“What’d you do?”
“That depends,” Chris set down his padd and carefully tried to scrutinize the look on Phil’s face as he hedged, “is it good or bad?”
“Good, I think.” Phil dropped onto the sofa next to Chris, offering a warm smile as he announced, “We’ve got an invitation.”
“Oh?” Chris tried not to look too interested; he was still, strictly speaking, on medical leave and Phil was liable to try and veto anything that he thought might be too taxing.
“To dinner.” Something was dancing in Phil’s eyes that was almost amused as he clarified, “A housewarming dinner.”
Chris frowned in confusion, “Someone we know bought a house?”
“It’s ‘Fleet housing, but in this case we’ll let it count.” Angling his padd so that Chris could see, Phil announced, “Jim and Leonard have invited us to dinner at their townhouse in Palo Alto.”
“And just why are you so smug?” Chris couldn’t keep amusement from bleeding into his tone with the question. “I’m the one who changed the regs.”
“Oh, please,” Phil rolled his eyes. “If you heard half of what I said to Leonard while Jim was playing sleeping beauty…”
Ignoring the friendly griping, Chris read the message again and asked, “Where’s that address— you said it’s ‘Fleet housing?”
“The townhouses in Palo Alto.”
Chris whistled through his teeth. “Well, they don’t do things by half.” Those were nice— private back gardens, spacious, and the kind of place that conveyed a sense of home. “Did they say when?”
“Friday night— you up for it?”
Phil’s tone was neutral, but Chris knew he must be masking equal parts of amusement and concern. Amusement at the unadulterated excitement at getting out of the house that was probably showing on Chris’ own face, and that ever-present concern that Chris would somehow overtax himself. Not even bothering to hide his enthusiasm, Chris replied, “Hell yes.”
Holding his comm so that Chris couldn’t see it, Phil tapped out a quick private reply to Leonard, “Does this invite come with a guest bedroom?” Phil trusted the other doctor to read between the lines: If Chris is being stubborn about just how much exertion he can manage without needing a wheelchair, can we crash at your place to save his dignity?.
His comm buzzed less than a minute later: ”I’ll even put new sheets on the bed— rest assured I’ve burnt the ones from Jim’s place.”
Smothering a snicker, Phil replied, ”See you Friday— we’re looking forward to it.”
Friday came too slowly and far too fast. Bundling Chris into a flitter and skirting the re-routed traffic around the exclusion zone was enough of a distraction from the fact that Chris, as expected, resisted Phil even putting a wheelchair into the back of the vehicle. There was flitter parking at the far end of the block and a short walk down the tree-lined street revealed cheery townhouses with obvious signs of occupation— one even had a child’s pushbike abandoned in the small front garden.
Jim and Leonard’s was at the end of the row and in the gathering dusk the light streaming out of their windows threw out a warm glow. Phil let Chris lead the way up to the front door, hovering in the background as the newly minted Chief of Staff pressed the buzzer.
“Chris, Phil—” Leonard stepped aside to let them in with a wave of his hand, “Welcome. Come on in.” The doctor offered Phil a knowing smile as Chris passed him with just a cane. “Jim’s in the kitchen. You can go right through.”
Chris took the invitation at face value and found himself trying to hide a smile when he found the ‘Fleet’s youngest captain sporting an apron as he wrestled something in a cast iron pot out of the oven.
“Chris!” Jim set the pot on the stove with a heavy thud, shaking off his oven mitts to be able to offer the older man a hand to shake.
Chris took Jim’s hand, but used it to pull the younger man into a brief one-armed hug which was enthusiastically returned after a brief moment of surprise. Steamrolling over any initial awkwardness, Chris took a step back as Leonard and Phil joined them and said, “Smells great, Jim”
Cheeks pinking slightly, Jim admitted, “It’s Bones’ mom’s recipe, but I’ve made a few tweaks over the years.”
“What he means is it took some adaptation for those pathetic excuses of kitchens in the academy dorms.” Humor dancing in Leonard’s eyes suggested that there was a longer story behind the comment— and the deeper flush that settled on Jim’s cheeks confirmed it.
“Why don’t you give Chris and Phil the grand tour while I finish the rice?”
“Uh— I mean, it’s fairly standard—”
Despite Jim’s attempted protest, the undercurrent of pride was unmistakable so Phil gently pressed, “We’d love to see the house.”
“Yeah?” Jim was already relinquishing his spot at the stove, “Okay, well, the living room…”
Phil couldn’t keep a small smile off his face as Jim toured them around the townhouse as if it was the Enterprise. Chris seemed to have picked up on the dynamic as well, offering small compliments and attentively asking questions about the off-planet knick-knacks and souvenirs that the younger man pointed out.
They moved into the living room after dinner— relaxing with a whisky in hand as they chatted. An hour later Phil could feel Chris sinking more deeply into the cushions of the sofa and gently whispered, “You’re flagging.” It was still early-ish and the conversation was going strong so when Chris gave a minute shake of his head Phil dropped it.
Another hour later, even Chris had to admit he might have pushed it. Exhaustion was tugging at him like an undertow, and even the glass in his hand felt heavy. The conversation was still flowing around him, even if Chris was increasingly listening far more than talking.
Casually, Leonard glanced over the sofa and then a propos of nothing, said, “It’s getting late. Why don’t you stay over instead of making the trek back tonight?”
“Oh,” Jim visibly brightened in a way that made him look suddenly younger, “Yeah— why don’t you? We’ve got room.”
The younger man looked so damn pleased to be able to offer them a room for the night that Chris’ knee-jerk rejection died in his throat. He suddenly realized that the younger man might never have been able to do something like that before. Softening at the earnest expression on Jim’s face, Chris conceded, “You know, that sounds like a good idea.”
As Phil gently poured him into an already prepared guest bedroom, Chris muzzily realized that he might have been set up.
Hearing Jim, Leonard and Phil saying their goodnights in the background, he realized he didn’t care.