed. “You must’ve scared the shit out of him, then!

“Yeah, sure. The shit didn’t seem to need much help, actually. But thanks for taking him on—I appreciate it.”

No problem.”

“One more thing—could someone from your office call him to confirm? I need to … back away slowly.”

You scared him that bad, huh?” Luckily Brad didn’t wait for the answer, and continued. “But sure—I’ll have the receptionist call him now.

“Thanks—I really appreciate it.”

Len put the phone down, and closed Jim Kirk’s chart for the very last time.

Chapter Text

January 6th, 1 p.m.

Jim sat across from Dr. Bradley Wilton at his second follow-up.

“All the bloodwork from last time looks fine, Jim. And it sounds like you’re feeling a lot better.”

“Mostly,” Jim said. “I mean, the gut’s not what it used to be, that’s for sure.”

“That may take a few weeks. Stick with bland, easily digestible foods as much as you can, and work other things in slowly.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “So, can I go back to doing whatever?”

“If, and only if, you feel up to it. Don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t stop what you’re doing if you start to feel unwell. You’ve probably never been this sick before, and I can’t stress how important it is not to just jump right back into a strenuous job. Even in modern times, farming’s hard work.”

Jim nodded. “Not gonna argue with that. Okay—I’ll do what you said. I sure don’t wanna end up how I was before. But to be honest, in the dead of winter like this, there’s not too much really strenuous work. Not like in the summer and fall, when we’re growing and harvesting feed.”

“Good,” Dr. Wilton said. “Well—you’re nearly a free man.”

“Nearly?” Jim said, frowning. “What’s the problem?”

“Your medical records seem to end when you were about twelve, with that broken arm. There’s not a thing in there after that. Fourteen years of nothing.”

Jim shrugged. “I don’t like doctors. Nothing personal. I just don’t like getting poked and prodded. Especially poked. You didn’t see what happened when the nurse in the lab stuck me to get my blood last time, but it wasn’t pretty.”

“Well, then, here’s the bad news. You’re overdue for just about every booster on the face of the planet. And you’ve never had a Hep B series.”

“Shots?” Jim said, suddenly two shades paler. “No way, nuh uh.”

“In a month, when you’re really fully recovered, I’d like to see you back here for some boosters, and for the first Hep B shot. I can’t make you, of course, but it’s really important.”

“Why?” Jim said. “I mean, nobody ever gets any of those diseases anymore.”

“That’s because they’ve been vaccinated. And actually, each year there are epidemics of nearly every childhood disease. The people who get sick are people like you, who never had boosters, or the occasional person who didn’t get vaccinated for some other reason. And let me tell you, any one of those diseases could knock you just as flat as the salmonella did, in a variety of excruciating and unpleasant ways. Tetanus can even kill you.”

Jim sat there silently, not making eye contact with the doctor.

“Would you like to tell me anything about why you haven’t had any boosters?”

After a few more moments of silence, Jim just blurted it out. “I fainted, all right? When I was a teenager, my mom dragged me in to get a flu shot, and I fainted. That was bad enough, but then the dumb nurse gave me shit about it. So that was that.”

“That happens to some people—the passing out.”

“I know—you’re gonna say it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and I should just man up and get the shots.” Jim shook his head. “That’s not how it works.”

“I know. But I’d be neglecting my duties if I didn’t make sure you understood the risks of not being up-to-date with your vaccinations. And I can promise you that nobody who works in this office will treat you with anything but respect and compassion, and that we’ll do our best to make sure the experience isn’t any more unpleasant than it needs to be.”

Jim sat there, looking at the floor.

“Listen—at the hospital, when you were really, really sick, did anyone give you a hard time about it?”

Jim shook his head.

“Good—because it wasn’t your fault. Just like passing out when you get stuck with a needle isn’t your fault. It’s called vasovagal syncope. Some people just have a reaction to any kind of medical procedure, or seeing blood, or any number of things, that makes them get lightheaded or even pass out. It happens to me, too, if I see my own blood,” Dr. Wilton said.

“Really? How do you do your job, then, if you pass out when you see blood?”

“It only happens when I see my own blood. I can see any quantity of anyone else’s blood, but a simple nosebleed from my own nose lays me flat every time.”

“Oh,” Jim said. “I thought I was just a wimp.”

“Nope. The worst case I ever saw was a linebacker from the college team. He only had to think about needles to get lightheaded.”

Jim thought for a few seconds. “So, nobody’s gonna give me a hard time?”

“Nope.”

“And I’m not a wimp if I pass out? Or feel like I’m gonna puke?”

“Nope.”

Jim chewed his fingernail for a moment. “Okay. A month from now, you said?”

“Yes. You can make an appointment on the way out.”

“Okay. So, uh, can I go?”

“You certainly can.”

Jim made the appointment on his way out. He had a brief thought that perhaps Dr. McCoy from the hospital had sent him to this guy on purpose, because he thought the guy might be able to convince him to come back. But that would mean McCoy had been thinking beyond his responsibilities as an ER doc, which might just mean that maybe, just maybe, Jim was correct that something more than doctor/patient dynamics had occurred between them.

It probably hadn’t. His mother’s explanation made much more sense than wishful thinking.

It didn’t matter.

Jim put those thoughts aside, and got in the car to do the grocery shopping, which he’d promised his mother he’d take care of since he was going to be in town anyhow. He parked in the lot at the Fareway, and grabbed a cart on the way in.

Half an hour later, Jim was making his final stop, in the dairy section, when his heart flipped over in his chest.

It was him. Right in front of the eggs. This time he had on jeans and a winter coat instead of scrubs and a white doctor’s coat, but it was definitely the same guy. No question about it.

Jim watched as the doctor from the ER opened a carton of eggs, muttered something, put it back, and repeated the process.

“Make sure you cook those things all the way through,” Jim said.

The doctor jumped and spun around, practically throwing the carton of eggs at Jim, who caught the box gracefully.

“Sorry,” Jim said, handing the carton back. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It happens,” the doctor said dryly. “Jim Kirk, right?”

Jim nodded, his heart-rate picking up as he realized the guy remembered his name.

“Yep. Dr. McCoy, right?”

“You got it. You feeling better?”

“Yeah, mostly. It was a long haul, and like I just told that doc you sent me to, the gut’s still not quite the same, but way better.”

McCoy nodded. He stepped across the aisle, and reached into the dairy case. He set two quarts of vanilla yogurt in Jim’s cart.

“Yogurt. Between the salmonella and the antibiotics, the bacteria in your gut are out of balance. Yogurt and other foods with live cultures can help.”

“But I don’t like yogurt,” Jim said, and once again found his eyes locked with the doctor’s.

“Tough shit,” McCoy said, staring right back at him.

Jim held the stare for another few seconds, then burst out laughing. “Okay, you win, Dr. Sawbones. I’ll learn to like it, or I’ll choke it down.”

“Good,” McCoy said. He hadn’t exactly been scowling before, but something shifted in his face, and Jim liked it.

“So, uh, what are you doing now?” Jim asked. He was blushing, and he knew it, but he didn’t care.

“Shopping, I thought.”

“No—I mean after. When you’re done. Because there’s a coffee place across the street. If you wanted to get a cup of coffee. When you’re done shopping,” Jim said, feeling like his tongue was tripping over every stupid word.

“I’ve got frozens. I have to get them home,” McCoy said.

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s about ten degrees out, Dr. Sawbones. Come on. Just coffee. I mean, unless that’s, like, against the rules or something.”

Jim watched as the doctor wrestled with himself.

“It kind of is,” Len said finally.

“Even though I’m not technically your patient anymore?”

“Even though,” Len agreed.

“But that was two weeks ago. For like three hours total. And I swear, I’ll never show up at the ER ever again. Plus, I can’t stand doctors. And I’d just as soon forget all about that little Christmas present I got from the neighbors’ eggnog. So whaddaya say? Coffee? It’s just coffee. That’s not against the rules, right?”

Len struggled mightily with himself, but in the end, his curiosity (or, at least that’s what he told himself it was) beat his conscience. “I guess it’s not. Not anymore. Okay. I’ll meet you over there in like fifteen minutes.”

“Great!” Jim said. “I’ll be … wearing what I’m wearing now, and not leaning up against a lamppost smoking a cigarette.”

“Good. And I won’t have a red carnation in my buttonhole. See you shortly.” A hint of what might just have been a smile flickered across Len’s face, and he pushed his cart farther down the dairy aisle.

Jim went through the checkout line, and put the groceries in the car. He pulled out his cell phone and called home.

Hello?”

“Hey, Mom, it’s me. Everything’s cool and I did the shopping and everything, but I ran into someone and we’re gonna have coffee. So I’ll be a little later than I thought, but everything’s cool.”

Good—did you remember the spaghetti? Because that’s for tonight.

“I got everything on the list, and then some,” Jim said, thinking of the yogurt.

Okay. See you later.

He trotted across the street to the coffee shop, and saw that the doctor was already sitting at a table, with a steaming cup in front of him. Jim got his coffee, and sat down across from McCoy.

“So, Dr. Bones,” he said, raising his mug. “Here’s to pasteurization.”

They clinked their mugs, and drank.

“Leonard,” McCoy said. “Or Len.”

Jim frowned lightly. “Hmm. Doesn’t fit. Got a middle name?”

Leonard rolled his eyes. “I’ll tell you sometime, maybe. Trust me, it definitely doesn’t fit.”

“What, is it weird? My middle name is Tiberius. I bet you can’t top that.”

Len guffawed. “Okay—you win. Horatio.”

Jim sat back and smirked. “I like to win. But I can’t call you Horatio, that’s for damned sure. So I’ll just stick with Dr. Bones.”

Len shook his head. “Nope. Doctors don’t … have coffee with their patients.”

“Just Bones, then. Hmm, I think I like that. So, Bones—what’s your deal?”

Len debated with himself how much he was willing to say. “Might as well make it all or nothing,” he said aloud. “So here it is. Came here from Georgia six months ago. Seems my ex-father-in-law made it next to impossible for me to get hired most everywhere I’d ever thought of living, so here I am in Iowa, where the department chair didn’t care I’d gotten the sack in Atlanta for cheating on my wife, who happened to be the daughter of the hospital’s chief administrator, with another man, even though she cheated on me with lots of other men. And as a bonus, after that little tidbit, the family court judge my ex-wife’s law firm made sure our custody case came up in front of didn’t see me as a fit father, what with my sleeping with another man, so I haven’t seen my little girl without her mother and stepdaddy for two years, now. And what’s your deal?”

“Wow. I don’t think I’m gonna win this one. I work on the farm with my mom, and I go to school at U of I part time. My gate swings both ways. I was a bad teenager. That’s about it. So you win, this time.”

“Terrific. I finally win something, and it turns out to be a contest for who has the most pathetic life,” Len said.

“Sorry,” Jim said. “I didn’t mean it that way. Really. I’m sorry about your daughter. How old is she?”

“Just turned seven,” Len said. He fished his phone out and tapped it a few times. When he held it up, there was a picture on the screen of an adorable girl with brown pigtails and a gap-toothed smile.

“Wow, she’s real cute. She looks just like you, except with less teeth,” Jim said. “I’ve got two nephews—Sam and Aurelan’s kids.” He passed Len his phone to show him a picture.

“Ah, the kids who didn’t drink the eggnog, and didn’t get sick,” Len said. “Do they live around here, or was your brother just visiting for the holidays?”

“They live in Riverside, too. My mom’s the brains behind the farming operation, but Sam manages the staff, and does some hauling, too.”

Small talk exhausted, the two men sipped their coffee. Jim tried not to stare too hard at the way Len’s shoulders filled the long-sleeved T-shirt out so perfectly, but it didn’t really work. Len did his best not to latch on to Jim’s bright blue eyes, but he failed at that, and once again, the two men’s eyes locked, just the way they had at the hospital.

“I thought I was making it up,” Jim said quietly. “Whatever this is. Please tell me I’m not.”

“You’re not,” Len said in a voice so quiet it was nearly a whisper. “God help me, but you’re not.”

“Good,” Jim said, smiling ever so slightly.

“Maybe you can answer me one question, though,” Len said.

“Try me.”

“When you were in my ER, you said something about not really believing I was a doctor at first. You said I just looked too … and then you puked. What was the rest of that sentence? If you remember, I mean.”

“I remember,” Jim said, his smile broadening. “You looked way too sexy to be a doctor. Probably a good thing I didn’t get to finish, huh? I have this problem with just blurting things out.”

Jim watched as Len blushed, but otherwise didn’t lose his composure.

“But,” Jim said, “I have to say, I was a disgusting, helpless mess. Why would you even look at me? Unless you go for the helpless type. Which I should say right away I’m not.”

“All I noticed at first was an unstable patient. But once I got you stabilized … I guess I kind of liked the way you dealt with what was happening. You were scared as shit, and miserable, but you weren’t gonna take any bullshit. Plus, I could see right past the puke and the sweat and the sunken eyes,” Len said, blushing again. But to Len’s delight, Jim turned a nicely pinkish hue as well.

“Here’s another thing I guess I should say,” Jim said. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t ask you here to try to pick you up and take you home with me for a no-strings fling. I want to know you, okay? I have no idea why, but it’s like I have to.”

“I … I think we’re on the same page,” Len said.

“Good,” Jim said.

“Yeah.” Len cleared his throat. “So. What are you studying?”

Jim laughed. “Education, of all things. Yep, gonna be a teacher. Eventually. I like working with kids, and it fits reasonably well with farm work, what with getting summers off. It’ll probably be another few years before I’m done with school, though. This whole part-time thing makes it take an awfully long time to finish a degree. And you? Well, I mean, you’re a doctor, duh. But in the ER—that’s a specialty, right?”

Len nodded. “I’m actually pretty crummy with people, so I needed a specialty where I wouldn’t be dealing with the same patients on a regular basis. We’d just get pissed off with each other. So emergency medicine is perfect. I can be moderately cranky with people who deserve it, but as long as I keep it down to a dull roar, I probably won’t get fired.”

Jim’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “So it’s true!” he blurted.

“What’s true?”

“My mom—she said you were a jerk, and that you made her feel like it was all our fault for getting sick.”

“I suppose I probably did, didn’t I? But Jim—raw eggs!”

“It’s not quite as bad as, say, shooting heroin, or smoking crack, though, right?” Jim asked.

“Or slicing a bagel while you’re holding it in your hand, or going up on the roof to put the Christmas lights up when you’re drunk, or standing on a swivel chair, for Christ’s sake, to put the angel on top of the tree, or—”

Jim laughed. “We ordinary, non-doctor people are really stupid, aren’t we?”

“I’m sure not everyone’s stupid all the time. But people always come in to the ER and say things like, ‘boy, that was stupid.’ And it’s hard not to agree. There’s no such thing as a smart accident. At least that I’ve encountered.”

“You must really see a lot of bad shit,” Jim said.

Len nodded. “There’s no arguing with that. It doesn’t get much worse than it did right after you were taken upstairs, when we got nine trauma patients from that multi-car pile-up on the I-80. Two patients were kids, and that … that’s hard.”

“Did everyone make it?” Jim asked.

Len sighed. “Everyone who made it to the ER made it out of there alive. There was one guy who wasn’t doing well after surgery. I’m not sure whether he made it or not. And there were two people who never made it to the ER.”

“Geez,” Jim said.

“What I can’t imagine is being a first responder. I mean, being right there, in the panic, cutting screaming people out of mangled cars, and knowing you don’t have the equipment or training to fix what you’re seeing. I rode along with the paramedics in Atlanta a few times during my internship, and man, they really see some awful stuff.” Len cleared his throat again. “But anyhow. Let’s change the subject.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “I live in a big old drafty 1870s farmhouse, on the far end of Riverside, which is about half an hour from here. How ‘bout you?”

“Well, I’ve only been here for six months. I had to rent an apartment over the internet, and I ended up in a building full of med and law students. It’s all right; I’m just not used to hearing other people’s noise, and smelling other people’s cooking. As soon as I can muster up a down payment, I’ll look for a house.”

“Wow,” Jim said. “I’ve never lived by myself. Is it weird?”

“I guess it’s only weird for me because I used to live with my wife and daughter. Till I got thrown out.” Len took a long swig of his coffee, and suddenly looked like he wished it were something else entirely.

“Hey,” Jim said, putting a hand on Len’s arm. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that up. Sorry.”

“Nah, it’s okay. I just … hate not being able to see my daughter. And I hate that she might grow up resenting me for not being there, even though it wasn’t by my own choice.”

“I’m sorry,” Jim repeated.

They looked at each other from across the small round table, and noticed that they were holding on to each other’s hand. Len didn’t let go, but held on to Jim’s hand, sliding it off the table and downwards, so their fingers were intertwined under the table.

“I bet you anything she knows you love her like crazy,” Jim said.

“I tell her every time I get to talk to her,” Len said. He found that his thumb was stroking the heel of Jim’s hand under the table. Still, neither one of them let go. “Anyhow. I don’t really want to talk about that anymore.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “Let’s change the subject again. Winter. Iowa. What’s that like for a Southern gentleman?”

Len raised one eyebrow and scowled at the same time. “I’ll agree with the ‘Southern’ part. But the rest? Have you met me?”

“Not nearly as many times as I’d like to,” Jim said. “But seriously.”

Len shrugged. “I don’t mind the cold. And I think I’ve more or less figured out how to drive in this shit,” he said, waving his free hand vaguely at the snowdrifts outside.

“Next time it snows a lot, I’ll take you out to the Riverside High parking lot, and we can spin some donuts,” Jim said.

Len raised both eyebrows this time.

“Not just for fun,” Jim pointed out. “You can let your car get out of control on purpose, and experiment with how to get it back. Not for fun. For safety,” he said, managing to keep a completely straight face.

“Well, as long as it’s not fun, then okay,” Len said.

Jim’s phone vibrated, and then made an annoying sound.

“Shoot—I should look at this. Sorry,” Jim said, as he took his hand back and flipped his phone open to look at the incoming text message. “No, damn it, Sam! No, no, and no! Why now?”

“What’s wrong?” Len asked in alarm.

“It’s my brother. He’s hung up on the road, and needs me to pick the boys up at school. In half an hour,” Jim said, as he thumbed a response into his phone. “And I kind of have to do it. So I kind of have to go, like, right now, since their school is more than twenty minutes from here. I really don’t want to. Because … you’re here. But I have to.”

“Okay,” Len said. “But … uh …”

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” Jim asked, before Len could muster up the right words.

“I hope I’m seeing you,” Len said.

“Good answer. What’s your number?” Jim asked.

They exchanged numbers, and as Jim was dashing out the door, he called out “I’ll text you later, okay?”

“I have to work at seven thirty!”

“I’ll catch you before then. For sure,” Jim said.

The bells on the coffee shop’s door tinkled as Jim dashed out into the snow, throwing his coat on as he went.

Len watched him go. He sat at the table, finishing his coffee, his feelings an odd mixture of confusion and total serenity. When his mug was empty, he cleaned up the table and went back to his car. He felt like a teenager—he couldn’t think of anything but how he was going to make it through his shift tonight, and get to sleep tomorrow, in anticipation of a date.

Jim hated leaving that coffee shop. Normally he wouldn’t have minded in the slightest being asked to pick up his nephews, who he adored, but Sam’s timing was despicably cruel.

On the drive back to Riverside, and to the elementary school, Jim thought about what had just passed between him and the doctor—no, Bones.

This wasn’t, by any means, the first time Jim had felt a strong attraction for someone. But for the first time in his life, he didn’t just want to jump right into the sack with him. He wanted to know him, inside and out. Of course, he definitely wanted to jump in the sack with him. There was no question about that. But … that wasn’t all. And that was new.

“Uncle Jim! Uncle Jim!”

Two little blond boys jumped up and down at the school gate.

Jim pushed his reveries to the back of his mind, and jumped out of the car to scoop up his nephews.

“Hey, boys! Your dad asked me to pick you up today—so here I am!”

“Awesome! What’re we gonna do? Are you all, all better? Like, better enough we can go sledding? On the big hill?”

“I think so,” Jim said. “For a little while. But I’ll be in really, really big trouble with my doctor if I get worn out and end up sick again, so when I say we’re done, we’re done, all right?”

“Okay, Uncle Jim!”

The gang spent forty-five minutes sledding down the hill at the farm, until Jim called it.

“Time to go in, boys,” Jim said. “Uncle Jim’s out of gas. How about some hot chocolate?”

“Yay!”

“And yogurt,” Jim said, as his gut churned slightly.

“Huh?”

“Never mind,” Jim said.

Once the kids were inside, warm and dry, and filled with hot chocolate, Jim allowed them their daily half-hour of screen time. He pulled out his phone, and smiled as he texted Bones.

[hi bones]

A few seconds later, his phone chimed.

[Hi Jim. What’s up?]

[just hanging with the kids]

[cool]

[freezing actually] Jim replied

[oh?]

[sledding]

[Jesus, Jim, it’s like 0 degrees out!]

[you should try it sometime georgia boy] Jim replied, grinning at the scowl he could imagine on Bones’s craggy face.

[Maybe when it’s above 20.]

[ur on]

The next message from Bones took a couple seconds to appear, but made Jim want to do a little happy dance.

[Really liked seeing you today.]

[yeah me 2. thats 2x that eggs have brought us together]

[Let’s try to keep eggs out of our third meeting.]

[LOL. Can I pick u up @ 6 tomorrow?]

[Do you know the Hillwood aparments?]

[yeah ha ha grad student geekland.]

[True. #6-F.]

[k don’t dress up]

[I wouldn’t dream of it. Just one question. What does ‘don’t dress up’ mean in Iowa?]

[LOL jeans dude]

[Good. See you tomorrow.]

[k c u then]

Jim pocketed his phone and joined his nephews on the couch for the rest of the cartoon they were watching.

“Who were you texting, Uncle Jim?” the older of the two boys asked during the commercial.

“Someone special,” Jim said.

“Like, kissing special?”

“I sure hope so, kiddo.”

“Ew,” Peter said, wrinkling his nose. “Kissing is gross.”

Jim just put his feet up on the coffee table, and thought about kissing Bones. To his nephews’ delight, he didn’t even notice when the cartoon ended, and another began.

~!~!~!~

January 6th, 7:30 p.m.

Leonard began his shift with a spring in his step, and people noticed.

“You’re in an awfully good mood tonight, Doctor,” the charge nurse said.

“What, just because I’m usually a cranky bastard, I can’t be cheerful every now and then?”

The nurse raised his hands defensively. “Just sayin’,” he said.

Len sighed. “Sorry. Just, uh, punch me in the arm if I’m not paying attention tonight.”

“Oh? Got something—or someone—that might be on your mind? I hope it’s something good.”

“It is,” Len said, unable to keep himself from actually smiling.

“Good,” the nurse said, smiling back.

The patient load was low so far that evening, with no seriously unstable patients present at all when Len arrived. At eight, a woman with a badly broken ankle arrived; Len gave her some pain medication and got her into x-ray while the orthopedist got set up for surgery. Shortly afterwards, a woman ran into the ER, shouting that her husband was in the car and needed help.

Len, a nurse, and an aide hurried out to the car, and transferred the patient onto a gurney.

“Full arrest!” Len shouted.

A flurry of activity ensued, with several people working at once in different ways to resuscitate the patient. Soon the man was covered with medical paraphernalia, including automatic electric defibrillator electrode pads and EKG electrodes. He had a tube down past his vocal cords that allowed oxygen-enriched air to be delivered to his lungs without interrupting CPR. His left tibia had a catheter drilled into it to deliver medication—a faster solution than trying to get an IV line into a collapsed vein. People traded off doing CPR compressions, each person exhausted after a few minutes.

After ten minutes and several fruitless shocks from the defibrillator, the line on the monitor switched over from being a randomly wiggling line showing ventricular fibrillation to a flat line, showing no electrical activity in the heart. Shocks would no longer be helpful in returning the man’s heartbeat.

Thirty minutes, later, after thousands of CPR compressions, hundreds of breaths delivered artificially, and a variety of medications to encourage the return of circulation and to stabilize blood acidity, Len said the words he always hated saying.

“Stop CPR. I’m calling it.”

Everyone looked at the line on the monitor, which, except for artificially-induced activity, had been flat for nearly thirty minutes. They’d done everything they could, but it hadn’t worked.

“Time of death: nine oh four p.m.”

Leonard swore he could actually feel the instant deflation of all the people in the room. He knew he could feel it in himself. He stripped off his nitrile gloves, and threw them away angrily.

Before he went to talk to the wife, he splashed water on his face to wash away the sweat. He steeled himself, and called the man’s wife in to talk in a private room. Fifteen minutes later, after he had explained what had happened, and had done his best to offer whatever comfort he could to the new widow. He’d taken her in to see her husband’s body, and had helped her call her children.

When she was ready, he excused himself. He changed into fresh scrubs, and sat on a bench in the locker room for a minute. What he really wanted to do was knock back a few shots, but that wasn’t an option. Instead, he retrieved his phone, and texted Jim, which was only slightly less inappropriate than alcohol at this point.

[Hey, are you still up?]

A moment later he got a reply.

[yeah bones u ok? arent u @ work?]

[Yeah. Just lost a patient. Sucked.]

A second later, his phone rang, and the caller ID said ‘Jim Kirk.’

“Hi.”

Hey. I’m real sorry.

“You never get used to this,” Len said abruptly.

I bet not. How can I help?

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t actually be talking right now; there are patients waiting. I just needed to … I don’t know. Sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you with this. I hardly even know you. And I shouldn’t even have my phone on.”

It’s okay, Bones. I’m … glad you texted me.

“Yeah. I … I need to go. I just needed …”

I know. You go take care of some more people, okay?

“Okay. See you tomorrow.”

You bet.

Len turned his phone off, and returned to the ER, where three non-critical patients were awaiting his care. He put his game face on again, and got back to work.

~!~!~!~

7:30 a.m., January 7th.

Leonard couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so exhausted from a single shift. Ever since the man who arrived in full arrest, the waiting room had been full of patients, and it was all he and the other doctor on duty could do to keep up. Actually, they hadn’t kept up, since unstable patients kept coming in and trumping the minor lacerations, simple fractures, and general illnesses in the waiting room.

As he changed back into his street clothes, Len seriously considered just claiming one of the beds for doctors at the hospital, rather than making the short trip home. But he never slept well in the on-call room, so he suffered through walk to his car, and the seven-minute drive to his apartment. He trudged up the stairs, brushed his teeth half-heartedly, and staggered to his bedroom. Out of habit, he turned his phone on, just to make sure there weren’t any urgent messages that couldn’t wait until he’d gotten some sleep.

There was a text from Jim waiting for him, from 7:31 a.m.

[hi bones. i dreamed of kissing you. have a good sleep. c u @ 6.]

Len fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Twenty-five miles to the south and west, Jim Kirk sat at the breakfast table with his mother. The two of them had just returned from the morning chores, and were having coffee and bagels.

Jim sipped his coffee, and stared off into space.

“Jim!”

He snapped out of it, hearing the annoyed but amused tone to his mother’s voice.

“Huh? Sorry, ‘m kind of distracted. What did you say?”

“I asked if you wanted another bagel.”

“Oh. Uh, no thanks. I think I’ll have some yogurt, though,” he said, getting up to serve himself a dish.

“What’s with the yogurt? I didn’t think you liked it,” Winona said.

“Oh—someone told me it’s good for the gut after antibiotics,” Jim said. “You want some?”

“Sure, I’ll have some,” Winona answered. “Who told you that, anyhow? I always thought it was an old wives’ tale.”

“A doctor,” Jim said, “who I don’t think believes in old wives’ tales. Apparently anything with live cultures can help get guts back in balance. Who knew?”

“Oh, that’s right—you had that appointment yesterday,” Winona said. “Did Dr. Wilton say anything else of interest?”

“Um, I’m way behind on boosters. I have to get a lot of shots. And he said there’s this thing that a lot of people have, where they get woozy with needles and stuff, and that I’m not a wimp.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t have to see that doctor from the ER. He’d probably just tell you to grow a pair and not be a baby,” Winona said.

“Hmm, I don’t know about that,” Jim said. “Anyhow. On a different topic—” which it wasn’t, at all, but Winona didn’t need to know that yet, Jim thought, “I kind of have a date tonight. Sam’s gonna cover for me for the end of afternoon chores.”

“Oh—all right. Is this someone I should know about?” Winona asked, smiling at Jim.

“I hope so, eventually,” Jim said. “This will be, uh, the third time he and I have met up.” Which wasn’t exactly a lie. It just made it easier to say the next part. “And, uh, hopefully I won’t be home tonight until really, really late.”

“If at all?” Winona said slyly.

“Um … don’t know if we’re there yet.”

“Do I get to meet this guy sometime?”

“Probably,” Jim hedged.

“But I’m not going to get a thing out of you right now, am I?”

“Nope,” Jim confirmed, glad she’d gotten the message.

Now all he had to do was make it through the day, and try to keep his mind on things other than teasing a smile from frowny lips, and smoothing a furrowed brow with kisses, and …

It was going to be a long day.



Chapter Text

Leonard had set his alarm to wake him at four p.m., but ended up not needing it. Just before four, he woke, refreshed and exhilarated.

And hard as a rock.

He hadn’t yet come up with a good term for ‘morning wood’ that happened in the late afternoon, after he’d slept off a night shift. But the solutions weren’t any different, so he started the shower up and stepped in under the hot spray. His hand moved to his cock of its own accord, and settled into a familiar pattern. But his mind wandered in a different direction than it had recently, and settled on bronze hair, sapphire eyes, and full lips that were just begging to be kissed. By him. After all, Jim had dreamed about it, so it was only fair.

He imagined that the hand on his cock was broader, and more calloused, and stronger than his own. He changed the rhythm of his hand, to further his fantasy that it wasn’t his hand, but someone else’s entirely. He imagined what Jim’s cock might feel like in his hand, and pictured Jim licking his lips, and envisioned his bright blue irises thinning to narrow rings around huge pupils, dilated with lust.

Len supported himself by leaning with one arm on the wall of the shower stall as his hand sped up. He imagined Jim groaning his name—or, rather, the nickname Jim had bestowed upon him—in the throes of passion, and this auditory image pushed him off the edge of the cliff he was on, and he came hard, spurting onto the wall, groaning out the name of his fantasy lover.

He leaned heavily on the wall, panting, as he recovered.

“Dirty ol’ man,” he muttered to himself, as he splashed water to rinse the wall, and finished his shower.

While he had toast and coffee, Leonard started wondering whether this date he was about to go on was really such a good idea. After all, the guy had been his patient, so there truly could be that hero-worship complex going on. Not that Len thought of himself as a hero, but the risk was there that Jim had a distorted perception of Len, and that his attraction was based on the fact the Len had cared for him in a time of need.

Len resolved that this date would be about figuring out whether that was true. His initial impression was that Jim was someone who didn’t take bullshit, but was more than happy to dish it out. Not in a malicious way, but in a cheerful way. Len really wanted to get to know Jim, but he also needed to be as sure as he could that Jim’s interest in him was genuine, and not based on some knight-in-shining-armor syndrome.

And, he realized, he needed to be extremely cautious. Even though he’d only had Jim as a patient once, briefly, Jim had still been his patient. So technically, even weeks later, it wasn’t right for them to have any kind of relationship, even though there was no anticipation that Jim would ever be under his care again.

Len tried to kill time by reading the news, but he couldn’t fool himself into believing he could actually pay attention. Instead, he cued up an episode of his favorite crime drama, and before he knew it, it was quarter till six.

He put on his best jeans, and a polo shirt, and shoes that wouldn’t make him look like an old fuddy-duddy. There was no way he was going to look anything like good next to Jim, but that’s just the way it was going to be. He gelled his hair into the casual messed-up look he favored when he wasn’t working. And, at six sharp, the knocker on Len’s apartment door sounded. He took a deep breath, and opened the door.

“Hey, Bones.” Jim stood on the doormat on the landing.

“Hi, Jim. Come on in while I get my coat,” Len said.

Jim stepped just inside the apartment, and looked around. “Nice place.”

“It’ll do, for now. The floors and ceiling seem to be made of cardboard, and the boiler sounds like a heavy metal band,” Len said, as he pulled his coat on.

“So, you might be wondering where we’re going,” Jim said.

Len stopped dead in his tracks. He actually hadn’t given it a nanosecond’s thought.

“Or not,” Jim said, laughing. “But either way. Thai, or sushi?”

Len scowled. “You do realize that sushi is raw fish, right? And that Iowa, last I checked, isn’t anywhere near any ocean? Is the idea of undercooked food ringing any bells, there?”

Jim paled. “Okay, so I used to like sushi. Thai it is, then.”

“Good. I love Thai.” They stepped out into the hall, and Len locked the door.

“Spicy, or not too?” Jim asked.

“Place I used to go to in Atlanta had a spiciness scale of zero to five; I’d always get a four.”

“Awesome. And this place is only a few blocks from here—wanna just walk?”

“Sure,” Len said. “On the way I’ll have time to think about how stupid it is that I didn’t know there’s a Thai restaurant within walking distance of my home.”

Jim laughed. “You probably never noticed it. Until a year ago, it was a crummy Italian place that went out of business. The new owners didn’t redecorate much, so is still looks like a cheesy Italian place.”

They walked down the nearly-deserted street, talking about this and that. When they reached the door, Leonard realized he’d walked past the place many times, but never noticed it, because he wasn’t a fan of Italian food, and assumed that a place that looked Italian and was named ‘Anna’s’ was probably Italian.

Before they went inside, Len grabbed Jim’s upper arm.

“Wait. I have to tell you something, okay?”

Jim cocked his head. “Okay. Fire away.”

“I was thinking, after I got up today. And, this is kind of hard to explain, but I need to give it a shot.” He took a deep breath, and hated it when he could hear the shakiness in his own exhalation.

“It’s okay, Bones. Just say it.”

“See, it’s like this. I really want to get to know you—like we said yesterday. But here’s the thing. There’s this … I would call it a syndrome, actually, of patients, or rescuees, or anyone who needs help in a crisis, developing feelings for their rescuer, their doctor, their therapist, or what have you,” Len said carefully. “I know I’m … intrigued by you, and, well, attracted to you. And I think you feel the same way.”

Jim nodded.

“But, I need to figure out whether—”

Jim interrupted. “Whether my feelings for you, whatever the hell they are, are based on anything other than that syndrome. Got it. I was the vulnerable patient; you were my knight in shining armor; yadda yadda yadda. I know about that stuff. And who knows—maybe there’s a little of that going on—I can’t prove there’s not. But here’s what I do know. I hate doctors. I hate being doctored. So falling in love with a person who’s doctoring me, because they’re doctoring me?” Jim shook his head. “No way, no how, Bones. But I can’t prove that, so what are we gonna do?”

“I think,” Len said slowly, “we just see what happens. Maybe we’ll be sitting there after half an hour, and won’t have a damned thing to say to each other, and it’ll be so awkward that we both want to kill ourselves by sticking satay skewers through our eye sockets and into our brains.”

“And Bones, maybe that won’t be what happens. Maybe in half an hour, the waitress will be getting annoyed because we haven’t even ordered yet, because we’re so caught up in … things,” Jim said. “I have a feeling that by the end of the evening, we’ll know. We’ll know whether I have Stockholm syndrome, except with a patient and a doctor instead of a prisoner and a captor. We’ll know whether you see me as a patient, or maybe something else. We’ll know.”

Len looked back at Jim. “Okay.”

“Okay. Let’s go in.”

Jim opened the door for Len, and they stepped inside. The hostess seated them, and Len started looking at the menu.

“Anything you’re allergic to or hate?” Jim asked.

“Can’t stand okra or liver,” Len said, “but I wouldn’t expect to find them here.”

“Well, I’m allergic to eggplant,” Jim said. “Plus, for some reason, I’m kind of off anything really eggy right now. But—will you trust me to order some good stuff?”

Leonard was about to object—he didn’t really know Jim, so how could he trust him? But …

“Sure,” he said.

“Great. And—gee, I don’t know anything about you. Drinks, or no? I mean, do you even drink?”

Len snorted. “Far too much. But to be honest, I just got up two hours ago, so it’s kind of early for me. You go ahead, though.”

“Maybe not,” Jim said. “I think maybe I’ll keep all my inhibitions intact for now.”

Len raised his eyebrows. “You have inhibitions? First I’ve heard of it.”

Jim grinned. “See? You already know me a little.”

The waitress took their order, and they continued to talk about topics deep and shallow, mundane and exotic. Food, sports, work, family. Past, present, future.

Nearly two hours later, after they’d drawn their meal out to marathon length, neither one of them was even thinking about the questions they’d posed at the door to the restaurant.

“You probably have to be up early,” Len said with regret.

Jim shrugged. “Morning chores are at the ass-crack of dawn no matter how early I get to bed.”

“All right, then, let’s find someplace to get coffee. Unless you had some other destination in mind?” Len asked.

“Coffee’s good.”

They walked a little further downtown, and ducked into a small coffee shop, where they spent another hour. For most of the hour, their knees touched under the small, round table, and neither of them made any effort to keep them apart.

When the coffee shop closed, they walked, and talked, and walked, and talked. Around eleven thirty, Len stopped and stomped his feet, and rubbed his gloved hands together.

“I have a confession to make,” he said. “Two, actually.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “What are they?”

“One, I’m so cold I think my brain is going numb. And two, I have absolutely no idea where we are right now,” Len said sheepishly. “I’m really sorry, but I think I need to get inside.”

“No problem—it’s freezing out here. We’re only ten minutes from your place. I’ll walk you back there.”

They walked back at a brisk pace, close enough to each other that their shoulders bumped repeatedly. Just as with their knees in the coffee shop, no attempts were made to stop the contact from happening. When they finally arrived at Leonard’s building, and Len got out his key for the exterior door, he put a hand on Jim’s shoulder.

“Come up for a minute? I want to ask you something.”

“Sure,” Jim said.

Len let them both into the building, and then into his apartment. Once they were inside, and the door was closed, Len took off his hat and gloves, and set them on the table by the door.

“What’d you wanna ask me, Bones?”

“Did you really dream about kissing me?”

Jim nodded, blue eyes shining.

Len leaned towards Jim and plucked his hat off. He took Jim by one lapel, and by the back of his neck, and pulled him closer, planting a gentle kiss on his lips. When Jim leaned in, snaking his arms behind Len’s back and maneuvering them closer together, Len deepened the kiss, tasting coffee and a hint of leftover Thai spiciness. They kissed in the narrow foyer for several minutes, until Len pulled back.

“Was it anything like that?” he asked softly.

“The dream wasn’t nearly as good as the real thing,” Jim whispered, as he went back for more.

A few minutes later, they parted, and stood back to look at each other. They were both still in their coats and boots, and they both knew that was how it needed to be this time.

“We need to do this again soon,” Len said.

“Really, really soon,” Jim agreed. “Like tomorrow. But shit—you probably have to work tomorrow night.”

Len shook his head. “I have a few days off, and then I’m back to day shifts for a few weeks. But I’ll be a wreck tomorrow, trying to adjust to the time change.”

“Whoa—that’s like major jet lag. Like going back and forth between Iowa and China every few weeks. Or … or New York and Australia. How can you even … okay I’m babbling,” Jim said.

“You are,” Len said, smiling a crooked half-smile.

“Tomorrow,” Jim said. “You call me, since I have no idea when you’re gonna be sleeping.”

“Me neither,” Len said. “I’ll call you.”

They kissed once more, until Jim pulled away, groaning. “Okay, okay—going now.”

“Tomorrow,” Len said, as he let Jim out.

Chapter Text

Just before noon the next day, Len texted Jim.

[Hey Jim.]

It took a while, but Jim texted back.

[o hi i was in the barn. wassup?]

[Wanna have lunch?]

[yes yes yes yes yes yes yes i do :)]

[Good. I can come down to your neck of the woods, since you’re working today and I’m not.]

[that would be great because theres not a lot of time between lunch and afternoon chores which sam covered for me yesterday so I cant ask him again today and] [and I totally have to see you again like now]

[Me too. Where should I meet you? I don’t think your mother would like it if I showed up to pick you up at your house.]

[theres a diner on the main drag in riverside. bingos. c u there? what time? i can be ready whenever.]

[I’ll leave now. See you there in like half an hour.]

Twenty-five minutes later, Leonard arrived at Bingo’s diner, and surveyed the scene for a familiar face. Everyone in the place looked like a farmer, and Len felt a bit out of place.

“Bones!”

Len turned, and there he was.

Jim looked like a farmer, too, in worn jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. But, Leonard reminded himself, he was a farmer. He was a farmer on Christmas day in the ER, and he was a farmer at the grocery store, and the coffee shop, and last night when they were kissing just inside Len’s front door.

“Let’s get that booth back there,” Jim said, pointing to a small booth near the kitchen.

As they made their way past the counter and the other booths, several people greeted Jim, and looked at Len with interest that made him want to disappear. Only one person stopped Jim, though.

“Jimmy!”

“Hey, Chris!”

“Good to see you up and about. You look awfully skinny, though. Everyone doing okay?”

“Oh, sure. I’ll be working on that skinny problem here at lunch. And thanks again for helping out while we were all sick. That was really awesome of you.”

“You’re welcome. How’s that one cow doing, who had the leg ulcer?”

“She’s fine—that ointment did the trick all right, so thanks. Oh—Chris, this is my friend Leonard McCoy. He moved up here from Georgia. Bones, this is Chris Pike—he’s the local vet,” Jim said.

Len shook Pike’s hand, and felt somewhat more comfortable, meeting someone who spoke his language.

“McCoy, nice to meet you. What brings you to Iowa?”

“Oh, I got a job offer I couldn’t pass up at the hospital in Iowa City,” Len said.

“He’s a doctor in the emergency room. Keep ducking hooves the way you do, and you should be able to avoid his professional services,” Jim said. “But anyhow—I don’t have a ton of time, so we oughta go eat. Good to see you, Chris.”

“You too, Jim. Nice to meet you, McCoy.”

“Likewise.”

They sat down in the tiny booth, and once again their knees met under the table.

“Good to see you,” Jim said in a low voice.

“You too,” Len said, smiling despite his nervousness at the situation.

“You look nervous—what’s up?”

Len rubbed his brow. “Um, this is going to sound really awful, but … I panicked a little, because I thought you were going to mention that I was your doctor at the ER. We shouldn’t tell people that, because I could get in trouble.”

“I know. I realized as soon as I said what you did that you might think I was gonna say something like that. But I won’t,” Jim said.

“Okay,” Len said. “Um … do we need a story? That sounds kind of creepy, but maybe we do.”

“People around here tend to mind their own business,” Jim said.

“Yeah, but it’s a small town,” Len replied. “I grew up in a small town. People might look like they’re minding their own business, but on the inside they sure as hell ain’t.”

Jim grinned.

Len scowled. “What?”

“Your accent. It’s cute.”

I don’t have an accent. Everyone else does.”

“Whatever you say, Bones. I still say it’s cute. But—leave the story to me, if anyone around here asks.”

Len raised an eyebrow.

“Trust me,” Jim said. “I know what I’m doing.”

“The last time someone told me that, I ended up needing a thousand dollars of work done on my car,” Len said. “But okay.”

“Okay.”

They looked at their menus.

“What’s good?” Len asked.

“Um … nothing?”

Len laughed. “Points for honesty. What’s least bad?”

“Actually, the Reuben is pretty good,” Jim said. “And there’s no eggs in it.”

“Hmm. Okay.”

The waitress took their order, and Len looked around the diner, feeling like a complete alien. Everyone in the place except him was a farmer, or in some kind of agricultural business. There were feed caps everywhere, and it seemed that half the men were wearing Carhartt bib overalls. It hadn’t really occurred to him before, but he was dating someone from a completely different world.

“Hey, I got my class registrations confirmed for the spring semester.” Jim handed the paper across the table to Len.

Len looked at the paper, and felt more at ease—Jim was a farmer, but he was also a student. That was familiar to him. “Developmental Psychology, and Social Foundations of Education. Sounds great.”

Jim looked carefully at Len. “You look … not quite yourself. What’s up?”

“I guess I feel a little out of place.”

“Hmm. Yeah. Funny thing is, so do I. This is gonna sound awful, since it’s my hometown, but I never really felt like I belonged here. Chris Pike tried to convince me more than once to just get out of Riverside, but … I can’t just abandon my mom. Can’t just abandon her family’s farm,” Jim said.

“That’s commendable. It’s a tough business, from what I hear,” Len replied.

“Yeah. Especially with all the mega-farms buying up all us little folk. But anyhow. That’s all boring.”

Len frowned. “Not to me. I’d like to hear about what you do. Like, for instance, you talked about morning chores, and afternoon chores. What all do you do?”

“Seriously? You want to hear about farm chores?”

Len nodded. “I do.”

“Okay … just kick me under the table when it gets boring. So, the alarm goes off at four-thirty a.m. …”

Jim spent the time before their order arrived laying out the morning chores, and while they ate, he went over the afternoon chores.

“Kid, I’m exhausted just listening to all that. How do you do that every day, and also fit two classes in on top of it?”

“Oh, I don’t do all of it. Mom and Sam and I all work together, and we’ve got three guys who work for us full time from spring through fall, and here and there during the winter.”

They both finished their sandwiches, and gratefully accepted top-offs for their coffee.

“Can I ask you something else?” Len said.

“Of course,” Jim said. “Fire away.”

“What would people around here think if they knew … uh … how can I put this,” Len said. “Shoot, never mind. I’ll ask you later.”

“What, if they knew my gate swung both ways?” Jim said, not bothering to lower his voice. “Hell, Bones; I said I was a bad teenager. I think everyone who cared to pay attention to my various misbehaviors probably has that one figured out. A third of ‘em probably don’t admit it to themselves, though, and another third of ‘em avoid me, and then there are some people who genuinely don’t give a shit. There was this one guy who … strenuously objected to his daughter going out with me. But it can’t be worse than, say, Georgia.”

“Hmm,” Len said, looking around the diner again. “Maybe that’s a story for another time.”

“Sure, Bones,” Jim said easily.

“So. Can I see your farm sometime? Maybe help out with some of those chores you were tellin’ me about?”

“Really?” Jim said, face brightening.

“Yes, really,” Len said. “Why?”

“Uh, because I thought you were just asking all that stuff to be polite.”

Len burst out laughing.

“Or maybe not,” Jim said. He put on a thinking face for a moment. “How ‘bout this. Tomorrow my mom’s going to her sister’s, so it’s just me in the afternoon. Why don’t you come over for afternoon chores?”

Len thought about the proposal for a second. “Okay, sure. Then maybe we can do something after.”

“Definitely.”

They stared at each other stupidly for a few seconds.

“Or,” Jim said, “we could run away to Tahiti together, right now, and never come back.”

“All right. Let me go home and pack my swim trunks.”

Jim laughed, and they slid out of their booth. They paid their check at the counter, and went out to their cars.

“Wish we could end this date the way we ended the last one,” Len said quietly.

“Hmm,” Jim said. “I could drag you out behind that dumpster there.”

“Or we could be grown-ups and wait till tomorrow,” Len said. He looked at Jim, and looked at the dumpster. “Or not.” He nonchalantly strolled towards the alley, and Jim followed like a puppy, practically tripping over his own feet.

As soon as they were concealed from the parking lot, Len took Jim by the lapels and put him up against the wall, not violently, but forcefully enough that Jim knew he wasn’t messing around. Okay, he was messing around, but was serious about it.

They were exactly the same height, so Len was able to lean into Jim and kiss him thoroughly without anyone’s neck having to bend unduly. Jim closed his eyes and melted into the cold brick wall, and admitted to himself with the few neurons that were still active that he was mildly shocked by Bones’s sudden forwardness. The thought that Bones might actually be a pushy bastard thrilled him and sent a shiver down his spine that Len apparently felt, as he pulled back briefly.

“You okay, there?”

“So totally okay, Bones,” Jim said breathily, as he pulled Len back towards him.

This time, Len let his whole body press Jim into the wall, from knees to lips, and suddenly the Iowa winter temperatures didn’t even register anymore. Heat flowed from his chest, upwards to his face, and downwards, and when the heat reached his groin, it intensified exponentially, and he had to breathe hard to keep up with the oxygen demands. The heat ratcheted up even more when he heard and felt Jim moan into the kiss, and he couldn’t help but answer with his own noise of appreciation.

Until his elbow whanged loudly and painfully into the dumpster as he shifted his weight, and he suddenly remembered where he was. He pulled back, needing to come up for air anyhow, and his and Jim’s visible exhalations mingled in the cold air, becoming one cloud.

“Jesus Christ, Bones,” Jim murmured. “This is so hot. You’re so hot. Holy crap.”

“This is so public,” Len said, failing at not sounding like he was panting. “And, uh … okay, hot.”

“Too hot?” Jim asked, seeing some discomfort in Len’s face.

“Uh, maybe for right here. Maybe for right now,” Len admitted.

“Okay—you’re right. Let’s …”

“Cool down, maybe?” Len suggested.

“Yeah. That’s what my brain says. Nothing else—just my brain,” Jim said. “’Cause damn, Bones.”

“Damn,” Len agreed. “So here’s what we’ll do. You walk that way, around back, and I’ll walk this way, straight to the parking lot, and I’ll call you later to work out plans for tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “Wow.”

“You surprised about somethin’?”

“Um, to be honest, until just now, I was starting to think you might be a little bit of a prude.”

Len raised his eyebrows. “I don’t think so, darlin’.”

Jim’s knees wobbled at that term of endearment, in that tone, in that accent, with that husky voice. “Got it,” he said weakly. “Okay. So. I’m going that way. And I’ll talk to you tonight.”

“Okay,” Len said, as he pretended his legs weren’t quivering. “Talk to you later.”

“Yeah.” Jim cleared his throat. “Okay. Later.”

They went out to the parking lot in opposite directions, and drove their separate ways. Their vehicles’ paths diverged, but their thoughts were solidly in the same place.

Jim was home in ten minutes. He saw his mother through the living room window, and realized he’d barely spoken to her since yesterday before his date with Bones. He briefly considered going straight to the barn to avoid being asked anything about the previous night, but decided that would be immature. Besides, his mother probably would be thinking about other things.

He hung his coat on his peg by the back door, and kicked his boots off.

“Hi Mom!”

“Well, hello, stranger! How was that date last night?”

So much for her having forgotten all about it, Jim thought.

“Um … it was really good.”

“Good,” Winona said. “Where did you go?”

“To that little Thai place by the university,” Jim said.

“And then?” Winona asked, giving Jim a sly look.

“Mother!”

“Sorry, I can’t help myself. I’m glad you’re getting out. But you’re awfully mysterious about this fellow, so I’ve been trying to figure out why,” Winona said. “I’ve come up with several options. One: he’s much older, and you think I wouldn’t approve. Two, he’s much younger, and ditto. Really, sixteen as the age of consent is absurd if the other partner is ten years older. But that’s beside the point—I hope.”

“No, mom, no jail-bait for me, thanks. And I wouldn’t go out with a high-school kid. Sheesh,” Jim said.

“Didn’t think so. Three, it’s someone I know well, and it’s too weird for you to talk about it. And four, and please don’t let this be true, he’s married.” Winona crossed her arms and stared at Jim.

Jim crossed his arms, and stared right back at her.

“None of the above,” he said, smirking.

“Didn’t think so,” Winona said. “Five: and don’t think I’ve forgotten about this, young man—it’s that doctor from the ER. You tracked him down in one of your sneaky modern internet ways, and that’s who you went out with.”

“It wasn’t like that at all!” Jim protested, and then clamped a hand over his mouth.

“Thought so,” Winona said smugly. “Spill it, kiddo. Don’t make me have to pry it out of you.”

Jim flopped down onto the sofa across from his mother’s chair. “Fine. You win. You always do. I didn’t track him down, or stalk him, or anything like that. We just ran into each other. I mean, come on, Mom! I took your lecture seriously. I really did. But we ran into each other at the Fareway the other day, and bam! No doctor, no patient. Just two guys. And we talked about that whole doctor/patient thing, okay? I’m not an idiot! He’s not an idiot!”

Winona’s face softened as she looked at her son. “I know, honey. But I also know you feel deeply, and you’re wounded easily. I just don’t like to see you get hurt.”

“I’m not trying to. And I’m trying not to. All that stuff,” Jim said.

“Sometimes it happens though,” Winona said. “But you seem happy.”

“I just … have a good feeling about this. You know? It’s so out of the blue, and the timing sucks, but … it seems right,” Jim said, unable to suppress a smitten sigh from his voice. “It’s different. He’s different, from anyone I’ve ever known.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m sure I got a wrong impression of him at the hospital,” Winona said.

“Well … I don’t exactly know if you did. I mean, he admitted he has a terrible bedside manner. It was kind of cute, actually, when he realized you probably thought he was a jerk,” Jim said, grinning despite himself.

Winona laughed. “So, if I get up some morning and he’s in our kitchen, it might be a little awkward?”

“We’ll work it out real fast, I’m sure. And by the way—he’s coming over for afternoon chores tomorrow. When you’re at Aunt Marcia’s.”

“Ah,” Winona said. “Should I plan on staying over?”

Jim shook his head. “Do whatever. I mean, ever since we put in your new bedroom downstairs, it’s kind of a non-issue, right? You’ve got your part of the house, and I’ve got mine. And who knows if that’s even gonna be relevant.”

Winona squinted at Jim. “Don’t tell me you’re moving slowly?”

“Um, kind of on purpose. So we don’t wreck things. You know?” Jim squirmed in his seat, not used to talking so frankly with his mother about such things.

Winona leaned back and gaped openly at her son. “Who are you, and what have you done with James Tiberius Kirk?”

“Like I said. It’s different. I don’t wanna mess this up.”

“That’s good, Jim. And I don’t want to mess it up for you. So: honest answer this time, Jim. Would it perhaps be useful if I stayed over at Marcia’s tomorrow?”

Jim fidgeted some more. “I guess. Yeah. Because I was kind of thinking of making him dinner, and … we’ll see what happens.”

“How many times have you been out? Just the once?”

“Uh … we had lunch, just now. And we’ve chatted a few times too. He’s moving from night shifts to day shifts, so we’re not doing anything tonight, but we’re gonna talk after I’m done with chores this afternoon.”

“Good. Well. I’ll make myself scarce tomorrow night. Then you don’t have to worry about me,” Winona said, “and neither does he. But if things keep going well, I would like to meet him in different circumstances.”

“Thanks, Mom, for tomorrow. And yeah—you should totally meet Bones when he’s not in ranting doctor mode.”

“Bones?”

“Just his nickname.”

“Ah.”

Jim cleared his throat, and stood up. “Um, I guess I’m gonna go out to the barn and get stuff done. I’ll make dinner tonight.”

“All right, dear.”

Jim hesitated before leaving the room. “And Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks. Thanks for not being weird about this, and for … facilitating.”

“Anything, Jimmy. I want you to be happy.”

Jim didn’t move for many seconds. “You know what? I think I am. I really think I am.”

~!~!~!~

Len went home after lunch, and thought about ethics.

There was no question in his mind that he was becoming involved with Jim Kirk, and no question that he wanted to keep going with the relationship. But there was also no question in his mind that some of his colleagues might find this relationship to be unethical.

Seeing a patient in the ED, once, was different from other doctor/patient relationships, though. In the ED, he hoped and expected not to see his patients again.

He rummaged through his filing cabinet, and found his contract with the hospital. There wasn’t anything specific in it about dating patients—just that he was expected to adhere to “accepted ethical standards.” Which of course weren’t defined.

He turned his computer on, and brought up the shift schedule for the week. The one person he could talk to about this situation wasn’t on today, and hadn’t been on the previous night, so Len decided it was safe to call.

Hello?”

“Hi, Jacob. It’s Len McCoy from the hospital.”

Oh, hi, Len. What’s going on?

“Well, I was wondering if I could run something past you if you had a few minutes.”

Sure—the kids are at school, and they go to after-school today. Can we do this over the phone, or is it an in-person kind of thing?

“In person, for sure. Can I meet you somewhere?”

Hmm, why don’t you come over here? Just so we don’t end up talking about something sensitive at Starbucks.

“Sure. Thanks.”

Len confirmed his colleague’s address, and drove over. Twenty minutes later, they were seated in Jacob’s den, coffee in hand.

The den was paneled in dark wood, with plenty of built-in storage, and a bar at the far end. The maroon carpeting made the room both snug and quiet, deadening any sound. Len liked it, and felt comfortable.

“So, Len—what’s up?”

“I have this hypothetical situation I want to run past you.”

“Okay,” Jacob said, his expression completely neutral as he sipped from his mug.

Len sighed. “Who am I trying to kid? It’s not hypothetical. It’s real. And I just need a sane opinion about whether I’m doing something totally wrong. I mean, totally wrong as opposed to just slightly wrong. Because I know it’s slightly wrong, but I don’t think I’m doing anything really awful. I don’t think I am, but if I am, I have to end it now.” Despite the coziness of the room, Len was nervous, and couldn’t stop himself from running off at the mouth.

“Lay it on me,” Jacob said, ignoring Len’s obvious discomfort. “I’ll be as honest as I can.”

“Thanks. So. I’ve kind of ended up seeing a patient.”

“Ah. That’s an oldie, but a goodie. Tell me more.”

Len turned his coffee mug around in his hands a few times. “There was … a spark of interest, I think, in the ED. But we both knew that any action on that spark was right out. But now … we’re seeing each other.”

“Okay. First question: how long was it between the patient’s visit to the ED and when you started seeing each other?”

“A few weeks,” Len said, feeling guilty about overstating the length of time.

“And did she seek you out, or did you seek her out?”

Len paused. He decided to ignore the pronoun for the moment, since he didn’t really know how the fact that his date was male might color his colleague’s impressions of the situation. “It wasn’t like that. We ran into each other at the grocery store, and started talking.”

“And you didn’t have any contact with each other between the ED visit and when you ran into each other?”

Len shook his head. “None except a phone call to pass on some lab results that wouldn’t have made it in the mail before the patient’s follow-up with their primary care physician. And that conversation was completely and utterly professional.”

“And do you have any reason to believe that she was stalking you? Trying to run into you?”

“No. None. I’m quite sure it was a total coincidence that we ran into each other at the store. But we did. And then we had coffee. And then a couple days later we went out for dinner,” Len said. He didn’t feel it was necessary to mention the kissing part, even though he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I’m betting you’re talking to me about this because it hasn’t gotten heavy yet, but you think it’s about to,” Jacob said.

“Pretty much,” Len said. “We’re planning to see each other tomorrow.”

“I’m wondering whether you feel like there’s any infatuation on her part that could be based on your doctor/patient interactions.”

Len shook his head. “I really don’t think so. The whole family came in with food poisoning. This patient was dangerously dehydrated, and puking and shitting all over the place. Not exactly a set-up for romance.”

Jacob laughed out loud. “No, not exactly the first page of a story-book romance. It’s beyond me how there could be any attraction in either direction in that kind of situation.”

“I don’t get it either. But later, when we had coffee a few weeks later, we talked about the doctor/patient thing. I honestly don’t think there’s any kind of vulnerability, or knight-in-shining-armor syndrome, or anything like that. I really don’t, Jacob. I’ve seen that happen, and I don’t think that’s what this is.”

Jacob nodded. “Okay. Well, here’s my take on this whole thing. It sounds like there’s nothing untoward going on at the moment. It doesn’t sound like she’s interested for the wrong reasons, and it certainly doesn’t sound like you’re taking advantage of anything having to do with the doctor/patient relationship, which is in the past. The timing is a little troublesome, though. If you’d run into each other a few months later, rather than a few weeks later, it would be much more straightforward. But with the way the timing is, if things go bad, she could cry ‘foul,’ and someone would probably listen to her. So even though nothing of the sort will probably happen, I’d still be cautious.”

“That’s kind of my thinking, too,” Len said, sighing again. “No perfect answer. I guess I could … I don’t know. Slow things down.”

“But you really, really don’t want to,” Jacob said. “Which is why you’re here. I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer other than ‘be cautious,’ but it’s not a black and white situation. Especially with a male doctor and a female patient. I don’t know if the other way would be different—I suspect it probably would. But your situation is just … fraught.”

Len unclenched his jaw, and rubbed his temples, but didn’t say anything. He braced his elbows on his knees, and let his forehead rest on the heels of his hands. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought.

“I … kind of left something out,” Len said.

“Oh?”

“She’s not a she. He’s a he.” Len’s voice was barely audible, and his eyes were locked onto the toes of his shoes.

“I see,” Jacob said slowly. “All right. Well, first of all, that’s not a problem for me. Just so you know. But to be honest, I really don’t see how it changes the ethics of the situation. But it does mean that any potential complaints could open a can of worms that couldn’t ever be closed.”

“I know,” Len said softly. “Believe me, I do know.”

“So here’s my advice,” Jacob said, “and I’m not gonna ask whether you’re gonna take it or not, because that’s up to you. But here it is: take it slow. Get to know him, really well, before you jump in the sack. Because the less the relationship appears to have started with anything sexual, the better off you are in the unlikely event that the shit hits the fan.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Len blew out a long breath.

“I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, am I?” Jacob said.

“Not a thing,” Len admitted. “I just wanted to see if another sane person saw things the same way I did. As a potentially dangerous gray area.”

“That sums it up nicely, Len.” Jacob put his mug down on the table in front of him, and looked Len in the eye. “So be careful,” he concluded.

“I’ll try,” Len said, knowing full well that he and Jim probably wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off each other on their next date.

“Now. As long as you’re here, I have this new video game I’ve been wanting to try. It’ll take your mind off things,” Jacob said. He held up the box, and Len winced.

“Looks like it’ll take my mind off, period. But why the hell not.”

~!~!~!~

By early evening, Len was exhausted. He’d forced himself to stay awake the entire day, so he’d be back on track for day shifts sooner rather than later, and, to be honest with himself, so he’d be able to sleep well enough that night that he’d be able to stay up late with Jim the next day. He cleaned up after dinner, brushed his teeth, changed into flannel pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and got into bed with his phone. He called Jim, and was rewarded with an answer on the second ring.

Bones! I was just thinking about you.

“Yeah? What’s goin’ on?”

Well, I just finished cleaning up after dinner. So I was thinking about tomorrow.

“Uh huh?”

You come over around four, and I’ll show you around the farm—at least the parts that are doing anything in the winter—and then we can get some chores done. Then I’ll make dinner, and then we can hang out. For as long as we want.

“You sure we won’t bother your mom?”

She’s actually staying at her sister’s. So—no problem. What are you doing now?

“Oh, just about to turn in, I think. I made myself stay awake most of the day, so I’ll be back to a daytime schedule soon. So I’m pretty tuckered out.”

You sound it,” Jim said. “Tired, but okay, right?

“Just dandy. Layin’ here in my bed, talkin’ to you.”

What else did you do today? After lunch?

“Hung out with a guy from work for a while. Played video games in his man-cave. That’s about all.”

Well, I did some thinking in the barn today.”

Len’s heart sank. In his experience, “thinking” on the part of a romantic partner usually led to his being dumped. Or divorced. He tried to hide the shaking in his voice as he replied. “Oh? What about?”

No, Bones! Not that kind of thinking!” Jim said, as if reading his mind. “The kind of thinking where all I could do was wonder what you were up to. The kind of thinking where I wondered what your favorite vegetable is, so I can make it tomorrow. The kind of thinking where I remembered what your body felt like pressed up against mine behind the dumpster this afternoon.

Len wasn’t sure how his heart tolerated the fast plummet and then the soaring that was happening now. “Mm, I’m remembering that right now, too. How it didn’t seem cold at all any more. How your hands felt on me, pulling us closer together. How I wished we didn’t have thick coats and gloves in the way, this afternoon and last night,” Len said.

Jesus, Bones. I wish I was right there with you, right now. Not just because it’d be hot, but because I want to know you. I want to get right inside your skin, and know you. I want to watch you fall asleep, and watch you as you’re sleeping, and watch you wake up.

“Me too,” Len said.

Tomorrow,” Jim said.

“Tomorrow,” Len agreed. “And broccoli.”

Huh?”

“My favorite vegetable. Broccoli.”

Jim laughed. “Broccoli it is, then. Along with my extremely mundane spaghetti and meatballs.

“Good. And I’m about to pass out, here. So I’ll see you at four tomorrow.”

Looking forward to it,” Jim said, “in case you couldn’t tell.”

“Me, too. See you then.”

G’night,” Jim said.

“Night.” Len plugged his phone into the charger, and set it on the nightstand. Feeling like a teenager, he folded his hands behind his head and ruminated over the day’s events, and his conversation with Jim.

It was true—he wanted Jim’s body, no question about it, and he felt the warm tingle of knowing he was wanted in the same way. But he also wanted to know Jim—know what made him tick, what was important to him, what he liked, what he hated. He realized they’d made a pretty good start of it, at dinner the previous night, and at this afternoon’s lunch. And he liked that. He liked that they hadn’t just fallen into bed with each other. But he also greatly looked forward to the moment they did, and it was pretty damned obvious that was going to be tomorrow.

He fell asleep imagining not just the intense thrill of exploring another person’s body, and being explored, and chasing down the orgasm, but also the deeper thrill of holding Jim close to him, with nothing in the way. He slept more easily than he thought he would, and his dreams were like the Thai food they’d enjoyed together the previous night: hot, but with an underlying sweetness that both complemented the heat and made it last longer.

~!~!~!~

Twenty miles away, Jim was too distracted by the conversation he’d just finished to do anything productive at all. He’d been in the kitchen when he answered the phone, but quickly ran upstairs to his study, since Winona was well within earshot from her place in the living room. He put his phone down on the rickety table next to the threadbare but comfortable recliner where he did his reading for school, and kicked back in the chair.

He imagined watching Bones fall asleep. Would the perpetual creases between his eyebrows soften, or even disappear? Or would he scowl in his sleep, finding something to be cranky about even in his dreams?

What might his face look like, from below, in the dim light of Jim’s bedroom, as Bones straddled Jim on the navy-blue sheets of his bed, and as Jim’s hands found his ass and kneaded the cheeks, which he knew would be the absolute perfect combination of pliant and firm?

“Fucking hell,” Jim said to himself, as he realized he’d fantasized himself right into a raging hard-on. He went to his room to snag his robe on the way to his bathroom, where he’d just have his nighttime shower a little on the early side.



Chapter Text

Jim started watching the driveway at a quarter to four in the afternoon. Oddly, he wasn’t nervous. But he was keyed up like nobody’s business, and couldn’t keep his mind on anything other than Bones, who would be there any second. He double-checked all his personal areas of the house, to make sure they were guest-ready. His study was messy—there was really nothing he could do about all the books, piled everywhere, that just wouldn’t fit on the shelves. But the room was clean. He fluffed up the pillows on the fold-out couch that the boys slept on when they visited. He put some books that he thought would be suitably impressive on the arm of the recliner, and then, irritated with himself, put them back.

The upstairs bathroom, which was his alone, unless Sam’s family was staying over, was sparkling from the cleaning he’d given it earlier. He’d gone back and forth about whether to put out a second towel, but thought it might be presumptuous. But hell, if Bones made it to the upstairs bathroom, things were probably going well. But … it also wouldn’t be hard to get out a second towel if it were needed.

“Aargh!” Jim groaned aloud. “Stop it, Kirk! What are you, fifteen, on your first date?”

Nonetheless, he gave his room one last inspection. He’d changed the sheets already, and had moved his pile of “already worn but not so dirty they need to go in the laundry” clothes to the floor of his closet. He’d put away some childhood items that a woman might have thought were cute, but that he’d be embarrassed to have another man see: a remote control car he still used with the boys; his favorite toy spaceship; a ragged teddy bear.

He frowned into his room.

“Ya know, screw that,” he said. He retrieved the three childhood items from the closet, and put them back where they belonged. “He wants to know me. Me. So Millennium Falcon, you go right back where I like you.”

Just as Jim finished arranging the spaceship on the dresser, he was distracted by the crunch of snow in the driveway. He thundered down the stairs, the way his mother had been trying to get him not to do since he was five, and threw open the front door.

“Bones!” he called, jumping up and down. “Just put the car by mine. And come on in!”

A minute later, Len was stomping snow off his boots on the doormat, and then he was finally, finally really there.

“Hey,” Jim said, grinning from ear to ear. “Good to see you.”

“Good to see you too,” Len replied. “Should I even take off my boots? Like, are we going straight to the barn?”

“No no, come on in first. We have to go to the barn the back way anyhow.”

“Okay,” Len said, as Jim took his coat and hung it on a hook by the front door. Len left his boots on the tray under the coat-hooks, and set the messenger bag he was carrying there as well. When he turned around, Jim was right there.

“Hi,” Jim said, leaning in and kissing Len almost chastely.

Len burst out laughing. “What the hell was that?” he asked, pulling Jim in by his waist for a proper kiss, which left them both flushed.

“I guess it was me being lame,” Jim said.

“You’re not lame,” Len said quietly, tracing Jim’s cheekbone with his thumb. “We don’t need to be nervous, okay? I like spending time with you—hell, I’ve been looking forward to going into the barn and shoveling cow shit or whatever the hell we’re gonna do, just to be around you, and to know you more.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “Me too.”

“Good.”

“Okay.” Jim shifted in his socked feet. “So—I guess we might as well go out to the barn. You’re wearing stuff you don’t mind if it gets messed up, right? And longjohns, like I said?”

“Yep!”

“Good—we’ve got a couple spare pairs of coveralls; there’s one that’ll fit you for sure. Barn boots, too. What are you, like a twelve?”

“That’ll work,” Len said.

“C’mon—all the stuff that gets used in the barn is in a mud room in the back,” Jim said.

They traipsed through the house, and Jim showed Len to a vestibule by the back door. Jim’s and Winona’s insulated coveralls and boots were obvious. Jim rummaged through a closet, and tossed items out behind him.

“Try these,” Jim said, turning around with a pair of heavy rubber boots, and a pair of worn but warm-looking insulated brown coveralls. “And—wait. You can’t be serious.”

Len raised his eyebrows. “About what?”

“Your socks,” Jim said, pointing at Len’s feet, which were encased in a single pair of wool hiking socks.

“Um, these are my warmest socks.”

Jim shook his head. “Stay there; I’ll be right back.”

Len heard thundering on the stairs, and a pause, and then more thundering, and Jim reappeared with a very thick pair of socks. “Put these on over what you’ve got, and that should be fine.”

“Okay,” Len said. He got all dressed up, and Jim looked him up and down. Len was still wearing the hat he’d come in with, and had put his gloves back on.

“Gloves?” Jim asked.

Len held out his hands.

“No, no no no,” Jim said. He stripped the thick insulated leather gloves off his own hands, and gave them to Len, and rifled through the closet for another pair, which he then put on. “Your gloves are warm enough, but don’t have any protection to them. Can’t have you messing up your doctor hands.”

“Good point,” Len said.

“Not that we’ll be doing anything really dangerous—I just wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.

“Thanks,” Len said. “So—are we ready?”

“Yep!”

On the way out to the barn, Jim told Len about what they’d be doing.

“Almost everything is somewhat automated, but there are still plenty of things to do by hand. Like spreading the hay in the feed troughs, and disinfecting the teats, and putting the milking machines on,” Jim said. “You’ll probably be horrified by it all. And I should warn you—it doesn’t smell nice in there.”

Len laughed. “Recall our first meeting. I work in an emergency room. If it’s nasty, and it’s biological, I’ve smelled it.”

“Right,” Jim said.

They reached the cow barn—a long, low building with a rounded roof, and ventilation fans spinning lazily at either end. They entered the building, and Jim started explaining everything in sight—the automatically-cleaning manure gutter, which really looked like a long conveyor belt, the automatic water bowls, and other modern accouterments which allowed the Kirks to have such a large herd without having many, many full-time employees.

Len looked at the ceiling, where miles of pipes carried milk from the automatic milking machines to the tank room. He listened and watched as Jim showed him how to work the automatic milking device that would need to be put on each cow.

“And Dr. Bones, don’t get all carried away with cleaning the teats. It’s not a surgical scrub. The point is just getting crud off, and disinfecting a bit,” Jim said.

“Okay, Farm Boy,” Len said. “I think I’ve got it. When it’s time to do that, you watch me a few times, and make sure I’m doing everything right.”

“Good idea. Okay, so first …” Jim launched into an explanation of how they’d inspect the herd, and spread hay around in the hay racks, and everything else they’d do. “So, let’s go get a couple bales of hay.”

Jim walked Len through the inspection and the feeding. He showed Len the cow that Chris Pike had asked about, and Len could see nice pink granulation tissue filling in what looked like it used to be a nasty ulcer. When the hay spreading was done, Jim started demonstrating the automatic milking equipment.

The units were kept suspended from the ceiling, so they couldn’t fall into the muck on the floor. When Jim needed the first one, it happened to be right over his head.

“Hey Bones, grab me that unit, will you?” Jim asked, a grin stretching all the way across his face.

“What,” Len said, reaching up above Jim and putting them nose to nose, “this one here?”

“That’s the one,” Jim said, stealing a kiss as Len leaned in closer.

“You want me to get it down?” Len asked, now cheek to cheek with Jim.

“Eventually,” Jim said. He pulled off one of his gloves, to cradle Len’s cheek, and kissed him again, and again.

“We’re kissing,” Len said between kisses, “in your barn, in front of a whole herd of cows.”

“Yep,” Jim said. “They don’t mind.”

A cow mooed right behind Len, and he jumped.

“I thought you said they didn’t mind,” Len said, scowling at the cow.

“They don’t. That was an expression of appreciation,” Jim said. “Good ol’ …” Jim looked at the inside of the cow's ear. "Number 316. She’s been rooting for us for a while, now.”

“Uh huh,” Len said skeptically. “So, Farm Boy, show me your stuff. Let’s milk a cow.”

“As you wish,” Jim said, completely straight faced.

Len raised one eyebrow. “Now I never woulda thought you’d get that reference.”

“I’m full of surprises,” Jim said.

By seven, the milking was done, and the rest of the chores were done for the evening.

“You hungry?” Jim asked.

“God, yes. I could eat a whole cow.”

“How about spaghetti and meatballs?” Jim said. “And broccoli.”

“That’ll do just fine, darlin’,” Len said.

“Good. Let’s hose our boots down, then we can go in and I’ll make dinner.”

We’ll make dinner,” Len said.

“You’re on,” Jim said.

Fifteen minutes later, they were cleaned up, changed, and in the kitchen. Jim was rolling meatballs, and Len was trimming broccoli. Neither task took long, and once Jim had cooked the meatballs, the spaghetti still had a few minutes to go until it was done.

“I’m beat,” Jim said. “Let’s go take a load off in the living room until the timer beeps.”

“Lead the way,” Len said, not really sure what could happen in three minutes, but sure it would be pleasant.

Jim led Len out to the living room they’d passed through earlier, and plopped down onto the sofa with a “flumph.” He patted the cushion next to him, and Len sat as well. Jim immediately leaned into him, and put his head on Len’s shoulder. Len automatically put his arm around Jim. They sat there for a moment, facing the dry-looking Christmas tree in the corner.

“I love that you’re here,” Jim said. “I love that you did chores with me. Thanks for coming.”

“I like being here,” Len said. “Though I have to admit I have this perpetual feeling that your mother will be home any minute.”

“What,” Jim said, “and see us doing this?” He pivoted swiftly so he was crouched over Len, knees on either side of him, and kissed him.

Len chuckled into the kiss, reaching around behind Jim and holding onto him. He slipped his hands under Jim’s sweater, leaving only the cotton of his long-sleeved t-shirt between him and the skin he fairly desperately, at this point, wanted to get his hands on.

Predictably, the timer beeped just then. Jim groaned and put his feet on the floor, still leaning over Len.

“C’mon. Let’s eat,” Jim said.

“Don’t get too excited there,” Len said, not yet standing up. “Your enthusiasm for dinner is low enough it makes me wonder what’s wrong with it.”

Quick as a flash, Jim was back on Len.

“Dinner,” he breathed in Len’s ear, “is not what I’m excited about today.”

Len traced Jim’s lips with a single finger, then trailed his finger down Jim’s chin and neck, and back up again.

“Well, then, sweetheart, does dessert strike your fancy a little better?” Len said, nostrils flaring as he imagined what dessert might entail.

“Fuck, yes, Bones,” Jim said throatily.

The kitchen timer beeped again insistently, announcing that its call had not yet been heeded.

“Then I suggest,” Len said in a voice so low it was almost a whisper, “that we get the hell on with dinner, and save some room for dessert.”

Keeping his eyes locked on Len’s, Jim stood up, and held a hand out. Len took his hand, and Jim helped him off the deep couch.

Predictably, dinner didn’t take long. They sat at the round table on one end of the kitchen, twining their socked feet together under the table, and occasionally feeding each other a bite of food. Jim made sure to eat enough that he wouldn’t be hungry in two hours, but not enough to weigh him down. He was pretty sure Len was doing the same, since after his declaration that he could eat one of the herd, he only ate what looked like a modest portion to Jim. Jim also had to admit to himself that the butterflies in his stomach played a role in his own modest consumption.

Just as they were finishing, Jim got quiet and contemplative, which Len saw as the exact opposite of how he’d seemed just a few minutes earlier.

“What’s going on, Jim?” Len asked, frowning slightly. “You look worried. Or somethin’.”

“Well,” Jim said, “something just kind of occurred to me, that I kind of need to ask you.”

“All right,” Len said. “Ask away.”

“So, you were married, right, and you said you had this one … uh, fling, with a guy. But … shoot, how do I even ask this?”

“Just ask. You won’t embarrass me,” Len said, taking Jim’s hand in both of his own. “And I won’t laugh. I promise.”

“Okay.” Jim blew out a breath. “You’ve, like, done it, with guys, right?”

Len smiled, since he’d promised not to laugh. “Sure have, darlin’. There was plenty of time before I got married to have sex with men. And women. With my preferences leaning towards men, but … it was Georgia, and I met who I thought was the right woman, so …” Len stopped short. “That’s not what you’re asking though. My final answer is that yes, I certainly have. So there’s no need to worry about me being some blushing bride.”

“That’s about what I thought,” Jim said. “Pretty much sums me up too. Except the married part. And the Georgia part.”

“Good.” Len’s lips quirked up in a small smile.

“So here’s some more news,” Jim said. “I have a hard and fast agreement with my mother that I don’t leave dirty dishes lying around.”

“Bet that’s not the only thing you have that’s hard and fast,” Len said. “But hey, let’s do some dishes.”

Jim grinned. “You’re a dirty old man, you know that?”

“Oh, I do, darlin’. I sure do.”

Jim put the leftovers away, while Len got started with a sink full of hot, soapy water. He quickly washed the glasses, plates, pots, and pans, while Jim rinsed. When Len drained the sink, Jim tossed him another dish towel, and they dried the rest of the dishes together.

When the last pot was set on the stove to air-dry, Jim started spinning his towel in an ages-old motion that would turn a humble houseware into a tool of war.

“Oh, is that what’s happening now?” Len said, twirling his own towel, and backing away to keep his rear outside of what he judged to be the distance equal to the length of Jim’s arm plus the length of a dishtowel. “Give it your best shot, Farm Boy.” He kept his distance, but turned to the side and slapped his own butt with his palm.

“As you wish,” Jim said, lunging forwards and planting a well-aimed snap of the towel right on Len’s butt check.

Len laughed and jumped away.

“Some might say I should turn the other cheek, but …”

He feinted going straight at Jim, but took an end run around the kitchen island, catching Jim off guard,. Before Jim could get out of the way, he landed the end of his own dishtowel on Jim’s posterior.

Jim’s ass stung from the snapping Len had just given it. The wicked grin on Len’s face was a pleasure to see, and Jim found himself wanting to kiss that grin.

So he did. He used his own linen dishtowel to encircle Len’s waist, and pull their bodies together. He dropped the towel, in favor of jamming his hands in Len’s back pockets. Bones’s ass felt just as good as Jim thought it would—maybe even better.

Jim found himself attacking Len’s neck with vampire-like voraciousness, and felt more than heard Bones humming his approval. He felt Len’s hands slide up his body, leaving trails of heat even through Jim’s clothing. Those hands cupped Jim’s face, and brought it up for a kiss—a real kiss, deep and long, not at all like the playful ones they’d stolen in the barn or the kitchen. This was a seriously intense kiss; the gateway from one part of their evening to another.

Jim pulled away just enough to whisper against Bones’s lips. “Come upstairs. Couch. My study.”

“You bet,” Len said. “Lead on.”

“Oh, I’m not leading you on,” Jim said, nuzzling Bones’s ear. “We’re gonna start on the couch, and see what happens. The bedroom’s open for business, too, if we feel like it.”

“I’m pretty sure we’ll feel like it,” Len said. “But here’s the thing. I’ll say this now, so I don’t have to wreck the mood later. Safe sex. No fluid exchange, in any orifice, except for spit. Period.”

Jim nodded. “I’m cool with that.”

“So I’m gonna take a little trip to my bag, and then you’re gonna show me this couch. Be right back.”

Jim didn’t let Leonard go to the coat hooks by himself. He kept his hand in a back pocket, and followed Len as he retrieved his drug-store purchases from the messenger bag he’d left on the floor by the coats. He led Len up the stairs to the study, and sat him on the couch, kneeling on the floor in front of his parted knees so their faces were at the same level. They locked eyes for just a moment, Len’s hand on the back of Jim’s neck, before crashing together, mouths hungry, lips insatiable, hands everywhere.

They made out like teenagers for a few minutes, fully clothed, until Len reached down to the hem of Jim’s long-sleeved t-shirt, and pulled it up over his head. Jim cooperated, raising his arms and helping to fling the shirt away, and then, getting half up on the sofa so he could reach, yanked Len’s shirt off and tossed it aside. Their hands and lips were greedy for the new expanses of skin made available. Len groaned and carded his hand through Jim’s hair as Jim’s mouth latched on to a nipple, swirling, leaving hot trails that cooled swiftly when he switched to the other side. He kissed, nipped, and licked his way down to Len’s navel, and then back up again.

“Yeah, darlin’, bring that hot mouth of yours back up here,” Len said, voice half an octave lower than usual. He shifted his weight as Jim moved upwards, so this time he could press Jim into the couch, hands working in tandem with lips and tongue to explore every inch that had been revealed to him so far. He continued shifting his weight, sliding Jim from a low slouch to a fully supine position.

So far, all the action had been strictly above the waist, but Len tested the deeper waters, planting a knee firmly between Jim’s, and maneuvering a thigh between Jim’s legs. Jim responded by clutching Len’s ass and pulling him in closer, at the same time grinding upwards, so Len concluded the water was fine. He kissed Jim deeply, their tongues sliding across and past each other, and echoed the movement of his tongue with his lower body, sliding his pelvis across Jim’s. The flies of their jeans rustled across each other, and the metal buttons slid across each other with a metallic hiss, but both sounds were drowned out by the noises Jim made as Len let his mouth stray.

Len made sure his chest or belly stayed in firm contact with Jim’s erection, which was boldly declaring itself even through the thick denim of his jeans. His lips worked their way down Jim’s neck, stopping to taste the hollow where his collarbones met, and planting themselves on a nipple.

“Fuck, Bones!” Jim gasped.

“Mm,” Len said around his current treat, laving it and flicking it with his tongue before moving to the other side. He let go briefly, and grinned wolfishly up at Jim, who was starting to look stoned. He scooted up briefly to kiss Jim’s plumped, reddened lips, and licked a strip down to the waistband of his jeans. He palmed Jim’s erection, and was rewarded with a gasp as Jim bucked upwards into his touch.

Len continued to rub the palm of his hand across Jim’s package, letting his other hand roam where it wished.

“Off!” Jim said suddenly, and Len jerked backwards and froze, taking his hands completely off Jim, wondering what he’d done. The blood drained from his face as he instantly imagined himself in the hospital administrator’s office, trying to explain away the complaint from the former patient in front of him. Or, more accurately, under him.

“No no no, not you,” Jim panted, grabbing for Len’s hands and putting them back where they had been. “My pants. Off!”

Len breathed in and out twice, to recover from his momentary shock, and then let out a low chuckle. “Your wish is my command, sweetheart.” He unfastened the button, dragged the zipper open, and pulled on the sides of the jeans as Jim lifted his ass and shimmied his hips to help him with his task.

Len didn’t waste any time; he put his open lips right over the damp spot on the front of Jim’s boxer briefs, and blew out a hot breath. Jim whimpered, and his blunt fingernails made a scraping sound as he clutched at the threadbare couch cushions. Len let out one more steamy breath onto the head of Jim’s erection, and worked his way back up Jim’s body.

Jim sat up, using Len’s body as a counterweight, and maneuvered himself so he could get his hands on Len. He traced his fingers up and down the long, broad ridge under the fly of Len’s jeans, and then rubbed Len’s cock up and down a few times through the black denim, before going for the button. Their position was impossible for stripping Bones, which he desperately needed to do, so he took Len’s hand and pulled him to standing. He fumbled with the button and zipper, but once they were open, Len’s black jeans slid straight to the floor, joining Jim’s own pants in a puddle on the hardwood.

They clutched each other for balance as they each did the awkward dance of stepping out of the legs of their pants, and the even more awkward move of peeling their socks off. Len laughed as he had to catch Jim, who nearly toppled over removing his stubborn left sock. They grinned at each other, standing face to face in their underwear, and Jim reversed the potential awkwardness of the moment by pulling Len in towards him, then dragging his open lips down the center of Len’s body, until he too could breath hot, moist air onto Len’s cock through his dark gray boxers.

Jim stayed where he was for a few breaths, running his hand up the inside of Len’s thigh and through the leg opening of his shorts, where he briefly teased at Len’s balls with the edge of his hand, before pulling back again, and returning to a standing position.

“Long as we’re up, how ‘bout that bedroom of yours?” Len murmured, as he kissed around Jim’s ear, and to the pounding pulse point on his neck.

“Yeah, I think so, Bones.” Jim took Len’s hand to lead him across the hall to his bedroom, but stopped in the hallway.

“Wait a sec,” Jim said, and scurried back into the study, returning with Len’s paper bag of supplies. “Don’t wanna hafta look for these in the heat of the moment.” He pulled Len into his bedroom, and closed the door behind them. He sat on the edge of the bed and dumped the contents of the bag onto a nightstand, and counted four varieties of condoms, and two of lube. “You don’t mess around, do you?”

“I never mess around when I’m messing around,” Len said. “Now come back here.”

“No,” Jim said from the bed, “you come here.” He stretched out on the bed on his back, hands laced together behind his head. His expression was half smirk, half grin, and designed to be irresistible.

Len didn’t have to be told twice. He practically pounced onto Jim, straddling him at the hips and looking down at him.

“Hi,” Jim said, grinning up at him.

“Hi yourself,” Len said, unable to suppress an answering grin. He looked down at Jim, trying to decide where to start, but Jim solved his problem by pulling him down and kissing him, carding his hands through Len’s hair.

The kiss changed from playful nips to intense open-mouthed deep kissing, and soon they were both back in the state they’d been in on the couch in the study, panting, clutching, pressing against each other for more heat, more friction, more connection.

Jim slipped his hands under the elastic waistband of Len’s boxers, kneading his bare ass, and Len lifted his weight momentarily in an invitation for Jim to slide the shorts down. Jim took the cue, and pushed the boxers as far down as he could. Len finished the job, and then helped Jim out of his underwear. They admired each other, Jim on his back, and Len over him on all fours, with one knee on either side of Jim’s hips, and hands outside his shoulders.

“You’re too gorgeous, Bones,” Jim said. He admired Len’s body from below, running his hands up and down his sturdy thighs, first along the outsides, and then the insides, and applying the lightest of feather touches to his cock, as if he didn’t really think he was allowed to touch. He ran a lightly curled hand up and down its length, following the slight upcurve, and then cupped his balls, as if weighing them in his hand.

Len was momentarily paralyzed by the sensations washing over him. His eyes drifted slightly closed, and rolled back in his head, and he knew he moaned when Jim finally touched his cock, but he didn’t care. He overcame his paralysis, and lowered his weight onto Jim, finally letting their naked bodies touch. They groaned together, and Jim’s hands slid around to clutch Len’s ass, as Len ravished Jim’s face and neck with kisses, working his way down, down, touching everywhere as he went. He grazed one of Jim’s nipples lightly with his teeth, and Jim arched up to greet his touch.

“Ah, Bones,” he groaned, and kept his hands in Leonard’s hair as he worked his kisses farther down Jim’s body. Len kissed and nipped down the middle of Jim’s abdomen, spending what he felt wasn’t nearly adequate time on Jim’s navel, until reaching the happy trail, which did indeed instill happiness in him, especially once he reached the treasure at the end of the trail.

“Fuh …” Jim uttered, as Len kissed his cock, licked it up and down, and then grasped it firmly and gave it a few strokes. “God, Bones …”

“Mm, darlin’, I do love this cock,” Len said, working his hand up and down slowly a few times. “I wonder how many different things we can do tonight, you and me?”

“A lot,” Jim panted, “’cause damn.”

“You like this?” Len said, as he continued sliding his hand up and down, adding a twist and a swipe of the thumb across the head at the end of each stroke. Jim mewled in response, and clutched at Len’s thighs, which were all he could reach.

Len kept going until Jim was a writhing mess. He shifted his weight and brought his own cock into the action, taking both of them in hand at once. They were perfectly matched in length, so the most sensitive parts of the undersides of their cocks met up exactly. He worked them together for a few strokes, and his free hand twined together with one of Jim’s. He pulled Jim’s hand up and kissed it before releasing it, reaching for the pile on the nightstand.

He could just reach one of the bottles of lube, so he grabbed it, and opened the package with his teeth. When it came to actually dispensing the stuff, though, he needed both hands, and Jim whimpered when he let go, but then quickly took over with his own hand. Len warmed some of the slippery fluid between his palms, and let his hands join Jim’s on their cocks, slicking them up.

Len took Jim’s hand again, and urged him to a sitting position. Their hands were so slippery that they nearly lost each other, but rather than being embarrassed at an awkward moment, they both grinned and laughed a little, and finally Jim and Len were sitting face to face, between each other’s legs, with Len again holding their cocks together between them.

Jim leaned forward and kissed Len, scootching his body forwards so they were even closer together, as Len continued stroking their cocks between them. The movement was now deliciously slick, echoed by their tongues in each other’s mouths.

Len pulled back from the kiss, just to look at Jim, and saw that his creamy pale skin was flushed red from the chest up, advertising his desire. Seeing Jim in such a state, and hearing his nearly steady stream of sounds that were half-sigh, half moan, sent a surge of lust through Len, and he changed the pace of his hand from languid to more insistent.

“You feel so good, Jim,” Len breathed. “We feel so good together.”

“Fuck yeah, Bones,” Jim replied, his response not eloquent, but heartfelt.

“I love seein’ how hot you’re gettin’, mmm, yeah,” Bones drawled, his voice husky with desire.

“Hnnngh … keep talking to me, Bones,” Jim gasped, barely able to talk.

A wave of pleasure surged through Len at those words. He always liked talking to his partner during sex, but Jocelyn had banned the practice, and had made him feel wrong about it, so to be begged to do it was a huge turn-on.

“Yeah, sugah, I can do that. I can do that allllll night if that’s what you want.” Len kept his hand moving, and at the same time pressed kisses to everything he could reach. His murmured sweet nothings were interspersed with his own sounds of pleasure, mingled with Jim’s incoherent sounds.

When Len felt the tension in Jim’s body amp up a notch, he sped up his hand, wanting the faster pace for himself as well. He was intensely enjoying seeing the looks on Jim’s face, feeling his hands all over him, and hearing his nearly desperate sounds.

“Fuck … Bones … I’m close …”

“Let it go, darlin’. I wanna see you come,” Len said, barely able to talk anymore.

Jim grabbed Len anywhere he could, and held onto him as he arched his back, and came with a sound somewhere between a sob and a shout, striping hot jets on both of their chests, then on Len’s hand, which calmed its action to work Jim through the last of his orgasm. Jim’s chest heaved for several breaths, and then he leaned forwards again, resting his forehead on Len’s shoulder.

Len ran the fingers of his free hand up and down the ridge of Jim’s spine, continuing to murmur to him even though he was sure nobody was home to hear him. But shortly, Jim’s forehead lifted from Len’s shoulder, and Jim tilted his head up so he could kiss Len again, hand in his hair. Jim reached his other hand down between them.

“Bones, let me. Please?” Jim asked, covering Len’s sticky hand with his own.

“Mm, you bet, sweetheart,” Len said. He let Jim’s hand replace his, and fuck if it wasn’t even better than he’d imagined in the shower just a few days ago, before their first date.

Jim started up slowly at first, but it didn’t take much time for him to get Len back to where they’d been a few minutes ago, and Jim enjoyed the hell out of seeing Len start to fall apart. His hazel eyes were hooded, and his face was flushed. The sexy drawl that turned Jim on so much had been replaced by even sexier unabashed sounds of pleasure, which Jim thought he might be enjoying even more than the drawl.

“Unh … Jim … I … more …”

Jim sped up his hand, and at the same time, Len leaned back, bracing his weight on locked arms, and letting his head fall back. His body strained to thrust his hips upwards into Jim’s touch, and his arms quivered with the effort, his triceps and deltoids so tight Jim would swear he could see individual muscle fibers. The veins on his neck stood out like ropes. Jim practically drooled at the vision before him.

“Ah, Bones, look at you,” he murmured.

Len thrust up one more time, and froze. He came hard, shooting his first jet of semen nearly to Jim’s neck. Jim milked out the rest of the shots in time with Len’s sounds, until Len finally collapsed backwards onto the foot of the bed, all strength gone from his arms.

Jim wasted no time in disentangling their legs so he could join his lover, backwards on the bed. He covered Len’s body with his own, mingling their sweat and come, and kissed Len’s still panting mouth. He continued his gentle ministrations until Bones reached up and wrapped his arms around him, stroking a few times, but then patting him in a way that Jim could only think of as … pragmatic.

“Heavy,” Len squeaked.

“Oops,” Jim said, rolling off him. Len followed, and suddenly they were on their sides, forehead to forehead. Jim slung his upper leg over Len’s hip, and they nestled together comfortably, cuddling and kissing quietly, hands twined together between them.

Len spoke up first.

“I sure did like that, darlin’,” he said, kissing Jim again and squeezing his hand.

“Me too,” Jim said. “That was really something. I really, really liked that. And, uh, I really, really like you, Bones.” He blushed again, but didn’t mind.

“Well, I really, really like you, too, Jim,” Len said, smiling a rare full and complete smile at Jim, before leaning in to kiss him once more. “And right now, we’re both a reeking, sticky mess. So how ‘bout a shower?”

“You’re on,” Jim said. “’Cause damn.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” Len said, groaning as he peeled himself off of Jim, and stood up. “Holy crap, it’s freezing in here!”

Jim laughed. “It’s at least sixty, Southern boy. I don’t like to be hot when I’m sleeping, so I keep the upstairs kind of cool. Plus, we’ll be in a nice, hot shower in about two minutes.”

“Okay, I’ll stop my whining. Where’s the bathroom? And, you’re positively sure your mother’s not home?”

“Across the hall, and yes, absolutely sure. Plus, she has her own bedroom and bathroom downstairs.”

“Oh,” Len said. “That’s good, then.”

“C’mon,” Jim said, as he led the way across the hall. In the bathroom, he plucked a green towel out of a cabinet, and hung it on a hook, right next to his blue one. He started the water in the shower, to let it warm up, and turned to see Bones standing there shivering, naked, on the bathmat. He wrapped himself around Len, and rubbed his back and the sides of his arms, feeling the goosebumps.

“Shit,” Jim said, “you really are cold! I’ll turn up the heat if you want.”

“Nah,” Len said, “I’ll be fine. Just not used to standing around in the altogether in winter temperatures. Because sixty is winter where I come from.”

Steam started billowing from the shower enclosure, so Jim slid the glass door. “After you, Bones. Not just because I like looking at your ass, either, though that’s a bonus.”

“Oh, just get in here and shut the fucking door, you infant,” Len crabbed, softening his words by kissing Jim as soon as he had firm footing.

Jim let Len have the first turn under the hot spray, and used both hands to smooth the water all over Len’s upper body, as if he were personally taking away the chill. Len closed his eyes and tipped his head backwards into the spray, holding on to Jim’s shoulders. Jim couldn’t resist the sight before him, and stepped closer. His lips found Len’s neck, and he kissed a trail from his prominent suprasternal notch up to his chin, which Len then lowered to greet Jim’s mouth with his own.

They exchanged watery kisses for a while, until Len pushed Jim gently, trading their positions so Jim could have a turn in the stream of hot water. While Jim still had his eyes closed against the spray, Len took the soap from its holder, and soaped up his hands, rubbing them across Jim’s chest, making foam in the coarse hair. Jim cooperated in having his upper body washed all over, turning as necessary. Len got his hands soapy again, and this time went lower with his hands, through the thatch of hair, down to Jim’s flaccid penis, washing everything carefully, and far more slowly than was truly necessary. He stepped closer, kissing Jim again as he reached behind him, sliding his slippery hands over Jim’s ass, and letting his fingers stray into the crack.

“My turn,” Jim said, when Len’s hands had lost their soapiness.

They switched places again, and this time Jim took care of Len, starting at his feet and working his way up. He watched as Len closed his eyes and tipped his head back when Jim got to the top of his inner thighs, and stepped his feet apart to give Jim the access they both wanted him to have.

From his position crouched on the shower floor, Jim sent his soapy hand all the way up the inside of Len’s thigh, and then cupped his balls, rolling them gently. He let his hand go farther backwards, stroking back and forth over his perineum a few times, and then into the cleft between Len’s buttocks, sliding back and forth, back and forth, the heel of his hand brushing Len’s balls on each stroke.

Len hummed deep in his throat, and ran his hand through Jim’s dripping hair.

“Keep that up and I’m liable to forget about that pesky little thing called the refractory period,” Len growled.

“I figure we can just keep making each other feel good until we can get it up again,” Jim said. “’Cause we’ve got all night, Bones. I mean,” he backpedaled, realizing they hadn’t discussed this, “if you wanna stay over.”

“You bet I do, sweetheart,” Len said, luxuriating in the sensations as Jim gently soaped his still-sensitive penis, and worked his way slowly up Len’s upper body, before turning him so they could both rinse.

Jim felt Len shiver as the water suddenly dropped in temperature.

“Looks like we’ve done in the water heater,” Jim said. “Water temp’s only downhill from here.”

He shut the water off, and stepped out onto the bathmat. Len followed, and Jim immediately pulled the green towel from the hook and started rubbing Len down, top to bottom, as Jim himself dripped all over the place. Once Len was dry and wrapped up in the green towel that perfectly set off the green starbursts within his hazel eyes, making them shine like emeralds, Jim rubbed his hair down and dried himself off quickly.

“Let’s go get you warm again,” Jim said.

“Like, in your bed?” Len asked, waggling his eyebrows.

“Not on the couch, that’s for sure,” Jim said, as he led Len back across the hall.

“Curious,” Len said. “Why’d you take me in there first, anyhow?”

“Uh, just ‘cause it’d be easier to stop in there than in here,” Jim said, as he patted the bed next to him and pulled the covers over once Len had slid in next to him.

Len wrapped himself around Jim before he responded. “Was I giving off the wrong vibes?”

“No. I just wanted to give you an out if you needed it,” Jim said, snuggling in closer.

Len nuzzled his face into Jim’s neck. “Didn’t even come close to needing it.”

They cuddled for a while, talking about everything and nothing, until, after twenty minutes or so, the tone of the conversation changed.

“Hey Bones?” Jim said, running his fingers down the valley between the long muscles running down the center of Len’s back, then caressing his ass.

“Mmm?” Len said, not removing his lips from where they’d ended up on Jim’s neck. Jim didn’t reply immediately, so he kept working on Jim’s neck. He shifted his weight so Jim was mostly under him, and it also didn’t hurt that this change in position let Jim get both hands on his ass, which he enjoyed immensely. He worked his lips back up Jim’s neck to his mouth, where he applied a long kiss of appreciation. He could feel his breathing picking up in time with Jim’s, and noticed that the cuddling had quite definitely become something else.

He ran his tongue around the shell of Jim’s ear, and gently sucked on his earlobe, before following up on Jim’s question, whispering right into his ear.

“What’d you wanna ask me, Jim?”

“Just if I could blow you, since I thought we might be feeling up to it soon,” Jim said.

Len chuckled. “Who’d say no to that?”

Jim hooked his arm around Len, and rolled them so Len was on his back, right where Jim wanted him. He straddled Len, and ran his hands appreciatively over everything he could see.

“Bones, you work out! Look at these awesome pecs,” he said, “and these abs! That’s not just from CPR, and jamming needles in people.”

“Nope,” Len said. “Gym time. And don’t you dare get sidetracked.”

“Not me,” Jim said, proving his point by kissing and nipping and licking every square inch of the pecs he’d just admired, and caressing the individual abdominal muscles, tracing their outlines with a finger. He ran his hands along the muscles that were just above Len’s sharply defined hip bones, and then held Len briefly at the hips.

“Turn over for me, baby?” Jim whispered. “Wanna see all of you.”

“As you wish,” Len said. He rolled over as Jim lifted his weight.

Jim spread his body over Len’s, kissing the back of his neck, and working a steady stream of kisses and touches of every kind down his back, noting every spot that made him twitch or shiver. He kneaded and stroked his ass, and made sure he’d touched every inch of Len’s reverse side, which was just as pleasing to him as the front had been. After several minutes, he encouraged Len to roll once more.

When he had Len on his back again, he lowered his weight onto him. They both sighed as their cocks, once again erect, ran along each other as Jim slowly moved his hips while they kissed. After a while, Jim pulled away from the kiss, and rapidly dragged his open lips down the center of Len’s front. Jim paused to admire the scenery up close, and couldn’t resist licking a stripe up Len’s cock, tonguing the head quickly.

“Jim,” Len panted, as he reached downwards for him.

“Don’t worry—I haven’t forgotten the rules. I just … had to do that,” Jim said. “I’ll get you dressed for the party.” He cocked his head at the pile on the nightstand. “You have a preference?”

Len raised an eyebrow. “Yellow box is flavored, if you’re into that. Otherwise, I’d recommend the blue box.”

Jim opened the yellow box. “Banana—appropriate, but nasty. Strawberry—hm. Vanilla is … vanilla. Oooh—minty. That okay with you, Bones?”

“It’s not going in my mouth, so whatever floats your boat, darlin’,” Len said, stroking Jim’s legs as he made his selection.

“Minty fresh it is, then.” Jim opened the packet and set the greenish condom on the bed next to them. “Now, where was I …”

Jim ran his hands along the insides of Len’s thighs, with the lightest of touches, and Len’s thighs parted. He continued to work his hands all over, stroking Len’s perineum, rolling his balls gently, and giving his fully-alert cock a few pulls through a cupped hand. Jim watched Len’s face, and saw him let his head fall back, eyes closing most of the way.

“Yeah, that’s it, all nice and relaxed,” Jim said. “You stay that way, all right? I’m not gonna break the rules, but it might feel like it. So trust me?”

Len nodded.

Jim beamed down at him. “Awesome.”

Len didn’t quite have it in him at the moment to roll his eyes, and was more than curious about what Jim meant about it feeling like he was breaking the rules.

After a while more of his treatment, Jim observed Len’s eyes mostly close again, and saw his chance. He popped the condom in his mouth, and, making sure it wasn’t inside-out, used his lips and tongue to get it started.

“Wha …”

Jim chuckled around his mouthful. He started rolling the condom down, using his lips and tongue.

“Holy fuck, Jim!”

Jim continued unrolling the minty condom, holding the bottom of Len’s shaft with one hand, and pinning Len gently by the hip with the other hand, so nobody would get injured. Using a combination of lips and tongue, he got the condom all the way unrolled, and licked his way back up to the top. He swirled his tongue around the crown, and began slowly moving his mouth up and down on Len’s cock, taking him a little deeper each time. Occasionally he pulled all the way back again, and applied extra suction and swirling to the head, and watched as Len’s hands clutched in the sheets.

Jim could swear he felt every sound Len made resonating through his own cock, which was more than ready to get some action, but would have to wait. Jim was busy, damn it. And he loved his job.

Jim kept going a little farther on each pass, until he took it all. He grinned (as much as one can in such a position) when Len’s hand grabbed into his hair, not pulling or shoving, but tagging along for a companionable ride. He felt Len’s hand clutch more tightly in his hair as his sounds grew louder and faster, so he picked up his pace and let Len add his own movements to the mix. All at once, Len’s hand grabbed hard in Jim’s hair, and his hips thrust up, while his voice crescendoed.

“Hnggh! Ah, Jim!”

Jim removed his hand from Len’s hip, which it was pointless to hold down anymore, and reached for the hand that Len was holding a fistful of bedsheets in, replacing the bedsheets with his own hand as he gave a few more swirls and gentle sucks to Len’s softening cock. He let it go, and kissed his way up Len’s heaving belly and kissed his mouth, hoping the minty flavor wasn’t too annoying.

It apparently wasn’t, as Len returned the kiss wholeheartedly, turning to his side to embrace Jim. Jim remembered that Len got chilly last time, so he reached down and pulled up the top-sheet and the comforter, which they had flung away earlier. Len made a contented sound, snuggling in close to Jim, kissing and caressing him freely.

“I’ll be delighted to return that favor in a moment, sweetheart, but I’ll warn you in advance there’s no way I can come close to … that. Which was … um. Pretty fucking amazing,” Len said, once he was up to talking again.

“Hey,” Jim said, brushing Len’s hair off his forehead, “I don’t want you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. Okay?”

“Oh, I’m comfortable all right,” Len said, “but I wouldn’t call the BJ my best event. Especially compared to your gold medal winner there.” He removed the condom, knotting it and wadding it up in tissues. He cleaned himself off with another tissue, and tossed the whole mess into the wastebasket, conveniently placed so he didn’t even have to get up.

“What is your best event?” Jim asked, predictably.

Len chuckled throatily. “Oh, you’ll see, darlin’. You’ll see.”

“Maybe … in an hour or so?” Jim asked hopefully.

“Well, now,” Len said slowly, looking over to the clock on the nightstand. “What time does that alarm there go off in the morning?”

“Four thirty,” Jim said.

Len winced.

“So we’ve got tons of time,” Jim said. “Tons. Wait—you don’t have to work tomorrow, do you?”

Len shook his head. “Well, not at the hospital. Not till the next day. But since I’ll be keepin’ you up half the night, I’ll damned well be out in the barn with you in the morning. So as long as you’ll agree to my help in the morning, I think we could probably fit in … a little something more tonight. After I take care of you just now, that is.”

“But … not with your best event?” Jim asked.

“Nope—even with you eggin’ me on, it’s gonna take at least an hour for me to get it up again,” Len said, “which is required for my best event.”

“Sweet,” Jim said. “But please, please, don’t say ‘egg.’”

Len laughed, and flipped Jim playfully so he was flat on his back. “Sorry,” he said. “Lemme help you forget I said that.”

Len took both of Jim’s hands and slid them slowly, slowly up the bed, until his arms were over his head. They were diagonal on the bed, so his hands were just hanging off the edge of the bed. Len gently pinned him with one hand on both of Jim’s wrists. He couldn’t ignore the look that created on Jim’s face, and definitely couldn’t overlook the fact that Jim’s erection had suddenly gone from half-mast to flying at peak.

“Hmm,” Len whispered in Jim’s ear. “You like that. You like being pinned down, just a little bit?”

"Not gonna lie," Jim panted, fully turned on again.

“Your dick sure can’t lie,” Len said. “You love it. Don’t move.” The sheets rustled as Len got up and out of the bed. He opened Jim’s closet, and found a belt hanging on a hook. “This should do nicely.”

“Oh god,” Jim whimpered. “You are a pushy bastard. I knew it. Behind the dumpster, I just knew it!”

“You liked that, huh,” Bones growled into Jim’s ear, crouching over him on the bed once more, the belt in a coil next to Jim’s hands. “You liked it when I put you up against the wall, held you up with my weight.”

“God yes,” Jim groaned.

“Do you want me to tie your hands down?” Len said. “I won’t do it unless you ask me to.”

Jim closed his eyes, still breathing hard. He nodded.

“Say it out loud, Jim,” Len said. “I need you to say it out loud.”

Eyes still closed, Jim nodded again. “Yes,” he whispered. “Do it.”

“What will you say if you need out?” Len asked.

“Eggs,” Jim said.

Len chuckled. “Yeah, that’s not gonna slip out by accident. So be it.”

Len kissed Jim, long and deep, while he held his wrists down gently.

“Fuck, Bones, do it, do it!” Jim begged, turning his forearms so his palms were together.

“As you wish,” Len said. He wrapped the belt around Jim’s wrists once, then again, and passed one end under the rail of the bed frame. The belt was tight on Jim’s wrists, but not pulled hard against the bed frame. There was plenty of slack, but Jim wasn’t going anywhere.

“Tighter,” Jim whispered, eyes still closed.

“Look at me, Jim,” Len said softly.

Jim’s eyes opened a crack. Just enough to see Len shake his head.

“Not this time,” Len said. “You’re not going anywhere, but I’m not gonna risk you getting a dislocated shoulder. Pull your hands,” he commanded.

Jim tugged, and his hands didn’t slip out.

“See? You won’t get out, but I’m not gonna risk you hurting your shoulders. Okay?”

Jim nodded. “Okay.”

“If you … need more, we can work our way up to it,” Len whispered, right in his ear. “But not yet. Not tonight.”

“Okay,” Jim whispered again.

“Now. Pull your hands. Hard.”

Jim’s lats tensed as he followed Len’s instructions.

“You’re not going anywhere, see?”

Jim groaned. “Jesus, Bones. You … look at me,” he said. “I am so totally not goin’ anywhere.”

“I see you,” Len said. “So pretty, all stretched out for me. Looks like I’m hardly gonna even have to touch that gorgeous cock to make you come.” He purposely accentuated his drawl, knowing that his voice turned Jim on.

“And darlin’, I know you like it when I talk to you,” Len murmured, in between applying kisses to Jim’s chest and upper body, “but pretty soon I’m gonna have quite a mouthful, so enjoy it while you can.” He kissed his way from one nipple to the other, with one hand on each lat. He worked his lips across to one of Jim’s lats, feeling the tightness of the muscle.

“Mmm, latissimus dorsi,” Len murmured into the muscle in question, “pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, teres major, triceps, biceps,” he said, brushing his lips across each muscle in turn, and then returning to kiss Jim’s open lips. Jim lifted his head up to push into the kiss, making his neck muscles stand out, ropelike. Len couldn’t resist those cords, and licked his way down, replacing the sheen of clean, salty sweat with a new moisture.

He reached across Jim to the nightstand, and randomly grabbed a condom from the yellow box. He didn’t even bother to see what flavor it was, because he wasn’t going to be paying any attention to that aspect of what was about to be in his mouth.

He sat up to get a good look at Jim. He was a total vision, skin pale against the navy blue sheets, blue irises reduced to thin rings around the deepest black, head thrown back to expose his long, thick neck. His chest heaved at every breath, and his cock was straining at the empty air. A thin string of precome connected it to his belly, to which it had been, until a moment ago, pressed by Len’s weight.

Len had to swallow hard at the picture before him. He could look for hours, but the heaving of Jim’s chest, and his whimpering, and his weeping cock, all reminded Len that he had some business to attend to. He desperately wanted to just engulf Jim’s cock with his mouth, to taste the salt of the precome, to feel the heat of it, to feel every nuance, but fluids were fluids, and orifices were orifices, and rules were rules. He tore the condom packet open, and set the pink condom (strawberry? Cherry? He didn’t even care) on the bed next to them.

“Look at you,” Len said hoarsely, as he ran his hands up and down Jim’s body one more time. “So perfectly gorgeous.”

He anchored the base of Jim’s cock with one hand, and traced up and down its length with one finger of his other hand. Jim made a strangled sound as Len dipped his finger into the precome welling up from the tiny slit, and spread it all over the head of Jim’s cock.

“Now,” Len said, as he pinched the tip of the condom and started unrolling it, in a conventional manner, “I may not have the fancy moves, but you don’t look like you’re having too bad of a time, there.”

Before Jim could reply, Len popped his mouth over the head of Jim’s cock. Jim yelled out loud, and the bed jerked as his bound hands yanked at the bed rail they were tethered to. His yell morphed into steady groans, in time with Len’s movement of lips and tongue. Len’s hand filled in at the base of Jim’s cock.

Jim’s unabashed and expressive moans and groans, combined with the obvious signs from his body that he was enjoying himself immensely, did wonders to take away Len’s self-consciousness about the adequacy of his performance after Jim’s earlier work on him. He found himself thoroughly enjoying his task, relishing every sound and movement Jim made. He got bolder with his mouth, testing his own limits.

He came up for air, and enjoyed having another look at Jim from above. When he saw how Jim’s thighs were spread, wantonly displaying everything there was to display, Len knew what else he needed to do. He first kissed his way back up Jim’s body, and briefly latched on to his mouth as he reached up to the nightstand again to grab the lube.

Len again anchored the base of Jim’s cock with one hand, and returned his mouth to the head of Jim’s cock, but this time his right hand took Jim’s invitation, first cupping and fondling his balls, and then moving down and back, massaging his perineum, and dipping in between his ass cheeks to tease at the tight hole between them.

“Uhhhhn, fuck yes Bones!” Jim cried, dispelling any doubt Len had about whether his next move would be okay.

Len uncapped the lube and quickly squeezed just the right amount out, covering the fingers of his right hand. He let the gel warm for a moment before touching Jim again. The bed jerked again as soon as his fingers found their target. He began gently circling the hole with his index finger, while his mouth returned to its action.

Len’s tongue circled, and his finger circled. He was enjoying the hell out of hearing Jim, and when his index finger popped inside, seemingly of its own accord, the bed jerked again, and Jim let out a low keen. Len worked his finger in slowly, and Jim pushed towards him. Len pushed in a little farther, and crooked his finger upwards to stroke exactly the right spot.

Len popped his mouth off Jim’s cock for just a moment, to sneak a look at his face, and was glad he did. Jim was the very picture of debauchery, his head thrown back, mouth open, eyes rolled back in his head, hands straining at the bonds that turned him on. He returned his lips and tongue to Jim’s cock, swirling and sucking, while his finger stroked Jim’s prostate in time with the movements of his mouth.

“FuckBonesI … hnnnggh!”

Jim’s whole body tensed like a high-voltage power line, and his groan ceased as he ran out of air. Len continued to caress him, with mouth and hands, through the peak of his orgasm. He became mildly concerned about how long Jim was going without breathing in again, but also felt not a little smug.

Smugness was nearly taken over by concern, but then Jim went limp, and began to breathe again in panting sighs. Len crouched over him, and undid the belt that tethered Jim’s hands to the rail of the bed frame. Jim still didn’t move, so Len moved his arms for him, to give his shoulders a break. As he did so, he noticed the red marks on Jim’s wrists where he had strained hard against the belt, causing its edges to dig into his skin.

He cleaned his hands off with tissues from the box on the nightstand, and grasped one of Jim’s hands. Jim clutched onto him, and rolled to the side to curl up against Len.

“You with the world again, sweetheart?” Len said.

“Bones, Bones … that was … I can’t …”

Jim gave up on finding the right words, and instead, wrapped himself around Len, and kissed him, twining his hand into Len’s hair. Len returned the kisses, reveling in the feel of Jim’s body trembling body next to his.

“If that wasn’t your best event, I am in deep, deep trouble,” Jim said, his words slurring ever so slightly. “’Cause holy hell, Bones.”

Len buried his face in Jim’s neck, breathing him in. They lay there together, gently touching and stroking each other, a little more slowly each time, until Jim stilled, and then twitched mightily a minute later.

Jim’s full-body jerk startled Len so badly that he yelped, which in turn woke Jim, who had fallen asleep.

“Wha … Bones—what’s wrong?”

Len laughed. “You twitched. I yelped. Romantic falling-asleep-together moment spoiled. Everything’s fine, otherwise. But you should get that condom off before we fall asleep. You don’t wanna wake up at four thirty with it still on.”

Jim grimaced. “But I don’t wanna get up now, either.”

“You’ll survive,” Len said.

Jim sat up, sighing, and cleaned up.

“See? That didn’t take long.”

“Yeah, but now I remember that I have to go to the bathroom,” Jim grumbled. “Be right back.”

“I’m next,” Len said. “And—can I borrow your robe?” he asked, pointing to the blue robe on a hook on the back of the door. “I gotta go downstairs and get my toothbrush.”

“I’ve got a zillion,” Jim said.

“Okay,” Len said, as he flopped down onto the bed and yawned. What was subjectively zero time later, Jim reappeared, and Len’s eyes opened as his warm body returned to the bed.

“You know, it won’t kill you to not brush your teeth just this once,” Jim said.

“Don’t tempt me,” Len said, as he hauled himself out of bed. “Holy shit it’s freezing in here.”

“Take the robe,” Jim said, “even though it covers you up.”

Len went to the bathroom, flushed and washed, and did a cursory toothbrushing. He returned to the bedroom, and hung the robe back on its hook. Shivering, he dived into the bed, and was delighted when Jim glommed on to him, like an octopus wrapped around a clam it was trying to open.

“Mmmm, Bones, you smell all sexy,” Jim said. Any trace of the fact that he’d been falling asleep not five minutes previously was gone.

Len scowled and shivered. “You got a second wind, didn’t you,” he accused.

“Yeah, but it’s only like ten. Tons of time. Remember?”

“Well, your dick may think it’s sixteen, but mine knows damned well it’s thirty-one. But c’mere,” Len said gruffly, pulling Jim even closer to him.

They spooned together perfectly, and soon, Len stopped shivering. His cold feet became warm, with Jim behind him and the down comforter over him.

“I guess I’m starting to see the appeal of a slightly chilly bedroom,” Len admitted. He sighed as Jim kissed the back of his neck. Len held Jim’s hand close to his own chest, stroking his thumb back and forth.

Jim’s breathing was deep and even, and Len braced himself for the twitching he thought would be coming again soon. But it didn’t.

“Hey, Bones?”

“Yeah, Jim?”

“Thanks,” Jim said quietly.

“Uh, you’re welcome? But what for?”

“For …” Jim sighed, and continued. “For not thinking that was weird.”

There was a slight pause while Len tried to think of what Jim could mean, and gave up. “Not thinking what was weird?”

“The … thing with me wanting my hands tied down. Because … that whole thing? I kind of … well, it’s not really something I … get. And I don’t … uh … it isn’t something I usually tell people. But it was like you got it, without me even saying anything, and you just … got it. And it coulda been really, really weird, but you made it okay.”

Len turned over within Jim’s grasp, so he could talk face to face.

“It’s not weird, Jim. Everyone’s got their, well, kinks, for lack of a better word. And personally, I enjoyed seeing you get turned on like that.”

“And … it didn’t freak you out?” Jim asked.

“Jim, the only things that would freak me out are things that would get us arrested, or are dangerous, and might land one or the other of us in my emergency room. If you get off on a little mild restraint, well, I get off on you getting off.”

“Bones?”

“Yeah, Jim.”

“You’re awesome.”

Len chuckled, and did what he could in their current position to get closer to Jim. “You’re pretty excellent yourself, darlin’.”

They continued to gently nuzzle each other, and make out in the way sleepy lovers do when they just can’t stop touching, just can’t bear to go to sleep, because there’s so much more pleasure to be had.

“So I’m kind of hoping something,” Jim said, not stopping what he was doing with his hands, which was exploring every muscle of Len’s back and shoulders.

“What’s that?” Len asked.

“I’m kinda hoping that your gold medal event might have something to do with me getting fucked,” Jim whispered.

“I’m kinda glad that’s what you’re hoping,” Len said. “But seriously. I still need a few minutes.”

“That’s okay. Let’s have pie.”

“Let’s do what now?”

Jim giggled. “Oh my god, Bones! That’s so …”

“Don’t you dare say ‘awesome,’” Len warned.

“Cute,” Jim concluded. “The southern thing. But pie. There’s apple pie in the fridge. Let’s go have some. For energy.”

Len considered the offer. “Sounds good, actually. Um … would you mind retrieving my clothes?”

“Sure thing, Bones.” Len watched as Jim hopped out of the bed, and dashed into the study, naked as the day he was born. He returned with a pile of clothing, and held Len’s pants out to him.

Len reached for the pants, but Jim pulled them back, grinning.

“Absolutely not,” Len said. “I am not strolling around your house naked as a jaybird, because (a), it’s freezing, and (b), if I recall correctly, there are windows in this house, and (c), on the one-in-a-million chance your mother comes home for some reason, that is not how I want to meet her.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “I’ll allow it.” He handed Len his clothes, and they both got dressed. “Besides, this way we get to strip each other again, which is hot. And here,” Jim said, rummaging in his closet. “Wear these.” He tossed a pair of slippers out towards Len.

“Thanks,” Len said. “My feet get cold.”

“I noticed,” Jim said dryly. “C’mon. Pie.”

Downstairs, Jim pulled the pie out of the refrigerator, and warmed up two generous slices in the microwave, and topped them each with a dollop of whipped cream. They sat next to each other at the table, and alternately ate and fed each other.

“You want some coffee?” Jim asked.

“Not if I ever want to sleep at all tonight. Which I’m not sure if I do. But I probably better not,” Len said.

“I’ve got decaf,” Jim said, as he started washing their plates.

Len came up behind him, and plastered the length of his body up against Jim’s, pushing him against the counter.

“I don’t think we have time for decaf,” he murmured in Jim’s ear, rubbing his groin back and forth across Jim’s rear.

Jim hastily rinsed the dishes and set them in the dish drainer, with Len right behind him the whole time. Jim turned around so they were facing each other, and Len leaned in to him, pressing Jim’s ass into the edge of the counter.

“Glad to hear it,” Jim said, before they were on each other again, bypassing anything shy or coy, and moving straight to intense. They were quickly breathing hard again, and Len was grinding into Jim, pushing him against the counter.

“Upstairs,” Len growled, “or I swear I’ll do you right here.”

Jim reluctantly moved away from the counter, missing Len’s weight against him right away, but knowing he’d have even better shortly. They dashed upstairs to Jim’s bedroom, and as soon as the door was closed, Jim hauled Len’s shirt over his head, and Len thought he heard stitches popping as he did the same with Jim’s. Their knuckles collided as they tried to take each other’s pants off at the same time. They alternated between desperation at getting each other naked, and the need for constant contact. Naked won quickly, but constant contact then reigned supreme.

They exchanged sloppy open-mouthed kisses, as their hands explored each other’s bodies like they’d never touched before. Len emitted a low purring sound as Jim lowered them both down onto the bed. Jim rolled onto his back, pulling Len’s weight down onto him.

“So,” Jim said breathlessly, “please say you’re dying to fuck me.”

“You better believe it, Farm Boy,” Len replied in a whispery growl.

“As you wish,” Jim said. “And you do realize, if I’m Farm Boy, then you’re Princess Buttercup.”

“Buttercup my ass,” Len said.

“I don’t know what that is, but maybe we can try that—hnnnnh, Bones …”

Len rocked his hips back and forth, sliding their cocks across each other’s abdomens. Jim grabbed onto Len’s ass, encouraging his movements.

“How do you want me, Bones? Ass in the air? Flat on my belly? Face to face?”

Len pulled away slightly, looking down at Jim from all fours. “Eager to get on with it, are we?”

“Um, yeah …”

Len chuckled. “Well, then.” He got up on his knees, and studied Jim briefly. He grabbed a large pillow from the head of the bed, and slapped Jim lightly on the side of his ass. “Lift up.”

Jim lifted his hips, and Len stuck the pillow underneath him. “That oughta do it. Enough with the damned logistics.” He dove down to kiss Jim on the lips again, and this time, Jim wrapped his legs around Len’s middle, pulling their bodies together tightly. Len showered Jim’s face and neck with kisses, and worked his body through the tunnel of Jim’s grabby legs to proceed downwards, worshiping Jim’s chest and belly with lips, tongue, and hands.

Len’s hands encouraged Jim to let his legs go, ghosting his hands along the insides of Jim’s thighs. The dim light of the bedroom cast a perfect glow over him, spread out trustingly for Len to do with as he wanted. That thought, that Jim trusted him so deeply, sent a warm surge through Len, emphasizing his desire to make the sex absolutely perfect for Jim.

Forever.

Len’s mind reeled with the impact of that sudden understanding. He sat there motionless for long enough that Jim decided something was wrong.

“Bones? What’s up?”

“I …” Len cleared his throat. “Nothin’, sweetheart. Everything’s just fine.” He let his cheek run down the inside of Jim’s leg, and then kissed and fondled everything he found in the middle, as if to prove his point that everything was, in fact, perfect.

“Yeah, it is, isn't it,” Jim sighed.

Len couldn’t help himself, and worked his way back up to the head of the bed, and kissed Jim some more, and reveled in the attention he got as well. He pulled back to look at Jim’s face again. Jim’s eyes were shining just as much as Len imagined his own were.

“Bones,” Jim said, reaching up to caress Len’s face.

“Hey, darlin’,” Len said, smiling back down at him.

Jim reached up over his own head, and fumbled on the nightstand until his hand grabbed the lube, and a random box of condoms. He set them on the bed at waist level, and batted his eyelashes.

“Yeah, okay; I can take a hint,” Len said, kissing Jim one more time before getting busy lower down. “Especially one as unsubtle as that.”

He lubed up the fingers of one hand, and slid the edge of his hand over Jim’s perineum, until his fingers went between the cheeks of the perfect ass Len was admiring. Jim responded by letting one leg fall open, and swinging the other one over Len’s shoulder to get it out of the way. Len felt Jim shiver as he began circling his fingers around and around, and Jim groaned as the index finger popped inside.

This time, rather than going straight for Jim’s prostate, Len had a different goal. He started circling, pulling, gently stretching the circular muscle from the inside. His other hand stroked Jim’s cock, feeling its hot weight, its silky smoothness, the moisture at the tip. As he slowly worked his hand up and down the shaft, he pulled his one finger out, and let it return to its target along with a second finger.

Jim’s hands clenched in the sheets, and he made a sound that was half hiss, half groan.

“Sorry,” Len said. “Too much too soon?”

“Fuck no,” Jim said, panting slightly. “More, more-more-more.”

Len’s paired fingers circled the inside of the tight ring of muscle, feeling it become more pliable. He paused at the twelve-o’clock position, and slowly slid the two fingers inside, until he felt the landmark he was searching for. He stroked Jim’s prostate, and Jim produced a voiceless groan, pushing back at Len with his entire body. At the same time, Len continued his attentions to Jim’s cock, making Jim move the opposite direction, until Len had Jim literally writhing, not knowing which way to move his body to get the most sensation.

Len pulled his fingers out briefly to add more lube, and returned to his task with three fingers this time.

“Fuck, Bones!” Jim whined, actually whined, Leonard realized. “Do it now, please, please!”

“Do what, darlin’?” Len asked, massaging Jim’s prostate.

“Fuck me now; shove your huge perfect cock up my ass, because I’m getting too close and I want you inside when I come!” Jim blabbed, as if the entire sentence were one long word.

“Mmm, good answer,” Len said, “but remember that rule about nobody gettin’ hurt? Just be patient, sugah, and it’ll all work out.”

Len worked his fingers apart and together, stretching every which way, until he was sure Jim was ready. He fumbled with a condom packet, wishing he’d thought to open it before becoming coated in the slipperiest substance known to man, but eventually reached his goal, and quickly put the condom on himself, covering it thickly with lube. Jim stroked every part of Len he could reach.

They locked eyes as Len lined the head of his penis up at Jim’s entrance. He began pushing in, slowly, slowly, giving Jim time to adjust, and going slowly enough that he himself wouldn’t come just from seeing what was happening and feeling the incredible, perfect tightness. They groaned together when Len bottomed out, balls brushing Jim’s ass. Len froze there for a moment, every fiber of every muscle in his body quivering.

“Bones,” Jim groaned, clutching at Len’s ass, “oh god this is so perfect.”

Len found he wasn’t able to reply verbally, so he answered by pulling nearly all the way out and pushing back in again. Jim’s clutching hands encouraged his movement. He adjusted his angle for the next thrust, and knew from Jim’s reaction that he had it right.

“Go, Bones, go!” Jim begged, so Len did, setting a steady rhythm. Their sounds mingled, crossing each other, until neither could tell who was making what noises, who was saying what words or half-words.

Jim’s cock was trapped between their bellies, which were growing slick with precome. After a few minutes, Jim started arching up to Bones, who then propped himself on one forearm and slipped his hand between their bodies to work Jim’s cock. Almost as soon as he touched Jim, Jim arched up, clutching Len’s ass hard, keeping their bodies together, stilling Len’s movements, and then Len felt semen spurting on his hand, and Jim’s muscles clenching and unclenching around him.

Jim looked up at him, pupils blown, still panting. “Go, Bones; wanna see you come.”

Len took him at his word, and resumed his pace, which soon picked up of its own accord. Jim’s hands were everywhere, flicking his nipples one moment, kneading his ass the next. When his rhythm sped up more and stuttered, Jim’s hand reached up to his face, and as Len came, their eyes were locked together. His vision closed in to a narrow tunnel, until all he could see was two bright blue gems, as he collapsed, spent, onto Jim’s body.

Len heard static in his ears, which gradually turned into Jim’s murmuring.

“There’s my Bones, my perfect, gorgeous Bones,” Jim whispered. “You back with me, now?”

“Always was,” Len said, once he had control of his voice again. He pulled out of Jim gently, and they rolled to one side, kissing and stroking until they could breathe normally again. Len peeled the condom off himself and disposed of it, moving as little as possible, and hauled the covers back over both of them on his way down. Len nestled into Jim, taking the role of the big spoon this time.

“That was pretty spectacular,” Jim said, kissing Len’s hand.

“Goes both ways, darlin’,” Len said. The arm he’d wrapped around Jim cradled him protectively, hand resting on the center of Jim’s chest. They were both exhausted, but content.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this happy,” Jim said, covering Len’s hand with his own. “I really, really liked everything about this afternoon, and tonight. Everything.”

“Me too, Jim. Me too.”

“Merry Christmas, Bones,” Jim said with the last of his alertness.

Len pulled Jim’s arm to him even more tightly, and clutched his hand. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Jim.”

THE END