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*

It’s warmer at night than Jim remembers it being in Georgia and the heat’s been keeping him awake. He’s used to being in places warmer than this, but something is weighing on his mind and coupled with the weather, it’s stolen his ability to find any kind of rest. He’s told Gaila that he’s going out for a walk and she’d sleepily dismissed him. He doesn’t worry that she doesn’t care about him; it’s just that their town of maybe fifteen thousand isn’t the most dangerous place in the world.

In just a t-shirt and pair of jeans, he’s started walking around the town to see old sights and lets himself sink into old memories that he’s been ignoring while he experiences the world. He drops by the old high school and notices that aside from some vandalism and wear-and-tear, it hasn’t changed at all. Much the same is the downtown core and as he wanders out to the farms that line the road that leads into the city, he wonders if anything’s changed at all. New generations take over old jobs, if the McCoys are any indication, but nothing else varies at all.

Just Jim Kirk, that is. He gets out, he ruffles up the status quo.

He stops when he arrives at the dusty path that goes out to Mrs. Lester’s place and Jim can’t help the rueful and mischievous grin that flickers over his face. This farm, this place, it’s someplace that ranks up there with Ayers Rock and the fjords in terms of conquests.

It’s the place that he convinced a seventeen-year-old Leo McCoy to have sex with him for the first time.

“Jim!” Leo is hissing, yanking on his long-sleeved quarterback’s jacket – given to him by the man in question. “Jim!” he worries, digging his heels into the path, making Jim laugh warmly and turn, just enough to catch Leo by both hands and tug him along, stealing kisses as he stumbles backwards, trusting that the path is steady and flat and he won’t go ass-over-teakettle. Though, even if he does, he’ll get Leo on top of him and he can’t really fault that potential outcome. “We’re going to get caught.”

“I know for a fact she’s out of town,” Jim promises, squeezing Leo’s palm. “You worry way too much.”

“And you’re reckless,” Leo accuses, but it’s clear that he’s fretting. It’s almost cute, Jim thinks, that he’s worrying so. He looks like the police are going to show up based on the fact they can pick up on Leo’s brainwaves or something. “Why are we even out here?” he hisses.

“Because I just came off a great baseball season and your medical experiment got published in a real magazine,” Jim insists. Celebration is the word of the night and they’ve already been to the fanciest restaurant in town for dinner. Underneath his jacket is the best shirt he has atop his nicest pair of pants.

Leo kind of looks a little dorky. He’s wearing his Dad’s tie with a shirt that’s too big for his skinny frame and the pants are a bit too long, so he has to haul them up every couple of seconds. Still, Jim thinks that Leo’s never looked better and he wants to commemorate the night properly. He also thinks that this should be when they become real men instead of wallowing in being just boys. Jim’s had vivid dreams of this for months now and every morning he wakes up in a foul mood because they didn’t turn out to be reality.

His mother has started to comment on his moods, but Jim just sulks and protests not being able to have Leo spend the night and even get a chance at turning the dreams into the real thing.

Jim knows that there are a lot of traditions about prom, that there’s a lot to be said for waiting, but considering how good their lives are and how often they spend necking in the back of the truck, Jim doesn’t want to wait another day and definitely not the two months to get to prom. They reach the barn and Jim nudges the door open, not even flinching when it creaks. Mrs. Lester sleeps like the dead and Jim is feeling like he’s got all the luck in the world tonight.

He goes first up the ladder, hauling Leo up the last two rungs while hay bristles at the back of his neck, making him shiver. In equal parts with the hay, the anticipation of what they’re about to do is making his hair stand on end.

Jim’s body has often betrayed him by hurtling on faster than his genius mind can catch up with and now is one of those very awkward moments. He shifts, awkwardly pushing at his jeans until he can dig into the pocket and grasp a small bag that he’s shoved in there.

“Jim?”

“It’s condoms and lube,” Jim replies in a rush, as if getting it out faster will somehow make Leo more inclined. “I wanted to…well, I wanted us to…”

“I kind of get the idea,” Leo replies, his cheeks as red as a tomato. Jim knows that he’s pretty bad off because he doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything more adorable. “My mom’s gonna kill me, Jim.”

“I don’t think you should tell her,” says Jim, stripping off his shirt as his body starts to get ahead of him again. He just thinks that if nothing else, convincing Leo to have sex with him will be much easier if he’s naked. Though, he could also use the clothes to protect him from the hay, which is scratching at him and making him sneeze every now and again.

So it’s not perfect. He doesn’t want perfect. He just wants it to happen already.

He’s already working on sliding the zipper down on his pants when he looks up and sees the look of anxiety on Leo’s face. He’s even digging blunt nails into his palm and Jim has a sudden flash of worry, wondering what happens if Leo doesn’t want to do this with him. Jim is all nerves and bravado, but he’s suddenly terrified. “Leo?” he asks warily. “Don’t you want to...?”

“Yeah, well,” Leo says, blustering and looking flushed. “I don’t really know what to do, Jim,” he says and sounds gorgeously breathless. “I’ve never done this before.”

“You’re nervous?” Jim asks, even though he’s already making a bed of clothes for them to lie on, even though he’s got his thumbs hitched into his boxers. He’s never done this before either, but there’s nothing to Jim that suggests he’s nervous at all. He wants to do this, he wants to do this with Leo, ergo, there should be nothing to be nervous about because they’re both there and ready.

Leo just glares at him, which makes Jim’s cock twitch with interest. Leo at his angriest is often Leo at his sexiest – not that Jim is going to say that aloud. “Of course I’m nervous, you...you...” He’s struggling, likely to find the best scathing insult to cast at Jim, but Jim doesn’t intend to give him the opportunity.

He surges forward, grabbing Leo by the arms and hauling him in close to kiss him desperately, pressing their lips together like they have dozens of times before – but this time with a promise that more is going to come. Leo’s always been a good kisser ever since they started spending hours doing nothing but stealing kisses in private places – because Leo’s always been a little too much of a prude to actually want to be an exhibitionist.

Jim thinks to himself that they could spend all their time kissing and he might be happy, but he knows that he wants tonight to be something more. Leo’s pushed him down to his back and Jim grasps and grapples for the condoms, breathing hard and heavy as he arches his hips up, trying to get more contact.

Leo is still completely clothed. This is just not right in the least.

Jim leans over and slides his fingers slowly up the tie, feeling like his heart is going to do something terrible and just leap right out of his chest if he gives it much more consideration. He slides smooth fingertips over the horrible plaid pattern of the tie and thinks to himself that Leo dressed up for him and no one’s ever done that before.

He shouldn’t be putting so much hope in this. Jim’s heard horror stories about people’s first times and he doesn’t have any strange belief that he and Leo are going to be any different. His nose is already itchy from all the hay and he’s sneezed fourteen times since he started undressing, but he’s too stubborn to stop on this path.

“What are we supposed to do?” Jim finally blurts out, because Leo is the one on the fast-track to a pre-med degree, the one who spends his free time going over medical textbooks with actual interest instead of just looking at them as a way to pass the time or to get through a course.

Somehow, giving Leo the control of the situation seems to settle him. He very calmly reaches up to undo his tie and sets it aside, sliding his hand under Jim’s knee and pushing his fingers splayed until he reaches his ass, lifting the thigh higher and hooking Jim’s ankle over Leo’s shoulder. “Well,” Leo says considerately, like he’s taking analysis of the situation. “I need a good angle.”

Jim’s heart is beating like a jackhammer against his chest, desperate and dying to get out. He’s watched porn, but never really thought about him in the passenger’s seat, being the one who goes along for the ride.

“Y-yeah? And?”

“And,” Leo says, closing his eyes so tightly as if that’s going to give him the answer, “and I need lube and to prepare you and I need to aim for the prostate.”

It shouldn’t actually be turning Jim on this much, but he’s shoving a hand down into his boxers to start jerking off to the sound of Leo’s hesitance. Jim is the one who fumbles to uncap the lube and to coat his hand with it, some of it sticking more than he ever expected. He’s not going to be able to get the almost-greasy feeling off and he lets out a slightly discomfited sound as his nose wrinkles up.

Leo is laughing, most likely at him. “Oh, god, Jim.”

“What!”

“You look like you just smelled something rank.”

“It’s kind of gross,” Jim protests, because he hasn’t exactly ever picked up lube for the express purpose of playing with it before. “I feel,” he says, starting to laugh awkwardly himself, “I feel like I should be wearing gloves,” he gets out between laughs. “Oh my god,” he spits out, his stomach heaving with laughter as he slides his hand into his boxers and holds his breath, like that’ll help encourage him to keep going. He lets out a squeal of an unpleasant sound, scrunching his eyes closed tightly as he pushes his fingers inside him. “This feels weird.”

Leo is laughing hysterically now, like he’s just heard the world’s funniest joke.

“I hate you,” Jim complains through gritted teeth, wondering when enough is enough and he’s ready. It’s hardly a true insult and he can almost feel his body arching upwards, unspoken words filtering in the air between them to assure Leo that he’s loved, that Jim adores him, that he doesn’t want to do this with anyone else.

He squirms slightly and shifts in order to push his boxers off, aware that this isn’t the first time that Leo’s seen him naked – they’ve gone skinny dipping one too many times in the creek for this to be monumental – but there’s something charged about this moment that has Jim on edge.

“Don’t look,” he says, suddenly, overcome with the need for Leo to be looking elsewhere as Jim awkwardly prepares himself, trying to make this seem natural and good. According to all those porn-tapes he’s secretly snuck away to watch, this is supposed to be smooth and easy. Jim’s feeling like it’s one of the stupidest positions he’s ever been in and even though his ankle is draped over Leo’s shoulder and Leo is clearly not going anywhere, Jim’s worried that one misstep is going to send his boyfriend running.

Leo abides and turns his head away, which sends Jim into a quick fit, trying to slick his fingers inside himself, hurrying and hissing slightly at the irritation it causes. God, he thinks, what is this going to feel like...

Jim steels himself, tells himself it’ll all be worth it, and when he’s ready, he clears his throat to give permission to Leo to glance his way one more time. They’re close now. There’s just a condom and a couple slides of skin on skin and then they’ll be doing something that brings them closer together and makes the relationship more serious. He’s not sure how, but he knows that everyone always talks about sex like it’s a game-changer.

He always thought he and Leo were pretty steady, but he’ll never turn his head the other way if they can strengthen things by taking their relationship to the next level.

It’s not like he’s not a teenage boy who doesn’t dream about sex at all waking hours of the day, though, so he’s willing to latch onto any excuse that he can in order to get this experience that everyone else raves about, regardless of whether it benefits the relationship or not.

Jim is breathing hard and shaky by the time he’s wrapping the condom over Leo’s dick with both hands, trying to remember if he’s doing it the same way he did when it was just a banana and thinking that he’s so grateful to Sam for teaching him this, even if at the time – and he was twelve, it’s not his fault – he wanted to die of mortification.

He gambles a glance up and looks right into Leo’s eyes. No matter how many people say Leo’s too thin or too dorky or that his hair is a mess or he’s too skinny, no one will ever be able to convince Jim that Leo doesn’t have the most beautiful eyes that anyone in Montgomery has ever seen. Jim reaches down, nose itching because of all the hay, swiping his sticky hand on his boxers just so that when he reaches his palm up to cup Leo’s cheek, it’s as clean as he can get it. “I really want this,” he assures Leo, who nods fervently and desperately.

Leo bites his lower lip and grins at Jim. “Me too,” he confesses and sounds just as nervous as Jim feels.

Somehow, that just makes Jim feel like everything is going to be just fine.


Jim lingers here, at the barn, and remembers how he had a rash on his body for days because of how their clothes slipped around and exposed his naked parts to the hay. He remembers how he couldn’t stop sneezing to the point that Winona thought that he’d secretly adopted a pet and was keeping it in his room. He remembers painful it had been at first and how Jim wondered if everyone who ever had sex was just a masochist before they kept at it until they had one brief three-minute-long maelstrom of pleasure and chaotic sex.

Jim lingers for another moment on the dusty path that leads to his past and turns away from it with a heavy weight pressing against his chest – that steady reminder that he can’t go back and be that boy anymore.

He made his bed. Now it’s time to lie in it.

*

When Jim was eighteen, his day consisted of a run around town, a stop-in at the diner, a quick visit to the McCoys before visiting his friends, then on to work at the local hardware store for a couple of hours before spending the night with Leo. It had been idyllic and charming in its own small-town sort of way, but that was before Jim found out that there’s a lot more to do out in the world than just idle around a town.

Nowadays, he still heads out for a run in the morning, but he’s barely acknowledged when he gets to the diner for breakfast. Warm hellos from the past are icy grunts now and he could swear someone’s been spitting in his coffee. No one takes his calls anymore, even if he apologized to Hik and Uhura and all the rest, the McCoys won’t even let him into the house, and he’s ‘too good’ for the hardware store.

He ends his days now in a defeated heap at the end of Gaila’s bed.

“Why is everyone so pissed at me?” Jim mumbles dejectedly against the duvet, forehead pressed firmly against flowers and butterflies. “Didn’t you tell Uhura that I’m sorry? Hasn’t Jocelyn told the rest of them that I’m not here to ruin things?”

“Seven years of blaming you doesn’t go away easily, Jimmy,” Gaila points out. She’s never bothered to get rid of her drawl. She says it does things for her that even the sexiest piece of lingerie could never do. Apparently, men go for the sticky-honey-drawl thing like bees to a flower.

He can’t exactly argue. He’s just always had his eye fixed on Leo that he never bothered to notice anything else.

“I miss my friends,” Jim complains. “What’s the point of staying in this town and getting loathed if I can’t even have my friends back?”

Gaila studies him, perching on the edge of the bed as she rubs a hand idly over his back. “If it makes you feel any better, none of them really stayed. Me and Joce, we did. The rest of them all have lives elsewhere. You weren’t the only one to leave, Jim, just the first.”

He feels something like guilt at that, like maybe if he had waited long enough, they would have all followed in turn. Then, there’s also the danger that no one would have followed and he would have been stuck in town forever because that’s just what’s expected of them. Jim lets out a heavy sigh and finally turns over to his back. Maybe he needs to put aside his bitterness and be the bigger man in this situation, because otherwise, he’s going to lose all the friends he once thought would follow him through life.

“Did Chekov ever get to go to Moscow and fulfill that dream of buying everyone in the bar a shot of vodka?” Jim asks, taking a tentative step in the right direction.

Gaila grins, a bright and beautiful thing that Jim could look at all day. “He did. He’s still there. The last time he called, he had this ridiculous little accent. All his v’s are loosening. He’s spending too much time around the natives.” Jim sits closer, draping his arm loosely around Gaila’s waist and pretending that he’s a young kid again and they’re just gossiping about what their friends have done during the day.

“Sulu?” Jim asks. “His Mom’s still in town, I know that.”

“He’s a pilot,” Gaila announces proudly. “He flies back into town once a month or so, but he’s out there working for the commercial airlines. Last gossip heard, he’d just taken off time to go to St. Petersburg,” she says with a coy grin. “He says it’s to straighten out Chekov’s accent, but I think he was just looking for an excuse to visit. Plus, he made sure to stop by for flowers. We all know better.”

Jim feels a familiar ache in his chest because he doesn’t. It’s been so long and the last time he saw either Chekov or Sulu, they each had their own girlfriends. He wonders what else he’s missed out on.

As if she’s somehow gained the ability to read his mind, Gaila continues to ramble on. “Nyota finally made a move on that college boy, Spock? They’ve been dating for about two years, just nearby, in Atlanta. They’ve been a bit busy to come back, even if Nyota’s mother keeps harping on her. Apparently she’s never met the boyfriend. Leo has. Says he’s got a meter-long stick up his ass that’s keeping him too serious, but...well, you know Leo,” Gaila gently remarks.

Jim snorts at that. “Take everything with a grain of salt, I remember Leo,” he concurs fondly. “I remember his father always used to talk about how no one would ever like Leo if he didn’t act like he could at least tolerate the world.”

“He liked putting on a show, but you always made him so happy,” Gaila reminisces fondly, stroking her fingers slowly through Jim’s hair. “He’s been a little more subdued since you left,” she has to admit quietly. “Anyway! Did you hear about Scotty? He got himself a contract doing special effects in Hollywood. He’s recreating some ice planet for his latest project and he said I could come visit when they finished it up!”

Jim bows his head into her touch and thinks about all the paths that their friends have taken, all their successes, and thinks that he hasn’t actually done anything with his career or his personal life. He just took his father’s money and started finding every last adventure he could in the world.

“Gaila...?”

“Hm?”

“Do you think that I haven’t grown up yet?” Jim asks, not sure he wants to hear the answer. If everyone else has come so far in the last few years and he’s been left behind because of his childish desire to have adventures, he doesn’t want to know that, except that for the part of his desperate curiosity, he does.

Gaila is at least giving him the kindness of consideration. She doesn’t give an immediate yes or no and her forehead scrunches up the way it does when she’s focused on something.

“I think you just took a different path, Jim,” she finally says when it seems like she’s settled on an answer. “Maybe,” she adds, sympathetic and apologetic by the look on her face, “Maybe you were more selfish than the rest of us would be with your decisions, but you’re just as much an adult as the rest of us.”

“Do you think I should have asked Leo if he wanted to come?”

“Did it even cross your mind?” She’s not being accusatory. Jim knows this much from being friends with her – and having known her since they were both four. She’s being genuine and sweetly blunt, posing a question that Jim has been putting out of his mind for ages. “Jim,” she says kindly, ruffling his hair. “Admit it. Half the reason you bolted was because you got scared. Because you and Leo were talking about forever and that scared you.”

“It scared me to think of it here, in this place, never leaving,” Jim protests defensively, knowing that he could be a little hot-headed about this, but he wants that clear. It’s not that Leo made him run, it’d been the prospect of never leaving. “But yeah. I mean, sure, I guess I was scared. And I couldn’t convince him to go, not when he loves it here and his life is here. Leaving him was just a by-product of getting out of Montgomery. Leaving you and the rest of my friends,” he adds, because while Leo had always been the most important, it’s not like he ever just forgot the rest. He exhales and presses his face against the bedspread before surfacing inevitably for air. “I should have asked him to come.”

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty,” she agrees. “I mean, I shouldn’t have dyed my hair green when I was fourteen. We all learn as we grow.”

“I liked the green hair,” Jim sighs fondly, turning his cheek to peer up at her. “Although, maybe not so much when you started wearing that red leather jacket everywhere you went. I mean, there’s only so much you can pull off.”

He’s feeling slightly better. There’s still an ache in his chest that reminds him that he’s lost so much of what he once took pride in – all the close friendships that he used to possess have dwindled away into shadows and echoes now – but it’s not the end of the world.

He looks up, suddenly, when another thought occurs to him, almost blinding him with a kick in the stomach, winding him. “Do you wish I’d asked you to come with me?”

This time, Jim doesn’t think the lack of response is her thinking about it, not with the way she averts her eyes and seems to want to do anything but meet Jim’s gaze. Guilt, maybe? A silent admission that he’s been an asshole all along and should have asked. He takes the leap and guesses that maybe that’s the case.

“Shit, Gaila,” he exhales. “I should have, shouldn’t I?”

“Hindsight,” she brightly remarks, bubbly and forced – all at once. “You came back. That’s the important thing. You didn’t have to do that.”

Jim takes a deep breath and tries to settle any of his nerves, any of the lingering guilt and anger that he feels for being an idiot and leaving when he should have just thought ahead. Still, Gaila is letting him live under her roof, Leo doesn’t actually look like he hates him, and even Jocelyn has tentatively accepted him back into her life.

Maybe it’s a start. All he’s ever really needed was the foot in the door so he could slowly pry his way all the way in. Maybe it’s just time for new routines.

*

Jim can feel a dozen stares on the back of his neck as he leans forward on the grocery cart, ignoring the fact that he’s probably starting rumors just by going out in public. Well, no. The rumors are because he is out in public in a pair of too-loose jeans, a wrinkled t-shirt, and Leo McCoy literally on his arm. He’s threaded his elbow with Jim as they wander down the aisles of the grocery store and Jim tries to chase away the strange sensation that this might have been his life all along if he just hadn’t left.

It turns out that while the town may hate him for what he did to Leo, the man himself isn’t actually so upset. Well, sure, he’s upset, but whatever feelings he has for Jim win out at the end of the day.

Jim had been ready to be alone for the night, but then Leo had called asking him to help with the shopping. Jim’s no idiot. Even if he’s not sure whether or not he wants Leo back, he’s missed just hanging around him doing the simplest, silliest tasks. The things that are so mundane yet they’re the kind that stick in your mind for years to come.

“You need honey,” Jim says decisively, plucking it and dropping it in, only for Leo to take it out and replace it on the shelf. “Leo,” he complains.

“It’s pure sugar,” he mutters, picking up a box of tea instead and setting it in the cart. “Don’t think I don’t still have my sugar-and-sweets lecture from grade eleven stuffed away. Jim, you eat too much crap and it’s going to catch up with you one day,” he warns. Jim sighs and all but crashes his body into Leo’s as heavy protest, as if his lethargy is somehow going to win him the honey back. “Infant,” Leo mutters, but it sounds fond.

“If I can’t have honey, can I at least get chocolate covered almonds?” Jim wheedles. “It’s not like you’re living with me, you can’t possibly monitor every single second of my day,” he protests. “…unless…”

He looks at Leo carefully to assess how devious he looks.

“You paid Gaila to monitor my diet, didn’t you?”

“Paid is such an ugly word.” Leo smirks and then stops the cart so he can look properly at Jim. “I told her if she watched what you ate, she could do my hair in whatever style she likes the next time I drop by her salon.”

“Am I allowed to be there for that?” Jim asks tentatively, trying to quash down the over-eager voice in his mind that is begging to be there for that. Gaila’s a good hairstylist and Leo’s had the same hairstyle since he was four. Jim would kill to see how he comes out of that chair, but he knows better than to ask for too much.

Leo seems to consider this over a box of cereal. “Maybe.”

Maybe is much more than Jim expected to get, so he’s going to take that as a minor victory.

They meander down aisles and Jim feels almost like he’s stepped into the pages of a storybook where the couple is happy together. It feels like they’ve been doing this for years. Even though things with Leo were always interesting, they always felt comfortable, like they just knew how to work with each other.

This is just a glimpse into the life that might have been. Jim stands there debating between brands of milk – something he’s never really ever had to do in his life because food was food – and begins to feel a gnawing ache in his chest, like he’s facing a more important decision than skim or two-percent.

He must have been there for a long while because Leo has to come fetch him and places a solid hand on Jim’s shoulder. He leans in and Jim swears Leo is radiating warmth because he feels it all over his back where Leo presses in. “Hey,” Leo murmurs. “It’s not that big a decision.”

Jim swallows a lump in his throat and reaches out tentatively, clasping whatever’s in front of him as he refuses to make a conscious decision about this. He’s been standing in front of the fridge for at least ten minutes and is feeling chilled for it. He sets the milk in the cart, turning into Leo’s warmth and flashing an apologetic smile. “Sorry,” he manages, trying to push aside the subconscious desire to just take an extra step forward and slide his arms around Leo’s waist to try and leech some of the warmth from him. “Guess I just drifted off there.”

Leo drifts away and Jim swears it’s like ice down his spine, reminding him that he’s not exactly allowed to do those things right now.

“Hey,” Jim blurts out suddenly, words born out of a desire to suppress an awkward moment. “Come have dinner at my place. Just, you know, dinner. We haven’t exactly sat around and caught up properly. I’ll even cook.”

Leo is eyeing him dubiously and Jim wants to take it as a good sign that he can practically read Leo’s mind, still.

“Yes, I know how.”

“Because the last time you cooked for me, we had a fire,” Leo reminds him.

“I remember.”

“And my mother banned you from the house for a week because you ruined her best frying pan.”

“Yes,” Jim concurs sharply. “I know.” He fidgets and to avoid getting questioned about why he’s so anxious, he starts wandering down the aisles and picking up random pieces of food – almonds, baking soda, a pie crust – and tries to avoid Leo’s non-answer.

He makes it to the end of the aisle, about to turn a literal corner, when Leo calls after him.

“What?” Jim asks, turning back, not sure what Leo just said – though maybe it’s truer that he’s just not entirely convinced he isn’t making things up and hearing what he wants to.

Leo takes long strides down the aisle, smiling politely at the one little old lady he passes and the young child who beams away at him – being the town doctor means that you know everyone and everyone respects and admires you. “I said yes,” he says, when he’s close enough that he doesn’t have to shout.

He wanders around the corner in order to keep shopping and now Jim is left to worry about the dinner more than before. Now he actually has to figure out how to straddle the line between romantic and friendly, to find some way to show Leo that he still cares, but isn’t suddenly trying to steal him away from Jocelyn with dinner alone.

He fumbles with his phone as he tries to get Gaila on the line.

He’s only one man and he’s going to need help.

*

It’s stupid to obsess over something like a light switch, but for hours, Jim’s been unable to do anything but slide a switch up and down through the various degrees of lightness and dark. All because he’s not sure what mood he’s supposed to be setting with Leo coming over for a dinner, just the two of them, when the bigger issue lurking around him is the fact that Leo has Jocelyn in his life in a romantic fashion and unless Jim is willing to be a complete asshole, that’s going to take a lot of work to convince Leo to change.

They had planned this dinner a week ago and that particular elephant has been in the room ever since then.

Jim is still waging his war with the lightswitch. “Honest to fuck, Jim, you think he cares about the lighting?” he mutters to himself when the frustration of too-light, too-dark, too-romantic seizes at him and leaves him almost paralyzed. Over a lightswitch.

It’s not like he and Leo are doing anything more than friends do. It’s just dinner. If this is just dinner between friends, then too dim a setting is going to make things very awkward, very quickly. He slams the lights up to full brightness in a fit of pique and decides that it’s just going to have to do, because he’s incredibly tired of all the back and forth.

He leaves the lights as is, leaves the dinner on the table – he’s just fried up steak and mushrooms – and deliberately makes sure that he doesn’t change into anything too suggestive or too nice. He doesn’t want Leo getting the wrong idea, even if Jim wants to be giving that idea on some level. He’s not here to start a turf war with Jocelyn over their mutual friend – mutual boyfriend sounds awkward and technically Leo is Jim’s ex, so that doesn’t work when it comes to describing him.

He’s in the middle of an argument about whether the napkins say something he doesn’t mean to say when the doorbell rings. Jim glances to Gaila’s door, glad that she’s vacated for the evening. All he needs is for things to be perfectly normal and chaste and for Gaila to take things the wrong way because she happens to walk in at the wrong moment. The last thing he needs is for a rumor to start that he’s started to woo Leo back – even if maybe he is, subconsciously.

Jim takes a deep breath and heads to the front hall, smoothing his palms over his jeans, staining them with sweat and the remnants of mushroom oils. He pulls open the door and tries to calm himself down, but this feels like a date and he’s been trying to turn it into something casual in his mind.

The fact that it hasn’t worked should be worrisome, because it means that Jim is failing fast and hard when it comes to putting Leo in his rear-view mirror.

“Hey, you’re early,” Jim says, trying to keep things loose and light.

Leo is carrying a bottle of wine with him, which he extends to Jim with an awkward-seeming smile. “You know my parents. If you’re going to be late, you might as well not even bother showing up. Side-effect of growing up with a debutante mother,” he says, even if Jim already knows how much manners rules the McCoy home. “I’m still grateful she never did follow through on that threat to send me to finishing school.”

Jim grins as he takes the bottle of wine, leaning in as if he’s about to steal a kiss before he thinks better of it, clutching the bottle to his stomach. “I still would’ve paid good money to see you balancing books on your head.”

“Not well. I was clumsy until I grew into my frame,” Leo says, gesturing to his body. Jim swallows hard, trying to ignore the invitation to leer and gape at all the amazing aspects Leo has to offer now that he’s grown up and into that body of his.

Jim remembers once more to breathe and gestures inside. “You remember Gaila’s place, I’m sure,” he says, because according to Gaila, Leo and the whole crew – the whole stupid ignoring crew – have been around for dinners on a monthly basis. “I’m just finishing up with the potatoes. We’ll be eating soon enough.”

Leo starts to wander around the place, touching things that he’s more than familiar with, Jim is sure. Jim tries not to watch him too much, but he finds his attention drifts back every once in a while against his better judgment. Leo looks incredible and Jim isn’t sure if he’s supposed to say as much aloud. Jim finishes with the plates and brings Leo to the table with little more than a nod in the direction of the area.

“So,” Jim finally speaks after they’re finished tucking into appetizers and he has time to garner up the courage to ask a question that he’s been wondering about since he got back into town (if dreading has become wondering). “You and Joce. Engaged?”

Leo glances up from his steak and stares at Jim for a long moment, almost like he’s drawing it out to the point that this is all unbearable. “No,” he finally replies, tapping his fork against the plate slowly and carefully. Just when Jim thinks he’s in the clear, Leo opens his mouth and says, “Not yet, at least.”

And there it is, like an iron gate closing out the last rays of light that Jim could see. He stares at Leo and tries to discern whether or not that’s meant to push him away or whether it’s just something to hurt Jim after Jim put in so many years of hurt himself by simply not coming back to town.

He takes a deep breath and buries back any comments he might make while he focuses on the wine glass at hand, counting to a hundred so he doesn’t keep asking questions and trying to find a ray of hope for himself.

He really didn’t expect news that he’s already suspected to hurt so much. Except that maybe he harbored the slightest of hopes that Leo still carries a torch for him that burns brightly enough to make him want to give things a second shot.

Jim takes a deep and steadying breath and forces himself to put on his best smile, an utter lie, but if Leo’s happy, then he has to be happy. It’s worked like that since they were fifteen and Jim’s not about to stop.

“Well, when it happens,” he forces each word out, even though they feel terrible to speak, like he’s choking on them, “tell Joce I make an excellent maid of honor. Mauve and taupe suit me.” This is all said with a winsome smile and instead of cheering Leo, it just seems to make him more concerned.

Suddenly, Jim wants to take it all back and beg for Leo to think it over, to think about him, but that’s too selfish considering Jim left without thinking of anyone but himself.

“So,” Jim finally continues when he can’t stop feeling like crap and Leo won’t stop looking at him like he’s about to explode. “Dessert?”

Maybe if they just focus on the moments at hand, Jim won’t have to stare into the future and think about what will happen if Leo walks down that aisle to meet Jocelyn and Jim loses him for good.

part three of three
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