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Jim isn’t sure why he’s here.

He’d received the folded note slipped under Gaila’s door without a postmark on it. It’s clearly feminine writing and it’s clearly not an adult and it’s asking him to ‘Please attend Miss Savannah McCoy’s concert at seven PM sharp. Or else she will stick a trombone in a very unlikely and painful place’. Jim had smiled ruefully and finds it a relief to know that even if everyone in town hates him, it’s good to know that Savvy still harbors a bit of a thing for him. He debates going, he thinks about avoiding it, but in the end he knows that he’s got precious few bridges left to this town and he doesn’t want to burn this one.

He makes time to buy a bouquet of daisies from the local florist and smiles politely as he informs Mrs. Sulu that no, the flowers are not for Leo McCoy, and as an after-thought Jim all-but-begs her to tell Hikaru to call him, please.

With the daisies in hand, he’s ready to go to the concert being held at the auditorium of his old elementary school. At least this place has no memories of Leo. He hadn’t met Leo until the tenth grade because Eleanor McCoy had seen fit to homeschool him until the years of higher education. Leo’s arrival to the high school had been the biggest gossip the town had in years.

It was only replaced when Jim got together with Leo and together they began to take Montgomery by storm.

Sometimes, Jim regrets that he let them become more of a myth than an actual couple. Sometimes he thinks that’s partially why he felt so pressed in and trapped in his life. Maybe because of the thought that everyone was watching, he thought that he had to escape even more – sort of like a strange life-version of a Chinese finger-trap.

Still, if anyone ever asks him if he regrets a single moment, he knows that his instant answer is going to be: never, no, not one minute.

He stands in front of the mirror in Gaila’s front hall and adjusts his tie, feeling like he’s being choked. You don’t need ties to travel the world and Jim hadn’t even brought one with him on the road, but Gaila had forced it into his hands the minute he told her about the concert.

“How do you even own ties?” he had shouted at her as he changed, because there have been no gentleman callers since he’s been back. Apparently, according to what she shouts back, it’s a fashion thing and Jim wouldn’t understand since he’s turned to muddy boots and khakis as his way of fashion choice.

He barely remembers how to do up the tie except that there’s a tree and a rabbit is supposed to run somewhere close to it. He gives a frustrated huff and that seems to get Gaila coming out from her room, book in hand, and glasses on her face.

“Jim,” she chides and sets the book down on the table – Dostoevsky, apparently, which is a bit more of a headache than Jim really likes out of his reading material, but he figures good for Gaila for giving it a whirl. “Honestly, why do I ever let you out.”

“Because if you don’t, you’ll have an angry young girl at your door?” Jim suggests. “I mean, Leo always had a temper, but nothing like that kid sister of his,” he scoffs, standing still as he can as Gaila fixes the tie for him – only choking him a little more – but at least he strikes a pretty picture in the mirror. “It’s just a concert,” he says, as if he’s psyching himself up for this. “It’s just a concert. I can do this.”

Gaila purses her lips, as if she’s keeping a secret to herself that she doesn’t want to share.

“Gaila,” Jim coaxes. “What?”

“It’s not just a concert, Jim,” she says as she rolls her eyes, like she can’t believe how dense Jim is being. “It’s a McCoy concert. It doesn’t matter how much control you think you have over this situation. This can go very badly.” She smoothes her hand out over the tie, as if she can somehow convince him to stay home with gentleness alone. “You’ll call if you get in trouble?”

“Define trouble.”

“You can’t keep your hands to yourself and Leo is right there. Jocelyn is my friend too, you know,” she reminds him sharply. “And undefined or not, you are not going to make a mess of things, James Tiberius Kirk. Got it?”

“I never should have told you my middle name,” he complains, swatting her hands away as she tries to adjust his tie one more time. “Leave it alone, Gaila, it’s good as it’s getting.”

She takes a step back, just far enough to give him a pointed look. “I mean it, Jim. I want you to text me if things start getting out of control.” She already looks as if she knows that isn’t going to happen, because Jim has a habit of rebelling against what people tell him to do. He tries to tell himself he’ll listen to her, but now he’s almost more inclined to turn his phone off and not look at it all night.

Jim agrees, even though he’s not sure that he’s going to have the strength to be able to call Gaila in the event of a Leo-spurred emergency. He does put Gaila on speed-dial number one before he leaves with his suit and the flowers and readies himself for tonight.

He’s not sure whether a part of him is hoping against hope that something will happen or if he’s praying that it won’t. He sets the worry aside and tells himself what will come, will come and that there’s no point obsessing over it.


Where Leo was always good with maths and sciences, questions of the heart and sharp incisions into a body, Savannah McCoy is one for the arts. She shines in her theatre program, sings like an angel every Sunday in church, and plays the trombone with grace. Leo would never miss one of her concerts, not for the world.

He’s standing in the lobby of the school with his suit on, waiting for his parents to bring around the car when he realizes that he’s not the only one who received a personal invitation to attend tonight’s events.

“Jim,” he scoffs, shaking his head. With that one word and Jim Kirk pushing through the audience of parents, Leo’s sure that the entire town has already started to gossip about this evening, not to mention make up falsities about how Leo looks like he’s happy to see Jim – he is blatantly not, not even a little bit, not even a tiny bit because why would he be happy to see Jim when he looks so damn good?

Jim’s even put on a tie. Leo didn’t even think Jim owned a tie.

Suddenly, he wishes more than anything that Joce didn’t have to go out of town to sit for her sister’s kids. He needs some moral support right now and he’s pretty sure his parents are going to be another ten minutes parking the damn car.

Jim is fidgeting with the damn tie, which only calls more attention to it. Leo would like to strangle him by the thing as much as he wants to fondle him using it as a handy tool for pulling him closer. “Savvy said I had to come,” Jim says apologetically. “She threatened...well, I’m sure you can imagine.”

“I’m sure I can,” Leo agrees ruefully, because he knows his sister, all right. Even if things are starting to become civil between him and Jim, it doesn’t stop him peeking at the double-door entryway to see if his parents can’t get there a little faster. “You bring a date?”

“I think she’d have my head if I did,” Jim says, bluntly. “Her and the entire rest of the town. I’m trying to earn forgiveness, here, not trying to give them confirmation that I really am the asshole they all think I am.” He shrugs his shoulders and edges his hands into his pockets. Hell, he almost looks sheepish. “I came alone.”

Which is good for Jim’s reputation, but is very bad news for Leo. This doesn’t bode well for the night.

Leo opens his mouth to speak, but the clanging of a bell interrupts whatever it is he’s thinking of saying. He looks at the crowd as they begin to shuffle and migrate and knows that if they don’t move with them, they’re going to be solid forces in the way of a moving mass. He wants to say something about how Jim came alone, but before he can, Jim speaks.

“Anywhere, where’s Joce?”

Leo smiles ruefully and should have known that question was coming. “Savannah sent the invitations. Jocelyn took that as reason to find other plans for the evening.”

“She and Jocelyn not get along?”

“Not like you and her do,” Leo says, absolutely honest, even though he probably could have lied. He feels like that’d be betraying someone (though he’s not sure which party). Leo reaches over and presses a tentative hand to Jim’s back, coaxing him along. “C’mon, the performance is about to start.”

Jim inevitably gets put between Leo and Mr. McCoy and for the first bit of the performance, everyone is focused on Savannah’s solo. She stands and is moved to the front and she absolutely shines in her confidence in the piece.

The trouble comes later when the rest of the students are playing and rather than concentrating, Leo rests his hand down on the seat beside him before realizing that this puts his fingers smack-dab in Jim’s territory. He awkwardly realizes that when Jim’s hands slide atop his and then Leo is frozen, a lump in his chest, unable to move away or even speak.

It’s suddenly too hot. That, and he feels endlessly sick. He’s sure that he’s flushed and that he must look like a mess, but he can’t seem to drive away thoughts of Jim and Jim’s hands on him and around him and everywhere. He can’t stop thinking about kissing him and losing full hours while wrapped up in his body.

He can’t breathe. He needs to get out of there.

“I...” is all he manages to croak out, shot out of his seat in a single second before he nearly runs to the washroom.

The band is playing a Bach piece when Leo runs and escapes from Jim’s hand over his, from his family’s expectant looks and rushes straight to the men’s room to splash water on his face, like that’ll ground him back in reality and stop making him think that he’s still eighteen and he’s allowed to have everything and anything at once.

His back stiffens when he hears the door swing open and his shoulders tighten when he sees Jim over his shoulder in the reflection of the mirror.

“Hey,” Jim says quietly, anxiously. “Your Dad sent me to check on you.”

Leo feels his whole body go tense. He’s been controlling himself so admirably lately in the face of long-buried emotions coming up again like they’ve just been waiting to surface. He’s been doing so well, but when he looks at Jim in the dim light and remembers the feel of their hands pressed together, all he can think about is the whirlwind of loving Jim and how much he never wanted it to end and how he still thinks about their second chance that he’s never officially said he wants.

Leo stares at his reflection in the mirror, cupping water in his palms and splashing his face with it, as if that’s going to somehow calm him. “Savvy will be glad you came.”

“Yeah,” Jim murmurs. “Well.”


“I only partially came for her.” Jim looks apologetic when Leo looks up and catches Jim over his shoulder in the glass of the mirror. “I mean, she sent me the note and I could never have missed this, but I knew that you were going to be here and…”

Leo holds his breath, turning and pressing the small of his back against the sink. “And?” he coaxes, not sure he wants to hear where this is going at the same time that he wants nothing more than to find out what Jim is going to say.

“And I’m a little drawn to you. Always have been.” Jim eases in slowly, tentatively, reaching up to press a hand to Leo’s cheek. Leo can feel his cheeks flush as if they’re on fire and he focuses on steady breaths. He’s not a teenager anymore. He’s a grown man and a doctor, damn it. He can deal with this.

Although, maybe he’s not entirely capable of being calm about this, Leo reasons, because Jim is watching the way Leo grips at the low sinks of the washroom, elbows twisted slightly and presenting strained forearms to Jim like a hawk. He watches Leo like he’s a predator. Leo doesn’t feel hunted so much as he feels wanted, that electricity and adrenaline coursing together to create a singularly unique sensation in Leo’s body.

Like he’s alive and he never really understood how good it could feel until Jim looks at him like that.

Leo swallows a lump in his throat and leans back, which only presses the cold surface of the sink hard against the small of his back. His shirt slips up and he gasps at the shock of temperature greeting him. It serves to go against how flush his skin has grown in staring at Jim and wondering just what the hell they’re doing there.

“Jim, I...” he ekes out, and the words are thick with his drawl, one of the clearest indicators that he’s out of sorts. “We oughta be getting back.”

“Yeah,” Jim agrees roughly, but rather than stepping away, he presses forward until his hips are inches from Leo’s and his hand is on Leo’s cheek. He seems dazed, almost as bad as Leo himself. Neither of them is in any kind of sane place at the moment, which should make what comes next obvious, but Jim still possesses the ability to shock the hell out of him.

It’s why when Jim leans forward and kisses Leo for the first time in seven years, Leo is actually and honestly shocked.

It’s also why he falls back in time – or so his brain tells him to do – and kisses Jim back, raising a hand to cup his cheek and pull him close. It’s like he’s trying to make up for lost time. It’s like he’s trying to desperately coax Jim back home with a kiss.

It’s like he’s being a cheating asshole, is the thought that comes after that. It’s also the thought that has him pulling backwards in a hurry.

He swallows rapidly, his whole body turning on him and telling him that he needs to ignore rationality and logic and just kiss Jim again before he can do anything like come to his senses. He’s been missing those lips for too many years and they are, at this moment, right there and it would be so easy to just lean forward and demand Jim kiss him again.

He really doesn’t figure he’ll get much argument.

Still, they’re both smart men. He knows better than being a total idiot and making out with his ex-boyfriend in the school auditorium of his sister’s concert – and how’s that for a mouthful. He swallows the lump in his throat, takes every thread of desire and forces it to check out at the door, and then (and only then) when he feels he’s found composure again, does he meet Jim’s gaze.

“We can’t do this,” he says sharply.

He doesn’t even wait for Jim to reply before he brushes past the man and heads back into the auditorium, fidgeting with his collar as if he can’t breathe. He whispers to his mother that he’s going home and he’ll walk, but he just needs to get out of there.

God bless her, she doesn’t ask any questions of him. He’s not sure he could even begin to explain what’s going on in his mind at that moment.


Jim shouldn’t be there.

There’s a summer-storm closing in and the thunder is rumbling on the horizon, giving Jim very little time to actually do this. He’s only come to pick up his duffel bag from McCoy’s truck that Gaila had brought over the other night, needing it for the weekend away that he’s planning. He can only take so much of the town treating him like the lowest of dirt before he needs to get away and remind himself that the world exists beyond this town.

The world has so much more for him than this. He doesn’t understand why none of them can see how trapped they are in the confines of their crappy little town, closed in, imprisoned, never able to get out because they’re all too scared. And Leo’s one of them, Leo is one of them and he’s never going to leave. Jim’s never going to be able to get him out. That is something that hurts him more than he thought it would. He’s been back all of a couple of weeks and he already knows that he doesn’t want to leave this town again without Leo with him.

Except that Leo has his happy home with Jocelyn and how on earth is Jim supposed to contend with that? He doesn’t even bother to knock at the door. Jim sinks his hands into his pockets and waits for Leo to notice him.

He would be insane to think that even after all these years, there’s a kind of current running through their skin, electrically charged and sparking when the other is near. Jim used to think they were electric, back when they were idiot kids. Now he knows better. They were just buzzed on the spark of sex and first-love. How is a kid, a fifteen-year-old kid, supposed to differentiate between that and something real?

He leans, here, against Leo’s truck and takes deep breathes. The curtains draw away from the window, but behind the fabric and the panes, he only sees Jocelyn. He waves, anxious and wary, and knows that he shouldn’t be here.

The storm behind him rumbles as it approaches and he hears the sudden crack of another object nearby – in the sudden way that Leo wrenches the front door open and slams it behind him. The jolt of the sound makes Jim jump to attention, posture straightening up. He knows that what they’re doing is risky. They’re playing with fire and Jim kissing Leo in the dark bathroom of an auditorium just isn’t right, but...but he can’t just let go.

“Leo,” Jim starts apologetically. “Listen, I just came for some things. I don’t want to talk about the other night and I’m not here to make a machismo show in front of Joce or anything,” he hurries to insist, as if he can somehow make this better.

Leo is still glaring and when Jim takes the chance to look past him, he sees Jocelyn watching from the bottom corner of the window.

His life has been reduced to a cheap show, watched by current girlfriends.

“Jim, you don’t know what kind of game you’re playing here,” Leo warns, stepping to his left to cut off Jim’s view of Jocelyn, as if he knows that she’s sitting there watching this – as if he doesn’t want Jocelyn to see this fight. “You can’t just go ‘round kissing folk in dark places and reminding ‘em of what they lost,” he accuses and Jim feels his heart clench.

Leo’s accent never sounds that thick unless he’s really and truly angry or absolutely torn to pieces. Judging by that look in his eyes, that’s not anger. Jim’s seen Leo angry. He’s seen Leo furious and ready to kick the ass of their small town. What Jim is seeing in Leo’s eyes right now is so far from anger that he hates himself. Leo looks heartbroken and if Jim had just stayed away, maybe Leo would never have to look this way again.

“You can’t just turn up in town again and think that just because you know what to do with your life, that the rest of us are so sure,” he says, digging his blunt nails into his palm. Jim is focused there, his eyes stuck. He looks at the lines on Leo’s hand and remembers tracing them, donning a fake psychic’s voice and predicting all the long years of Leo’s life. “Not everyone knows how to navigate the world like you do,” he accuses.

Somehow, for some reason, in a moment when anything could set him off, it’s those words that make Jim snap. The storm is right above them and spitting water down, but Jim is holding his ground and he doesn’t think he could be dragged away by a dozen wild horses at this rate. “You think I know what to do?” He’s furious, absolutely god-damned furious. “I’ll tell you what I know, Leo. I know what sweethearts in this town do, the ones that have been together longer than us, I know what they do. They settle down, plant roots, make a family, and never leave. Do you know how that sounds?” He’s stepping forward, the warm rain almost an instigator against his skin and oh, does he ever know what Southern stubborn men are like, because Leo is holding his ground just as firmly in front of him.

“Sounds like stability to me, you idiot,” Leo curses him out, spitting out the words like they’re choking him and he just needs to push them out before they kill him.

“Like torture!” Jim retorts, well aware that his accent is slipping, that he’s regressing into the little boy that grew up in Montgomery, the one that thought the best he could do was a hardware store on the main strip and a pretty house and family, never to see anything the world had to offer except the same sun and moon for years and years. “So yes. Yes. I left. I left Montgomery and I left my family and friends and yes, I left you. Am I sorry? I am, but I couldn’t just stay! Not until I saw the world, so what do I know? I know I don’t regret what I did and I know that I love you. And that’s about all I do know.” His drawl is back in full force and it’s tinged with shame and regret and fury. The rain is pouring now, soaking his clothes to his skin and doing the same for Leo’s white t-shirt and jeans.

They’re not exactly being quiet and Jim’s sure that Jocelyn must have heard every word, every last pathetic word, and Jim keeps thinking of prison bars in the form of a town and he just needs to go.

“God...dammit,” Leo hisses, and before Jim can stop him or realize what’s happening, Leo’s fist connects with Jim’s jaw.

He’s only been punched once by Leo before, even though he has cathartic dreams about it all the time, as if Leo will forgive him and come after him if only he can get his anger out. Jim lets out a sharp sound of pain, clutching at his jaw with both hands as he stares at Leo. He’s staggered back against the truck, a dull sound emitting as he hits it, and he lets out a sharp groan that is equal parts pain and arousal.

Maybe some of those dreams have fucked him up more than he wants to admit – maybe he’s just spent too much time fantasizing in far-off places about Leo deciding that he needs to find Jim.

Jocelyn had asked if he wanted Leo back – if that was what this is about. Jim hadn’t known then and he supposes he still doesn’t know now, but with that punch given and with a kiss stolen in the dark halls of a school, Jim is slowly beginning to realize what he’s been trying to ignore for so long.

He misses Leo. Plain and simple, he wants him back in his life, regardless of what role he’s playing. The sun rises and sets, the world keeps turning, but Jim feels as if he’s missing out on what makes life worth it when he’s alone in all the most beautiful places in the world. Maybe if he’d never met Leo, maybe if he had always been an adventurer in solitude, he wouldn’t feel this way.

He’s loved, he forced the loss, and now he’s paying for it.

Jim keeps his hand stubbornly at his jaw, aware it’s going to bruise, but knowing that it’s a punch that’s been years coming. “You done yelling?” he asks with his voice barely audible above the rain at this point. “Because I am.”

Jim chances a look at Leo, which is probably not the best idea, because as soon as he sees how unsure and worried and upset Leo looks, all that Jim wants to do is take back everything that he’s said because he wants to reiterate what he does know. He knows how much he loves Leo, which should say something, at least.

At the same time, he left so many years ago and that’s when he forfeited his claim to making Leo feel better. Jim knows if he looks to the window, he’s sure that Jocelyn will be there and there’s just a small part of Jim that wonders if she’s upset that Leo’s hit him.

“I’ve wanted to punch you for years,” says Leo, voice subdued as the storm gets worse. All hope for their clothes is gone as the fabric clings to skin and mats hair down. “Thought it’d make me feel better.”

“Did it?”


Jim doesn’t feel much better either and the rain mixed with the wind is making him feel chilled to the bone. All that and he’s still more preoccupied with the fact that Jocelyn is probably inside and must think the lowest of low of Jim. Somehow, that’s the thought that brings him back to reality fastest of all. He swallows hard, glancing up warily at Leo.

“I still need my bag,” he admits quietly.

Leo nods -- a heavy lift and fall of his head. “I’ll get it. Wait here,” he commands.

Jim does think about leaving and running off, but he feels like in the end that’s only going to make things more awkward between them – and since he’s not planning on leaving town, there will inevitably be a future meeting that he’d like to avoid awkwardness during. So he waits because Leo told him to and because still, years later, Jim will do anything that Leo asks of him.

Jim is breathing hard and it finally sinks in that he’s soaked from the rain. Head to toe, there isn’t an inch of fabric that hasn’t been utterly ruined.

It takes five minutes for Leo to come back outside with the duffel bag clenched so tightly in his hand that his knuckles turn white and even through the din of rain and steam, Jim can still see that. It takes an awful lot for Jim to stop noticing everything about Leo and one fight and a punch isn’t going to stop that.

“There,” Leo says, curt and snappish. “There’s your stuff. Now, go, Jim.” It’s not a question, not even a polite enforced demand. It’s an order and one that Jim is willing to obey. He takes the bag from Leo, his fingers brushing against Leo’s knuckles for the briefest of moments. It makes Jim’s throat go dry and he’s pushing his luck.

He feels like if he stays much longer, Leo’s going to punch him again and Jim’s not sure how easily they can come back from that.

He gives Leo a stiff nod of his head, as if communicating that he’ll do what he says, but only because he doesn’t want this to be the end. When he goes, he doesn’t check back over his shoulder once – not to look at Leo, not to see if Jocelyn is still watching, and not to see whether or not Leo is still watching him go.

It might just break him to know that Leo isn’t, so he keeps walking.


Gaila’s out of town for the weekend and Jim had been meant to go with her. She had taken one look at the bruise on his face, made a thoughtful noise, and then asked if it had been Leo or Jocelyn. Jim’s even-keeled response of “Leo” just earned him another little thoughtful noise, which makes Jim wonder if everyone had been expecting this. When she started packing up, she’d just looked at him to ask if he was still going with her and Jim was as surprised as anyone to discover that he just wanted to stay in, for once.

Now she’s gone and the apartment feels slightly bereft without her. He pokes around and watches television until he’s bored of that, reads until he finishes a slim novella, and inevitably ends up tidying up the living room.

His dusting is interrupted by a curt knock at the door. Jim almost hopes that it’s someone trying to sell him something. At this point, anything to take his mind off the fight with Leo would be welcome.

He tugs open the door just a crack, in the event that Montgomery has suddenly developed a criminal population and someone is here to rob them. He keeps the door opened only slightly further ajar when he sees Leo standing there.

“There’s a bruise on my face that says I shouldn’t let you in,” Jim says, even if Jim had forgiven Leo for the punch mere seconds after it happened. Truthfully, he’s a little terrified to even face Leo right now. It’s easier to hate someone if you didn’t know about their still-strong feelings and their terrifying talent for loyalty.

Leo’s always been a loyal bastard, willing to be with you right there until the end. Jim loves that, but at this moment, he’s wondering who Leo is being loyal to – Jocelyn or Jim or someone else entirely.

Leo looks awkward, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans and he’s looking everywhere except at Jim. “Can I come in?”

“Are you going to punch me again?”

“God, no, Jim,” he breathes out the words, as if he’s absolutely shocked that Jim’s even suggested it. “Never,” he adds, firmly.

That’s all that Jim needs to open the door the rest of the way and gesture inside to give an indication that Leo’s welcome into a home that’s not even his. Gaila’s been good about letting him borrow her space and he knows that he needs to eventually find his own place in town or just go.

With things not going so well with anything or anyone, he’s starting to linger more on the idea of leaving. Except that every once in a while, he thinks about Leo and he starts having second thoughts.

Jim shoves his hands in his pockets and wanders the room, pacing familiar tracks and keeping his gaze down on the floor. “So,” he draws out that one word, like it’s the right thing to say. “What brings you to these parts?”

Leo opens his mouth to speak and then closes it. He seems unsure and Jim is starting to feel anxious himself, feeding off that energy. For a terrible moment, Jim wonders if something terrible has happened and that’s why Leo is here – just to give the news.

“Leo?” Jim asks, breathing harder now. “Is everything okay? Is everyone okay? Gaila, your family...?”

“It’s Jocelyn.”

“What about her?” Oh shit, thinks Jim. He can’t even breathe as he thinks about the myriad of ways that something might have gone wrong. It’s not like he’d ever been serious as he lay awake at night and thought about ways that Jocelyn might get hurt or have to leave, giving him another shot at Leo. He hadn’t been serious and now he’s feeling guilty. “Leo, is she okay?”

“Jim, she’s breathing,” Leo assures and all at once Jim exhales all the stress that he’s been holding in. “She’s just doing it somewhere else. Packed up her bags, left me a note saying that she’s not stupid enough to stay when my eyes are straying elsewhere, even if neither of us has a hope in hell of understanding what the hell is going on between us.” Leo looks defeated, his shoulders slumped and a tired look in his eyes. “She left. She saw that fight, told me that she didn’t know what to do with me, and then when I came back from my run, she was gone.”

Jim purses his lips together and he knows that there’s more to this story. He knows that Jocelyn doesn’t deserve Leo’s distracted attentions and Jim knows that he’s at fault for this because he’s the reason the attention is so distracted.

“Were you really going to marry her?” Jim finally asks.

The silence between them answers the question before Leo even quietly adds, “I don’t know. Half the time, we were just roommates who sometimes slept together. We sort of bypassed dating to just live together. We got on so well, it just seemed comfortable.” Leo fidgets slightly and Jim feels sudden guilt at bringing up the topic at all. “I don’t know, Jim,” he says again, like there’s an answer locked away in those words and Leo’s picking at the lock to try to get them out. “I loved her. I did, but god help me, I never stopped loving you like the insane fool I am.” He sighs heavily and pinches the bridge of his nose. “She wants all her stuff ready for her tomorrow. I need help,” he admits, staring just to the side of Jim, like he desperately doesn’t want to admit this.

Jim takes in deep breaths, trying to figure out if he really ought to be saying yes to this. It seems like a patently bad idea, but he’s already saying, ‘yes, of course’ before his brain can catch up with him, promising Leo anything he wants in this moment.

He feels a knot in his chest and knows that he wants to get it loose, to just tell Leo he can’t, but he’s never been able to say no to Leo and he doesn’t foresee starting now.

“Do we need to stop anywhere and get boxes?” is what Jim asks instead of telling Leo it’s probably a bad idea for the two of them to be alone together anytime soon.

Leo seems distracted and Jim gravitates closer to slide his hand to Leo’s back, pressing it warmly there to try and support him. Instead of doing much to calm him down, though, it brings him worryingly close to Leo and makes him think about the way he smells or the curve of his neck, or the way Jim can remember what Leo’s hands on his body feels like.

Leo just turns his head into Jim and offers a brief and tired smile. “No, I’ve got some bags. Are you sure you want to help, Jim? I know this is a bit awkward.”

“Leo,” Jim exhales. “I’d do anything for you.” It’s hard to say those words and not have his whole life stop so they can evaluate what they mean, but Leo doesn’t seem to focus too much on the heavy gravity of such a confession and Jim is just glad that they’re going to keep going as if Jim hasn’t said it. He means it, but he’s not sure he’s ready to talk about it.

Especially not when Jocelyn is just barely out of the picture and he has more respect than people give him credit for, especially when she’s been as good a friend to him as Leo has.

He stays close to Leo’s side all night and they pack away her things while Leo tells stories and Jim matches them with things he remembers about Jocelyn from childhood. They finish at two in the morning and just in time, because Jim can barely keep from yawning every few seconds.

Leo catches him in the middle of one of his epic yawns and takes hold of Jim’s shoulders, steering him in the direction of the guest room. “Stay,” is all he says, his voice soft and teasing as his breath ghosts over Jim’s earlobe.

Jim doesn’t need much more convincing than that.


It’s early in the morning when Jim wakes to the sound of roosters crowing their announcement of a new day. Birds chirp and the morning light spills harshly into the room at an angle he’s wholly unprepared for. This isn’t his room, it's not his bed, and it's absolutely not his house. It’s not even Leo’s bedroom. It’s his guest room, but given the fact that things are mending so tentatively between them, Jim doesn’t want to give in to the worry that one push too many will bring the whole relationship crashing down and sharing a bed overnight is definitely a push of that nature.

He shifts the heavy duvet and groans, pressing the heel of his hand to his eye and brushing away at the sleep there, trying to make his decision. Stay or go. Stay and face the music or just go and take the safe route.

He opts for the middle ground and stumbles to his feet. The wood planks of the floor beneath him creak – the old McCoy house isn’t exactly new -- and he heads over to the dresser to search for a t-shirt to wear. The first drawer yields nothing and neither does the second, but the third gives him something that he’s not entirely sure he’s ready to see.

He could have left well enough alone. He could have just knocked on Leo’s door and asked for a change of spare clothes.

Instead, he let his damn curiosity get the better of him and so he’s snooping around rooms that he shouldn’t be and looking in hypothetical Pandora’s Boxes. He shouldn’t be so surprised to find something that he doesn’t want to. That’s usually what happens when you go poking your nose in places that should remain closed and out of sight and touch. In the third drawer, there are no t-shirts.

There is, however, a blue velvet box staring up at him.

Logic tells Jim ten things at once. That this belongs to Jocelyn, that this is none of his business, that he’s not supposed to be looking through these things -- that maybe if he had stayed, he would have some kind of right to be looking in these drawers, but he didn’t.

He hasn’t lived his life shying away from anything, though. Blue velvet boxes aren’t suddenly going to make him start. He pries it from the drawer and balances it carefully in his hands. Carefully, he checks over his shoulder to make sure Leo hasn’t woken up and has decided that the lack of noise coming from Jim means that the situation needs investigating.

His mind, fond of telling him all the things that could be in that blue box, isn’t ready for what it actually is.

He knows all about Pandora’s Box. Filled with all the terrible things in the world, unleashed by the curiosity of humanity. When Jim opens the box, he doesn’t find anything terrible at all, but his curiosity does give way to a black hole forming in his stomach, gnawing away and threatening destruction of all things good.

It’s a class ring from eight years ago from good ol’ Montgomery High and under the gold band is a clear etching:

buckle up – JTK

He barely even remembers ordering the ring. Back in their senior year, it had been his idea and they were supposed to pick them up after graduation. They were supposed to go out for dinner that night and talk about the things to come in their future. They were supposed to celebrate being done high school and maybe sneak back to the loft where they had sex the first time. They were supposed to wear the rings with the pride and accomplishment that came of leaving the place that first brought them together.

Jim couldn’t pick his up. The day he was supposed to, he’d been landing in Madagascar because he’d met a group of guys while in Amsterdam who told him about the incredible experience a person could have in the jungle there.

He hadn’t been there to pick up his ring because he was terrified of commemorating the past when it meant that it could close the doors to his future.

And now, here it is. Here’s the ring that was supposed to mean so much to him and Leo and it’s been in this drawer in Leo’s house for eight years. It isn’t burned or damaged to indicate Leo’s taken his anger out on the ring. It looks like it’s in perfect condition.

It even shines, like Leo’s been taking extra care of it.

Jim feels almost like he can’t breathe and he closes the box, the snap of it deafening to his ears. He tucks it away in his pocket and yanks open the next drawer, finding the shirts he’s been looking for. By now, he’s on a mission and is pulling on all his clothes, writing a note to Leo to thank him for the bed. He pins it to the back of the front door as he bolts from the house and heads straight for Gaila, barely able to breathe the whole time and not sure how he even makes it without collapsing in a miasma of bad decisions and regret.

It’s the very first flickering he’s had the feeling since he came back. It’s the first time he’s started to wonder if he’s done the right thing.

“Gaila,” he gets out when she opens the door to their place. She doesn’t look very pleased with him and he doesn’t blame her. It’s an early hour of the morning, she’s just barely back from her trip, and he probably looks like a panicked idiot right then, but in his own opinion, he’s got more than enough cause. He fumbles with his pocket, digging out the box and shoving it open under her nose. “I found this.”

Gaila takes the ring from him gingerly and then stares at him –she’s not wearing makeup, and her hair is twice its usual size and yet the most frightening thing about her is the icy glare she’s giving him. “It’s five thirty in the morning, Jim,” she says sharply.

“I got woken up.”

“You didn’t have to wake me up, too.”

“Gaila!” Jim snaps. “Bigger issues.”

“It’s your class ring, how is that a bigger issue?” she complains right back and Jim should have maybe waited. Gaila’s never been a morning person. Leo hasn’t ever been either, but Jim has the feeling that he’s going to be avoiding Leo for a little while. The man makes his head a murky place at the best of times and this ring has automatically made things far from easy and uncomplicated.

Jim tries to put all this into words to figure out what is the issue, but he keeps coming up short. It should actually be something promising, that Leo actually still cares – that Leo doesn’t actually hate him with all his being.

“It’s a bigger issue because...” he trails off. “Because I kissed him and Joce left and now I found it and he doesn’t hate me.”

“He might,” Gaila says and there’s that blunt quality she can occasionally show that Jim loves so much. “I mean, he might have put that ring away years ago and let his dislike for you fester in the...”

“You’re not helping!” Jim interrupts her sharply, which apparently tells him that he actually does want for Leo to still care. “These were a big deal to us. He wears his on his ring finger like it means something and he kept mine. Yes. Yes, maybe he loathes me on some level, but he still kept it,” he says, clinging to these vestiges of hope like they’re going to keep some long-buried desire going.

“Do you not want him to love you still?” she asks curiously. “I thought that was part of why you came back. Now you know he at least holds some kind of torch for you, that should be good news, Jim. Right?” She cups his cheek worriedly and tries to find some kind of answer on his face.

The problem is that he’s not sure he has an answer.

He sighs and doesn’t know what to do. Yes, he wants Leo, but he doesn’t want the guilt that goes with it, because he’s entirely sure that it was his presence and his kisses that drove Jocelyn away, which means that he can’t deal with Leo loving him without feeling guilty for feeling it.

“I’ll be in bed,” is what he inevitably decides. He’s never seen a problem so terrible that a couple hours locked away hasn’t solved. He closes the ring-box and clasps it tightly in his palm before sliding it away. He doesn’t intend to let it out of his sight.

Who knows? It might prove to be some strange Rosetta ring that will give him a guide to understanding his feelings and Leo’s, too.

“Don’t you sulk too long,” Gaila warns, sliding forward to kiss Jim on his forehead, pulling away and cupping his cheek just once more before giving him a pat on the ass and sending him off to bed.

That’s how Jim begins his day of moping. He spends the day in bed staring at the ring that holds all the memories of a past he gave away willingly. It’s not until the afternoon when he hears the knock at the door. “Gaila!” he shouts, shifting in bed and not wanting to get up. He’s been in his moping sweats and has been lamenting the fact that he ever left the town. In this pity-fuelled moment, it doesn’t matter that he wouldn’t trade his adventures for anything. All he cares about is the fact that he gave up an incredible person for the world.

And right now, the world isn’t exactly keeping him warm.

Neither is Leo, of course, but Jim is feeling too sorry for himself to really be too preoccupied with the details. The knocking doesn’t stop and Gaila doesn’t seem to be nearby. “Gaila!” Jim tries haplessly one more time before resigning himself to the fact that he’s going to have to get up and get the door. He groans and barks out his frustration in a series of short curses of profanity, pushing himself out of bed to deal with whatever boyfriend of the week has come sniffing around trying to make Gaila an honest woman – which is a fairly common problem with her by rumor, but something he hasn’t actually seen in practice.

Jim pulls open the door and his whole body goes as still as if someone’s thrown ice on him.

“Leo,” he says, not sure if he’s happy to see the other man or if he suddenly wants to throw the door shut and run as fast as he can. Gaila’s apartment is only two stories up, he could probably make the jump from the window to the ground without damaging anything too badly.

Leo looks about as indecisive and unsure as Jim feels.

“Jim,” he says, but doesn’t flinch away. Leo’s never flinched, not when it mattered. At the very least, Jim can take solace in knowing that at least he matters. That’s something. “You left, this morning.”

“Gaila was expecting me,” he lies, not sure he’s ready to burden Leo with the truth – that Jim is so chickenshit scared and confused that he no longer knows up from down. “I meant to come back, but I’ve been feeling...” He doesn’t even know how to say it.

“Look, Jim,” Leo interrupts when Jim can’t find a word to sum up what he is feeling. “I spent the day roaming around and thinking about what I wanted to say to you, but the truth is I haven’t got a clue in hell. I know things are a mess and I know that you and I have both mucked it up, even if you did get a little bit more of a mess on your hands.”

Hell, Jim can’t even disagree.

“And,” Leo continues with a sharp intake of breath. “And, well, the truth is that Jocelyn saw it before I did. She refused to be a third wheel when you still had me wound around those gorgeous fingers of yours. I stayed home for more hours than I should have because I felt guilty, but the both of us understood that I never got over you.” Leo looks pained as he tries to speak and Jim wants to help him, so he steps forward, sliding his hand around Leo’s waist as if that’ll encourage him onwards. “Jim, I’ve loved you since that moment back in high school that you looked at me and just smiled like I was suddenly the sun you wanted to revolve around.” He exhales and leans back into Jim’s touch, brushing back a lanky strand of hair from Jim’s forehead. “I know it’s been a lot of years and I know we’re different people, but do you think that maybe you and I could...”

“Yes,” Jim cuts in, interrupting him and knowing the answer. “I don’t even care how far back at the start we have to go, Leo, yes.” He feels secure and safe and with Leo in his arms, he feels that things are actually right for the first time in a long while.

Leo looks pretty damn assured, himself. “Think you can manage to love an old country doctor?”

“Are you kidding?” Jim scoffs, grinning broadly. “Mom’s gonna be so happy, you have no idea.”


He’s been back in town for far too long and avoiding the inevitable. Jim knows that he has to finally do what he’s been avoiding, especially now that things have started to tilt in the vague direction of his favor. He’s seen the McCoys and things have been civil, but it’s like they were playing at a game of ignoring the large elephant in the center of the room – dancing and gesturing very clearly to Leo.

He needs to talk to them. He needs to apologize to them. And the worst of all, he needs to ask them for permission to do something that he fucked up the first time around. He’d just rather leave town again than face this moment, even if it makes him a god-awful coward.

He’s on their doorstep right now and he keeps thinking of turning around and leaving, but some insane part of him drives him forward to push the doorbell.

“Mom!” he hears Savannah inside the house. “Door!”

“Well, get it, Savannah McCoy. My god, did I raise a heathen?”

“I don’t know! Do you want me to call Leo and ask?” is Savvy’s bored reply before she pulls the door open. It’s almost enough to relax Jim, but there is nothing in the world that could relax him at this moment except for maybe a good stiff drink and Leo right beside him. So he settles for being slightly relieved and extremely pleased when Savvy lights up. “Jim!” she cries out with glee. “Hi!”

“Hey, Savvy,” Jim breathes out, wishing that he could just ask her for Leo’s hand – or permission to woo him, rather. Or, hell, if he’s honest, permission to take Leo out of this town and show him the world while kissing apologies down his spine, like he ought to have done years and years ago. “Your Dad home too, or is Ellie just raining down etiquette from on high?”

“I hear you, Jim Kirk!” comes the warning shout.

Maybe Jim shouldn’t be pushing her so much when he’s essentially come to ask for permission to romance Leo, but there are some habits that die hard and his push-and-pull teasing relationship with Leo’s mother is something that he never wants to lose. “I love your etiquette, Mrs. McCoy. How else would my posture be the way it is?”

She slowly descends the Scarlett O’Hara staircase and studies him, shaking her head in sheer disapproval of him. It’s not the first time they’ve seen each other since Jim’s been back, but it’s the first time that there weren’t witnesses -- Savvy doesn’t count because Jim suspects she’ll pick family over him, even if she does love him.

“Jim Kirk, I’ve been waiting for you to turn up on my doorstep,” she says, softly.

“Better late than never?” Jim flashes the most charming smile he’s ever possessed and it does absolutely nothing. Almost-mothers-in-law (hopeful ones) are always immune to that sort of thing. Jim should have known. “Is David in?”

“He’s out back reading,” Eleanor confirms. “Should I be calling him inside for any good reason?”

“I think that I have a pretty good reason,” Jim replies with a sureness that comes out of going over this plan a dozen times in his head and only feeling warmth and fondness for the idea of having Leo by his side, forever and always, no matter what. “I want to do this properly and I think that requires both Leo’s parents in one place.”

He shouldn’t be half as thrilled with the excited look on Eleanor’s face as he is, but he’s waited a long time to do this properly. He needs to take small successes where he can.

“David!” Eleanor shouts. “We’ve got a visitor.”

“If it’s one of those salesmen...”

“It’s Jim Kirk,” she shouts back before David can get too deep into one of his rants.

That seems to do the trick nicely. Before Jim can say ‘I want to woo your son’, the sliding door to the back is pulled open and David joins into the metaphorical fray, standing at Eleanor’s side and sizing up Jim like it’s the first time they’re meeting and Jim intends to take Leo to the ball.

It’s not that far off, but Jim and David have gone golfing before and once upon a time, used to be close as anything.

Though, leaving town does hinder a relationship, as he’s grown to learn.

Jim takes a deep breath and tries to keep perspective on the situation. He’s here to talk and that’s all. He just doesn’t like that it seems as though he’s facing a firing squad lined up of three McCoys in a row staring at him like he has something to prove.

“Could we sit down, maybe?” he asks, not feeling entirely comfortable being stared at with so much attention. “Please?” he asks again when Eleanor looks like she’s expecting something else of him.

That seems to do the trick. He’s led into the living room and takes the main chair, feeling as though the massive cushions are about to swallow him whole. He clears his throat and begins to rifle his memory to try and recall the speech he has prepared for this. “Mr and Mrs McCoy, in all the years...”

“Oh great,” Savannah says, rolling her eyes.

Eleanor simply looks bemused. “Did you have this on index cards, Jim? Would you like to bring them out just in case you forget what comes next?” Jim feels like making a snappy and sarcastic retort, but he’s supposed to be on his best behaviour and he doubts that being curt with Mrs. McCoy will do him much good.

“Look, Jim, we all know why you’re here,” David notes. “Let’s cut to the chase. We’ve known this was coming since Joce picked up and headed to the city to live with Nyota.”

“Which means,” Eleanor continues for him, “that you’re either here to beg apology for driving her away.”

“Or you want Mom and Dad’s permission to get all swoony and gross about Leo,” Savannah finishes, sticking out her tongue. “Which, incidentally, is so gross the way you get all lovelorn about him.”

Jim figures he should just be glad that Leo isn’t here to make this trio a quartet of questioning, because Leo’s the bluntest of them all and Jim’s not sure he can take that much stress. He looks at each of them in turn, trying to make them see that he isn’t just joking around. “I want to offer him what I should have all those years ago,” he admits, figuring that honesty is the best call in this case. “I want to leave town again and I want him to come with me. I want to be honorable and do what I should have done the first time.” He takes a deep breath and readies himself in the event that a rejection is coming. “Please,” is all he thinks that he has left to say. “Please give me a second chance.”

“In the end,” Eleanor sighs and looks to David, reaching over to clasp his hand and look at him like she understands about second chances and love and Jim wonders if there’s a part of the story between Leo’s parents that he missed out on, “it’s going to be Leo’s choice, but I appreciate you coming to talk to us.”

Jim feels like he’s just heard something good, but he’s still mired in too much disbelief to actually process it.

“So, I just need to convince Leo?”

“It’ll be your hardest mountain to climb,” David agrees wryly. “And we wish you luck, son. Consider this your second and last chance.”

“I swear,” Jim says insistently, already on his feet and ready to go, “I won’t need more than one.”


Jim has never expected to have anything like parental approval tucked away in his back pocket like a secret weapon, but with David and Eleanor’s begrudging agreement, he actually is showing up on Leo’s doorstep feeling something like confidence. He’s wearing his class ring on his pinkie-finger, something he never thought he’d do once he left Montgomery, but he feels like he needs it in order to prove to Leo that he’s serious about not abandoning his past in order to cut a path for his future.

He just has the most important task left before him.

Jim’s been able to find a place to rest his head in every place in the world regardless of what language they spoke. He’s been to the most challenging places and dared to experience things that no one else believed he could do. Facing down the prospect of trying to convince Leo to come away from their childhood home and experience a life of adventure with him is still the scariest thing he’s ever had to contemplate and he includes swimming with great whites on that list.

He’s fiddling with the class ring on his finger when Leo gets in from work, draping his labcoat over the hooks in the front hall of the McCoy house. He wanders through the hallway and starts slightly when he finds Jim just sitting there in the living room.

Hand to his heart, Leo looks about two seconds away from reaming Jim out. “Christ, Jim...”

“Before you even start,” Jim says, getting to his feet and pushing in close to Leo, not stopping until he’s pressed up against him and their chests are as aligned as they get. He cups Leo’s cheeks with his hands and leans in for a slow and tentative kiss, trying to make it less rushed than the kiss in the auditorium and to make up for so many years of waiting.

It seems to do the trick. Leo softens right into his grasp and stares at him with something like wonder cast across his features. “Do you know how many nights I lied awake trying to remember exactly what a kiss from you felt like?” he asks quietly.

“Probably the same number of nights I lay there remembering how you were the best furnace in the world to curl into at night,” Jim replies ruefully. “Leo, I need to talk to you and I need you to hear me out,” he says, reminding himself that if he stays relaxed and calm, then they might just stand a chance at opening a door of communication that Jim should have nudged open a long time ago.

Leo sits, but he looks wary and Jim doesn’t blame him. We need to talk has never been a good opening line in any conversation, but Jim doesn’t know how else to start it. “Okay,” Leo drawls. “We’re talking. What is it, Jim?”

Jim perches on the arm of the chair and takes a deep breath. “I just got back from your parents place,” he says, his foot tapping rapidly against the floor. “And uh, I had a question to ask them, to ask you.”

Leo raises both his brows and Jim thinks that he’s still in tune with Leo because he can practically read his mind.

“Oh, god no,” he insists. “No, I’m not proposing,” he hurries to reassure. “Jesus, Leo, no, I just want to talk to you about the possibility of getting out of town for a while,” he says, very slowly, trying to gauge Leo’s reaction as he speaks.

He doesn’t look disgusted or angry, so Jim’s taking that as a positive for now.

“I should have asked you all those years ago,” he admits, feeling like there’s a heavy weight pressing down against his chest and he isn’t sure if getting an answer will make that go away. “I should have and I didn’t because I was a terrified idiot of a kid, but this is my attempt to make things right. I want to head out to California and surf the waves and discover the culture along the highways and I want you there with me. I know you have your practice, but I’m sure you deserve a vacation and your Dad’s already said that he can cover patients a while. We could live here, I just want you to be there with me when I explore the world.”

“So we’re a we again?” Leo asks, bemused.

Jim shrugs, feeling light of head and heart and he figures he has everything to lose and nothing at the same time, so he might as well try. “I want us to be. Do you have any objections?”

Leo seems to consider, pressing both his thumbs to his lower lip. “California, huh.”

“Just for a few weeks. Then we can maybe look at that old farm when we get back? Mrs. Lester has been trying to sell it for ages and if you’re gonna be that old country doctor you keep grumbling about, you need a proper house and Savvy’s gonna need somewhere to live soon enough. She can take this place,” Jim says, feeling like he’s flying as he speaks, unable to refrain from sounding half as giddy as he feels.

He chances another look at Leo, now, and he doesn’t look so averse to the idea.

“So uh, you willing to maybe do something we should have done ages ago?” Jim asks. “I don’t care where we go, Leo. Just tell me that you’ll stay at my side and make it worth it.”

“I think we can figure something out,” Leo promises, reaching across the space between them and resting his hand lightly on top of Jim’s. Jim remembers, only then, how to breathe when relief floods him and takes away the heavy weight of anxiety on his chest.


Seven Years Later

“I am going to kill you.”

Jim dangles from far above in the sky, blotting out the bright sun’s rays. Coming to Arizona in July may not have been the brightest idea in the world – actually, it’s literally the brightest, it’s just not the smartest – but here they are. Jim is dangling from his carabineers and sighs heavily, rappelling a good hundred feet lower in order to get back to where Leo is clutching at the rocks with a white-knuckled grip. “Leo,” Jim coaxes gently.

“Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not the next cautionary tale for rock climbers,” he snaps, pushing at Jim. Physics doesn’t help, sending Leo in one direction while Jim gets propelled in the other and if it weren’t for the panicky look on Leo’s face, Jim would have laughed. Instead, he goes after Leo, hands sturdy on rock formations as he navigates his way over red rock to get to Leo’s side without scrambling up their lines. “Damn it, Jim, I...I...”

“Hey,” Jim coaxes, sitting back in his harness as he reaches one hand off of the face of the rock and presses it to Leo’s face to brush his thumb there lightly in slow circles. “Calm down, Leo. You’re okay. I wouldn’t let you be not okay,” he assures, wrapping his hand around Leo’s back, supporting his weight with just the one arm – which has begun to shiver and shake with the duress. “God, now I’m glad I didn’t let you climb up Everest with me.”

“I am still divorcing you for that,” Leo promises, but he seems to be settling down slightly, gripping the rock-face before him. “You don’t just leave a man at base camp and then go climb a death mountain.”

“I thought we were okay!”

“You screwed me silly in our hotel miles away and bound my wrists with ropes and carabineers, you basically bribed me with sex,” Leo argues heatedly, but he’s starting his ascent again. An angry Leo McCoy can perform any task in the world and Jim knows all his buttons. “God knows you’re lucky that by the time we reached base camp, I was in a good enough mood to let you go,” he mutters.

“Leo,” Jim sighs, already several feet above him, having been concentrating on climbing instead of complaining. That, with the added fact that he’s a damn good climber who has done Everest twice and this is just a simple baby-climb up a rock in Arizona. “Just because you had to use oxygen daily for panic attacks...”

“Jim, I will cut that rope and let you fall,” Leo interrupts. “If you even think to finish that sentence.”

Jim smartly keeps quiet as he tips his face forward to stare at all the inviting sky above him, trying to coax him to climb higher and faster. He paces himself, aware that it’s not going anywhere. There’s no bars coming to trap him in and more importantly, he’s got Leo beside him to keep going.

He makes it to the top of the ledge and perches there, crossing his legs as he arranges his ropes, untangling them carefully. He perches there on the edge of the world and waits for Leo to join him. It might take him longer, but he always gets there in the end.

He sits right beside Jim, panting furiously and heavily, and they both look out on a place that’s not Montgomery, devoid of all the people they once thought the most important in the world. Jim’s shown Leo that the world exists and Leo’s taught Jim how not to be lonely while they’re out here in the wilderness.

Jim shifts his hand just slightly left, caulked with red dust, clay, and a vibrant mud that forms as sweat rolls down his forearm. He brushes his fingers over Leo’s, tips finding his knuckles and resting there, just atop. He doesn’t need to be clutched or hand-held. He just wants the quiet reassurance that they both made it.

“You good?” Jim asks, looking to the side to make sure that he isn’t just projecting his own happiness onto the situation. Leo looks happy. He looks settled and relaxed, like he hadn’t just been ready to strangle Jim on the way up.

Leo turns to look at him, moving his hand just enough to give a reassuring stroke to Jim’s fingers, a calm and assuring ‘still here’ before he smiles and all the years and worries seem to melt away, like they were never there. “I’ve got the world at our feet. I’m good, Jim,” he promises.

Leo begins his descent first.

Jim will follow soon after, but not before he can take out his Swiss army knife and carve something into the rocks to make their mark.


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