Patterns of Force
Leonard dropped into the patch of gravel outside the window, wincing more from the noise he’d made than the pain of the tiny rocks digging into his bare feet. He didn’t allow himself even a second for recovery. He was out, and there was only one thing to do now – run. He pelted as fast as he could go, straight across the lawn. As he made his way to the main street, blood dripping into his eye, his bruised, weakened body propelled by fear alone, he couldn’t help wondering how the hell he’d ended up like this. How could he have let this go on so long? And what the hell was he going to do now?
Leonard first saw him outside the Starfleet shuttle at Riverside Shipyard, bay 117. He stood a little straighter, fixed his jacket as best he could, and seriously regretted not shaving for the past few days - and not because the man was a Captain. He knew he'd have to deal with the rigmarole of military-style chain of command bullshit, and he wasn't afraid of it. He'd give respect where it was due, and he'd keep his own dignity at the same time. No, he didn't feel the spit and polish uniform, or the discreet-unless-you-knew-where-to-look insignia making him stand up straighter. It was something within the man himself. A commanding presence that demanded attention and respect without giving off the impression of arrogance.
He made a valiant effort at a pleasant nod, hoping he didn’t smell like the three shots of liquid courage he’d taken before approaching the titanium death trap. The man gave him a warm smile – warmer than he felt he deserved, considering his scruffy appearance. “Christopher Pike,” he said, in a resonant baritone that only added to the commanding aura he projected. He extended a hand, and Leonard returned the firm handshake. “Welcome to Starfleet.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Then, by way of introduction, “Leonard McCoy.”
He was shocked when the man’s eyes widened, and his smile got just a little bit bigger. “Doctor Leonard McCoy?”
Leonard’s own eyes got wider. He’d had his share of gaping med students speak his name with reverence, but he certainly hadn’t expected such a reaction here. “Yes, sir, that’s me,” he said.
“Well! Starfleet has managed to attract one of the best doctors in the Western hemisphere. I’ve read all your journals on the psychological effects of deep space missions. It’s an honor to have you.”
Leonard continued to smile, choosing to ignore the mildly disturbing connotation of ownership in the Captain’s statement. It was the “military” after all. “Well, thank you very much. A welcome like that might give a man a big head.”
Pike smiled. “Oh, we’ll beat that out of you real quick,” he said with a chuckle. “Most of our recruits in science and medicine detest the physical stamina requirements.”
Leonard laughed. “I’ve got my eyes wide open. Any amount of running around and lifting weights ought to be worth gaining access to Starfleet Medical’s xenobiological library.”
Pike gave him a “fair enough” nod. “Good luck, Doctor,” he said, smiling as he turned to greet another cadet.
McCoy nodded, but he couldn’t help muttering, once inside, that he needed a blindfold more than he needed luck. Shouldn’t there be more metal than windows in a craft that was supposed to take them into space? He took one look at the kids in the shuttle, all strapped in and not at all nervous, and his mood darkened. He was alarmed to note that the only available seats faced windows. “Fuck this,” he muttered. He couldn’t go back outside, which was what he really wanted to do. But he couldn’t let Captain Pike see him turn tail and run – not after being told it was an honor to have him join the fleet. But he was damned if he was going to face a window and throw up all over some smug cadet. He found the bathroom and slipped in. Now, he couldn’t see out and if the motion started to bother him, he’d be right by the head.
He managed to hide out for quite a while, until some angry, militant woman forced him out of his safe place. The only remaining seat by then was next to a kid as scruffy looking as he felt. The man tried to make him feel better, but he was too irritated by being forced out of his preferred seating arrangement to care, and he launched into a tirade about the many reasons there were to be terrified not only of flight, but of space itself. He was impressed when the kid managed to ask the million dollar question – why the hell would an aviophobic ground-walker join Starfleet – without actually laughing at him. He answered honestly, if a little too bitterly, about his wife and her excellent lawyer. But the absolute lack of pity on the young man’s face – a mere nod of understanding, the acknowledgement of a fact – warmed him, and he found himself offering the kid a drink from his lucky flask.
Before he was ready, the warning lights lit up, and they were on their way. He’d missed the announcement that they were ready for take-off, but in a few moments, he heard the voice of Captain Pike over the intercom. “Preparing to exit atmosphere. Brace yourselves.”
That was when he knew Captain Christopher Pike was special. Leaving atmosphere was the most dangerous part of the average shuttle flight. It was when hull cracks and mechanical difficulties would most certainly result in death. But rather than clenching his fists and praying, he found his heart-rate actually lowering, and his taut muscles relaxing. Pike was actually piloting. He supposed he shouldn’t be so surprised – Captains often started out as navigators, or helmsmen. Pike hadn’t seemed like the type of man who was “too good” to pilot a shuttle of cadets and newbies rather than leaving it to another member of the staff.
The real surprise was the fact that the man’s complete confidence had actually set him at ease. Something about his easy grace during their short conversation, and the consideration he’d shown by warning his passengers about the possibility of turbulence, made Leonard settle back and actually relax. Even though he couldn’t have explained why, even to himself at the moment, he knew that this was a man who could hold his life in his hands – indeed, as the pilot, he did – and Leonard would never feel a second of uncertainty or concern that he might not be in the very best hands imaginable. This was a man worthy of being followed into space. This was a man worthy of trust.
Their courtship was fairly brief. They’d gone from coffee in the campus lounges to heady kisses and groping in the bathroom, to weekend trysts within a matter of weeks. The speed nearly left Leonard dizzy, but somehow Christopher managed to calm his nerves, and help him to feel like this was definitely not a trivial fling. There was mutual respect, admiration and genuine affection between them, and Christopher never lost an opportunity to tell Leonard how much he cared.
They kept their relationship as discreet as possible. Leonard had no wish to have his own accomplishments tarnished by any hint that he might be trying to sleep his way to advancements. He had to take only a few classes that put him near Christopher’s influence, so even if they were found out, not much could be said against either of them. This was just as well, since he hadn’t been able to shake his shuttlecraft neighbor, Jim Kirk, since they’d arrived at the Academy, and the young man was thoroughly convinced that Leonard had a “thing” for the good captain. Jim was a good man, and he had loads of respect for Christopher, so he had nothing to fear from his friend. Well. Nothing but merciless teasing when they were alone, about his “weekend sex-fests”, and the “Monday turtleneck”.
If Leonard had any doubts that Chris took their relationship seriously, they were dispelled once and for all one evening, about two months after their first kiss. Chris took Leonard down to Old Los Angeles for dinner, and a live concert at the Music Hall. During the intermission, Christopher went to find a restroom, and Len headed for the small bar. He ordered Chris a Coke and rum, and straight Saurian Brandy for himself. While he waited, he scanned the room for Chris.
“Looking for me?” Leonard looked over to see a light-haired, green-eyed human practically leering at him from behind his martini. “’Cause I’ve been looking for you all my life.”
Len couldn’t hold in the laughter. “Come on, really? Where’d you find that line, the back of a cereal box?”
The man laughed good naturedly and sipped his drink. “You’d be surprised how many people haven’t heard it.”
“Well, whoever they are, they can’t be from any Federation planets in this sector.”
The young man laughed again. “Some people think it’s cute. You-“
“Who’s your friend, Leonard?”
McCoy smiled and gave Chris’ cheek a peck. Chris put an arm around Leonard’s shoulder and looked expectantly at him. He shrugged, glancing at the man, who looked suitably disappointed. “I don’t know his name.”
Chris was smiling, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You two were awfully chatty.” Leonard frowned, and the blond spoke up.
“Look, I didn’t mean to-“
“Let me give you a piece of friendly advice,” Chris said sharply, the smile completely gone, replaced by smoldering fury. “BACK. OFF.”
The man hurried off immediately, and Len couldn’t blame him. He’d never seen Chris so angry, and when he turned his glare on Leonard, the doctor’s first instinct was to run. Instead, he smiled and put a hand on Chris’ shoulder. “Baby, why are you so-“
“Upset?” he hissed, grabbing Leonard by both arms. “Why do you think I’m upset? I leave you alone for two minutes and you’re flirting with some asshole! ”
At the last word, Chris squeezed his arms so tight he winced. He looked directly into Chris’ eyes and let the man watch him take a deep, deliberate breath. “Chris, honey, I think maybe you don’t know your own strength. You’re really hurting me.” Chris loosened his grip immediately, but didn’t actually let go. Leonard decided it would have to be good enough. “I wasn’t flirting with him,” he said.
“Len, I saw you laughing with him!”
The vice-grip was back and Leonard clenched his teeth. He was starting to get pissed. “Christopher, calm down!” he snapped. “I don’t like this jealousy shit, okay, it’s not charming! He gave me some cheesy, ancient pickup line, and I laughed at it. That’s what you saw. And if you don’t think you can trust me any better than that, maybe we shouldn’t-”
“Len, don’t!” The anger had instantly changed to wide-eyed panic. “Don’t say that, okay, I’m sorry! I just… I overreacted.”
“Damn right, you did,” Len groused.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. He placed a hand gently on Leonard’s cheek and smiled. “I love you, and I just don’t know what the hell I would do without you, that’s all.”
Leonard’s scowl disappeared, and he felt his anger melting away. “You love me?” he asked softly.
Christopher pulled him into a strong embrace, and kissed him deeply. “I do,” he said, his voice husky. His eyes were so sincere, and his arms so tight and warm that Leonard felt himself believing.
“I love you, too,” he said, talking over the voice in his head that told him things were moving too fast. Love happened when it happened, dammit, and he felt love for this man. “I love you, Chris,” he said again.
Chris grabbed him tighter, in a breath-taking squeeze, and kissed him again, with much more fervor than before. Leonard was dimly aware of the bartender’s voice, announcing that his drinks were ready, but he couldn’t care less. The rest of the world disappeared, and there was only the feeling of Christopher’s arms around him, his body pressed close, the mild scent of his cologne mingled with Leonard’s own, and the deep passion of their kiss.
They skipped the rest of the concert, and enjoyed the evening in the privacy of Christopher’s five-star hotel room. Len spent the rest of the weekend in bliss. He and Chris stayed to themselves for the entire weekend, making the most of their time with each other – and now with the new, beautiful knowledge that they were in love.
By the time he got back to his dorm at the Academy, Leonard had forgotten all about the flirtatious man at the opera house, and the resultant conflict. He said hello to Jim, who’d requested a room-mate change to get away from the thunderous snorer he’d been stuck with the first semester of school. “Another sex-fest, huh?” he teased.
“Get off it,” Leonard snapped playfully, getting out of his travel clothes.
“Jesus, Bones, what’s that about?”
Leonard was puzzled, but he felt his face flush when he saw the direction of Jim’s eyes. His upper arms bore dark bruises. He opened his mouth to answer, but it was difficult to know what to say. He didn’t want to tell Jim the truth, because it would sound bad. Chris wasn’t abusive – he’d just gotten carried away. But the position of the bruises made it pretty tough to excuse them any other way.
Before he could come up with something, Jim took care of it for him. He laughed and patted Len on the back. “Gettin’ kinky, huh, Bones?”
Leonard laughed, hoping he didn’t sound too relieved at having an excuse provided for him. “Shut it, Jim,” he said, smiling to make it clear he was teasing. “Mind your own business, kid.” He hastily donned his pajamas and headed for bed.
“I’m beat. I had a long weekend!”
“I’m sure,” Jim said with a snicker. “Where does he get the energy, anyway?” Leonard threw a pillow at his friend. Jim just caught it and cackled as he tossed it back. “Tell him to let you be on top next time. I don’t want him holding you down if he can’t control himself.”
McCoy forced another laugh before settling into bed. He was tired, but he was unusually uncomfortable with Jim just now. He winced and bit back on a groan when he laid the wrong way on his arm. He’d have to remember to give himself a pain relief injection tomorrow if he were to be any good in class. After a few minutes spent trying to figure out how best to get comfortable, he finally settled down and went to sleep.
Their first fight – their first real fight – was over tardiness. That was the only way Leonard could interpret it. They’d had a few arguments – lover’s spats, as it were - but nothing particularly serious. Nothing a touch of the hand, or a sudden kiss couldn’t cure. But this time was different.
Leonard stumbled into his room, nearly dead from exhaustion after a grueling thirteen hour shift at the Academy hospital. He was sweat-soaked, and not just from the summer heat. All he wanted to do was jump in the shower and get the grime of the day off at last.
“Hey, Bones! How… oh. Nevermind.” Len knew he’d been going to ask about his day, and he was grateful that Jim knew him well enough to keep the question to himself at the moment. He peeled out of his clothes, dropping them in an untidy trail behind him. He’d put them somewhere appropriate after his shower. “Bones?” He was startled to find that Jim had followed him into the back of their quarters.
“Please, Jim. After shower.”
“Captain Pike called looking for you.”
“He called you?” McCoy asked.
Jim nodded, a slight frown on his face. “Called your comm line, then called mine. I told him you were still in surgery, so your personal phone was probably off.”
“Fuck,” he hissed. He automatically reached for his pocket, but then remembered he’d already stripped to his briefs. Jim grabbed his phone before McCoy could bend down, and handed it to him. “Thanks,” he said, turning it on. His eyes widened. He’d missed eight calls and twenty-seven text messages. “Jesus,” he whispered. Each message after the first “how are you, love you” was some variation of “where are you?” They grew increasingly urgent, and even angry, until the last messaged – “Kirk says you’re in surgery. Contact me when you get home.”
Leonard glanced up at Jim, who was watching him keenly, biting his lower lip. “He was just worried,” he said.
Jim frowned and said nothing for a few seconds. Then he started picking up Leonard’s sweaty clothes. “I’ll handle this. You hop in the shower.”
“You’re a prince,” he replied. “I’ve got the bathroom this week and next.” Jim didn’t respond, and McCoy watched him with concern for a few seconds before sending a message to Chris. “Sorry just got home. Hospital was terrible, 3 docs out. I’ll call in 30.” He hit send, dropped his phone on the bed and jumped into the shower.
Len let the comforting pulse of the shower soothe him, slowly thinking about each of his muscle groups, trying to relax them. Slowly, he began to feel a bit more human. He even felt the urge to hum a tune after a while. Finally, when he felt that he couldn’t possibly get any cleaner, he stepped out of the shower. He quickly brushed his hair into place, wrapped himself in a towel and stepped out to find something to wear. He stopped short when he heard voices in the outer area.
“Pretty sure he’ll be out in a minute, sir,” he heard Jim say.
“Thanks, Jim.” Chris. Was he on the comm again? “You don’t mind if I wait here, do you?”
Shit! Leonard scrambled to put on some clothes, moving as quietly as he could. He knew beyond doubt that Christopher would be pissed if he knew Len made a habit of wandering around their quarters half naked. He listened idly while the two men chatted about class. “Taking a full load this summer?”
“I told you, Captain. Three years. How are the cadets treating you?”
Leonard finally finished putting on his casual clothes and stepped into the main room. “Hey, Chris,” he said with a smile. “This is a surprise!”
Chris smiled and stood up. “Hello, Leonard.” He glanced at Jim. “See you, son. Good luck with your schedule.” He looked at Leonard. “Take a walk with me?”
“Oh, sure, um…”
“You’re going out?” Jim asked suddenly. “I thought you were going to help me study for Xenopsychology.”
Len immediately made an “oh, crap, I forgot” face, working smoothly into Jim’s lie. They had made no such arrangement, but even though he had no idea why, he was extremely grateful for the ruse. Chris’ smile was warm, and he didn’t seem angry at all, but for reasons he couldn’t have explained, he did not want to be alone with the man. “Shit, I did promise you, didn’t I?” He looked apologetically at Chris. “Do you think maybe we can talk here?”
“I’d really rather have some time alone, Len,” he said. “But I wouldn’t want to be the cause of you breaking a promise.” Something dark flashed through his eyes, but it was gone so fast he almost wasn’t sure he’d seen it. “How about this? I’ll have him back to you in an hour. Ninety minutes, tops. Would that be enough time to study?”
Leonard could tell Jim was still reluctant, and he felt the same. But further protest would seem suspicious, and he didn’t want Chris to get the wrong idea – especially over some mysterious feeling that didn’t really make sense. “That should be fine,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ll work on Political Science until you get back.”
“Great,” Chris said.
Len quickly put on his boots, grabbed his phone, and followed Chris out of the room, giving Jim a smile filled with a confidence that he didn’t really feel. Still, when they were out of the room, Chris simply asked him about his day at the hospital, and talked about the classes he’d taught for the day. Leonard felt his inexplicable tension start to abate, and he didn’t feel a moment’s hesitation when Chris offered to take him off-campus for a bite to eat. “To go, of course. Gotta get you back so you can help Jim.”
But when they left campus, Chris drove in the opposite direction from the most popular restaurants near the campus. Leonard shrugged off a surge of anxiety. There were fast food restaurants all over San Francisco, and – Leonard’s body jerked against the restraints as Christopher turned suddenly down a small street. “Christ, what the hell are you-“
“Shut up,” he snapped, already pulling off his restraints. “Get out of the car.”
“What the fuck, Christopher? I’m not-“
Chris grabbed him by his collar and yanked him closer, forcing him to face those gray eyes, filled with barely-contained rage. “Leonard, I told you to shut your mouth and get the fuck out of the car.”
Leonard felt an icy, heavy, twisting feeling deep in his gut that could only be described as fear. It was out of place here. This was his partner – the man he loved. He shouldn’t be made to feel afraid. But as his hands reached for the belt buckle, almost of their own volition, he sensed that they were shaking.
Chris let him go and got out of the car. Len willed his hands to stop shaking. For a second, he considered just staying in the car, but he knew that wouldn’t be a good idea. Besides, he was no more able to disobey the command than he was able to use will power to stop his blood from circulating. Before he knew what had happened the restraints were off, and he was standing outside the car watching Christopher storm toward him.
His body tensed, and his jaw clenched tight, in fight-or-flight anticipation. Chris stopped directly in front of him and Leonard felt an absurd sense of accomplishment for being able to look him directly in the eye. Chris glared at him for a few moments before speaking. “Pull out your phone.” Leonard did so, again feeling as if the very cells of his body knew they could not refuse this man. “What time did you tell me you were home?”
Leonard frowned. “Christopher-“
“What time was it when you sent your text?”
He sighed and looked for the text. He felt his nervousness start to escalate again as he scanned through Christopher’s many messages. “It was eight twenty-five.”
“Do you show an outgoing call at eight fifty-five?”
“Answer me, Leonard!”
“Is that really what this is about? You dragged me out here to give me shit about fifteen minutes? It was nine twenty when you showed up at my dorm, Chris, and it had to take time for you to get there. What did you give me, five minutes?”
“You told me to you would call me in thirty minutes! I hadn’t heard from you all fucking day, and-“
“You expect me to take my cell phone into surgery!?”
“I expect you to keep your promises to me!”
“Chris, it wasn’t that- AH!” Len gasped and clutched his arm. Almost before he’d seen it happen Chris had reached back and punched him squarely in his upper arm – a tight strike with enough force that his fingers had gone numb. “Shit! Did you-”
“Don’t fucking trivialize my feelings, Leonard,” he snapped, dealing out another blow in the same spot.
Part of Leonard’s mind almost laughed at the absurd situation. He’d just been punched by a man over failure to return a call in a timely manner. The part of him that wasn’t laughing was trembling partly from outrage, partly from fear. Christopher had dealt two blows to his dominant arm – an intelligent combat decision – used against him. And over what? He felt outrage winning out over fear, and he swung hard as he could with his good arm. He caught Chris on the shoulder, hard enough to elicit a surprised yelp. Chris responded immediately, with an enraged growl, punching Leonard in the chest before he could block.
The resultant conflict was short-lived, and in the end, Leonard felt it had been more of a beating than a fight. He didn’t like the connotations of that thought, and he shunned it even as he was slammed against the hood of the car, arm bent painfully back and up by his lover. He refused to acknowledge it, even as he struggled uselessly, only managing to call greater attention to the pain in his arms, his solar plexus and his chest where he’d been violently struck, pushing him just past the point of his ability to adequately defend himself. “Please stop, Chris. Please, I…”
“You made a commitment to me, and you didn’t keep it, Leonard.” He wasn’t even out of breath. “Are you saying something like that isn’t important?”
“No, Christopher. I… I understand, and I’m so sorry. I’ll be more careful next time, okay? Please let me go.” He distracted himself from the promise he heard himself making, and the apology he didn’t truly feel needed to be given, by reflecting that any unevenly matched fighter would feel as if he had taken a beating after losing to a more skilled opponent. And could there be a more uneven match than a doctor – sworn to protect life and do no harm – and a seasoned Starship captain who taught classes on hand to hand combat? Not to mention the fact that he was exhausted from the double shift at the hospital. There was nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing. He said it again and again to himself, glaring mentally at the sour feeling of humiliation swirling in his stomach. There was nothing to be ashamed of, and there was nothing wrong. They’d had a fight, and they’d both gotten carried away, and Leonard had lost. That was all.
He heard the lie. He hadn’t gotten carried away, he’d struck out in righteous indignation. And Chris… well, he may have gotten carried away, but that wasn’t all. He thought he was in the right, and that there wasn’t anything wrong with pounding on Len for failing to call exactly on time. He believed – deeply enough to hit him over it – that promising to call in thirty minutes and losing track of time was a serious breach of trust. Leonard saw the lie. He knew it existed. And he turned his face away from it. He let Chris pull him upright, turn him around and hold his arms until he was steady on his feet. He let Chris lift his face by the chin, even though he didn’t have enough pride to look him in the eyes this time. He let Chris kiss him, murmuring his own apologies in that oh so convincing voice.
“Thank you, Leonard. I believe you.” Kissed. “I love you.” Held too tight. Looser, but still held close, at the hissing intake of breath. “I’m sorry I got so rough, but I just…” Kissed. Hair stroked gently, face touched. Eyes held by sincerest, most remorseful gaze. “I’m sorry about that, baby.” Kissed. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. I’m… s-sorry I hurt you. We’ll be all right.” Braving the steel-gray gaze again. “Won’t we?”
And there was the smile again – warming his entire face. It seemed impossible that this face could have been contorted with rage a few seconds ago. “Of course we will.”
He heard that lie, too, and forced it away from himself as violently as Chris had slammed his fist into his diaphragm. Leonard ignored the lie all the way back to the Academy. He focused on Christopher’s strong hand, pressed firmly against his thigh throughout the trip. He had beautiful hands. Long-fingered, clean, rounded, clipped nails, one finger graced by a striking sterling silver ring. His knuckles were slightly reddened, but he couldn’t focus on that. He turned his face and looked out the window. There was nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing was wrong. He was in love, and he was loved. They were going to be all right.
By the time he made it back to his room, after taking a brief detour to get some pain reliever, he’d managed to shove the lie so far down that it was almost easy to tell Jim everything had gone well. “We had a little fight, but nothing really serious.”
“Are you sure you’re all right? You look…”
“I’m fine, kid. Don’t worry.”
Jim didn’t question him again, but Leonard could see the truth as clearly as he could see his friend standing before him. Jim had heard the lie, too. Leonard saw, but at the moment he was too exhausted to try any further convincing. Jim knew, and like the excellent man he was, he left it alone. He guided Leonard to the bed, frowned when he wouldn’t let him pull off his shirt, pulled the light covers up to his neck, and sat on the bed beside him.
“You don’t have to stay up,” Len muttered, barely able to keep his eyes open.
“Yes I do, Bones.” Leonard smiled when he felt Jim’s hand on his shoulder, glazing quickly over the fact that Jim hadn’t squeezed him very hard at all – certainly not as firmly as he usually did when he comforted him during low points – times when his divorce and his father’s failing health weighed so heavily on his mind that he couldn’t hide it anymore. He reached up groggily to pat his friend’s hand, and Jim pressed his other hand on top of his – warm and strong and safe.
“Yes I do.”
The next few months were wonderful for Leonard. His second semester at the Academy was off to a good start, and he’d received glowing commendations for his work at the hospital over the summer. Chris was happy, and he treated Leonard so well that the troubling shadows he’d struggled to dispel after their fight had disappeared. Jim had even stopped shooting him worried looks every time he came back from Chris’ house.
Most wonderful to Leonard was the fact that the drawn-out custody battle between himself and Jocelyn had finally been settled. For spite, Jocelyn had sued for full custody, rather than agreeing to joint custody as Leonard had requested. The judge had apparently seen through her arbitrary decision and had reduced the “testimony” of Jocelyn’s friends to what it was – bullshit. She’d also officially ordered Jocelyn to stop obstructing their daughter from contacting him and his parents. He received a call from Joanna almost every day now. He was granted rotating holidays and half of all school vacations. He’d already set about rearranging his schedule to take on more classes during Fall and Spring, so he could be sure of at least a month off during the Summer to spend with Joanna.
One Saturday afternoon, after a lazy brunch with Chris, he received a call from Jo. He left the table, not wanting to disturb Chris while reading his paper. He went out to the patio and had a pleasant conversation with his daughter. He learned more than he needed to know about the third grade class at Cochrane Elementary. She politely asked him about school, and he told her about how he was doing well in science, but was having a little trouble with history. Joanna was sympathetic. They chatted a little about their weekend plans, then Leonard said goodbye. “Love you, Honey.”
“Love you too, Daddy.”
“Okay, bye now.”
He’d already had the patio door open, and he stepped in just as he closed the connection. Before he took a single step into the house, something crashed into his gut, knocking the wind out of him. He bent double, struggling for air, and instantly panicked. There was another blow, this time to the side of his head. Shit! Intruder! Where was Chris?
Still gasping, he looked up into the enraged face of his attacker. Oh. “Chris, wh-“
Before he could get the question out, Chris punched him again in the same place. Leonard managed to block the next blow, but Chris followed up immediately, catching him on the other side of his head. Ears ringing, and still barely able to catch his breath, Leonard could hardly see to defend himself. There were two more swift blows to his stomach, then Chris was dragging him by his hair, deeper into the room. Leonard bucked and twisted, wincing at the pain, but to no avail. Chris tossed him down and stood glaring at him for a second, before his fists clenched.
“Ch-chris,” Leonard whispered, hating the tremble he could hear in his own voice. “What’s wrong? Pl-lease-“
“Shut up, you cheating son of a bitch,” he shouted, dealing out another harsh blow. “Lying motherfucker!” He slammed his fist down again, sending pain shooting through his stomach.
“Chris, s-stop,” he choked out, trying to deflect the man’s wild blows. “Please… what did I do?”
If anything, the question seemed to infuriate him more. He growled and screamed obscenities, punching Len even harder. His arms took the brunt of the blows, but by the time Chris finally stopped the room was spinning, and his mouth was full of blood. He stayed on the floor, bent double, and breathing hard, several seconds after the onslaught was over.
“What the fuck is this? HUH?” Leonard looked up to see Chris holding his phone. “Why the fuck does your ex keep calling you?!”
“That’s my daughter, Chris, god damn it, are you-”
“Don’t you fucking take that tone with me, Leonard!” he screamed, backhanding him so hard his head hit the floor, and his vision momentarily blurred. Chris gripped Len by the hair and jerked him back into a semi-upright position, eye level with Chris’ clenched fist.
He couldn’t control the cringe, or the whimper coming from the back of his throat, as his hands flew up instinctively. “I’m sorry, Chris,” he whispered. “Please-”
“You think I’m some kind of goddamn idiot, don’t you?” Len shook his head. “If you weren’t hiding anything, why are you always running out of the room?”
“Chris, I-“ He swallowed hard, seeing the clenched fist move back slightly. His tone was meek and distinctly shaky when he started again. “I was just… trying to be polite,” he said. The hand gripping his hair tightened. “Please, Chris, please. It’s the truth, I’d never-”
Chris jerked his head back, forcing Leonard to face him. Leonard cringed, squeezing his eyes shut. “Look at me.” He forced himself to open his eyes. “Why doesn’t your daughter have her own line?”
“Sh-she’s only eight. W-we… Jocelyn thought she wasn’t old enough,” he explained, feeling his stomach twist in shame for shifting blame to Jocelyn when it was one of the few things they’d actually both agreed on. Christopher’s scowl deepened ever so slightly, and Leonard whimpered again. “I’ll t-talk to her about it,” he said softly.
“You should. Joanna’s your daughter, too. Don’t let that bitch walk all over you.”
Pure, instinctual self-preservation was all that kept him from letting out the wild laugh that threatened to erupt just then. Leonard just gave Chris a small smile, and nodded as best he could with Chris still gripping his hair. “You’re right,” he said. “I’ll do it soon.”
Chris smiled – like a switch, the warmth and love were visible in his eyes as if they’d never gone away. His hand relaxed and he stroked Leonard’s hair a couple of times. “I’d appreciate that,” he said. “I have a medical kit in the master bathroom. Do you want me to help you?”
Oh, hell no. “No thanks, honey,” he said aloud. “I think I’ll be okay.”
Chris nodded and helped him to his feet. Leonard gritted his teeth against the various pains he could feel as he moved. “Steady?” Chris asked.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he said, careful not to snap. Chris patted his arm, and let go. Len looked up at his face and saw only concern and care. “Chris, you… you know I love you, right?”
There was the warm smile again. “Yes, I know.”
“You know you can talk to me… ask me anything. Right? If… I mean, if something’s bothering you?”
“Of course, Leonard.” Something subtle changed in Chris’ voice and manner. Leonard stiffened. Time to stop. His head was pounding, and his whole upper body throbbed. He couldn’t afford to aggravate Chris again.
“Okay,” he said softly. “I’ll… I’ll be right out.”
“Take all the time you need,” he said.
Leonard walked slowly to the back of the house, aware of Chris’ eyes on him all the way. He ducked into Chris’ bedroom and leaned heavily against the wall. The tight coil of tension in his gut swiftly unraveled and his composure went with it. His body shook and he had to fight to keep from sobbing aloud. He stood still for a few minutes, just breathing and trying to pull himself together. He actively avoided thinking about what had happened. First things first, he told himself. Assess the damage, repair, then think.
He located his own emergency med-kit, which he carried with him everywhere. It seemed silly, even to him, but ever since he was small, he’d imagined being the one man to raise his hand and save the day if ever someone were to call out, “Is there a doctor in the house?”
He took his kit to the bathroom, somehow knowing he should go where Chris expected him to be. He used his professional scanner to assess the damage – multiple bruises and abrasions, elevated heart rate, elevated levels of adrenaline – everything he expected to see in a victim of a physical attack. He gave himself a dose of pain reliever and something to counteract shock. Then, he pulled out Christopher’s med-kit, took off his shirt, and used the antibacterial salve and sterile pads to clean up in places where Chris had broken the skin.
He didn’t particularly relish the idea of facing himself in the mirror, but he had to be able to see to work on his face. He stiffened at the sight of himself. The right side of his jaw was swollen, as was his left eye and his cheek. He checked himself and there was tenderness on the side of his head as well that might be developing into a knot. Damn. How the hell was he going to explain this to Jim? He didn’t want to tell him about Chris. Jim didn’t need to know. No one really needed to know because there wasn’t anything to know.
DENIAL! His psychologist mind screamed it at him, but the rest of him was already rationalizing the incident. Had Christopher really drawn such an unreasonable conclusion? Yes his reaction had been… extreme, but Leonard had never explained the reason for the increased number of phone calls. This was just why communication and open honesty were so important. All he had to do was convince Chris to talk to him first and everything would be fine. He would find a way to make Jim understand without worrying him.
He rinsed his mouth out and dabbed away at any blood still on his face. Then he applied Christopher’s high-quality topical anti-inflammatory gel to his many bruises, packed everything away, put on a fresh shirt and went back out to meet Chris.
He was back in his seat, reading the next section of the newspaper. There was a cup of hot tea, steam rising from the glass, on the table in front of Leonard’s seat. He also saw three shortbread cookies on a small plate beside the tea. He approached the table, getting close enough to see that there was actually fresh mint inside the teacup, when Chris looked up. He stood up immediately, and Leonard flinched.
“Hey, sweetheart,” Chris said brightly, either not noticing, or pretending not to notice Len’s reaction. Chris pulled him into a gentle enveloping embrace careful not to squeeze too tight. “I love you,” he said fervently. “I’d die without you, you know that right?” Leonard only nodded, wrapping his arms around Chris’ firm torso. “Sorry I got carried away, baby,” he said pulling away a little to look into Leonard’s eyes.
Damn those eyes. There was something in those steel gray eyes that could wash away any fear or hurt when they looked like this – sincere, open, apologetic. Loving. When Chris was angry, his eyes were more terrifying than anything else. The strong hands and arms that could cause so much damage – even his voice, strident and chilling in his rage, couldn’t compare to the wild fury and menace in those eyes. But when love showed through them, those eyes were like a hypnotic drug. Leonard found himself reaching up to kiss Christopher’s lips – a light tender touch. “It’s okay Christopher. I love you. I’m all yours, okay?”
Chris tightened his grip on Leonard, almost painfully, and smiled – a possessive gleam in those eyes now. “You are,” he said – not a question. Len shuddered ever so slightly, but managed to hold onto his smile. He leaned forward, tucking his head under Chris’ chin, and let Chris hold him until he murmured that Len’s tea was getting cold.
The rest of the weekend passed pleasantly. Chris was more solicitous than ever, and Leonard took care to keep him that way, shying away from any topic that could possibly cause conflict.
By Sunday night the bruises had darkened enough to be vividly noticeable. Jim was shocked and outraged when Leonard told him about the “mugging”, and if he suspected Len was lying, he had the good grace not to let it show.
Before the week had passed, Joanna called, brimming with excited thanks for the early Christmas gift – her very own personal phone line.
Leonard sighed and lay down in the bed eyelids already heavy with exhaustion. He’d had his two toughest final exams earlier in the day and Jim had insisted on taking him out for happy hour afterward to celebrate. All he really wanted to do after that was go back to his dorm and go to sleep but Chris had wanted to celebrate too. By the time they had dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in the area, he was practically asleep on his feet. When Chris drew close to him in bed and started stroking his arm, Leonard patted his hand, but pushed him away. “Mmm mm,” he murmured, shaking his head. “Tired.”
“Too tired to cuddle?”
Leonard suppressed a sigh and edged back into Chris’ arms. He held him for a few minutes but before long, Chris was kissing his shoulders, and his hands were roving lower and lower. “C’mon, baby not tonight,” he said, pulling away again.
Chris let go with a sigh but seemed to accept that Len was too tired to be any good. Half asleep in moments he was only vaguely aware of movement behind him. Suddenly there was pressure at the small of his back and then he was flailing, falling unceremoniously out of the bed. He sprang to his feet and turned in time to see Christopher jump out of bed. “Bet that woke your sorry ass up, didn’t it,” he snarled charging toward him.
“Chris, calm down,” he cried, alarmed, and definitely wide awake. He adopted a defensive stance when Chris showed no sign of stopping, but the three drinks he’d had with Jim and the two at dinner with Chris slowed his reflexes. With almost no effort Chris grabbed him by the arm and yanked him forward, glaring, barely inches from his face.
“What’s wrong with you? Huh? You fucking someone else?”
“What? No I-”
Chris grabbed him by the back of his neck, and shoved him roughly down, forcing him to bend over. Leonard saw Chris’ other hand reach back and he shook his head. “Please, Chris don’t! Don’t hit me!”
“You had energy enough to drink half the night with Kirk, but suddenly you’re fucking exhausted? Why? Were you fucking him at that bar?!”
“No! Christ, I’d never cheat on- SHIT! ” Chris’ grip tightened painfully on the back of his neck. He moved to strike, but Len caught his forearm and held him back.
“Leonard you better fucking let go NOW!”
“Please, Chris! Stop this!” His head swam, and pain shot through his neck as Chris squeezed even tighter. He felt tears of pain fill his eyes, but he held desperately to Chris’ arm. “Please, please, not my face Chris, okay, please! I don’t want to have to explain it!”
Chris jerked his fighting arm away and struck him viciously in the stomach. He kept his hold on Leonard’s neck and punched him twice more before letting him drop to the floor. “That’s the point, isn’t it?!” he shouted. “You don’t have to explain anything to anyone but ME!” There was more pain, as Chris’ foot connected with his chest. “I will fucking break you if I find out you were fucking someone else, you hear me??” He kicked Len again, hard enough to flip him onto his back. “I will break your goddamn arms and each and every fucking finger on each hand if I find out! Do you understand me??? ”
Struggling against terrified tears, Leonard edged back along the floor, trying to put some distance between himself and his lover. “Chris, p-please,” he whimpered, still clutching his middle. “I’d never-“
“You’d never cheat? Then WHAT Leonard?? WHAT is it? You can’t stand the sight of me now? Suddenly I repulse you?” Leonard shook his head, but was too afraid to respond. He knew anything he said right now would be twisted anyway. “I’m some kind of a dog now?!” Chris screamed, rushing forward and slamming his fist down onto Leonard’s chest. Leonard shook his head, sobbing out an unintelligible plea, but it was too late. Christopher let loose, pounding Len’s chest, stomach and arms mercilessly, but careful to stay away from his face this time. Shielding didn’t seem to help much. Chris kept up a rolling volley – first one fist, then another – punching so hard he sent shockwaves through Leonard’s body with each blow.
When Chris finally let up, Leonard was crying openly, shaking from head to toe, and he couldn’t make himself look at Chris’ face. He cried out sharply when Chris suddenly grasped his arm. “Bet you’re awake now, motherfucker,” he said darkly, jerking Len over onto his stomach.
Fear turned to utter panic when Chris roughly yanked his briefs down. “No,” he pleaded. “Chris, don’t!”
“Shut up!” He shifted, straddling Leonard’s legs, pressing a hand to the small of his back to hold him in place. Tired and sore as he was Len struggled fiercely, twisting and writhing, trying to get away. Chris overpowered him after only a few moments, dragging his arms back and pinning his wrists together with one hand, while his other hand was busy working Len’s briefs farther down his legs.
“Please, please, Chris,” he said through sobs. “Don’t f-force me. Don’t-”
“I need this, Leonard, do you understand?”
“Please! ” His voice was high-pitched and shaky with fear. “Don’t h-hurt me, Christopher, pl-lease. Not like this, please.”
“If you relax it won’t hurt!” he snapped, shoving him hard against the floor, and shifting again.
Leonard felt Chris press against him, and his panicked sobs started coming out in quick gasps. “Don’t… don’t d-do this!”
“Shhhhh.” Chris stroked his hair, still holding his hands tightly behind him.
“Please, please, please,” he whispered, not sure if he was talking to Chris, or praying to God. “I c-can… make you f-feel good without… this.” Chris stopped moving suddenly. Len swallowed hard. “Let me do it, Chris,” he said, hoping he managed to put enough actual desire in his voice to counteract the fear. “Please, I… I want to taste you.”
Chris’ guttural groan rumbled through Len’s body, and he was suddenly released. Leonard didn’t move, almost afraid Chris would change his mind if he did something wrong. There was a moment of shuffling, then Chris stepped into view in front of him. “Get up.”
Leonard rose to his knees as quickly as he could, gritting his teeth against the pain. Chris had taken off his briefs, and stood before him, fully erect. He gazed down at Leonard like some kind of literal sex god, promising clemency if Leonard pleased him well enough. He reached for Chris, trying without much success to stop crying, and control his shaking. Chris didn’t seem to be bothered by any of it. He gripped Leonard by the hair and drew him forward. Leonard took him in fully, relieved by the delighted moan from Chris.
It wasn’t the most pleasurable experience for Len – trying to keep his fear and his physical pain from interfering with giving Chris as much pleasure as he could. He knew it was still a form of being forced, but it was a compromise he could deal with. It was at least better than being roughly entered and unceremoniously pounded into the floor. He even managed a few lustful moans of his own when Chris seemed to grow impatient with his silence. One “I can’t hear you, baby,” followed by a tightening of the grip on his hair, was enough to bring out the actor in him for as long as was necessary.
He was relieved when Chris finally came, shuddering and screaming, into his mouth. He swallowed everything down, knowing how much Christopher liked when he did that. When he dared look up at Chris’ face, he knew his efforts had been well rewarded. Christopher was smiling beatifically down at him, and the hand that had gripped his hair now gently stroked him. “H-how do you feel?” Len whispered.
“Good.” It was practically a purr. Leonard smiled, truly glad. “That was so good, Len. You can put that mouth on me any time.” Len blushed but more from actual shame than the coy embarrassment Chris probably saw. “I’m going to lay down now. Go clean up, then come to bed. You’ve had a long day.”
Len nodded and struggled to his feet. He hissed at a sharp pain in his chest when he lifted off the floor. Chris grabbed his arm to steady him, and guided him to the bathroom. When he was seated in the bathroom, Chris set the med-kit on the counter and brought Len’s personal kit in as well. “Th-thank you,” Len whispered.
“You’re welcome. You’re a good man, Len.” Chris lifted his face by his chin and kissed him deeply. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he whispered, but even though he knew it was true, it felt almost automatic. He had no desire to find out what would happen if he didn’t respond in kind, but he was so upset by the events of the evening that it was as if he couldn’t feel anything else. Anything besides pain, anyway. Chris left him alone, and he set about the private act of treating himself.
He frowned at the sight of the med-scanner reading. Damn. No wonder there had been sharp pain when he stretched to stand. Besides the many bruises, Chris had managed to crack two of his ribs. Damn! He’d need a tissue regenerator for this, and fucked if he wanted to explain to Starfleet Academy Medical why his ribs were broken. It’d be better to go anonymously to a clinic where he could just claim some miscellaneous accident and there wouldn’t be an investigation. But he couldn’t go now. He didn’t want to know what Chris would do if he tried to go out right now, broken ribs or no. Fuck.
Len dosed himself with a strong analgesic, used some of the larger gauze strips to wrap his chest, and did what he could for the fresh bruises. His hands shook even now, as he applied the various creams and gels that would help the bruises heal faster. He’d been scared – truly scared today. His stomach tightened again at the memory of Christopher screaming that he would “break” him if he ever cheated. His eyes misted when he thought about Chris flipping him over, prepared to fuck him whether he wanted it or not. God help me. Was this really the man he’d come to love? The man he believed he could trust with his life?
As he packed the med-kit away, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and sighed. He frowned at himself. And what kind of man had he turned into, that he couldn’t make himself leave? He accepted the fact that he wasn’t strong enough to fight. He was strong but Chris was just fucking stronger. But why couldn’t he walk away? Why couldn’t he hold onto the fear, and the humiliation long enough to say goodbye? How could “I love you” and a couple of days, weeks – even months – of being treated like a king make up for… this? Who was this weak… desperate… liar looking back at him?
Leonard closed turned away from his reflection, put the kit in its place and shut off the light. He stepped quietly back into the bedroom, moving slowly to avoid jarring himself, and not wanting to wake Chris if he’d already fallen asleep. The lamp beside his bed was still on, and he saw Chris lying peacefully, eyes closed. Tears came to his eyes again. He looked so… normal – so good – lying there asleep. But… He took another step toward the bed, wincing at the twinge in his chest. Damn. Fuck it all! Len was tired. He was so fucking tired. He didn’t want to think anymore – didn’t want to try to figure out what he should do, or why he did the things he did, or why he didn’t do what he should do or any goddamn thing else. He just wanted to lie down in bed and sleep until something got better.
He slowly pulled the covers back, lay down and turned off the lamp. He tensed when he felt Chris shift beside him. Chris lightly touched his arm, then stroked his back, gasping slightly when his hand touched the bandages.
“I’m sorry, Len,” he whispered. “Want me to take you to the hospital tonight?”
He swallowed, trying to quell the quivering he could feel in his throat. “I’ll be all right until tomorrow.”
“Okay.” There was a slight pause, then “I’m sorry. I’m such an asshole sometimes, but I love you, Len. I do.”
Leonard sighed. “I know. I believe you.”
Chris drew closer to him and draped his arm over Len’s hip. When it seemed he didn’t plan on saying anything else, Leonard allowed himself to relax. He leaned back slightly into Chris’ warm chest. There was nothing to fear for now, and strange as it seemed to his own mind, he needed the comfort of another body beside him just then. Finally, he closed his eyes on the tears that still fell, and let exhaustion claim him.
McCoy grunted as his face made contact with the floor mat. He struggled not to think about how many other sweaty faces must have met this surface, and shoved back against the man above him. He’d hoped to connect to the man’s chin with his own head, but there was only air. The man laughed. “That’s the oldest trick in the book, Bones! What the hell is D’Laihn teaching you?”
“Dammit, Jim, let me up!”
“No! You have to get out of this yourself. Come on, try again. Flip me over.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that!? You’re stronger than I am, and two full levels ahead of me in Hand to Hand.”
“I’m not stronger, I’m just more experienced.” Leonard let out a dubious grunt. “But that’s how you learn, Bones. You practice with someone who has a better technique. It’s just like chess! Now, come on, do what I told you.”
Leonard sighed, and glared at the mat. “Only you could compare face-planting into a goddamn exercise mat to chess.”
“Quit stalling, Doctor. Flip me!”
Leonard struggled again, but only succeeded in squirming a little. He was no closer to actually getting free. “Dammit, this isn’t working. Jim, let me up!”
“No!” He held Leonard’s arms tight behind his back. “Flip me!”
“I’m serious, Jim!” he shouted, angry now, and very uneasy with the memories his position invoked. “Let me up now!”
“No!” He shoved Leonard’s head down against the mat, hard enough to hurt. “You think the Klingons are gonna let you up if you yell at them?” he snapped. “They won’t. You think some asshole human’s gonna stop hurting you if you talk to him long enough? NO!” Leonard winced at that. He knew exactly what Jim meant, but this was the first time he’d ever gotten this close to putting his suspicions into words. “And they don’t give a good god damn that you would rather die than take a life,” he was shouting. “Now, God dammit, McCoy, I am going to teach you to defend yourself whether you like it or not! Flip me over!”
Leonard gritted his teeth, and struggled fiercely against his friend. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t get his hands free, and his legs refused to catch onto Jim’s. After a few seconds, he was frustrated again. “Fuck!”
“Good! Get mad! But don’t let it take you over. Control it, Bones. Control that anger, and think, and when you’re ready to use it, let it out.” Leonard growled – pretty damn ready to use some anger on Jim, but Jim ignored him. “Now,” he said calmly. “When I flipped you, how did I do it?”
Len forced himself to think about the maneuver. Jim had hooked his leg around some way, but he’d tried that and it hadn’t worked. He shut his eyes and thought hard about the move. He wouldn’t have this luxury in real combat, and he decided it made sense to take advantage of it. Then, suddenly, he remembered. He made a feint, as if he were going to come at Jim from the left. Then, when Jim adjusted in that direction, he quickly hooked his right leg around, yanked and threw Jim off balance, then shoved with all his strength. He kicked Jim in the leg, careful not to hit too hard, and Jim loosened his grip just enough for McCoy to squeeze one arm loose.
The rest was easier. He elbowed his “attacker”, twisted, grabbed his arms, and ended up on top, with Jim’s wrists pressed against the floor. He smiled triumphantly, watching his own sweat drip onto Jim’s face, and grinning even wider when Jim didn’t flinch. “Good job, Bones,” he said with a smile. “I knew you had it in you. Now, if this were real, all you’d have to do is crack me good and hard – right on the temple – and I’d be out like a light.” Len laughed and shook his head. “Do it fast,” Jim said, suddenly serious. “Clocking someone in self defense isn’t a crime.”
Leonard’s smile faltered. “Jim-”
“You’d do it if you had to,” he asked, looking directly into Leonard’s eyes. “Wouldn’t you?” Leonard swallowed. Even though he was on top of Jim, holding him firmly down, he felt as if he were the one pinned to the floor. “Would you do it to protect Joanna?” he asked sharply.
“Of course,” Leonard answered, slightly relieved by what he felt was a much easier question.
Jim still held his gaze, his face completely serious – almost grim. “If you end up in a situation where you need to knock the shit out of someone or they’ll knock it out of you, think about what her life would be like without you. Protecting yourself IS protecting her.”
Leonard felt the heat rising to his face. The truth was staring at him again, and he couldn’t make himself turn away. He felt his stomach twisting. He wanted to say something – to rail at Jim for bringing his daughter into this, compounding his shame. To explain that he was protecting himself. He was surviving, and when he could forget the bad days, he was even happy. He wanted to explain that he had tried striking out – defending himself, but it did no good. But when his mind helpfully provided the obvious question – why don’t you leave? – words wouldn’t come. He felt the heavy tension between them growing as the seconds passed, while Jim gazed at him with that determined, earnest expression. “Jim… I…”
“Tomorrow,” his friend said quickly, “I’ll teach you how to do this.”
Before Leonard knew what hit him, he was flat on his back, with Jim sitting on his stomach, the roguish smile back on his face. The uncomfortable tension suddenly evaporated like so much fog in the light of that playful grin. Leonard laughed and shoved at Jim. “Get off, jackass,” he said.
Jim allowed himself to be moved, getting to his feet with a grace that Leonard envied. He reached down and helped Leonard up. They hit the showers, and Len was relieved that their conversation stayed in the safe region of classmates and summer “vacation” plans – otherwise known as, which classes they were piling on during the heat.
Len’s phone chimed while he was getting dressed – the tone he’d assigned to his mother. He felt the familiar tension in his stomach. He hated the fact that his father’s illness had taken away the instant joy that used to accompany her calls. Now, there was always the dread that she was calling with bad news.
“Hey, Mama,” he said, forcing a positive tone. Jim looked sharply at him, and slowed his movements slightly.
“Hello, honey.” Leonard sat down slowly. She sounded tired. Not good.
“What is it, Mama?”
“The treatment didn’t work.”
Leonard lowered his head. Instantly, there was a hand on his shoulder. He touched the hand briefly, letting his gratitude be known without looking at Jim’s face. “Is he… is his condition worse?”
“Not that they can tell.”
“Thank God. Should I come down?”
“Maybe this weekend, if you could.”
“Of course, Mama. I’ll be there Saturday morning. How’s he feeling?”
“He’s upset, Len,” she said – the crack in her voice bringing tears to his eyes. “We… we had real high hopes about this one.”
Leonard sighed and pressed his fingers to his eyes. The hand began slowly stroking his arm. “I know,” Leonard said. “Can I talk to him?”
“He’s resting now, but I’ll call you in your room tomorrow so he can see your face.”
“Okay, Mama. You hang in there, you hear? Is Aunt Julie there?”
“Yes, she’s with me. I’ll be fine, honey. We’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“I love you, Mama. Give Daddy my love.”
“I will. Love you too, baby.”
He disconnected, and sat staring at the phone without really looking at it. “Dr. Clandon’s compound didn’t work?” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Bones.”
He finally looked over at Jim and managed a smile for the pained blue eyes. “Thanks, kid.”
Jim nodded, then looked elsewhere, giving his shoulder a final squeeze before withdrawing. “So! Wanna go get tanked? Bet I kick your ass in Kayira’s Trivia Challenge.”
“How much?” Len asked. “I could use some extra credits.”
“Ha! Ten credits every point I beat you by!”
“You’re on,” Len said, actually feeling his smile this time. “I’ll be well off by the end of the day. Let me just-”
Len froze but there was no bitterness or sarcasm in Jim’s voice, and nothing but amusement in his eyes, so he just smiled and nodded. Chris was deeply sympathetic when he heard about the treatment. “Babe, I’m so sorry. I know this one was supposed to be really promising.”
“Yeah,” he said solemnly. “But it didn’t make things worse, so we’re grateful for that.”
“How are your parents holding up?”
“My father’s not taking it so well.” He glanced at Jim, and turned slightly away from him. He cleared his throat. “Would you mind if… Mama asked me to go down this weekend, and…” He trailed off, embarrassed to be asking this instead of telling Chris his plans, but knowing it was a wiser move.
“Of course, baby, go right ahead,” he said. “You’ll call me to tell me how you’re doing.”
“I will, absolutely. Thanks, baby.”
“Of course. Now, how are you holding up?”
“I’m doing okay.”
“Somehow I don’t buy that,” Chris said. “Damn. I wish I could come and be with you right now, but these goddamn faculty meetings are mandatory.”
“It’s all right, Chris,” he replied. “I understand.”
“Well, I still don’t want you to be alone. Why don’t you call Jim and see if he has a few hours to keep you company?”
Len’s eyes widened and he glanced at his friend. “Call Jim?” The kid looked floored. “Well… okay, maybe I’ll do that,” he said. Jim gave him thumbs up.
“Good. And I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay, Len. I love you. Hang in there.”
“Love you, Chris. Don’t let the bureaucracy piss you off too much.” Chris chuckled. “See you tonight.”
He closed the connection, making sure the line was completely terminated before looking back at Jim. The broad smile on his friend’s face must surely have been rivaled by his own. He felt like a kid whose parents had just told him to have a party at the house while they were out of town. Part of him knew that there was something wrong with feeling relieved that he’d received permission to spend time with a friend, but the rest of him was too busy brimming with excitement about hanging with Jim guilt-free. Jim was just the type of company he needed to keep his mind off things – he seemed to have an uncanny understanding of when Leonard needed sympathy and when he needed distraction via drinks and laughs.
“C’mon, Bones,” he said, smacking his shoulder playfully. “Bring your credit transfer code, because I’m about to destroy you!”
“That remains to be seen, smartass,” Len said.
Four hours later, Leonard was three hundred credits poorer, and so full of mint juleps, Saurian brandy shots, and Tyrelian AMFs that he didn’t even care how loudly or shamelessly Jim was bragging. They’d wisely taken a public transport to Kayira’s Place, and Jim stayed sober enough to make sure they got back to Academy grounds in plenty of time for Leonard to meet Christopher. Len took a quick shower, thinking it might not exactly be the best thing in the world for Chris to smell the booze before he actually saw him. He dressed in fresh civs and downed a glass of water, but he still felt decidedly loopy.
He smiled, more ecstatic than he knew he should be when he saw that Jim had already packed his overnight bag for him. “You’re the BEST!” he cried, hugging Jim tight. “The absholute BEST!!”
Jim laughed and squeezed him tight before breaking away. “I know, I know! What would you do without me, right?”
“RIGHT! Did you pack my med-kit?”
“Of course! I’d never want you to be called and found wanting, Bones.”
“Beautiful man.” Len could have sworn Jim blushed, but he turned away so quickly Leonard couldn’t be sure.
Soon, Christopher called to say he was out of his meetings, and Leonard could meet him whenever he was ready. Len could tell he was aggravated, even though he was clearly trying to sound chipper. The meetings must not have gone as well as he wanted. Leonard had another full glass of water, gave himself a dose of potassium and gathered his belongings.
“Take care, Bones,” Jim said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, kid. I had a real good time today.”
Jim nodded and saw him to the door. The cool evening air helped clear Leonard’s head, and he made it to Chris’ car with hardly any unseemly stumbling. Chris wasn’t there yet, which relieved him. He didn’t like to keep him waiting. He stowed his overnight bag in the trunk and stood on the path nearest the parking lot to watch for his partner.
He smiled when he saw Christopher approaching, carrying his Starfleet issue instructor’s satchel. Chris smiled and waved at him, and Len walked toward him. “Hey, darlin’,” he said, when he was close enough to be heard without shouting.
“Hey.” Chris wrapped him in his arms and held him tight. “Mmmm. How you feeling?”
“Better now,” Len said, resting his head on Chris’ shoulder. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said. He kissed Leonard, deep and passionate and possessive. When he pulled back he chuckled. “How many mint juleps did you have?”
Len chuckled. “About four,” he said.
Chris smiled and shook his head. “Come on, let’s get home.”
Leonard kissed him again, then took his satchel from him and slung it over his own shoulder. “So, how did the meetings go,” he asked as they walked.
“Bureaucratic bullshit as usual,” he said. “I spent six hours listening to stuffed-shirt desk jockeys tell me how to teach command tactics and emergency diplomatic relations.” Len shook his head in sympathy. “They’re actually talking about changing the ratio so there’s more in-class time, and less time spent on simulations and training vessels!”
“What? That’s ridiculous!”
“That’s exactly what I told them! But what the hell do I know? I’m just an idiot starship captain!”
Len rubbed his arm briefly, then stowed his satchel in the trunk while Chris got in and started her up. “When we get home, I’m gonna make you an Aldebaran Supernova, and you’ll forget all about those idiots.”
Chris laughed. “I’ll forget my own name if you make it like you did last time.”
Leonard couldn’t suppress a giggle. “Don’t be jealous because I can hold my liquor better than you.”
Chris grinned. “Oh, come off it. I was tossing ‘em back before you graduated to long pants.”
They exchanged playful banter for the rest of the drive to Christopher’s home. Once there, Leonard took care of putting his overnight bag away, and stowing Chris’ instruction materials where they belonged, while Chris ordered them dinner. Neither of them felt like cooking, and they thought it would be better to get nice and wasted inside the house, rather than go to a bar, and have to deal with getting back home without getting a public drunkenness citation.
Len was still mildly buzzed from the afternoon with Jim, but he was just sober enough to mix a big batch of Aldebaran Supernova, while Chris put together a pitcher of cold, minty heaven for him. They sat in Chris’ den, Len leaning back against Chris’ chest, listening to music, and talking. Chris listened to him talk about his father, rubbing him slowly and murmuring sympathetically as he poured out his frustrations, and his fears.
Conversation turned to Chris’ irritation with the administration at the Academy while they ate their dinner. Afterward, there were more drinks, and Chris veered them back to discussing his father’s recent failed set of treatments. “I’m sorry to dump on you like this,” Len said, staring morosely at the bottom of his sixth drink.
“Len, don’t be silly,” Chris cried, slurring just a bit from the half-pitcher of Supernovas he’d polished off over the evening. “I want you to talk to me about it. That’s the whole reason I wanted you here tonight. I’m here for you, baby.”
Leonard’s eyes filled with tears, and he practically attacked Chris, kissing him hungrily, shoving him back on the couch. Chris flipped them around almost immediately, pressing Leonard against the couch, returning the kiss just as eagerly, roving hands caressing as much of his body as he could reach. They managed to strip down to their underwear, but they were so drunk they couldn’t get much farther than heavy, near-desperate groping, kissing, and some deliciously painful necking on Chris’ part, before they lay panting and laughing at their own clumsiness.
They settled down at last, Leonard lounging in Chris’ arms, feeling as comfortable as he could be. Chris waved a dismissive hand at the remains of their dinner when, after about thirty minutes of just laying in each other’s company, he caught Len reaching to stack plates. “Forget it,” he muttered, pulling Len closer and wrapping his arms tight around him. Leonard settled in, closed his eyes and dozed off.
He woke up some time just before dawn, utterly parched and feeling thick as a log. Chris was still sleeping soundly under him, and he slowly, gently extricated himself and stood up. He swayed, feeling the aftereffects of ridiculously high levels of alcohol strike hard now that he was on his feet. His head pounded, he was nauseous, and the effort of moving one foot in front of the other was enormous. He stumbled to the kitchen and miraculously managed to pour himself a glass of water without giving himself an unofficial shower.
He was so thirsty that he felt the water spreading through him – as if he could feel each cell in his body sighing in relief. He walked unsteadily toward the bathroom, realizing suddenly that he had a minor emergency on his hands. After relieving himself, and once he’d managed to catch the soap and make it stop running around the counter, he set about the difficult task of washing his hands. He made his way out of the bathroom and back toward the den to get cozy again.
Leonard made decent progress until he got to the living room. He forgot the step down to the sunken room, and slipped. He flailed, and grasped at the nearest surface – the mantle – to steady himself. His hand bumped against something, and Leonard cringed when he heard the sharp crack of the object breaking against the marble floor.
When he looked down and saw what the object had been, his throat tightened, and he was suddenly completely and unutterably sober. He felt the blood drain slowly from his face, and an icy chill spread through him from the center of his gut. The little porcelain figurine was shattered, and the expensive miniaturized inertial field generator meant to protect her from earthquake damage sat atop the mantelpiece like a terrible, ironic beacon, drawing attention to its vacant surface.
During the sixteen months he’d known Christopher Pike, Leonard had become something of an expert at judging certain triggers he knew would set his partner off. Of course, there were times Chris caught him completely off guard even now, but for the situations he could predict, he’d created a mental classification system, gauging how likely it was that he might sustain injuries. Stage One – the lowest level offense – might get a glare, but a quick apology and immediate correction could generally diffuse the situation. Stage Two usually meant a squeeze of the arm, a rough grab of the chin, and possibly the threat of actual violence. But it was still possible to repair with submission on Len’s part. Above that, stages were measured by duration and severity of the violence with eight involving a high likelihood of broken ribs or unconsciousness.
Destroying the last gift Chris had received from his only sister before losing her in a shuttlecraft accident most likely ranked somewhere in the teens. He stared at the shattered “portrait” of Marina Pike, and seriously considered running for the door and never coming back.
Before he could move, or even breathe, he heard a sharp gasp. He looked up to see Chris staring at the statue, eyes registering both shock and sadness. He felt a pang of guilt, both for the broken treasure, and for thinking of himself before thinking how hurt Chris would be. “Oh, darlin’, I’m sorry,” he said, moving toward Chris despite his instinctive urge to run the other way. “I’m so sorry.”
Chris looked up, and the swiftly darkening glare on his face stopped Leonard in his tracks. He swallowed hard, opened his mouth to apologize again, but nothing came out. Christopher began to stalk toward him, and Len’s remorse was quickly overpowered by fear. He backpedaled, nervously raising his hands in front of him like an emotional shield. “Chris…”
Chris growled and lunged at him, vaulting bodily off the floor. It was a graceful move – almost feline – but none the less terrifying for its fluidity. In fact, the feeling of being attacked like an animal, by another, more powerful creature, was deeply horrifying, on a visceral level. Leonard managed to take a single, frightened step back before Chris’ full force slammed him to the floor. His head hit the marble with a painful jolt, and his fear edge up a notch. Bad. Very bad. If there could be a good place to take a beating, this certainly didn’t qualify. As Chris raised his hand to strike, Len struggled to edge away toward the carpeted hall.
It started. Christopher punched him square in the chest then twice in the stomach in quick succession. Leonard doubled up, involuntarily moving closer to Chris, since the man was sitting on his legs. Chris smacked him hard, sending him reeling back against the floor again with an audible thud. No.
“Clumsy motherfucker!” Chris growled, punching him in the arm for emphasis. “God damn, sloppy, drunk shit!” There were more blows to his chest, and Leonard could feel the sting of tears beginning. He almost felt as if he deserved this, even though he knew it made no rational sense. The figurine was important to Chris. Leonard knew where it was displayed. He should have been more careful. Paid more attention. Shouldn’t have had so much to drink the night before.
Because of his own guilty conscience, he barely tried to defend himself. But when Chris smacked him again, and his head hit the floor once more, the resultant wave of dizziness frightened him. Suddenly, escaping this room became imperative – a matter of life and death. He shoved hard at Chris, bucking his legs as well, and managed to throw him off balance long enough to twist onto his stomach and crawl quickly away. He made it a few inches, but before he could even get to his feet, Chris was on him again.
He was shoved back down, and Chris started hitting again. Leonard shut his mind to the possible damage being done to his internal organs and focused on moving. He crept forward, bulling himself by inches along the floor. “Oh no you fucking don’t!” His arm was grabbed and yanked roughly back.
“Chris, please, I’m sorry!” Chris yanked harder, punching again with his other hand. Len cried out, the tears now falling freely. Fuck.
Suddenly, he could hear Jim’s voice in his head. Flip me. It wasn’t exactly the same position, but it was similar enough that he should be able to make it work. He made his feint, felt Chris adjust, then executed the rest of the maneuver using a little more force than he’d used on Jim, but knowing that it wasn’t as much as he would have used on an unknown attacker. Soon, he was looking down at the stunned face of his lover. Now all you’d have to do is crack me good and hard. He balled his fist, and only Christopher’s complete shock at his use of a defense more complex than he’d used before covered for his full two seconds of hesitation. His body shook. He was hurt and absolutely terrified. This was Chris. He loved him! He was deathly afraid of what would happen if he actually went through with it. He would be safe for now, but God help him when Chris came to again. Do it fast. Would you do it to protect Joanna?
He struck. Hard. But even as he did it, he knew it wasn’t hard enough. He felt himself pull back – the floor was too hard – it was too dangerous. With a suddenness that shocked him, Chris grabbed his arm, yanked him down, and flipped him over again. Chris was sitting on his stomach, and Len realized that he’d just used the move Jim had promised to teach him today. Jesus.
With an unintelligible scream, Christopher slammed his fist into Len’s head again and again. In the months since Len had first begged him not to leave marks on his face, Chris had become adept at hitting places that would be covered by either hair or clothing, and he was far less concerned about the danger posed by the floor than Len had been. For every strike to the left side of his head, his right was slammed against the floor with dizzying force.
When he thought he would surely lose consciousness, the pounding stopped. Leonard looked up warily, disheartened to see that the carnal fury on Chris’ face was not gone. Suddenly, there were hands around his throat, and Chris was leaning over him, chest heaving. Panic shot through Leonard, and he grasped wildly at Chris’ hands. Chris squeezed tighter, closing off airflow completely. Eyes wide with panic, Leonard shook his head, trying to shove at Chris’ face. He pushed at his chin, shoving his face up and back, but the hands didn’t loosen even a little.
“Stop,” Chris growled. “Stop right now, Leonard! Stop fighting me! NOW!”
Somehow through the near-blinding terror, the idea broke through that if he obeyed, he might be allowed to breathe – and that if he didn’t stop, Chris might choke him to death. Defying instinct, he let his arms drop heavily to the floor, looking at Christopher with a silent, frightened plea. He didn’t let go right away, and tears blurred Len’s vision. Please. He mouthed the word, desperate, forcing himself to keep his arms still.
Still squeezing, Chris leaned close, looking directly into Leonard’s eyes, matching terror with pure fury. “If you ever… ever-” and he squeezed even tighter to emphasize his point – “EVER raise your hand to me again, I will kill you.”
Leonard wasn’t sure if he nodded his understanding or shook his head in a promise never to do it again. His vision was getting spotty, and his head was so muddled with fear and lack of oxygen that he couldn’t tell what he was doing anymore. Chris glared at him for a few more seconds, until Leonard’s chest started heaving spasmodically, reflexively trying to draw in air. Finally, Chris let go, and Len took a heaving breath, the air raking across his inflamed trachea. He held his hands protectively to his throat and rolled over, not quite sure when Christopher had stood up, but grateful that he had.
He wasn’t sure how long he lay on the floor gasping and sobbing, mentally reeling from fear and an overwhelming sense of hurt. Christopher threatened to kill me. I love him. Oh God. Without warning, his stomach lurched, and whatever remained undigested from last night’s dinner spilled out onto the floor.
“Oh, Christ!” Panic seized him, and he scrambled away from the direction of the voice, fearful of another attack. When he dared to look up, Christopher was looking at the small puddle with disgust. He trained his eyes on Leonard, and the doctor cringed and edged even further back. Chris didn’t come for him, but the stern frown on his face was enough to set him shaking again. “Go clean up,” he said, using their unofficial euphemism for patching up the wounds. “I’ll deal with this.” He waved a hand at the mess and the broken porcelain.
Leonard was a little embarrassed at having someone else clean up his vomit stain, but he was not about to contradict anything Christopher said at that moment – not even for something as minor as offering to clean up his own mess when Chris had already said he’d take care of it. He backed up until he hit the single step that had started this whole mess. Awkwardly, fighting strong waves of nausea and dizziness, he pulled himself to his feet. The moment he was upright, he felt himself start to sway. He gripped the wall to steady himself, pressing a hand to the side of his pounding head. He registered, after a moment, that his palm was wet. He pulled his hand away and stared at the bright red stain in horror.
“Fuck!” A second later, Chris had him – one arm around his waist, and his other hand gripping Leonard’s wrist, stilling its shaking. “Come on,” he said sharply. “One foot in front of the other, McCoy.”
Leonard obeyed, letting Chris half-support, half-lead him to the bathroom. He sat on the small stool Chris kept in the spacious bathroom, and watched in a daze while Chris pulled out the oh-so-familiar med-kit. There was a small tissue-sealer in the kit that he’d used for minor cuts in the past. Leonard watched Chris turn it on, realizing for the first time that he’d never thought to question why he had such a large, high quality and always well-stocked medical supply kit.
He felt an irrational twinge of irritation when Chris gently dabbed his head with a wet cloth, wiping away the blood. This was his territory. This was his private time, to be alone with himself - to proverbially (and literally) lick his wounds. Chris must have been reading his thoughts, because he said softly, “I’m going to seal this up, then I’ll be out of your way.” He worked quickly and with infinite gentleness – those powerful hands slowly, carefully moving his hair out of the way to expose the wound, just as if they hadn’t recently been tightened around his neck.
Leonard’s eyes filled with tears again, and he watched Chris’ face in the mirror – the set, not-quite-grim look of concentration – as he applied the sealer with expert precision. A sob escaped when Chris gently kissed his head. “There. Done.”
He stepped away, and Leonard impulsively grasped his hand. “Chris,” he croaked out.
Chris looked down at him inquisitively, and Leonard couldn’t keep the imploring look out of his glistening eyes. He couldn’t voice what he needed, but Chris seemed to understand. He gave him a half-smile, and another gentle kiss on the head. “I love you.”
Leonard smiled back, tears finally falling as relief washed over him. “Love you too,” he said, wincing against the pain in his throat.
Chris brushed a hand gently down the side of his face, held his gaze for a moment, then left him alone. Leonard set about evaluating himself and repairing the rest of the damage that he could reach on his own. He usually worked to keep from thinking too hard during his time alone, but he worked especially hard at that this time. He focused on the task at hand, watching his own hands, using the mirror to get a full view of what needed to be done, managing to do so without looking himself in the eye. His hands moved methodically through the two kits – Christopher’s and his own – administering analgesic, applying topicals, injecting anti-inflammatory, like a rhythmic, physical form of meditation. When everything had been addressed, he began packing things away, taking his time over this ritual as well, focusing especially hard on the physical aspect and blocking all thought.
He was interrupted by a short tap on the door. Frowning nervously, he looked toward the sound. “Yes?”
Chris poked his head in, looking apologetic. “Len, Lora called.” Fear! Chris saw and shook his head. “Everything’s okay. She said she was supposed to call you this morning so you could talk to your father? She called the dorm and Jim told her you were here.”
Len sagged slightly, visibly relieved. A second later, though, he was twisted with shame and humiliation. He looked down at himself and touched the darkening, finger-shaped bruises on his neck. He couldn’t miss this call – his father – not today. He looked back at Chris. “Do you… can I borrow a shirt?”
Chris gave him a bemused smile. “You must still be foggy from last night,” he said. “You packed your own.” He stepped inside long enough to give him his own navy turtleneck, and a pair of dark slacks. “I’ll let her know you’ll just be a few minutes. You can take her in my study.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, staring at the shirt. When he heard the door close, he released the fresh tears, sinking down, and resting his head in his hands. Jim. God have mercy, Jim had packed him a long-sleeved turtleneck during the hottest part of spring. Gratitude, mingled with deep humiliation, coiled in his center, and he struggled to move past the feelings and pull himself together.
After a few minutes, Leonard donned the shirt, pulled on his pants, and straightened his hair. His face was still red from where Chris had slapped him, but he was already coming up with an excuse for that. He took a moment to put some eye drops in, hoping to reduce the redness and swelling a little. When he was as presentable as he could be, he headed for the study, nodding his thanks again to Chris, who was busy running the cleaner over the living room floor.
When he sat down at the desk and took his mother off hold, she gasped. “Len, honey, you look awful! Are you all right?”
He managed a smile. “Didn’t get much sleep last night,” he said. “But I’m fine. How are you? How’s Daddy?”
“Better today,” she answered. She pressed a key, and the screen widened to include his father, reclining in a hover chair.
Len smiled broadly, hiding his intense grief at seeing his father looking so pale and tired. “Hey, Daddy!”
David McCoy smiled, and his face light up like a starfield. “Mornin’, son,” he said. His mother smiled warmly at his father, then back at him, and he knew from her expression that his dad must not have been this animated since the news was broken about the treatment. “What’ve you done to yourself? You been drinking?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied sheepishly.
“You gotta watch that devil, son. Don’t overdo it, hear? It’s plenty of fun until you get so much in you that it starts destroying your life.”
Leonard nodded seriously. “Yes, sir, I know.” Do I ever.
His father grinned. “Now enough of that! Tell me all about your classes, and Academy Medical, and Christopher’s doings. And what’s that lunatic roommate of yours been up to?”
He laughed at his father’s barrage of questions, managing not to wince at the soreness in his throat, and the reminder of what had caused it. He focused on keeping his daddy upbeat, and proceeded to give his parents the (edited) rundown of his life since their last communication.
The rest of the day was characteristically peaceful. Chris let Leonard rest most of the day, and Len noticed that he took care not to force him to talk much. He was grateful for the consideration, and by the time Chris took him back to Academy grounds, he’d managed to convince himself that things weren’t as bad as they’d seemed earlier that day. He was even able to shove aside the “denial” alarm that flailed in the background of his mind. He was becoming almost as much of an expert at doing that as he was at classifying Christopher’s moods into levels of relative safety.
What he hadn’t quite mastered yet was the art of facing Jim after a bad day at Chris’ house. When he stepped into the room and saw the happy greeting die on his friend’s lips as he saw what he’d worn home, all the awful feelings of the day rushed back to him, and he slumped into the nearest chair. They didn’t speak – they never said much at these times, and Jim seemed to know that Len wasn’t up to even a few words at the moment. Jim took his bag and put it away, then appeared a moment later with a double shot of brandy. He sat on the arm of the chair Len occupied and waited while he tossed back the alcohol.
There was a gentle nudge against his shoulder, and then Jim was leading him to bed. He didn’t fight. There wasn’t any point to it and he didn’t want to anyway. It felt good to submit to someone he knew would never hurt him. He frowned at the thought and shoved it away, frustrated at the reminder that the man he loved apparently couldn’t, or wouldn’t, fulfill such a role.
Leonard lay down on the bunk, fully clothed. Jim no longer tried to get him to disrobe. His friend knelt at the foot of the bunk and took off Leonard’s boots and socks, before covering him with the blanket. Then Jim took his seat on the side of the bed, keeping his eyes somewhere on the opposite wall. Leonard was again grateful that Jim knew him so well. He knew it would be too hard for him to face Jim’s eyes just then. Len stared at the ceiling, taking comfort in the warm presence beside him, listening to Jim’s regular breathing, until he felt sleepy enough to close his eyes.
Leonard removed his shirt and looked at himself in the full-length mirror in the private area of their quarters, just outside the bathroom. Five days after his last fight with Chris, most of the bruises had darkened. They stood out sharply against his pale skin – paler than usual since he spent most of his time in long sleeves even when he wasn’t in his academy uniform. He still had a difficult time looking at his neck. The pain from those darkening bruises reached far deeper than the physical ache.
I love you. He closed his eyes and pictured Chris saying those words. The warmth in his eyes and voice was almost palatable. It counteracted the chill of fear those bruises evoked – the nausea that plagued him every time he remembered those hands, pressing and squeezing against him, and that wild face screaming at him to stop fighting. If you EVER… Len shuddered and forced his mind to turn to the gentle version of Chris before opening his eyes again.
He reached for his topical cream, but froze when his mind processed what he saw in the mirror. Jim was behind him, just to the right of the partition, gaping – eyes wide with shock and horror. Leonard whirled to face him, and their eyes met. He shrank under that open, pitying gaze. Never had he felt so naked and exposed as he did at that moment. He opened his mouth – wanted to say… what? He wanted to excuse himself – to excuse Chris. Wanted to comfort Jim and help get that horrified look off his face. But nothing came out. Jim finally turned away and walked quickly back toward the living area.
The spell broken, Leonard put his shirt back on, took a deep breath and went out to meet his friend. Jim stood with his back to Len, stiff and completely still. He approached him slowly and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Jim. I… It’s… it’s not as bad-”
“Don’t,” Jim said vehement but very quiet. He touched Len’s hand without turning. “Don’t lie to me, Bones.”
Leonard felt as if all the hair had been pushed out of him. His hand trembled, and he felt his stomach tightening with shame. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Jim shook his head, gave Len’s hand a tight squeeze. When he finally turned around, his eyes were red and shining, but his expression was hard – determined. Len was suddenly, inexplicably afraid – pinned by those fierce eyes, and the firm hand still holding his own. “Bones,” Jim said at last. “I…” He closed his eyes briefly. “I… I want you to leave him.”
Leonard recoiled, drawing his hand away. “Jim… you… you can’t ask-”
“I am asking,” he said fervently. “Leave him, Bones. You have to.”
“You have to!” He took Leonard by the shoulders and looked hard at him. “Bones, listen to me. I’ve tried to be a good friend to you. I’ve tried to give you your space, and maybe… maybe I shouldn’t have been silent for so long, but I just can’t take this anymore! I…” His eyes began to glisten again. “I can’t stand seeing you like this! Seeing what he’s doing to you.”
“Jim, he’s…” Len swallowed. “We… we just fight a lot, and…”
“Bones, please.” Leonard held his breath - overwhelmed by his fervor. “Please stop doing this.”
“Stop letting him do this!” He squeezed Len’s shoulders almost painfully tight. “I’m scared, Bones. I’m scared one day it’s not gonna be you coming to the door. It’ll be Academy Security, or SFPD to tell me you’re… dead.” He practically choked on the word.
Len shook his head and pulled away. “Jim, he’d never do that,” he said.
“What the f-”
“He’d never go that far!”
“What the fuck are you talking about Bones?” Jim cried. “He already went that far! He had his hands around your neck long enough and hard enough to leave bruises! How much farther does he have to go before you start protecting yourself? You’re a doctor! You’ve got a fucking psych degree, for God’s-”
“Jim, don’t judge me!” he cried, backing up again. He wasn’t sure if he was backing away from Jim, or from the harsh truth being laid out. “You don’t understand!”
“I’m trying, Bones, but this… it’s killing me! You come home in pain more often than you come home smiling. If this goes on much longer he’s going to-”
“He will!” Jim shouted. “Bones, please,” he said in a gentler tone. He reached out, and drew a step closer. “Don’t do this anymore. I know you think he loves you-”
“He does love me!” Leonard shouted – a nearly panicked sound.
“Okay, he does! But it doesn’t matter.” Leonard shook his head, but Jim kept talking. “It doesn’t matter how much he loves you, if he won’t treat you any better than this!”
“Jim, this… it’s the exception. Normally-”
“That’s not true and you know it! He’s been doing this to you for almost two years now, and it’s getting worse!”
“No, Jim, you-”
“It’s true! And it won’t stop! It will never stop, Bones. Leave him. Stop going back to him!”
“No, Jim!” The very idea filled him with fear. “I can’t leave him. He loves me!“God damn it, Bones, I love you!”
Silence. Words hanging in air, reverberating through the space between them, while the two men stared at one another. Leonard had stopped breathing. Jim’s eyes were wide – his breathing ragged – his face suddenly pale. “Jim.” A hoarse, barely audible whisper.
Jim swallowed. “I… I… y-you’re my best friend, Bones. Of c-course I love you.”
He breathed again. The room lost the tangible, electric charge that had coursed through it when the words had meant something else. Now, they meant what they should – and Leonard clung to that new meaning like a lifeline – another thread to help keep his tightly woven illusion from unraveling. “I know you do, Jim. I… I love you, too. But… he…”
“Bones, no. Please. The next time he calls you, don’t answer.” He must have seen the horror on Leonard’s face, because he immediately said, “I can help you! We can report him together, then he can’t hurt you anymore. They’ll help him see why what he’s doing to you is wrong!”
Leonard was already shaking his head again. “No, no, I don’t want… there’s nothing to report! He just… he got carried away last week, and-”
“Carried away? Jesus, Bones, listen to yourself! What about the other bruises from before Thursday? The ones that are close to two weeks old? What about them? You know damn well what it means when someone has bruising in different phases of healing, Doctor McCoy!”
“You know what it means!” he yelled again. “If you saw it happening to someone else, you’d file the report yourself! Why won’t you do it when it’s happening to you? Why don’t you-”
“Jim, don’t condemn me for wanting to be happy! He-”
“Happy? Open your eyes, McCoy! You’re telling me you’re happy that you had to spend the weekend in Georgia at the beginning of summer wearing nothing but turtlenecks?!”
“That you had to lie to your parents! Tell them you had a fever when it was all to cover for-”
“Jim, that’s enough! I love him, god damn it, and if you can’t handle that, then maybe you can’t handle being my friend!”
Jim stiffened – stung. He glared at Leonard with a coldness that sent a chill through him. “You’re right. I can’t.”
He turned and stormed toward the door. Leonard watched him, a horrible feeling of desperation welling up inside him. He took a step forward, almost as if he’d been propelled, against his will. His chest heaved. Wait. Please. Don’t leave me.
Jim paused at the door, almost as if he’d heard the pleas that had stuck in Leonard’s throat. He turned his head slightly – just enough to glance at Len without facing him head on. Just enough for Leonard to see the pain in his eyes – the glistening trail of the tears he’d been fighting staining his cheek. Then he was gone. The soft, gentle hiss of the door as it closed behind him felt as sharp and as final as the slamming of a manual door, but infinitely more melancholy.
Leonard backed slowly into a chair and sat down. He never took his eyes off the door, as if staring at it could bring back the rash words – bring back his only friend. Only. It was a sobering word, all the more devastating because it wasn’t some melodramatic exaggeration. It was the truth. He swallowed hard, trying to shove past the lump developing in his throat.
He was startled by the sound of his personal line – the tone designated to Chris. He sent up a silent prayer of thanks that Chris hadn’t bothered to call his dormitory comm line. He wouldn’t have to worry about Chris noticing any redness in his eyes, or discomfort showing through in his expression. Shoving away a surprising pang of guilt he grabbed the phone, cleared his throat, and opened the connection. “Hey, baby,” he said, forcing a smile. “How are you?”
“I’m great! There’s a busted valve in the Communications building, so my Command Diplomacy classes were both cancelled.”
“That’s great!” he said, with a cheer he certainly didn’t feel. Now he knew why Jim had come back so early.
“Wanna grab some lunch?”
“Sure, I’d love to. Meet you at your spot in about… thirty minutes?”
“Hmmm. Can you make it twenty?” he asked sweetly. “I’m starved.”
“Yeah, that’s no problem,” he said quickly, already ticking off what he could cut from his routine to get dressed and out on time. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes or less.”
“Thanks, baby. See you soon.”
The second he got off the phone, Leonard became a whirlwind of activity. He found something to wear that covered enough skin, but would still look nice enough to be presentable next to Chris’ uniform. He put his analgesic gel, and anti-inflammatory cream away – no time to address his wounds now. He did a hasty check of his med-kit, grabbed his wallet, tossed both into his small satchel and sped out of the dorm, pulling on his boots as he went.
He made it to Christopher’s car just as Chris was setting his satchel in the trunk. “Got room for one more?” he asked with a smile.
Chris grinned and stowed Len’s bag away, before giving him a deep kiss. Chris held him close, and Leonard was almost able to forget his depression about Jim. Almost. Still, despite the sadness lingering at the back of his mind, he managed to have a pleasant lunch with Chris at one of their favorite restaurants.
After lunch, Chris invited him to the house. “I’m free all afternoon,” he said with a wink
“I’d love it,” Len replied. “I have Interspecies Relationships this evening, but…”
“Oh, that class is a load of crap. I think they’re just showing a documentary today, right?”
“Uh… yeah, they are,” he said. He’d long since given up being surprised when Chris knew exactly what was happening in his classes – sometimes before he did. Still, he didn’t much like the idea of missing class. It was a required class and the teacher was an asshole who counted multiple absences against them. But it had the unique benefit of being one of the very few classes in his academy career that he shared with Jim Kirk.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” Chris was saying. “I’ll get Jameson to give me a copy of it, and you can watch it tomorrow.”
Len forced a smile. “Okay, babe,” he said. “I’d appreciate that.” He suppressed a sigh. Maybe it was just as well that he wouldn’t be going. Jim probably didn’t want to see his face right now anyway.
Chris stroked his leg, then held him in their usual driving position – one hand firmly on his thigh, other hand steering. Len covered Chris’ hand with his own and squeezed him slightly. He knew exactly why Chris wanted to take him to the house. He wasn’t really in the mood for an afternoon tryst today, but he knew he needed to correct that before they got to the house. He had never once refused Christopher since the last incident, and he wasn’t about to invite that kind of trouble now. Still, he hadn’t been with Chris since their last fight, even though they’d spoken over the phone every day since, and he felt just a little nervous about going back to the house with him. Not to mention, of course, his sullenness over Jim.
He tried to focus on things he knew usually worked to improve his mood, and make these kinds of situations easier. He tried visualizing a particularly tender evening with Chris, but he couldn’t focus on the images. All he could see was the brief, pained glance from Jim on his way out the door. All he could hear were those damning final words – You’re right. I can’t. He suppressed a sigh and stared out the window.
He jumped slightly and gave Chris a smile. “I’m all right.”
Chris shook his head and patted Len’s leg. “That’s bullshit. You think I can’t tell when you’re upset?”
He managed a slight chuckle, but his mind was racing. “No, I guess I can’t hide anything from you,” he said.
“No, you can’t. So spill it. What’s up?”
“Oh, I just had a little disagreement with Jim,” he said, trying to keep his voice light. “Just your average roommate stuff, but I got a little sharp with him. Guess I just feel a little bad about it.”
“Mmm.” He was quiet for a while, staring straight ahead. He was silent for so long, Len began to feel slightly nervous.
He took Chris’ hand and kissed his fingers. “Anyway, it’s no big deal. Sorry if I’ve been bad company.”
Chris shook his head. “If it’s on your mind, it’s on your mind,” he said. He glanced at Leonard and gave him a small smile. “But I wouldn’t worry too much about Jim. He’s a grown man. He’ll get over it.”
“You’re right,” he said, giving Christopher’s hand a squeeze before letting go.
“You know, you could always just leave.”
He froze. “Leave?”
“Yeah. Leave him. Get a different roommate.”
“I…” He felt his stomach tighten. “Well, I don’t think it’s that bad,” he said. “I mean-”
“Not that bad?! Here we have the perfect opportunity to be together, and all you can do is mope about him!”
He squeezed Len’s leg hard, and Leonard jumped. He was nervous, but he couldn’t abandon Jim. If he hadn’t let Jim talk him into leaving Chris, he certainly wasn’t about to let Chris talk him into ending his friendship with Jim. If there was a way to fix the mess he’d made earlier, he couldn’t let Chris bully him out of at least trying to make things right. He’d just have to diffuse this quickly with Chris before it went too far. “Chris, baby,” he said, struggling to keep his voice calm. “I’m really sorry I haven’t been such great company. But I’ll fix it, okay? It’s just… Jim’s my best friend. He-”
“I’m your best friend!!”
The car swerved and Leonard gasped. Chris was glaring at him, not even looking at the road. “Chris! The car!”
Chris turned back to the street long enough to pull over. Leonard edged back against the door, starting to breathe harder. “Why are you so damned determined to stay with him?” Chris shouted, grabbing his arm and jerking him viciously. “What the fuck is going on between you two?”
“Nothing, Chris! He’s my friend, that’s all. But-”
“If he’s just a friend, why the fuck won’t you switch roommates?”
“What the fuck could you possibly have argued about that keeps you thinking about him when we’re spending time together?”
“Chris, please,” he said softly, feeling his body start to tremble. “Please don’t be angry with me. I’m t-telling you the truth. It was just… it wasn’t anything.”
Christopher seethed, squeezing his arm so hard he cried out in pain. “Don’t you lie to me, Leonard.”
“I’m not,” he said, voice tight with fear. “Chris, it… it’s h-hard to change rooms mid-semester. I… I really don’t want to d-do that to him, okay? Not over something s-so trivial.” Chris squeezed him even tighter, and he cried out again. “Please, Chris. Please, I… I’ll stop being so sullen. I just can’t-”
“Fine,” he said darkly. He pulled Leonard closer, still hold his arm in his iron grip, smoky eyes fierce. “You just keep your fucking head straight, you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” he said meekly.
Christopher glared at him for a few seconds before finally letting go and pulling back into traffic. Leonard slowly sat back in his seat, still shaking slightly, trying to get his breathing under control. When he’d calmed down enough to speak again, and when he felt enough time had passed, he put a smile on his face and said, “So! Tell me more about this leak. How long are we going to get to steal Tuesday mornings?”
Chris stared at him for a few seconds, and Leonard froze his smile in place. Finally Chris smiled and Leonard relaxed a little. “Well, I’m sure they’ll have it done by the time the weekend’s over. But that means we’ll have Thursday, too.”
“Nice! Here’s hoping it takes forever.”
Chris laughed and patted his leg. Len relaxed completely, and focused on keeping up his side of the conversation. By the time they reached the house, Chris was smiling and laughing, and Leonard was able to shove aside his fears from their brief argument.
Conversation was forgotten almost immediately once they were inside. Chris grabbed him and began peppering him with kisses the moment the door closed behind them. Len embraced him and returned the kisses. Christopher’s warm, vibrant affection began to drive away his sadness and guilt about Jim. He loved the boy for his concern, and he wanted to patch things up if he could, but… it would be okay. Things with Chris would be fine. All he had to do was keep his head together, and avoid doing the things that set him off, and he wouldn’t have any more issues. Keep your fucking head straight.
His internal “denial” alarm went off immediately, but he intentionally gazed into Christopher’s hypnotizing eyes and allowed them to work their magic. Chris looked lovingly at him, and kissed him deeply. They made their way to the bedroom without letting one another go. Even when they started peeling off clothes, they undressed each other so they didn’t have to stop touching one another.
Chris paused slightly when he pulled Leonard’s shirt over his head. Len had seen the look before – a mingling of shock and remorse at the damage he’d caused. He always looked that way when he saw Leonard disrobed a few days after a fight. Always. It will never stop, Bones. If Chris noticed his sudden discomfort, he didn’t mention it. He traced his finger lightly over Leonard’s neck, shaking his head. “I love you,” he murmured.
Len smiled and took Chris’ face in his hand, drawing his eyes up from his neck. “Love you, too,” he said softly. He pulled Chris into a kiss, then lowered himself back onto the bed. Christopher admired him for a few moments before joining him.
Chris handled him tenderly, moving slow, and using a gentle touch. Even still, Leonard was sore almost all over, and it was difficult to move past his own tension. He did his best, and despite the fact that Chris couldn’t avoid hurting him no matter how gentle he was, Len still managed to enjoy himself. He lay beside Chris, head resting on his chest. He breathed in the sensual smells, and reveled in the feeling of his own damp skin against Christopher’s.
“You weren’t yourself today,” Chris said.
Len stiffened slightly. “W-weren’t… weren’t you satisfied?” he asked hesitantly.
“Oh, nothing like that, baby,” he said, stroking Leonard’s arm reassuringly. “You just seemed tense, that’s all.”
“Oh. I…” He faltered, not sure what to say. He didn’t want to mention the bruises – didn’t want to seem like he blamed Chris for anything. “I…”
“I thought maybe you were still upset about Jim.”
Leonard felt a shock of fear, but he quickly forced out a laugh. “Believe me, sweetheart,” he said, giving Chris’ chest a playful nibble. “When I’m in bed with you, Jim Kirk is the farthest thing from my mind.”
Chris chuckled, and grasped him by the base of his neck. Len froze for a second, but relaxed when Chris gently but firmly pressed his mouth back to his chest. Leonard happily obliged him, licking and sucking until Chris was writhing, panting and ready to start again. Round two was a bit more frenetic, with plenty of heedless grasping, gripping and growling on both sides.
Finally, they collapsed, spent, on the bed. Len dozed, completely and thoroughly comfortable. At some point, he felt Chris move off the bed. He rolled over, still half asleep, and reached into the space where Chris had been with a contented sigh. He let himself drift, just breathing, feeling Chris’ smooth sheets, and thinking about nothing.
Some time later, he was awakened by a firm hand gripping his ankle. He opened his eyes, thinking Chris must have stumbled. Before he could even turn his head, he heard a guttural growl, and he was yanked bodily off the bed. He hit the floor hard, and his head snapped back, striking hard as well. “Fuck, who-” He tried to back up, but whoever it was dragged him down forcefully away from the bed, sending his head back against the floor again. Len hissed, alarmed by the sharp pain in the still-tender wounds his head had already endured last week. He stretched up to look, hoping fervently that his attacker was a burglar or a random kidnapper, and somehow knowing exactly what he would see.
The sight of the infuriated face of his lover dashed those hopes, and made his stomach clench. “You lying son of a bitch,” he growled, voice vibrating with pure fury. Chris dropped Len’s leg and he immediately shrank away. Chris was on top of him in less than a second. “LIAR!” he screamed, slamming his foot down on Leonard’s stomach. Len curled in on himself, trying to squeeze himself under the bed. Chris grabbed his arm and dragged him back, still screaming. “You fucking filthy liar!!!”
“What did I do?” he cried, trying unsuccessfully to pull away without grabbing at Chris’ hand. He’d learned the hard way that trying to force Chris to let go usually made things worse.
“Don’t play dumb with me, you goddamn lying motherfucker!” he screamed.
Leonard cringed, and struggled to stop Chris from dragging him across the floor. “Please, baby, please tell-”
“Shut up!” Chris punched him squarely in the mouth to emphasize the point. “You expect me to believe you don’t know? ” Another swift punch to his mouth, and he could taste blood. Chris let him go abruptly, and Leonard edged back slightly, putting a hand to his throbbing mouth. “THIS is what I’m talking about, you dirty son of a bitch!” he screamed, shoving something small and black into his face. Leonard recognized his personal phone, but before he could see anything else, Chris threw it forcefully against the wall. It cracked, falling into at least three pieces on the floor. “JIM KIRK!” he screamed. “You didn’t have any fucking ‘average roommate’ argument! You had a goddamn lover’s spat, didn’t you?”
Leonard shook his head. “No, Chris, I’d n-never-”
“LIES!” With a growl, he reached back and punched Len again, hard enough to send him reeling back against the floor. He struggled to get to his feet, barely managing to get back into a semi seated position before Christopher was in his face again. “How long have you been fucking him?!” he shouted, backhanding him harshly.
“I haven’t,” Leonard cried, somewhere between a terrified plea and an indignant shout. “I’ve n-never been unfaithful to you, Chris, I s-swear, I-”
“STOP LYING TO ME!!!”
He cowered, holding up a shaking hand in a meager defense against Christopher’s fierce rage. He edged back, but Chris was on him again, punching him again and again in his chest and on his head. Leonard defended himself as best he could, but he could feel himself weakening quickly, both from the physical pain, and from the emotional weight that seemed to crush him. This was not fair. He’d been threatened and beaten countless times for insignificant transgressions and suspicions, but he’d always been able to see his own fault in the situation somehow – even if he had to work hard to make the same logic leaps that Chris had clearly made. Now, though, he was being pounded on top of bruises that were still sore even at the lightest touch, and all for something he hadn’t done with a man he couldn’t even call friend anymore, much less lover.
Thinking of Jim just then brought tears to his eyes. Images of him speaking those final words and walking out the door flashed between the sight of Chris’ enraged face, swift-flowing blows and his unintelligible sounds of fury. He let the sobs come out, beyond any thought of shame when it came to crying in front of Chris. It never mattered anyway.
Chris paused after a few seconds, but Leonard didn’t dare move. Suddenly, hands grasped his hair, and he was being dragged again. He struggled, but his head was so tender from the wounds last week, and the many blows he’d been dealt today that it almost hurt too much to resist. “Cheating son of a bitch,” he growled.
“Bastard! Were you fucking him this morning?! HUH?”
“No, Chris, no!”
“Did you fuck him, then come to my house to fuck me right after, you dirty bastard?? ” He dragged him forcefully out of the room, and down the hall toward god only knew what. Leonard was so disoriented he couldn’t tell where they were going.
“Please, Chris, let go, let-”
“I warned you!” he screamed, jerking Leonard up suddenly and slamming his head against… who knew? Something hard and apparently sharp enough to set his head bleeding. Fuck! He was jerked back, long enough to see the dining table before it came slamming up to meet his forehead again. “I warned you, didn’t I?!”
“I told you what I would do if you fucked around on me!” He tossed Leonard roughly to the floor. “Did you think I was playing with you??”
Leonard cringed and shook his head. He was dizzy, he could barely focus on what was in front of him, but he definitely remembered what Chris threatened to do – I will break you. “Chris, please, please believe me. I… I d-didn’t-”
“Shut your fucking mouth!” He punched Len again, and his head slammed against the leg of the table. The dizziness got worse, and he fought a wave of nausea. He reeled when Chris punched him once more, and his body’s reaction filled him with fear. As he hit the floor, a terrifying thought occurred to him. I may not survive this. He thought immediately of his daughter, then of Jim’s frightened words. It’ll be Academy security, or SFPD…
There was no third blow. He heard movement – a door opening, something banging. When he looked in the direction of the noises, he saw Chris rummaging through the broom closet. He pulled out what looked like a basic wooden broom handle, nodded as if he found it acceptable, and turned back to Leonard. Len shook his head again. “No,” he pleaded. “Chris, don’t, don’t!”
Christopher ignored him, the insane gleam in his eye sending a violent shudder through Leonard’s body. He scrambled back, but Chris was much too fast for him. He rushed him and grabbed his right wrist tightly. He looked Len directly in the eyes, malice emanating from those cloudy eyes like a palatable, overpowering force. Leonard could feel tears pouring from his own eyes, and he was shaking so hard he couldn’t make himself speak. All he could do was shake his head, letting out an unintelligible whimper. “I warned you, Leonard,” he said softly. He yanked Len’s arm straight up and raised the wooden stick.
“Don’t!” Leonard cried, struggling to pull away. “No, no, no, please! ” Chris brought the handle down with all his force, and Leonard screamed as he heard the crack of the heavy wood against his elbow. He knew immediately that it was broken – didn’t need to see that the handle had been brought down so hard it had splintered and broken in two. It was that kind of pain. Sickening, overwhelming, horrifying, and accompanied by an innate knowledge that his body was not as it should be. He tried to pull back, but Chris held him fast. He tossed the broken handle down in disgust, grasped Leonard’s little finger and jerked it back with a sickening crack. Leonard screamed again, then again when Chris broke his ring finger on the same hand.
Chris gripped his middle finger, and Leonard’s fear rose to pure panic. He struggled violently to pull away, frantically pushing at Chris with his good arm. Even now, he couldn’t bring himself to actually strike at him, thanks to his vivid memories of Chris’ threat to kill him if he raised a hand against him again. He screamed for help, praying that his voice would carry far enough to reach the street and passer-by would hear.
Christopher let go of his arm long enough to work on beating the fight out of Leonard. He slammed his fist into Leonard’s diaphragm, knocking the wind out of him. Before he could recover, Chris punched him once more in the same place. There was another blow to his mouth, then directly against his temple, then his eye. He reeled, so dizzy and nauseous he could barely see. He wasn’t sure whether or not he was still screaming, but Chris didn’t let up even then. He punched him repeatedly in the chest, setting fire to the already searing pain from his earlier blows.
When he finally stopped, Leonard was so dazed he barely registered Chris grasping his right wrist again. A moment later, excruciating pain shot through his arm, and Chris had taken hold of his middle finger again. He snapped it back with an audible crack, and Len screamed again. His index finger was next. The pain became a blur, then. He knew Chris was breaking his thumb, he knew he was screaming and crying, he assumed the words coming out of his mouth were something akin to “please stop”, but his mind was so flooded with pain and fear that he was absolutely incoherent, and he couldn’t distinguish the pain in his arm from the pain in his hand, and the pain from his many head and chest wounds. His entire body seemed to be crying out in agony with him.
At some point, Chris let him go, and he dropped to the floor. He heard more rummaging sounds, but he was NOT about to wait around to figure out what Chris was going to pull out next – something to help break his left arm, no doubt. He was certain now. If he didn’t get out, he would die. Blind instinct took over, and he turned quickly, pushed himself up with his left hand, and started to run. He stumbled at first, dizzy from getting up so quickly, but the knowledge that it would only be a few seconds before Chris noticed he’d moved kept him on his feet.
He’d just made it back to the bedroom when he heard a terrifying scream from the kitchen. Shit. “LEONARD!” Fuck! “WHERE ARE YOU!??”
He scrambled into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. He tapped the lock pad and cleared his throat slightly. “Emergency Medical Technician override.”
“Please enter authorization code.”
Leonard winced at the loud voice of the computer, but quickly entered the code, and said, “No entry including registered owner.”
Leonard leaned against the door, breathing a sigh of relief. A second later, there was a slam on the door, followed by a frustrated scream. “OPEN!”
Len scrambled back, but the computer didn’t fail him. “You are not registered emergency medical personnel. Access denied.”
“What the… I own this house! Override command!”
Leonard turned away from the door, blocking out the pleasant voice of the computer refusing Chris’ request. He yanked out Chris’ med-kit, dosed himself with the strongest pain killers he could find that wouldn’t put him to sleep, and grabbed some gauze. He moved to put the wrap in his pocket, then realized he was still naked.
“LEONARD, YOU OPEN THIS GODDAMN DOOR!”
He flung open one of the tall cabinets and pulled out the first pair of lounge pants he put his hands on, and struggled to get them on one-handed. He heard Chris pounding furiously on the door, and had to struggle not to heave. He tossed his personal med-kit over his shoulder, but left the other medical supplies where they were – there was no more time. Christopher was a starship captain – a tactical genius. It wouldn’t be long before his analytical skills worked their way through his furious haze, and he realized he could still get in through the outside window.
Len grabbed the small stool he used to sit on to dress his wounds and dragged it to the window. His stomach churned at the thought of what he was about to go through, but the screams still coming from the bedroom spoke of a far more horrible fate if he didn’t get out NOW. He avoided looking at his arm – looking at it would only make it hurt worse. He steadied himself against the wall, climbed onto the stool and struggled through the bathroom window. Despite the nauseating pain in his arm, he managed to get himself into a semi-seated position on the window sill. He dropped into the patch of gravel outside the window, wincing more from the noise he’d made than the pain of the tiny rocks digging into his bare feet, and the sickening jarring of his arm. He didn’t want Chris to know he was out of the house too soon.
He didn’t wait even a moment to recover. His arm and head throbbed, the pain in his chest was sharp enough that he was sure Chris had broken at least three ribs, and he thought he might vomit at any moment, but he couldn’t stop. He was out, and there was only one thing to do now – run. He pelted as fast as he could go, straight across the lawn.
He was only vaguely relieved when he made it to the main road without hearing Chris following behind him. He still had no idea what to do. People were starting to stare at him, and he couldn’t blame them. He was practically blind in one eye from the swelling and the blood that continued to drip from his head, his right arm was starting to swell, and it was bent just ever so slightly wrong, and his bare chest and arms were covered with bruises. All of the fingers on his right arm were bent at wrong angles, obviously broken, and his whole hand was swollen. The sight of the damage to his arm, and the memory of Chris inflicting it, finally brought the bile to his throat. He threw up violently, right there on the sidewalk, sending white-hot pain through his battered torso. Knew I shouldn’t have looked.
He stumbled away from the spot and waved down a taxi-cab. A craft pulled up beside him, and the driver – a large, dark-skinned human – looked at him with wide eyes. “Just gimme one second,” he said, hopping out of the cab. He ran around to the other side and opened the back door. “I’ll get you somewhere safe, buddy,” he said, pulling a large plastic tarp from a compartment under the back seat. “Regulations,” he said apologetically, letting McCoy in once the seats and floor were completely covered.
“Thank you,” he said hoarsely, sitting down, gingerly protecting his arm as the cab driver shut the door for him.
The driver hopped back in and locked the doors. “San Francisco General?” he asked.
“No!” Leonard said, panic rising again. “No hospitals, he… he’ll…”
“Okay, don’t worry about it,” he said. “Let’s get you away from here first, okay? I’ll get you to the nearest police station, and-”
“No, please, I… I d-don’t want to go to the police.”
The man frowned at him through the rear-view mirror. When he spoke again, his voice was harsh – mistrustful. “Listen, Mr…”
“McCoy,” Leonard said, feeling more and more nervous as the seconds ticked by. They weren’t moving yet, and Chris would have to know he’d escaped the house by now.
“Mr. McCoy. I don’t mean to sound callous, but it doesn’t look like you have your credit ID on you. I…”
“It’s all right,” Leonard said, struggling without much success to calm down. His body shook violently, but he tried to smile for the driver – “Jason” according to his transport ID. “I know h-how this looks, Jason, but… I… I’m n-not a criminal or anything. I’m a Starfleet cadet, and I… I’m… h-having some… d-domestic… p-problems.” He stumbled over the words, eyes lowered, deeply ashamed. He felt his trembling increase as realized he had never once admitted that fact aloud before, ever – not even to himself. Leonard swallowed past a lump in his throat and cleared his throat. “Y-you… you can… access my account through my bio-ID. Do you h-have a retinal scanner, or a print scanner?”
“I’ve got a print-scanner,” the driver replied, voice not nearly as stern as it had been before. Leonard looked up, finally meeting the driver’s eyes through the mirror. He saw sympathy there, and it nearly brought tears to his eyes again. He reached forward, offering his left thumb to the driver. The man frowned, heavy brows furrowed over his dark eyes. He took Leonard gently by the wrist, wiped the blood off his trembling hand with a large alcohol swab and pressed his thumb to the scanner. He nodded, looking over the information on his readout. “Thank you, Mister… oh. Doctor McCoy.” He glanced back at Len with a slight smile. “Sorry to have sounded suspicious, but-”
“It’s no problem, sir,” he said. He glanced behind them nervously. “I understand, it’s… it’s just…”
“I gotcha,” Jason said, immediately taking the cue. He pulled out hastily into traffic. “I’ll just get away from this spot for now, but… is your… is somebody following you? Because I should know what the car looks like, in case…”
Leonard’s stomach lurched at the idea of Chris catching him, and he looked behind them again. Chris’ car was nowhere in sight. He sighed, and described the car for the driver. “Jason, if… if someone wanted to know who was in this cab right now, could they find out?”
“They can contact the company, and the dispatcher can check with me,” he said. “But the records don’t go into the system until the fare’s paid.”
“But didn’t I just pay?” he asked worriedly.
“It doesn’t get processed until we stop and you tell me you’re finished with my services,” Jason replied.
Leonard sighed with relief, but his nerves were still taught with fear. “Okay. Okay. Listen, if… if Christopher Pike, or… anybody from Starfleet asks who you’re carrying, please don’t tell them I’m here, okay?”
“I won’t give you away. But I can’t withhold records from the cops if they ask.” Leonard nodded. He looked at him through the rearview mirror again, deep concern in his eyes. “I really think you should go to a hospital, sir.”
“I will,” Len said. “When I’m safe, I will. Do… do you think I c-could use your comm line, please?”
“Sure.” He pressed a few buttons, and the comm facing the back seat lit up. “It’s usually extra, but I’ll waive it for you.”
“I appreciate that.” He looked down at the communication unit and dialed the first number that came to mind. When the ID photo of James Kirk flashed on the screen, he cringed at the young, smiling face. Dammit. He couldn’t call Jim. They weren’t friends anymore. Even though he knew Jim would help him no matter what, he couldn’t do this to him – couldn’t take advantage like that, calling on him now after ignoring Jim’s pleas had lead directly to this.
He disconnected just before the call went through, and thought for a moment. His head hurt terribly, and it was tough to think straight, even though the analgesic shots he’d taken were as strong as it got. Maybe he could call someone at the Academy. And… accuse one of their most valued and respected instructors – the man who was destined to be fleet captain. Right.
He didn’t know what to do, so he just let the cab driver drive – taking him on a winding trail through the city. He knew he needed medical care, but he was too afraid to go to the hospital. That would be the first place Chris would look. As for law enforcement, he would still end up at the hospital first. They’d have to take him there in the state he was in. He just needed a place to hide. Some shelter until he could be sure Chris wouldn’t be looking for him anymore.
“What?” Leonard asked sharply, a chill of fear shooting through him.
“Don’t turn around, but I think the car you told me about is following me.”
“Oh God,” Len whimpered, forcing himself to stare straight ahead. “Oh god, oh god, oh god! I… I can’t…” His breaths were suddenly coming in short, sharp gasps, and he struggled to calm down before he hyperventilated.
The driver glanced back at him, eyes filled with sympathy. “Okay,” he said calmly. “Don’t worry, Doctor. He’s only following us casually so far. We’ll be fine. Is it a man with salt and pepper hair, about fifty or so, with-”
“Yes, that’s him.” Tears filled his eyes. He wanted to duck and hide on the floor of the cab, but that could only raise Chris’ suspicions. But he’d recognize him sooner or later either way. “He’ll kill me,” he said, feeling his panic rise. “I…”
“Everything will be okay, Doc, just try to relax.” Incongruously, Jason spun the car into a hard right, jerking Leonard sideways across the seat. “Sorry,” he said, still speaking as calmly as if he was taking a leisurely tour through the Old San Francisco monuments. “But stay down, okay?”
“Yup, definitely not so casual anymore.”
“He followed us? He knows I’m here! Oh God help me.”
“He’s waving at me and making gestures like there’s something wrong with the cab.”
“No, no, it’s-”
“Don’t worry, I’m no fool. Listen, I’m going to lose him, all right? There’s going to be some serious jerking around back there, so brace yourself. Sorry in advance, it’ll probably hurt you pretty bad in the state you’re in. But when I tell you to get out of the car, get out quick, and hide right away, got it?”
“Got it,” he answered. No sooner had he taken hold of the door handle than the car began to swerve violently. Leonard closed his eyes, held tight to the door, and prayed. He wasn’t afraid of crashing. He was afraid of what would happen if Chris caught up to them. The swerving, and jerking and bumping seemed to go on for a full hour, but fear and pain had almost certainly warped his sense of time. Finally, the driver screeched to a halt. “Now, Doctor!”
Leonard shoved the door open, tumbled out of the car as fast as he could, and slammed it shut. He immediately ducked into the alley Jason had stopped in front of.
Jason waved, but he was already speeding away. Leonard backed further into the alley, and slipped behind a dumpster, out of sight of the main road. He heard another car speed by, but even though he was almost certain it was Chris’ car, he stayed perfectly still behind the dumpster for several minutes before finally daring to move.
He considered finding a hotel, but he had no anonymous credits with him, and he didn’t want to risk being found if Chris asked the right person a few questions. He didn’t want anyone to see him at all. Christopher would know how to investigate a missing person, and eventually, he would realize that the cab was empty except for the driver, and he would re-trace his trail and start asking if anyone had seen a bloody-faced man with a broken arm roaming around.
No. Maybe it was better to just stay here. Even if Chris did re-trace his steps, it wouldn’t make sense for him to delve into each and every alley along the road. This alley was narrow, and even though it was broad daylight outside, the tall buildings on either side kept the alley in twilight. He could stay here until nightfall, then… then… what? What did it matter now? He would think about what to do after that later.
He grabbed several pieces of stiff, not-as-disgusting-as-the-rest cardboard, and crept as far into the alley as he could while still being sheltered from view by one of the big cans. He fashioned a splint for his arm, using his own gauze from his medical kit. He re-set his fingers, gritting his teeth hard against the pain, and fashioned splints for them as well.
When he’d done what he could, he sat down on the ground, pressed himself back against the wall, and looked around him. He felt tears spring to his eyes again. My God, what is this? How can this be happening to me? He was a doctor. A well-respected doctor, at that. Intelligent, respected and well-liked by his colleagues, on his way to a promising career in one of the most esteemed organizations in the known galaxy. But here he was, crouching alone and terrified like a hunted animal, shivering behind a dumpster in a stinking alley-way. What kind of a man was he? He was a waste of space! How could he hope to travel the universe with Starfleet? Why did he think he was going to go out there and keep people sane in deep space, and help save lives? He couldn’t even be trusted with his own life!
He drew his knees up to his chin, wincing at the pain in his ribs and mindful of his broken arm, lowered his head and let the tears fall.
“Are you sure it was here?”
Leonard’s eyes snapped open. Voices. Who had just spoken?
“Yes, I’m sure of it.” The cab driver’s voice! Oh God. “I let him out right here.”
There were no more voices – only footsteps moving hastily down the alley. Leonard looked around him, but there was nothing even remotely resembling a weapon anywhere nearby. He curled tighter in on himself, trembling and feeling utterly sick. Only seconds later, the footsteps stopped, and there was a sharp gasp. “I told you it was bad,” came Jason’s voice again.
Leonard slowly looked up, almost afraid he would see Chris playing the part of shocked boyfriend. What he saw made his body rock with overwhelming relief mingled with a nearly overpowering sense of shame. He took one look at Jim’s horrified expression, and his own eyes filled with tears again. Jim was on his knees in front of him in a second, reaching for him, but obviously afraid to touch him. “Bones,” he whispered, his voice thick with emotion. “Oh god, what the hell did he do to you?”
Leonard forced himself to look up into Jim’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Jim,” he said. Jim shook his head, but didn’t speak. “I’m sorry. C-can you… please help me?”
The tears finally reached Jim’s eyes, and he nodded. “Of course,” he said, folding Leonard in a gentle embrace. “Of course I will.”
”Thank you,” he whispered. He leaned into Jim’s embrace, returning it with his working arm, trembling with intense relief and gratitude. He felt his own tears warm against his cheek as he rested in those warm, powerful, safe arms. “How… how did you find me,” he asked after a while.
“I missed a call from a taxi-cab,” Jim said softly, stroking Leonard’s back ever so lightly. “Didn’t make much sense, but then Chris called a little while ago saying you’d agreed to come by, but you never showed up. Since I knew he almost always picks you up if he’s already on campus, I felt something was wrong. I called the cabby’s number back, and when he made me promise I was in no way connected to Christopher Pike, I knew something was really wrong. He led me to you.”
Leonard looked over at the driver, and nodded his thanks. The man smiled. “I led that nutcase right to the nearest police station, after keeping him going for an hour or so,” he said. “He came to see who was in the cab all the same, and looked just furious when the car was empty.”
“He didn’t do anything to you, did he?”
“With a parking lot full of cops around? No, sir.”
“Thank you, Jason,” Len said.
Jason smiled again. “My pleasure, Doc.”
Jim stroked Leonard’s back again, and looked down at his arm. “Jesus, Bones, we really need to take you to the hospital.”
Len followed Jim’s eyes, took in the darkened, bruised skin, and the awful swelling with relative impassivity. “Jim, did… did you send me a message a while ago?”
Jim blushed slightly, and nodded. “When you didn’t answer, I figured… well, I just thought you didn’t want to talk about it. But now I guess…”
“I never got to see it,” Leonard said, touching Jim’s face lightly with his good hand. “My… h-he broke my phone.” Jim looked horrified, and like he wanted to really start crying. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s over now. But what did you say?”
Jim didn’t look convinced, but he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He went to the message and turned it around for Leonard to see. “Bones, I’m sorry about earlier. I don’t want this to come between us. Can we please talk?” Leonard shook his head. Even if it did sound a little suspicious, there was no reason to… Jim put the phone away. “I’m sorry, Bones. If this set him off…”
“It doesn’t matter, Jim. You were right about everything. If it hadn’t been this, it would have been something else.” He looked down, eyes misting again. He wanted to ask Jim for… so much. Too much. Wasn’t fair. He shouldn’t. “I… I want…”
Jim embraced him again. “Listen to me,” he said, voice soft but strong, just like his embrace. “I’m gonna get you out of here. We’ll get you fixed up, and I’ll get you home. And then I swear to you, Bones. I’ll never turn away from you again.”
Leonard looked into the eyes of Jim Kirk, and smiled. He knew without a doubt that those words were true. Everything was going to be fine, because this was Jim. This was a man worthy of trust. This was a man worthy to be followed into space.