The door of the library opens before Leonard can reach for the handle. He nods politely at the woman standing there. “Ma’am.”
“I apologize for disturbing your evening, Doctor McCoy, but I did not wish to involve Command,” she says, basically repeating what she and other campus guards have said dozens of times during the last eighteen months. Leonard isn’t entirely sure when he became known as Jim’s keeper, but it’s worth the inconvenience if it keeps Jim safe.
“It’s not a problem, Cadet Williams. Where is he this time?” Leonard enters the library and looks around. When she doesn’t reply, he turns his head to focus on her and frowns when he sees how flushed she looks. “Are you feeling well, Cadet? If you’re working too hard on finals, you can make yourself sick.”
“I’m fine, Doctor,” she says quickly, and he decides to send her some vitamins that might help if she’s working too hard. “Cadet Kirk has isolated himself in a private room in the basement.” She lowers her voice as she leads Leonard down the hallway towards a staircase. “While we often overlook his nocturnal study habits, it’s nearly midnight, and he is ignoring me.”
“Right. I’ll take care of it, Cadet.” Leonard knows that Jim often holes up in one of the rooms at the library until he’s kicked out by security, but Williams is obviously concerned enough to involve him this time. He has to bite back a laugh when he imagines what Jim’s reputation would be like if it got out that the rumors of late nights drinking and whoring were really late nights of studying and breaking into labs to run unauthorized sims just to satisfy his endless curiosity about more subjects than Leonard can even keep straight. Jim finds the rumors entertaining, though, so Leonard keeps his mouth shut and lets people continue to underestimate him.
He takes the stairs two at a time and walks down the hall to Jim’s favorite room. The fact that Jim has a favorite room at the library says a lot, especially when most cadets only use the library during finals. When Leonard reaches the room, he opens the door and steps inside. Jim’s sitting on the floor with a PADD in his hand and a stack of old-fashioned books near his hip. He doesn’t even look up when Leonard closes the door, but his shoulders relax slightly as if he somehow knows who it is anyway. He probably does.
“Hey, kid.” Leonard surveys the scene again, paying attention to every detail so he can get a read on the situation. When most cadets fail a test like the Kobayashi Maru, they go out and get drunk. Of course, Jim Kirk is definitely not like most cadets. It shouldn’t be surprising that he’s obsessively researching command tests and Starfleet curriculum, if the books beside him are any indication of what’s on his PADD.
“I’m not a kid,” Jim mutters, keeping his focus on the PADD even as he shifts his ass over slightly in a silent invitation.
“And I’m not bones,” he points out, dropping to the floor to sit beside Jim. “See, this genius once told me that nicknames don’t have to make sense. They just are.”
“Geniuses don’t fail.” Jim frowns, and Leonard can see him tighten his grip on his PADD.
“Yeah, they do. Because they’re human, no matter how smart they are, and humans are fallible.” Leonard nudges Jim’s arm with his elbow. “No one passes that test, Jim. You knew that going in. Besides, the instructors said you did a great job, and they complimented your abilities.”
“I should have passed, Bones.” Jim finally looks up, and Leonard wonders how long he’s been locked away in this room with his research. His eyes are bright blue, which is usual, but they’re sort of shiny in the dim light of the room, and he looks exhausted. The test was nearly sixteen hours ago, and Leonard had class afterward followed by a long shift at the Academy clinic, which means Jim’s probably missed two meals and hasn’t even noticed. Leonard should have predicted this, especially with how quiet Jim got after the test was over, but he’s never really had to deal with Jim in this kind of situation before.
“I was there, Jim. You did an amazing job,” he says honestly. “That test is designed to challenge you but not be passed. Maybe you have to learn how to deal with defeat if you’re going to be a great captain.”
“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.” Jim scowls at Leonard as if he’s to blame before he looks back at his PADD. “I’m going to take it again. I found out that I can, and I’m going to figure out a way to beat it.”
“Damn it, Jim,” Leonard mutters, running his fingers through his hair. “It’s midnight, and I know you have tests tomorrow like the rest of us. Fine, you’re taking it again. That doesn’t mean you have to know how to win tonight. You’ve got time. You need something to eat and some water before you get dehydrated.”
Jim looks up again at that and narrows his eyes as he looks at Leonard. “You have a test at zero-eight-hundred tomorrow in your flight class. Are you ready? I was going to help you study tonight.”
“I’m as ready as I can be. Don’t know why I let you persuade me into taking that damn class,” he says with a grimace. In actuality, the class has helped him learn about flight and understand the mechanics behind it. He’s determined to conquer his fear of flying, seeing as he can’t very well serve on Jim’s future ship if he can’t leave the toilet, and the class managed to give him tangible explanations that can be used to calm him down when necessary. Not that he wants Jim to know it’s been beneficial because he’d never hear the end of it.
“You only have a year and a half, give or take a few months, to get ready to fly,” Jim says matter-of-factly. “I can’t have a CMO who has to hide in bathrooms or use liquor to calm his nerves.”
“I’m not going to be your damn CMO or fly around in a tincan.” Leonard rolls his eyes when Jim smiles suddenly, obviously not taking his proclamations to heart at all. Still, it’s habit to protest, and Leonard doesn’t want Jim to know he’d probably follow him anywhere in the known galaxy and even beyond. That fact joins the relatively small list of other things his best friend has no knowledge of and never will, most of which would likely ruin said friendship and make things uncomfortable and awkward between them. Leonard clears his throat and elbows Jim again. “I hate space,” he grumbles, scowling when Jim laughs.
“Sure you do.” Jim grins at him for a moment before the smile fades, and he slumps forward to rest his arms on his knees. “Does everyone know?”
It takes Leonard a moment to understand, but he’s gotten really good at Jim-speak so he catches on quick enough. “Yeah, I figure they do,” he says, not even considering the possibility of lying to Jim. They don’t lie to each other, even if the truth sometimes hurts. Leonard might not be completely honest when it comes to personal things like his awareness of Jim in ways that aren’t strictly platonic or the way his gut twists up whenever he does something to make Jim smile, but he’s honest where it matters.
“They probably think it’s funny.” Jim closes his eyes, resting his cheek against his arms as he faces Leonard. “I’ll show them all, though, Bones. I’ll take it again and pass.”
“You don’t owe them anything, kid,” Leonard says, reaching over to squeeze Jim’s shoulder. “Fuck ‘em all, right? If you take it again, do it for you, not just to prove you’re good enough to a bunch of assholes in uniform. You are good enough, and they’ll find that out eventually.”
Jim opens his eyes and stares at him intently. “You’ll be there, won’t you? You’ll be on my crew again?”
“I’ll always be there for you.” Leonard tightens his grip on Jim’s shoulder when he hears how firm his words sound. Irrevocable. He drops his hand and frowns at the floor. “If anyone can pass that damn test, it’s you, Jim. Just don’t let it distract you from everything else. You’ve come too far to let it fuck everything up for you.”
“Promise,” Jim murmurs. Leonard looks at him and arches a brow, knowing that Jim doesn’t use that word lightly. If he says it, he means it. Jim straightens up and shifts his position, leaning over and ghosting his lips across Leonard’s forehead. Leonard curls his fingers into his palms when he feels Jim press his mouth against his skin, closing his eyes briefly when Jim tugs on his hair and sighs, leaning forward until their heads are pressed together.
They stay like that for longer than is probably appropriate, not that a quick kiss on the forehead between friends is inappropriate or anything, but Jim’s affectionate hugging and touching habits have never extended to a casual kiss before, so it feels different. When he feels Jim’s finger rub his scalp in a decidedly not unpleasant way, Leonard clears his throat and pulls away. He doesn’t look at Jim because he isn’t sure what Jim might see in his face, not that he hasn’t gotten used to separating the infatuation type feelings from his affectionate friendly feelings when it comes to Jim. Oddly enough, it’s easy to be best friends despite the places his thoughts sometimes go. “C’mon, kid. Let’s get this cleaned up before Williams comes in here and kicks both our asses,” he says gruffly.
Jim snorts. “Williams is working tonight? Should have known. I think she likes calling you to come get me so she can stare at your ass.”
When Jim gets to his feet, he offers Leonard a hand to help him up, which he ignores. He might be turning thirty soon, but he can certainly get off the damn floor on his own. It’s also best to ignore the ass comment or Jim’ll do something to embarrass Williams. She lives in the same dorm as Leonard, so it’d make things weird. “I don’t really know why every cadet who works security here thinks I’m your keeper,” he mutters.
“You’re my best friend. It’s practically the same thing,” Jim decides with a shrug. “Besides, your colleagues at the hospital calls me when you’re working too hard or need a break, so we’re even.” He finishes gathering the books and stacks them on the table near where he’d been sitting. “So, your test tomorrow. I’ll quiz you on the walk back to your dorm, and, tomorrow night, we’ll take Jess and a bottle of whiskey somewhere quiet to celebrate you passing with flying colors. Sound good?”
“You’re going to eat something and drink some water when we get to my place. Then, you’re going to sleep on the sofa so I can make sure you get some rest instead of starting back in immediately with your plans to retake that damn test,” Leonard says, giving Jim his best ‘don’t argue with me because I’m a doctor, damn it’ look. Jim just smiles and leans over to kiss his forehead again, quickly without lingering this time, before pulling back and playfully saluting him. Leonard tries to scowl but isn’t entirely sure he’s successful when fighting back a smile.
“Got it, Bones. But we’re reviewing for your test in between the walking and eating bits because you’re totally going to ace it. And, tomorrow night, you, me, Jess, and a bottle of whiskey, right?” Jim gets his bag and opens the door, following Leonard out into the hallway.
Leonard looks at Jim and smiles as he slowly nods. “Right. Can't think of any other way I'd rather celebrate.”