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Leonard has famously never gotten along with Dr. Spock, which is why—when the Dean of Medicine summons them to his office to inform them that they’re going to be sharing an intern—he doesn’t even bother saying ‘no.’ He just turns and walks out.

Dr. Pike’s assistant chases him down while he’s waiting for the damn elevator and drags him back with tremulous but clearly genuine threats to his holiday bonus. Pike points to the empty chair next to the one where Spock is sitting like someone’s just performed a none-too-gentle prostate exam on his person. Leonard sits, but he makes sure his face says he’s not happy about it. 

“Gentlemen,” says Dr. Pike, “I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that KM Memorial is a teaching hospital. Neither of you have mentored an intern in three years. Dr. McCoy, the last intern I gave you quit medicine to become a yogi, you made her blood pressure so high. We’re lucky she didn’t try to sue you for emotional damages. And Dr. Spock—“

“My last intern was Dr. Uhura,” Spock cuts in, sounding like he’s offended he’s even being included in this conversation. It’s a mild ‘offended,’ but it’s there—Leonard can hear it. “She was an exemplary student, and now she’s the Chief of Psychology—“

“I know who the Chief of Psych is in my own damn hospital, Spock, so can it. Uhura doesn’t excuse you from ever teaching again.” He dragged a hand over his face. “I know if I stuck one of you with an intern, you’d pawn them off before the end of the day. So here’s the rules: the only person you’re allowed to reassign him to is each other. You’ve got joint custody.”

“For how long?” Leonard demands.

“For as long as I say so, McCoy, that’s how long.”

Spock’s frowning. It’s a mild ‘frowning,’ but—you know. “Dr. McCoy’s specialty is vastly different from my own, Dr. Pike. I’m not sure how you expect us to adequately train a student in either field if his attentions are so divided.”

Pike smirks knowingly. “Oh, I think he can handle it. Kid’s a genius.”

“Oh, no,” Leonard says. He’s been hearing the word ‘genius’ tossed around in exactly one context for the last six months: Dr. Kirk. First it was Dr. M’Benga in oncology (Kirk can spot cancer from a mile away, but he just can’t give up on them. Sometimes giving them hope is the most harmful thing you can do.) then Dr. Sulu in paeds (He’s great with the kids, but he takes every one personally. He’d burn out in a year.) then Dr. Scott in ortho (I’ve had him for a week and I swear he could take over my job tomorrow, but I cannae help but think he’d be bored out of his feckin’ mind.)—the kid bounced around the hospital like it was a goddamn pinball machine. And now he’s coming straight at Leonard, and he can’t help but think that there’s no way. No way he’s as good as everyone says he is—no one’s that good.

“I assume you are referring to Dr. Kirk,” Spock says. “If that is the case, I have been informed by Dr. Uhura that he is both reckless and lewd, and as such I have no desire to take him under my tutelage—“

“It wasn’t a request, Spock,” Pike says, in that voice that means ‘I sign your fucking paycheck.’ “You’re dismissed. Both of you.”

Kobayashi Maru Memorial Hospital treated 15 of the 20 survivors of General Kodos’ commune, after the FBI raid brought an end to what had at that point been a 28-day siege. Leonard had been a resident when it happened, scrubbed into emergency surgery with his attending, and Spock had still been terrorizing his professors at Johns Hopkins, so neither of them were there in the ER when Jim was wheeled in on a gurney, fourteen years old, so malnourished that he barely weighed eighty pounds, sporting the sorts of injuries that belonged in medieval torture chambers. Neither of them were there to hold his hand—no one was, it took Winona two days to get there from the Army base in Japan, and why she didn’t get on a plane when she saw the news a month earlier Leonard will never fucking know, but what he does know is that he was two floors away in an OR handling some dumbass drunk driver’s intracranial bleed while the love of his life was two floors away teetering on the brink of death. And sometimes Leonard wakes up in the dead of night and sees how the moonlight turns the scars on Jim’s back silver, and he thinks he’ll never forgive himself.

When he meets Jim he has no idea. When he realizes with a lurch of terror that he loves Jim he has no idea. He won’t know until much much later, when Jim sits both him and Spock down at his kitchen table—Jim very drunk, wobbly, lowering himself into a chair like a forklift operator with an unbalanced load—and tells them about Tarsus. About how he was living with his aunt to finish high school when she fell under Kodos’ influence, how he tried to talk her out of moving to Angel Island but ended up going with her (I couldn’t leave her, I just—she didn’t know any better.) and everything that happened after. He won’t talk about all of it, just touches on the escape attempt that got him his scars, trying to row to the mainland with a boat full of scared kids, sending out the mayday that finally got the authorities to pay attention. He says that the first thing he really remembers with any clarity is waking up in KM Memorial, the rest of the survivors hooked up to monitors around him and sleeping peacefully while doctors fed them through IVs. And that that’s why he came here, that’s why he decided to become a doctor: “They did what I couldn’t. They saved those people. Saved me.” 

Jim passes out on the couch not long after, drunk as a skunk and blissfully oblivious to the emotional bomb he’s just dropped on their happy little V-shaped threesome. Spock stays sitting at the table for a long time, hands folded in his lap, like a robot on standby. Leonard gets up and bangs around in the kitchen—not worried about waking Jim, that kid sleeps like the dead—until he finds something that’s not the cheap vodka Jimmy keeps in the freezer. When Spock finally gets up, he finds Leonard sitting on the floor with his back against the refrigerator, eyes red-ringed and half a bottle of jack sloshing around in his stomach.

He crouches in front of him. His expression is Spock-neutral, as always, but there’s an extra layer of vacancy in his eyes that Leonard thinks probably means the hobgoblin’s having as much trouble processing as he is. Spock doesn’t touch him—they don’t do that—but he does lower himself all the way down to sit on the floor, cross-legged. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” he tells Leonard. His voice comes out as a quiet rasp. Leonard just gives him a look, aiming for ‘fuck off’ and probably landing somewhere closer to ‘please God help.’ “You’re thinking that because you were working here when the Tarsus survivors were brought in, you should have been with him. I too feel that I should have been with him, and I was all the way across the country. It is…not a logical feeling. Nevertheless I cannot tell you that you are wrong to feel it. That would be hypocritical of me.”

Leonard snorts. It’s not a laugh—it’s more painful than that. “Then what the hell did you come in here to say, Spock?”

“Only that I understand what you are feeling. I feel it too.” He falls quiet for a moment, staring down at his hands, and Leonard thinks, good God. When the hell did Spock become the emotionally literate one out of the three of them? “He is…Jim is…The idea that he could have died before I met him makes me anxious in a way that has no remedy, and I…”

He breaks off abruptly and takes the bottle out of Leonard’s hand. Leonard lets him have it. Spock takes a long swig, winces, and then goes back in for more. “Yeah,” Leonard says softly. “Yeah, I get what you mean.”

That night they pickle their livers. Neither of them are in any state to go home, and neither of them are very eager to leave anyways, not when they’ve learned what they’ve just learned, but Jim’s on the couch and he only has the one bed. Leonard makes noises about sleeping on the floor (cramming onto the couch with Jim’s not an option when he sleeps like a goddamn starfish), but after five minutes his back makes it clear what an awful fucking idea that is and he crawls up onto the bed. When he wakes up in the morning, it’s with the kind of major-league hangover he hasn’t had since Jocelyn left, Spock’s face mashed into his stomach, Jim laughing quietly in the doorway. Leonard grumbles something colorful, and Jim takes a picture on his phone, and tomorrow it will show up on the fridge in the OB break room (Jim’s got every labor and delivery nurse wrapped around his little finger) with the caption Girls night!! scribbled on in sharpie. 

And Leonard will scowl his way through the halls and curse people out with a vehemence that makes the nurses ask him if he’s PMSing, and Spock will react to teasing like a brick wall reacts to being propositioned, and things will go back to normal, except that both of them will watch Jim’s eating habits just a bit closer, and Spock will make sure he keeps him busy with tricky cases on certian significant dates, Leonard will hold him just that much tighter when he shouts awake in the middle of the night.

The first week of their shared custody over Jim Kirk, Spock and Leonard see more of each other than they have for the last 8 years. Granted, the hospital’s only diagnostician and its Chief of Surgery don’t generally have reasons to interact all that often—if Spock needs a surgeon on one of his cases he usually goes to Dr. Puri, who’s got the same cold-blooded disposition as he does. They spend the first day not talking to each other at all, but that just ends up with Jim trying—and failing—to be in two places at once. So it happens that by the time Friday night breaks quietly into Saturday morning, when they find Jim asleep and drooling on a gurney in the hall outside the OR, they’ve morphed from two separate attendings and an intern into some sort of strange three-legged doctor machine.

Jim is, as it turns out, just as good as everyone says he is. If he’s not handing Leonard 10-blades in surgery, whining at Leonard to let him do his own appendectomies, or running around with Spock playing Sherlock Holmes, he’s scrubbing in with Scotty or loitering in the ER on the off chance that someone lets him do an emergency trach. Leonard’s got the strange sense that he never goes home, just crashes in the on-call room and steals the extra scrubs that the hospital stocks for surgeons. He’s not sure when the kid has time for all the canoodling he gets up to, but Leonard has it on good authority (from head nurse Christine Chapel) that Jim has slept with no less than fifteen different people since his arrival at KM Memorial, including that redhead from CPS, Gaila, and Dr. Marcus, Leonard’s best cardiovascular surgeon. Apparently there was a pregnancy scare with Carol, which gives Leonard an ulcer for the three seconds it takes Chapel to assure him that it’s all over, no Kirk-Marcus baby inbound, Jesus, Len, you need to unclench.

Dr. Marcus is almost 40, and Leonard gives himself another ulcer thinking about how most interns are 22 and that’s basically cradle robbing before Chapel reads his mind and tells him that Jim is 26. Apparently he started med school pretty late.

“I had some trouble getting in,” he says, when Leonard asks him what the hell he was waiting for. “Not because of my tests. Well, I got a perfect zero on my MCAT, but no one thought that was funny so I went back and got a 528. Only problem was I have a pretty colorful juvie record. Lot of grand theft auto and that sort of thing.”

Leonard raises one eyebrow across the open heart surgery they’re doing.

“I know, I know,” Jim says, “but—Look. My mom missed every science fair I ever had, but she always showed up for court hearings. And most of the judges let me off easy after they found out she was a four-star general.”

“How’d you convince Hopkins to let you in, then?”

Jim smiles under the medical mask; Leonard sees the corners of his eyes crinkle, when he glances up from the very delicate stent work he’s doing. “Pike wrote me a letter of recommendation. Turns out he was friends with my dad.”

Later that night, Leonard settles in at his neglected laptop computer in his sad, empty apartment and finds out that Jim’s dad is none other than Dr. George Kirk, one of the researchers who pioneered gene treatment for Hep C. Jim’s basically medical royalty—there’s a wing of the Mayo Clinic with his dad’s name on it. Leonard can’t believe he didn’t put it together sooner.

For the first time ever he uses Spock’s phone number, just to ask if Spock knew. 

“Of course I knew,” Spock says, sounding like he just woke up. “His last name is ‘Kirk,’ Dr. McCoy, it’s not exactly a secret. And when you add in the fact that Jim has one of the finest medical minds of our age, it’s not difficult to—“

“Good night,” Leonard says meanly, and hangs up.

Jim starts calling him Bones instead of Dr. McCoy somewhere around the one-month mark. When Leonard is begrudgingly endeared instead of straight-up infuriated, that’s when he knows he’s in trouble. He doesn’t treat Jim like he treats his other underlings. He’s not just his intern, he’s his friend, and what’s worse is that when he watches Jim and Spock—arguing over lunch in the cafeteria, rushing down the hall in close conversation with their white coats flapping behind them, staring at the list of symptoms on the whiteboard in Spock’s office like it might  rearrange itself into an answer—he thinks they’re friends, too. Or maybe more. He catches them playing chess one evening as the sky outside turns orange with sunset, and when he asks Jim about it the next day he flushes pinker than he did when Leonard caught him having sex with Gaila in the men’s showers. 

He’d corner Spock and ask him about it—if he’s sleeping with Jim—only it makes him sick to even think about the two of them together, and anyways Spock has a thing going with Dr. Uhura where he takes her out to blindingly expensive dinners and buys her diamond necklaces and she sits elegantly on the edge of his desk in her tailored pencil skirts and they both pretend that they have no idea what anyone is talking about when they ask if they’re together. Plus, he’s not sure Spock is physically capable of breaking a rule, and sleeping with someone under your supervision is so far outside the realm of acceptable behavior that there’s a whole book of rules about it, which Chapel calls the Grey’s Anatomy Doctrine, and which basically amounts to: Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Do It.

There’s a pretty seismic shift in their relationship on the anniversary of Leonard’s divorce. It’s not because the pain of remembering Jocelyn drives Leonard to take solace in Jim’s willing flesh—that would be insane. Insane.

It’s because somehow, miraculously, the bartender at the dive bar where Leonard goes to get smashed knows Jim, and knows he’s Leonard’s intern, and calls him when it’s five a.m. and Leonard’s still sitting at the bar nursing a rum and Coke, hold the Coke, double the rum. Jim shows up on the barstool beside him in a leather jacket and a pair of beat up jeans, and Leonard says, “What the hell.”

“Come on, Bones.” Jim claps him on the shoulder. “Let’s get you out of here, buddy.”

Leonard tries to deliver a tirade about how Jim’s his intern and he shouldn’t be calling Leonard ‘buddy’ or ‘Bones’ or anything but ‘Dr. McCoy, sir,’ while Jim closes Leonard’s bar tab and helps him stumble out to the Uber, but he has had an awful lot to drink and he’s feeling a little disoriented by the fact that it’s light out, and the next thing he knows he’s puking all over Jim’s shoes and the pavement and the wheel of the Uber, and the driver is shouting, “No way! No fucking way, man!” out the window and speeding away, and Jim’s yelling, “Come on!” after him, and then Leonard hugs a street light and closes his eyes and the next thing he knows it’s noon, he’s home, and Jim’s wearing his sweatpants, watching cartoons, and eating cereal on his couch.

“Bones!” Jim exclaims, when he sees Leonard awake. “You’re out of aspirin, but I made you a prairie oyster.”

Leonard glares at him, but he chokes down the prairie oyster all the same. Then he pukes it up in the kitchen sink.

“Feel better?” Jim asks brightly.

Leonard collapses on the couch with a grunt. 

They watch Tom & Jerry in silence for a few minutes before Jim slurps down the rest of his milk—a noise that makes Leonard’s stomach lurch again—and asks, in a false-casual tone, “You want to talk about it?”

“No,” says Leonard. Then he thinks about it for a few more minutes, through commercials for kids’ yogurt and some toy that’s supposed to let you ‘surf on grass,’ about how this is the first time he can remember having someone in his apartment since this same day last year, when the bartender called Chapel, about how having Jim sitting here makes the place feel more like a home than living in it for five years has. And he adds, effusively by his standards: “Divorce.”

Jim claps him on the shoulder again, like he did last night, but doesn’t say anything. He gets up and pours Leonard a bowl of cereal, and after Leonard puts it down on the coffee table he eats it himself, and at eight p.m. they go to work, and it’s fine.

Spock’s mom comes into oncology on a rainy morning in September. She’s a lovely woman, gentle and kind with a devious streak that must have driven Spock insane as a child but which delights Jim—and she has stage four pancreatic cancer. It’s inoperable. M’Benga tells her there isn’t anything they can do. Chemo would buy her a month, maybe. He recommends palliative care, to make her last few weeks bearable, and she accepts. She is gracious. She thanks him for his honesty.

Her son is not so cooperative. Spock wants to run a battery of tests; he won’t accept that it’s cancer; he admits her, against the objections of M’Benga and Uhura and Dr. Pike himself, and she lets him. Leonard spots Amanda talking to Jim in the cafeteria, her hand on his arm, a soft motherly expression on his face, and then she gets up and Jim drops his head in his hands and Leonard joins him, cautiously. Jim must know it’s him, because he doesn’t look up. He just says, “This is so fucked, Bones.”

Leonard tests Jim’s coffee cup and finds it’s empty. He slides over his own. “You want to hide in surgery, I’ve got a frontal AVM resection that should take the rest of the day.”

Jim nods miserably, and grabs onto Leonard’s coffee like it’s a lifeline.

He doesn’t show up for the AVM resection, and when Leonard scrubs out twelve hours later with a crick in his neck and feet so sore he’s considering having them amputated, it’s dark out and most of the hospital is quiet. He wanders past Spock’s office and finds it empty, then tracks down Chapel. She sends him to the inpatient oncology ward.

Their voices echo down the hall—Jim and Spock, yelling at each other. Leonard comes in hearing range just in time to catch Jim shouting, “If you love her, you’ll let her die without torturing her!”

He rounds the corner just in time to see Spock heave back and punch Jim in the face.

Spock’s eyes flick to Leonard at the end of the hall. He turns on his heel and stalks around the opposite corner, out of sight. Jim backs into the wall and slides down to sit on the floor, hand over his face.

Leonard crouches next to him. “Hell, Jimmy…”

“Bones,” Jim says thickly.

He winces as Leonard palpates his cheekbone. Nothing feels broken, but, “Let’s get you downstairs, kid. Make sure you’re not concussed.”

Jim doesn’t even grumble about it, which is how Leonard knows that the last twelve hours have been hard on him—even harder than you’d expect, given the circumstances. He goes easily when Leonard gets him down into one of the exam rooms in the closed outpatient section of the hospital and sits him up on the padded table. He stays quiet as Leonard rummages around in the cabinets, swearing under his breath. He obeys Leonard’s commands to follow his finger, tell him what his name is, what day it is, what the correct procedure is for intubation, and he lets his head loll bonelessly in Leonard’s hands when he holds an ice pack over his eye.

“Am I gonna make it?” he asks, too tired to sound sarcastic.

Leonard guides his head gently against his shoulder. “I think so, darlin’.”

Jim huffs into his scrubs. A moment later, Leonard feels him grab fistfuls of his shirt, at the waistline, and then Jim’s got him wrapped up in a full-blown hug, his face tucked against the base of his neck. It’s an awkward angle, with Leonard still holding the ice pack against his eye, but he makes do. It’s not like he’s gonna tell Jim to let go. It’s not like he’s gonna let go himself.

Amanda is discharged around daybreak. In the end, it’s Spock’s father who talks him into letting her go, a stern conversation in the oncology break room that Leonard only witnesses the end of, sitting at the nurse’s station with Jim and Chapel when Spock emerges, white faced with a thousand-yard stare, Sarek stern and haggard behind him. Spock sits in Amanda’s hospital room for almost an hour after she leaves, weaker and somehow less than when she arrived, her husband pushing her wheelchair. Dr. Uhura is the only one he lets inside, and Leonard watches Jim as they hear Spock say, tense, “Enter,” as she slips inside, closing the privacy curtain behind her. He watches Jim’s jaw jump, watches him shake it off, shake his head, call himself an idiot in his head. It’s the same ritual he undertakes when he gets something wrong, and in the OR Leonard doesn’t mind it, the kid has to learn, but in this context it hurts to watch. He doesn’t like to see Jim hurt.

So he claps him on the shoulder. “Come on, Jimmy. I’ll buy you a drink.”

“Two drinks,” Jim croaks. It sounds automatic.

“Sure, kid. Two drinks.”

Two drinks turns into two more, turns into Jim crashing on Leonard’s couch, borrowing Leonard’s sweatpants again, standing zombielike in front of Leonard’s coffeemaker in the morning, falling asleep in the passenger seat of Leonard’s car on the way to work. And he gives him shit for taking the first shower, and shit for eating the last pop-tart, because that’s what they do, they give each other shit, but Jim just smiles and calls him Bones and calls him old man and doesn’t leave his side for a week.

Probably there are warning signs he doesn’t notice. Leonard’s never been the most emotionally intelligent person on earth—just ask his ex-wife. But the first time he notices, really notices that he sort of wants to jump his best friend slash intern’s bones, is when he finds Jim and Dr. Giotto in flagrante delicto in the on-call room.

In the moment he treats it the same as any other time he’s caught Jim doing something—or someone—he shouldn’t: he bitches and shouts and tells Jim that this is a hospital, damnit, not a sex club, and would he put his pants back on and get back to fucking work if he’s not using the on-call room to catch some shuteye. But then he goes through the rest of the day apocalyptically angry, and he can’t figure out why until he shuffles home to his apartment and passes out face-first without changing his scrubs and has a very vivid nightmare in which Jim tells him that he’s running off with Giotto to open a clinic in Antigua and he and Spock have to get together to commit a murder. 

They’re burying Giotto’s body in a shallow grave when Leonard shocks awake, sweaty and disoriented, staring at his pillow. He doesn’t realize the significance of the dream until he’s in the shower, and then he remembers the first time he realized he had feelings for Jocelyn, when she’d gone out on a date with a guy in med school and Leonard had been so jealous he’d almost punched the guy out in the middle of their fetal pig dissection. Even then, he hadn’t felt like committing murder, so this is…This is bad.

He doesn’t know how bad exactly until a few weeks later, after Giotto has, according to Chapel, ‘come and gone.’ He’s just clocking in for his shift when there’s a commotion at the ER intake desk, right outside the locker room—apparently a huge construction crane has collapsed on top of a few buildings in downtown San Francisco, there are a lot of casualties, every hospital in the metro area is sending people to help search and rescue and triage on-scene. Leonard’s suiting up in coveralls and getting ready to head over with one of the ambulance crews when his phone rings—it’s Spock, asking him if he’s seen Jim. He hasn’t. He tells Spock he’ll call if he finds him, hangs up, and spends the whole ride over to the scene not daring to ask what buildings the crane collapsed on top of, trying to remember if, when he drove Jim home a few weeks ago, there was any construction near his apartment building.

And then he climbs out of the back of the ambulance into a warzone, and Dr. Chekov, Sulu’s intern, is yelling and waving him over to help with triage, and it’s not for a half hour that he gets a moment to breathe. He finds Chapel, soot on her face, hair pulled back in a tight pony, marking an unconscious man with a red tag, just touches her shoulder and asks, “Jim?”

She sends him into one of the collapsed buildings, to talk to someone from the fire department, who points him to tiny opening under a slab of concrete just as Jim shimmies out covered in dust with an orange medkit dragging from his ankle. He’s in his pajamas, he’s got blood on his forehead and his lips are blue from cold, but he’s okay, and something inside Leonard’s chest unclenches when he sees him. If the way Jim’s shoulders slump are any indication, he feels the same way—he comes over, stumbling through rubble, and tells Leonard that there’s a woman pinned under 20 tons of concrete down there in what used to be the parking garage, that they have another few hours until compartment syndrome sets in but he thinks they’re going to have to amputate the leg. Apparently he heard her banging on a pipe and went down himself, even after the fire department told him no, because of course he did. Leonard wants to tell him he did good, but he doesn’t, because that’s not what Jim needs right now. He needs his attending, not his friend. So he tells Jim the risk factors for doing an amputation in the field, what to watch for, what to avoid, because they’re short on hands and Jim might have to do it himself.

He does, after everything, after they try to lift the concrete and nearly bring the whole building down with the rescuers underneath it (and that was a heart attack that Leonard thinks could’ve killed him, thinking of Jim pinned under all that rubble) have to do it himself. Leonard stands outside with the firemen, a minute too late, gritting his teeth while he listens to the woman screaming as Jim cuts through flesh, then screaming even louder as the whir of the saw starts up and he cuts through bone. She’s unconscious when they bring her out, and Jim climbs out stone-faced after her, gets in the ambulance with her, doesn’t say anything to Leonard.

By the time they have things under control enough for Leonard to leave, it’s been almost eighteen hours. He heads back to the hospital, dead on his feet, but Jim’s not there. Neither is the woman he saved.

Spock is, though. Leonard finds him sitting in his office with most of the lights off and his head in his hands. He doesn’t knock; he never knocks. He just stands in the open door, knowing Spock knows he’s there, until the diagnostician sucks in a shaky breath and looks up. “Fat embolism,” is all he says. “In the ambulance.”

Leonard drags a hand over his face. “Goddamnit. Can’t catch a break today.”

And that’s when he knows how bad it is. Because he’s red-tagged and black-tagged a dozen people today, he drilled a hole in a man’s skull while someone held an umbrella over them to keep the rain off, and Jim’s a big boy, he needs to learn how to deal with this stuff on his own. But Leonard gets in his car, and he thinks about going home, and he knows that he’d be kidding himself if he tried to unwind and go to sleep without seeing Jim first. So he drives over to Jim’s place, taking a long detour around the warzone, and knocks on Jim’s door, and when he gets no answer, uses the spare key he stole after one too many drunk nights out.

He follows the sound of the shower. The bathroom door’s open. Jim’s sitting on the bottom of the tub, fully clothed and soaked to the bone. He barely seems to register Leonard coming in, and there’s no open bottle of vodka, no baggie of little white pills, no nothing, but this is a stupor like Leonard’s never seen him in. He sits on the edge of the tub, getting sprayed but so past caring it barely even registers, and takes Jim’s head in his hands like he did after Spock punched him. 

They stay like that for a few minutes. Then Jim says, “I tried to call my mom.”

The ‘She didn’t pick up’ is implied. Leonard’s heart breaks. “Why didn’t you call me, darlin’?”

Jim makes an unhappy sound. “I couldn’t choose, Bones.”

Leonard doesn’t know what that means, but he doesn’t push. He gets Jim out of the tub, and gets him out of his wet clothes, and starts to dry him off, at which point Jim comes back into himself all at once and shoves him off with some light ribbing and tells him he can do it himself. Leonard goes into the kitchen and puts on a pot of coffee, because he’s pretty sure neither of them are sleeping any time soon. He hears Jim shuffle out into the hall, into his bedroom, close the door. He takes out his phone and calls Spock.

Half an hour later, Spock’s at the door, his mother on the line. Jim stares at him for a few seconds when he tries to hand over the phone, but then he takes it gently—like he’s touching her, not just touching an iPhone—and disappears into his room again. Spock and Leonard putter awkwardly around the kitchen until Leonard snaps and starts cooking breakfast, eggs and bacon, even though it’s two in the morning. And it strikes him when Jim comes out of the bedroom, looking like he’s been crying, and Spock shoots up out of his chair: that Spock looks about as wrecked as Leonard feels. That Jim didn’t want to have to choose. That probably they’re all three of them in trouble.

In February Jim decides he wants to donate part of his liver to a patient. He gets permission from Dr. Pike and asks Leonard to do the surgery.  Leonard says no fucking way, tells Jim he’s being an idiot, and stalks off to hide in Chapel’s nurse’s station while Spock does the surgery himself. Chapel spends the entire two hours shooting him nasty and disappointed looks over the tops of various clipboards, but Leonard feels justified in his refusal—doctors aren’t donors, they aren’t supposed to give bits of their organs to patients just because it’s sad that they’re dying, and anyways where the hell does Jim get off, risking his life for some random guy?

The surgery goes perfectly. Of course it does, Spock’s doing it. Not that Leonard would ever admit it out loud, but Spock is a consummate surgeon, could run the department if Leonard ever left the position vacant. One time they cooperated on a six-organ multiple transplant, ten hours in the OR, and it ran like butter it was so smooth, but anyway that’s beside the point.

Leonard finds Spock scrubbing out of OR 3, scrub cap still on, bangs tucked away. He’s in robot mode, but when he sees Leonard he blinks twice—the equivalent of a double-take—and then redoubles scrubbing under his fingernails with a tense frown.

“You should have taken the surgery,” he says tightly.

Leonard scowls. “The surgery never should have goddamn happened.”

“It was approved by Dr. Pike. The risk factors were low, and it saved a patient’s life. A man with three children, and a pregnant wife. Under normal circumstances you would have performed the surgery without complaint.”

“A doctor donating their liver to a patient isn’t normal—

“No, Dr. McCoy. We both know that’s not what you have a problem with. It’s because it was Jim.”

“Yeah, no shit!” Leonard shoves off the wall, suddenly furious. “He could’ve died!”

“Yes,” Spock says. “And that was a risk which he elected, of his own free will, to undertake. It was his right. He asked you to be with him, to do the surgery, because he was afraid. You turned him down, which is your right. But I will not pretend to understand your decision. I will not pretend that it is not abhorrent to me that you abandoned him in his moment of need—“

Spock tries to brush past him, but Leonard grabs his arm. 

“I couldn’t,” he says, sort of desperate for Spock to understand for reasons he can’t identify—maybe so Spock knows that Leonard doesn’t love Jim any less than he does, that he’s not flaking out. “I couldn’t risk him dying under my scalpel for no goddamn reason. If something had gone wrong…Hell. That dumb kid’s all I’ve got.”

Spock meets his gaze, cool as ice. “I…understand the sentiment, doctor.”

The recovery period for the operation is long enough that Spock and Leonard have time to renegotiate their schedules so that they’re both on their way off-duty when Jim gets discharged a week later. Spock wheels him out to where Leonard’s got the car idling on the curb. Jim looks between them like he suspects them of trying to pull a fast one. “Uh, guys? What’s going on?”

“You said you couldn’t choose, Jimmy,” Leonard says softly. 

Jim stares at him, wide-eyed. “You’re serious?”

“As a heart attack,” Leonard comfirms. “Come on, kid. Let’s get you home.”

Jim looks between him and Spock again, hesitant, like he thinks it’s all going to turn out to be some big prank. But then they get him into the back seat, and Leonard sends the wheelchair back inside with an orderly, and when he climbs in the car Jim and Spock are snapping waspishly at each other about some case or another, and he grouses at them to shut up and cranks up the radio, and it’s not so strange after all. 

Just like it’s not so strange to take the couch while Spock is in with Jim, to alternate nights, to sleep sometimes curled around Jim’s back with his mouth pressed to the knobs of Jim’s spine and know that if Jim wakes up in the middle of the night with blood soaking through his shirt and something wrong with his sutured abdomen it’s not just going to be Leonard here figuring it out, that Spock’s watching over the both of them, too. And then a few months down the line, it won’t be so strange to hear Spock breathing on the other side of the bed, to complain about having to cook for a vegetarian diet, to slowly start thinking, what if, maybe.

When Pike finds out they’re sleeping together he raises holy hell, summons Spock and Leonard into his office, and tells them with no small amount of danger in his voice that this is not what he meant when he told them to share.

The three of them had seen this eventuality coming and decided in a gentlemen’s agreement that if Pike was going to fire one of them he would have to fire all of them. In the end, the Grey’s Anatomy Doctrine isn’t legally binding, and KM Memorial can’t afford to lose its Chief of Surgery, lone diagnostician, and George Kirk’s prodigal son all on the same day. Pike transfers Jim to the shared tutelage of Dr. Puri and Dr. Picard, the serene bald attending who’s in charge of the ER, and warns the two of them that they’re to keep the hell away from each other during working hours. “Oh,” he says, when they’re on their way out, “and another thing. Jim Kirk is like a son to me. If either of you hurt him, you’ll be lucky to find employment at a free clinic on fucking Mars. Dismissed. Get the hell out.”

Even that terrifying shovel talk can’t get Leonard in a bad mood. He’s happy, really happy in a way he never thought he’d be again, so much so that he smiles at Dr. Chekov—which he thinks scares the kid, if the way he flees every time he sees Leonard for the next week is any indication. But Jim’s taking to the ER like a pig to mud, and Leonard gets to do his job and go home at night to two people who get it, who don’t resent him for the long hours. Granted, one of them’s the fucking hobgoblin, and he’s still not a hundred percent on board with that, but with the way Jim’s nagging it’s not going to be long now.

And Leonard can almost see it: 

Coming in the door, tossing his keys in the bowl. Spock on his way out, pausing to say, “Doctor,” take Leonard’s face in his hands and press a short, biting kiss to his lips. Because Spock’s a biter—he fucking knows it.

Kicking off his shoes in the hall next to other equally-ugly pairs, hearing the front door close and walking down the hall into the bedroom, the warm comfort of getting home at the end of a long day. Jim snoring on his pillow, Spock’s side still rumpled, the depression of his head still in the pillow. Leonard peeling off his scrubs and sliding in alongside him, fluffing the pillow and catching Spock’s smell and sealing his mouth over a bruise that Spock left on Jim’s shoulder, Jim making a soft noise in sleep and melting into him, and…

He trusts Spock, he realizes. Even with Jim.

“Hey, darlin’,” he would say, and Jim would blink awake and laugh and poke at the bags under his eyes and tell him he needed wrinkle cream, but he’d pull him down for a kiss all the same. And Leonard would grumble, but he’d go.

Of course he’d go. It’s Jim. And when Leonard says things like that, Spock gets what he means. When Leonard says, after the liver donation, I don’t want to take you away from him, Spock gets what he means. 

Entire empires have been built on less. It’s enough. It’s more than enough.