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To Take His Hand

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It’s the ship of dreams, no matter how many vessels have gone before it, no matter how many will come to pass when it has faded into the recesses of time. For those aboard, it will be the experience of a life time.  Or at least that’s what they’ve told Leonard. Mostly he feels like he’s being carried away from home on a trade ship like some pawn in a game of chess, just a piece of a puzzle, no more dreams, no more potential, just the fiancé of a rich man being sailed away from Earth. This ship holds him prisoner, sailing him through space to a new life on a new planet and he doesn’t damn well want it.

But he doesn’t have a damned choice.

The USS Enterprise, Leonard McCoy’s cage.

It’s technically a luxury liner travelling to Vulcan, his fiancé is a diplomat and his next deployment is working under the Vulcan counsel – so this will be his home for the next few years as Earth is ripped out from under him. He’d imagined a small traditional affair for his wedding, burying the Bourbon bottle, even tying a ribbon around a peach tree maybe. But what he's going to have is a formal affair, sober and official, nothing more. No love or affection. Just the binding of Leonard’s life to Jocelyn Darnell’s.

“I don’t see what everyone is fussin’ over.” He huffs. Jocelyn takes him by the waist, nine years his senior Jocelyn utilises every opportunity to exert his authority over his young fiancé, and guides him off the shuttle and into the ship’s foyer. “It doesn’t look any bigger ‘an the Farragut.”

“You can be blasé about somethings, Leonard, but not this, not the Enterprise.” Jocelyn murmurs, ducking his head so his lips graze against Leonard’s neck. Eleanor muscles close to Jocelyn’s other side and the gentleman outstreaches his arm so they can link elbows. “Your son is far too difficult to please.” Jocelyn says, and it sounds like he’s scolding her. She smiles tightly and glares at Leonard when Jocelyn looks away.

Leonard’s young attendant Christine Chapel gently instructs some of the staff what dock to transport their luggage to and what suite they’re staying in. Christine is one staple of his old life that he gets to keep; they’ve been friends since they were children and while he’s never seen her as his maid or lady-in-waiting that’s what her role is. That is the capacity in which he gets to keep her. Like a commodity not a person. Like him really, only, it’s less opaque.

Leonard is surrounded by like people, a sea of Earth’s wealthiest, travelling to Vulcan for culture, a holiday, simply because they can. Below them, the deck just above the hull, the third class passengers will be docking. People he thinks Jocelyn and his mother could learn a thing or two from – not that he could ever say as much.

Lord forbid he say much of anything.

This is the ship that has finally wrapped Leonard in chains and is tugging him across the void of space, into a vacuum empty of all love and hope.

But it is inevitable. Outwardly Leonard is all a well brought up Southerner should be, polite, humble, genteel… he just needs to make his rough insides match. For his mother. Because he has a duty to her if nothing else. Jocelyn may be a man Leonard would never have looked twice at but he’s only nineteen… maybe love will blossom, maybe not. What does he know?

It doesn’t look hopeful though.

Jocelyn is a man who likes order, he is sophisticated and intellegent. He’s a solid man, hair slightly lighter than Leonard’s, a mousy brown. His eyes are cold and that radiates throughout the rest of his body. He is controlled but under that smooth, composed veneer something aggressive bubbles. No doubt arising from his need to command.

Leonard figures he doesn’t have to know everything about Jocelyn right now though, he’ll have the rest of his life to figure the man out.

How he and Scotty beat those two Betazoids at cards Jim still has no idea but they did and now they’re on the Enterprise. Ready for her maiden voyage  - sure they’re technically stowaways but if it gets him off planet Earth he’s got no qualms with that label.

The second class cabins are decent enough, very plain, simple, clear lines, little room for anything more that exactly what is necessary for their five day voyage to Vulcan. They’re rooming with a native San Franciscan called Hikaru Sulu and a young Russian hoping to study at the Vulcan Science Academy called Pavel Chekov. They share their stories, Jim offering a water-down, shallow version of his.

He’s James T. Kirk, eighteen, born and bred in Iowa. He’s the youngest son of ‘Fleet parents, older brother on Deneva; he’s ready to start a new life wherever he can. Done with Earth. He wants to head for the stars, see anything and everything he can. Soak up everything there is to learn.

“He’s certainly a smart lad.” Scotty agrees. “Gives me a run for my money.”

“I want the top bunk.” Jim says with a grin, a grin that only grows when Scotty starts moaning in that tight Scottish drawl.

“The suite has an observation deck of its own.” A young member of the Enterprise staff informs them. Leonard is terrified of stepping up to the deck; he quickly seeks the refuge of his bedroom, no windows, no space, no reminder of this impending voyage. He breathes in a few settling breaths, he can hear Jocelyn dismissing the staff, chattering to his mother about how easy it would be to conquer the universe, how perhaps that is what he will do when he gets bored with diplomacy.

Christine brings the container of Leonard’s PADDs into the room, setting them down beside him. Usually she’s not as formal but Jocelyn has assured her that if she isn’t on her best behaviour she might outlive her welcome. There are other maids, plenty of willing matrons on Vulcan that will keep Leonard in line. Leonard flicks through the PADDs, pulling his neurology journal out. In another life he would have been a doctor, but that sort of work, public service, is certainly not befitting of a McCoy, and even less so of a Darnell.

“Filling your head with that useless nonsense again?” Jocelyn says from the doorway.

“It’s not useless. How can you say medicine is useless?” Leonard scoffs.

“Don’t scoff, Leonard, it’s unbecoming.” His mother says, suddenly stood beside his fiancé.

“Of course, ma’am.” He replies, a sigh settling in his heart.

“You’d better get ready for dinner.” Jocelyn says. “Come on Eleanor, Christine can help get dressed.” Leonard wants to scream that he can damn well dress himself but it’s futile. Christine nods politely and closes the door behind her masters.

“The navy suit?” Christine wonders.

“Whatever you think, Christine.” Leonard nods, a weak smile not quite reaching his eye.

“White shirt, that cherry red tie. You’ll look gorgeous.” She smiles.

And he does. But when they finally sit down to the first course, the Orion caviar, Leonard just feels sick. There is all this pomp talk about money and property, about titles. You’d think by the 2250’s people would be over this sort of superficiality. But status and wealth still means more to some people than integrity and character.

Leonard feels strangled.

And it isn’t the cherry red tie.

Jocelyn places a hot hand on Leonard’s thigh. It scalds his skin like a cattle brander. It’s just another mark of owner ship. Jocelyn’s declaration to the rest of the table that yes he has secured the pretty McCoy offspring, like purchasing a one of a kind horse. Except Leonard’s not allowed to be the race horse he was born to be but instead is wrestled into dressage.

“Excuse me.” He breathes, pulling himself up from the table and exiting the dining hall. It starts off as a dignified stride but soon he’s broken out into a run and is heading for the loading bay, for an airlock. He’d rather face the horror of the black than have to stand another minute of the upper class mingling that the rest of his life will now consist of.

He stands beside the airlock, watching it, resting his hand over the control pad. He’s panting, almost ready to cry. He inhales but stops short by a call from the other side of the bay.

“Don’t do it.” The kid can’t be any older than eighteen, he’s got this golden head of hair and even from several meters away Leonard is enraptured by his bright blue eyes.

“What’s it to you?” Leonard scoffs. The kid is walking closer though and it’s making him nervous. “Don’t come any closer.” He warns.

“Just put your hand down.” He says, holding his own up in a placating gesture. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to end this way.”

“You don’t know me, kid.” Leonard huffs.

“You open that airlock and I’ll be sucked right out there after you, can’t say I’m looking forward to that experience.” He admits. “I figure if you were gonna do it you’d have done it already anyway.” The kid shrugs.

“You’re distractin’ me is all.” Leonard counters. “Go away if you don’t wanna get pulled out of an airlock. No one’s stoppin’ you.”

“I can’t.” The boy says. “I’m involved now. You jump, I jump, I guess.”

“’ve you taken a knock to the head recently, kid?” Leonard scoffs.

“You don’t seem like a bad guy, not someone who'd let an innocent bystander die anyhow. I’m really hoping you’ll step away from that airlock and get me off the hook here.” He admits, looking slightly nervous.

He’s right. Leonard shakes himself and steps away from the airlock, the earlier sickness he felt returning tenfold. “I might throw up on you.” He admits weakly, trying to heave in a steady breath.

“I think you’re pretty safe now.” He counters, gently grazing his hand against Leonard’s forearm.

“Don’t pander to me kid. One tiny crack in the hull, and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait ‘til you're sittin’ pretty with a case of Andorian shingles. See if you're still so relaxed when your eyeballs bleed! Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” Leonard insists, his voice just above a whisper.

“Well I hate to break this too you but you're on a liner operating in space.” The kids says with a wry smile and some sort of delicate amusement, like he’s purposefully trying not to mock even though the irony of Leonard’s aviophobia makes that pretty damn difficult.

“Yeah well, I got no choice.” Leonard admits. “They’ve taken the whole damn planet. All I got left is my bones.”

The kid nods his understanding. Stepping closer to Leonard and introducing himself: “Jim Kirk.” He says.

“McCoy.” Leonard offers. “Leonard McCoy.”

“You look pretty dolled up to be wondering around steerage, Leonard McCoy.” Jim observes.

“I look pretty dolled up for most things.” Leonard counters bitterly.

“Leonard!” There is a call from the loading bay entrance. “I’ve been looking all over for you.” It’s Jocelyn, suit still impeccable, probably buzzing from the Brandy. “Whose you’re friend?” He tips his chin in Jim’s direction, sneering somewhat upon taking in his leather jacket, jeans and t-shirt, as well as the evidence of a badly healed broken nose and a crude scar stretching over the side of his chin.

“Joce, this is, ah, Jim Kirk.” Leonard introduces.

“As in James?” Jocelyn wonders with a raised eyebrow. “George Kirk’s son?”

“One and the same.” Jim nods. Leonard doesn’t know who George Kirk is but by the way Jocelyn is reassessing Jim he must hold some importance.

“Well, a veritable hero in our midst.” Jocelyn says sardonically. “Perhaps, you could join us for dinner tomorrow evening.”

Jim looks at Leonard, confusion written clear as day over his face, but intrigue is there too, and it’s all focused on those sad, doe-like hazel eyes. “Sure.” Jim nods with little intonation. “Count me in.”

“That’s settled then.” Jocelyn says. “We’d better be off.” He adds, taking Leonard by the waist, guiding him out of the loading bay without a spare glance for Jim. Leonard does look back though and Jim is still watching him, a rueful smile on his face, although Leonard doesn’t know what’s causing it.

“I know you’ve been melancholy.” Jocelyn says, lying in bed beside Leonard, grazing his hand up the younger man’s side, from his hip running up over his ribs. “I don’t pretend to know why.” He adds, he waits for Leonard to provide an answer but his fiancé remains silent. Jocelyn shifts his body closer and Leonard wants nothing more than to roll away, to take refuge in the single bed of his boyhood and never again see, let alone touch, Jocelyn Darnell. “But I do want to remind you of my feelings for you, Leonard.” He says coolly. “You are my fiancé and you mean a great deal to me. I know that you’re young, uncertain maybe, but things will fall into place soon. There’s nothing I couldn’t give you, nothing I would ever deny you.” Jocelyn assures, his hand reaching forward, thumb skimming over Leonard’s nipple. Leonard holds his breath, stiffening. “If you would not deny me. Open your heart to me Leonard. Let me in.”

“Not tonight.” Leonard breathes. “My heart is open to you.” He lies. “But we can’t… Not tonight.”

“Full of propriety.” Jocelyn kisses his nape. “Quite right.”

Leonard has to hold in his sigh of relief and the pressure of it nearly crushes his lungs.

Leonard’s first breakfast aboard the Enterprise is spent in slightly different company, his mother and Jocelyn are there of course but so is the ship’s commissioner, Alexander Marcus, the Captain, Christopher Pike, his second in command, a Vulcan named Mister Spock and Nyota Uhura, Spock’s fiancée.

“It is the biggest ship, even in comparison to the best ships in the Armada. This was to be the flagship of the ‘fleet but I wanted something grand, something luxurious, vast in size as well as comfort for my glorious cruiseship.” Marcus gushes. “That’s why we called her the Enterprise, it conveys originality, boldness but also something about the sheer size of the vessel I had envisioned-”

“Admiral.” Leonard interjects politely. “Are you familiar with the old-Earth psychotherapist Sigmund Freud?” He pauses but only to assess the level of attention currently on him. “His ideas about the male preoccupation with size may be of particular int’rest to you.”

Captain Pike chokes back a laugh, while Nyota hold her napkin up to smother her smirk. The Admiral purses his lips and Eleanor speaks up. “What has gotten into you?” She hisses.

“Maybe a little bit of sense.” He snaps back in his ‘intimate conversation’ volume.

“Behave.” She counters. The table settles into an awkward silence until the waiter arrives to take their orders. Jocelyn orders Eggs Benedict for them both and Captain Pike gives Leonard a consolatory look.

“I have never read of this custom between bonded humans.” Spock says quietly to Nyota.

“That’s because, Mister Spock, it isn’t customary, it’s patronising.” Leonard huffs. Getting up from his seat and heading out to the decks, he’s embarrassed and needs to fume, to vent. But there isn’t anyone. Christine will be running errands and the rest of his Earth companions are light-years away.

“Bones?” Jim is standing in front of him, same worn t-shirt, same dark jeans, blood staining both.

“Jim.” Leonard sighs, suddenly delighted. “What in damn hell is bones?”

“You.” Jim grins. “My nickname for you.”

“’s’a bit morbid.” Leonard scoffs.

“I did meet you trying to throw yourself out an airlock.” Jim reminds. “And all you’ve got left is your bones, right? So it fits.”

“I suppose it does.” Leonard chuckles despite himself.

“What’s your story anyway?” Jim asks. “Who was the guy from last night?”

“My fiancé.” Leonard admits with a sigh.

“Trouble in paradise?” Jim wonders.

“Would I be hangin’ around airlocks if there weren’t?” Leonard counters.

“Touché.” Jim grins.

“What about you, what’s your story?” Leonard wonders.

“Father died the day I was born, brother ran away when I was eleven, mother died when I was fifteen, got nothin’ holding me down, figure I needed a change of scene.” Jim shrugs.

“I’m mighty sorry ‘bout that, Jim.” Leonard says gently. “I want to thank you for last night, not just settin’ my fool head straight but for your discretion too.”

“Don’t sweat it, Bones.” Jim shakes his head.

“And I know what you must think, poor little rich boy, what does he know about sufferin’?”

“I wasn’t thinking that at all.” Jim counters. “I was thinking what could have happened to this guy to make him think he had no other way out.”

“Well I… it was everything, it was Joce and my mother, my whole world and all the people in it.” Leonard huffs. “The uselessness of my life. It’s meanin’less. Everythin’ just sailing ahead and me getting dragged along by the tide.” He pauses, not sure how to continue. “Five hundred invitations have gone out, only fifty of those people I know. All of our society will be there. And I just feel like I’m standin’ in the middle of a crowded room screamin’ but not a goddamned soul is listenin’.”

“Do you love him?” Jim asks simply.

“Excuse me?” Leonard questions.

“Do you love him?” Jim repeats.

“Who’re you to ask me that?” Leonard demands; he’s suddenly feeling irate and scared and caged, all at the same time and it’s so overwhelming. He’s cornered, Jim can see straight into his soul and Leonard is terrified.

“Look it’s a simple question, do you love the guy or not?” Jim asks with aplomb but little regard for propriety.

 “I’m not having this conversation.” Leonard huffs.

“Why can’t you just answer the question?” Jim counters.

“Look kid I don’t even know you, this isn’t the sort of thing you just spring on someone. It’s presumptuous and uncouth and-” Leonard makes an exacerbated sound and quickly turns on his heel to head in the opposite direction.

“I’m uncouth?” Jim demands haughtily. “You were supposed to be thanking me and now I’m just insulted.”

“I’m sorry.” Leonard says after a moment, and then he huffs. “I just- you can’t ask me that, is all.”

“Okay. Boundary observed.” Jim says softly.

“Let’s not talk about me. I’ve never done anythin’ of consequence.” Leonard says. “What about you, what happened to you after your mother died?”

“Well I had no family left, I headed out of Iowa, travelled the Midwest for a while, spent a lot of time on the West Coast, came back when I heard that passengers for the Enterprise were docking in Riverside. And here I am.” Jim shrugs.

“I’ve never been outside Georgia.” Leonard sighs. “I want to see the world, I do. Just not Vulcan.”

“Maybe it’s not the place but the company.” Jim suggests. Leonard notices the old leather bound book that Jim is holding under one armpit. Jim sees Leonard eyeing at and explains. “My sketchbook.” He says. “It’s how I’ve been funding travelling.”

“May I?” Leonard holds out his hand and Jim shrugs, handing over his sketchbook and pulling Leonard into the seating provided along the walls of the corridor. “Oh.” He breathes upon opening it. The entire book is filled with candid life drawings. The shading is beautiful, so detailed, so rich. It’s almost photographic in its clarity. The book starts off with a myriad of random people but soon the works become focused on one individual. A curvaceous woman with bouncy curls and beautiful smiling eyes. They’re all nudes. Leonard blushes and hands the book back to Jim.

“A lover?” He wonders.

“Sometimes.” Jim nods. “But a good friend of mine, first. An Orion, Gaila. She wanted to model but was worried about how artists would depict her, I think she liked the fact that I just use grey scales, she was insecure about the colour of her skin.” Jim explains.

“She’s beautiful.” Leonard says.

“And shameless.” Jim grins, running his thumb over the swell of her bare hip of one particularly daring pose.

“I’d love to be like you Jim.” Leonard admits. “Free, fearless.”

“You can be both of those things and be exactly like you, I think I’d prefer that.” Jim smiles.

“I’m not free, I’m terrified of space and yet here I am being carted through it to a wedding I never agreed to.” Leonard sighs. Jim slips the sketchbook back under his arm and takes Leo by the hand.

“Let me show you something.” He says and Leonard doesn’t want to stop him.

They make their way down a maze of corridors, heading somewhere Leonard’s yet to have explored. It’s an open area, an area where the two stations can mingle if they so desire. The far wall is entirely glass, exhibiting the vast vacuum of space like the finest masterpiece.

“I can’t.” Leonard says.

“We don’t have to go too close.” Jim counters. “Keep hold of my hand. I won’t let you go.”

“Okay.” Leonard agrees reluctantly and Jim takes a step forward. Leonard, however, does not. Rooted firmly to the ground. Jim tugs his hand gently and they take a few tentative steps together. Leonard exhales and looks up, it’s not as black as he imagined it would be. There are stars just like when he looked up at the sky as a child in Georgia and there is a comet in the distance burning the darkness a vibrant green. “It’s beautiful.” He admits, giving Jim a side glance.

“It is.” Jim nods.

“Leonard?” It’s his mother this time.

“Mother.” Leonard yelps, eyes widening in surprise as he pulls his hand free of Jim’s. “May I introduce Jim Kirk?”

“Charmed.” She drawls but doesn’t mean it in the slightest. Eleanor McCoy looked at Jim like she would any common ruffian, like a dangerous animal that ought to be put down. “Leonard you ought to get back to our suite, you’ll need to dress for dinner.”

“Yes ma’am.” He says with a polite incline of the head. “See you at dinner, Jim.” He says as his mother pulls him away by a bruising grip around his biceps.

When Leonard sets his eyes on Jim waiting by the doors of the entrance hall his heart starts to race. Jim shines up like a new penny. Where he got that tailored three-piece suit from Leonard hasn’t the foggiest, although he’s chatting to Captain Pike animatedly so maybe he has a little something to do with it. Christopher nods in his direction and Jim’s head turns so fast it’s a wonder the kid didn’t get whiplash. They both smile at him and he shrugs out of Jocelyn’s grasp to head into the warmth of their company.

“Leonard.” Christopher greets.

“Captain Pike.” He returns before inclining his head to the younger man. “Jim.”

“You look great, Bones.” Jim says with a smile.

“Thanks ever so.” Leonard scoffs, rolling his eyes. He’s still smiling though, a new phenomenon it seems. Christopher steers the conversation, talking with Jim about engineering and his desire to travel, apparently that was what always drew the Captain to the stars. Uncharted territory, new worlds, so much untapped knowledge.

“And you Leonard?” Christopher asks. “What are your passions?”

“I have an interest in medicine.” Leonard answers politely, although he doesn’t give the statement too much gravitas because his interests have always been dismissed in the past.

“What speciality?” Jim wonders, genuinely curious but seemingly unsurprised that Leonard secretly wished to be a doctor.

“Emergency medicine, neurology, I’ll read anything I can get onto my PADD.” He says with a self-deprecating snort and a dry, crooked half-smile.

“Sweet pea.” Jocelyn greets, placing a calculated kiss to Leonard’s temple. While Jocelyn is a stocky man, built from all that time carefully sculpting a boy that intimidates, he’s slightly shorter than Leonard. It bears little importance usually but looking across at Jim now, Jim who must only be a half inch shorter than Leonard, makes him wonder how better matched they might be.

“You remember Jim Kirk.” Leonard says. “And the Captain, of course.”

“Kirk!” Jocelyn greets, in that hearty way some men think is prudent. “Hardly recognised you. You could almost pass for a gentleman.”

“Almost.” Jim agrees.

“We’d better be seated.” Jocelyn says, guiding Leonard away from the other two men and walking him into the grand dining room.

“He’s truly splendid, Darnell.” Leonard hears the man beside Jocelyn leer. “Congratulations. I’m not sure David could have envisioned a better match.”

The mention of his father in such an offhanded way makes Leonard’s stomach roil, it makes him want to drink Bourbon straight from the bottle even though his mother forbids it because it makes his tongue acid sharp and she fears what he might say or do under its influence. David wanted more for his only son, his only child, wanted happiness and love. But David McCoy was just a faint-hearted fool who went and caught an incurable disease from an off-world mistress and was left to rot.

Perhaps that is what his mother means when he says love is dangerous.

“Thank you.” Jocelyn says to his associate, Jonathan Archer, Leonard remembers. One of the richest and most esteemed men on the entire ship.

“And who is your young friend?” Jonathan wonders, looking over at Jim, whose being introduced to the Surgeon General Philip Boyce by Christopher.

“Would you believe it if I told you he was George Kirk’s son?” Jocelyn scoffs. “I’d certainly never have guessed. He’s in steerage.”

“I heard he fell into disarray once his mother died. An overdose I believe. It’s reported he was staying with an Aunt while the Tarsus IV famine took place.” Jonathan gossips, a childish glee coming to his eyes as he piques Jocelyn’s interest.

“Tarsus IV was more than a famine.” Leonard huffs. “It was a damn genocide.”

“Watch your mouth.” Jocelyn hisses, pulling Leonard closer towards him, his fingerprints will be indented into his skin by the morning is Jocelyn doesn’t let up. Leonard takes a defiant breath but doesn’t say another word as Jonathan directs the conversation to their impending wedding.

Leonard tunes out, searching the mass of mingling people for a glance of Jim. He watches as the kid charms foreign dignitaries and Admirals, even an alien Emperor or two and the few Vulcan elders who are returning to their home land. Jim doesn’t falter, Leonard can’t imagine he would. Jim doesn’t care about the opinions of these people, why would he be nervous?   

But once they are settled at a table, Leonard bracketed by Jocelyn on one side and Jim on his other Eleanor McCoy attempt to break the illusion. “And what is the economy class accommodation like, James? I hear it rather exceeds expectation.”

“It certainly does, Ms McCoy.” He replies with a tight smile.

“And where is it you’re from, Mr Kirk?” She asks.

“Born and raised in Iowa, my mother’s home town, a little place just north of the Riverside shipyard.” Jim replies.

“And where will you stay when you reach Vulcan?” Eleanor wonders.

“Wherever the wind takes me.” Jim says.

“With little fortune of your own how is it you have the means to travel?” Jocelyn inquires.

“I work my way from place to place. But I won my ticket for the Enterprise on a lucky hand a poker.” He grins impishly and looks at Leonard. “A very lucky hand.”

“All life is a game of luck.” Christopher states.

“A real man makes his own luck.” Jocelyn counters, setting his hand over Leonard’s thigh once more, seeing how high he can slide it before Leonard emits an annoyed little huff and pulls his thigh away.

“Do you find that rootless existence appealing, James?” Eleanor questions and the table falls slightly silence.

“Well yes ma’am, I do.” Jim nods after a moment. “I’ve got everything I need right here with me, the air in my lungs, blood in my veins. What reason is there to be tied down? I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what I’ll do or who I’ll meet.” He adds, looking at Leonard, who’s staring at him intently. “Two nights ago I was wandering ‘round Iowa and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world with you fine people.” He says and the table laugh – a false modesty. “If my father has taught me anything it’s that life’s a gift and I don’t intend to waste it. There’s no such thing as a no-win scenario so you gotta make it count.”

“Well said, Jim.” Christopher smiles appraisingly.

“To making it count.” Leonard says, raising his champagne flute.

“To making it count.” The table, bar Eleanor and Jocelyn, agree.

The dinner goes on and Leonard finds himself more caught up in intimate conversations whispered to and fro with Jim than actually paying attention to the table at large. Jim asks to meet him later and Leonard nods. When the men of the table recede to the Brandy room Jocelyn brushes his thumb over Leonard’s cheek in a lewd display of affection and ownership and tells his fiancé that he’s too young to appreciate the talk of gentleman and that his time would be best spent back at the suite.

“You can read your books.” He suggests.

“How kind of you.” Leonard says sardonically, indignation bubbling under the surface.

“And I suppose you’ll be off?” He turns to Jim.

“I’ll even accompany Leonard back to your cabin.” Jim says with a delighted smile because there isn’t much Jocelyn can say to stop him without being discourteous. He nods curtly and heads off after the other men.

“You’re really somethin’ Jim.” Leonard says.

“As long as I’m not nothing, Bones.” Jim grins, elbowing him slightly and letting him navigate them through the maze of the upper class deck.

But once Jim is in the foyer he takes Leo’s hand and they slip into the main corridor, into a turbo lift and down into steerage. Leonard looks more at ease than Jim’s ever seen him and Jim is greeted to the warmth that Leonard usually has to conceal, his sharp tongue and his generous nature, a derisive humour with no malice behind it, a genuine regard for life in all its form.

They end up in the main bar. Scotty thinks he’s brilliant, they play cards and drink the Scotch Scotty’d been able to smuggle aboard. Leonard listens to Pasha, Jim and Scotty talk about warp theorem and even though he professes not to be a damned physicist he’s enraptured by them. Then a young girl, perhaps fourteen or so asks Leonard to dance, he’s gentlemanly with her, but treats her as if for those few minutes she is the only person in existence.

“Miss Rand.” He says softly when the dance is over.

“Jim’s watching you.” She says with a coy smile. “Thinks you’re something real special. Pasha told me so.”

“I think he’s mighty special himself.” Leonard admits. “But let’s hold that between us, shall we?” And she nods, crosses her heart with a pale finger and bounds away in the direction of another lad.

“You were spying on me?” Leonard demands. Christine makes a show of setting down the breakfast tray and heading back out of the room, quiet as a mouse but overt enough to let Leonard know she’s there if he needs him.

“You will never behave like that again.” Jocelyn decrees. “Do you understand me?”

“I’m not one of your secretaries, or your advisees, you don’t make the rules, Joce! I’m not a doll you can order around.” Leonard huffs; setting down his cup with a sharp clatter of china on china. “I’m your fiancé.”

Jocelyn looks up sharply, eyes burning into Leonard like the sun on too pale skin. “Fiancé.” He whispers. “My fiancé?” He demands. “Yes you are!” He shouts, ridding the table of its contents, sending them all clattering to the floor, tipping the table over to place his strong, brutal arms on either arm of Leonard’s chair. “And my husband-in-practice if not yet by law so you will honour me.” He grits, his nine year superiority normally only helps to make Leonard feel slightly queasy but he’s terrified now. Like the child he isn’t but they all treat him as. “I will not be made to look a fool.” He states. “Is that in anyway unclear?”

Leonard shakes his head. “No.”

“Good.” He says, leaning closer to bestow a lingering kiss to Leonard’s forehead, Leonard squeezes his eyes shut and tries to remember how to breathe. “Excuse me.” He says, striding from the room.

Christine is in like a shot, cleaning up the glass and trying to restore some sort of order. Leonard sinks down beside her and tries to help but she shakes her head, pulling his hands into hers. “It was just an accident.” Leonard assures her.

“Don’t do this Leo.” She says. “Don’t be that man.”

Leonard inhales a few steadying breaths. “I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what you can do.” She admits. “Why don’t you head into the sitting room, he’ll be gone by now.”

“Thank you, Christine.” He says with a nod.

But his mother is sitting in the lounge, a look of utter disgust on her face. “My dressing room, now.” She orders and he's powerless to do anything but obey. She rounds on him the minute he closes the door behind him. “You are not to see that boy again.” She starts off gently. “Do you understand?” But Leonard refuses to make any acknowledgement. “I forbid it, Leo.” She states. 

“Oh stop it mother.” He huffs. “You’ll give yourself a nose bleed.”

Her nostrils flair and she slaps him across the face. He takes it, refusing to look away. He wants her to know the hatred that burns in his heart, for her, for Joce, for this whole damn sham of a marriage. “This is not a game!” She states. “You know how precarious our situation is, you know the money is gone. The McCoy fortune finished.”

“Of course I know.” He counters. “You remind me every day.”

“Your father left us with nothing, gave every penny to that Betozoid harlot. Left his only son floundering without a safety net.” She hisses.

“Maybe that’s because we let him die.” Leonard snaps. “You left him to die without treatment, without anyone there to care for him.”

“He doesn’t deserve your loyalty.” She says.

“Neither do you!” He barks and she slaps him again, the same cheek, a darker red imprint.

“Our name is the only thing we have left, our last card. You will marry Jocelyn in five days, you will smile, you will let him into your bed and into your heart and anything else he wants. Because that is how we ensure our survival.” She continues.

“You never thought of maybe doing a hard day’s graft?” Leonard scoffs. “How can you put this on my shoulders?” He questions.

“Why are you being so selfish?” She demands.

“I’m being selfish? You’re whorin’ me to a man I don’t nor never will love!” Leonard barks.

“That is something you’ll just have to amend. Perhaps you can consult your Mister Freud.” She spits, stomping from the room like a child. He feels like she’s landed him with another blow, but this time it’s a deep ache in his chest.

Leonard heads to the main observation deck. Sits on the furthest away chair he can and just looks down at the pristine metallic floor. He feels winded, wounded, and completely and utterly lost.

“You look glum, Bonesy.” Jim has thrown himself into the seat beside him and has a hand on his shoulder.

“Stop, Jim.” He huffs. “I can’t see you anymore.”

“I need to talk to you.” Jim says.

“Look, Jim. I’m engaged. I’m marrying Joce, I love Joce.” He says.

“Bones.” Jim says softly. “Look, you’re no picnic, you’re a cantankerous brat. But, but under that you’re warm and kind and you look at me like no one’s ever looked at me - like I’m worth something. I’m not an idiot; I know how your world works. I’ve got ten credits to my name I have nothing to offer you and I realise that.” Jim says. “But these last three days. You’re all I can think about, your eyes and your smile, your voice. I’m involved now.” He says stepping closer. “I can’t walk away not knowing whether you’ll be alright.”

Leonard looks at Jim’s lips and contemplate it, contemplates everything that Jim is offering, love, freedom, hope. “I’ll be fine, Jim.” He says with a gentle smile. “Really.”

“Really?” Jim wonders. “’cause I don’t think so, they’ve got you trapped, Bones. And it’ll kill you if you don’t break free, maybe not right away but it’ll wear away at you until you’re just a shell, you told me all you have left is your bones but that isn’t true. You have so much to give, so much to offer the world. Don’t let them cage that. I don’t want your fire to burn out.”

Jim’s cupping Leonard’s cheek with a cold hand, looking at him reverently as if he holds the secrets to the world. He wants to kiss Jim. But he can’t. “It’s not up to you to save me Jim.” He pulls Jim’s hand away gently, keeping their fingers entwined for a moment. “I have to go back.” He says. “Don’t try and find me again.”

It’s in the early hours of the morning, two maybe but in space Leonard doesn’t know for sure. He can’t sleep. He knows he’s made a mistake. He heads down to the observation deck, hoping to find it empty. It is, save for one man leaning right up against the glass, forehead touching it.

“Jim.” Leonard breathes. He looks as gutted as Leonard feels. But he smiles when Leonard steps closer, looking straight into Jim’s eyes and not the abyss of black just beyond him. Jim holds out a hand and Leonard takes it, closing his eyes as he steps closer to the glass. Jim takes his other hand and walks him over to something. Leonard’s heart is racing and Jim turns him slightly and steps way, the only contact maintained by a steadying hand to his forearm. Then he’s behind Leonard, a hand gently settled on either hip.

“Open your eyes, Bones.” He says. “Don’t be afraid.”

So he does and he’s stunned by the darkness stretched out in front of him, but all the colour too, so vivid and clear, like acrylic paints dipped into black ink. He’s scared still, feels like he might fall, out into the never ending vacuum of space. He shifts back closer into Jim’s warmth and Jim let’s his arms wrap more firmly around Leonard’s middle. Leonard turns his head to the side and places a chaste kiss to the apple of Jim’s cheek bone. “I changed my mind.”

“About what?”

“Everything. Them, space… you.”

Leonard is being daring, taking Jim back to his quarters the next day, they spent as long as they could alone on the observation deck and when it began to get crowded they took breakfast in steerage and headed back to the ruckus of Jim’s quarters. Scotty singing Scottish folk songs and Pasha trying to teach Hikaru Russian… But Leonard wants something more private, he knows his people will be taking lunch somewhere luxurious and so he can afford to bring Jim back to his suite for a few hours.

When Jim kisses him he sees stars like those he saw from the observation deck, their kisses are visceral and ravenous and Leonard’s never felt this before. This want. This desire for another’s attention, his affections. Jim makes him want to be alive, makes it all worth-while, with his cheeky charm and his cocksure smirk.

“Draw me.” Leonard says, pulling away, Jim’s lips trying to recapture his. “Draw me like your Orion, like Gaila.”

“Like-” Jim’s confidence falters, his blue eyes uncertain. Leonard nods slowly. “Okay.” He says. Leonard gets up and heads into his dressing room, he can hear Jim moving furniture and wonders, with a smirk, what sort of mess will be made of the room.

Jim finds a suitable armchair; it’s a plush blue velvet without any sides. When Leonard pads back into the sitting room he’s wearing loose cotton sleep-pants, they hang low on his hip and Jim can’t help himself from staring. He’s seen the humanoid figure in all its forms but Leonard, Leonard is magnificent. Delicate narrow hips offset but broad, muscled shoulders. A sun-kissed glow, freckles littering his shoulder blades. Jim quickly looks back down, continues to sharpen his pencil. “Sit on the chair, ah, facing away.”

Leonard nods and moves closer to the chair, slipping his fingers in the waistband of his pyjama bottom, he pulls them down with the speed of a long, slow, measured exhale and flicks his gaze back to Jim, who’s watching him, eyelashes fluttering when he sees Leonard’s half hard. He offers a one sided smile and Leonard rolls his eyes, sitting at instructed.

“No turn your face to me.” Jim says. “Look down slightly, yeah, that’s perfect.” He says exhaling. “Pull you’re right shoulder back slightly, rest you hand on the top of the chair.” Leonard looks over his shoulder, downcast gaze and then he flicks his eyes up to Jim and it’s perfect. “Like that. Eyes on me.”

 “Relax, Jim.” Leonard says with a smile. “It’s just me.”

“That’s what’s making me nervous.” Jim says.

When Jim offers Leonard the finished article, Leonard can’t believe it’s him; the bare plains of his back and shoulders, the dimples over his bare ass, the freckles along his right ribcage. Jim has drawn his hands to look so elegant he doesn’t believe they are his, but it is so life like, this face on paper so like that which he sees in the mirror that it must be so. Jim sees him as more than just a thing of beauty though, he sees him as something full of vitality, his eyes shining and his lips full, his relaxed pout set just so that he looks ready to speak.

“Thank you.” He says, kissing Jim again.

“I’ll draw you every which way. Bones. From now until the end of time.” Jim promises.

“Make love to me, Jim.” Leonard says easily, setting down his drawing and taking both of Jim’s hands. “I want to feel you.”

“Jesus, Bones.” Jim breathes, letting himself be pulled into the bedroom. They settle on the bed, Leonard’s back in his sleep-pants but that doesn’t deter Jim from kissing his torso and his ribs and his collar bone and anywhere else he can get too. He looks up at Leonard who’s watching Jim with some mix of adoration and something else

“You nervous?” Jim wonders.

“No.” Leonard whispers. Jim thinks that something else might be a new resolve. A hunger he hasn’t had before. It excites him.

Leonard pulls Jim closer, kissing the pads of his fingers and his wrist and then his neck. He pulls Jim’s t-shirt up over his head, unbuttons his jeans. Jim let’s Leonard pull Jim on top of him, slips his hands into Leonard’s pants to pull them down his thighs, over his knees, discarding them on the floor somewhere. The brush of their naked bodies makes them gasp in turn. Leonard’s eyes turning a deeper shade of emerald as the lust descends over him, the dark blue outer rings and the brown pigments close to the iris seem to fade in contrast – Jim wonders at it, doesn’t want to ever look away. Can’t wait to learn what every slight change of colour means.  

Jim seems to know what he’s doing, it makes Leonard a little jealous to think that other people have had Jim, that he won’t be the only one. But the feel of Jim’s fingers inside him, slick with the untouched lubricant Jocelyn optimistically stashed in the bedside table, he forgets any feeling but that of Jim. The sense of him, the taste, the touch, the knowledge that he is giving himself to Jim. His choice. The only one he’s made in a very long time. It hurts at first, when Jim withdraws his fingers in favour of something bigger. But Jim’s careful, he lets Jim adjust to the feeling of fullness, to the burn and the stretch. He kisses Leonard’s nose and whispers things to make him smile.

Soon enough Leonard is ready and they set a gentle rhythm, how he always romantically hoped his first time would be. Steady but passionate. Scrabbling for each other but tender too. They stay in bed for a while even after they’ve finished, Jim with his head on Leonard’s chest, the older boy’s arm wrapped around the blonde’s shoulder.

There is a noise in the sitting room and Leonard jerks out of his slumber. “Dammit.” He curses. “Jim, Jim, they’re back.” He says shaking his shoulder.

Shit.” Jim hisses, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

“We have to get dressed.” Leonard says, and so they do, in record speed but no quick enough to remake the bed or put away the lube or get out of the damned bedroom.

“What in God’s name is this?” Jocelyn demands, he’s got Leonard’s drawing clutched in his hands too and so Leonard’s not quite sure what he’s asking. “How dare you. How dare you sully yourself with this, with this hick.”

“Don’t you speak about him like that!” Leonard demands. “You found my drawing, I see.” He says, holding out his hand. Jocelyn goes to speak, and must think better of it. The sound of his hand against Leonard’s cheek is deafening, harder than his mother ever hit him. But he just regains his composure, holding Jim off with a placating hand and stares across at his fiancé. “I’d like it back.” He adds.

“Never took you for a little slut, Leo.” Jocelyn spits, flinging the parchment onto the floor. Leonard’s just glad he didn’t decide to tear it in two or bawl it up in his mammoth fist.

“’m full of surprises.” Leonard scoffs.

“Get out.” He says and Leonard is only too happy to comply, but when he looks at Jocelyn, he is looking at Jim.

“I’m not leaving him here with you.” Jim spits.

“If you do not leave now I will report you for breaking and entering.” Jocelyn threatens.

“I’ll never agree with you.” Leonard scoffs.

“I think we both know who has the sway here, sweat pea.” Jocelyn says with a vicious smirk. “So I’ll say it again, James, out.”

“No.”

“Jim, just-” Leonard pauses. “Just go. I’ll find you.” He promises, taking Jim by the hand and pulling him close. “Take the drawing with you, I’ll pack a bag and I’ll meet you in your quarters.”

“You better.” Jim says. “God, Bones, you better.” He breathes, looking back to Jocelyn warily before darting to the floor to pick up the drawing and head out of their suite.

Jocelyn takes a grave step toward Leonard before the ship gives a staggering shudder and the electronics all flicker. Leonard stumbles forward and is righted by two tight hands around his shoulders. “We’ve dropped out of warp.” Leonard says, tearing his body away from Jocelyn. He pulls up one of the duffle bags that makes up a set of four, Andorian designer, very lush indeed, he starts flinging draws open throwing in clothes and knickknacks. Jocelyn is just standing in the doorway.

Mister Spock and Nyota Uhura enter the foyer of their suite, Nyota calling for Jocelyn’s attention.

“Oh.” She says, looking at Leonard. “Have you heard?”

“It is illogical to waste time collecting your wears Leonard.” Spock says. “The Captain has ordered the immediate evacuation of this dock.”

“What? Why?” Leonard asks.

“You mean you haven’t heard?” Nyota wonders.

“Heard what?” Jocelyn demands irritably, a tone to which Mister Spock raises an eyebrow.

“We’re under attack. A Romulan ship.” She explains. “I picked up the transmission myself.”

“I need to find Jim.” Leonard states, concern marring his features, he pulls the duffle onto his shoulder but Jocelyn takes hold of him and yanks him closer.

“You’d go to him?” Jocelyn asks. “Be a whore to that gutter-rat?”

“I’d rather be his whore than your husband.” Leonard spits, trying to pull himself out of Jocelyn’s grip.

“It is only logical for Leonard to inform Mister Kirk of the ships impending evacuation.” Mister Spock says, laying his hand over Jocelyn’s and pulling Leonard free of the grip. “It is customary for humans to seek out those they care for in times of distress.”

Leonard doesn’t wait to see what happens, he throws a grateful look at Spock and smiles back at Nyota when she nods at him. Heading down to steerage and hoping he can find Jim before it’s too late.

He bumps into his mother on the way down to the second and third class decks. She smiles when she sees him. “There you are. Have you seen Jocelyn? We were so worried about you.”

“Worried what I might be doin’ you mean.” Leonard corrects.

“Why is your cheek all red?” She wonders, ignoring his imprudence.

“Seems you’re not the only one who takes pleasure in slappin’ me about.” Leonard huffs.

“Jocelyn?” She wonders. “What did you do?”

“I slept with Jim.” He admits and her face curdles.

“How could you… With that ruffian? You’ve blackened our name. Ruined our chances! Jocelyn will never want you now. We need to find him, you need to apologise, beg his forgiveness.  Then we need to get to the loading bay, they’re evacuating the upper classes first.” Eleanor starts to formulate her plans but Leonard continues to walk down the corridor, ignoring the cries of his name that fall from her lips.

“Jim.” Leonard sighs upon entering the turbo lift. “What’re you doing why are you going up to the bridge?”

“I need to speak to Pike.” Jim says. “There aren’t enough shuttles to evacuate everyone, you need to get down to the loading back and get on one but I- I need to get Pike. He’s the Captain, thinks he has to sacrifice himself. It’s just him and his first officer, that’s the only piloting crew of this entire ship. It’s a liner, we’ve been practically warping on auto-pilot for the entire journey. This shouldn’t be happening, we shouldn’t be a target. Something else is going on and I want to know what it is.”

“It’s Romulans, you think it has something to do with the Kelvin?” Leonard wonders.

“I don’t know. The Kelvin was a ‘fleet vessel this isn’t. I just- I can’t see what the Romulans are hoping to gain.” Jim huffs. “I’ll take you down to the loading bay first, then I’ll head up to the bridge.”

“No.” Leonard shakes his head. “Jim, I’m not leaving you.”

“You’re going to get on a shuttle, Bones.” Jim says. They’re on the loading deck now, and everything is complete chaos. People screaming, running, shoving, trying to get as close to the shuttles as they can. There are over two thousand two hundred people on The Enterprise and not even eight hundred people shuttle space.

“You can board first class.” Jim says. “Look, you’re mother’s over there.”

“I don’t want to go with my mother.” Leonard huffs. “I’m not getting on a shuttle without you.”

“James is right, Leonard.” Jocelyn is standing close to him and Leonard doesn’t know how this is happening, can’t stand it all over the roaring in his ears and the pounding of his heart. “Get on the shuttle.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” Leonard says.

“You’re only nineteen.” Jocelyn says in that soft tone, the one that he used to use when Leonard was sixteen and they were first courting. “Too pretty and too young to die in the blackness of space. Too precious to be lost.” He rubs a finger over the slight bruise on Leonard’s cheekbone. Leonard flinches. “Let me give you the world.” Jocelyn says.

“You can’t give me anything, Joce. Only misery.” Leonard says, stepping back into the turbo lift. “Keep my mother safe.” He says. “Come on, Jim.”

“Bones get on the shuttle.” Jim grits.

Dammit Jim, just get in the turbo.” He huffs and Jim looks up at him with tears in his eyes. The lift door closes and Jim crashes his lips against Leonard’s, cupping his jaw with both hands.

“You’re so stupid, Bones.” He huffs, kissing Leonard’s cheek. “So stupid.” He kisses him again.

Scotty, Pasha and Hiraku get in the turbo lift a few decks before the bridge. “Just the wee man we we’re looken for.” Scotty says, clapping Jim on the shoulder. “Leo.” He greets.

“What are you guys doing?” Jim wonders with a fond smile.

“We’re going to beam about the Romulan ship.” Hikaru says.

“And save de day.” Pasha adds with seventeen year old glee.

“But we’re both back in warp. We’re tryin’a outrun ‘em not fight ‘em.” Leonard says.

“And that doesn’t seem to be worken out too well, now, does it laddie?” Scotty smirks, a glint of something brilliant in his eye.

Christopher tries to get them all to head back down to the loading decks, trying to convince them to try and squeeze onto the remaining shuttles and the ship gets torn apart. Holes being blown through nearly every deck of the ship… people dying every which way. While Christopher is arguing with Jim Pavel steps up to the navigation platform, looking at the screen, writing out equations, Scotty steps up beside him and they natter about something, Hikaru taking a seat in the helmsman’s chair.

“Keptin.” Pavel interjects. “I have an idea.” He says, waiting for Pike to nod. “Based on our course to Wulcan, I've projected that the Narada will have to travel past Saturn. If we could drop out of warp behind one of Saturn's moons, say, Titan, the magnetic distortion from the planet's rings will make us inwisible to the Romulan sensors. We could strike back there by staying in their blind spot.”

“Aye, that might work.” Scotty says. “If I can get us up to warp four we should be able to shake them for a while. Then we can beam aboard.”

“His logic is sound Captain.” Spock is suddenly stepping from the doors of the turbo lift, Nyota not two steps behind him. “If we can manoeuvre ourselves into position we will make a substantial force to contend with when we beam aboard.”

“No. These are mostly just kids Mister Spock, you and I will beam aboard-”

“I’m coming with you.” Jim says. “My father was killed by Romulans, maybe even these ones. I’m not letting you do this alone.”

“Jim.”

“I’m coming with you.” He repeats. “Hikaru can fly this thing, keep her evading Romulan fire. Scotty’s gotta stay here to sort out the transporters. But it’s clear you need more than two people runnin’ this thing. Three will be enough to beam aboard, we just have to disable their warp functions and get back onto our ship.” Jim says.

“Well, Mister Sulu.” Pike says. “I think you’d better punch it.”

“If they give you an opening you fire on that ship, even if we’re still aboard.” Jim whisper to Hikaru before stepping onto the transporter pad. Leonard surges forward, tugs at the front of Jim’s t-shirt.

“You better come back.” He grits out.

“I will.” Jim promises.

Leonard just has to wait, as the ship slowly starts to die and the last of the shuttles have departed, the ones that weren’t shot straight out of the sky. Nyota tries to reassure him, monitoring Spock and Jim’s frequencies and highlighting them on a screen. But it isn’t the same; it isn’t like having Jim in his arms. The fear of dying, the inevitable death of this ship if they fail, doesn’t even touch the fear that Jim won’t come back alive.

“Where’s Captain Pike?” Nyota says when Spock and Jim beam back onto the transporter pads, Jim just shakes his head.

“There ship should be powering down. Contact Starfleet, they’ll be stranded now – the Federation can sort them out.” Jim says softly, there is a dissapointed, solemn look in his eyes.

“Set course for Vulcan.” Spock says.

“Aye, Keptin.” Pavel says.

“Inform the shuttles that they’re no longer in immediate danger. But that we are to all reconvene at the Vulcan space dock so as to register those we have lost.” Spock orders. The pseudo bridge crew go about doing various tasks while Jim rushes forward to Leonard, smiling and saying: “I told you I’d be back.”

“Didn’t doubt you for a second.” Leonard says.

“Sure you didn’t.” Jim grins.

“What now, Jim?” Leonard wonders.

“Whatever you want, Bones. That’s the beauty of life, isn’t it? We don’t need to know what’s going to happen; we just need to do it together.” Jim shrugs.

“I love you, Jim.” Leonard says.

“Only taken you four days to realise.” Jim smirks, taking Leonard’s hand in his. “Love you too, Bones. More than anything.”

“You saved the ship Jim, you saved all these people.” Leonard sighs. “And you saved me. More than anyone could’a dreamt.”

“You’d better buckle up, Bones, journey’s not over yet.” Jim grins, slipping his hand into Leonard’s. “Just don’t let go.”

“I promise.”