Title: Eight Ball, Corner Pocket

Author: Tearsofamiko

Character(s): Jim Kirk, Leonard McCoy (mentions of Spock and cameo by Chris Pike)

Rating: PG-13 for language

Disclaimer: I own nothing about Star Trek (2009), its characters or plotlines, including any recognizable dialogue. Also, I am not a law student; all law-school related information has been gleaned from Wikipedia.

Summary: He wasn't surprised when Jim wasn't in the room when he woke up the next morning. He didn't expect it to take three months to track him down. 1950s College!AU

A/N: Agh, what in the world am I thinking? Alrighty, here we go, backstory: college!AU inspired by the July 12 pics at the jim_and_bones comm. Set around the same time as the movie Rebel Without a Cause, so 1950s. Jim is an Ivy League law student, while Bones is in med school; they share an apartment off-campus, in sort-of a Holmes/Watson arrangement. Jim is 18, Bones is 24. George Kirk was killed in a car accident while taking his wife to the hospital to deliver their son; it was suspected to be somehow tied to one of the cases he'd tried shortly before his death, but there was no definitive answer. After a series of attempts to run away from home, Chris Pike contacts Winona and works with her and the school's admissions board to allow Jim to finish high school and start on at the University early, to keep Jim from truly becoming a delinquent.

.:::.

"You dirty cheat," Dawson growls, throwing down his pool cue and stalking around the table. Jim glances up from his perch on the edge of the table, a smirk curling the corners of his lips as he takes a drink of his beer, his fingers tightening slightly around his father's cue. Eyeing the bigger man, he shifts to where he's leaning against the table instead of sitting on it, his posture loose, his expression cocky.

"'S'not my fault you can't do basic geometry in your head," he drawls, gesturing expansively to the striped balls scattered across the table. As expected, Dawson inflates with anger, his face turning a rather lovely shade of puce as his cronies move to flank him.

"Someone oughta teach you some manners, boy," one of Dawson's goons bites out as he takes an involuntary step forward.

"Well it certainly won't be any of you," Jim chuckles, eyes twinkling as he brings his beer to his mouth, smiling around the lip of the bottle.

"If you haven't noticed, there's four of us and one of you," Dawson sneers, mustache twitching as he draws himself up to his full height, shoulders up around his ears as he clenches his fists. Nodding to himself, Jim turns and sets his bottle on the table, condensation immediately darkening the green billiard cloth. Right hand still firmly wrapped around his cue, he steps forward, putting himself solidly in Dawson's personal space.

"So get some more guys and then it'll be an even fight." He's still grinning, using his words and his expression to keep them from noticing him surreptitiously adjusting his grip on his pool-cue. He feels a flood of adrenaline as he pats Dawson's cheek and watches the change in the other man's eyes.

He lets the first punch land against his cheek, rolling with it to minimize the damage. Pivoting sharply, he swings his pool-cue like a baseball bat, hears the satisfying crack as it lands squarely across both of Dawson's knees. The big man goes down howling, his cronies stunned by Jim's rapid response long enough for Jim to stand straight again. He braces his feet and centers his weight, just as one of them comes at him, driving his shoulder into Jim's stomach and pinning him against the table, knocking the pool-cue out of his hand. Huffing through the ache in his chest, he darts a hand behind him, grabs his half-empty beer bottle and brings it down on the back of the guy's head. Jim collapses when the thug does, feigning more weakness he really feels to give himself the time to find his cue again. His fingers just brush the polished shaft when he's hauled bodily off the ground and thrown on the billiard table, striped balls clacking and chattering as they roll around him and off onto the floor.

He lashes out with a foot, catches one of the guys in the face, hears cartilage crunch under his foot just as blood floods down the guy's face. Thrashing and writhing, he manages to unbalance the last guy, sending them both off the table to land in a heap on the floor. Jim sees stars as he rolls to his knees, feeling around on the floor for something, anything as the other guy groans. He touches cool, polished wood, wraps his hand around the unfamiliar cue – the one Dawson tossed down – and rises unsteadily just as the thug on the floor does the same. His ears are ringing, head aching from where he cracked it against the floor, but Jim still manages to dodge the half-assed lunge, whirling to lay the cue sharply against the man's back, slamming his forehead onto the felted tabletop. Panting, chest burning, he leans heavily against the edge of the table as Goon Number Four goes limp.

The bar's in an uproar, the bartender shouting over the din as customers rush for the doors, the chaos just now registering as Jim slumps against the table, eyes shut. There's a noise behind him, a pool-cue scuffing against the floor, just barely noticeable under the din and the hairs on the back of Jim's neck prickle. He spins to face this new danger, realizes it's Dawson wielding George Kirk's pool-cue like a baseball bat, but vision whirls away from Jim in a blast of color, his head screaming as he collapses against the table, barely managing to stay on his feet. He braces himself for a blow that never comes, hears the sound of a bottle shattering instead. Blinking away the threatening darkness, he sees a shadow shift just behind him, feels the solid presence of a man and reacts instinctively, lashing out left-handed with the pool-cue.

"God damn it, Jim, stand down!"

Jim freezes, the cue falling from his suddenly numb hand as he recognizes the voice, the deep Southern drawl heavy in the barked command.

"B-bones?" he stutters, knees giving way as his head throbs and black spots fill his vision. The last thing he sees are dark hazel eyes, rife with anger and worry, strong arms coming around him to keep him from falling to the floor as his eyes roll back in his head and the darkness claims him.

.:::.

Leonard carefully lowers Jim to the floor and props him against the leg of the pool table. He smoothes a lock of blonde hair off the kid's forehead, takes his jaw and inspects the blooming bruise under Jim's left eye, gently prodding at it. He combs his fingers through soft hair, tousling the style as he finds the goose-egg barely rising on the back of Jim's head. It's just a bruise, he diagnoses, pulling his hands away as Jim groans softly, eyes fluttering as he rises back to consciousness.

Len could say this is the last place he expected to find Jim Kirk, but he roomed with the kid for three years at the University and is well-versed in his habits. After that last showdown with that Spock guy and the misunderstanding with the Dean's office, Len hadn't been too surprised to find the kid missing when he woke up the next morning. The fact Jim's prized pool-cue hadn't been in its customary corner of their room had come as a shock, but one Leonard had written off, figuring Jim'd roll in after a few days smelling of cigarette smoke and stale alcohol, ready to redeem his dignity.

It was another week before Len'd begun to worry about Jim's continued absence, finally taking his concerns to Christopher Pike, Jim's advisor and sometimes mentor. Getting the whole story behind Jim's disappearance had been an eye-opening experience.

"Dammit, Pike, you and I both know the only reason Jim didn't make it to the exam that first morning was because he had the God damned flu!" Leonard'd yelled at the man, fists planted on the solid oak of Pike's desk and red in the face in indignation.

"Yes, but the Council—"

"And that ethics thing with Spock is absolute bullshit and you know it. That stuffed-up ..." there was no epithet strong enough for Leonard's feelings on the matter, so he'd let it trail off, "just didn't like to admit that, maybe, he was wrong and Jim was right!"

"Mr. Grayson has stated as much to the Council and we—"

"So why the hell are they threatenin' t'kick Jim out?"

Pike had leaned back in his chair and simply stared at Leonard until he got the message and sat back down, fingers tight around the arms of the chair.

"The Council is having a hard time accepting that anyone, much less a student Jim's age or having anywhere near his record, could have advanced so quickly through the coursework, could be ready to take the Bar after only three years, without ... bending the rules in some way."

"They think he's cheated his way through the classes," Leonard'd muttered, staring at Pike in mild horror.

"Or something like that." Pike leaned forward, folding his arms on his desk as he watched Leonard, his mouth set in grim lines. "They think he's either cheating or bribing his way through, or overplaying his progress."

"Bullshit," Len'd stated, feeling his hold on his temper deteriorate. "They just don't like the idea of an eighteen-year-old being smarter'n all of them put together."

The look on Pike's face told him he'd hit the nail on the head.

It had taken Leonard three-and-a-half months to track Jim down, following rumors and gossip across the country, dozens of bars and billiard halls of various qualities making up the majority of his sources. Seemed Jim'd decided that if he couldn't follow in George Kirk's footsteps and become a lawyer, he'd match and surpass his daddy's reputation at a pool table. And he'd done it. According to the strongest rumors Len'd heard, if you were any kind of pool player, Jim Kirk was the one to beat. Thus their current location.

"God," Jim groans, lifting a hand to cover his eyes as he lolled his head back against the table leg, hissing when the bruise on the back of his head connected with the carved wood. Blue eyes blink at Len from between thin fingers and Len can just about hear the thought process turning behind them. "'S'at really you, Bones?"

Leonard chuckles at the wave of déjà vu that washes over him – he's been on this end of a Jim Kirk bar fight far too many times to count. "Yeah, kid. It's me," he sighs, running a hand over his head and down his face, feeling the scratch of stubble against his fingertips and further mussing his untamed hair.

Jim watches him for a second, then draws one knee up and plants one hand on it and one on the floor, levering himself onto his feet. Leonard rises with him, reaching out to grab Jim's shoulder as the kid sways on his feet before deciding to lean against the table at his back. With a clinical eye, Len takes in the kid's pallor and the exhausted bruises smudged under tired blue eyes; despite the rumors of Jim's success at the tables, it's obviously not been easy getting by.

"You look like hell, Jim," Leonard tells him bluntly, gaze lingering on the new sharpness of Jim's cheekbones. Jim laughs, wincing and curling an arm around his middle as the sound rolls harshly through the empty bar.

"You're one to talk, Bones," the kid parries, blue eyes flat and curiously brittle as he smiles winningly. "When's the last time you shaved, old man?" Leonard huffs and shakes his head, crossing his arms.

"Come on," he finally says, gesturing for the door, stopping by his table to grab his suit jacket on the way. He stops at the bar to pay for his and Jim's drinks, sees the weary gleam in the bartender's eyes as he surveys the mess over by the billiard's tables. Len throws down a little more money to compensate, though nothing besides a couple of bottles was broken. He thanks heaven for small favors and turns to look back at Jim.

The kid's still standing against the table, eyes closed, head hanging forward between his shoulders, fingers gripping the padded rails at his sides. Len's seen this look before, most often on Jim's birthday, though the occasional family holiday is also enough to bring it out. It's Jim's regrouping expression, the one used to cover how very near the limit of his emotional endurance Jim is. Eventually, he lifts his head and squares his shoulders, stooping carefully to pick up his pool-cue before heading over to where Len's waiting, a bright smile pasted on his face.

By unspoken agreement, they head down the street to the all-night diner Len'd passed on his way into the bar. The lights are bright after the dimness of the bar, but the coffee's good and the waitress is more than willing get the cook to whip up a couple of omelets and toast for them. Leonard suspects it's because Jim's darkening black eye makes the motherly woman want to take care of him; Jim swears it's just 'cause he's been there every night since he came into town two weeks ago.

They sit in silence for a few minutes after the waitress – "Shirley, dear, call me Shirley" – heads back to the kitchen, both focusing on fixing their coffees and both dead-set on not being the one to get the ball rolling on the explanations. Finally, Jim heaves a sigh, plants his elbows on the tabletop, and buries his face in his hands, shoulders hitching as he handles his black eye a little too roughly.

"Why're you here, Bones?" he asks through his hands, his voice tired and worn thin.

Leonard takes a sip of his coffee and considers what to say before answering. "Pike told me what the Council said," he mutters around the rim of his coffee cup, staring through the steam as Jim's shoulders shift with wry laughter.

"God, he's never gonna give up, is he? He's determined to make sure I become my dad," Jim says, mostly to himself as he buries his face in his arms, his back a graceful curve against the vinyl booth. Len frowns, wondering what Jim's talking about.

"Jim, what—"

"Pike came all the way out to Iowa to talk me into enrolling at Dad's alma mater, before I'd even finished my second year of high school." He lifts his head, rests his chin on his folded arms, and stares blankly at Leonard as he speaks. "Convinced my mom to let me test out of the last few years of school and enroll early, made special arrangements with the Council to get me in and—"

"Placed with an older student," Len finishes for him, suddenly realizing why he'd been so fortunate to hear about Jim needing a roommate exactly when Len was considering the setup.

"Yeah." The tips of Jim's ears are red, his face flushed just the slightest in... shame? Embarrassment? Len could read the kid like a book sometimes, but others? "I'd've refused if I'd had any other choice, or if you'd been someone else."

"What?" Len's eyebrows draw together as he tries to puzzle out Jim's words.

A small, rueful grin twists Jim's mouth as his eyes twinkle at Len. "You were in a bear of a mood that day, Bones, ranting about unsanitary conditions and amputating perfectly good limbs 'cause of a bad break in the bone. You threw a textbook at the door just before I knocked." Len remembers that day, remembers how he'd just come from a class detailing battlefield medicine during the Civil War. The idea of practicing medicine the way they had then still made him shudder.

"That made you want t'room with me?" he asks incredulously and Jim's eyes positively glow.

"I thought it was hilarious, you being so mad at something that happened near a hundred years ago," he grins and Leonard finds himself returning the gesture.

Shirley comes over with their plates and they fall silent again, each tucking into their eggs with relish. Jim finishes everything on his plate, snagging Len's extra toast and confirming Len's suspicions that the kid hadn't been getting quite enough to eat every day. The look in Shirley's eyes as she refills their cups and produces another plate of toast just cements the notion.

They linger over coffee afterward, watching Shirley scrub down the counters and refill condiment containers, her movements just shy of echoing in the otherwise empty diner. It's almost awkward, Len thinks, staring at the steam curling over his cup, but Jim's made no move to leave and Shirley hadn't asked them to yet. The longer they sit there, though, the more nervous Leonard gets about heading out to where ever Jim's been staying. He's not sure he wants to know what has Jim feeling more comfortable in an empty diner than in his own accommodations. But it's not like Leonard has anywhere else to go; he'd heard of a pool game at the bar and hadn't bothered to stop by the inn and get a room before heading into town to check out the rumors.

He's so deep in thought over what he might be faced with in Jim's apartment, he jumps when Jim climbs stiffly to his feet.

"You have a good night, Shirley," he calls as he throws a few bills down onto the table, swallowing the last of his coffee and waiting for Leonard to stand. Len tosses in a few more dollars to cover his own meal and a tip, then follows Jim out the door, waving once as Shirley watches them go with shrewd eyes.

.:::.

It's odd, having Bones around again, Jim thinks, listening to the steady footsteps gradually syncing with his own. For three years it had been second nature to rely on Bones' presence, for anything from a bandaged cut after a bar fight – and that guy'd so gotten in a lucky shot with that bottle – to a gruff pep talk and a willing ear when he'd needed a friend. Those first few weeks after the Council meeting had been a special sort of Hell after having someone to watch his back for so long. But he'd learned to be on his own again, remembered how to charm his way into a free meal or a safe place to sleep, and the sudden reappearance of his friend has thrown him off-kilter.

He figures the knot on the back of his head isn't helping matters.

He leads Bones to the second floor of Ms. Rosalind's house, taking the outdoor stairs to avoid waking the older woman. She'd been willing to let him rent the room so long as he didn't leave it a mess or disturb her sleep; so far, he's managed to keep from bothering her at all, something he figures they're both happy about. She'd told him flat-out that she didn't like renting the rooms, especially not to an eighteen-year-old drifter, but he looked too much like her dead nephew for her to turn him away with a clean conscience.

Opening the door, Jim wanders in and turns on the bedside lamp, casting the room in a soft glow. He hears Bones catch his breath in the doorway and smiles softly. Despite the time spent apart, he'd known immediately that Bones was leery about coming here, simply because Jim preferred Shirley's quiet company at the diner to sitting silently in his tiny room with only a book for company. Shedding his sweater and carefully setting his dad's pool-cue in the corner by the bureau, he waits for Bones to come to terms with the room, perching on the edge of the bed as he watches his friend stare and follows the paths Bones' eyes take.

The embroidered quilt and stacks of throw pillows on the bed, the doilies and china figurines covering every available surface, the frothy lace curtains hanging at the windows, and the deep rose colored carpet on the floor – certainly not the way Jim would've chosen to decorate, if he'd had a say in the matter. But the room was warm on cold nights and gave him a place to keep his extra clothes and safe place to store his dad's cue. That's all that mattered to Jim.

"Nice place," Bones quips, finally turning to shut the door and take off his jacket. His white dress-shirt is rumpled, his tie loose and limp, and his hair is utterly a mess. In short, Bones looks the way he always has and it warms something in Jim he hadn't realized was cold. "Jim, I—"

"Not tonight, Bones, okay? I'm tired and my head hurts and whatever it is can wait."

Bones' lips thin, like he's keeping himself from saying something, but he nods. "Okay, Jim."

"All right." Jim frowns and stares around the room. "Um, I'll take the floor, just let me have the quilt and a few of those pillows."

"No, Jim, I—"

"You're not sleeping on the floor, Bones, and the bed isn't big enough for two." He feels a flash of frustration; taking care of himself was so much easier without Bones around.

A muscle jumps in Bones' jaw, his eyes mutinous, but when Jim gathers pillows and camps out in the floor, there isn't much else he can do. Grumbling to himself, he removes his tie and shirt, movements graceless and obviously angry.

Jim grins into his pillows. "Good night, Bones," he chirps good-naturedly.

Bones growls back, then sighs, reaching over to turn off the light. "G'night, kid."

Jim stares into the darkness until Bones' breathing evens out into sleep, the familiar presence of the other man both soothing and unsettling. As moonlit shadows from the tree outside dance across the ceiling, he rolls over and buries his face in the pillow's rough embroidery, falls asleep to the smell of Bones' cologne drifting softly through the room.

.:::.

He dreams about Jim's eighteenth birthday.

They'd borrowed Gary Mitchell's car, wedged Leonard's old bicycle into the trunk, and driven out to the coast. They spent the day at an empty beach, the sand solid and damp underfoot as a biting winter wind blew in off the ocean. There was nothing about the day to suggest a birthday celebration, just the two of them alone with the beautiful violence of the waves against the rocks. Jim had clowned around with the bike, riding as fast as he could through the scudding wavelets, kicking up small plumes of spray as he cornered sharply, occasionally playing at running Leonard down, all while Len huddled in his coat, perched carefully on a rock away from the water.

The sky had gradually taken on a darker hue, clouds rolling in and bringing the threat of rain, but Jim stubbornly resisted any suggestions of leaving. Laughing wildly, with a reckless abandon that drew uneasy gooseflesh down Leonard's back, he'd turned the bike toward the nearby pier, pedaling slowly until they'd both reached the worn wooden planks. Unnerved by the decayed state of the dock and the maniacal gleam in Jim's eyes, Len'd stayed on solid ground, leaning his elbows against a support column as Jim did a lazy figure-eight, getting a feel for the rumble of the planks under the bike wheels.

As the first drops of rain began to fall, Jim tossed a last bright-eyed look over his shoulder and tore off down the pier, feet flying on the pedals and an exultant crow of laughter ringing through the air. Heart in his throat, Len watched as, instead of slowing as he reached the end of the dock, Jim sped up, body curved over the handlebars and wind tearing through his hair, riding the bike off the edge and into the ocean without a second's hesitation. He seemed to fly for a heartbeat, free of the pull of gravity as he kicked away from the bike and dove into the waves.

Despite his previous reservations about the condition of the dock, Len'd found himself on his stomach at the end, reaching down to grab Jim's hand and haul the kid out of the freezing water. Teeth chattering and lips already blue with cold, Jim'd still been laughing, a low huffing sound that played eerie counterpart to the wild look in his blue eyes. Len stripped off his own coat and wrapped it around the kid before taking firm hold of both shoulders and shaking him roughly.

"What the hell were you thinking!" he'd shouted in the kid's face, heartbeat thundering and hands shaking as might-have-beens flashed behind his eyes. Jim'd stopped laughing and just stared at him, eyes shuttered and strangely flat. Neither said anything on the drive back to campus.

In Jim's frilly rented room, Leonard dreams about that day, watches again as Jim wheels madly toward the dock and pedals down the length, kicking free of the bike as he soars over the water. Len runs after him, the air like cold molasses around him, hindering his movements, and it feels like an age passes before he's standing at the end of the pier, staring out at the water. But, this time, there are no laughing blue eyes barely making headway against the waves, just the mournful sound of a seagull and an all-encompassing loneliness that feels as heavy as lead. There's a flash of water-logged blue wool and a pale hand drifting under the water, but Jim never surfaces and Leonard feels like he's the one drowning.

He opens his eyes to watery daylight, jaw clenched around an ache of sound caught in his throat. It's quiet in the room but for Jim's breathing and that steady, reassuring rhythm goes further toward calming Leonard than seeing the kid curled up on the floor. Rolling over, Len glances at the little clock on the nightstand, isn't surprised to see how early it is. Old habits are hard to break and, despite more than three months away from his college schedule, very rarely does he sleep much past dawn. After the dream he had, he's grateful for it.

He slides out of bed and pads across the room to the bureau, studying the stack of books perched precariously on a corner. Much like the man himself, the books are an incongruous mix of genres, with little to tie them together. A weathered copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is stacked atop a sleek edition of Asimov's I, Robot. A thick law text grounds the stack, while one of Leonard's old anatomy books and a battered Galaxy Science Fiction magazine threaten to tip the whole into the floor. At the very top, the cover scarred and warped, gilt letters peeling and flaking, is Jim's most prized possession aside from his dad's pool-cue: an old edition of David Copperfield, a gift from his late grandfather Tiberius' library. Smiling at the familiar book, Leonard takes it carefully from the stack, hands hovering over the rest of the books until he's sure they'll stay put on the dresser.

The pages are dog-eared as he flips through them, pausing to read the occasional pencil marking in a margin or to study the various illustrations. Len read the book once, years ago, after finding Jim sprawled out in bed asleep, hand limp across an etching of David's introduction to his aunt. It still strikes him how surprisingly like Jim's life the book is, at least through the first part. He suspects that's why Jim enjoys it so much, though they've never discussed the book. He flips to the last few chapters, needing the simplicity of Copperfield's happy ending after his dream.

He doesn't quite get to the very end before Jim starts to rouse, groaning softly as stiff muscles from yesterday's fight make themselves known. The kid sits up and stretches like a cat, undershirt riding up just the slightest bit, and Leonard feels the easy smile he'd donned freeze on his face at the sight. Jim had always been lean, nothing but sleek lines of muscle and sinew, but after three months of fending for himself, anything extra has been completely pared away, leaving behind perfectly defined planes and angles that are beautiful to behold. Feeling his face warm, Len throws back the covers and reaches for his shirt.

They dress in silence, the air heavy with tension. Leonard isn't sure what Jim's thinking, how Jim feels about his presence here. Occasionally, last night, he saw glimpses of frustration deep in blue eyes and the tight line of Jim's shoulders hints at some small sense of discomfort with the situation, but Len isn't in the mood to guess off of body language. There's a lot riding on his getting Jim back to campus within the next week or so; it can't all go to pot solely because he read a hand gesture wrong.

They head back to the diner for breakfast and Leonard is pleased to find the coffee just as strong in the morning as it was last night. Much like last night, they order and retreat to relative silence, Len watching in mild amusement as Jim works at charming their waitress. Between the bouncing red curls and sparkling verdant eyes, she's truly gorgeous, and Jim's got her giggling by the time their plates are up.

"Oh, you're amazing, Gaila," Jim groans as she sets his pancakes in front of him. "How'd you get 'im to put the chocolate chips in? He never did before."

Len hides a grin behind his coffee cup as Gaila glows, cheeks flushed. "Oh, I just told Scotty you walloped Dawson and his crew last night. He's always going on about how someone needed to teach them a lesson," she answers easily enough, but the continued color in her cheeks tells a different story. Sharp as always, Jim picks up on it.

"You said yes!" he crows and Gaila turns positively crimson. Leonard quirks an eyebrow and wonders if he's going to need to put his medical skills to use; the only time women turn that color around Jim usually precedes a rather impressive slap to the face. The girl only nods, face split in a wide smile at Jim's glee. "I told you you oughta give him a chance."

"Well," Gaila waves off the comment, leaning over to press a quick kiss to Jim's forehead, "enjoy your breakfast. Doctor." She nods to Len and heads back to the kitchen, her graceful stride somehow hinting at dancing. Len rolls his eyes.

"I'm not a doctor yet, Jim, you shouldn't have told her that."

"Eh," is Jim's response, complete with dismissive hand wave as he pours maple syrup over his breakfast and takes a bite, eyes rolling in ecstasy. "You will be soon enough, you're almost done with school. God, Scotty is a genius," he moans through a mouthful.

"Summer classes end in three weeks. Then I'm done but until then, I'm still just a student, Jim," Len tells him, studiously ignoring both the sounds Jim's making as he wolfs down his pancakes and the way the kid dredges his bacon through the syrup puddled on the plate. He feels the back of his neck heat at a particularly passionate groan and decides he's had enough of Jim's antics with his breakfast. "Hey!" Len snaps, rapping the handle of his fork on the table to catch Jim's attention. "Shut the hell up."

Jim's grin is as sunny as ever. "Just showin' my food the proper appreciation, Bones."

Len rolls his eyes as Jim finishes off his bacon with one last enthusiastic lip-smack. Taking a sip of his coffee and absently stirring his spoon through his bowl of grits (too watery, though they taste awfully close to his grandmama's recipe), Leonard watches Jim watch the other customers in the diner. "Jim—"

"Bones, I'm tired of trying and failing to live up to other people's expectations of me." The statement comes out of nowhere, but Len immediately understands that they're finally having the conversation he tried to start last night. He doesn't say anything in response, just stares at Jim through the curling steam of his coffee. Jim pulls his fork through the leftover syrup, drawing brief pictures in the viscous liquid, a sad, contemplative look on his face. His eyes are unusually solemn.

"Chris Pike told me I reminded him of my dad. My attitude, my philosophies, the way I 'look before I leap'. Told me Dad was a lawyer for two years and put couple dozen criminals behind bars, saved a lot of people by keeping those men off the streets. Dared me to live up to that ideal by not becoming one of the men my father would've worked against." Jim swallows hard, eyes blank and distant as he takes a sip of his coffee, no longer steaming the way Len's is; Len wonders if the kid even notices.

"And my mom and Frank?" The kid huffs a laugh that makes Leonard wince. "I know Mom loved me, but...she never could quite look me straight in the eye. I think it hurt her too much to know she had me at the cost of Dad. And Frank, Frank just wanted Mom." Bleak blue eyes meet Len's across the table. "I can't be who they want me to be, Bones."

Jim falls silent, staring without seeing as Gaila bustles past their table, gathering empty plates and refilling their cups. Len takes the sugar container and pours some into Jim's coffee, indulging the kid's sweet tooth instead of condemning it, like he normally does. Gaila lingers next to their table for a second, her eyes dark and concerned, before she heads back to the kitchen, bumping her hip against Leonard's shoulder as she goes. He watches her, then turns to face his friend again.

"Jim," Len combs a hand through his hair, trying to find the words Jim needs to hear, "you don't owe them anything. You don't have to do anything for them." Jim's eyes are dark and unreadable as he sits across the table, listening, and something tells Leonard he isn't quite articulating his point. "Just," he sighs. "Look, screw 'em. Your mom and stepdad, Pike, the Council, even Spock. It doesn't matter what they think. Do it for yourself. Come back and finish your classes and take the bar to prove to yourself you're worth something. I know you can do it, Jim, and I think you know you can; who else really matters?"

Jim's face is hidden, his forehead against his clasped hands as he stares down at his coffee cup, silent. Len can't tell what the kid's thinking, whether his words have made any difference, wonders if he'll be traveling back to campus solo. He feels strangely disappointed, like he's failed the kid, though Jim obviously hadn't been expecting Len to come for him.

He wonders why it bothers him so much.

.:::.

It's odd. No one's ever cared enough about Jim to search him out when he runs. Never, not when he was ten and ran to Kevin's house after his first shouting match with Frank, not the day after his fifteenth birthday, when he ended up three towns over, in the middle of his first true bar brawl. Chris'd come out to Riverside to give him a choice, to offer a dare and a chance, but it wasn't the same. It's not like Bones coming here, to this tiny town off the beaten path, simply because that's where Jim is and Jim isn't quite sure what to make of it.

He peers up under his hands, watching Bones without the other man knowing. Jim hadn't been kidding last night when he'd returned Bones' blunt statement about his appearance. There are dark circles under Bones' eyes, indicative of sleepless nights and hours of worry, something Jim's seen several times over the years, though mostly around finals time. There's stubble covering Bones' face and the line of his shoulders isn't nearly as straight as Jim's used to it being, even after hours on rotation at the hospital. He looks worn and almost broken and that, along with the simple fact that Bones is there, is what makes him seriously consider Bones' proposition.

"They wouldn't let me retake the exam, not after I missed it," he mumbles, rubbing his joined hands across his forehead, eyes shut.

"Pike said he'd talk to them, show them your papers, grades, and attendance records as proof that you're not cheating. Besides," and Jim can hear Bones' shrug, "Pike said there's a set time and date for the test each year, no deviating. They couldn't postpone it just for one student and they couldn't let you take it on your own. It's not the way the rules work."

"I've missed, what, three months? None of my professors are gonna let me make up the classwork."

"Like you weren't a section or two ahead of the rest of the class?" Bones scoffs and Jim snorts a laugh despite himself.

"True, old man. Classwork's too easy." Jim sighs and lowers his hands, looking his friend straight in the eye. "Why's this so important to you, Bones?"

Color immediately rises to Bones' face, such a rare sight that Jim is transfixed by the contrast of flushed cheeks, hazel eyes, and dark brown hair. As Bones dithers with the coffee cups and leftover silverware, Jim takes the time to study his face, tracing over laugh lines and dimples, freckles and the occasional mole, from his widow's peak down to deep cedar-moss eyes, currently downcast as Bones avoids Jim's gaze. Finally, Bones sighs heavily, hands falling limp and still around his coffee cup, and peeks up through his eyelashes. Jim quirks an eyebrow, amused by his friend's reticence.

"I, ah, things were too quiet with you gone. I didn't know what to do with all the spare time I wasn't using patching you up or dragging you home from bars. Going crazy just listenin' to my own thoughts. 'Sides," Bones snorts, "someone's gotta shake the Council up. Barnett's not been challenged in far too long."

Jim stares at his friend for a moment, watching the way Bones' flush spreads up to his ears as Jim watches. He considers what Bones said, reads between the lines and turns those unspoken words this way and that, before a grin spreads across his face.

"Aw, Bones, you could've just said you missed me," Jim teases and the heaviness that had been hovering over them since waking finally starts to dissipate.

"Fine, I missed you. Ya happy, you reprobate?" Bones grumbles, his eyes jade-green with laughter, despite the scowl on his face. Jim's grin broadens into a smile, full and sincere and something even he admits is rare – he doesn't smile like this for anyone but Bones, but thinking about that only makes things awkward and he could never ruin this friendship, not for anything.

Gaila wanders back over and offers them more coffee, her cheeks flushed, her eyes dancing, and her lipstick just slightly smudged. A quick glance toward the kitchen shows a smear of color low on Scotty's cheek, near his jaw, and Jim can put the pieces together, but he also does have some tact, no matter what Bones says. Thus, he makes no comment as they both decline coffee and Gaila heads back to the counter.

They wave as they head out the door, money and tips left under a coffee cup, and down the street. Bones' car – Gary Mitchell's on loan – is in the bar's parking lot where it was left last night. They climb in and head back to Ms. Rosalind's, the silence this time much more easy, more their normal, companionable lack of chatter. Jim watches the houses and shops roll by, sees them the way Bones must, the quaint, tired buildings framed by mid-summer flowers and the quiet bustle of Saturday errands in a small town. This town is not dissimilar to Riverside or the little town where Bones was raised; there's something homey and welcoming about it, though Jim can feel the start of restlessness and wanderlust itching under his skin. He'd left Iowa when given the chance because of the quiet quaintness of it. He's not planning on reliving that now.

Jim stifles a sigh and glances at Bones out of the corner of his eye, chewing his lower lip. Truth be told, he's already made up his mind, had started considering going back to the college upon waking this morning, Bones' presence reminding him of all the things he'd missed over the last few months. Many things this little town may be, but it's most prevalently boring. And bouncing around between towns got old two-and-a-half months ago. Jim nods to himself as Bones parks against the curb in front of Ms. Rosalind's.

They sit in silence for a few seconds, staring out through the windshield at the people moving about on the street. The air between them isn't tense the way it was earlier, but there's still a heavy sense of expectancy lingering. Bones keeps shooting him little looks out of the corner of his eye, tiny flashes of hazel that seem to flicker with heat in the enclosed space of the car. Jim just sits quietly, watching Ms. Rosalind prune her roses, a small smile playing softly around the corners of his mouth. Finally, he turns to face his friend, feeling lighter and happier than he has since hitching a ride away from the college back in February.

"Okay, Bones," he says, pleased to see the wary look in Bones' eyes dissolving into relieved happiness. "Okay."

.:::.

Three weeks later...

.:::.

"Hey, kid, up and at 'em," Len calls as he throws open Jim's bedroom door. His eyes zero in on the empty bed, taking in the way the covers are pulled neatly up to the pillow without a hint of having been more than sat on. Sighing and rolling his eyes, ignoring the slight, knee-jerk stab of worry the sight provokes (he still half-expects to wake up each morning to an empty apartment, Jim lost to the wind again), he leans around the door to look for his roommate. Sure enough, Jim's slouched over a stack of books at the desk, head pillowed on his arms as he sleeps in a puddle of early morning sunlight. He looks so young there, blonde hair tousled and face slack, that Len feels a smile creeping across his face.

After finding out Pike had justified Jim's absence by promising the Council Jim'd be ready to graduate and take the bar by the summer test-date, Jim's been studying nearly nonstop, pausing only when Len makes him eat something or when he passes out from exhaustion. Honestly, there was little actual classwork Jim had had to make up, but missing weeks of lecture left the kid scrambling to memorize laws and precedents, past cases and state mandates. Leonard had grown used to Sulu and Gary's presence in their apartment as the law students studied and debated in preparation for the exam. So long as he wasn't the one paying for food each night, Len was more than willing to help them, even, submitting to hours reading off statistics and dates when he could have been sleeping or working at the hospital. Today would be the day where all that extra work paid off, so long as Leonard could manage to wake and kick Jim out on time.

"Jim," he says again, laying a hand on the kid's shoulder and shaking him gently. Jim mumbles in his sleep, shifting slightly in the chair, and Len could almost justify leaving him there, if not for the exam. "Jim."

Bleary blue eyes blink open, focusing slowly on Len's face. Mostly-asleep as he is, Jim's face is open, his eyes guileless, and the effect is enough to make Leonard's breath hitch. They stare at each other as the fog gradually starts to clear and Len feels himself flush slightly as he realizes how close he's leaning, as Jim starts to sit up and his hair slides whisper-soft past Len's cheek. He swallows harshly, mouth bone-dry, and straightens, turning away from hypnotic baby-blues to head back out to the main room.

"Whatimeizit?" Jim slurs through a yawn, arching backward in a stretch, hands curled behind his head.

"Eight-thirty," Len answers, dead-pan, and waits in the doorway for the penny to drop.

"Shit!" The curse echoes out of Jim's room as the kid runs out to the bathroom, dragging a pair of slacks and a shirt behind him. "Why didn't you wake me up sooner?" he demands through the partially closed door.

"I tried," Len answers nonchalantly, pouring himself a cup of coffee and lounging against the kitchen counter.

"Try harder next time," Jim yells over running water. Minutes later, he kicks open the bathroom door, hair slicked back and dampening the collar of his blue button-down. On his way back to his room, he steals Leonard's coffee cup, grimacing at the bitter taste. "Eugh, what'd'you have against sugar?" he asks, thrusting the cup back.

"Keeps you from stealin' my coffee, doesn't it?" Len fires back, watching Jim sling papers into his knapsack. There's restrained anxiety in the kid's movements and Len wonders what Jim's so worried about – if he was ready to take the exam back in February, he's definitely ready to take it now. "Hey, kid, eat something, willya?"

Jim pauses, walks over and plants himself firmly in Leonard's personal space. Bright blue eyes study him for a second before Jim nods and reaches behind Leonard for an apple from their fruit bowl. There's a speculative glint in those eyes as Jim turns to finish gathering his stuff, something Len has seen before, just not directed at him. He wonders what challenge Jim saw in his face, feels something in his gut clench and swirl with heat at the possibilities. He doesn't think, just reacts, hand snaking out to grab Jim's shirt, hauling him back against Len's chest.

The kiss is sweet, gentle, as Leonard brushes his lips over Jim's, pulling a groan deep from the kid's throat. Jim shifts, hand rising to tangle in Len's hair, and their mouths slot perfectly together. It's slow and lingering, comfortable and exciting, somehow everything and nothing like Len had expected it might be. Reluctantly, he pulls away, not wanting to let go but aware of the time, aware that they can't afford to forget their responsibilities. Jim's eyes are bleary again, clouded by want and need, and Leonard smiles at the Jim's obvious bemusement.

"Bones," Jim breathes, blinking slowly, eyes focused on Len's mouth as he trails wondering fingers down Len's cheek.

Leonard steps away, smoothing a hand down Jim's arm as he does, and walks over to where Jim left a tie draped over an arm-chair. Reversing their positions, leaving Jim pinned against the counter, he loops it over Jim's head, tucking it under his collar and letting his hands linger on the back of Jim's neck. He pulls Jim forward slightly, until their foreheads touch, and watches Jim's eyes fall shut.

"Good luck, Jim," Len murmurs, thumbs stroking the pulse points under Jim's jaw. Jim shudders and a small smile breaks across his face when Len knots his tie for him, pulling and tugging until it lies straight and neat against Jim's chest. Blue eyes flutter open as Leonard leans back and picks up his coffee cup, smirking when he notices how tight Jim's fingers are around the apple he grabbed earlier, nails denting the red skin almost to the point of breaking.

Jim takes a deep breath, sagging against the counter for a moment, regaining his balance as he stares through Len, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth. Finally, he shakes his head and stands straight, tosses the apple into the air and catches it in one smooth motion. Slinging his bag over his shoulder, Jim saunters over to the door and opens it. He pauses in the doorway, hand lingering on the doorknob as he turns to glance back at Leonard.

"Thanks, Bones," he says, gifting Len with a soft, fond smile, one Len's never seen before. His blue eyes are clear and shining, windows into Jim's soul as always, brimming with a myriad of emotions that steals Leonard's breath. He can see gratitude and happiness mixed with excitement and honest nervousness and the combination is startlingly beautiful.

"Give 'em hell, kid," Len replies, saluting Jim with his coffee cup and a grin of his own.

Jim's laughter rings through the apartment long after the door closes behind him.

fin

.::::.

A/N: I know that Jim's awfully young to be finishing law school and taking the bar exam, but I figure if Chekov's old enough at 17 to be pretty much done at the Academy and sent into space navigating for the flagship in the 2200s, Jim's old enough at 18 to be finishing college in the 1950s, especially if Pike pulled strings and called in favors to help the kid along. IDK, but this is the only way the story worked for me; I had to have Jim be both genius-smart and almost too young for the flashback conversation Bones has with Pike to work ('cause that's the scene I saw in my head that made me start writing this.). Blargh, I like this story, but I'm wishy-washy over the age thing...